4chan fitness, the most elusive of Internet animals, has received a lot of coverage recently, not all of it positive. The site was first blamed for distributing stolen nude images of dozens of female celebrities. Later, it created an incomprehensible “mascot” for Ebola, pushing naive new iPhone owners to microwave their phones. (Since the latter rumor gathered traction, the Los Angeles Police Department felt obligated to comment.)

What is 4chan Fitness?

4chan is a collection of entirely anonymous, anything-goes boards. 4chan’s architecture and essential operation are not dissimilar to Reddit, Something Awful, or other large-scale Internet forums. Almost 22 million individuals each month use the site’s threaded discussion forums to talk about everything from civet coffee to foreplay.

Nonetheless, a few factors distinguish 4chan as a forum. Unlike Reddit, users are never required to create an account or choose a username – even if it is pseudonymous. This means that participants can say and do almost anything they want with only a remote threat of accountability. It also means you can’t communicate with other users or form social relationships unless they somehow expose their identity. That’s unusual for a social network. Moreover, several sociologists have spent time researching how it works.

Who uses 4chan Fitness?

According to the site’s statistics, most users are young, college-educated guys who enjoy Japanese culture, video games, comic books, and technology. Most are from English-speaking nations such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia, but the site also receives significant traffic from Germany, Sweden, and France.

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In late 2010, a 4chan member performed a (wholly unscientific) survey of other site users, discovering, among other things, that most 4chan users need to discuss the site offline and that most users would not allow their children to join it. The site’s founder advised users to take the survey with “a large grain of salt” since because the site lives on anonymity, there’s no way to identify who uses it with any confidence.

Why is 4chan Fitness important/why should I care?

There are three reasons for this. First, 4chan was the initial incubator for many memes and behaviors that we now consider essential to mainstream Internet culture. Second, 4chan has been responsible for some of the most significant hoaxes, cyberbullying events, and Internet pranks in the last five years. Third, Anonymous started on 4chan, and the hacktivist collective is becoming a more significant player in news stories ranging from Ferguson to the Steubenville rape. In short, the list of things 4chan has provided the Internet is quite long. But let’s start with the good: