It’s been interesting watching AT&T skirt disaster, though it now looks like they’re going to avoid it after all. I suppose that’s a relief, though there would have been a certain grim fascination—blood everywhere—if they’d stuck to their original plan.
On Sunday, an engineer at AT&T blocked img.4chan.org (/b/ and /r9k/) across its entire network. This was after one of AT&T’s customers was hit with an apparent DOS attack from the site. What AT&T didn’t do was get in touch with 4chan to tell them about it.
TechCrunch saw the implications immediately: AT&T Reportedly Blocks 4chan. This Is Going To Get Ugly.
AT&T has just opened perhaps the most vindictive, messy can of worms it could have possibly found. Blocking any site is an extreme breach of user trust, but the decision to block 4chan in particular just seems stupid.4chan’s /b/ forum, which gets called things like the Mos Eisley spaceport of the web when people are being polite, and the asshole of the internet when they aren’t, is energetic, anarchic, barely moderated, crude, irresponsible, vindictive if crossed, peculiarly creative, and full of hackers. It inspires loyalty in its core users, and makes everyone else nervous.
4chan’s most famous and harmless accomplishments were the invention of LOLcats and Rickrolling. More dubious exploits include hacking the Time 100 List, making the hashtag #gorillapenis a Trending Topic on Twitter, hacking Sarah Palin’s Yahoo Mail account, declaring Porn Day on YouTube, and hacking the MacRumors coverage of the 2009 Macworld keynote presentation. They’re also the central site of Anonymous, a group whose best move has been going after Scientology, though they’ve been real jerks on other occasions.
In short, you could say that 4chan is constantly in training for exactly the kind of fight AT&T looked like it was offering them. Only hours after news of the ban, there was already a fake story up on CNN’s iReport site, saying that AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson had been found dead outside his home. (He wasn’t, of course.) It isn’t hard to find discussions of retaliatory measures. I was amused by this comment on Reddit:
Yeah.(I found some illustrative discussions and announcements about all this on Raplpybcrqvn Qenzngvpn, but I’m not going to link to them. I wouldn’t have done so anyway, on general principles; but they now have a flashing red banner across the top of every page that says the proprietors “…can no longer afford the costs of running the site. Unless we get help quickly, we will have to shut down.” I’d hate to stand in the way of that; and since the site runs ads, traffic = income. Besides, there wasn’t anything terribly surprising there. Illustrative, sure; but not surprising.)
My dog hasn’t walked right since he pissed off /b/.
Say what you want… but they’re committed to their work.
Anyway, the war was called off last night when AT&T unblocked 4chan, and let it be known that blackholing img.4chan.org wasn’t done for the sake of censorship, but rather because it was overloading their network, and looked like it was running a DOS attack. This site behavior turned out to be a side-effect of a DOS attack on 4chan which some anonymous script kiddies have been running for the last few weeks.
(The headline on the Wall Street Journal’s wrap-up said AT&T Says 4chan Block ‘In No Way Related to the Content’. I can’t help imagining 4chan feeling a bit disappointed by that, and vowing to try harder.)
Opinions vary about who was more at fault. Personally, I nominate AT&T. Stuff like this is bound to happen. Legitimate sites are going to get shut down. Not all of them are going to have 4chan’s ability to retaliate, but they’re still going to be upset. It’s bad for customers and bad for business. AT&T should make a practice of letting sites know why it’s happening. Action shouldn’t precede communication. The blocked sites will still be upset; but a reason they know, even one they disagree with, will do a lot less damage than the reasons they’ll imagine if they don’t know.