Nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence and other Hollywood stars were recently leaked online in a massive scandal involving at least one hacker who correctly guessed weak iCloud passwords and security questions. And the stolen photos mostly surfaced from one dark corner of the internet, known as 4chan.
Most people view the internet as a great learning tool as well as a source of endless entertainment. But it is also vast and so incredibly niche. 4chan is a perfect example of that. Until recently, only antisocial, foul-mouthed geeks had heard about 4chan. They used it as a forum to congregate and share explicit images. Now, practically everyone has visited 4chan, in the hopes of figuring out how hundreds of celebrity nudies could originate from there.
But 4chan is in fact not something new or completely from left-field. It’s over a decade old. It's the birthplace of hacktivist group Anonymous. It's the source of several famous memes. If your interest is piqued more than it already was, keep reading. Pocket-lint has detailed everything you need to know about 4chan, the underbelly of the internet.
What is 4chan?
Described as an image-based bulletin board, 4chan (www.4chan.org) is a website modeled after a Japanese forum called Futaba Channel. People use 4chan to primarily share images online about a variety of different things as well as post comments in a thread-like format.
There are specific image boards on 4chan for specific topics, ranging from Japanese anime to videogames, and each board has been assigned a semi-random name. The Random board is called /b/ board, for instance, and it is where users can post completely random images and comments.
Much of the content on /b/ board however involves shocking material such as pornographic images and racist or misogynistic comments. As the most popular board on 4chan, it's no surprise that the recently-stolen images of nude celebrities first appeared on 4chan's /b/ board.
Apart from famous hacks and wide-scale pranks, 4chan users have been allegedly responsible for popularising many internet memes such as LOLcats, Rickrolling, Chocolate Rain, Pedobear, etc. Check out 4chan's FAQ page to learn more about the site.
And finally, 4chan claims to have 20 million unique visitors and 540 million page views a month.
Who founded 4chan?
Christopher Poole, a 26-year-old entrepreneur from New York City, started 4chan anonymously, under the pseudonym moot, in 2003.
The Wall Street Journal revealed Poole's identity in 2009. In a later interview with Time magazine, Poole said he had tried to keep his private life very separate from his internet life. That same year, The Washington Post reported Poole was a college dropout living with his mother.
Poole has worked on other projects beyond 4chan in recent years. In 2010, for instance, he launched a site called Canvas, which allowed users - logged in through Facebook Connect - to upload digitally modified images. Poole announced in 2014 that Canvas would be going out of business.
How does 4chan work?
Go to www.4chan.org. You can select any board from the main page. You will have to agree to the site's disclaimer before viewing any board.
Once you open a board, you will notice all the semi-random names for 4chan boards listed horizontally at the top of the site. Click on any of those links to navigate from board to board. The Home link -found near the top right-hand side of every board - will lead you back to www.4chan.org.
4chan is ephemeral in that posts (which are known as threads and always start with an image) are deleted within a few hours of creation.
The site doesn't allow any board to have more than 10 pages at a time, meaning threads expire or are pruned at a relatively high rate. Most content is actually only available for a few hours or days.
If you'd like to see the very latest threads posted to a board at any given moment, hit the Refresh link at the bottom of a board.
Posting a thread
To start a new thread on any of the site's boards, you must click the Start a New Thread link and then upload an image (4chan is an imageboard, after all). There is no account registration process on 4chan. Most users tend to post threads anonymously, simply by leaving the name field blank.
Posting a comment
To reply to an existing thread (aka to comment), click the Reply button near the thread and then the Post a Reply link. Comments do not require images.
You can adjust your settings, such as how you preview quotes or whether you want all threads to auto-update with the latest comments, by going to the Settings link at the top-right of any board.
To search threads, use the search box on the right-hand side of a board, just above the top thread. Next to the search box you will also see a Catalog button. It will make each thread appear as thumbnails in a grid-like view. You can select a thumbnail to view the entire thread in full.
4chan warns users to familiarise themselves with the site rules, especially before posting a new thread or comment. Breaking the rules may result in post deletion, a temporary ban, or even permanent banishment.
Check out 4chan's Rules page for more information about what you can or cannot do while using the site. An example rule includes: "You will immediately cease and not continue to access the site if you are under the age of 18."
Why are celeb nudies hard to spot on /b/ board?
4chan is largely ephemeral in that threads tend to expire within hours or days.
Threads filled with leaked celeb nudies will therefore only exist for a limited amount of time on 4chan's /b/ board, meaning they might surface and then quickly disappear before you have a chance to see them. That said, following the public backlash surrounding the theft of personal celebrity images, 4chan changed its rules to comply with US copyright laws (more specifically, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act).
After the first celeb nudies were made public on 4chan earlier this month, lawyers for Jennifer Lawrence immediately threatened to prosecute anyone who published or republished them, saying: “This is a flagrant violation of privacy. The authorities have been contacted and will prosecute anyone who posts the stolen photos of Jennifer Lawrence”.
4chan has been mostly unaffected by the DMCA due to the ephemerality of the site. In other words, copyright-infringing images were typically removed before the copyright holder even noticed a violation of their rights. But now all eyes are on 4chan, and it’s widely assumed 4chan's management is beginning to enforce a stricter approach to copyright by taking down all celeb nudies posted on 4chan.
Tonnes of personal photos belonging to more than 100 celebrities have been released on 4chan over the last month, but most of those threads immediately led to deleted 404 pages. Even new threads tend to stop working within minutes of creation.
How is Anonymous associated with 4chan?
One last thing: chances are you've probably heard the phrase Anonymous when 4chan comes up.
Anonymous is a term loosely used to describe an international network of hackers (self-described as hacktivists). Anonymous members are called Anons, and they're distinguishable through the use of Guy Fawkes masks worn both in public and in online avatars.
Anonymous began in 2003, through a 4chan imageboard, and has since become known for a series of well-publicised cyberattacks and stunts. Anonymous has targeted everything from government agencies to the Westboro Baptist Church, but opinions on the group's effectiveness vary widely.