8chan is struggling to stay online in wake of El Paso massacre

Multiple Fatalities In Mass Shooting At Shopping Center In El Paso

Twenty-two people died in the massacre in El Paso, Texas. 

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8chan, a website that’s become popular with extremists and the place where at least three gunman have posted manifestos before going on shooting rampages this year, is no longer accessible on the internet. The site was knocked offline after a series of companies, starting with security platform Cloudflare, decided to stop helping keep the site on the internet. The catalyst was a gunman who killed 22 people and injured another two dozen Saturday at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. His hate-filled manifesto was apparently published to 8chan just before his attack.

The manifesto railed against immigration, declaring “this attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.” Members of 8chan cheered the shooting and remarked about the number of people killed. It was followed a day later by another seemingly unconnected attack in Dayton, Ohio, that left nine dead and 27 injured.

The shock of the weekend’s massacres raised questions about the site and its place on the internet. White supremacy and domestic terrorism in the US have been on the rise, and researchers say websites like 8chan, its cousin 4chan, and social networks like Reddit, Gab, Twitter and YouTube are being used to spread hate and recruit more attackers.

8chan, which began as an ephemeral image-posting website, came under scrutiny after the shooter’s seeming manifesto was discovered there. A shooter who attacked two New Zealand mosques in March and another who attacked a California synagogue in April posted their manifestos to 8chan as well.

The revelations of 8chan’s central role in encouraging attacks drove companies that until now have defended it to take action. Security platform Cloudflare, which had previously defended working with 8chan, on Sunday announced it’d drop the site.

“8chan is among the more than 19 million internet properties that use Cloudflare’s service,” Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince wrote in a Sunday blog post. “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. 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.”

Shortly after, BitMitigate, a site that appeared to work with 8chan after Cloudflare dropped out, no longer appeared accessible on the web either. BitMitigate apparently resold services from another company, Voxility, which said in a statement that it pulled access to its services as soon as it learned 8chan was running on its network.

BitMitigate’s other high-profile client, hate site the Daily Stormer, also seemed partially knocked offline Monday, something its publisher Andrew Anglin confirmed. It was still accessible on the dark web, though.

BitMitigate and 8chan didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Calls to shut 8chan down

4chan and 8chan have long been associated with darker parts of the web.  But as they became known as breeding grounds for extremism, calls to shut them down grew. On Sunday, 8chan’s founder, Fredrick Brennan, told The New York Times that the site he created should no longer exist

“Shut the site down,” he said. “Whenever I hear about a mass shooting, I say, ‘All right, we have to research if there’s an 8chan connection.'” 

Brennan started the site in 2013, seeking to create a free-speech forum bereft of any censorship. He resigned from the site in 2016. Since then, it’s been controlled by owner Jim Watkins and son Ron Watkins.

“I no longer have anything to do with 8chan — any 8chan questions post-April 2016 I don’t know the answers to,” Brennan states on his Twitter bio.

Prince told Wired that Cloudflare had been reconsidering its relationship with 8chan for a while.

“8chan has been on our radar for a long time as a problematic user,” Prince said. “But we have a responsibility, which is much beyond ‘we terminate sites we don’t like.’ I’m nervous about whether we’ve made the right decision, and I’m nervous about how this will set precedent in the future.”

It’s the second time that Cloudflare has made such a decision. In 2016, Cloudflare dropped The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi site. That decision followed the death of Heather Heyer, who was run over while protesting at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017. The man who purposely drove his car into the anti-racism protesters was sentenced in July to life in prison, plus 419 years, on federal hate crime charges.

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In 2015, 8chan was blacklisted from Google searches due to the child pornography content shared on the site. In 2014, Brennan told the Daily Dot: “I don’t support the content on the [child pornography] boards you mentioned, but it is simply the cost of free speech and being the only active site to not impose more ‘laws’ than those that were passed in Washington, DC.” 

Brennan has changed his mind about the “cost of free speech” since then.

“It’s not doing the world any good,” Brennan told the Times on Sunday of 8chan. “It’s a complete negative to everybody except the users that are there. And you know what? It’s a negative to them, too. They just don’t realize it.”

Tucows, which controls 8chan’s domain name registration, doesn’t expect it’ll disable the site’s web address. 

“We have no immediate plans other than to keep discussing internally,” Graeme Bunton, manager of public policy at Tucows, told the Times.

Ron Watkins, who co-manages 8chan with his father, tweeted Monday that if BitMitigate isn’t able to come back online, 8chan may go to the “clearnet,” which likely means it’d be accessible on the internet without extra security or anonymity protections.

Tucows didn’t immediately responded to a request for comment. 

The Techy Trends’s Sean Keane contributed to this report.

Originally published Aug. 4, 7:31 p.m. PT. 
Update, Aug. 5 at 5:50 a.m. PT: Notes that 8chan is back for some. Update, 6:22 a.m.: Adds that Tucows doesn’t plan to disable 8chan’s web address. Update, 9:35 a.m.: Updates the El Paso death toll after more victims died Monday morning. Update, 12:45 p.m.: Updates throughout about 8chan no longer working, and companies cutting connections.