Future of 4chan uncertain as controversial site faces financial woes
The anonymous message board represents the darkest corners of the internet, but users aren’t ready to say goodbye
5/10/2016- The anonymous message-board site 4chan has come to represent the darkest corners of internet subculture, rife with the misogyny, web taste and the politically incorrect humor of the alt-right. Now it appears to be in financial trouble, according to the site’s new owner, Hiroyuki Nishimura, who said on Sunday that the site can no longer afford “infrastructure costs, network fee, servers cost and CDN [servers that help distribute high-bandwidth files such as video]”. The post begins: “Thank you for thinking about 4chan. We had tried to keep 4chan as is. But I failed. I am sincerely sorry.” Nishimura outlined three options for the future of the site: halving traffic costs by limiting upload sizes and closing some boards, adding many more ads including pop-up ads, or adding more paid-for features and “4chan pass” users.
An unlikely savior for the site may have already emerged in the form of Martin Shkreli, the controversial former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, who rose to fame after his company bought the patent to an HIV drug and raised its price from $13.50 to $750 per pill, causing mass outrage. Shkreli announced on Twitter that he was “open to joining the board of directors of 4chan”. He then reached out to Nishimura directly, who responded: “I have replied your DM. Thank you for supporting 4chan @MartinSkreli.”
4chan was founded in 2003 by an American schoolboy, Chris Poole, as an English-language version of popular Japanese image-sharing board 2chan, and split into a number of sub-category boards based on interest, many of the most popular ones pornographic. It was sold by Poole to Nishimura, the founder of 2chan, in 2015. Nishimura did not respond to requests by the Guardian to comment. The site’s influence in shaping the identity and culture of the internet as we know it today is vast. It is the internet’s sweaty engine-room. It has birthed global movements: the hacktivist group Anonymous originated here, and the group is named for the “Anonymous” tag attached to 4chan posts.
More recently its anonymous message boards, especially the far-right leaning politics board /pol/, gave early succor to GamerGate and its spawn, the so-called alt-right movement, which have emerged in 2016 to ally themselves with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. It produced Pepe, the frog meme that was picked up by white supremacists and trolls and was later condemned by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate symbol. Pepe is by no means the only meme 4chan has produced. Rickrolling (the practice of tricking someone into clicking on a link leading to a video of Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up, leading to nearly 250m views on YouTube and an unlikely revival of Astley’s career), LOLcats, and innumerable other memes and slang and inside jokes originated here.
It is the internet’s id, a place where anonymity runs free in its purest form. The true nature of mankind can be glimpsed there, in all its horror and glory and depravity.
Advertisement Predictably, the response to Nishimura’s message on the site was mixed. Posters from some boards – many of which have loyal, almost tribal user-bases – called for other boards to be closed. One suggestion was to close /b/, the wildly popular random topic board, to which other users expressed immediate worry that /b/ users would spread to other boards. “Oh god”, one posted. “HOW MANY PORN BOARDS DO WE NEED? NOT THIS MANY” read another post. Some heatedly discussed the perils of pop-up advertising, while a few suggested merchandising as a way to solve the site’s revenue problems. Others just seemed worried. “Please don’t fuck this website up for us,” one user plaintively posted. Another wrote: “Hiro please. Don’t ruin this for us. This is our only home.”
© The Guardian.