The notorious message board 4chan is going broke. The financial troubles of the site, best known as a home for offensive memes and online racism, came to light on October 2, when owner Hiroyuki Nishimura made a post entitled, "Winter is Coming."
"We had tried to keep 4chan as is. But I failed. I am sincerely sorry," he wrote.
A savior appeared to sweep in quickly. Vocativ reported that conservative writer Charles "Chuck" C. Johnson wants to buy 4chan. Johnson, formerly a writer for Tucker Carlson's Daily Caller, is best known for doxing a woman he falsely claimed was the anonymous source at the center of Rolling Stone's retracted University of Virginia rape article and being permanently banned from Twitter for threatening Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson (he says his tweets weren't threats). He already owns conservative media site GotNews dot com and WeSearchr, a site that invites users to crowdfund bounties on information, largely about various left and liberal targets.
But there's one little snag: Nishimura doesn't want to sell.
Nishimura bought the 13-year-old board from founder Christopher "moot" Poole late last year. Reached by email, Nishimura says he's yet to hear directly from Johnson or from William Kaplan, a lawyer who confirmed to Vocativ that he's been making inquiries on Johnson's behalf. He did get a message on behalf of Johnson from someone named Trevor Hill. Nishimura says that he sent Johnson the following response:
Mr. Trevor Hill introduced you for 4chan.
Thank you for caring 4chan.
"I don't think I sell 4chan. But any help is welcome from anyone," Nishimura told me, adding that he doesn't really know much about Johnson and that he's not convinced selling is a solution. The way he sees it, the site's problems will just persist under a new owner.
In his October 2 post, Nishimura laid out the problems facing the site, saying he feels he's failed at maintaining 4chan as is, but that he has three options: shuttering some of the site's subboards and reducing server quality, adding many more ads, or getting more users to sign on to a paid system called 4chan pass.
The financial difficulties the site is dealing with aren't a surprise, since monetizing sites like 4chan is quite difficult, and 4chan itself once put Poole in $20,000 of debt, part of the reason he decided to sell. Despite these difficulties, the site's hallmark, anonymous posting, has allowed it to thrive as a home for online culture, groups like Anonymous, and a lot of really vicious bigotry.
Despite only buying the site last year, Nishimura has a more involved role in its history, having created 2channel, the Japanese site that Poole modeled 4chan on, while he was an exchange student in Arkansas in 1999.
Johnson is only the latest person to make some sort of offer to maintain 4chan. Earlier this week Martin Shkreli offered to help pay for the site, then withdrew that offer. Markus "notch" Perrson, the bored and ultra-wealthy creator of Minecraft, also hinted at the idea before seeming to rule it out on Twitter.
On a phone call, Johnson said that the offer is "100% serious" and that he'd reached out to Nishimura via a few representatives over the past couple days, but that 4chan's owner was proving "elusive." He reiterated these points in an open letter posted this morning (which includes a recording of his conversation with me) and indicated the offer came from both him and his business partner Pax Dickinson, his partner in WeSearchr, and another disgraced alum of a digital media outlet. The former CTO of Business Insider, Dickinson was forced to resign in 2013 from that company after his history of tweeting rape jokes and racial epithets surfaced and even his colleagues revealed that they found his behavior unacceptable. The letter also includes tweets from Mike Cernovich, a blogger who doesn't believe date rape exists and subscribes to a number of conspiracy theories, reaching out to Nishimura on Johnson's behalf.
While Johnson and his gang of stooges would probably be at home on parts of 4chan, which has its own long history of doxing, racism, and general abuse, Nishimura seems focused on fixing the site himself. He told me his first priority to quickly get 4chan to a break-even point, so that it stops losing money. Saying the site has "limited time," he said that a change of ownership could take too long.
"Some people want long term relationships with 4chan," he wrote in an email. "But if owner will change, I can't make a long term promise. I have to stop negotiations with such people."
Looks like Johnson will probably have to seek attention elsewhere.
Ethan Chiel is a reporter for Fusion, writing mostly about the internet and technology. You can (and should) email him at firstname.lastname@example.org