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Branchan creator adds rules to the site

After Alex Chang ’22 created the site “Branchan” at the Fall 2018 Codestallation, he forgot about it.

“It was only a few hours that I was working on it that I just put it together and then I presented it. And then I didn’t really win anything, and then I just sort of forgot about it for a while,” Chang said, in an interview with The Brandeis Hoot.

But Branchan, which is modeled after the popular anonymous image board site 4chan, began to gain traction over winter break, said Chang.

“I feel like what happened was Brandeis Confessions was closed for a while over break and I think a lot of people posted stuff on [Branchan] during that time and then people came back and people started having conversations and stuff on it.”

The site became more popular. It averaged at 28 visits per day for December 2018 which moved up to 54 visits per day for the month of January 2019, Chang told The Hoot in an interview.
Chang modeled the site after 4chan because it was easier from a development perspective. “I modeled it after 4chan because the scripts that I used to develop the website were also modelled in that sense, where it’s a very, very type of bare-bones style message board.”

The site 4chan is known most for the boards /pol/, politically incorrect and /b/, random, which block less offensive content than most internet forums. The board /pol/ can “frequently dissolve into racial or misogynistic slurs,” according to an article by The Washington Post. But 4chan is also home to popular jokes including “rickrolling,” or the practice of sending someone a link that actually directs them to Rick Astley’s song, “Never Gonna Give You Up” and funny images of cats with text superimposed over the image.

Branchan has experienced similar inappropriate content. Chang has had to delete a few posts, which he called “inappropriate” and “demeaning,” though he did not expand on their content. Chang spoke about the banned content, saying, “That’s something that I’m still trying to figure out: to what degree is it going to be moderated, to what degree is it going to be unmoderated?”

The site has two moderators along with Chang that examine the content after it is posted. The moderators get email notifications when a new post is uploaded to the site. And the rules of the site are still developing.

One anonymous writer posted, “I wanna burn room 301 in village cause yeet” next to an image of YouTuber Jake Paul photoshopped next to individuals in the Klu Klux Klan, wearing white robes and hats. The anonymous writer posted the image and text on Jan. 26, but Chang took the image down on Jan. 28.

The post, like all Branchan posts, was completely anonymous. The Hoot spoke to Sam Stern ’20, an assistant Systems Administrator, who spoke about how difficult it would be to find out who commented on the site. “I do just want to emphasize again how hard it would be to trace back somebody’s identity,” Stern said, explaining that it would require a lot of information to become available and to be accurate for someone’s identity to be established.

Chang spoke about his goals for the site, describing it as a “social experiment.” He continued, “I figured it would be really interesting to see what this would look like if that kind of filter wasn’t in place and if people could just say whatever they wanted.”

Chang took the image of the KKK members down, but not the text, after he added new rules to the site. Chang added a set of rules to the site after an interview with The Hoot, and his expectation is that use of his site will increase.
“What I foresaw was that our userbase would increase, and because it would then increase it would be a good idea to get down a good list of solid rules just so that when people start posting more the moderation team has a set very well defined, set of guidelines for how to moderate the website,” he said.

The rules were modeled after several different internet forums including 4chan, Facebook and Reddit, and uploaded to the site on Jan. 28. The rules, which are “to prevent this site from becoming the dumpster fire which is 4chan,” according to the Official BranChan Rules page, ban certain types of content. Chang also changed the Branchan logo from the Brandeis University seal to the text, “Branchan.”

To use the official Brandeis seal, Chang would need the approval of the Office of Communications, which specifies on its website, “Use of the seal generally is reserved for use by the Office of the President.”
The new rules ban five categories of content, including: highly offensive or hateful content, content that violates local or United States law, spam, direct personal threats or attempts at intimidation and “adult content of any sort.”

Chang spoke about the rules, saying, “I didn’t want to make them so strict that you had to carefully word something you wanted to say.” He continued, “I just wanted to make it so that the platform doesn’t start becoming a place that attracts the people who only have bad intentions.”

The fourth rule bans direct personal threats and intimidation, saying, “We encourage you to be kind and respectful of
others, and to be tolerant of different perspectives than your own.” When asked about the post containing the image of the KKK and the text threatening to burn a room in the Village, Chang responded, “I would say that constitutes breaking the rules.” He continued, “The image is definitely down. I think the text might still be up and if it is I’m going to delete it.”

Chang spoke about the possibility of posters using the site to express hateful thoughts, saying, “In the 21st century people who have those feelings will always find a way to put it out there, be it on Branchan or 4chan or Reddit or somewhere.”

The text of the post was on the site as of Wednesday Jan. 30, after rules were uploaded to the site on Jan. 28.
Highly offensive or hateful content is defined on the site as “posts which are created with the sole intention of disrupting discussion with the usage of racism, sexism, etc.” Chang spoke about this regulation, saying if people just post racial slurs of seriously offensive content with the only goal of creating “a spiral of negative content,” then those posts would be removed.

The second rule bans posts that violate US or local law. This refers to Massachusetts law, Chang clarified.

The third rule, banning spam, includes content that is repeated on the site unnecessarily, and content with the sole purpose of advertising a product. Finally, the fifth rule, banning adult content, bans pornography.

Chang hopes more people will use the forum. “I feel like it has the potential to be a really good platform, in the sense that it would allow people to have conversations anonymously that wouldn’t be easy to facilitate in a face to face manner.”

Chang also hoped that the site would provide more transparency, unlike the “black box” of Brandeis Confessions, where some posts are not uploaded, he said. The site has ten pages of posts as of Jan. 31.

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