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EWFA Introduction

Tenshi Hinanawi edited this page Feb 18, 2012 · 1 revision

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THIS IS THE story of the most interesting place on the Internet: an imageboard called 4chan, where you’re as likely to find a hundred photos of adorable kittens as a gallery of gruesome autopsy photos.

It’s a seedy, unpredictable place, where people have complete freedom to experiment; to try on new ideas, alternate identities. 4chan allows its users to say and do almost whatever they can think of without fear of shame or retribution.

There are many individual boards that make up 4chan, and the strangest one is called /b/, or Random. This is the “hivemind” of the site, where nearly anything the human mind is capable of conceiving is on display, for better or for worse. Some have called it the Asshole of the Internet, but a few million call it home.

/b/ is particularly special because the board has almost no rules. However, its nameless users, who call themselves /b/tards, have created a semiserious list of metarules, the first and second of which are cribbed directly from Chuck Palahniuk’s book Fight Club:

Rule 1: You do not talk about /b/.
Rule 2: You DO NOT talk about /b/.

The stated intent of these rules is to keep outsiders out. Longtime /b/tards detest new users more than anything, referring to them as “cancer” and go to great lengths to make their dialogue and community culture as unapproachable as possible. In writing this book, I’ve committed the most egregious violation of these rules in the short history of /b/, opening myself up to everything from prank calls to death threats. I’m no longer just another member of “anonymous”—the vast group of 4chan users.

When I first started telling friends about the project, they’d universally respond:

“You’re writing a book about 4chan? Ha! Good luck with that!”

OK, so we’ve established that 4chan is, to borrow a phrase from a well-known Jedi, a hive of scum and villainy. It’s a playground for weirdos, but why does it matter? I’ve talked to everyone from academics and advertisers to hackers in order to find out. I got my hands dirty talking with the /b/tards themselves, along with the people they love and those they love to hate. I approached 4chan not just as an observer, but as a participant, an antagonist, and an ombudsman.

I discovered that 4chan is a mysterious, misunderstood imageboard defined by anonymity and anarchy that influences the way you behave on the web, whether you realize it or not.

It stands in contrast to a web that seems to be moving inexorably toward personal responsibility and a constant identity across all platforms that define the browsing experience. I can’t read a movie review online anymore without seeing my friends’ Facebook commentary alongside it. And somehow Google knows that I’m really attracted to Nicki Minaj. On proprietary platforms like Facebook, one’s every move is documented. Some argue that this social accountability keeps us responsible. Others say it’s another way to sell products. Either way, it’s becoming more like real-life.

But didn’t the Internet promise us an escape from real life? Wasn’t that one of the reasons so many of us were drawn to it in the first place? 4chan is one of the few places that encourages the anarchy found in the early days of the web.

And while 4chan is known for hosting everything from innocuous cat photos to child pornography, it’s also a place where would-be activists can gather to express social dissent. It’s a forum where a lonely nerd can ask for help meeting girls. And where a closeted homosexual can vent about his abusive, homophobic parents.

The fear-mongering mainstream media tends to portray 4chan as a breeding ground for sociopathic superhackers and cyberterrorists. This is the case, yes, but it’s a small part of the story. I wrote this book because I wanted to set the record straight. Namelessness matters. Freedom matters. And 4chan embodies those two ideals more concretely than anyplace else on the Internet.

If you’ve ever wondered, while browsing the web, “Why is this weird thing popular? Who cares about this stuff? How does this thing have so many views? Why do people waste their time with this? Where did it come from and where is it all going?” then read on.

This isn’t so much a book about how technology is changing society as it is the story of how technology expanded the scale of human creativity and social interaction that already existed and was just waiting for the right platform. When that platform came along, creative participatory culture went global—and just like that things were never the same. This isn’t just a book about 4chan. It’s a book about you.

4chan is a multimedia experience, and there’s only so much information that can be conveyed on the printed page. I highly encourage the reader to read this book near a computer so you can look up pertinent information as you go. If you’re having trouble wrapping your head around a specific concept, online resources like Google, Wikipedia and Know Your Meme will help fill in the blanks.

A final warning:

Because 4chan thrives on its lack of rules, it hosts content that ranges from harmless to downright terrifying. Violent fetish pornography, racist/sexist rants, and gory photography are just a few of the more unsettling items that litter the pages of /b/.

Dear reader, under no circumstances should you see this book as an invitation to hop onto 4chan to see what all the fuss is about. If you must, at least prepare by reading my third chapter so you’ll know exactly what you’re getting into. There are ways to browse 4chan while avoiding most of the nasty bits, and you should be aware of them.

Seriously. There are some things you can’t unsee.

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