4chan is far more dangerous than we give it credit for
The terrorist attack in New Zealand has been marked as one of the worst tragedies in the Western World in recent years. The details of this attack, however, are worryingly similar to other ethno-nationalist and far-right attacks in the past, all revolving around one internet enclave of two hugely popular and extremely controversial internet forums.
The forums in question are known as 4Chan and 8Chan, and the main characteristic that draws so many to the site is also the most controversial –complete anonymity for its users.
4Chan and 8Chan do not require users to create an account and identity to converse on their forums. Instead, anyone is allowed to freely post information on its various sub-forums, with each post simply being labelled as having been posted by "anonymous". This has led many to see these websites as a "libertarian utopia" free from biases, both from the government and between individuals. The reality, however, if far from this idyllic idea.
While 4Chan is generally known to be the less extreme website of the two, far-right views can still easily be found on the board's /pol/ sub forum, also known as the "politically incorrect" section of the website. The general pretext for this sub forum is that the majority of posts are in-jokes or intentionally shocking for audiences not affiliated with the general 4Chan community, also known as "shitposting". However, there is a considerable number of posts, from both anonymous and registered users, that imply that 4Chan's /pol/ board is significantly less self-aware than it would appear.
One post, sent several days after the Christ-Church Shooting, alludes to a conspiracy theory developed since the attack that the shooting was in some way staged by the now widely defunct Islamic State.
Another post, written on Saturday by an anonymous user, criticises the New Zealand Shooter for not "eliminating" the right people, instead referring to an anti-Semitic right-wing conspiracy theory that governments are being influenced by "subversive zionists". Another anonymous user responding to the post refers to right-wing terrorists as "heroes" and asks whether the actions of them were "in the best interest of the white race".
4Chan and 8Chan are not difficult websites to access. These images were not taken from a closed off internet fringe website, or collected from somewhere within the dark-web, they were collected from a public website which can be accessed from most search engines and from a sub-forum that can be accessed by anyone, regardless of age.
4Chan is one of the largest internet forums in the world, with approximately 1.8 billion posts since its creation in 2004, and roughly 1 million posts made each day, with an average monthly view count of 703 million. The /pol/ sub-forum is placed prominently on the website's front page.
The more recent image board of the two, 8Chan, is generally known for its more extreme views within its political sub-forums, and 8Chan is the forum that the New Zealand shooter was known to frequent, and also the website where he first announced his attack while approaching the Christ Church Mosque.
8Chan is where the most extreme white-supremacist views can be found, including numerous posts portraying the New Zealand attack as a "heroic sacrifice" and listing ways to "honor" the Christ-Church Shooter.
The data analytics website SimilarWeb has estimated 8Chan's monthly traffic to be around 14-16 million views, with around half of the site's views coming from America. The third highest country in terms of proportional viewer count is the UK, with around 5% of the site's traffic taken up by UK registered computers. All images included in this article have been taken from the front pages of both political sub-forums at the time of writing.
Would these messages have been posted if 4Chan and 8Chan required its members to attach an account and identity? Probably not, as many social media websites, such as twitter and facebook allow its users to hide behind fake account names. This includes the social media accounts of the New Zealand Shooter himself, whose accounts were under a pseudonym, and the phenomenon of twitter and facebook "trolling" has been widely publicised in recent years.
Numerous media outlets have reported on the toxicity and potential for extremist content of both 4Chan and 8Chan, such as Vice back in 2016. However, legislation on these forums has been sparse, and many countries are yet to enact any meaningful legislation against 4Chan and 8Chan and its use by citizens.