8chan, an online messaging board with an emphasis on anonymity and lack of moderation, is back in the news after another mass shooter used the forum to post his manifesto prior to the shooting.
On Saturday morning, a 21-year-old white man entered a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, and opened fire with an AK-47 style rifle, killing 22 people dead and leaving more than two dozen injured. The shooter was apprehended, and, while the connection has not been officially confirmed, a hate-filled manifesto purported to be from the shooter was posted on 8chan a mere 19 minutes before the violence began.
The unsigned manifesto, titled “The Inconvenient Truth,” drew inspiration from the mass murder of Muslims at two mosques in New Zealand in March that left 51 people dead — which was also preceded by the posting of a manifesto on 8chan.
In April, 73 minutes before the deadly shooting at Congregation Chabad synagogue in Poway, California, another hate-filled manifesto was hyperlinked on 8chan, too. That means three manifestos connected to three mass shootings all were posted on 8chan prior.
8chan, on the surface, is a strange candidate; the site purports to be a general interest message board with a number of different forums on a variety of topics. How did it become a place for mass murderers to promote their worldviews?
The site is registered as a property of N.T. Technology in Nevada, and owned by Jim Watkins, an American internet entrepreneur who lives in the Philippines. Fredrick Brennan, 8chan’s founder who stopped working with the site’s owners in December, told the Washington Post the site is Watkins’ pet project, and that he doesn’t make much money from it. That is primarily because it does not work with mainstream ad companies; rather, the message board solicits donations and sells space on the website directly to advertisers.
Brennan once said in a 2014 interview he came up with the idea for 8chan while he was on a psychedelic mushroom trip. He thought it would be a free speech alternative to 4chan, a notorious message board known as a haven for trolls and fascism.
“I was inspired partly by the admin of 4chon.net, savetheinternet, who routinely refused to make requested boards for users,” he said. “I wondered what it would be like if there were a Reddit-style imageboard where anyone could make a board without express admin approval, and began hacking on the imageboard engine I knew best to make it a reality."
At the time, posts on 4chan discussing GamerGate — a faux-controversy in which techie anti-feminists publicly undermined feminists to create the illusion that they had legitimate grievances, as Amanda Marcotte wrote — were deleted en masse across the site. That led many loyal 4chan posters to question the integrity of the site's moderation team, some of whom fled for other boards that had even less moderation. Brennan claims that 8chan — or "infinity-chan" [∞chan], as he calls it — wasn’t created in the wake of GamerGate, nor as a reaction to it.
“It's important to note that ∞chan was not opened for #GamerGate, however. ∞chan was opened in October 2013 as a place where anyone who wanted to could make their own board, and it was a small, but vibrant community before GamerGate with boards on many topics,” he said.
Since the El Paso shooting, Brennan has publicly called for the website to cease operations.
“Once again, a terrorist used 8chan to spread his message as he knew people would save it and spread it,” Brennan told The Washington Post. “The board is a receptive audience for domestic terrorists.”
As Slate writer April Glaser explained, it is hard to give an "exact time stamp on when 8chan and 4chan became prime hangouts for white nationalists and neo-Nazis, but the connections to other online venues of hate are clear.” Prior to 8chan and 4chan, there was Stormfront, which was created in 1996 by Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard Don Black. Today, “whatever is too gruesome for 4chan finds a home on 8chan,” Glaser explains.
On Monday, the company Cloudflare said it would no longer provide security services to 8chan that would protect the site from cyberattacks. Cloudflare added that they suspect that coverage will get picked up by a competitor.
“Almost exactly two years ago we made the determination to kick another disgusting site off Cloudflare's network: the Daily Stormer,” Cloudflare’s chief executive said in a blog post. “That caused a brief interruption in the site's operations but they quickly came back online using a Cloudflare competitor.”
AP News reports that 8chan is moving to a new domain host, Epik.com, following some sporadic outages on the site.