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4chan Is the Opium of the People

16/10/2014 17:13 BST | Updated 16/12/2014 10:59 GMT

The infamously shady 4chan forums have never been synonymous with good publicity. Not so long ago, the majority of people would have never had any urge or temptation to visit the web's perverse den, as it was akin to a bizarre women-with-beards circus experience; "the dark side of the Internet." Recently, the site itself was branded as something fundamentally evil, fostering the worst in us and creating opportunities for a culture of violent trolling.

But 4chan has always catered to a very narrow group of people: be it manga and anime lovers in the beginning; to sad, angry and aggravated trolls whose premise of privacy is built on the idea that hacking iCloud is the user's fault.

I've personally been on 4chan three times. The first time, I wanted to find out what the site's terrible-looking, bad-interface-preserving, practically unrestricted forums have going for them. It's a modern phenomenon, given the rules and norms that exist there - they aren't to everyone's taste. After deep study, I couldn't find anything worthy of attention - the comments' value lays somewhere in between London Metropolitan University and the Islamic State. The pictures were troubling and sometimes just plain eerie.

The second time, I learned a lesson: you must engage to get the whole experience. The 4chan community thrives on everyone mimicking each other. Sadly, I failed miserably. My backwardness in finding the right pictures, unease with the other members, and burning desire to uphold my self respect caused me to seek popularity with smug jokes that apparently aren't quite crowd-pleasing.

The third time, I browsed the infamous "politically incorrect" and "random" sections. In the past, I've been to places on the Internet where I saw beheadings in the Middle East, a Syrian rebel eating his enemy's heart, torture at Guantanamo Bay and other deplorable views. But looking at these amateur 4chan sections, something is more deeply disturbing - the racist, misogynistic, savage-like pictures and comments are posted not by the violent and murderous distant monsters we see in the media, but by people perhaps living just across the street.

4chan is a revolutionary free speech rebel who fights back with the deadliest weapon against the politically correct regulators' wet dream - applying the same rules of non-separation between public and private speech. The posts there, no matter how ruthless they may appear, show people candidly speaking and joking in the darkest, rudest, and most offensive language available that used to be reserved for isolated masses. This should be cherished in a way we relish the darkest of humour, no matter how bellicose it may be.

For example, the much hated and notorious Ebola-chan joke mascot has swept the media as something essentially evil, wicked, or even sinful. But Ebola-chan repeated the oldest joke in the book; it played on our prejudices, gullibility, and Chestertonian belief in anything. Making people seriously consider that doctors who treat Ebola in Africa are part of white Japanese manga supremacist eugenics' cult is nonsensical. The ridiculous tendency to blame the 4chan community solely for this is wrong and irresponsible - it's the media that is responsible for the empowerment of the worst of 4chan.

The Washington Post's attacks against the site consisted of over-blown righteousness and Internet illiteracy. For commentator Caitlin Dewey, it was impossible to grasp the concept of open forum: "... that's not so different from, say, the Washington Post comments section. But while the Washington Post employs people to make sure the n-word and other nastiness don't get around, /pol/ hurls them around frequently". Although the newspaper had never used the n-word, even in a literary review of Randal Kennedy's Nigger, it prescribes that all you need to tame the nastiness of the world is a bit more human moderation. The fact, which the author unconsciously acknowledges, is that no matter how fiercely Post's comments are moderated - there's still inherent malice. Therefore, who could vouch that after stricter controls the radical wing of 4chan community won't just find another site?

This is not to say that 4chan is perfect. There are troubling consequences of having unregulated discussion boards, whether it is the hacking scandal, pioneering Internet persecution or fake-news-generating resources. Nonetheless, it's still an open society that naturally has its imbecilic and traumatised few. Sticking with the devil we know is much better than releasing all the violent trolls from the ward and hoping they behave respectfully. 4chan is not the cause of militant behaviour on the Internet; it's only a replaceable platform used by the people.

No matter what we assume about its forums, 4chan is the sigh of an oppressed creature, the wit of witless world, and the bluntness of over-sensitive society. It's the ultimate opium of the people.