Evil On The Internet…Unethical Website Of The Month: 4Chan

It's Ebola Chan! Isn't she hilarious?

It’s Ebola Chan! Isn’t she hilarious?

In Ethics Alarms’ continuing effort to bring to you depressing news of awful things you may never otherwise hear about if you are normal, I bring you 4Chan. Maybe you are as late to this sick party as I am.

I was vaguely aware that the site, which essentially hosts anonymous shock posts and hoaxes—meaning that it is a magnet for unethical conduct and the people who think its cool—was behind the initial hacking and posting of those nude celebrity photos earlier this month. It is much worse than that, however. Take this, for example, reported by The Daily Dot…

The absolutely terrible #cutforbieber hashtag became a worldwide trending topic on Twitter on Monday, an unfortunate truth that owes its existence to the perpetually scheming deviants on 4chan.

Long known for their affinity for disturbing, often sexually graphic or violent content, 4chan users schemed the hashtag this morning, when an anonymous poster wrote on notorious Web forum /b/ that community members should “start a cut yourself for bieber campaign.”

“Tweet a bunch of pics of people cutting themselves and claim we did it because bieber was smoking weed,” he or she wrote. “See if we can get some little girls to cut themselves.”


A particularly noxious 4Chan stunt is the meme Ebola-chan, which the Washington Post called a “cross between a prank, a witless joke and a truly vile strain of racism'”…

The character is a /pol/ invention, a cartoon mascot for the virus that could infect half a million people within the next four months. In fan art — of which there is, surprisingly, quite a lot — she’s depicted as a pointy-chinned, wide-eyed anime character with pink pigtails that curl into the shape of the virus. Wherever she’s posted, users are expected to reply with choruses of “I love you, Ebola-Chan” or “thank you, Ebola-Chan.” But of course, they reply with all kinds of stomach-turning stuff, as well: hopes for Ebola to wipe out all of Africa, to strike other continents or demographics, and to otherwise “remove … [the] subhumans,” as one particularly racist post put it…

This is, of course, all in the standard 4chan playbook. 4chan pranks usually unfold in predictable stages: an inside joke of some kind is born on the boards, its participants invent fake handles on forums or social networks to propagate it elsewhere, and everybody dances in the resulting confusion. (“It made it into the news in my country,” one man wrote of a Swiss article on Ebola-Chan. “Pretty funny.”)

It stops being funny, of course, the instant that anyone misses the “joke” and takes it seriously….In Africa, where misinformation and superstition about Ebola flourish, that risk could be particularly high: As Reuters reported in late June, suspicion and fear of doctors has already undermined efforts to fight the disease — and that’s without rumors that said doctors belong to some Ebola-worshipping death cult.


Some websites and blogs attract libertarians, some progressives, some baseball fans, and some the rare individuals who are interested in exploring the complexities of real life ethics. 4Chan attracts vicious assholes, who attempt to make a difference in the world by causing other innocent, vulnerable, better people confusion, fear, embarrassment and pain. This makes the assholes feel powerful, and is almost certainly as close as any of them will come in their measly, petty, pointless lives to an accomplishment.

People were brushing off and mocking my objections to web hoaxes, any and all of them, when they were not objectively obvious, just a few years ago. I saw where this was going.Maybe they aren’t laughing so hard now.


Pointer: Fred

Sources: Washington Post 1, 2, 3; New York Times ; Daily Dot

33 thoughts on “Evil On The Internet…Unethical Website Of The Month: 4Chan

  1. I’m guessing you didn’t look at anything other than /b/ or the “random” section of 4chan. That’s where the craziness is center, but there’s a lot more to 4chan than /b/

      • If you would be an advocate of censoring anything on the internet that might be offensive then perhaps you have more in common with the Third Reich then you would care to admit.

        • Who is an advocate of censoring anything on the internet, you ignorant, illiterate ass? Go ahead, quote me in this post, or any of 5000 posts, when I have said that, advocated that, or defended that. Hint: it’s not there. Here, let me attempt to explain it all for your Swiss cheese, juvenile mind. When I say that a web site is unethical, that it causes affirmative harm in what it posts, that it is irresponsible, that does not mean that I think what it posts should be censored. It means that it shouldn’t be posted, voluntarily, by decent, ethical, responsible people. These distinctions aren’t difficult or subtle, but it is because of readers like you, who can’t grasp them or much else, that websites like 4Chan thrive.

          You are a moron. When and if you come back here, I’m banning you. But go ahead and be idiotic anywhere else on the web you like.

          • UPDATE: And I did in fact ban Henry W. I even predicted his response, which I get often: I’m censoring him. No I’m not: I’ll defend to the death his right to be an idiot, misunderstand the terms he uses himself, and employ the logic of a simpleton. He just has no right to do it in my home, or on my blog, which is my forum, and governed by my assessment of who and what I think should be posted here, and where I have made the terms of engagement explicit. I would never try to get him fired or materially harmed for his words or ideas. But if he wants to be dumb, he can do it on his own blog—I’ll even introduce him to WordPress.

            And yes, if someone’s first comment on the blog is THAT stupid, and accuses me of being a Nazi to boot, they don’t have a future here. Tough.

            • You: Me, me, my my, me, me. United States: We, we, we. This is a public forum. You have just decided that it is a dictatorship. You are wrong. You can still be arrested for a crime in your home on your personal property. That is because your home stands on US soil. Your blog is a private property in a free speech zone. If you decide who has rights to free speech here, you are censoring. That makes you an advocate for censoring. What might make you ethical is to defend yourself to those who accuse you rather than throwing them out of your home. This is ethicsalarms.com and wordpress.com, not a King Jack Marshall monarchy. The length and content of this thread testify to how much censorship actually goes on here. You can ask people to leave your house, but you aren’t allowed to force them to shut up nor can you physically force them from the room without breaking a law. The police are employed to do that for you if they are unwilling to go. The length and content of this thread also testify to something else. Not many people post who agree with you. That may mean your views are too simplistic to comment upon or it could mean you are the mean old man who yells at children for cutting across his property. Good luck with that.

              • Thanks for another example of a self-invalidating post. Wow.

                1. Most commenters on the this post do not disagree with me in substance. You apparently can’t read. Very few have commented at all because they really don’t give a damn about 4Chan.

                2. Your censorship argument is idiotic. This is my discussion group, civil, constructive, intelligent participants are not. I am not stopping anyone from offering their opinion. I am stopping them from offering it here, as is my right and obligation.

      • Except in this case, a good percent of 4channers aren’t even members of /b/ to begin with. /b/ itself can sometimes be more constructive (it’s been a fairly fertile source of the internet’s more harmless memes as well, among other things), but it is what you’d expect from a board whose only hard-and-fast rule has really been “no child pornography”.

        In the case of “Ebola-chan” though, it’s more just black comedy meant for internal consumption than anything else; indeed, anime anthropomorphism is a common online joke among several websites (the Futaba Channel in Japan did it to operating systems, and the Chinese did it to government-made censorship software); 4chan itself has already done it to, among other things, captcha.

          • And that’s the point that seems to be hard to grasp. The web is big, wide-reaching, unpredictable and powerful, and like all such things, needs to be used with care. Screwing around with deadly world-wide epidemics “for internal consumption” can be benign in intent, and malign in result. And where the web is concerned, the latter is wholly predictable…enough to imply accountability.

            • And the Barbican has no accountability for figuring out that some people would react poorly and idiotically to its more provocative exhibits? The cultures of 4chan’s boards are fairly well-defined at this point; people going in generally know what they’re getting into, and I think the Internet does need explicit spaces where people can be stupid and ridiculous even with strangers (the problem is when people spread them to other places just to be dicks). As some of the comments on this very site shows, any online conversation short of private messaging (and not always even that) is going to attract outside idiots who misread the whole thing.

              • If you breed an evil culture, it’s your fault for not cleaning out the Petri Dish. I could have let the Chimpmania crowd hang out here and pollute the site. It would have been irresponsible to do so. The Bieber stunt? Come on—signature significance. If that happens, you have a sick site, and its time to administer medicine. So all of 4Chan isn’t a problem: the job is top deal with the part that is. I don’t see why anyplace—the world– “needs” a forum to reinforce bad habits, bad attitudes, bad manners and bad conduct. Why that anymore than a forum for anti-Semitism, homophobia and racism? People have a right to them, sure…and they should be called very name in the book for exercising that right.

                  • Bad jokes I’m fine with, and I agree that humor should have a long, long leash. I think many of the statements on the site, however, read less as jokes than pure hate, masquerading as jokes. The only goal of jokes is to provoke laughter.

              • On second thought, looking more into this, I have no idea what’s going on at this point (par for the course), and I’d prefer to forget this even existed (Jesus, you people work fast). My apologies, though my general point still stands.

      • Your argument is tantamount to blaming the United States’ Free Speech Amendment for the advent of pornography. Ethics is using free speech constructively. Constructive is not highlighting the bad but rather promoting the good things by either ignoring problems or fixing them rather than wasting your time complaining. 4chan is what is good about the internet. It just happens that the people you don’t like use it too. You have the freedom to voice your opinions because of the first amendment which give the 4th Reich people the right to verbalize their Uber Alles all over your internet. That doesn’t make your hate speech any more constructive than theirs. You just utilize yours more prominently and call it ethics. My Philosophy 102 class would spot your slippery slope fallacy from way off. But ya gotta make a buck somehow, don’cha?
        If you want to ban me or anyone from “your” public forum, that would be censorship whether you believe it or not. No one gets to stand on a soapbox alone in this country. You cannot edit dissenting views and still stand for free speech. So make your choice. Freedom or censorship? Congressmen make that decision every day and they cannot decide what pornography is exactly. Can you decide what stupidity is exactly?

        • You do know that only the government and government entities can engage in censorship, right? I guess not. Nor do you comprehend that this is my forum, wholly owned, and not subject to First Amendment restrictions. If I deem a comment to be rude, moronic, abusive, disrupting or unconstructive, it is, and I rule supreme, without apologies. I know how to best moderate an ethics forum. I couldn’t care less if you think I should do it differently.

          This statement is moronic: Your argument is tantamount to blaming the United States’ Free Speech Amendment for the advent of pornography. I am not tantamount to the United States. If you don’t get that, you are hopeless. Similarly, there is no slippery slope from my moderation of a blog and anything else. Your Philosophy 101 course obviously stinks.

          I don’t edit dissenting views. I edit trolls, ignoramuses, and people who take ridiculous counterfactual positions and keep arguing them. The position that “If you want to ban me or anyone from “your” public forum, that would be censorship whether you believe it or not” is a good example.

          And you’re banned. I ban very few commenters, and never for dissenting views. You’re banned for telling me that I can’t moderate my own blog, and presenting ignorant arguments to support the contention. Based on signature significance, that tells me you’re deranged. And an asshole. Go away.

  2. I read the Post’s article a few days ago, and they seem convinced that Ebola-Chan was a prank designed to fool Africans into thinking that whites worship or are immune to Ebola. But as far as I know, and I somewhat regularly visit the /pol/ board where this all started, this is just black humor; there was no intent to create a hoax.
    It seems as if lately there is a moral panic going on in certain progressive circles over 4chan, probably because some other hoaxes and pranks have been aimed squarely at feminists.

    • “I read the Post’s article a few days ago, and they seem convinced that Ebola-Chan was a prank designed to fool Africans into thinking that whites worship or are immune to Ebola.”

      I agree, I’m not going to defend what 4chan does (although I’ll defend their right to do it), but the response to their memes are so over the top. And I think you nailed it, 4chan waded into progressive protected zones, and progressives are pushing back…. I think it’ll be an interesting dustup.

  3. Fish gonna swim, birds gonna fly, 4 chan gonna troll.

    I think comparing the harm #cuttingforbieber or ebolachan does (while granting that it does do harm) to the harm committed by Nazis powerfully invokes Godwin’s law. There have to be better examples to use.

    I have mixed feelings about the site itself though… On one hand, I don’t go there, not because I actively dislike anything they do in particular, although I’m sure if I put my mind to it, I could find things, but because it just doesn’t interest me. On the other hand, the site’s owner (Christopher Poole, AKA “moot”) has said unequivocally that he won’t delete anything, that he will give a platform to anyone, that censorship is wrong, even when what you’re posting is wrong, which I think is refreshing.

    And the internet generally thinks so too. 4chan has a LOT of power and support from the general community. Google 4chan accomplishments, the litany of DOS attacks, Doxing, and other assorted internet related terrorism. (And other more mundane yet still unethical things like organizing votes on a poll so the first letters of the winners spell things like “4chan4life”), and you’ll get an idea on the volume of voices 4chan represents. It’s a lesson in internet dynamics. Slate and Huffpo eat your heart out, they don’t hold a candle against 4chan’s membership.

    And the internet isn’t the haven of free speech it used to be, between state censorship and monitoring and social justice activism, certain ideas have found salted earth in which to grow. Does having space for those unpalatable, but legitimate ideas offset the garbage found in /b/? I don’t know. But I’m leaning towards yes.

    But all that might be…. heh…. moot. The owner of 4chan has for a long time been ramping the site down, and may have consigned the site to death when he took down “Fappening” related posts. (For good reason, the “Fappening” is what some people are calling the mass hack of actress pictures that happened a while ago, and while most of 4chan content is user generated, those pictures would have invoked the wrath of copyright lawyers). Users have slowly been migrating to other, similar sites. I’d watch out for 8chan in the future.

    • Except I didn’t do that. (And you can read my objections to Godwin’s Law here.) I just used a single extreme example out that “it’s not all like this” is a foolish distinction, and, in fact, a rationalization I failed to include, but will soon remedy. I didn’t say or imply that the conduct was comparable to the Nazis. I used an extreme example to show how wrong it is to say, “but there was more to it than just the bad part.” The point is that the bad part is still a part. Get rid of it, and we’ll talk.


      Alex Rodriguez isn’t always a jerk…
      Bill Maher occasionally says something funny…
      Michele Bachman does charity work…
      Newt Gingrich occasionally makes a trenchant point without lying…
      The Westboro Baptist Church gives to charities…
      Barack Obama is an accomplished speaker….
      Holder’s Justice Department just agreed to stop requiring a promise not to appeal as a condition of accepting plea bargains….

      …and Germany under the Nazis had some lovely scenery.

      So what?

      • I agree, actually… I forget which post it was on, but I was on an anti-feminist tirade (which I think I do too often, but it’s so easy to get sucked in) and I pointed out “Not all ___ are like that” is a stupid, stupid thing to say, and I think that “it’s not all like that” is related.

        I think my reference was perhaps because I’m sick of Nazi comparisons in general. They’re so overused and cheap at this point, that even in cases where the comparison is apt (Like your Big Lie post) I find myself rolling my eyes before reading everything and judging it’s appropriateness. That’s on me. I’ll work on that.

        • Why not use pre-World War II Japan as an alternative example? We have made the Germans beat their breasts and say “mea culpas” for two generations now, and have asked NOTHING of the Japanese… who systematically raped and pillaged Southeast Asia — most estimates are 10 million killed by the Japanese — prior to Pearl Harbor (see, e.g., “The Rape of Nanking”), who still teach WWII as a war of US aggression; who still visit Peal Harbor with smiles on their faces; who use Hiroshoma as their “Get Out of Jail Free” card; who descry (along with Truman denigraters) the use of the atom bomb as the basic moving force for the nuclear age, when, in truth, all Truman wanted to do was to get Japan to surrender and thereby save about another 1,000,000 American lives should be have to invade? Hiroshima did not usher in the nuclear age or the Cold War… basic research will make the point

          And since then: we rebuilt their country; wink at their collusive business behaviors (against the law in the U.S.) — e.g., major corporations deciding together that they were willing to lose billions of dollars over ten years by underpricing US automotive and electronics products, knowing that then they would “have stolen the [US] market.” They did it. We let them. Japan is run by a cadre of businesmen who “advise” their monarch, who is still considered a direct decsendant of the Sun-God. Now we have to negotiate deals to sell RICE to Japan?

          AND, where have all the fears gone about China? They own us. They are trading partners, for God’s said, albeit their goods are primarily constructed by slave-labor.

          Too many people to fear, yes? Too much history to look at? Let the Germans beat their breasts for another three generations… at least someone has been taken to task for past atrocities. Just don’t be so “tired’ of it… atrocities unbelievable, and already losing traction in history. Along with Japan’s conquering of Southeast Asia and Stalin’s “Gulag Archipelago.” All are historically too recent and too dangerous to set apart from current issue analysis.

  4. Example of the point above…

    “Hey, let’s tell kids they can get high from taking a lot of cheap acetaminophen! Let’s see how many kids we can get on the liver transplant list!”

    Above is an example of an idea conceived purely to bring harm to people for the enjoyment of others. It is not a joke in bad taste, this is not a joke meant to make someone angry, this is not a joke made to poke fun at people some group doesn’t like. This was designed to bring real harm to the world. This is the essence of the unethical activity detailed above.

    I didn’t think this up, if you are wondering. This was a rumor spread among inner-city kids many years ago. Yes, many ended up on a liver transplant list.

  5. The problem I have with 4chan and its ilk is this: either the posters there have no idea how much potential damage their callow behavior can do, or they DO and just don’t care. I’m not sure which is worse. I probably wouldn’t take it so hard if I believed that it was done solely by idiot preteens, but unfortunately the age group runs the gamut. As only one person, the only solution I have found is to distance myself from it and be the kindest (and best-informed) person I can.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.