This guide for parents explains how 4chan works and why it’s an unsafe environment for anyone under the age of 18.
Technology opens many doors, allowing young people to pursue hobbies, enjoy entertainment, access learning opportunities, and much more.
However, social media can expose teens to all kinds of dangers including cyberbullying, self-esteem issues, and addiction. Some platforms are more harmful than others and 4chan is particularly risky for children.
What is 4chan?
4chan is a website that hosts image boards, where users can share pictures and post comments about diverse topics – from anime and manga (4chan originated in Japan) to gaming, music, sport, food, travel, politics, history, adult content, and more.
Due to the inappropriate nature of some of the boards, 4chan has an 18+ age rating. However, it’s not possible to register on the site, so users post anonymously. This makes it easy for teens to access the platform and get exposed to risky and offensive content.
As a result, 4chan is one of most concerning social media platforms for parents and has also been the subject of several controversies, which are mentioned later in this article. Despite negative publicity, the site has grown in popularity since its inception in 2003 and currently has around 22 million monthly visitors.
How does 4chan work?
On the 4chan homepage is a list of boards divided into seven categories: Japanese culture, video games, interests, creative, other, misc. and adult. The latter two categories are marked NSFW (Not Safe For Work, which means they contain 18+ material. However, the other categories also have image boards with content that may be inappropriate for young people.
To access the full site, a user simply clicks on a board that interests them. A pop-up screen appears with a short disclaimer stating that the content is for mature users only and may be unsuitable for minors. It also directs users to its rules, which must be accepted as a condition of using the site.
One of the rules is that anyone accessing the platform must stop using it if they’re under the age of 18. But there’s nothing to prevent teens from accepting the disclaimer and continuing onto 4chan, meaning they’re immediately in an unsafe environment. The disclaimer only appears the first time the site is accessed so there’s no reminder on future visits.
Once through to the board that interests them, a user can either post an image and start a new thread, or join an existing discussion. When replying to another conversation thread, no image is required. Interactions on the site are mainly anonymous because the default setting is anonymous, although users can choose to type in a name.
It is possible to hide inappropriate comments and report illegal content on 4chan. To hide a comment, users can click the small triangle to the right-hand side of a post and then choose ‘hide comment’ or ‘hide thread’. To report illegal content, users can click the small triangle to the right-hand side of a post and then choose ‘report post’. But despite these features, many of the boards contain profanities, violence, extremist views, and sexually explicit material.
Common questions about 4chan
Some of the most popular image boards on 4chan are about gaming. There are thousands of threads ranging from retro video games to those dedicated to strategy, role playing and multiplayer games. As experts in video game addiction, we receive many questions from concerned parents about the platform, such as:
- How old do you have to be to use 4chan?
- Is it illegal to browse 4chan?
- Is 4chan a virus?
- Is 4chan bad?
- Is it okay to use 4chan?
- What should you not look up on 4chan?
- What should I avoid on 4chan?
- What do people use 4chan for?
- Is 4chan safe to use?
Let’s explore the last question in more detail and look at why 4chan is unsafe for teens.
Is 4chan safe for kids?
Here are some of the main reasons children should be discouraged from using 4chan:
While teens may find it liberating to have somewhere to share their views without worrying how people will react, anonymity is a double-edged sword. This freedom can make other users feel emboldened to post inappropriate content without fear of repercussions. In fact, the ‘random’ board has a no rules policy, which means that violent and pornographic content is allowed.
Exposure to extremist views can have a serious psychological and emotional impact on vulnerable young minds. Hate-filled posts can influence their opinions and behavior, giving them a distorted view of the world.
4chan has been at the centre of several controversies involving hate campaigns and misinformation. This demonstrates how a sense of community, combined with anonymity, can be a toxic mix. Here are some of the most high-profile 4chan controversies:
- GamerGate – online harassment campaign in 2014 against women, minorities, and progressive voices in the video games industry
- QAnon – far-right political conspiracy theory movement founded on 4chan in 2017 that’s now spreading misinformation globally
- Homophobic cyber-attack on LGBT+ Pride Month celebrations in London in 2020
No age verification
Users do not need to create an account to view and create content, and there’s no age verification process. The disclaimer which pops up the first time that 4chan is accessed states that users must be ‘mature’, but some teens may consider themselves mature enough to use the site. It’s not unless they click through to the rules page that there’s any mention of 4chan being for over 18s only. And there are no penalties for ignoring that rule and proceeding onto the image boards.
No parental controls
As 4chan is not designed for under 18s, there are no parental controls. The only way for parents to limit access to the site is through more general parental controls on broadband and mobile networks.
Limited content moderation
While users can report content, a post will not be removed unless it’s illegal or in breach of the site rules. Moderation across the platform is limited because extreme and adult-only content is not only common, but actively encouraged as this is what sets 4chan apart from other social networks.
Although 4chan is not for under 18s, teenage gamers do visit the platform to share their passion for video games with other gaming enthusiasts. But however innocent their intentions for using the site, they risk stumbling across adult-related content.
And, if your child is suffering from video game addiction, scrolling through image boards and threads about gaming is likely to fuel their desire to play.