4chan and /b/: An Analysis of Anonymity and Ephemerality in a Large Online Community

Michael S. Bernstein, Andrés Monroy-Hernández, Drew Harry, Paul André, Katrina Panovich, Greg Vargas

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

187 Scopus citations

Abstract

We present two studies of online ephemerality and anonymity based on the popular discussion board /b/ at 4chan.org: a website with over 7 million users that plays an influential role in Internet culture. Although researchers and practitioners often assume that user identity and data permanence are central tools in the design of online communities, we explore how /b/ succeeds despite being almost entirely anonymous and extremely ephemeral. We begin by describing /b/ and performing a content analysis that suggests the community is dominated by playful exchanges of images and links. Our first study uses a large dataset of more than five million posts to quantify ephemerality in /b/. We find that most threads spend just five seconds on the first page and less than five minutes on the site before expiring. Our second study is an analysis of identity signals on 4chan, finding that over 90% of posts are made by fully anonymous users, with other identity signals adopted and discarded at will. We describe alternative mechanisms that /b/ participants use to establish status and frame their interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 5th International AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media, ICWSM 2011
PublisherAAAI press
Pages50-57
Number of pages8
ISBN (Electronic)9781577355052
StatePublished - Jul 17 2011
Externally publishedYes
Event5th International AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media, ICWSM 2011 - Barcelona, Spain
Duration: Jul 17 2011Jul 21 2011

Publication series

NameProceedings of the 5th International AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media, ICWSM 2011

Conference

Conference5th International AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media, ICWSM 2011
Country/TerritorySpain
CityBarcelona
Period7/17/117/21/11

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Software
  • Computer Networks and Communications

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