The notorious message board 4chan's young founder has fashioned himself as a champion of extreme free speech on the Internet. But blatant censorship is occurring on 4chan right now, after its users attacked a target too close to home.
4chan's founder, 22-year-old Christopher "Moot" Poole, defends his messy creation with pronouncements that "the greater good is being served" by having a place for unfettered, anonymous free speech on the Internet. But currently, any post containing the word "Tumblr" is censored by 4chan. (Try it!) 4chan regularly features child porn and gory crime scene pics like something out of a Tarantino film; why is the name of a hip, New York-based blogging platform so offensive?
The filter is left over from last week's nerdy 4chan-Tumblr War, in which 4channers attacked Tumblr users for ripping off their jokes. During the attack, 4chan's moderators engaged in some unusual self-sabotage, as detailed in 4chan's wiki-of-record. (Yes, even 4chan has moderators.) They installed the word filter to systematically purge any mention of Tumblr from the board, crippling 4channers' attempts to organize. Users were banished from 4chan for days simply for replying to threads about the war, and the Tumblr ban remains in place today. Had the attack been left unchecked, 4chan's users likely would have done much greater damage to Tumblr, which didn't really experience any notable downtime.
4chan's moderators—people who Poole chooses and leads—actively worked to protect Tumblr by engaging in unprecedented censorship. It's no coincidence that this comes as Poole is about to launch a new start-up, Canv.as, after receiving $625,000 in seed money. With Canv.as, Poole is trying to go legit, and it wouldn't look good if 4chan users began attacking Tumblr, a fellow startup. Tumblr founder David Karp is a rising star in the New York startup scene—a world even more incestuous than Silicon Valley. Poole lives in New York and runs in the same tech-savvy hipster circles as Karp. Oh, look, Canv.as has a Tumblr!
As someone who has had his number and address posted on 4chan after writing about it, I can assure you that it sucks to be attacked by a horde of anonymous Internet strangers, to have to look over your shoulder for a week in case someone is sneaking up to screw with you In Real Life. But I've always seen that attack as a necessary trade-off for the raucous free speech that 4chan harbors. I'm a 4chan fan.
But now 4chan is being edited. When 4chan users do something bad Poole can no longer hide behind principles: "I don't support what they are saying; I just support that there is a site like that to say that," he says. Except editing implies priorities and, ultimately, responsibility. When 4chan users are allowed to brutally harass a 12-year-old girl into hiding, but an attempt to moderately inconvenience a tech company is squashed—this suggests some pretty fucked up priorities.