4chan is a web community that has been spottily covered by the media, most painting it a homogeneous band of pervs and psychopaths bent on chaotic destruction. I have covered many stories about 4chan's raids, hacks, and pranks. But I've also covered their charitable side. Along the way I've been fascinated by the amorphous morality held by the site's users. The way I see it, 4chan's morality is built upon five pillars. Read my exhaustive account after the jump.


"/b/tards" (the members of 4chan's most popular subforum, usually the only 4chan users who interact with the rest of the internet in their 4channer roles) love nothing more than ruffling the feathers of NORPs (Normal Ordinary Responsible People). If they can shock, offend or otherwise troll the mainstream media or unsavvy internet users, they'll relish the opportunity. They're the kid who drew a penis on the chalkboard before class, who sees it as an almost ethical duty to "f*ck sh*t up, maaaaan."

Championing the Underdog

Remember Zach Anner, the wheel-chair-bound guy with cerebral palsy who allegedly got the shaft when he aimed for his own travel show on Oprah's new TV network? 4chan had his back. See also: William Lashua, the poor old veteran who they initially thought was so lonely that he needed to advertise his own 90th birthday party to attract guests. He wasn't lonely, but they helped throw him an epic birthday party anyway. Defenseless animals are also regularly defended.

William Lashua

Attacking the Winners

In a way, 4chan users see themselves as a great equalizing force. Just as they enjoy helping out the little guy, they rejoice in taking the arrogant down a peg or two, especially those that enjoy a hypnotic power over millions, like Oprah, or the Church of Scientology. YouTube queens with huge followings like LexiBee, for instance.

Attacking the Naive

Every once in a while some unassuming tween will get on YouTube and start talking trash, expressing misguided outrage or just generally being weird. 4chan sees this and thinks, "We can't let him/her get away with this. Time to teach them a lesson." This is where a lot of cyberbullying cases are born. Poor, naive kids like Jessi Slaughter, Boxxy and more recently this Justin Bieber fan come under fire for being spastic or otherwise annoying. Some 4chan users think it's their moral responsibility to show these doofuses that you can't get away with garbage like that on the internet. There are rules. This is where 4chan's jovial pranksterism takes a dark turn. Some of these kids are under 13 and they're receiving death threats.

jessi slaughter


4chan users love to go against the grain. Most of them are smart, outsider types. They've quit trying to assimilate and wear their weirdness as a badge of honor. They identify with underdogs for the most part, but what happens when waves of support for the underdog swells so much that they're no longer seen as fellow outsiders? In Friday's story, I noticed more than a few /b/tards siding with Jennifer Petkov, the almost universally despised Detroit housewife who taunted a dying girl in a neighborhood feud. They lauded her as a "master troll." After all, she had the balls to ridicule a 7-year old dying of Huntington's. In the eyes of her supporters, she should be crowned "The New Queen of /b/."

I think it's important to note here that a lot of this is posturing. I'm confident that most of the people who sided with the Petkov's are themselves engaged in what you might call a meta-troll. They rage against "Internet White Knights" and "Moralfags," two monikers that denote a chivalric attitude that most people would consider basic human decency. "What happened to /b/," they moan. "This place used to be fun. Now it's full of butthurt moralfags.* Let's find out where the little girl lives so we can make her life miserable before she dies." If I had to estimate, I would say over 99% of the people who make claims like this are just shooting for shock value.

It's interesting to note how the community at the news forum Reddit might be considered 4chan's mature older brother. One user, commenting on my story about the family in Detroit, called 4chan the sword to Reddit's shield. Another said:

4chan and reddit might make a nice couple in the grand scheme of things. reddit does the do-goodery... 4 chan does what most redditors would like to do but don't.

Another wrote:

Reddit is Social Security and 4chan is the Department of Justice. Keanu is president.

Perhaps the fog of anonymity brings out people's true nature, for better or for worse. Eh, probably for the worse. Whatever the case, Reddit has an established tradition of do-goodery. While also not a homogenous group, they immediately established a way for people to make a positive contribution to the horrible situation by sending donations and toys to the dying girl's family. There are countless examples of Redditors mobilizing quickly to give to people in need. Perhaps there are more social rewards for being nice when one has a reputation to maintain within the community. Maybe the amenable nature of the site is due to its commitment to retaining its close-knit techie roots.

I would never argue that 4chan follows anything resembling a cohesive moral code. The community is made up of people from all over the world, some atheists, some religious. Some teenagers, some middle-aged. Sure, there's a sociopath or two on every thread who would ridicule a girl dying of cancer, but I'm willing to bet that most of the shockingly amoral content you're likely to find on /b/ is just adolescent posturing.

*The suffix "-fag" a sometimes derogatory way 4chan users label each other. Christians are called "Christfags." New 4chan users are called "newfags." Let's examine the term, "moralfag." The idea is that these people love morality so much that they are "gay for it." This implies that if a heterosexual guy, for example, loves an actor so much he'd be willing to "go gay" for him, no matter how distasteful gay sex is. It's gross and sophomoric, but it's the parlance of our time. In most cases it's not even meant as a direct slur against homosexuals - /b/tards will often refer to themselves as being "oldfags" (veteran users) but the implicit meaning is there nonetheless.

More from our friends around the web...

Sly Kittens Create Music [Buzzworthy]

Scariest Movies from the Past [Neatorama]