4chan and Teens – Hoaxes Gone Wild

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-hoaxes4chan 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.

arkansas-4chan-threat

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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Here Comes 8chan aka Infinity Chan – A New 4chan is Born

You may have heard of 4chan – it’s generally considered the worst place on the internet. We have always advised parents of teens what-is-8chanthat the site is not a safe or friendly place. Back in 2013 we wrote the following in a post titled “Is 4chan Safe for Teens”:

4chan is an image board social media forum, and home to some of the worst behavior and shocking photos on the internet… it’s almost impossible to browse 4chan without running into content or opinions that most parents would find not only unsafe, but downright shocking.  Fox News describes 4chan users as “a bunch of antisocial, foul-mouthed, clever nerds.”

The founder of 4chan, Chris Poole, is a well-known proponent of free speech, and has avoided almost all censorship on some segments of 4chan, except when things posted on the network are clearly illegal.

In an article about 4chan at Slate this weekend, the author offers the opinion that the folks at the head of 4chan bear responsibility for bad behavior there.

“4chan’s critics should look to the only person who has total control over the site itself: founder and operator Christopher “moot” Poole.”

We disagree. We are very much in favor of free speech, but there’s another issue at work here. The Slate author seems to think that no one is holding Poole responsible, but there is a group that is very much against Poole at the moment – 4chan’s users who are also free speech zealots. Consider the fact that earlier this month, in the wake of the first round of leaks of nude celeb photos, Poole and 4chan changed policies regarding posting of stolen or otherwise misappropriated content.

This group of very vocal users view 4chan’s caving on copyright laws as a betrayal, and has taken action. They have started a new site called 8chan, or Infinity Chan (edit in response to comment below – 8chan has been around since fall 2013, but has recently risen in popularity) that has even more lax rules than 4chan itself does.

For example, on 4chan the following are not permitted, except in the sub-forum /b/:

“You will not post any of the following outside of /b/: Trolls, flames, racism, off-topic replies, uncalled for catchphrases, macro image replies, indecipherable text, anthropomorphic (“furry”) or grotesque (“guro”) images… You will not post or request personal information (“dox”) or calls to invasion (“raids”).”

No such rules exist on 8chan. Anything that is legal in the U.S. is permitted, no matter how distasteful.

We still believe that 4chan, and now 8chan, are not appropriate for teens. We maintain, however, that holding the leaders of these forums responsible for users’ reprehensible behavior is wasted energy. There will always be a forum for unpopular views and content, as confirmed by the fact that 8chan popped up as quickly as it did.

As a parent, it’s up to you to stay on top of what your kids are doing online. Some places are safe and wholesome and some are not. Viewer, and parent, beware.

 

 

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Proof Positive That Even 4chan Is Not All Bad

4chan logoThe internet is a big place with a lot of options for tweens and teens. Of course we’re in the business of giving parents advice on how to keep kids’ internet activity safe and responsible, and we are quick to caution that there is a lot of cyberbullying, hateful and adult content on anonymous social network 4chan.

4chan’s rules regarding permissible content are pretty straightforward:

“Do not upload, post, discuss, request, or link to, anything that violates local or United States law.”

That’s it. Because it has so few restrictions and so little moderation, it attracts some of the worst internet actors. It also hosts some content that is very good, and quite positive. Consider the following.

red-eyes-black-dragon I don’t frequent 4chan, but I am a Reddit user, and the above post made it to the front page of Reddit today.

Reddit and 4chan are both not safe for kids, and teens should tread very carefully.

The above post, touching as it is, highlights the fact that parents need to be careful not to paint large parts of the internet with one brush. Yes, with fully anonymous platforms, cyberbullies and trolls can remain nameless, but there is a flip side. From a post by 4chan founder Chris Poole on the dangers of anonymity:

“What I’ve observed is the opposite—that anonymity facilitates honest discourse, creates a level playing field for ideas to be heard, and enables creativity like none other.”

Even with the bad, there are a lot of good things out there.

 

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When Anonymous Networks and Apps Aren’t All Bad for Teens

4chanWe have cautioned a number of times that anonymous websites and apps are not only not great idea for young internet users in a number of scenarios, but also not as safe as users of any age may think.

Without re-covering too much ground, in summary:

There are a host of sites and apps where who you are takes a back seat to other factors. Recently, either because of Facebook fatigue or other factors, new anonymous platforms are popping up all the time.

Sites/Apps where users are totally anonymous

  • 4chan
  • Secret
  • PostSecret
  • Social Number
  • Whisper
  • Backchat
  • Yik Yak

Sites/Apps anonymous is optional but commonplace

  • Reddit
  • Ask.fm
  • Flickr
  • Lots more if you make an effort to keep yourself anonymous

All of the above being said, another school of thought deserves some discussion. In certain circumstances, anonymity can be a good thing.

Chris Poole, the founder of anonymous social network 4chan, took time to write about his thoughts on anonymity earlier this month. I found them insightful, particularly in the context of this post, because in no cases would we be OK with kids operating with adolescent mindset going on 4chan.

Regarding the 4chan user experience, Poole writes:

The combination of anonymity and ephemerality has fostered experimentation and creativity rarely seen elsewhere. It’s incredible what people can make when they’re able to fail publicly without fear, since not only will those failures not be attributed to them, but they’ll be washed away by a waterfall of new content. Only ideas that resonate with the broader community persist, creating the most ideal conditions for the production of viral content…

Creativity and humor thrive on anonymous platforms. Also, there are gaming and technology topics that for a number of reasons people would prefer to discuss without their real name being part of the conversation. Make no mistake, there is great content on Reddit, 4chan and hundreds of online forums where there also happens to be content that is not safe for youngsters.

There is no firm age at which we’d suggest that it’s OK for a minor to use 4chan or another anonymous network. If, however, your son or daughter is mature enough to recognize and avoid potential predators and bullies, self-prohibit themselves from viewing or interacting with inappropriate content, and refrain from cyberbullying or harassment even though their identity is hidden, participating online anonymously might not be the worst thing in the world.

This still poses a challenge for parents. Not only do you have to make an active decision about when your teen is mature enough to be incognito online, you’re also still going to want to keep up a dialog about what they’re doing as their habits and friends change. It’s tricky.

 

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Study: Anonymity Online Leads to Cyberbullying and Bad Behavior

We’ve been saying for a while that in the course of our research, we see significantly more cyberbullying and general bad behavior on anonymous sites and networks than we do on “real name” networks. Common sense would dictate that this makes sense, but some data out this week backs up our views.

Arthur Santana, an assistant professor at the University of Houston researched thousands of comments on online articles both at sites where readers use their real name and sites that allow anonymity (Full research here: It’s not free). In summary, from the NJ.com article linked above:

“53 percent of anonymous comments included language that was vulgar, racist, profane or hateful. By comparison, about 29 percent of comments on sites that require commenters to use their names were deemed uncivil.”

What does this mean for parents? Well, you’d be well served telling your teens to avoid anonymous networks for a start.

Santana is quoted as saying:

“One of the benefits of online anonymity is that it allows people to express their views, uninhibited, especially if it is an unpopular opinion,” Santana said. “It’s when commenting descends into hateful language, threats or racism that the conversation breaks down and any benefits of constructive dialogue goes away.”

Are social media comments all that different from article comments? We don’t think so. Anecdotally but consistent with the results of the study, reports of cyberbullying recently have been widespread on anonymous networks such as Ask.fm, 4chan and Whisper App.

The risk that your teen, if posting on an anonymous network, may be cyberbullied or otherwise treated harshly should not be ignored. Unfortunately, the chances that your teen will take the bait and get involved in a vulgar or hateful exchange is also increased on networks where anonymity is allowed.

We’re certain most parents agree that just because the typical comment or exchange is mean-spirited, that doesn’t make it OK. Encourage your teens to take full responsibility for what they do and say online, and stick to networks where the discourse is civil and good digital citizens are the norm.

 

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Could an Internet License Work for Teens and Tweens?

Unfortunately, this blog post contains no full answer to the question posed in the title. We’re looking for answers, or input.

internet age verificationBy “internet license”, I mean something like a driver’s license; government issued (digital?) ID that would serve to positively affirm an internet user’s age when signing up for a social media site or viewing an adult-oriented website. After all, the government is involved in deciding at what age young people are allowed to drive, drink alcohol, see adult-rated movies, buy violent video games and vote.

Most social media sites and adult-oriented websites have a stated age limit, but that age limit is for the most part not enforced. The age limit is applied by some version of “click here if you’re over 18”. The sites have no way of verifying the veracity of your click, nor do they want to because they are hungry for traffic/visitors/members.

The only protection offered to minors comes via the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), and that protection mainly focuses on what personal information that sites can share with advertisers, and only applies to minors under the age of 13. As a parent, I’m more worried about my kids being contacted by a predator or interacting with inappropriate content than I am about them being spammed by advertisers. Add to that the fact that COPPA does not apply to websites such as 4chan if they do not collect personally identifying information.

Many parents, especially those who aren’t too technologically savvy, would benefit from knowing that certain parts of the internet are off limits to their kids. Could the government implement an effective identification mechanism? I’m not sure. I’m confident that it is technologically possible, but could easily end up being something that is no more foolproof than the current system.

Do you have thoughts or a comment? Please let us know below.

 

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Are Anonymous Websites Safe For Teens?

If a teen is using a social media network or website where anonymity is allowed, or is the default, there is a perception that there is less risk than if the teen were online using his or her real name. I know that my kids believed this to be true, at least before I explained things to them. Parents should understand that this is not necessarily the case.

AnonymousLet’s take a look at a number of reasons why being anonymous, or thinking you are, can either lead to risky behavior or put an internet user at risk:

Nobody knows who you are – Let’s face it – the only thing that keeps some impulsive teens from doing or posting inappropriate things online is the fear of getting caught. If a teen “knows” that he is anonymous, bad or riskier behavior could become the norm.

Cyberbullying – Similar to the point above, cyberbullies are bolder when the fear of being found out is zero. If your teen is on an anonymous site, even if she is a great kid not likely to be a bully, she is vulnerable to being targeted by bullies herself.

Other inappropriate conduct – The number of incidents involving cyberbullying and other inappropriate conduct that we see on anonymous sites and networks is much higher than on “real name” networks. If your teen frequents these sites day in and day out, he may learn that this inappropriate behavior is normal, or may join in just to seem cool.

Doxing – Short for document tracing, doxing is the process of internet users exposing the true identity of another user, even though that user had been posting anonymously. If your teen has been acting inappropriately online, and gets outed, there could be serious repercussions.

Predator risk – If your teen is anonymous, then so are the predators, making it easier to craft an online identity that may seem like a friend-able type of person to your teen. Beware as not all internet users are who they appear to be.

Now let’s take a look at the places online that teens frequent where anonymity is either common or the default identity.

Ask.fm – Ask.fm is a question and answer site designed to allow users to post questions and receive answers from friends and strangers. It is a forum frequented by teen cyberbullies, and has been linked to numerous teen suicides. Anonymity is optional on Ask.fm, and from what we’ve seen, victims are often users with their real name as a handle while the bullies choose to remain anonymous. We caution parents that teens should proceed with caution when using Ask.fm.

Reddit – Reddit is a news, general interest and commenting website designed to allow users to post and vote on content. Reddit is mostly anonymous, and commenters can be extremely cruel. There is a lot of great content on Reddit (100 million unique users last month), but users need to have a thick skin to engage here.

4chan – 4chan is a fully/mostly anonymous image posting and discussion forum, organized by topic. All users are anonymous on 4chan and the content is totally unmoderated. Teens should avoid it.

Whisper App – Whisper App is a photo and group-messaging app designed to allow users to post stock or personal pictures along with comments – usually secrets or confessions. While mostly harmless, Whisper has recently been used for anonymous cyberbullying. Fortunately, the app does offer a relatively easy way to report bullying.

There are many sites and networks where, wile most users operate under their real name, but many are anonymous, such as Twitter, Snapchat and other messaging apps, Instagram, Tumblr and online gaming platforms. We advise teens to use good judgment when interacting with users whose true identity is not known.

 

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What is Doxing and Why You Should Care

Doxing (short for document tracing) is the process of having your true identity revealed online, even though you had been posting anonymously using a pseudonym or other alias. It is also a form of cyberbullying. Why should parents care? Because your teen may be at risk.

rz-tf2-2Consider websites/social networks where anonymity is allowed or encouraged, such as Reddit, Ask.fm or 4chan. The reason that you’re acting anonymously could be because you’re doing something that you don’t want others to know about, or it might be something completely harmless. In any case, if you believe that you are anonymous, your guard is probably down, and your actions may be more crude, unfriendly or embarrassing than they would be otherwise. What if everything that you’ve done online is revealed publicy?

On Reddit, users choose their own user name and it is almost always not their real name. On 4chan, users are not permitted to register, so their user name is a randomly generated set of characters. FYI, 4chan doxing doesn’t usually happen on 4chan, rather, is happens when a group of 4chan users decide to dox a user from another network like YouTube or Facebook.

We specifically mention Reddit and 4chan because their users tend to be more computer savvy than average, and so their ability to discover someone’s true identity and do the doxing is actually quite impressive.

Why does the doxing happen? Something it’s merely sport, and other times it’s because a user is disliked or has anonymously posted an unpopular or distasteful opinion. In many cases, the doxers consider what they’re doing to be a public good, but it can have unintended consequences. And if you are doxed, your name, email address, social media profiles and other information can be made public.

How can your teen (or you) avoid becoming the victim of doxing?

Choose a unique user name for each anonymous network that you use – if you have the same user name for all accounts that you set up, it makes it very easy for a hacker to link them together

If you are posting things that you don’t want linked to your true identity, use a throwaway email address – using yourname@gmail.com when setting up a social media account is not a great idea is you’re up to hijinks

Act appropriately online – if you never post anything inappropriate online, the fallout from the doxing will be minimal (unless your SSN and banking information is unearthed)

Do not post deliberately unpopular opinions (trolling) – you will run the highest risk of being doxed if you are deliberately pulling the chain of a person or group who has the resources to track you down

Teens need to keep it clean online, but for those who prefer to be a little edgier, we advise guarding your identity closely.

 

 

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Is 4chan Safe for Teens?

 

No. 4chan is not safe for teens. Period.

 

4chan Home Page
4chan Home Page

4chan is an image board social media forum, and home to some of the worst behavior and shocking photos on the internet. On the positive side of the ledger, it’s also home to some wonderful, esoteric information and discussions, and is unofficial home of the internet activist group Anonymous, which has brought bad guys to justice on more than one occasion. 4chan is also credited with creating some of the most poplar memes on the internet including the Rick Roll and Lolcats.

The site is organized in into “boards”, and each board has its own category and posting guidelines. The term image board refers to how users post new content. A new post must include an image, and follow up posts either comment on that image or post an image of their own. Each reply bumps that post to the top of the board again, so popular posts tend to stick around for a while.

Users are anonymous, and registration not only is not required, it is not possible. The rules state that users must be 18, but no attempt is made to verify age since there is no registration process. Content on each board is listed from newest to oldest, with the oldest content reportedly disappearing forever.

Boards like “music”, “video games” and “photography” do indeed have discussions that would be of interest to teen who are focused on that type of thing.

If users are anonymous and users’ posts disappear forever, you might be inclined to think it’s safe for a teen to browse there. Well, it’s almost impossible to browse 4chan without running into content or opinions that most parents would find not only unsafe, but downright shocking.  Fox News describes 4chan users as “a bunch of antisocial, foul-mouthed, clever nerds”. Let’s discuss what we mean by safe.

Exposure to inappropriate content – Many posts are meant to get a reaction by being intentionally shocking, containing nudity, pornography, gore or weapons. Some content that is illegal (such as child porn) is not allowed.

Cyberbullying – Many of the comments on 4chan are attacks on the original poster of the thread (OP). Seasoned users refer to themselves as “fags” or “/b/tards”, and new users are called “newfags” or “trolls”. If your teen posts on 4chan, there is a very good chance he will be bullied.

Predator/identity risk – Not a big deal on 4chan, except in extreme cases. There is no way to contact another user directly other than replying to one of their posts, so normal predators can’t get to you. If 4chan power users (many of them hackers) decide you’ve done something that crosses the line, you could be at risk of being “doxed”, or having your real identity revealed despite the fact that you posted to the internet anonymously.

Exposure to hateful opinions – Since many 4chan users are some of the most aggressive trolls on the internet, users are likely to be exposed to opinions that appear to be or are sexist, racist, anti government and anti everything else.

I suppose you could make the argument that the most mature teens out there could get the good stuff from 4chan and ignore the bad stuff, or take it with a grain of salt, but as a parent we wouldn’t risk it.

 

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