Inside the Teen Hacker War Between Tumblr and 4Chan

Two Internet enclaves escalate a tit-for-tat feud

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This weekend, one of the most disruptive hacker hiveminds on the Internet,, was briefly humbled by users of the blogging platform Tumblr. For those who aren't familiar, 4Chan is an anonymous message board site famous for creating Internet memes (e.g. The Rickroll, Lolcats) and waging effective hacker attacks on the Church of Scientology and Gene Simmons. Tumblr, on the other hand, is a relatively young platform for sharing images, videos and links across the Web.

The feud began with an orchestrated plot by 4Chan users to flood Tumblr's blog network with violent and pornographic images while using software to overload its servers. For days, 4Channers spread leaflets and detailed instructions on "Operation Overlord," the campaign to take down Tumblr. The casus belli? Tumblr users had been appropriating memes and other Web humor ephemera for their own use—"stealing" 4Chan's creative work.

Interestingly, a number of Tumblr users caught word of the impending attack and organized a counter-attack dubbed "Operation Overkitten." In lieu of porn, Tumblr users would flood 4Chan's site with images of adorable kittens and stage denial-of-service attacks.

To the surprise of many, Operation Overkitten succeeded briefly on Sunday. According to the Silicon Valley news site TechCrunch, 4Chan's site was down for at least 15 minutes, the same day Operation Overlord was scheduled. Others reported slow loading times and "404--Not Found" errors across the site. However, today, 4Chan users waged a second attack, which has reportedly shut down Tumblr all day.  At this point, it looks like Tumblr users may have picked the wrong fight.

Here's what other bloggers are saying about the hacker war:

  • The Cause for War Here Is Ridiculous, writes Adrian Chen at Gawker:

There's a lot of overlap between 4chan and Tumblr, as each is comprised largely of teenagers who spend far too much time on the computer. (And old media organizations trying to seem hip.) 4channers constantly gripe that Tumblr users poach their jokes and memes, which, while true, is not much of a complaint when you consider the material they're talking about: Cat memes, lolspeak, Pretty Cool Guy, etc.

  • The Gender Element Is Interesting, writes James Nixon at Thinq:

[This] is shaping up to be a girls vs. boys clash, with Tumblr users – many of whom are female, and noted for their whimsical fascination with all things cute and cuddly – facing off against porn-obsessed counterparts of the opposite sex from 4chan.

As these things tend to do, the feud has taken a dark turn. I was browsing /b/ on Sunday night at 10:30 and found the thread featured above, where a user posted the addresses and phone numbers of Tumblr founder David Karp's parents and the Tumblr office, which is the sort of antisocial creepiness that brings 4chan their unsavory reputation.

Nothing serious will probably come of it other than maybe some prank calls and a few pizza deliveries (and a fax!), but who knows. It feels like it's only a matter of time before some weirdo from one of these raids does something stupidly criminal in real life.
  • Think About It: These Kids Will Run the World Some Day, writes Joe Coscarelli at The Village Voice:
Teenagers who are using the internet more and more are committing with virtual blood and tears to the sites where they will spend their attention dollars (a currency I just made up) to the point where they're willing to fight with competitors. And while it is a niche, the web is made up of niches and they're not really that small when you look at the numbers. These kids live on the internet, grow on the internet and will eventually run the world.
  • This Is Just Bad For Everyone, writes Keith Dsouza at Techie Buzz:

In the end, these types of attacks are really not worth it and will just make the internet more inaccessible to everyone. Imagine the millions of regular users of Tumblr and 4Chan who will not be able to access their services thanks to the feud run by people who aren’t even concerned about them.

In the end everyone is a loser, including both Tumblr and 4Chan users themselves.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.