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In this blog, Fivecast Tradecraft Specialist, Jeff Fehmel takes a deep dive into 4chan, an open-source platform associated with violent extremism. An understanding of what 4chan is, how it operates, and the threats present on the site is essential to effective intelligence investigations.

4chan and 8kun (formerly 8chan) are types of imageboards. Imageboards are one of the oldest types of internet forums. In simple terms, imageboards take the format of a user posting an image, along with text, followed by discussion. These sites were originally popularized in Japan and facilitate communities of like-minded individuals and niche sub-cultures.

These sites are organized into boards divided by topic that run the gamut from politics to anime to My Little Pony. Within boards are threads, which are started by a single user posting an image and text. Threads are automatically deleted after a set period of time, obscuring past discussions on the site.

The collective ‘chan’ sites have become synonymous with online trolls, and extremists but many users travel to these sites, primarily 4chan, for its niche communities and anonymous nature. Users are anonymous (called anons) and are usually only identified by a string of letters and numbers. Paired with the regular deletion of threads, chan sites give users a sense of public anonymity that is impossible to find on other places of the internet, drawing users whose opinions and posts would have them banned from other platforms.

The rise of Violent Extremism on 4Chan

More broadly, sites like 4chan and 8kun remain of critical importance to the White-Nationalist movement as their radical approach to free speech and non-censorship has made both a breeding ground for violent speech, memes, and videos. It is no accident that many manifestos have been published on 4chan and 8Kun over the past few years, nor that the recent Buffalo Shooter, Payton Gendron himself was an active ‘anon’ on multiple 4chan boards.

4chan remains an active hub of radical ideology, particularly on its politically incorrect (/pol/) board, which is rife with racism, misogyny, antisemitism, and other hate speech. Gendron specifically mentions the gun (/k/) and outdoors (/out/) boards in his manifesto; like many of the boards on 4chan, these aren’t explicitly extremist but nonetheless include many posters steeped in the far-right lingo and sensibilities that pervade the site.

The importance of open, anonymous extremist sites like 4chan and 8kun cannot be ignored. While many extremists like to communicate and interact on pseudo-anonymous or closed sites, they invariably gravitate towards public sites, when possible, simply because that is where they reach a broader audience.

Open-Source Intelligence for Violent Extremist threat monitoring

Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) enables analysts to monitor violent extremism online to rapidly filter through masses of online data to identify threats. Effective domestic extremism investigations require advanced OSINT tools to track threat actors as they move across online platforms, identify threat groups and their networks and resolve online identities on platforms such as 4chan that foster anonymity.

Fivecast ONYX supports domestic extremism investigations with secure, persistent and ongoing data collection in real time across a wide range of online platforms, providing analysts with a broad picture of online threats. In addition, a customizable AI-enabled risk assessment framework helps analysts rapidly filter and risk assess multi-media data to identify threats hidden in images, videos and text.