Why Should You Monitor Imageboards?
Imageboards are online forums that include threads that users start by posting images, to which other forum members can reply freely and with no restrictions.
The majority of content on imageboards is legal and includes various discussions on topics such as anime and video games. However, because imageboards are known for keeping the identity of their users anonymous and have no restriction over the type of content shared, it enables users to freely share content and create discussions on offensive, extreme, and inciting topics. Imageboards have become a fertile ground for extremist groups, movements, and individuals to spread hate speech, threats against brands and executives, and fake news.
Before we dive in, let’s take a look at some statistics we gathered by using Webz.io’s data:
- Scope – Over 1 million daily posts are posted on imageboards
- Languages – The most popular languages on imageboards are English (93%), followed by German, Swedish, Spanish, Polish, Portuguese, Finnish, Italian, Russian, and Dutch.
- Illicit discussion topics – imageboards include discussions on topics such as terrorism, extremism, and misinformation.
Imageboards as a platform for extremist and violent discussions
Imageboards are known to have extreme discussions on them and in fact, our data indicates that almost half of their sections include extremism and terrorism of all kinds. This is a direct consequence of the anonymity of users and the lack of admin content restriction given on these sites.
Here’s a quick overview of the top violent and extremist topics.
The top extremist and violent topics on imageboards
Protection of brands and physical assets
Similarly to alternative social media platforms, imageboards are a free platform for users to share their thoughts without any censorship. Because they also allow users to stay anonymous, many turn to these platforms to incite against a brand or company that they are not satisfied with or with its decisions, act against it, and even threaten it by posting hate posts against it and its executives.
In some cases, such as in the example below taken from 4chan, users threaten they will burn the headquarters or offices:
Death threats against executives and politicians
Similar to the example above, where users are upset and speak about taking action against a brand or organization, in other examples, we can see users direct their anger and threats against the company’s executives, C-levels, and other high-profile staff and public figures (VIPs). We find these types of threats on these platforms on a daily basis.
Here are a few examples:
One of the main types of illegal content on imageboards is terrorism and extremism of all kinds. Users turn to imageboards to share, spread and plan with others how to execute their extremist ideas. Among the most common examples of such content are Antisemitic discussions, Nazi-related conversations, KKK ideas, and Alt-right posts. These are shared on imageboards on an hourly basis and tend to gain a lot of traffic and interest.
In the following example, taken from 4chan, we see threat actors expressing their desire to use violence against Jewish people. In the first example, the threat actor is even claiming to have a plan against a specific Jewish person:
Misinformation and fake news of all kinds are found on imagebaords, as it is open and free to the public to post any content from anywhere in the world without any moderation.
Fake news is spread on imageboards, as on other media platforms, which has led to the rise of extremist movements and hysteria more than once in the past. Typical misinformation topics we find on imageboards include ones relating to Covid-19, 5G revolution, the Russia-Ukraine war, and others.
Below, you can see an example of a post from the imageboard 8kun, in which a user is making a baseless claim that the U.S. has bio labs in Ukraine, without presenting any proof. The post was published in late December of last year, months before the Russia-Ukraine war began. This thread became popular and attracted many supporters until the discussions escalated and became even more extreme – and at times even violent. It later led to broader reports of disinformation and broader violent discussions.
How dangerous are imageboards?
Although imageboards are seemingly legitimate sites and open to the public, which makes us expect all the content on them to be legal, they are still used as a platform for spreading extremist and radical fringe ideas. The anonymity they provide their users allows them to incite without the risk of their names and locations being exposed. Extremist movements are created through these types of threads and discussions. On these platforms, youth is exposed to radical ideas and misinformation, and extremist actors are incited to take action based on the disinformation they are exposed to.
Why monitor imageboards?
In a world where access to media and mass platforms is easier than ever, it is important to monitor platforms that are abused to spread hatred, fear, and incitement. In order to protect the public, we need to know where such dangerous ideas are first planted, how they evolve, and when they can turn into action in the real world.
By monitoring these platforms, companies, organizations, and governments can track who is behind these ideas – are they groups or individuals? How many are keyboard warriors, and how many of them will take violent actions out in the real world? Continuous monitoring of imageboards can generate early indications and help gain broader intelligence insights.