The 4chan Files
I got my hands on records of the corporate partnership that enabled, and financed, the corrosive imageboard.
Last year, I received a tip in my inbox: “I have information on the owners of the terrorist site 4chan which the shooter was influenced by.”
Four days earlier, an avid 4chan user walked into a supermarket in a predominately Black neighborhood in Buffalo and opened fire. He killed 10 people.
In his manifesto, he specifically and repeatedly cited 4chan as his inspiration and guiding light. Locked down during the pandemic, he turned to the image board — simultaneously a source for a wide swath of internet culture and a racist, sexist, queerphobic hellhole — for guidance. There, he found comfort in the Great Replacement Theory, a myth that tells white people that their political power is diluted by the mere presence of non-white people in their country.
It was just one in a list of mass killings either inspired or promoted by 4chan. There had been a mass shooting just two weeks prior where the attacker was live-updating on 4chan. Since then, an attack on a Slovakian gay bar was carried out by a domestic terrorist who cited a racist and anti-Queer 4chan post at length in his manifesto.
Despite 4chan’s infamous position in our culture and collective safety, we knew preciously little about who was actually behind the website. We knew that an American named Chris Poole had started the site — modelling it after the Japanese 2 channel. And we knew that Poole, in part disturbed by its growing toxicity, offloaded the site in 2015 to 2 channel’s founder, Hiroyuki Nishimura. Beyond that, we didn’t know much. In particular, those of us who studied 4chan were perplexed how the site managed to stay online despite mounting server costs and a flight of advertisers.
Thanks to that tipster, I followed the breadcrumbs and published an investigation linking 4chan to the Good Smile Company, a Japanese toy giant; and Dwango, a major Tokyo-based telecommunications firm. But it only answered half the question. Where was the money coming from?
Thanks to the New York Attorney General, we finally have some answers. Investigating 4chan’s role in contributing to the attack in Buffalo, the attorney general subpoenaed all of 4chan’s business records. Thanks to another helpful tipster, I got my hands on those documents.
I published the findings today in WIRED, proving that Good Smile invested $2.4 million in 4chan, and establishing that their partnership remains active.
In the name of transparency, I’m publishing the documents here so that others can duplicate my work — ideally, with credit to myself and WIRED. You can download the contract here:
(If that link doesn’t work, you can download it via Google Drive here.)
Below the paywall, a few thoughts on what effect this kind of transparency could have on 4chan, and a preview of some upcoming reporting on this file.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Bug-eyed and Shameless to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.