4chan, the mostly unmoderated, image-based discussion forum, is home to some interesting discussions for people with niche interests, but is also home to some of the worst content and behavior on the internet. It is also the social site with the highest concentration of socially unacceptable content and male teens and young adults in the U.S. It can be a nightmare for parents, and that is exactly what is playing out right now.
4chan is anonymous, and many or most users who are up to no good there use a VPN or Tor to mask their identity and IP address, so whether most of what has been going on is actually true may never be proven. Most, but not all.
Certainly you’ve heard about the college shooting last week in Oregon. After the fact (according to the mainstream press) it came to light that someone on 4chan had warned of a shooting the night before, posting, “Don’t go to school tomorrow if you are in the northwest.”
The fact that the shooter hasn’t yet been linked to the above post probably means that he won’t be, or that it wasn’t him, but what looks like copycat posts have emerged.
Over the weekend, another 4chan user posted, “On October fifth, at 1pm Central time, a fellow robot will take up arms at a university near Philadelphia. His cries will be heard, his victims will cover in fear, and the strength of the Union will decay a little more.”
The above looked like a copycat hoax, but nonetheless had Philadelphia and New Jersey colleges bracing for a very serious event. Yesterday passed, and no school shootings or other serious events occurred. The person who posted that message hasn’t been identified, and again, probably won’t be.
Yesterday morning, a threat was posted on 4chan related to an Arkansas high school where the user threatened to “shoot-up a Faulkner County School”. The 4chan user here did not escape detection. Yesterday afternoon, a 14-year old was arrested and faces charges of making a first degree terrorist threat even though no firearms were found, and he allegedly told police that he made the post on a dare.
Why was the 4chan user behind the 3rd threat found, but not the other two? According to a Reddit user, who is probably spot on, “I don’t get it. Why no VPN, why no proxies? Damn stupid.” It turns out that the teen was not internet savvy enough to cover his tracks.
As a parent (and I am one, with two teenage boys), keeping track of the risks out there is exhausting. Making sense of them on a site like 4chan is impossible. What I can tell you is that at 4chan, there is no adult supervision. The frequently ignored age limit is 18, and unless you do something that is clearly illegal, the moderators will not do anything, and even then they might not act. If your teen is on 4chan, the adult supervisor is you.
You can’t watch your teen 24×7 to see what he is posting in an anonymous forum, and you can’t see how he is reacting to taunts, threats and dares. Nor can you go back at the end of the day and take a look, since there are no user names attached to posts.
The best course of action is to keep your teen off 4chan. Use the teen in Arkansas who is now facing jail time as an example if you have to. 4chan isn’t worth the risk.
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