Photo: 4chan

The Renegade History Of 4chan, From Hentai To The Alt-Right

The history of 4chan is just about as enigmatic as its user base. It has been called one of the most disturbing message boards online, and after the 2016 election, a lot of people have been wondering what 4chan is.

The list of things you don't know about 4chan could probably fill a book. Even with its reputation as a site of questionable morals, there are good things 4chan has done; arguably, the online community has made the world a better place on a number of occasions. 

That's what happens when a site has such a diverse - and not to mention anonymous - user base: its history becomes filled with just as many ups as downs. Since 2003, 4chan has done everything from electing Donald Trump with memes to giving the internet some of its favorite viral video stars.

Photo: 4chan

  • It Was Founded In 2003 By A 15-Year-Old As A Rule-Free Anonymous Forum

    4chan's origins are as humble as they are idealistic. An echo of the early days of the internet, when anonymity and lawlessness reigned, 4chan was created on October 1, 2003, by then 15-year-old Christopher Poole as a rule-free message board.

    The site's design and name were based on the popular Japanese image board Futaba Channel (or "2Chan"). After migrating a dedicated set of users from the Something Awful Forums, the site blew up, drawing many users from Japan and America alike. It was a rocky start, as Poole was unprepared to face the cost of hosting a popular website, but many community donation campaigns were able to keep it afloat.

  • 4chan's /h/ "Hentai" Board Quickly Became One Of The Site's Most Popular Sections
    Photo: 4chan

    4chan's /h/ "Hentai" Board Quickly Became One Of The Site's Most Popular Sections

    4chan's /h/ board hit the scene October 2, 2003, dedicated to hosting all of the hentai anyone could ask for, and then some. According to a former moderator of the site, the board arose in defiance of 4chan's hosting service, which took issue with the underaged hentai and gore that was popular on the site.

    While it is now against the site's rules to post images of underaged sex acts - real or otherwise - a site with over 22 million monthly visitors can be strikingly hard to moderate. This bodes ill for most 4chan visitors, considering possession of hentai that mirrors illegal sex acts can still result in jail time, despite any fictional nature.

  • The /N/ Board Was Created In 2006 And Became The Source Of 4chan's Alt-Right Presence

    4chan's /N/ board was created On April 6, 2006, as a place to discuss politics and economics. A "vocal minority" began using it as a place to discuss racist views. The term "redpill" grew in popularity as a way to describe "waking people up" to a far-right ideology.

    The board was shut down and recreated multiple times - and under various names - during 4chan's history. Each time it would resurge as a source of vitriol. Eventually this led 4chan to implement the /pol/ - politically incorrect - board as a place for people to display their most politically incorrect behavior without driving other boards off topic.

  • In 2010, 4chan Users Tricked Google's Algorithms Into Displaying Racist Imagery
    Photo: Google

    In 2010, 4chan Users Tricked Google's Algorithms Into Displaying Racist Imagery

    On July 10, 2008, avid viewers of Google Trends noticed something was amiss with the website. Overnight, search terms for the unicode symbol for the swastika had skyrocketed, causing the Google Trends algorithms to broadcast the hate symbol on their page.

    After some investigation, it was revealed the source of the symbol's sudden popularity came from a single post on 4chan - asking people to Google a code that would translate into a swastika once a web browser processed it. This isn't the only time 4chan users attempted to influence Google's behavior. In 2016, users responded to Google's anti-harassment measures by trying to use the search engine's name as a stand-in for racial slurs - causing the site to filter itself for offensive language.

  • The /pol/ Board Launched In 2011 As A Place For Users To Post Their Most "Politically Incorrect" Opinions
    Photo: Anonymous / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The /pol/ Board Launched In 2011 As A Place For Users To Post Their Most "Politically Incorrect" Opinions

    After multiple news-related boards on 4chan fell prey to bigoted rhetoric, 4chan admins created /pol/ on November 10, 2011. The board was labeled "Politically Incorrect" and was intended as a place for 4chan users to publish their most caustic opinions.

    The board became a breading ground for racist ideologies and became a home base for 4chan's alt-right presence. This presence has since spread to other sections of the site, but /pol/ remains 4chan's most infamous board for its blatant brand of anti-semetism, racism, and misogyny - reflected by the swastika in its logo.

  • 2014's Gamergate Movement Allegedly Began On 4chan
    Photo: Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY

    2014's Gamergate Movement Allegedly Began On 4chan

    GamerGate, the anti-left political movement and eventual harassment campaign, reached a fever pitch in 2014. Officially, GamerGate participants said they were angry about a perceived lack of ethics in games journalism. Multiple women were harassed and had their personal information released online (they were "doxxed") in relation to the movement.

    Eventually, chat logs taken from 4chan's IRC channel suggested the harassment had its origins on 4chan. Now it's become impossible to divorce the political intentions of GamerGate from the harassment it eventually incited.