Newsletter: 8chan and the future of the darkest corners of the internet
Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, Aug. 6, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.
In his much-cited 1996 Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, John Perry Barlow — an internet pioneer and founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation — wrote that “We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth. We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.”
But the utopian ideals of the early internet are increasingly at odds with the view of it as a place for free speech at all costs, as the darker corners of the web have proved a fertile breeding ground for violent extremism.
The accused El Paso shooter has been tentatively linked by authorities to a hate-filled manifesto posted on an online forum called 8chan shortly before the shooting. The El Paso massacre brought a flood of attention to the anarchic site, but this isn’t the first time an active shooter has been linked to 8chan. The suspected gunmen who opened fire in a Poway, Calif., synagogue and Christchurch, New Zealand, mosques also allegedly posted writings to 8chan.
Cloudflare, a San Francisco tech company, announced late Sunday that it would no longer act as 8chan’s content distribution network and cybersecurity provider. “The rationale is simple: they have proven themselves to be lawless and that lawlessness has caused multiple tragic deaths,” Cloudflare’s chief executive wrote 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.”
8chan went dark on Monday and then “flickered back online in some regions” before going dark again, as the site struggled to migrate between service providers.
What is 8chan? A quick primer:
- 8chan is a site that hosts user-generated message boards where anyone can post graphic or extremist content anonymously. It bills itself as being “the darkest reaches of the internet,” and that description is hauntingly accurate. The Associated Press reports that “violent U.S. extremists have used it to share tips and encourage one another.” 8chan was founded in 2013 by a computer programmer named Fredrick Brennan as a less-regulated alternative to 4chan, another toxic corner of the internet where hate speech is prevalent. Brennan gave up control of the site in 2015 and has since called for it be shut down. Brennan has also characterized the site as a haven for “domestic terrorists.”
The future of 8chan underscores a much larger debate, and one that is likely to play out with renewed fervor after the El Paso shooting: the question of what responsibility tech companies — many of which are based in California — hold in combating the spread of extremism, particularly as it turns violent.
It’s far too soon to speculate on how the weekend’s tragic events may or may not alter the debate, but we will probably continue to see these questions play out on the international stage in the weeks and months to come.
- After shootings, tech companies assess their role in online hate speech. San Francisco Chronicle
- Tech’s role in spreading extremism came under scrutiny after the New Zealand shooting. NBC News
- 8chan, a site favored by suspected mass shooters, loses its network hosts. Los Angeles Times
- How do you solve a problem like 8chan? President Trump vowed Monday to “scour the dark recesses of the internet,” but any effort to curb dangerous extremism online will run into a host of obstacles. Here are some of the major ones. Politico
- Op-ed: 8chan’s continued existence owes less to the 1st Amendment than to the transactional, see-no-evil internet industry. Los Angeles Times
- 8chan has become a megaphone for gunmen. The site’s founder says “shut it down.” New York Times
And now, here’s what’s happening across California:
The U.S.-China trade war took a dangerous turn for the worse Monday as Beijing allowed its currency to weaken and said it was halting new American farm purchases, sending U.S. stocks in a tailspin and heightening risks of a global economic downturn. Los Angeles Times
Trump officials have redirected resources from countering far-right, racism-fueled domestic terrorism: In the aftermath of mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, President Trump vowed Monday to give federal law enforcement “whatever they need” to investigate and disrupt hate crimes and domestic terrorism. But the Department of Homeland Security, which is charged with identifying threats and preventing domestic terrorism, has sought to redirect resources away from countering anti-government, far-right and white supremacist groups, despite the growing threat posed by them. Los Angeles Times
Middle Eastern foods expert Anissa Helou and restaurant critic Bill Addison devour Tehrangeles to name their favorite Persian restaurants in Los Angeles. Los Angeles Times
Our very own “Lorax”: Meet L.A.’s first city forest officer. LAist
Remembering the night Charlie Parker gave a legendary after-hours performance on L.A.’s Central Avenue. Alta
Why the coming sabbatical of Amazon’s Hollywood chief has Wall Street on edge. Jeff Blackburn, who oversees Amazon’s video-streaming service, will be gone for a year. CNBC
The final episode of the “Larger Than Life” podcast about Big Willie Robinson airs Tuesday and tells the story of Big Willie’s final years and legacy. Los Angeles Times
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IMMIGRATION AND THE BORDER
Jewish activists shut down the western regional offices of the GEO Group in West L.A. on Monday morning. It operates numerous immigrant-detention centers in the U.S., including California’s largest immigrant detention facility in Adelanto. Los Angeles Daily News
POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT
Democratic candidates for president blasted Trump at a Latino gathering in San Diego, saying his anti-immigrant rhetoric was inciting violent incidents like the mass shooting Saturday at a Walmart in El Paso. Los Angeles Times
A prominent San Diego Republican has announced his candidacy for the congressional seat currently held by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine), a six-term incumbent whose wife is expected to testify against him when he goes on trial in September for misuse of campaign funds. The newest entrant, former San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio, is not the only Republican challenging Hunter for his seat in 2020. San Diego Union-Tribune
What is a “California Indian tribe”? This proposed law unearthed a decades-old wound. Sacramento Bee
Chico City Council is considering a possible curfew, which — if passed — would be implemented during planned power shutoffs by PG&E. Chico Enterprise-Record
From mid- to late August, San Francisco Muni will close subway tunnels from 9:30 p.m. to 1 a.m., replacing that service with shuttle buses. SFist
CRIME AND COURTS
After a years-long manhunt, a Newport Beach millionaire suspected of killing his wife in 2012 was captured by authorities on Sunday. Los Angeles Times
A decades-old family dispute over control of John Steinbeck’s classic works will continue to play out this week in the courts. Associated Press
As the San Diego Police Department ramps up use of streetlamp video cameras, the ACLU raises surveillance concerns. San Diego Union-Tribune
HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Southern California jails are trying to improve healthcare. But inmates are dying. Orange County Register
Two people in Los Angeles County have been diagnosed with West Nile virus, in what officials say are the first two cases in the county this year. Los Angeles Times
The appetite for California almonds is still growing, but farmers feel the squeeze from new water rules. Sacramento Bee
The Golden State Warriors may have skipped town, but pro soccer has finally arrived in Oakland. SF Gate
Why opening a chain store in San Francisco can take forever. San Francisco Chronicle
This small San Francisco nonprofit has a novel approach to combating the housing crisis: It sues cities that reject housing projects without a valid reason. Mercury News
In other news, Kanye West also wants to solve the housing crisis. His plan involves “Star Wars-inspired dome-like structures.” The Guardian
The gay son of a Modesto “Straight Pride” organizer speaks out against the planned event. Modesto Bee
Inside the illustrious and extravagant dinner parties of old Palm Springs. Desert Sun
Redrum Burger, a popular Davis staple for 33 years, served its last meal Sunday. Sacramento Bee
“Coronado is gone — long live Coronado”: Fifty years ago, the Coronado bridge opened, connecting downtown San Diego to Coronado with “a thin ribbon of steel in the sky.” But the bridge’s now-iconic status masks its controversial origins. San Diego Union-Tribune
Los Angeles: partly sunny, 83. San Diego: partly sunny, 77. San Francisco: partly sunny, 67. San Jose: partly sunny, 83. Sacramento: partly sunny, 96. More weather is here.
Today’s California memory comes from Lilyan Sievernich:
“The first time I came to L.A. from New York was in 1979 to meet my husband who was in post-production on a feature film [made by] Nicholas Ray in a very funky house near a very delicious Greenblatt’s [deli] on Sunset Boulevard. Driving up La Cienega from LAX in his ’64 (?) Cutlass convertible, I exclaimed over and over, ‘It’s like Long Island with palm trees!’ I still live happily in both these two beautiful states forever enjoying their perfect blue sea and their even better blue state of mind. I wish we still had the Cutlass and some of those friends who are either lost or dead, but at least we still have Greenblatt’s.”
If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)
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