4chan, that bizarre cesspit of the Internet that most people know to avoid, recently celebrated its 10th birthday. And with the rise of the website came the rise of the Chan — a pantheon of 20 or so young women who gained a huge following for posting photos of themselves on the site's image boards.
The most famous and beloved Chan, a 15-year old girl named Olivia, first posted in 2005. In her first photos, she's wearing poorly-applied red face paint and a Japanese schoolgirl outfit, grinning, with "'SUP 4CHAN" written on her palm. As KnowYourMeme so eloquently puts it, "The images were quickly pronounced cute and sweet by Anonymous" and she was thus dubbed Cracky-chan. Within two weeks, 4Chan's fascination with her grew so extreme, creepy and horribly invasive (men began calling the Blockbusters at which she worked) that Cracky-chan stopped posting entirely. No one knows where she is now, but that hasn't stopped her from remaining an object of cult-like reverence. Some of her fans refer to her as the "Sky-Queen." Yet another well-known Chan, Creepy-Chan, went on to become a runner up on America's Next Top Model.
However, not every Chan was so lucky.
Over at the Miami New Times, Allie Conti has tracked down the former 4Chan user previously known as Loli-Chan. Years after amassing a large and vociferous 4Chan following, Loli-Chan has managed to achieve neither widespread recognition nor total anonymity, so she's trapped in a sort of limbo state between the two: too recognizable to feel safe, not recognizable enough to support herself — and too shell-shocked to move on. From Conti's account, we learn that Loli (who did not want to be named in the article) first posted on the board in 2006, when she was thirteen. Now, seven years later, she still lives "a cloistered and fearful existence."
I asked Allie how she tracked Loli down, and she said that someone had once mentioned to her that she'd been friends with Loli on Myspace. "I remembered hearing that story and I remembered the girl's first name," she told me. "I then broke out every yearbook I could find, narrowed down the list of potential people using her age and first name, and then ended up finding the girl through her full name and social media." When she tried reaching out to Loli, she originally got this response:
Who the fuck are you
why the fuck should I care
how do I know you won’t just post my phone number on 4chan???
Although Loli agreed to be interviewed eventually, once she realized that Allie is a woman, it's clear that she's still remarkably paranoid — and rightfully so, it seems. A series of decisions she made when she was 13 years old have had huge and lasting repercussions on her life. According to the Miami New Times, Loli dropped out of college before finals week of her freshman year because she was hearing "voices that alternately asked her to post more photos of herself and told her she was worthless." Since then, she's only held a job once, a couple of years ago.
The story of how she ended up here reads almost like some platonic ideal of an Internet Cautionary Tale: when she was 12, Loli sent up-close photos of her breasts and vagina to a man she'd never met in exchange for 12,000 virtual gold pieces on the website GoGaia.com. As she bluntly put it, "I wanted little digital clothes for my little digital person, so I sent someone pictures of my boobs and vagina." Soon afterwards, she discovered 4chan and eventually began posting photos of herself onto the board. The photos were not at all salacious: her first, for instance, was of her smiling, with "Sup /b/" written on her hand. The rest were similarly innocent; in these photos and videos, she looks almost shockingly young. In one, she sort-of-ineptly mouths the Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme song in a sideways baseball cap.
After Loli had garnered "chan" status, she says, the attention became addictive. She had her own board on chanchan, a sub-forum that gathered pictures of camgirls (it's now called ChanSluts), where she gained a large fanbase. She'd also chat with hundreds of men per day via AIM. Even after she was caught by her parents — she posted a picture of herself wearing her school insignia, and a woman who frequented 4chan called her school and alerted the principal of her online behavior — she continued to go on the board covertly, uploading photos when her family was away. When she was 14, Loli had her first online boyfriend. He was 30; she dumped him after 8 months, after seeing a photo of him and realizing that he was a "fat, nerdy guy," as Conti puts it. Her second online boyfriend, who went by George Peard, claimed to be her age but he definitely seems like he was an older man with pedophilic fantasies — he kept asking for photos of her in pigtails, he would tell her that he fantasized about his niece, etc. After months of dating, George convinced Loli to send him naked pictures. He promptly posted them on 4chan (of course).
When the pictures came out, Loli was simultaneously derided as a slut and revered as an object of fascination — and the term "object" is important here. After interviewing one of Loli's friends, who goes by the name Camel online, Conti breaks down the phenomenon.
"I think a big part of [the Cracky phenomenon] was misogyny," says one of Loli's friends, who goes by the name Camel online. She explains many of Cracky's fans were otaku, those who become obsessed with anime to the point of becoming shut-ins. These fans treat camgirls as cartoon protagonists, trade their pictures like playing cards, and develop elaborate backstories for their "characters," the pale New Jersey native says. "It was extremely rapey."
People began posting Loli's personal information online. Someone uploaded a picture of her house with the caption "Here's where I'm gonna kidnap her." Dozens of fans rose to her rescue, starting a website called LoliChanArmy, devoted to finding and deleting her personal information on the Internet.
The impact on Loli, as mentioned earlier, was severe. After she was involuntarily committed to a psych ward for a month — racking up a $31,000 bill in the process — she moved back in with her parents. In order to pay off her massive hospital bill, she began modeling on MyFreeCams under the username Jezeb3l. Within a day, 4Chan had found out (of course). They quickly posted screengrabs and videos of her performance on ChanSluts (LINK INCREDIBLY NSFW). Here are some of the forum's responses:
I'm glad to see she is still adorable.
I have been fapping to her since she was 13 and I'm not stopping now!
All these years of waiting, since 2006, for this...
I don't understand. Her tits looked so nice when she was like 15. So plump and supple, how could this happen?
... It's just weird for those of us who've been around since 2006 and watched her grow up. Nobody ever thought she would do something like this. She was always very opposed to showing nudity.
Man this is just weird. I always thought she was cute and had a huge crush on her but seeing that she's ended up like this right now.... kinda depressing. Can't even really enjoy that she's naked, wtf.
Loli has adopted the name Dolores Haze, an homage to the titular character of Lolita, and it's a sadly accurate choice. On the surface, Lolita is a book about a pedophile's monstrous desires — but on a deeper level, it's a story about a man who uses his position in a dynamic of power in order to diminish completely a young girl's humanity and subjectivity. It's "just weird" and "depressing" for some 4Chan users to see her doing sex work in her old childhood bedroom because they didn't conceive of her as a real human being. For them she was always just character, a fantasy, a fetish object, something to be possessed and/or consumed. Because of this, 4Chan users were complicit in exploiting, objectifying, stalking and threatening her for years and failed to recognize that there was anything disgusting and disgraceful in doing so.
According to the MNT article, Loli now hopes to erase her internet presence and go to college to study illustration. "I never really gave myself a shot at life," she told Conti. In light of that, the limited glimpse of her private mind offered by her online presence is heartbreaking: going through her Tumblr, one gets the impression that she's an extremely inquisitive, bright young woman. Alongside anime gifs and pictures of cute animals, she posts quotes about race, class, and gender: statistics about violence against Native women, quotes from Class Matters, musings on the sexualization of young girls.
Loli maintains an Amazon wishlist so that her fans can buy her gifts, in addition to paying for MyFreeCam sessions. On it, she asks for Lolita-style clothing, nipple clamps, and a copy of Misogyny: The World's Oldest Prejudice.