Recently 4chan was famous for another reason: the site became the poster child for the prospect of Web censorship.
This weekend, reports surfaced that AT&T was blocking DSL and U-verse subscribers' access to portions of 4chan's site. AT&T soon restored access and explained that it had blocked some visits to protect Web users from denial of service attacks connected to the site. "This action was in no way related to the content," AT&T said. "Our focus was on protecting our customers from malicious traffic."
Still, even if this particular shutdown was justified, the prospect of an ISP unilaterally blocking access to particular sites is frightening enough that it could well give new momentum to a push for neutrality laws.
As of now, Congress hasn't enacted legislation specifically requiring net neutrality, but the Federal Communications Commission said in its 2005 Internet policy statement that ISPs shouldn't block sites based on content. The agency sanctioned Comcast for violating that principle by showing peer-to-peer traffic, but Comcast has appealed that ruling on the ground that the FCC policy statement isn't itself a law.
The FCC also said in its 2005 statement that ISPs can use reasonable means of traffic management. Former chair Kevin Martin clarified last year that the agency will only consider traffic management techniques reasonable if they're disclosed to consumers. Here, AT&T did eventually state why it blocked access to 4chan -- but only after censorship rumors swirled throughout the blogosphere.
Whether the temporary shut-down will have long-term repercussions isn't yet clear. But 4chan founder Christopher Poole described the incident on his blog as a "blessing in disguise."
"In the end, this wasn't a sinister act of censorship, but rather a bit of a mistake and a poorly executed, disproportionate response on AT&T's part," Poole blogged. "We're glad to see this short-lived debacle has prompted renewed interest and debate over net neutrality and internet censorship -- two very important issues that don't get nearly enough attention -- so perhaps this was all just a blessing in disguise."