“Welcome to 8kun. Speak freely, legally.” Free speech is great, so what’s the big deal? Add anonymity, light-to-no moderation, and a gamified culture of edginess to a platform that tends to fly under the radar, and you end up with an ever-evolving, disorderly hang out spot where users do things “for the LOLs” and sometimes to intentionally create chaos and cause damage.
If your brand is mentioned on one of the “chans,” it’s never good, so you’ll want to know what’s going on there. Just be aware. It’s not an easy browse, which is why social intelligence tools like Yonder monitor emerging online narratives to support the scenario planning work of brand teams.
What are the chans??
The chans (2chan, 4chan, 8chan, and now 8kun) are anonymous image boards for extremely “online” people, trolls, edgelords, and extremists. These boards serve as a place to anonymously amplify users’ otherwise muted voices by way of crowd-sourcing. Collective goals include enacting political or societal change, instructing ideological shifts (“red-pilling”), influencing public discourse, and exacting revenge on perceived threats to their community. But sometimes it’s just for the LOLs.
The chans are continuously forced to evolve because of their commitment to unmoderated freedom of speech without regard for potential individual and societal harm. This mission (or more accurately non-mission) encourages increasingly toxic and often illegal content, resulting in inevitable ejection of the most extreme users (“deplatforming”), who then spawn out to a new channel, with a smaller, but more radicalized user base in each evolution. 8kun may be the latest and currently most problematic model of the chan series, but it will certainly not be the last.
What is 2chan?
In order to understand the different chan sites, it’s helpful to know the forum that inspired the creation of the rest. 2channel, or 2ch for short, was a Japanese text board founded in 1999 by Hiroyuki Nishimura, a Japanese student attending the University of Central Arkansas at the time. The anonymous posting on 2ch garnered popularity in Japan since it gave users a chance to freely publish frustrations and opinions without censorship or moderation.
When 2ch was at risk of shutting down in 2001, users created a replacement forum called Futaba Channel, or 2chan, which also allowed unfiltered content like it’s predecessor but was instead an imageboard. 2chan still exists today and is predominantly used in Japan, but it did catch the eye of Christopher “Moot” Poole, a 15-year-old New Yorker who would go on to create his own forum called 4chan.
What is 4chan?
4chan became the English counterpart of the Japanese forums created before and has a strong focus on trolling, meme-creation, and pranking via a Revenge of the Nerds-style “us-versus-them” cooperative. Although this community of the downtrodden getting retribution on the popular “Chad’s and Stacy’s” of the world may seem fairly innocuous, the language on 4chan is often deeply racist, sexist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic. Jockeying for the identity of “alpha” versus “beta” runs rampant, and any user deemed to be kind or sympathetic (“simping”) is aggressively attacked with slurs. Some 4chan boards foster alt-right political discussions and become breeding grounds for QAnon conspiracies. Most famous for Gamergate, 4chan is often a homebase where attacks against brands associated with progressive values are planned, developed, and tested before they are spread to more mainstream platforms.
As illegal activity was becoming more prevalent on 4chan and getting the attention of law enforcement, Poole eventually stepped down as administrator, sold the imageboard forum to Nishimura in 2015, and has since encouraged the site to be shut down. 4chan is still popular today but, with rules and moderators cracking down on the site, users began looking for other options. One 4chan fan, Fredrick “Hotwheels” Brennan, started his own forum called Infinitechan, which was later dubbed as 8chan (with 8 representing the infinity symbol).
What is 8chan (now 8kun)?
Compared to 4chan, 8chan is a less moderated, user-generated image board where all users can freely create discussion boards over any topic, a key feature that lies behind its original name as Infinitechan. With less restrictions over what gets posted, 8chandeveloped into more of an alt-tech, free speech-driven platform, but it regularly allowed deeply troubling/violent/illegal material to remain without moderation. For that reason, it was booted from server company to server company. At one point its provider wasVanwaTech (aka OrcaTech), and after a brief disruption, a Russian-based company known only as ddos-guard[.]net swooped in to provide DDoS protection services. It was also a repository for hacking dump materials, like the Podesta email that users developed into the hypothetical narrative that would become Pizzagate.
8chan became a source where all types of criminal activity, even murder, could be traced. For example, plans over the New Zealand mosque shootings and other crimes were published on the forum before they even happened. 8chan was ultimately shut down in 2019 after the El Paso Massacre, where the gunman who shot and killed 22 people uploaded a hate-filled manifesto on the site before taking action.
As is the pattern for chan sites explained so far, an alternative forum (or really just a name change) called 8kun went live in November 2019 in hopes of keeping unmoderated, free speech alive.
Watch our webinar on fringe channels and how brand-damaging narratives emerge there.
OMG. Who is into these chan sites?
4chan is primarily made up of internet and fringe trolls. 8chan/8kun grew from the people who left their former platformlooking for something with even less moderation, and so it largely serves far-right extremists and White supremacists, including some that promote violence, or share child pornography. To help give an idea of who tends to use these sites, 4chan advertisement guidelines mention that the forum’s demographic are mostly males between the ages of 18-34 and have some form of college education.
How fast are chan sites growing?
4chan and 8chan saw a large surge in activity once Parler was taken off line, with posts more than doubling. Growth has now tapered back to a steady medium. Increases in chan activity are most often due to the de-platforming of mainstream actors.
Why should your brand care?
Chan trolls are savvy. They recognize that the best leverage they have is to shape the bottom lines of significant companies. They are tuned in to which brands represent which cultural touchstones. Then, with all that chan-fed nihilism as fuel, these actors attack in a highly chaotic way that can be scary and not easy to combat.
When we look at disinformation campaigns that target brands, 4chan has been especially impactful. Most corporations aren’t clocking the chans, so users can plan and workshop attacks with impunity, then launch into more mainstream platforms with ease. Once a chan-developed campaign becomes news, it’s difficult to track it back to the source. People then unwittingly share information that isn’t fact-checked but comes off as fact, and you’ve got a real problem.
Our unique chan-understanding, or “underchanding”:
Yonder has been paying attention and collecting data from the chans for years. That wealth and depth of knowledge is our secret sauce, and it allows us to analyze and understand what’s happening on these boards faster than anyone else. Plus, our ability to hold that data set in correlation to other data sets allows us to track how narratives leap from one platform to another, assess impact, and give brands the heads up when something negative is heading their way. Again, if you’re being mentioned in the chans, it’s never good.
The chans may continue to evolve in a pretty dark corner of the internet, but no worries – Yonder can shine little sunlight on them for you.