That's not funny! - Macleans.ca
 

That’s not funny!

The website behind those cute cat photos has a darker side


 

That's not funny!In December 2007, Chris Forcand was arrested in his Toronto apartment and charged with luring an underage girl, possessing a dangerous weapon and other related offences. Forcand, then 53, had posted nude photos of himself in Internet chat rooms and tried to proposition young girls. After some of those lurid conversations were sent to members of his church, Toronto police’s Child Exploitation Section was called in. Forcand was later sentenced to 12 months. The cyber-vigilantes who uncovered his activities and brought about the arrest did not reveal their identities. But subsequent reports linked them to the Internet group Anonymous, which grew out of a message board site, 4chan.org, that is arguably one of the odder places you’ll find online.

If you’ve never heard of 4chan, you’re probably still aware of some of its actions. Its users have created some of today’s most popular Internet memes, such as Rickrolling, which blasts people’s computer screens with a link to the Rick Astley song Never Gonna Give You Up, and lolcats, those photos of cutesy felines accompanied by broken English captions like “I can has Cheezburger?” (itself an irritating slang called lolspeak). Remember the buzz about the Chocolate Rain song, by Tay Zonday? Its popularity partly stemmed from a joke—channers decided to boost its ratings because of its absurd lyrics and melody; it was eventually covered by John Mayer and others. With more than 300 million page views per month, 4chan can create news simply on the basis of size. When something becomes a trend on the site, it will likely hit your computer screen soon, explains Tim Hwang, a research associate at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society.

So what does this cultural force look like? It has been hailed for its comedic genius, criticized for its cruel pranks and online harassment, and named a centre of counterculture by Time, which described it as “raw, sarcastic, bare of any social or political agenda but frequently funny as hell.” Time would know, as it appears to be the butt of a 4chan joke that rigged the voting of the magazine’s “World’s Most Influential Person” online contest, according to several reports. The founder of 4chan, called “moot,” is this year’s winner; he beat out Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama. (Time wouldn’t confirm or deny the hack, but the results speak for themselves. The first initials of the top 21 candidates spell the phrase “Marblecake also the game.” Marblecake is the name of a 4chan discussion on Scientology, and a sophomoric sexual reference.) This bit of computer mischief is emblematic of the site, whose users have been accused of everything from satirical scams to cyber-terrorism. In other words, 4chan is a powerful microcosm of all the charm, possibility, chaos and destructiveness of the Internet.

The people who drive the site aren’t exactly society’s heavy hitters: the biggest demographic appears to be 12- to 17- year-old boys, according to Quantcast.com, a site that measures digital traffic. Their idea of a good time is pretty much what you might expect from teenagers, especially bored, sexually frustrated ones: postings full of swear words and pornography are common. But so are racist slurs, as well as rape jokes, homophobic curses, and toilet humour. The aim is to get a rise out of the audience—to create “lulz,” a corruption of “lol” (short for “laugh out loud”) that relies on the joy of upsetting someone.

Sometimes, as in Forcand’s case, users seize on a cause. In February, channers found a video of a cat being physically abused on YouTube. With some Internet sleuthing, they found the identity of the teenager who’d allegedly posted it. They phoned the local police, who arrested the culprit—a boy from Lawton, Okla.—and took the cat to the vet.

Anonymous has also gone after the Church of Scientology, hassling members and hacking into computer accounts. According to the church, this ongoing global campaign, called Project Chanology, has resulted in 41 death threats, 56 bomb and arson threats, and 40 incidents of vandalism against staff, members or facilities. Last week an Anonymous member, 19-year old Dmitriy Guzner of New Jersey, pleaded guilty to hacking charges; he faces 10 years in prison.

Some of the pranks have a political purpose: the 4chan poster who allegedly hacked into Sarah Palin’s email account during the U.S. presidential campaign was identified as David Kernell, the son of a long-time Democratic state legislator in Tennessee. He will face trial next October. At other times, the harassment is senseless. One of the most brutal bullying campaigns involves a Minnesota family. In the spring of 2006, 13-year-old Mitchell Henderson of Rochester, Minn., killed himself with his parents’ rifle. The reason for the tragic suicide wasn’t clear, but after his death, someone on 4chan saw an entry on Mitchell’s MySpace page referring to a lost iPod and decided that was the reason he had killed himself. Joke videos re-enacting the suicide appeared online, and someone left an iPod on his grave, taking photos and posting them online. Prank calls by boys pretending to be Mitchell’s ghost were made to the family, and continued for a year and a half, said Mitchell’s father, Mark, an IT executive, in an interview with the New York Times. “What’s unbelievable is that this is still going on,” explains one of Mitchell’s relatives, in a phone call with Maclean’s. “These people are still trying to discredit him.”

Unlike most Web forums, 4chan does not filter salacious or vulgar material. Almost anything, no matter how depraved or cruel, can make it onto the message boards, although there is a ban on child pornography. Since it doesn’t require user names or registration, most people are automatically given the name “Anonymous.” And “lulz” humour is intensified by anonymity, which several studies show can shift behaviour and even morality, says Shaheen Shariff, a professor of education at McGill University. Consequences in the real world seem remote, and some people become less empathetic, “more aggressive.” Tim Hwang once witnessed the transformation in reverse. In January, the Harvard associate organized a New York conference about Internet culture. Several Anonymous members showed up in Guy Fawkes masks—a look inspired by the cult comic and film V for Vendetta—and began heckling a speaker. As soon as one of the hecklers was brought to the front and given a chance to speak, they all calmed down, Hwang says. But as it is, a number of violent “jokes” on 4chan have spiralled out of control and police become involved. There have been at least four such cases, in Australia, the U.S. and Sweden. In one instance in February 2009, threats of a school shooting resulted in the evacuation of a school in Eskilstuna, Sweden, and the arrest of a 21-year-old man.

But prosecuting online harassers is extremely difficult. Most harassment cases aren’t serious enough to involve the police, so it’s up to the victim to track down those responsible. Legally, the websites are protected; in the U.S., section 230 of the Communications Decency Act virtually immunizes them from liability for anything individuals post. Canadian jurisprudence has largely followed suit, under the rationale that online entities like Yahoo! shouldn’t be responsible for each user’s actions. A case now before California’s 4th District Court of Appeal demonstrates the complexities. On Halloween 2006, Nicole Catsouras, an 18-year-old from Orange County, Calif., died while driving her father’s Porsche. The gruesome photos of the scene, showing the girl’s partly decapitated head and bloody body, were leaked by highway patrol dispatchers, and soon spread on the Web. The family started receiving anonymous text messages and emails with the images attached. They stopped using the Internet and even resorted to home-schooling one of their surviving daughters. They’ve sued the police (so far unsuccessfully), but everyone else, including the sites that spread the photos, has emerged unscathed. There is anecdotal evidence suggesting the group Anonymous was involved in spreading the pictures, but it is extremely difficult to track down real-world identities.

Canadian and U.S. law largely protects individuals who post anonymously, says Richard Stobbe, a Calgary-based intellectual property and Internet lawyer, who writes a popular blog on these issues. That is slowly changing as judges wake up to the threat, but right now victims of online harassment have few legal rights. They can file a lawsuit asking the site to release user identities, he says, but there is no guarantee they will win. And if they do win, the website might not keep any records. Sites can track users through their computer’s IP addresses, but websites don’t always turn on this feature, explains Michael Fertik of ReputationDefender, a U.S. firm that provides support and legal help for victims of online attacks. And when the libel is posted from a public computer, you’re out of luck.

In essence, this gives sites like 4chan carte blanche. Sometimes channers work for society, rooting out predators and cat torturers. At others, they engage in cyber-terrorism and harassment. The choice is entirely theirs. Anonymity enables a range of behaviours that wouldn’t otherwise occur. And our laws, says Stobbe, haven’t yet evolved to keep up.


 

That’s not funny!

  1. It would be fair to mention that those who called the police on these bomb threats were people from 4chan themselves.

  2. Hmmm. I see mention of the COS complaints against Anonymous– which the FBI has expressly failed to support– but nothing of the recent assaults by the COS on "members" of anonymous. Google Baca. Look into what has happened at Gold Base recently and in Nashvillie recently. I know the media is afraid to be critical of the COS, but by avoiding all topics that make you afraid, you are failing in your jobs. The media is just as guilty at throwing us to the COS wolves as law enforcement is in this country. Belgium, France, and Germany see the insanity for what it is. Our peeps have no spine and have failed us here.

  3. You've got to be kidding me. A rhombus can be a square, but very few rhombuses are squares. If the reporter did any research at all, rather than rely on Church of Scientology propaganda, she would be able to differentiate 4chan visitors, from the global movement called Anonymous. Sure they may have the same origin, but don't mushrooms grow from excrement? Any identifiable group may have individuals who commit crime. To link the crime of individuals to an Anonymous collective which has no membership requirements other than to maintain ones anonymity, is shoddy journalism. Talk about epic failure. If the author intends to be an advertisement for the CO$ why doesn't she herself go for a free stress test, yell at some ashtrays, sign a million year SeaORG slavery contract, be coerced into aborting her baby, and be disconnected from her family.

  4. It would be fair to mention that those who called the police on these bomb threats were people from 4chan themselves.

  5. Hmmm. I see mention of the COS complaints against Anonymous– which the FBI has expressly failed to support– but nothing of the recent assaults by the COS on “members” of anonymous. Google Baca. Look into what has happened at Gold Base recently and in Nashvillie recently. I know the media is afraid to be critical of the COS, but by avoiding all topics that make you afraid, you are failing in your jobs. The media is just as guilty at throwing us to the COS wolves as law enforcement is in this country. Belgium, France, and Germany see the insanity for what it is. Our peeps have no spine and have failed us here.

  6. You’ve got to be kidding me. A rhombus can be a square, but very few rhombuses are squares. If the reporter did any research at all, rather than rely on Church of Scientology propaganda, she would be able to differentiate 4chan visitors, from the global movement called Anonymous. Sure they may have the same origin, but don’t mushrooms grow from excrement? Any identifiable group may have individuals who commit crime. To link the crime of individuals to an Anonymous collective which has no membership requirements other than to maintain ones anonymity, is shoddy journalism. Talk about epic failure. If the author intends to be an advertisement for the CO$ why doesn’t she herself go for a free stress test, yell at some ashtrays, sign a million year SeaORG slavery contract, be coerced into aborting her baby, and be disconnected from her family.

  7. This story is awful. No real investigative research done, and all information from at least over a year ago (with the exception of the Time magazine bit). This whole thing is just a rehashing of stuff that's been well covered by other sources.

    Amateur writing is amateur.

  8. My my…

    Well as we all know scientologist do not live in objecive reality, but rather one of their

    own making, however i do believe expressing such wild accusations with nothing to

    base them on violates a law wich has been succesfully sued over many times by many

    people and against larger animals then scientology…

    in any case this battle will not last.

    scientology has no friends outside of its own ranks, and enemies in just about

    every dempographic one could think of.

    technicly scientology is fighting a war on a virtualy unlimited number of fronts.

    wile no1 has ever one a war on more then one.

  9. This story is awful. No real investigative research done, and all information from at least over a year ago (with the exception of the Time magazine bit). This whole thing is just a rehashing of stuff that’s been well covered by other sources.

    Amateur writing is amateur.

  10. My my…

    Well as we all know scientologist do not live in objecive reality, but rather one of their
    own making, however i do believe expressing such wild accusations with nothing to
    base them on violates a law wich has been succesfully sued over many times by many
    people and against larger animals then scientology…

    in any case this battle will not last.
    scientology has no friends outside of its own ranks, and enemies in just about
    every dempographic one could think of.
    technicly scientology is fighting a war on a virtualy unlimited number of fronts.
    wile no1 has ever one a war on more then one.

  11. Everything posted in /b/ is a hoax, to troll the media for lulz

  12. Everything posted in /b/ is a hoax, to troll the media for lulz

  13. Scientology is insanely stupid and foolish, but we do believe in religious freedom.

  14. Scientology is insanely stupid and foolish, but we do believe in religious freedom.

  15. Very dumb and poorly researched article. Try a bit harder please.

  16. Very dumb and poorly researched article. Try a bit harder please.

    • Agreed,

      All of this has been discussed.
      4chan=/=Anonymous.

      "Weird, I found this article through a Freedom Watch link. I think their propaganda machine is totally bwoken! "

      As did I.

  17. Weird, I found this article through a Freedom Watch link. I think their propaganda machine is totally bwoken!

  18. Weird, I found this article through a Freedom Watch link. I think their propaganda machine is totally bwoken!

  19. I'd make some remark about the complete lack of objectivity in this article, but this is Macleans, so lol.

  20. I'd make some remark about the complete lack of objectivity in this article, but this is Macleans, so lol.

  21. ಠ_à²

  22. ಠ_ಠ

  23. ▲
    ▲ â–²

    Newfags?
    Ruining MY /b/?


  24. ▲ ▲

    Newfags?
    Ruining MY /b/?

  25. I went to 4chan.org and every link I selected served up a few porn banner ads. I think you might have mentioned that would happen to visitors there. What is interesting to me is the role that image posting plays in the internet experience. Sharing images and viewing them is one of the main things we do on the internet. Many blogs are nothing more than image sharing sites. What about the writing that attends the image viewing? An image can be a potent muse for writing. Those are my observations of this second.

    The one thing I wanted to also mention related to this post is this:
    "The writer's audience is always a fiction" (ty DW).
    This relates to your observations of what happens when the anonymous writers online take a stage in public with a physical audience. In that sense, your piece, though one commenter mentioned that it is old new, is valuable. I think we need to be reminded from time to time of the ways in which the internet has developed over the last decade.

  26. I went to 4chan.org and every link I selected served up a few porn banner ads. I think you might have mentioned that would happen to visitors there. What is interesting to me is the role that image posting plays in the internet experience. Sharing images and viewing them is one of the main things we do on the internet. Many blogs are nothing more than image sharing sites. What about the writing that attends the image viewing? An image can be a potent muse for writing. Those are my observations of this second.

    The one thing I wanted to also mention related to this post is this:
    "The writer's audience is always a fiction" (ty DW).
    This relates to your observations of what happens when the anonymous writers online take a stage in public with a physical audience. In that sense, your piece, though one commenter mentioned that it is old new, is valuable. I think we need to be reminded from time to time of the ways in which the internet has developed over the last decade.

    • Wow aren't you a filthy liar.

    • I haven't heard bull shit this thick in a very VERY long time.

  27. thank you for alerting anonymous of your existence, we have longed for a new targe.

  28. thank you for alerting anonymous of your existence, we have longed for a new targe.

  29. Yet another scientology loving anonymous hating piece of garbage on the internet. I'm surprised it mentioned any of anonymous's good intentions. Anonymous is everyone and everyone is anonymous, from your 89 year old great grandmother to the just born baby. Anonymous speaks it's mind whenever and wherever it wishes with no moral subjugation. No amount of threats or libel can stop anonymous. Anonymous is not a cult or a group, it's a state of mind. It is your mind released.

  30. Yet another scientology loving anonymous hating piece of garbage on the internet. I'm surprised it mentioned any of anonymous's good intentions. Anonymous is everyone and everyone is anonymous, from your 89 year old great grandmother to the just born baby. Anonymous speaks it's mind whenever and wherever it wishes with no moral subjugation. No amount of threats or libel can stop anonymous. Anonymous is not a cult or a group, it's a state of mind. It is your mind released.

  31. Really?

    FFFFFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU-

  32. Really?

    FFFFFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU-

  33. 4chan isn't exactly a secret. It gets 300 million page views a month, and has been profiled by many major news organizations. You would think that an organization of such vaunted journalistic integrity as Maclean's would be able to find at least one actual user to talk to. Would you profile an organization such as the Co$ without talking to any of their members? How is it that you managed to profile Anonymous without talking to any current members? We're not hard to find. Look around and find the nearest nerdy type with a sense of humour and there's a good chance he's a /b/tard. You probably have dozens working in your offices.

    Lazy reporting is Lazy.

  34. 4chan isn't exactly a secret. It gets 300 million page views a month, and has been profiled by many major news organizations. You would think that an organization of such vaunted journalistic integrity as Maclean's would be able to find at least one actual user to talk to. Would you profile an organization such as the Co$ without talking to any of their members? How is it that you managed to profile Anonymous without talking to any current members? We're not hard to find. Look around and find the nearest nerdy type with a sense of humour and there's a good chance he's a /b/tard. You probably have dozens working in your offices.

    Lazy reporting is Lazy.

  35. Jesus. We've been waiting for something as lulzy as this.

  36. Jesus. We've been waiting for something as lulzy as this.

  37. Anonymous has many faces, but not one is real. you may try to sum all of us up as "bad" people, but to do o is to do the same to your self. The Internet has many sides just as the real world, You have to take the best with worst.

    [youtube qJq8NPHFOms&feature=channel_page
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJq8NPHFOms&fe… youtube]

  38. Anonymous has many faces, but not one is real. you may try to sum all of us up as "bad" people, but to do o is to do the same to your self. The Internet has many sides just as the real world, You have to take the best with worst.

    [youtube qJq8NPHFOms&feature=channel_page
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJq8NPHFOms&fe… youtube]

    • You suck so much!!!

    • FFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUA

  39. lulz

  40. You suck so much!!!

  41. lulz

  42. I am 12, and what is this?

  43. I am 12, and what is this?

  44. Agreed,

    All of this has been discussed.
    4chan=/=Anonymous.

    "Weird, I found this article through a Freedom Watch link. I think their propaganda machine is totally bwoken! "

    As did I.

  45. FFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU

  46. FFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUA

  47. FFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU

  48. ITT: Fail nothing but fail.

  49. ITT: Fail nothing but fail.

  50. Wow just… wow

  51. Wow just… wow

  52. This article is now about BOXXY

  53. This article is now about BOXXY

  54. RRRRRRRRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGEEEEEEEEEEEE

  55. RRRRRRRRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGEEEEEEEEEEEE

  56. WTF??????

  57. WTF??????

  58. SPERM BERM

  59. SPERM BERM

  60. Wow aren't you a filthy liar.

  61. BUTT FUCKERS ARE FUN TO FUCK IN THE BUTT.

  62. I haven't heard bull shit this thick in a very VERY long time.

  63. BUTT FUCKERS ARE FUN TO FUCK IN THE BUTT.

  64. Silly how they think they can judge a whole by the actions of a few. 4chan does have the occasional sick freaks, but other than that, they mean no harm. Plus while everyone on 4chan is technically anonymous, the actual anon wearing the mass and shit are totally different.

  65. Silly how they think they can judge a whole by the actions of a few. 4chan does have the occasional sick freaks, but other than that, they mean no harm. Plus while everyone on 4chan is technically anonymous, the actual anon wearing the mass and shit are totally different.

  66. the horribly researched article also fails to mention that there are other *chans
    like http://888chan.org/hell/ this one. You should really check that out, some really interesting things in there.

  67. the horribly researched article also fails to mention that there are other *chans
    like http://888chan.org/hell/ this one. You should really check that out, some really interesting things in there.

  68. wait for october 27th
    coming from paris france

  69. wait for october 27th
    coming from paris france

  70. ▲
    ▲ ▲


  71. ▲ ▲

  72. What is amusing is that most people seem to forget we have this thing called the PATRIOT act. Which has a series of special provisions which are as followed:
    If suspected of domestic or cyber terrorism, the subjects can be held without bail for an indefinite amount of time to seek public safety.

    Meaning, if DA MAN actually considered anons a threat, they would ALL be under arrest and in guantanamo bay.

    Fact:
    The so called "Bomb threats all turned out to be self perpetuated and unfounded.
    Fact:
    There have only been 10 arrests made. all of which involved an actually illegal act being committed and proven.

    Fact;
    The community supports anonymous.

  73. What is amusing is that most people seem to forget we have this thing called the PATRIOT act. Which has a series of special provisions which are as followed:
    If suspected of domestic or cyber terrorism, the subjects can be held without bail for an indefinite amount of time to seek public safety.

    Meaning, if DA MAN actually considered anons a threat, they would ALL be under arrest and in guantanamo bay.

    Fact:
    The so called "Bomb threats all turned out to be self perpetuated and unfounded.
    Fact:
    There have only been 10 arrests made. all of which involved an actually illegal act being committed and proven.

    Fact;
    The community supports anonymous.

  74. I went there once. Browsed around their Culture and Art pages. A lot douche european nationalists populate that site. A guy from Italy started complaining about blacks and muslims in his country. Read through most of the comments and had to stop. It's stuff like that that makes me despise nationalism.

  75. I went there once. Browsed around their Culture and Art pages. A lot douche european nationalists populate that site. A guy from Italy started complaining about blacks and muslims in his country. Read through most of the comments and had to stop. It's stuff like that that makes me despise nationalism.

  76. This is sad. I hope he will go to jail for good.

  77. This is sad. I hope he will go to jail for good.

  78. That's disgusting I hope he stays in jail. I've heard many stories similar to this, men that just behave in a unmoral disgusting manner. Unfortunately there was a similar incident in my neighborhood, where a Freeport dentist convinced his female patients to come over his house because he had tools at home that can treat their dental problem. The dentist would gain their trust, and when the patient arrives he would attack and rape them. People like this make me consider the death penalty.

  79. That's disgusting I hope he stays in jail. I've heard many stories similar to this, men that just behave in a unmoral disgusting manner. Unfortunately there was a similar incident in my neighborhood, where a Freeport dentist convinced his female patients to come over his house because he had tools at home that can treat their dental problem. The dentist would gain their trust, and when the patient arrives he would attack and rape them. People like this make me consider the death penalty.

  80. Cool story, bro.

  81. Cool story, bro.