THE online message board 8chan, known for its extremist and hateful content, is in the news after the suspect in Saturday’s El Paso shooting allegedly posted a hate-filled manifesto on the site, describing his reasons behind the attack. The suspect “appears to have been inspired” by discussions on 8chan, according to the CEO of 8chan’s former cybersecurity provider.
American software developer Fredrick Brennan launched 8chan in 2013, reportedly while under the influence of a psychedelic mushroom trip. It rose in popularity the following year as an alternative to the unaffiliated bulletin board website 4chan, which started cracking down on more extremist content at the time.
Specifically, 8chan became a platform for a widespread campaign against women and progressivism in gaming culture, known as Gamergate, that had been banned on 4chan, and some of that community moved to 8chan to express their more extremist views.
While 4chan’s content moderation policies are considered loose, 8chan’s are close to nonexistent. Its sole rule is “Do not post, request, or link to any content that is illegal in the United States of America and do not create boards with the sole purpose of posting or spreading such content.” Ben Decker, head of the digital investigations consultancy Memetica, said 8chan attracts nationalist groups, neo-Nazis, and other fringe communities and is “pretty much as close to anything goes on the open web.”
As a result of the shootings, Brennan, 8chan’s founder, has called for the site to be shut down, saying it’s “a receptive audience for domestic terrorists.”
On Monday, Brennan’s wish nearly came true. 8chan suffered sporadic outages after its cybersecurity provider, Cloudflare, dropped it as a customer, calling it a “cesspool of hate.” Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince said in a blog post that he finally made the decision, under pressure, because 8chan had “proven themselves to be lawless and that lawlessness has caused multiple tragic deaths.”
The web services provider Epik.com, which called itself “the Swiss bank of domains,” quickly became 8chan’s new domain host until the web services company Voxility banned the site and Epik, which was leasing web space from Voxility.
San Francisco-based Cloudflare had previously refused to de-platform 8chan in the wake of two other shootings in which the gunmen amplified their messages and announced their massacre plans there, the Christchurch and Poway, California shootings earlier this year. The last time Cloudflare de-platformed a site under similar circumstances was Daily Stormer, the neo-Nazi-associated site, in the wake of the 2017 events in Charlottesville — and both Daily Stormer and 8chan had their content hosted through Vancouver-based BitMitigate, which itself was de-platformed by its server company, Voxility, on Monday.
As BuzzFeed suggests today, even shutting down whole platforms like 8chan will only give rise to darker and deeper corners of the internet where hate and murderous manifestos will still proliferate.