What is 4chan and why is it controversial?

Teen boy holds his head and looks concerned as he looks at his laptop.

Launched in 2003, 4chan is an established imageboard website with 20 million visitors monthly and 900,000 new posts per day. But its anonymity and over-18 age limit means that it is unsafe for teens to use 4chan, 8chan and their counterparts.

What is 4chan?

4chan is an imageboard website that is mostly used by young males. Official demographics state that the most popular age group are those between 18 and 25. However, there are multiple personal stories online of teens who use 4chan.

It was originally created as an answer to Japan’s 2chan and used to discuss anime. However, it now has boards ranging from video gaming to adult content that is easily accessible by all visitors to the site. 4chan is also a source for many internet memes as well as political movements, hacktivism and cyber attacks. As a result, it has been at the centre of many controversies in the media and may impact your teen’s online safety.

How does 4chan work?

A screenshot of the disclaimer message on 4chan.

Those who use 4chan do not need to sign up. All images and discussion can be shared anonymously. When a user lands on the page, they can choose any of the boards.

A message will then pop up claiming that content is for “mature” users only, disclaiming any harm on the boards and requesting users read the rules. While the site rules state that 4chan is only for 18+, the use of “mature” could be misconstrued as some. For example, a teen landing on the site may consider themselves mature enough to view the content regardless of whether they are a minor.

Users can then ‘Start a New Thread’ with an image and choose to remain anonymous or type in a name. When posted, other users can then reply directly to the original post anonymously as well. However, users’ IP addresses are still tracked and can be banned if site rules are broken. These bans can be appealed.

Is it safe for teens to use 4chan?

4chan is for users 18 years of age or older due to the inappropriate content easily accessible on the site and the danger to children’s online safety. Although the site has rules in place for each board, the most popular board, /b/ or ‘random’, has fewer rules. In fact, it allows hate speech such as racism and transphobia along with specific pornographic and grotesque content. The site rules state that such content is not allowed outside of /b/.

Some boards are marked as “worksafe” which means that inappropriate content is against the rules.

4chan does not have any types of parental controls or privacy settings. Users can choose to be anonymous and can access any boards they choose. However, you can set parental controls on broadband and mobile networks that can limit teens’ access to 4chan.

Other sites such as 8kun (formerly 8chan) and 16chan also exist. On 8chan, content is less moderated than 4chan and therefore even less safe for teens. 16chan exists anonymously on the dark web and contains content that is illegal and unmoderated.

Why is 4chan controversial?

Because of the content that can be found on the imageboard, 4chan has been at the centre of many controversies. Notable ones include Gamergate, various cyber attacks, threats of violence in America and child pornography. There are understandably concerns around the community’s promotion of misogyny and violence across the site.

Despite these dangers to their online safety, teens may still use the site. This might be because of the funny memes that are shared among communities or because the creator of the site was a teenager himself when he created the site.

What is 8chan?

Just like 4chan was created as an English counterpart to Japan’s 2chan, other iterations of 4chan also exist. Some of them contain more harmful content, so it’s important to be aware of these as well.

8kun (formerly called 8chan) was created in response to some who believed 4chan had become too heavily moderated. Unlike 4chan, 8chan doesn’t appear in Google search results. With fewer restrictions about what gets posted, violent and illegal material is left on the site. It even became a source of criminal activity. As a result, it was shut down in 2019 and replaced by 8kun with the same goal of little moderation.

8kun, also called infinitechan, allows users to create their own boards on any topics. Many groups on 8chan/8kun are considered to be the source for violent crimes and hate groups, especially in America.

Other versions of 4chan to watch out for:

  • 2chan/2channel/2ch: The original imageboard was created for users to freely talk about anime without censorship or moderation. It was created in 1999 and is still used today predominantly in Japan.
  • 4channel: a direct imitation of 4chan, 4channel is advertised as being suitable for work. However, the same disclaimer about mature content still exists regardless of which board users click on. Its similarities to the original can create confusion.
  • 16chan: only available on the dark web, the creator and its users are anonymous. As with many areas of the dark web, 16chan hosts dangerous and illegal content.

And while may be blocked on some IPs, it’s important to be aware of the workarounds teens who are particularly savvy might try. These may include trying different domain suffixes and installing VPNs.

What to do if your teen uses 4chan

A lot of young people may find themselves using 18+ sites despite the threat to their online safety because of curiosity or peer pressure. They may believe that they are more mature than others their age, which could leave them open for risk. Here are some things you can do to keep your teen safe:

  •  have conversations about age restrictions and why they exist: websites with 18+ restrictions are there to keep children safe. They contain content that might be traumatising or present unrealistic standards about life and relationships. In the case of 4chan and 8chan, these sites may also contain communities that target vulnerable young people to join them. These communities could spread hate and misinformation.
  •  talk about what they are doing online: conversations about what they do in general can help you be a closer part of their online world. This may also help them feel more comfortable about sharing when they come across something concerning online.
  •  set parental controls: devices and online applications generally have parental controls that limit what kind of websites your child can visit. These parental controls can also be set through broadband and mobile networks for family-wide security.
  •  complete regular health checks on their devices: ensure no additional software has been downloaded on their device such as VPNs or untrustworthy apps that may bypass controls
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