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Summary:

The anarchic online community known as 4chan isn’t known for doing things that are cute and heart-warming — it’s mostly known for posting sophomoric humor and graphic sexual imagery. But today, someone decided the Internet should wish 90-year-old WWII veteran William J. Lashua a happy birthday.

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Updated: The anarchic online community known as 4chan isn’t known for doing things that are cute and heart-warming. In fact, the site is mostly known for posting sophomoric humor and graphic sexual imagery, and when the members of its most popular discussion board — known as /b/ — go after someone, it’s typically to subject them to ridicule and/or make them miserable. But not today. Today, someone at 4chan decided that the Internet should get together and wish 90-year-old WWII veteran William J. Lashua a happy birthday, and by lunchtime, his local branch of the American Legion said that they had heard from people as far away as Sweden.

It’s not clear how 4chan originally came across a photo of Mr. Lashua, but a member of the site posted a snapshot (embedded below) of a flyer that was posted on the bulletin board at the local Legion a local store in Mr. Lashua’s hometown of Ashburnham, Mass. The flyer asked for guests to attend the nonagenarian’s birthday on Sept. 4 at the Legion hall. Whether it was the 4chan member’s call to “make this guy the happiest person ever for a day,” or the fact that Mr. Lashua looks a bit like a real-life version of the grumpy old man from Pixar’s popular animated movie “Up,” the post took off.

From 4chan — which has given birth to most of the Internet “memes” that many users are likely familiar with, including LOLcats and the RickRoll — the idea spread to other social networking sites such as Reddit, as well as Tumblr and even Facebook. A recent check showed that the account someone set up for Mr. Lashua’s birthday had 3,956 “likes” and over 500 comments, most of which were wishing him a happy birthday and thanking him for his military service. Someone on Reddit noted that in contrast to their usual behavior, 4chan members “were giving him nice phone calls and sending him nice notes” and discouraging those who wanted to do something stupid or mean. “They were all being.. well, shucks… awful nice.”

The bar manager at Mr. Lashua’s local branch of the Legion — a woman named Linda who said she knows the 90-year-old well — told me in a brief phone interview that she’d received almost 100 calls from people as far away as Switzerland, Japan and Sweden, and that she planned to put together a collage of all the places that had sent in birthday wishes. She added that a lot of the people phoning had given her the impression that they thought Mr. Lashua didn’t have many friends or family, and that’s why he was advertising for people to come to his party. “But that’s not true,” the manager said. “He has a big family, and lots of friends. It’s still nice to hear from so many people though.”

In addition to putting together the collage for Mr. Lashua, Linda might want to put together some extra chairs as well — a number of 4chan members, Reddit readers and Facebook fans said that they live near Massachusetts and are planning to make the drive there for the festivities. It remains to be seen what the WWII vet thinks of strangers showing up at his birthday party saying they heard about him on the Internet.

Although 4chan is known for plenty of unpleasant incidents, including the recent case involving a teenager who uploaded her videos to YouTube and was targeted by the site, Mr. Lashua’s birthday isn’t the first time the site has engaged in something more positive: 4chan users have been instrumental in tracking down people involved in animal abuse cases, such as the girl who recently threw a puppy into a river and uploaded the video to YouTube. Embedded below is a video presentation that 4chan founder Christopher Poole — known to users as Moot — did at the TED conference about the benefits of anonymity in online communities.

Update: William Lashua’s grandson has posted a response on Reddit to the outpouring of Internet support for his grandfather (the poster’s identity was verified by a staffer with the Reddit site). He said that while he and his family “appreciate the outpouring of love and generosity,” his grandfather has a large family and many friends, and they would all appreciate it if those who don’t know him personally did not attend the party. “By all means, send cards and well wishes,” he added, “but please refrain from sending gifts/strippers/cakes/candies/etc. and instead please make a donation in his name to a local veterans charity.”

http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf

Related GigaOM Pro Content (sub req’d): Why Google Should Fear the Social Web

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Pink Sherbet Photography

  1. Ssssssshhhhhhhhhh. No publicity is good publicity.

    Lol’d at asking not to send strippers.

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  2. 4chan is made up of people, not one dimensional shells of humanity the media would have you believe. We support those we wish to support, we help those we wish to help. Anonymous is not single minded, quite the opposite. The chaos of conflicting personalities, taste and opinion is what makes /b/ in particular so popular.

    However, sometimes the stars align and a cross section of our collective interests and sensibilities cause the community to unite as one. And in some cases this results in a beautiful act of kindness.

    However, anonymous also consists of the very people society depends on. We cook your meals. We haul your trash. We connect your calls. We drive your ambulances. We guard you while you sleep.

    Do not fuck with us.

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    1. You are probably my favorite person on the internet right now for the FC reference.

      I am Jack’s pride in Anonymous

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  3. anonymous is /b/i-polar, we will act, how we wish do not try to understand us…

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  4. Loves To Spooge Thursday, September 2, 2010

    People have the wrong idea about 4chan. Sure they make some people miserable, but they, well, are generally not very nice people and need taking down a peg or two. I’ve seen 4chan help solve animal abuse cases, potential sex abuse cases and more. I’ve learned about many cultural stuff from there too. Just don’t fuck with them.

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  5. Also LOL’ed at asking not to send strippers. Not that they probably didn’t already have the idea, but he had to bring it up…

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  6. 4chan’s /b/ board is not evil. They are random.

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  7. Why is this on stumble? It seems that nowadays everybody is blogging about the chan. I remember back when anonymity was respected.

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  8. *sniff* Sometimes you /b/tards make me proud.

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  9. with our hot /b/ody, we do what we want.

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  10. [...] recently, 4chan’s /b/ messageboard rallied to cheer up an old man. Someone posted a flyer they spotted in their local grocery store: “Wanted: People for [...]

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  11. [...] von ihren sonstigen Gewohnheiten initiierte die Online-Gemeinschaft jetzt allerdings hunderte von Geburtstagsgrüßen für den 90jährigen US-Veteranen William J. Lashua. Einer der Nutzer war auf einen Aushang [...]

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  12. Why is it the stupidest raids get the most publicity?
    Oh yeah, because 4chan is filled with 12 year olds and watched like a hawk by online news media now.

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  13. Lashua party or GTFO

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  14. When Anon targets someone “cruelly” it’s because they deserved it. Period. I have not ever seen a case where the harm done to a person was not proportional to the offense that person did (at least not when the site as a whole acts), and I’ve seen pretty much all of them.

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  15. grandson sounds like an ungrateful bastard.

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  16. The day /b/ was ruined….

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  17. The Reddit user was a troll.

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  18. 4chan… thank you. seriously. you are good people for this !

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  19. If this is an attempt by the author of this article to mainstream 4chan, lemme just stop you right there. Neither the site, its coward of a creator nor its denizens should be given any credibility because of one isolated incident. Make no mistake about it: 4chan, by any definition of normal human behaviour, is sick and twisted. 4chan, and in particular /b/, is the combination armpit-slash-rectum of the Internet.

    This garbage by other posters about 4chan only going after those who “deserve it” is utter and complete bullshit, and I suspect it’s only rationalisation by these sorry human beings to excuse themselves from the daily depravity of the sick community they choose to identify with. 12 and 13-year-old girls are routinely targeted by the community (most of which are grown men in their 20s and beyond) and harassed to undress and masturbate on camera. If they co-operate, the pictures and screen-grabs are circulated online to thousands of strangers, mailed to parents and schoolmates etc and used to extort these prepubescent girls into doing even more. If they don’t, they are exposed to pictures and videos of snuff, live animal mutilation, amputee porn, brutal rape and other material that children should never be exposed to.

    The majority of posters are sick, disturbed, racist and misogynistic individuals who lack the ability to function in normal society and so huddle together to lash out online behind the safety of anonymity.

    Personally, I have no inclination to identify with cowards and rejects, and feel only pity for the pathetic failures at life (like those above) who feel the need to.

    Accident scene photographs of the bodies of dead teenage girls have been uploaded to 4chan, with the phone numbers and email addresses of parents and siblings and instructions on how best to psychologically torment family members. I’d love to know how this is “proportional”.

    Along with the gore, bestiality, targeting of prepubescent children for bullying, group encouragement of suicide attempts etc, child porn is a known and inescapable factor of 4chan’s success. 4chan is perhaps most well-known for this. I’m not talking about high school girls sending titty pics to each other. I’m referring to ACTUAL CHILD RAPE. As in pictures of five-year-old children being sodomised. This is perhaps the ONLY THING moot and the other morally bankrupt little people who run 4chan attempt to moderate, and they do a piss-poor job at it, as kiddie-fiddling threads pop up daily. Yep, those kids deserve it, 4chan is only being mischievous. Silly little 4chan.

    And over all this sickness and hate hangs an atmosphere of the most virulent racism you will find outside of Stormfront, where blacks and Hispanics are caricatured in EVERY SINGLE THREAD on the site as dimwitted inferior subhuman animals, while real-life murders, rapes or accidental deaths of minority children are laughed at and joked about and the wholesale slaughter of Middle Easterners and other ‘mud races’ is advocated.

    None of this is exaggeration. This is what happens every single hour of the day on 4chan. If I were to post a screenshot of any thread on the first page of /b/, my post would be instantly deleted. Yet this is what the author of this crap article expects us to have a chuckle at, because these pedophile racist sick twisted fucks wished an old man Happy Birthday.

    Oh, those lovable 4chan rascals.

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    1. U mad?

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    2. Wow, it’s really like you don’t know ANYTHING you are talking about. It’s like the only part of 4chan you have visited is /b/ and you must think the entire site is like that. There are PLENTY of other boards on the site that do nothing like what you describe. Why would a board about automotive vehicles post kiddy porn or raid info? Why would a board about comics and cartoons post violent pictures of animal mutilation and accident victims? Why would a board about cooking and recipes be filled with requests for ten different kinds of porn?

      They aren’t, because that is not what those boards are for. Whether you like it or not, and as rare as it can be on some boards, there IS intelligent discussion on 4chan. Now go back to your Fox News.

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      1. 4chan’s biggest board is /b/. 4chan is DEFINED by /b/. Like it or not, your precious little community is DEFINED by the race-hate and CP that dominate /b/. /b/’s sick little culture has spread all across 4chan and its copycats around the Net, and all your hand-wringing and rationalisation won’t change that.

        And sorry to burst your little bubble (superiority from a 4channer, hilarious) but the Stormfront-Lite garbage on 4chan could pass for the comment section of Fox News. Maybe YOU would feel more comfortable there.

        Intelligent discussion on 4chan. LMFAO. Meanwhile real human beings will gather at… nah, on second thought you find it yourself.

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  20. If they didn’t want strangers coming to his party why would there be a flyer up in a mall inviting random passersby to come to his party?

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  21. [...] 4chan Decides to Do Something Nice for a Change. This was a nice change-up and showed that 4chan, despite its reputation for sophomoric humor and sexual imagery, could be used for good. The online community banded together to wish 90-year-old WWII veteran William J. Lashua a happy birthday. [...]

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  22. 4chan is a _creation for all who wish to use but not chilins .i rarely see anything on that site that envolves childrn and when i do its nothing sexual. we are all pll.
    and nobod lkes cp but post youf of age porn pics freely

    freedom……united by 1divided by0

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    1. 4chan = race hatred + gore + kiddie pr0n. Anonymous = sad little trolls with no social skills and no life. A random birthday treat for some old guy and one weak little failed raid in defence of Wikileaks doesn’t erase the truly sick shit your /b/rethren have done over the years. Quit trying to defend your little Internet sewer.

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