4Chan, the progenitor of everything from lolcats and rickrolling to far more awful things, is in deep trouble. The site basically needs to sell itself to somebody who can keep the lights on, and considering that means selling ads on what many view as the internet’s toxic waste dump, that’s a substantial challenge. A savior may be waiting in the wings, but he might be more bad news than good.
Milo Yiannopoulos, the right-wing Breitbart blogger, is reportedly lining up donors in an attempt to buy 4Chan, something he confirmed today with Mashable. It’s not entirely out of Yiannopoulos’ wheelhouse, as he founded tech blog The Kernel in the early 2010s. But that is history, and Yiannopoulos’ current behavior may mark this as a match made in hell.
Yiannopoulos was forced out of the Kernel, a site with the stated goal of “fixing European tech journalism,” in 2013 amid accusations of failing to pay his employees and threatening to reveal personal details of staff who wanted their paychecks. Yiannopoulos found a home as Breitbart’s tech editor, but since then, he’s mostly notable for coordinating harassment campaigns, one of which, against SNL and Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones, got him permanently banned from Twitter. Jones was sent racist slurs, death threats, and other activity to the point where she was forced to leave Twitter, something Yiannopoulos stood by. Yiannopoulos’ most recent stunt is the collapse of a scholarship exclusively for white men, amid accusations he took the money for himself.
4Chan, meanwhile, has earned its bad reputation. While the vast majority of the site’s users are interested in little more than harmless pranks and talking about anime, it was one of the breeding grounds of the harassment of game developer Zoe Quinn which started the ugly GamerGate controversy. The conversation became so toxic that 4Chan took the rare step of banning GamerGate discussion outright, causing the creation of “8Chan,” notable not just for GamerGate but also child pornography.
Yiannopoulos buying 4Chan might be little more than a publicity stunt. But if it’s not, Yiannopoulos’ history paired with 4Chan’s uglier elements has the potential to be a serious point of concern.