Who Owns 4chan?
By 2016, Nishimura announced that the costs of running 4chan were simply too high and suggested the site’s closure was imminent. In 2018, Nishimura attempted to cleave the site in two—leaving 4chan intact, with its obscene and pornographic boards, but creating a safe-for-work alternative, attractive to advertisers, on 4channel. The separate domains continue to this day, but both sites rely on the same self-serve advertising platform. The not-safe-for-work 4chan domain seems mostly to show ads for porn, while 4channel features ads for Steam games, cryptocoins, and NFTs.
Website analytics firm Similarweb estimates that both 4chan and 4channel are still within the 1,000 most popular websites in the world.
When the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol sent a letter to 4chan last August, asking it to preserve documents that could shed light on the insurrection, the committee sent it to 4chan LLC and addressed it to Nishimura. Congressional investigators want to know what role, if any, 4chan played in the storming of the Capitol building.
Asked whether 4chan had even responded to the request, or whether Nishimura may be called to testify, the committee declined to comment.
4chan LLC is incorporated in Delaware but has registered businesses in New York, Virginia, and Ohio. 4chan Community Support LLC, the company listed as the owner on the 4chan website, is similarly incorporated in Delaware. According to documents filed with the state of New York and the United States Patent and Trademark Office, 4chan’s American headquarters is listed as Los Angeles. Both limited liability companies report their address as a post office box in central Los Angeles.
Nishimura has said he is based in Paris, though in 2019 he mused to BuzzFeed News about obtaining a Latvian visa.
4chan does not appear to have an independent physical office in the United States, nor any staff. But there is another Japanese company, with offices in Los Angeles, which could explain a lot about the image board’s murky ownership and operations.
The Good Smile Company is a massively popular toy and hobby company—its brand of plastic figures, called Nendoroids, have attracted licensing deals from Disney, Marvel, Warner Bros., and a host of other American and Japanese companies. (Neither Disney, Marvel, nor Warner Bros. responded to WIRED’s requests for comment.)
In 2018, Good Smile released a Nendoroid of Yotsuba Koiwai, a popular anime character who also happens to be 4chan’s unofficial mascot. On Instagram, fans picked up on the connection “4chan represent!” one wrote. “Congratulations 4chan!” wrote another.
Many of Good Smile’s toys, some of which are marketed with sexually suggestive language despite depicting underage girls, are popular on 4chan, where sexually explicit anime is incredibly popular.
Sources with knowledge of Good Smile say the company owns at least a part of 4chan, and that Good Smile is more involved than it lets on publicly. WIRED is not naming those sources, who fear retaliation for speaking publicly about Good Smile.
Internal Good Smile documents obtained by WIRED reference a “confidentiality agreement” dated April 2015—just months after Poole announced he would be leaving 4chan, but some five months before Nishimura was announced as the buyer. One document names Dwango, Future Search Brazil, and Hiroyuki Nishimura as parties in the “consideration of M & A [mergers and acquisitions] regarding 4CHAN, LLC.” The executive responsible for the five-year deal was listed as “安藝”—Good Smile CEO Takanori Aki.