If you logged onto 4chan's anarchic /b/ message board today, you would have found a changed place. Soft music played. Instead of prodigious amounts of child porn and virulent racism, there was only a little bit. What happened?
The users of 4chan.org's /b/ message board have made a bit of news lately for harassing 11-year-old Jessi Slaughter, attacking Gawker's servers and targeting some of our writers (including yours truly). But today promised to bring an unprecedented flood of attention to the site: Jessi Slaughter and her parents were scheduled to appear on Good Morning America. And naturally they'd bring up 4chan and the /b/ users who bullied her.
Overnight, users and administrators braced for an influx of new users and heightened scrutiny. Administrators switched /b/ from a NSFW board to a SFW board, replacing the red background with a soothing blue one and removing the hardcore porn ads that usually surround the site. (/b/ is just one of a number of sections on 4chan.org—many of which deal with innocuous subjects like politics and anime.) The header "Good Morning America!" was placed at the top of the site and GMA's theme song was set to play a loop—much to the chagrin of users, who have been asking all day how to turn it off.
A tongue-in-cheek list of "Etiquette of 4chan" was posted at the top of the site, listing rules almost diametrically opposed to what actually takes place on the site. "Please no cursing or threatening posts: Many people confuse 4chan's /b/ with a violent and raging personality. This is simply not true," read one. "Please no pornography or gore," read another. 4chan users Google-bombed "4chan is family friendly" so that by 1pm it was the No. 1 result on Google Hot Trends.
Even more surprising, it appeared that for at least a few hours this morning, moderators were unusually vigilant about removing any child porn, extreme gore or particularly outrageous racism. I still saw some racism and porn when I browsed the site around 10am—but nothing approaching the stomach-churning levels typical of /b/. And a bulletin at the top /b/ announced "server upgrades and additional moderators coming by later this week."
Had 4chan been tamed by the harsh glare of the spotlight? Hardly. Today's changes were part of an inside joke designed to poke fun at the concerned parents that /b/ users guessed would flock to the site following the GMA segment. The only problem: the Good Morning America segment didn't even mention 4chan's role in tormenting Jessi Slaughter. That could have been an oversight on the part of producers, or because of time constraints. But it could have also been an attempt by ABC to avoid provoking the notoriously disruptive group.
Although 4chan users were initially worried about Jessi Slaughter's GMA appearance, as the day wore on—and after it was clear there would be no massive influx of visitors—4chan moderators began to gradually loosen their grip on /b/. And users once again took up their favorite habit of trolling.
They spent all day targeting Parry Aftab, the cyber-bullying expert who appeared on Good Morning America to talk about the Jessi Slaughter case. "Lets ruin this biatch," said one. /b/ users shut down her websites, vandalized her Wikipedia entry ("Parry Atflab is an American alcoholic specializing in internet privacy and security law...") and Google-bombed "Parry Aftab Molests Child" all the way to No. 1. They distributed her personal information, including her phone number and address, and some users claimed to have harassed her on the phone. (Aftab couldn't be reached for comment.)
But that 4chan moderators tried to tone down the site in advance of the segment suggests the site's moderators are worried about negative media coverage. And if the announcement that more moderators are being hired is true, 4chan.org higher-ups may be hoping to cut down on the worst of the child porn and harassment that has for years been a staple of /b/.
Then again, I did just see a picture of an underaged boy getting a blowjob. So maybe not.