UPDATE:5/5/19 7:29 p.m.
8chan has effectively been kicked offline, at least for the moment.
BOSTON (AP) — The online message board 8chan was effectively knocked offline Monday after two companies cut off vital technical services following the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas , whose perpetrator was linked to the site. 8chan is known for trafficking in anonymous hate speech and incitement of hate crimes.
A racist “manifesto” posted to the site is believed to have been written by the suspect in a Saturday’s killing of 22 people in El Paso, Texas. If it was, it would be the third known instance of a shooter posting to the site before going on a rampage, following mass shootings at two New Zealand mosques in the spring, and another at a California synagogue.
Late Sunday, the security company Cloudflare announced it was cutting off the message board, which has a history of use by violent extremists, for being “a cesspool of hate.”
8chan quickly found a new online host: Sammamish, Washington-based Epik.com, whose site declares it “the Swiss bank of domains.” Epik provides similar support for Gab.com, another social media site frequented by white supremacists that doesn’t ban hate speech.
Gab is where the man accused of massacring 11 people last October in a Pittsburgh synagogue posted anti-Semitic vitriol. Epik also owns the security company BitMitigate, whose clients include the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi and white supremacist site.
Like Cloudflare, BitMitigate protects web sites from denial-of-service attacks that can make them unreachable — the kind of online armor that contentious message boards require to survive.
But on Monday, London-based Voxility, a provider of network hardware and services, upended both Epik and BitMitigate by terminating its contract with the companies, said Maria Sirbu, the company’s vice president of business development.
“We have made the connection that at least two or three of the latest mass shooting in the U.S. were connected with these guys,” Sirbu said. “At some point, somebody needed to make the decision on where the limit is between what is illegal and what is freedom of speech and today it had to be us.”
In the absence of regulation, it falls on internet services companies in the United States to ban online speech deemed unacceptable.
Neither 8chan nor Daily Stormer were reachable on Monday afternoon, when the person identifying themselves as 8chan’s administrator tweeted that “strategies are being developed to bring services back online.”
Two weeks ago, Voxility informed the Daily Stormer that it was in violation of the company’s abuse policies and then cut off its service for a day, said Sirbu, who said her company has 20 data centers worldwide and operates in 80 countries.
Service was restored after the objectionable content was removed. But it became clear to Voxility after the El Paso shooting “that these guys were not going to stop,” Sirbu said. “We will not renew services for these guys and will ensure that they don’t return to Voxility under false names.”
Neither 8chan nor Epik.com representatives could immediately be reached for comment despite attempts via email and LinkedIn.
On Sunday, Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince wrote in a blog post that the suspect in El Paso “appears to have been inspired” by discussions on 8chan.
He said a suspect in an earlier shooting at a synagogue in Poway, California, also posted a “hate-filled ‘open letter'” on 8chan, as did the mosque attacker in Christchurch, New Zealand.
NEW YORK (AP) — An anonymous online forum called 8chan has drawn attention in the wake of mass shootings in Texas and Ohio because violent U.S. extremists have used it to share tips and encourage one another. The site suffered sporadic outages Monday after its cybersecurity provider cut off support for what it called a “cesspool of hate.”
WHAT IS 8CHAN?
The online message board dates back to 2013. Under the banner of free speech, it allows users to post graphic and extremist content and doesn’t censor posts.
The site has been linked to violent extremists. Police are investigating commentary posted on 8chan believed to have been written by the suspect in a shooting Saturday that killed 22 people in El Paso, Texas.
If there is a connection, it would be the third known instance of a shooter posting to the site before going on a rampage. In March, the gunman in mass shootings at two New Zealand mosques posted a rambling manifesto to the site, as did another who injured several people and killed one at a California synagogue in April.
8chan’s founder, Fredrick Brennan, is no longer running the site. In an interview with The New York Times on Monday, he said the site wasn’t doing any good and called for it to be shut down .
WHY DID 8CHAN GO DOWN?
The site went down briefly after security provider Cloudflare said it would stop supporting the site. Without Cloudflare, the site was vulnerable to outside hackers who shut down the site.
“8chan has repeatedly proven itself to be a cesspool of hate,” Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince wrote. “They have proven themselves to be lawless and that lawlessness has caused multiple tragic deaths.”
CAN 8CHAN BE SHUT DOWN?
8chan’s popularity rose after the similarly named but unaffiliated site 4chan cracked down on more extreme posts. Because the U.S. doesn’t specifically outlaw domestic terrorism the way it does foreign-sponsored extremism, such sites enjoy broad protection from government oversight under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.
Even if that weren’t the case, content on sites like 8chan are also difficult to stamp out because users can simply move on if moderators grow stricter or if a site shuts down.
“Dealing with incitement to violence and hatred online goes well beyond any one platform,” the Anti-Defamation League’s Oren Segal said.
“These hate and racist posts will find another way to get their message out and another site with less scruples will pop up to host them,” added Tim Bajarin, a technology columnist and president of Creative Strategies. “The internet has always been a Wild, Wild West medium with very little controls to keep this type of harmful commentary from seeing the light of day.”
WHAT ABOUT REGULATION?
Mutale Nkonde, a fellow at the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard, said it’s time to think about creating a legal definition for harmful speech that could be regulated.
“We need to seriously balance do we want to be secure as a nation and have the ability to go to Walmart or we want to protect the speech of those who want to destroy our country from within?” she said.
But there has been resistance to passing legislation, said David Kaye, the U.N. special rapporteur on freedom of expression and a University of California-Irvine law professor.
“It’s very difficult to get any kind of law adopted in the United States,” Kaye said. “Even after these terrible crimes and the connection the 8chan forum has to them, I don’t see much of a likelihood of a pretty serious debate about how the companies should be regulated.”
Kaye said that in the absence of U.S. government action on online speech, the most Americans can hope for is that companies like Cloudflare are transparent about their policies regarding hate speech — and what should be regarded as incitement to violence and not tolerated.
“There is probably horrible content that’s being hosted by its clients in other parts of the world,” he said, “but is it applying the same measures there?”
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