4chan, a Popular Hub for Offensive Posts, Shows Signs of Distress

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — One of the internet’s darkest corners is showing signs of distress.

4chan is a controversial and largely unmoderated discussion forum. The site, created in 2003 by then 15-year-old Christopher Poole, allows users to post anonymously without so much as a pseudonym. It has been a haven for profoundly offensive antisemitic, sexist, racist and graphic content.

On Sunday, 4chan owner Hiroyuki Nisimura posted an apology on the forum, stating that the site “can’t afford infrastructure costs, network fee, servers cost, CDN and etc, now.”

But some question what type of advertisers would want to align their brands with 4chan when so much of its content is objectionable.

While 4chan itself may not be a household name, the platform has birthed many internet phenomenons over the years. Some of it is benign, like cat memes and the site LOLCats. But much of it offensive.

More recently, some of its users created a set of code words to help users make racist and bigoted slurs without being censored by social media platforms. And the image-based site also helped turn Pepe the Frog into a hate symbol, which has since been condemned by the Anti-Defamation League.

Hacktavist group Anonymous also originally organized on the platform, but 4chan is also where nude pictures of celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence were leaked. And the forum is pointed to as the origin of GamerGate, the controversial movement that views female gamers as ruining the gaming industry, leading to vitriolic online attacks on women.

Nisimura listed three options for 4chan’s future: Slow the speed of the site, limit the size of pictures users can post and even close some boards entirely; add more ads; or have more people sign up for its paid feature, 4chan Pass.

Nisimura, a Japanese entrepreneur who took over the site in 2015, wrote that 4chan recently cut down on the number of ads on its site due to ad serving costs. In an email sent to CNNMoney, he said that 4chan is not for advertisers and that “attracting advertisers is not [the] first option.” He said relying on ads is “risky,” citing ad blockers — where users block ads from surfacing in their browsers.

His post attracted the attention of those who’ve advocated against 4chan: “It’s ground zero for orchestrated harassment,” tweeted game developer Brianna Wu, who expanded on her thoughts in a post on Bustle.

But Wu told CNNMoney that while she doesn’t expect 4chan to die, she does anticipate the site to be much “slower and require users to pay to upload large images.”

While 4chan’s future is far from clear, there is one person interested in ensuring the site stays around: Martin Shkreli. The former pharmaceutical exec who’s facing criminal charges expressed interest in making sure the site doesn’t die. Nisimura confirmed to CNNMoney that he and Shkreli are talking.

(It should be noted that Shkreli is known for stunts aimed at getting a rise out of people, like auctioning off the chance to punch him in the face.)

In a call with CNNMoney, Shkreli declined to comment on a possible 4chan deal but did talk about 4chan more broadly. He referred to himself as a “blackbelt troll,” but even he has been “very distraught” by some of 4chan’s content, including a gross amount of antisemitic posts. “At the same time, I respect that people have those thoughts. I think its wrong, but I can’t do anything about it.”

In an email to CNNMoney, Nisimura shared a similar sentiment: He “personally [doesn’t] like sexists and racists … [but] If I like[d] censorship, I would have already [done] that.”

Nisimura, who previously founded a Japanese message board site 2channel, said he wants to maintain the platform as a place for people to speak freely about anything.