Alisa | October 23, 2014

4chan, /b/ and their role among new media

2018 update: This is a part of series of posts I wrote back in 2014 for my IT college curriculum subject “Social, Ethical and Professional Issues in IT”. It was a hell of an interesting subject, actually, with an obligation to blog weekly on some predetermined topics. So 4 years later I have decided to translate some of my posts from Estonian to English and preserve those here. Just a little disclaimer, not all articulated opinions hold to date. Nevertheless, it is all part of history now :) – Alisa.

A warning is due here: /b/ posts are not moderated at all, it’s content may be inappropriate, offensive and NSFW. was created back in year 2003 and is the largest English imageboard to date. Its oldest and most visited part is “Random”/b/ board. 4chan’s /b/ is a phenomenon on its own on the vast plains on interwebs, however there are two main differences that distinguish /b/ from regular web forum:

  1. Over 90% of all posts are totally anonymous Bernstein et al., 2011. One cannot register there. Also, the majority of contributors do not even use aliases.
  2. 4chan’s /b/ does not have an archive. If a thread gets to the bottomof 10th page, it gets deleted for good. Thread’s average lifespan is around 10 minutes Bernstein et al., 2011.

A classic web forum would employ some kind of identification system for contributors (either real or nickname-based). It allows for building up a specific person’s reputation within this forum and placing him into forum’s social hierarchy: newbie, frequent user, expert or opinion leader. /b/ doesn’t do any of that. Every person’s opinion is exactly as good as solid are his arguments in every particular post. At the same time reader cannot take any published for granted. In my opinion, this kind of organization generates the most interesting discussions and brainstorms. Be that as it may, most of the / b / posts reside far away from productive discussions, though.

Once again, comparing to web forums, where old topics are archived or preserved and newbies are encouraged to search for answers to their questions in archives, /b/ represents a constant flow of fresh content. 4chan’s creator himself has referenced a research, that found that 80% of all posts are in fact reposts of older (and already deleted) content. Meaning, in this environment only fittest survive. The idea, that grabs reader’s attention is reposted over and over again, while the opinion that lacks support gets forgotten really fast. To illustrate my point, just remember that today’s famous LOLcats originally come from 4chan.

To conclude, despite the fact of questionable content of /b/ and a general difficulty to classify this resource’s format as “new media”, this is, no doubt, one of new media’s peculiar components. 4chan’s /b/, as opposed to traditional web forum is a place, where opinions are judged purely on the content, not on the reputation of speaker. Whereas the most interesting ideas get spread across the threads by users day-in and day-out and finally break out from 4chan to the great expanses of internet.