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Who is this “4chan”? Biography of Christopher “moot” Poole: The Hacker Known as “4chan”

Christopher Poole, also known by his username “moot,” was born in 1988 and is best known for founding 4chan.org, as well as Canvas Networks (canv.as) and the DrawQuest iPad app. Though he has established some level of fame and notoriety through his entrepreneurial career, Poole remains an enigmatic figure who for the most part has made it a point to stay out of the public eye. Here is what we know about the life of Christopher Poole, from the beginning of his career to present day.

[2003-2008] Early Life and 4chan’s Founding

Poole founded 4chan.org on October 1, 2003 from his bedroom in Long Island, New York. Only fifteen years old at the time, he had no inkling of the phenomenon that the website would become or the controversies it would be associated with.

The Birth of 4chan

As a self-described child of the internet, Poole spent a great deal of time on his computer in chat rooms and forums, and away from parental supervision. He built his own computer at the age of 12, and as the only child of divorced parents he generally had the freedom to do as he liked. Poole frequented Something Awful, particularly the anime subforum ADTRW, as well as the IRC channel Raspberry Heaven. Prior to founding 4chan at the age of 15, Poole had recently come across a Japanese imageboard website called Futaba Channel, also known as 2chan.net, the content of which focused on otaku culture, including manga and anime. Poole was immediately intrigued by 2chan’s imageboard format, which fostered discussion through posting images, and realized that there was no Western equivalent for native English speakers, probably due to the US government’s ban on anime.

In an interview with readwrite.com, published November 4, 2013, Poole said:

“So this image-based discussion format was just new and interesting to me. I took that software and I translated it and modified a little bit and threw it up, then put it up for people to use and it spread from there. There wasn’t really much of a plan starting out; I didn’t have some grand vision like, ‘I want to have a large website and such-and-such amount of time.’”  

Source: https://readwrite.com/2013/11/04/4chan-moot-christopher-pool-qa/

4Chan launched with only two boards: /a/ - Anime/General, and /b/ - Anime/Random [NSFW] (which would later be renamed just /b/ - Random), but many more boards go up as time went on, each dedicated to a specific interest or subculture. On the same day that 4chan went up, Poole posted to the Something Awful anime subforum, ADTRW, to let people know that the new website existed, so a lot of 4chan's initial users were carried over from Something Awful. Other than that, he says that he’s never made an effort to promote the site, either by linking to it or paying to advertise it, and the site grew organically via word of mouth.

Poole adopted the pseudonym “moot,” which the 4chan community (and later, the mainstream community) would know him by exclusively for the next five years. The choice of alias itself has no significance, as Poole says he just picked it randomly, not even realizing it was a real word until he watched the film Office Space later on and saw his name on the “Jump to Conclusions” mat.

When talking to readwrite.com, Poole later commented, “It’s kind of fitting there’s some irony in the name I chose; it’s kind of appropriate in a name.”

While grabbing a copy of Futaba Channel's source code and repurposing it for his own use, Poole had to translate the website's text using a combination of Babel Fish and his own guesswork. The Futaba Channel's default username translated to "Nameless," which Poole fatefully changed to "Anonymous."

4chan: Anonymity and Privacy

When designing 4chan, Poole did not allow for users to register accounts, instead letting them make posts completely anonymously with the most recent posts appearing at the top of each page. This decision was not made for particularly philosophical reasons, but rather that Poole recognized from Futaba Channel the utility of allowing users to post quickly, without logging in. Futaba Channel and other Japanese image boards utliized anonymity for entirely cultural reasons, mainly that in Japan there is a strict distinction between a person's private life and their public or professional life. Japanese people tended to lean towards online pseudonyms and anonymous posting for this reason. Though Poole did not immediately make special note of this, he would come to adopt a similar philosophy as the years went on, which included principles of anonymity that would also come to define 4chan. Poole believed that such anonymity would allow users to feel comfortable posting things that they might otherwise not, which in turn would foster creativity. Such creativity would manifest in various memes featured in this “flash animation about teh internet,” dated March 19, 2007:

Poole seriously valued his own privacy and safety as well, and took great pains to keep his life as the 4chan administrator secret from his friends, family, and teachers. Poole also did not think it would be appropriate for people to know his connection to 4chan, given that he was still a minor and the site frequently had inappropriate content, such as pornography, posted to it. In a broader sense, Poole felt that his anonymity allowed him a degree of safety and privacy that otherwise would not have been possible.

Poole established a dual life, with his personal connections and school life on one side, and his online presence and 4chan duties firmly on the other. People who he knew from his personal life had no idea that he was running 4chan in his free time, and those who he met online, and often later face-to-face, did not know what his real name or background was.

4chan: Ephemerality

Aside from anonymity, ephemerality came to represent the other main pillar of 4chan philosophy. The site contains no long term storage, and therefore posts are bumped off and disappear in a matter of hours or sometimes even minutes. This decision was originally made in order to save on storage costs, but Poole has said that it also makes the philosophical point that a digital identity should stay with you forever. Just imagine how many "scandals" could have been avoided in recent years if celebrities had posted their off-color jokes to 4chan instead of Twitter.

Scaling 4chan

As 4chan became more popular, Poole’s administrative obligations ate up more and more of his time. Already prone to staying up late, Poole would stay up until 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning, and as a result was nearly always absent or late to school, but tended to get away with it due to a lack of strict attendance policy at the public school he attended. However, his performance at school created some tension between him and his parents. Poole had originally, with permission, used his mother’s credit card to purchase the server space for as they knew he was staying up to late hours on his computer, but not what he was doing or why.

Later, after Poole’s identity a moot was well known, he would say that his parents were relieved to find out what he had been working on for the past five years, and that he’d been putting his time toward something of value rather than blowing off school for no reason than to watch videos of Rick Astley.

Poole recruited some help, including one programmer, who he met playing online Tetris, and a team of volunteer moderators, all active 4chan community members. Out of these, the programmer was the only real employee, and received payment that Poole made by running ads on the website. However, the ad revenue was barely enough to break even and Poole found himself struggling to effectively monetize the site, despite its huge amount of traffic.

Regardless of the challenges that his anonymity created and the toll it took on his high school career, Poole was able to successively compartmentalize his activities into two distinct worlds. Poole has said that he enjoyed this aspect of separation in his life, even if he knew it couldn’t last forever.

[2008-2015] moot Goes Public

Christopher Pool’s Name Reveal

After appearing in public on three separate occasions as moot, including conferences at Yale and MIT, Poole became worried that it was only a matter of time until someone recognized him and his real identity was made known. Instead of waiting for the inevitable to happen, Poole decided to reveal his identity on his own terms, which he did in interviews with Lev Grossman from Time and Jamin Brophy-Warren from The Wall Street Journal [archive.org, no paywall], both published on July 9, 2008.

Following Poole’s reveal to the media, there were some doubts as to whether Christopher Poole was moot’s real name, given his anonymity up to that point and the type of shenanigans that 4chan has been involved with in the past. On July 10th, Lev Grossman speculated that it was possible that the name Christopher Poole was just a reference to some inside joke on 4chan.

Despite these doubts, Christopher Poole, and not just moot, was now firmly in the public eye. According to his 2011 “I Am A…” thread on Reddit, he was recognized frequently while walking down the street, noting that ‘areas with lots of college students/young people can be a minefield” and that he therefore “[tends] to avoid them.”

Anonymous and Project Chanology

On January 14, 2008, the following video was uploaded to YouTube. It was produced by the Church of Scientology exclusively for members of the church and was leaked to YouTube. Facing threats of legal action from the Church of Scientology, YouTube and other sites with copies of the video were forced to take them down, but thankfully it has since been reuploaded.

The video features Tom Cruise speaking on the virtues of Scientology, and perhaps most bizarrely, features a very odd cover of the Mission: Impossible theme.

Though Poole himself had nothing to do with it, the anonymous posting allowed for by 4chan (and other imageboard sites that had modelled themselves off of 4chan) allowed for the formation of the decentralized hacktivist group Anonymous. As their first venture that drew widespread attention, Anonymous set their sights on the Church of Scientology, and on February 10, over 7,000 of Anonymous came together in person to protest at various Scientology centers in 100 cities around the world.

Investigative work by 4chan users also resulted the rescue of Dusty the cat on February 17, 2009, showing that 4chan had the potential to be a force for good.

Legit Poll: TIME Magazine Person of the Year

In March of 2009, Poole was nominated for the TIME magazine Top 100 Internet poll, which aimed to determine the most influential people of the year. Apparently still unsure about moot’s identity and trying to preserve their journalistic integrity, TIME listed Poole’s entry only as “moot” with his real name only mentioned in write ups. Poole was subsequently voted the world’s most influential person on April 27, 2009, albeit with the help of 4chan.  

In their published results, TIME notes that several attempts to hack the vote were detected and stopped by their technical team. However, 4chan’s intervention in the vote was soon made more concrete when it was noticed that reading the first letter of the top 21 ranked people’s names spelled out two well-known 4chan memes: “mARBLECAKE. ALSO, THE GAME.” Marblecake refers to the channel organized by the group Anonymous, while The Game refers to The Game. This article provides a more detailed analysis of how 4chan hackers accomplished this.

The TIME Magazine poll was not the only poll manipulated by 4chan. Poole was also voted to the top of Victoria Secret's "Love Your Body" competition. Other notable poll manipulations include:

That time that Mountain Dew didn’t name their new apple flavored soda beverage “Hitler Did Nothing Wrong”

And those times that:

  • Taylor Swift didn’t perform for the Horace Mann School for the Deaf;
  • That time that Pitbull went to Alaska; and
  • That time that Justin Beiber didn’t go to North Korea

Increasing Public Appearances by moot

Now that Poole was out in the open, he began to make more public appearances and was invited to several conferences. On September 12, 2009, Poole gave a talk at the Urban Hacking-themed Paraflows Symposium in Vienna, in which he spoke on 4chan’s status as a “meme factory.” He attributed the pervasive nature of 4chan memes to the freedom allowed by posting anonymously and the ephemerality made possible by the site’s lack of data retention and constantly cycling threads.

Poole also attended the TED2010 conference in Long Beach, California in February 2010, where he spoke on the unique and beneficial nature of 4chan, mainly that it allowed for anonymous posting and that it has no memory.

During his TED Talk, Poole said the following:

What I think is really intriguing about a community like 4chan is that it's this open place. It's raw, it's unfiltered, and sites like it are kind of going the way of the dinosaur right now. They're endangered, because we're moving toward social networking. We're moving towards persisten identity. We're moving towards a lack of privacy really, we're sacrificing a lot of that. And I think in doing that, in moving towards those things, we're losing something valuable."

Poole later expanded on these ideas in an interview with MIT Technology Review, published on August 23, 2010, which discussed the value of multiple identities, and also appeared at the Republika Festival in Rijeka, Croatia discussing changes in online versus offline life:

During these conferences and interviews, moot discussed in particular the role of user identities on social media sites such as Facebook and the increasing trend of sharing personal information on these platforms. Social media sites essentially force the user’s online identity and real-world identity to merge, leaving no separation between the two and no protection for the user. Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg once stated in an interview that "having two identities for yourself in an example of a lack of integrity" (although one could argue that Zuckerberg's alleged sale of user information to third-parties is *also* an example of a lack of integrity). Poole stood in stark contrast to Zuckerberg's notion, arguing repeatedly that sites which allow users to post anonymously, such as 4chan, have value because users have the freedom to keep these lives separate.

Despite his increased public appearances, Poole still took his own privacy very seriously, taking pains to conceal his current location and other locations he had visited or was planning on visiting. Now that he was a public figure, he would often receive death threats and other threatening emails from angry 4chan users, particularly after making changes to policy or making attempts to control the types of content posted. Though Poole did not like policing the content on his site, it became necessary when users made posts that went against the site policy, including the posting of threats of violence or illegal materials. 

United States v. David Kernell

Over the years, it was not uncommon for 4chan users to post illegal content on the site, feeling that with anonymity they would also be free of repercussions. Poole routinely complied with authorities in these cases, which included multiple bomb threats that were traced to 4chan and the occassional posting of child pornography. In one case, a murderer even posted images of his victim on the site. Although Poole had a notice posted on 4chan telling users not to post illegal materials, users often did as they liked. In these cases, Poole had no issuse providing the authorities with the users' IP addresses.

One instance that received major media attention was when one user hacked the private email of Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin's personal email and posted about it on 4chan.

The video below depicts the hacker known as 4chan stealing Sarah Palin’s emails:

In the aftermath of this event, on April 22, 2010, Poole testified as a government witness in the trial United States v. David Kernell, also known as the Sarah Palin email hacking trial. He explained some of 4chan’s interface and terminology to the prosecution.

Canvas and DrawQuest: Other Ventures by moot

In addition to 4chan, Christopher Poole also created two other projects while running 4chan: Canvas Networks (canv.as) and the DrawQuest iPad app.  Poole raised $625,000 to start-up Canvas and DrawQuest. Canvas launched on January 31, 2011 and DrawQuest launched shortly thereafter.

Always interested in developing online communities, Poole developed Canvas a seprate imageboard site, on which people could post images and media either anonymously or non-anonymously. This media could then be "re-mixed" via built-in editing tools in the place of desktop editing programs. By making the editing process part of the site, participation became very inclusive and fun. When Poole noticed that some people still did not find this accessible, he created DrawQuest as an extension. An app for iPad, DrawQuest was a drawing program that allowed people to complete daily prompts and post to Canvas. Putting the app on iPad "evened the playing field," letting people draw in a finger-painting style that was more intuitve than using a mouse. 

Though Drawquest was primarily aimed at adults, and really people of any age, it found a great deal of success with the teenage girl demographic, coming as a surprise to Poole, who up until this point was used more to teenage male communities. Overall, DrawQuest served a wide range of demographics and found a devoted following. However, Poole was unable to back up the popularity of Canvas and DrawQuest with viable business models.

In January of 2014, Poole announced that Canvas and DrawQuest are going out of business. Similarly to 4chan, Canvas and DrawQuest--despite having large userbases--ran into challenges with monetization, being unable to generate sufficient revenue to be profitable.

[2014-2016] Press F to Pay Respects: moot’s Departure From 4chan

4chan Controversies: Celebrity Nudes Leak and #gamergate

Following the death of Poole's passion projects, Canvas and DrawQuest, he decided to take a step back and refocus himself. During the summer of 2014, he unplugged from the Internet as much as possible and took a trip around Europe and Asia to rediscover himself. On the topic of unplugging from social media during his travels, Poole told Rolling Stone:

“Why am I so concerned about what’s going on back in New York? It’s taking me out of this really great moment, this new experience.”

On August 31, 2014, however, Poole spotted a CNN news report discussing the celebrity photo leaks of 2014, in which celebrities' iCloud passwords were compromised, allowing for hackers to share private photographs on 4chan and other websites. This event became known coliqually as The Fappening. Poole complied with takedown notices as he had done for similar items in the past, but also went ahead and posted a copy of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act on his site, as a message to 4chan users that those kinds of posts would result in the posts being removed and the users banned. Many 4chan users reacted defensively, calling Poole a sell-out and arguing that such policies violated the principles of freedom that made 4chan great.

Then, the Gamergate controvery broke the very same week as the Fappening. Unsubstantiated accusations arose from the ex-boyfriend of indie game developer Zoe Quinn, who accused her of sleeping with a game journalist. The allegations were further spread by a subset of 4chan users, who also went ahead and organized a harassment campaign against Quinn and other women who came to her defense such as blogger Anita Sarkeesian, which included hacking and releasing their personal information, and in some cases threatening the target with assault, rape, and murder.

Poole attended XOXO 2014, at which Anita Sarkeesian spoke on the subject of online harassment, despite Gamergate resistance to her presence there. Sarkeesian's personal testimony evidentally had an effect on him, as Poole put his foot down shortly thereafter, prohibiting any discussion of topics related to Gamergate from his site. Many 4chan users reacted negatively, accusing Poole of no longer caring about the site or its users. 8chan founder Frederick "Hotwheels" Brennan reported that posts-per-hour on 8chan went from 100 per hour to 4,000 per hour over the weeks following the decision, citing an influx of users from 4chan who disagreed with the decision. Poole told Rolling Stone that The Fappening and Gamergate controversies, coupled with the pushback of 4chan users in response to new policies, resulted in the most stressful month of his life.

Just as he was close to rediscovering himself and refocusing his passion for 4chan, the one-two punch of The Fappening and Gamergate was a cosmic sign that gave Poole a final push away from the infamous imageboard site. 4chan's greatest strength had always been that it was allowed to grow organically. The community found 4chan and grew naturally, and the site's trademark sense of humor and mischievous antics developed naturally as well. Poole even made a point of not upgrading the site or adding unnecessary new features, which is why it looks essentially the same today as it did back in 2003.

One of the defining principles of 4chan is its anonymous posting, which Poole believed would allow for unfettered creativity. This has more or less been proven over the years by the extraordinarily popular memes that came out of 4chan. However, critics of 4chan also argued over the years that anonymous posting created a sense that users had no accountability for their actions, which allowed for mob mentalities to easily form free of the fear of consequences. In the end, Poole probably realized that he and his critics were correct. Just like the notable figures the Wizard of Oz and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, the 4chan community had proven itself capable of both great and terrible things.

 Throughout his time as administrator, Poole recognized that the users were there because they liked 4chan just the way it was, and although he imposed the barest minimum of site rules and guidelines, and reinforced them when necessary, he never sought to police the users or direct the community in any planned direction. The irony of this, of course, was that the values and sensibilities of the 4chan community ultimately diverged so much from Poole's own that he no longer felt like a part of it. 

TFW You Sell 4chan

On January 21, 2015, Christopher Poole announced that he was retiring as the administrator of 4chan. Though he said that he had been considering stepping down for at least a year, the additional stress created by the Fappening and Gamergate controversies accelerated his decision. In interviews, such as with The Verge, Poole has emphasized that his stepping down was a long time coming, but also noted that a lot of things coming together, such as the aforementioned controversies, the Emma Watson hoax, and Ebola-chan, had something to do with it.

Poole has often cited the benefits of allowing a community to grow organically, as 4chan did.

In his interview with readwrite.com, Poole said:

Yeah, I mean I’ve always seen my role as, “I may be at the wheel of the ship but I don’t control the wind.” So I think a founder or proprietor of something can only exert so much control, after a certain point it’s just kind of the wheel of the community. Kind of like Mother Nature, it will kind of do its own thing.  

As the proprietor you can change things about it, but at the end of the day you’re still subject to this external mightier force. That’s been pretty interesting to watch, and just to be smart about when to be involved and when to step back and let things run their course.

Although Poole never felt right about trying to control the community he created, it was clear that its sensibilities steadily strayed from Poole's own, and he neither wanted to condone nor condemn the actions of 4chan members. Publicly distancing himself seemed like the best option. 

Additionally, Poole’s failure effectively monetize 4chan meant that the site had never made him a ton of money, in fact putting him 20,000 dollars in debt. This carried over to Canvas and DrawQuest as well, which had to be shut down due to an insufficient business model. It seems that Poole was much more passionate about working on Canvas and DrawQuest at the time of their shutdown then 4chan, which essentially was left to spin its wheels under the watch of volunteer moderators.

With nothing much to keep him at 4chan, the increased stress and notoriety created by the actions of his community, and the prospect of selling the site to pay off some of his debt, Poole made the decision to step down, turning over operations of the site to three of his moderators, and subsequently selling the site to Hiroyuki Nishimura, founder of 2channel, one of the original Japanese imageboard sites. 2channel should not be confused with Futaba Channel/2chan, which was inspired by 2channel just as 4chan took inspiration from Futaba. 

Moot’s final 4chan Q&A, which lasted for eight consecutive hours, can be found here:

[2017-Present] moot and 4chan: Where Are They Now?

Did the CIA Kill moot?

The last post that moot left on his blog, titled “My next chapter,” is dated 07 March, 2016 and his last tweet is also from the same date.

Today I’m excited to announce that I’ve joined Google.

When meeting with current and former Googlers, I continually find myself drawn to their intelligence, passion, and enthusiasm — as well as a universal desire to share it with others. I’m also impressed by Google’s commitment to enabling these same talented people to tackle some of the world’s most interesting and important problems.

I can’t wait to contribute my own experience from a dozen years of building online communities, and to begin the next chapter of my career at such an incredible company.

Source: https://chrishateswriting.com/post/140641275808/my-next-chapter

That was the last we've heard of moot, and no one's really sure what happened to him or how he's doing. Notably, it was never publicly revealed what sort of position he was offered at Google. [Edit: A reader of this article pointed out that Christopher Poole's LinkedIn Page [screenshot] currently has him listed as a Product Manager for Google Maps, located in Tokyo, Japan. Previously, he worked as a founding partner of Google's Area 20, and then the PM for Hangouts Chats.] Given Poole's natural inclination toward privacy, and in wake of the negative attention that 4chan brought to him in more recent years, it's likely that he's living contentedly as a Google employee and will be out of the public eye for good. Now that he is no longer an administrator, he probably doesn't feel a real need to maintain a presence on his blog or Twitter.

It's also possible that the CIA got him. Though authorities were not able to verify that it came from a reliable source and the investigation was discontinued, this disturbing evidence of Poole's demise was posted on 4chan on July 9, 2018. 

Has anything else notable happened on 4chan since moot left?

Probably. Here are some honorable mentions:

  • [2016] That time 4chan (and some other people) taught @TayTweets about various topics.
  • [2016] Old lady yells at frog [video].
  • [2016] That time 4chan memed Donald Trump into office
  • [2017] 4chan fights Shia LaBeouf [video summary]
  • [2018] An additional domain, 4channel.org, was added to host safe-for-work content, citing difficulties with finding advertisers for the main 4chan domain, due to it’s crude content.
  • Probably some other garbage.

Additional Information and Further Reading

Websites

  • 2chan, also, known as the Futaba Channel. Founded in 2001. A notable influence on the creation of 4chan and it’s functionality.
  • ShrekChan [archive.org]: “The leading Shrek imageboard on the entire internet!” Founded in 2012. Amusingly, it  has now been turned into a PBN (i.e., using an expired domain for search engine optimization purposes).
  • 8chan (8ch.net): “Welcome to 8chan, the Darkest Reaches of the Internet.” An imageboard founded in 2013]. Users are able to create their own boards on any topic. As stated by 8chan, “in the interest of free speech, only content that violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act or other United States laws is deleted.”
  • Various other imageboards are discussed in the TVTropes article on imageboards.

Miscellaneous

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🕓 Posted at 07 February, 2019 17:10 PM PST

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Louis Cicalese is a person who has written about the hacker known as 4chan, the hacker known as 2channel 5channel, lesser-known search engines, CSS color namesLeeroy Jenkins, hiring Kermit the Frog impersonators and various other topics.


Account created 8 months ago.
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