9 min read

Update: Jim Watkins, the owner of 8chan has spoken against the ongoing backlash in a defensive video statement on uploaded 6th August on YouTube.

“My company takes a firm stand in helping law enforcement and within minutes of these two tragedies, we were working with FBI agents to find out what information we could to help in their investigations. There are about 1 million users of 8chan. 8chan is an empty piece of paper for writing on it is disturbing to me that it can be so easily shut down. Over the weekend the domain name service for 8chan was abruptly terminated by the provider Cloudflare.”, he states in the video.

He adds, “First of all the El Paso shooter posted on Instagram, not 8chan. Later someone uploaded a manifesto; however, that manifesto was not uploaded by the Walmart shooter. It is unfortunate that this place of free speech has temporarily been removed we are working to restore service. It is clearly a political move to remove 8chan from CloudFlare; it has dispersed a peacefully assembled group of people. “

Watkins went on to call Cloudflare’s decision ‘cowardly’. He said, “Contrary to the unfounded claim by Mr. Prince of CloudFlare 8-chan is a lawful community abiding by the laws of the United States and enforced in the Ninth Circuit Court. His accusation has caused me tremendous damage. In the meantime, I wish his company the best and hold no animosity towards him or his cowardly and not thought-out actions against 8-chan.”

Saturday witnessed two horrific mass shooting tragedies, one when a maniac gunman shot at least 20 people at a sprawling Walmart shopping complex in El Paso, Texas. The other in Dayton, Ohio at the entrance of Ned Peppers Bar where ten people were killed, including the perpetrator, and at least 27 others were injured. The gunman in the El Paso shooting has been identified as Patrick Crusius according to CNN sources. He appears to have been inspired by the online forum known as 8chan.

8chan is an online message board which is home to online extremists who share racist and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. According to police officials, a four-page document was posted to 8chan, 20 minutes before the shootings that they believe was written by Crusius. The post said, “I’m probably going to die today.” His post blamed white nationalists and immigrants for taking away jobs and spewed racist hatred towards immigrants and Hispanics.

The El Paso post is not the only incident. 8chan has been filled with unmoderated violent and extremist content over time. Nearly the same thing happened on 8chan before the terror attack in Christchurch, New Zealand. In his post, the El Paso shooter referenced the Christchurch incident saying he was inspired by the Christchurch content on 8chan which glorified the previous massacre. The suspected killer in the synagogue shootings in Poway, California also posted a hate-filled “open letter” on 8chan. In March, this year Australian telecom company Telstra denied access to millions of Australians to the websites 4chan, 8chan, Zero Hedge, and LiveLeak as a reaction to the Christchurch mosque shootings.

Cloudflare first defends 8chan citing ‘moral obligations’ but later cuts all ties

Post this disclosure, Cloudflare, that provides internet infrastructure services to 8chan continued to defend hosting 8chan calling it their ‘moral obligation’ to provide 8chan their services. Keeping 8chan within its network is a “moral obligation”, said Cloudflare, adding: “We, as well as all tech companies, have an obligation to think about how we solve real problems of real human suffering and death. What happened in El Paso today is abhorrent in every possible way, and it’s ugly, and I hate that there’s any association between us and that … For us, the question is which is the worse evil? Is the worse evil that we kick the can down the road and don’t take responsibility? Or do we get on the phone with people like you and say we need to own up to the fact that the internet is home to many amazing things and many terrible things and we have an absolute moral obligation to deal with that.”

Cloudflare has been under the spotlight over the past few years for continuing to work with websites that foster hate. Previous to 8chan, in 2017, Cloudflare had to discontinue services to neo-Nazi blog, The Daily Stormer, after the terror at Charlottevelle. However, Daily Stormer continues to run today having moved to a different infrastructure service with allegedly more readers than ever.

After an intense public and media backlash over the weekend, Cloudflare announced that it would completely stop providing support for 8chan. Cloudflare is also readying for an initial public offering in September which may have been the reason why they cut ties with 8chan. In a blog post today, they explained the decision to cut off 8chan.

“We just sent notice that we are terminating 8chan as a customer effective at midnight tonight Pacific Time. The rationale is simple: they have proven themselves to be lawless and that lawlessness has caused multiple tragic deaths.” Cloudflare has also cut off 8chan’s access to its DDOS protection service.

Although, this will have a short term impact; 8chan can always come up with another cloud partner and resume operations. Cloudflare acknowledges it as well, “While removing 8chan from our network takes heat off of us, it does nothing to address why hateful sites fester online. It does nothing to address why mass shootings occur. It does nothing to address why portions of the population feel so disenchanted they turn to hate. In taking this action we’ve solved our own problem, but we haven’t solved the Internet’s.”

The company added, “We feel incredibly uncomfortable about playing the role of content arbiter and do not plan to exercise it often,” adding that this is not “due to some conception of the United States’ First Amendment,” since Cloudflare is a private company (and most of its customers, and more than half of its revenue, are outside the United States).

Instead, Cloudflare “will continue to engage with lawmakers around the world as they set the boundaries of what is acceptable in those countries through due process of law. And we will comply with those boundaries when and where they are set.”

Founder of 8chan wants the site to be shut off

8chan founder Fredrick Brennan also appreciated Cloudfare’s decision to block the site. Post the gruesome El Paso shootings, he also told the Washington Post that the site’s owners should “do the world a favor and shut it off.” However, he told Buzzfeed News, shutting down 8chan wouldn’t stop the extremism we’re now seeing entirely, but it would make it harder for them to organize.

In a March interview with The Wall Street Journal, he expressed his regrets over his role in the site’s creation and warned that the violent culture that had taken root on 8chan’s boards could lead to more mass shootings.

Brennan founded the site in 2011 and announced his departure from the company in July 2016. 8Chan is owned by Jim Watkins and run by his son, Ron. He posted on Twitter that 8chan will be moving to another service ASAP. He has also resisted calls to moderate or shut down the site. On Sunday, a banner at the top of 8chan’s home page read, “Welcome to 8chan, the Darkest Reaches of the Internet.”

Cloudflare acted too late, too little

Cloudflare’s decision to simply block 8chan was not seen as an adequate response by some who say Cloudflare should have acted earlier. 8chan has been known for enabling child pornography in 2015 and as a result, was removed from Google Search. Coupled with the Christchurch mosque and the Poway synagogue shootings earlier in the year, there was increased pressure on those providing 8chan’s Internet and financial service infrastructures to terminate their support.

Laurie Voss, the cofounder of npmjs, called out Cloudflare and subsequently, other content sites (Facebook, Twitter) for shirking responsibility under the guise of them being infrastructure companies and therefore cannot enforce content standards.

“Facebook, Twitter, Cloudflare, and others pretend that they can’t. They can. They just don’t want to.”

“I am super, super tired of companies whose profits rely on providing maximum communication with minimum moderation pretending this is some immutable law and not just the business model they picked,” he tweeted.

Others also agreed that Cloudflare’s statement eschews responsibility.

Voxility, 8chan’s hardware provider also bans the site

Web services company Voxility has also banned 8chan and it’s new host Epik, which had been leasing web space from it. Epik’s website remains accessible, but 8chan now returns an error message.

“As soon as we were notified of the content that Epik was hosting, we made the decision to totally ban them,” Voxility business development VP Maria Sirbu told The Verge. Sirbu said it was unlikely that Voxility would work with Epik again. “This is the second situation we’ve had with the reseller and this is not tolerable,” she said.

Does de-platforming even work?

De-platforming or banning people that spread extremist or banning these people is not a solution since they will eventually migrate to other platforms and still able to circulate their ideology. Closing 8chan is not the solution to the bigger problem of controlling racism and extremism. Closing one 8chan will sprout another 20chan.

“8chan is no longer a refuge for extremist hate — it is a window opening onto a much broader landscape of racism, radicalization, and terrorism. Shutting down the site is unlikely to eradicate this new extremist culture because 8chan is anywhere. Pull the plug, it will appear somewhere else, in whatever locale will host it. Because there’s nothing particularly special about 8chan, there are no content algorithms, hosting technology immaterial. The only thing radicalizing 8chan users are other 8chan users.”, Ryan Broderick from Buzzfeed wrote. A group of users told BuzzFeed that it’s now common for large 4chan threads to migrate over into Discord servers before the 404.

After Cloudflare, Amazon is beginning to face public scrutiny as 8chan’s operator Jim Watkins sells audiobooks on Amazon.com and Audible.

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Content Marketing Editor at Packt Hub. I blog about new and upcoming tech trends ranging from Data science, Web development, Programming, Cloud & Networking, IoT, Security and Game development.