The history of Anonymous and 4chan

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Anonymous, who exactly are they? this very question a contradiction in itself, is something that becomes blurred when trying to answer. Although we don’t know who they are exactly we can try to understand who they might be by examining their history. The media is infatuated by them and revolutionary freedom fighters around the world call for their support, there is even a symbol that universally identifies them. But, where did it all begin?

The story of anonymous begins when the internet was still in it’s infancy, and surprisingly from a nation far in the east.

Japan is where the story of Anonymous begin to take form. Within Japanese culture nerds are ostracized by society and are social outcast. There is even a Japanese word for them “otaku” and collectively as a group they get very negative media attention. If someone is outed as an otaku, people may look down on them, even forgo friendships with such a person, even getting a job becomes difficult with the stigma attached to this term.

But thankfully for the nerds, there was also a very very large amount of otakus in Japan. This, combined with the facts that Japan as a whole is a very tech savvy country, but also very private, gave rise to a very peculiar and important message board called 2channel. It was important because it pioneered the idea that you should be able to post to a message board anonymously and peculiar for the same exact reason. This way, you could discuss your nerdy hobbies openly with like-minded individuals and not have it link back to your real identity. Your hobbies were private from your real life, and vice versa. 2channel was very popular, but left out some important features. Eventually a different website was made that was similar to 2channel except it allowed you to post images instead of just text. It was called 2chan (or “futaba channel”).

Meanwhile in America, the internet was rapidly growing. American nerds were creating “underground communities” on the internet that focused heavily on not only discussion of hobbies and interests, but content creation and the rapid spreading of jokes and other anecdotes. One of these (probably the biggest in its time) was called Something Awful, or SA for short. SA was also a pioneer in some of its fields, by forcing users to spend $10 for an account in order to post but also would permanently ban you for the slightest rule breaking. SA also really pushed the envelope in controversial topics, by creating dark humor and shock value. However, you were still required to register in order to post, which meant that a paper-trail was always left that could possibly lead back to you. A member of this community named Moot learned of 2chan over in Japan and felt the philosophy of anonymous posting could do well in communities like SA. He replicated the 2chan software and called it 4chan. It was then, that 4chan was born and Anonymous began to take root.

4chan quickly developed a cult following and became the source of many of the classic memes and internet culture we see today, for better or worse. The first core user-base came from SA, but it grew very very rapidly. The community of 4chan flew the banner of anonymity proudly. They referred to users of 4chan as “anonymous” and branded anonymous as a single entity, a hivemind, which they personified as a character wearing a suit with a “no picture available” face as you might see when no avatar is provided on a conventional forum. This character (as a result of other memes and in-jokes of the website) would sometimes be seen wearing the Guy Fawkes mask instead of his typical green face.

4chan had one major flaw: There was no social aspect. The point was to be and remain anonymous, so people could never really connect, socialize or develop friendships in a meaningful way. Those that tried were ostracized and belittled by the website as a whole for going against what it stood for, even though it was something everyone really wanted to. This reached a kind of critical mass that needed some sort of resolution, There were many attempted social experiments there and planned events interestingly enough, some became successes while others failed miserably as a result. But eventually several factions formed as a result. Some loved meeting other Anons. Some thought it went against everything the website stood for.

Long before 4chan got angry at Scientology, the idea of being anonymous and trolling people was very popular. Raids, were conducted routinely, in which an individual would post a time and target and anyone who had the adequate skill set could participate. The goal of the raid would be to cause the largest possible disruption and disturbance possible from behind a keyboard to the target of the raid.  Eventually, this became a acceptable form of social interaction – it was how nerds bonded. Some participants in the raid would use tools that were readily available like Gigloader which was used to take down sites and others would post really obscene content repetitively until all the original content was gone on the target site. But because the user-base of the community included some really technical people, you’d get a few real hackers participating in the raids ever so often, this is when the real damage was done.

Eventually Moot, the owner of 4chan, didn’t like the direction the community was taking in regards to raids. So he began banning people who posted threads that called for raiding.  As a response, many of the users started up their own imageboards, similar to 4chan so that they could “raid” as much as they collectively wanted. Eventually the disagreements between the different chan sites caused conflict which would often boil over into “raids” on each others sites. The sister chan sites, that were created in opposition to 4chan’s stance on raids started growing. Eventually they made wikis, like, featuring many articles about how to DDoS (Denial of service attack) and started giving out hacking tools. They were literally training the influx of “newfags” – (anonymous collective 4chan term for new user) that were flooding their sites.

These people were the start of the Anonymous activist group, but they weren’t really activists, they were just trolls most of the time. Some of these individuals really got involved in the cause of protesting Scientology, as a result they formed small communities on IRC( internet relay chat, old chatroom software) servers and began organizing other more prominent raids. All of these people in the many different factions called themselves “Anonymous”, but they all started going down very different paths. This is where the activist group Anonymous begins to mold into the combined collective behemoth it is today. The Scientology protest movement grew legs of its own and eventually separated itself from it’s ties to 4chan. This same group and other groups inspired by this activist movement is what media commonly refers to when they say “anonymous”, and their roots are why they share the Anon and guy-fawkes imagery with 4chan. However, 4chan’s “anonymous” and the activist “anonymous” group, while sharing roots and oftentimes members, are often mistaken as the same group when they should be referred to as separate.

Interestingly enough, “anonymous” is more of an idea than anything. It was founded by nerds on imageboards, but it has really spread as a concept that says “you have the right to speak your mind anonymously without it affecting your real identity”. Anonymous has turned into our first real world example of a standalone complex, whereas each individual instance of an Anonymous ‘act’ could be done by a completely unrelated individual, with goals completely against  the widely accepted ideals of what the majority holds, and still be attributed to Anonymous.


I’d like to give credit to the following users for the in depth information about the innards of anonymous. BroCube & IkiBan


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