8chan, a hate-filled forum site where multiple suspected mass murderers have posted manifestos to cheers from their anonymous fellow users, has gone dark after losing access to crucial web infrastructure.
Cloudflare said late Sunday it would cease acting as 8chan’s content distribution network and cybersecurity provider, one day after a gunman killed 22 people and wounded 26 others in El Paso minutes after apparently publishing an essay railing against immigration from Latin America. The move will probably make it difficult for 8chan to repel crippling distributed denial-of-service attacks until it’s able to find a new provider.
But Cloudfare Chief Executive Matthew Prince said the move by his San Francisco firm was unlikely to keep 8chan offline for long, as the forum site may find another service provider.
“Unfortunately the action we take today won’t fix hate online,” he wrote in a blog post. “It will almost certainly not even remove 8chan from the Internet. But it is the right thing to do.”
In a tweet, 8chan suggested the effects of Cloudflare’s decision would be temporary, writing, “There might be some downtime in the next 24-48 hours while we find a solution.”
The site did find a new provider, briefly, moving its domain name registration to Epik, a company whose CEO, Rob Monster, released a statement about the need to protect legal online speech and “not terminate accounts based on arbitrary reasoning or political pressure.” But the reprieve ended when Voxility, whose servers Epik rents, booted it as a customer.
Prince had largely resisted the idea that his company should be responsible for policing the content of the websites it helps operate, although it did withdraw service from the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website, in 2017 in the face of heavy pressure from activists and the media. (To get back online, that site since turned to BitMitigate, which was subsequently acquired by Epik.)
But 8chan has made itself uniquely radioactive. In the latest manifesto, which Prince said appeared to be authentic, the El Paso suspect saluted the perpetrator of the March 2019 massacre of 49 Muslims at a New Zealand mosque. The suspect in that attack allegedly posted a manifesto on 8chan explaining his motives. A man accused of killing one person and wounding three others in an attack at a Poway, Calif., synagogue in April also posted on 8chan beforehand.
Although Cloudflare took no immediate action in response to those attacks, in a blog post Sunday night, Prince said the pattern of extremists using 8chan to inspire one another had made it indefensible. “The rationale is simple: they have proven themselves to be lawless and that lawlessness has caused multiple tragic deaths,” Prince wrote. “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.
“We reluctantly tolerate content that we find reprehensible, but we draw the line at platforms that have demonstrated they directly inspire tragic events and are lawless by design,” he added. “8chan has crossed that line.”
“Lawless by design” is apt. 8chan’s founder, Fredrick Brennan, created the site after growing disillusioned with the top-down-control architecture of 4chan, another popular message-board site where extreme politics, inflammatory speech and trolling are the currency. Brennan’s innovation was to set up 8chan as a site where users could create their own message boards. His anything-goes ethos made it a natural home base for the instigators of the then-nascent phenomenon known as Gamergate, an explosion of hate and harassment aimed at critics calling for more diversity in video games.
But Brennan sold 8chan in 2015 to an entrepreneur based in the Philippines and has long since moved on in his own politics. Shortly after the El Paso shootings, he told the New York Times that he thought 8chan should be shut down entirely.