Michael Gallagher said he expected that members of 4Chan, the notorious online message board, would not like his new movie. But he said he did not anticipate the threatening tone of some Internet critics -- and the disturbing phone calls and text messages that followed.
"DIRECTOR AND WRITER OF THIS FILM MUST DIE," said one poster on 4Chan.
"I want his family dead," wrote another.
Gallagher, 23, who lives in Southern California, said he has been the target of "an extreme form of cyberbullying" and has received death threats leading up to the release of his new horror film, "Smiley," which portrays members of the online message board 4Chan in a negative light.
“I anticipated a minor backlash of people leaving harassing comments online,” he said in an interview. “But I didn’t think they’d hack into my personal information and make my life a living hell.”
4Chan is an online community with more than 20 million monthly visitors, most of whom choose to remain anonymous. Members of 4Chan, known as 4Channers, create memes, swap porn and engage in various Internet hijinks.
It has been called "one of the darkest corners of the Web," with one forum -- known as "/b/" -- that "reads like the inside of a high-school bathroom stall," according to a 2008 story in The New York Times.
4Chan is credited with being the birthplace of the hacker group Anonymous, which has taken credit for disrupting websites and spilling the secrets of numerous major corporations and government agencies over the past two years.
Gallagher said he began receiving death threats last week after doing press screenings for his film in Los Angeles and New York, and has received phone calls from strangers calling him racial and homophobic slurs. One caller said he was “going to wipe me off the face of the earth, and find me and murder me," he said.
Gallagher said 4Chan users posted his address and cell phone number online, as well as the Facebook pages belonging to his girlfriend and family members. “It just got very malicious,” he said. "It got very out of hand."
Gallagher suspects the threats are intended to pressure him to cancel the premier of his film in Los Angeles, which is scheduled for Tuesday. He said he still plans to go forward with the film's debut, but with increased security.
Gallagher reported the threats to the FBI, he said. Peter Donald, an FBI spokesman, did not respond to a request for comment.
Gallagher is the creator of “Totally Sketch,” a weekly sketch comedy channel on YouTube with more than 830,000 subscribers. The trailer for his film -- which involves a girl discovering an urban legend and members of 4Chan dying -- has been viewed more than 17 million times since being posted online last November.
Observers of 4Chan said the threats made against Gallagher were not surprising and the director should have expected them if he had spent any time on the forum.
When he was writing his book about Anonymous, Cole Stryker said members of the hacker group found out where he lived, started harassing his family members and "intricately laid out how they were going to kill me."
Stryker suspected Gallagher was "playing up" the threats to generate publicity for his new film, through he said they should not be dismissed. "You have to take it seriously, even though 99.9 percent of them are just people goofing off," he said.
Even though his book -- “Epic Win for Anonymous: How 4chan’s Army Conquered the Web" -- was sympathetic to the hacker group, Stryker still received threats because members of Anonymous and 4Chan prefer to publicize themselves on their own terms.
"They don't like anyone talking about them at all," Stryker said. "They see themselves as a secret club. They don't want to become a mainstream group and their way of fighting against that is antagonizing any outsiders who raise awareness."