Chances are, you’ve probably heard of “4chan”. Depending on your background, you may think of it as an anonymous imageboard for a variety of subjects and fandoms, a haven of in-jokes and birthplace of memes, the cesspool of the internet, or the secret base of the infamous hacker known as Anonymous (lol). Aside from the idea that Anon is a single person or even a united group of people, most of those views are at least partially true. However, you may not know where 4chan actually came from.
Back in 1999, a Japanese textboard launched, called “2channel”. While a decidedly Japanese space, its servers were actually hosted in the US, while its founder Nishimura Hiroyuki was attending the University of Central Arkansas. This US server hosting gave 2channel some degree of immunity to many Japanese laws. Furthermore, 2channel allowed users to make posts anonymously, and that went about as well as you could expect.
With 2channel’s anonymity and general freedom, the text boards began to be used for all manner of unsavory things, including open hate speech, slander, and even the sale of narcotics. In 2001, 2channel was in danger of shutting down under the pressures of massive traffic volume, and many of its members sought other places to chat. One such anonymous volunteer, who remains unnamed to this day (simply known as “Sonchou” or “Village Head” by the users) built the spinoff 2chan.net, also known as Futaba Channel.
Unlike its predecessor, Futaba Channel was an image board, allowing more than just text communication. As a result, the creativity of the community boomed, resulting in famous memes like OS-tan. Miraculously, 2channel pulled through their 2001 server load difficulties, and many more setbacks to follow (the 2002 decision to display IP addresses of anonymous posters after the site was being investigated following some criminal events, the 2009 sale to a company in Singapore, the 2013 leak of hundreds of users’ credit card info, etc).
Rather than returning to 2channel, Futaba users preferred their more insulated community, and strongly opposed seeing their in-jokes and memes being exported back to 2channel or other websites. Furthermore, Futaba Channel offers true anonymity, as well as a “no archive policy”, embracing the ephemerality of internet culture. The general format of Futaba Channel was later adopted by Christopher Poole, also known as “moot”, the founder of the English-language 4chan.
The anonymous nature of Futaba Channel and its usage comes up in my book, “Golden Week”, where it’s used by a budding vigilante to spread word and images of his “good deeds” to others. One of my favorite parts of writing about Futaba Channel in my book, is the acknowledgement that every corner of the world has its own internet trolls.