The anatomy of a 4chan hoax
When the 4chan imageboard community helped make #cutforbieber a trending topic on Twitter and the subject of more than a half dozen news stories Monday, the world collectively gasped at the thought of Justin Bieber fans cutting themselves in response to a photo of the teenage heartthrob smoking marijuana. Yet underneath the shock and awe, 4chan’s first prank of the year was about more than just cheap laughs.
Since its inception nine years ago, 4chan has become known as the Internet’s sketchy male outhouse—a place where people can make crude jokes, show one another their penises, share their porn collections, and shock one another with gory photos, all under the guise of anonymity.
The site retained its smutty charm in 2012, but its tradition of schemes and pranks at the expense of other websites and the mainstream media took on a new level of sophistication. In the past six months, 4chan users rigged Time magazine’s Person of the Year poll in favor of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and made “Hitler Did Nothing Wrong" look like the most popular name for a new Mountain Dew flavor.
In recent years, 4chan has become best known as the site that spawned Anonymous, the hacktivist collective that spent 2012 cracking FBI databases, lending a helping hand to Syrians, and seeking justice for a rape victim in Steubenville, Ohio.
But while Anonymous may have been spawned by 4chan, it no longer necessarily calls it home. Major Anonymous mouthpieces, like the influential @YourAnonNews, have shifted largely to Twitter or other sites. Anonymous has become a sociopolitical force. 4chan, meanwhile, has returned to its roots—with a twist.
While most 4chan stunts have been for the lulz, Monday’s sinister hoax at the expense of impressionable Beleibers is an example of the community’s renewed obsession with manipulating the media into reporting on anything.
“I don’t think it’s at the children as it is the dum-dum tabloid media,” Anonymous expert Cole Stryker told the Daily Dot. “I think Anonymous is going to revert back to this playfully dark mentality … This stuff is way more fun than trying to bring down Tunisian government websites.”
The latest scheme started as most have, on the site’s random imageboard known as /b/, where users exchange foul language, violent images, and sexual content freely. The mission was to make the #cutforbieber hashtag trend on Twitter worldwide with photos of bloodied arms in response to one of Bieber smoking marijuana and “see if we can get some little girls to cut themselves.”