The Man Who Helped Turn 4chan Into the Internet's Racist EngineBreaking News
tags: racism, Internet, 4chan, trolling
In two decades, 4chan has evolved from a message board where people talked about anime to a casually racist but influential creation engine of internet culture, and now into a generator of far-right propaganda, a place where dangerous conspiracy theories originate, and an amplifier of online bigotry. This evolution, according to 4chan moderators who spoke to Motherboard and leaked chat logs, is in large part because of an anonymous administrator who used moderation enforcement, or lack thereof, to allow the influential website to become a crucial arm of the far-right.
4chan attracted hordes of disaffected young men who trolled various other websites, creating popular memes (many of them racist or sexist) and originating a great deal of internet culture. In recent years, however, 4chan has evolved into something actively sinister: a hive of bigotry, threats of violence, and far right ideology. This rapid and severe descent wasn’t driven solely by the mass action of disgruntled young men.
One current and three former 4chan moderators believe the process was aided along by the de facto administrator of the site, a far right supporter with the handle “RapeApe” who helped turn the site into a meme factory for extreme politics. Motherboard agreed to let the janitors speak anonymously because they said they signed non-disclosure agreements with 4chan.
Because of 4chan’s often wildly offensive content, many assume that the site is completely unmoderated. But 4chan has a corps of volunteers, called “janitors,” “mods,” or “jannies,” whose job it is—theoretically—to make sure that content on the site abides by the rules. (4chan draws a distinction between more senior “moderators,” who are responsible for all boards, and “janitors,” who patrol one or two; we refer to them interchangeably because janitors also moderate discussion.) The janitors we spoke to and a major trove of leaked chat logs from the janitors’ private communications channel tell the story of RapeApe’s rise from junior janny to someone who could decide what kind of content was allowed on the site and where, shaping 4chan into the hateful, radicalizing online community it's known for today.
Started in 2003 by Christopher Poole, 4chan was initially a place for people to discuss anime. Since its founding, the site has expanded to include discussion boards on everything from travel to fitness to video games to origami. It now claims around 22 million visitors a month. Some parts of it are also recruiting grounds for Neo-Nazi groups.
4chan’s more recent extremist element can be traced back to an infamous board: “politically incorrect,” which is listed as "/pol/" on the site. Ostensibly devoted to discussing politics, /pol/ threads often involve users calling each other racist terms, arguing for the genocide of whole nations or ethnicities, or debating about whether different concepts are “degenerate”—a Nazi term of art for material (or people) that ought to be purged. Posters there celebrate and lionize some of the most notorious mass murderers of the last decade, from Anders Breivik to Dylann Roof.