There are reports surfacing that suggest AT&T has begun blocking access to parts of 4chan. Oh-oh. Considering how popular its message boards are, and the net-rascals who frequent them, AT&T's just censored the wrong bunch.
If you're not up on 4chan, then you need to know it's an image-centric message board, notionally used for posting images with a manga and anime-leaning and then facilitating discussion. But it's actually far more than that—it's a thriving online community, aided by anonymous posting and liberal posting rules. It's given the world the lolcat phenomenon, rickrolling, and it's where Sarah Palin's private email messages first appeared. It's a place where hackers can let off steam and perhaps organize pranks or attacks on a range of sites. The most popular message board, /b/, whose users are dubbed btards, has been called "the asshole of the Internet," and seems to exist to let random threads develop, or perhaps to fester.
Enter AT&T, the huge national telecom company and now, it seems, an Internet censor. Tech Central began popping up stories like "Users of AT&T's DSL Internet access across many states in the U.S. are reporting that they are being blocked from the infamous /b/ message board" yesterday. Further data arrived suggesting it wasn't in all states, but then 4chan's founder, Moot, chimed in and confirmed AT&T's actions.
Why's it doing this? Only AT&T knows, and so far they're not telling. When it finally does come clean on the issue, it's likely the company will trot out motives along the lines of preventing piracy or hacking, or maybe even preserving national security (who knows? just possibly). But blocking 4chan isn't the same as blocking any other Web site: The community has already begun to organize its response—and it could get ugly. There's a clarion call for sanity among /b/ users, though, coming from a posting at EncyclopediaDramatica, pushing for a response along legitimate complaint lines, rather than illegal acts which would merely justify the shutdown. "Flood the callcenters and inboxes of AT&T...Then make the honest threat of service cancellation if this censorship isn't undone," it suggests.
Most interestingly, there's a suggestion AT&T's actually breaking the law by blocking parts of 4chan—it seems the FCC Comcast/Bit Torrent ruling covers the issue, and this stipulates that ISP's may only traffic-slow or cap connection speeds rather than blocking access.
This news is already the number two trending topic on Google trends, and number three on Twitter. Watch this space.
Update: Looks like AT&T has confirmed it was blocking access to segments of 4Chan, though apparently it tried to alert the site's owner. Moot has said he's not heard from AT&T at all. Meanwhile, AT&T has restored access to 4Chan across its entire network. But now 4chan is suffering a denial of service attack...possibly due to the high profile it earned on the 'net over the weekend with this news—fuel for conspiracy theorists anyway. We did say "watch this space."
Update 2: Cower, brief AT&T, and witness 4chan at work—CNN's iReport citizen journalism site has been hit with a fake report alleging the death of AT&T's CEO. According to the report, which was quickly pulled, Randall Stephenson was "found dead in his multimillion dollar beachfront mansion." The iReport gained hundreds of Diggs, but never hit the Digg front page. It's clearly the 4chaners at work, and it's not the first CEO they've (virtually) bumped off—Steve Jobs has had their attention before.
Update 3: Business Insider is reporting that AT&T blocked 4chan because of a denial of service attack launched from that site against one of its customers. They quote AT&T:
Beginning Friday, an AT&T customer was impacted by a denial-of-service attack stemming from IP addresses connected to img.4chan.org. To prevent this attack from disrupting service for the impacted AT&T customer, and to prevent the attack from spreading to impact our other customers, AT&T temporarily blocked access to the IP addresses in question for our customers. This action was in no way related to the content at img.4chan.org; our focus was on protecting our customers from malicious traffic.
Overnight Sunday, after we determined the denial-of-service threat no longer existed, AT&T removed the block on the IP addresses in question. We will continue to monitor for denial-of-service activity and any malicious traffic to protect our customers."
There's a fascinating little irony in here somewhere, in that the very people the DoD's trying to recruit for it's Cyber Warrior program are pretty much the same people busy perpetrating mayhem over at 4Chan. Isn't the Internet a wonderful place?