The Internet: Where Pranks Trump Villainy in Apparent Effectiveness


The Washington Post discovers that haven for surprisingly effective pranksters, 4Chan:

Corporations spend millions of dollars trying to understand and control traffic on the Internet, and more often than not they don't succeed. 4chan has mastered the feat for free.

Created seven years ago by a 15-year-old, 4chan is a vast web of anonymous, uncensored message boards. No one's in charge, but the site's users have managed to pull off some of the highest-profile collective actions in the history of the Internet.

The 4chan "hive mind" has been credited with—or blamed for, depending on your perspective—urging tween idol Justin Bieber to head for North Korea as part of his upcoming world tour (as part of an online poll allowing fans to select which country he should visit), spreading a story that Steve Jobs had a heart attack (which caused Apple's stock to fall precipitously) and starting a rumor that there was a bomb at New York's JFK airport (triggering an evacuation)…..

How 4chan—a site built for fun by a teenager that barely ekes out a profit from online ads—manages over and over again to outwit the systems that multibillion-dollar corporations use to make money on the Internet is one of the great mysteries of the capricious online world.

While part of 4chan's ability to manipulate search rankings comes from the use of clever technical tools, a large percentage must still come from sheer manpower because of safeguards Google has throw out searches that seem to be automated.

[4Chan founder Christopher] Poole, who says he neither instigated nor participated in any of the pranks, explains how 4chan users manage to get on Google Trends. They say, " 'Let's seize this idea.' " They then spread word through the discussion boards, e-mails, chat services and so on, asking everyone to search for a specific word or words at a certain time.

Next, Poole said, outsiders fan the flames. "Bloggers start to see this trending and think there must be a story, and all start to post stories. Higher up the totem pole, the bigger media outlets see rumors, and they'll comment, 'Hey look what everyone else is looking at,' " he said.

In summation, in delightful deadpan newspaper-ese:

Why people would decide to spend their time following suggestions by 4chan is what's unclear in this chain of events.

It does make one wonder why the more sinister end of Internet fuckery, such as completely destructive virus, worms, and the like, aren't succeeding more widely and frequently than they do. Probably the same reason one can walk down the streets without getting punched in the face daily: humans don't tend to be nearly as big a bunch of douchebags as we are perfectly capable of being, even when nothing at all is stopping us.

Wired profiled 4Chan as a center of messing about with the Church of Scientology last year.