Hate speech factory 4chan is dying, and Twitter and Reddit should be paying attention

If infamy led directly to profitability, 4chan would be rich. Unfortunately for the site, the opposite might be true.

The owner of the controversial online forum, known for its racist trolls, misogynistic campaigns, criminal confessions, and viral internet memes, posted a message on Sunday suggesting it doesn’t have enough money to support itself in its current state. Its death would mark the end of one of the web’s hidden, graffiti-laced pillars—and should also serve as a warning sign for Reddit and Twitter.

In a post titled “Winter is Coming” Hiroyuki Nishimura, who purchased 4chan from founder Christopher “moot” Poole in 2015, outlined three possible options for saving 4chan.

Thank you for thinking about 4chan.
We had tried to keep 4chan as is.
But I failed. I am sincerely sorry.

Some notice there are no more middle ads and bottom ads on 4chan.
Ads don’t work well. So we reduced advertisement servers cost.
4chan can’t afford infrastructure costs, network fee, servers cost, CDN and etc, now.

4chan have three options.
-Halve the traffic cost
limit uploading image sizes
use slower servers.
close some boards

-Much more ads
pop-up / pop under ads
malicious ads

-More 4chan pass users
more features

None of these options looks promising. The first option is the most desperate—deliberately lower traffic, in order to make the site less expensive to operate. The second would entail flooding the site with “malicious ads,” making it less enjoyable to spend time there (and thereby making the ads less effective). The third will require getting users to pay money in order to access more content. That might work for users of niche high-end media sites, but might not for 4chan’s legions of anonymous trolls.

4chan, and specifically one sub-forum known as /b/ (known as the “random” board, with no specialized theme) served as a cradle for many of the internet’s most popular memes—as well as some of its most unseemly content. Much of the work of its users entered the mainstream zeitgeist, like Lolcats and Ragefaces.

Like nearly everything posted to 4chan, it’s difficult to determine the seriousness of Nisimura’s comments. And there are no public numbers about how much it earns, or what it costs to host the online forum.

But the site certainly has never been a cash cow. Founder Christopher Poole began the site in 2003 as a hobby, and continued to oversee it when it unexpectedly ballooned in popularity. In 2010, Alexa ranked the site as the 800th most popular in the world and it was attracting 8.2 million unique viewers a month. Even then, Poole said the site was doing only “a little more than break even,” despite having no staff except for Poole.

Poole sold 4chan in 2015 in part to help combat these financial difficulties–the goal, as he told the New York Times, was to turn the forum from a hobby into a business. The price was not disclosed.

One year later, that business is apparently not succeeding. Traffic has increased—Alexa currently ranks it as the 573rd most popular site globally, and it’s pulling in 27 million monthly unique visitors. Given the site’s low operating costs, this can only mean that advertisers don’t want to associate themselves with the site, while its efforts to popularize “4chan Pass”—a sort of subscription which lets users publish posts without first entering a capture code, for an annual fee of $15—have failed to catch on.

The equally loathed pharmaceutical entrepreneur Martin Shkreli, known for gouging the price of HIV treatment drug Daraprim, tweeted he was willing to join the company’s board on Twitter, then indulged in some Twitter abuse of women who were cheering the site’s close:

If it indeed closes down, its legions of users will mourn its death. But it should serve as a warning sign to Reddit and Twitter—two other user generated content internet companies which, for all their value, have also become homes for abusive conduct. While they’re each selling far more in advertising than 4chan might have ever hoped right now, if sponsors grow disillusioned with the chaos, their future could still be as bleak.

home our picks popular latest obsessions search