Why Hate Site 8chan Is So Hard to Knock Offline
8chan, the hate-filled online forum that is popular white nationalists, has been the go-to place for several recent mass killers to share their ideas.
The man who murdered at least 22 people in El Paso on Saturday posted a manifesto on the site. So did the man who opened fire in a Poway, Calif. synagogue in April, killing one person. The Christchurch mosque shooter posted his manifesto on 8chan in March, along with a link to a Facebook Live broadcast so people could watch and copy the footage of him killing 51 people.
The ugly track record has prompted many organizations that combat hate groups to call to shut down 8chan. Even the service’s founder, Fredrick Brennan, who is no longer affiliated with the site, has said in several interviews after the El Paso massacre that he wants the site to be closed.
In fact, like every other website, 8chan doesn’t control its own existence on the Internet. It relies on Internet infrastructure companies to operate online and on security services to fend off denial of service attacks to could knock it offline.
But many companies hesitate to take action against sites that harbor hate and conspiracy theories, citing free speech concerns and discomfort with anyone deciding what is worthy to be on the Internet.
Keegan Hankes, interim research director at the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit that tracks hate groups, is in the camp that favors action. Companies have a responsibility to stop doing business with 8chan and other sites that are hotbeds for extremist activity, he said.
“Any of the mainstream companies helping this content proliferate have full responsibility to take a stance on that and get it off their systems,” Hankes told Fortune. “We’ve seen what the tragic consequences can be.”
Matthew Prince, CEO of Cloudflare, a security provider used by 8chan, announced on Sunday night that he would terminate 8chan as a client.
“The rationale is simple: they have proven themselves to be lawless and that lawlessness has caused multiple tragic deaths,” Prince said in a blog post. “Even if 8chan may not have violated the letter of the law in refusing to moderate their hate-filled community, they have created an environment that revels in violating its spirit.”
Without a service like Cloudflare, 8chan is vulnerable to a DDoS attack, in which hackers try to overload the site with artificial traffic. 8chan went offline after Cloudflare terminated its support, according to Brennan, but it was said to be voluntary.
It’s hardly the first time Internet infrastructure companies have been called out publicly about the sites with which they do business.
Domain hosting site GoDaddy.com kicked the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer off its service after that site’s founder used it to attack Heather Heyer, the protestor who was killed by a white supremacist in Charlottesville in 2017. Daily Stormer tried to quickly get set up with Google Domains, which rejected the application, as did several other similar services.
Daily Stormer is currently registered at privately-held Dynadot, according to records posted online.
Last year, InfoWars provocateur Alex Jones was booted from Apple’s podcast store, and eventually off of Twitter and YouTube. MailChimp cut off his email service, preventing him from mass emailing conspiracy theories to his followers. However, Jones still has his InfoWars website, which is registered with Epik.com.
InfoWars also uses Cloudflare for security. Last year, Cloudflare declined to comment about its decision to continue providing services to InfoWars, but the company had published a blog post in 2017 in which it raised questions about regulating content and the danger of a few large companies controlling the Internet’s plumbing.
“We’re going to have a long debate internally about whether we need to remove the bullet about not terminating a customer due to political pressure,” Prince said in the post. “It’s powerful to be able to say you’ve never done something…make no mistake, it will be a little bit harder for us to argue against a government somewhere pressuring us into taking down a site they don’t like.”
On Monday, an 8chan administrator said the site will return online by working with BitMitigate, a Washington-based security provider whose website says it has a “proven commitment to liberty.” A representative for BitMitigate, which previously helped Daily Stormer when it lost Cloudflare’s support in 2017, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Daily Stormer was offline as of Monday afternoon.
Hankes, from the Southern Poverty Law Center, said 8chan will almost certainly be back because there will always be companies that are willing to protect or welcome a hate site after its been evicted by another provider.
“That is why these arguments ring hollow when these people say they are being thrown off these platforms and driven off the internet,” said Hankes. “They’re not.”
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