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Alyssa Newcomb | 2019-08-11 21:30
8chan, the hate-filled online forum that is popular white nationalists, has been the go-to place for several recent mass killers to share their ideas.
The man who murdered at least 22 people in El Paso on August 3 posted a manifesto on the site. So did the man who opened fire in a Poway, Calif. synagogue in April, killing one person. The Christchurch mosque shooter posted his manifesto on 8chan in March, along with a link to a Facebook Live broadcast so people could watch and copy the footage of him killing 51 people.
The ugly track record has prompted many organizations that combat hate groups to call to shut down 8chan. Even the service’s founder, Fredrick Brennan, who is no longer affiliated with the site, has said in several interviews after the El Paso massacre that he wants the site to be closed.
In fact, like every other website, 8chan doesn’t control its own existence on the Internet. It relies on Internet infrastructure companies to operate online and on security services to fend off denial of service attacks to could knock it offline.
But many companies hesitate to take action against sites that harbor hate and conspiracy theories, citing free speech concerns and discomfort with anyone deciding what is worthy to be on the Internet.
Keegan Hankes, interim research director at the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit that tracks hate groups, is in the camp that favors action. Companies have a responsibility to stop doing business with 8chan and other sites that are hotbeds for extremist activity, he said.
“Any of the mainstream companies helping this content proliferate have full responsibility to take a stance on that and get it off their systems,” Hankes told Fortune. “We’ve seen what the tragic consequences can be.”
Matthew Prince, CEO of Cloudflare, a security provider used by 8chan, announced on night of August 4 that he would terminate 8chan as a client.
“The rationale is simple: they have proven themselves to be lawless and that lawlessness has caused multiple tragic deaths,” Prince said 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.”
Without a service like Cloudflare, 8chan is vulnerable to a DDoS attack, in which hackers try to overload the site with artificial traffic. 8chan went offline after Cloudflare terminated its support, according to Brennan, but it was said to be voluntary.
Note to people in the media:
8chan’s administrators have voluntarily taken it down. They’ve inserted what’s called a null A record into their DNS. It looks like it’s going to come back soon, https://t.co/toxC0z07rz points to 184.108.40.206, an IP owned by “Anonymize Inc”
— Fredrick Brennan (@HW_BEAT_THAT) August 5, 2019
It’s hardly the first time Internet infrastructure companies have been called out publicly about the sites with which they do business.
Domain hosting site GoDaddy.com kicked the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer off its service after that site’s founder used it to attack Heather Heyer, the protestor who was killed by a white supremacist in Charlottesville in 2017. Daily Stormer tried to quickly get set up with Google Domains, which rejected the application, as did several other similar services.
Daily Stormer is currently registered at privately-held Dynadot, according to records posted online.
Last year, InfoWars provocateur Alex Jones was booted from Apple’s podcast store, and eventually off of Twitter and YouTube. MailChimp cut off his email service, preventing him from mass emailing conspiracy theories to his followers. However, Jones still has his InfoWars website, which is registered with Epik.com.
InfoWars also uses Cloudflare for security. Last year, Cloudflare declined to comment about its decision to continue providing services to InfoWars, but the company had published a blog post in 2017 in which it raised questions about regulating content and the danger of a few large companies controlling the Internet’s plumbing.
“We’re going to have a long debate internally about whether we need to remove the bullet about not terminating a customer due to political pressure,” Prince said in the post. “It’s powerful to be able to say you’ve never done something...make no mistake, it will be a little bit harder for us to argue against a government somewhere pressuring us into taking down a site they don’t like.”
On August 5, an 8chan administrator said the site will return online by working with BitMitigate, a Washington-based security provider whose website says it has a “proven commitment to liberty.” A representative for BitMitigate, which previously helped Daily Stormer when it lost Cloudflare’s support in 2017, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Daily Stormer was offline on August 5 afternoon.
Hankes, from the Southern Poverty Law Center, said 8chan will almost certainly be back because there will always be companies that are willing to protect or welcome a hate site after its been evicted by another provider.
“That is why these arguments ring hollow when these people say they are being thrown off these platforms and driven off the internet,” said Hankes. “They’re not.”
追踪仇恨团体的非营利组织Southern Poverty Law Center的临时研究负责人基冈·汉克斯支持关闭8chan。他说，公司有责任和8chan及其他充当极端活动温床的网站断绝业务往来。
— 弗雷德里克·布伦南 (@HW_BEAT_THAT)，2019年8月5日
互联网域名注册商GoDaddy.com此前曾经将新纳粹网站Daily Stormer从自己的服务名单中剔除，原因是后者的创始人通过这个网站攻击2017年在夏洛茨维尔被白人至上主义者杀害的反法西斯抗议者希瑟·海耶尔。Daily Stormer随后想通过谷歌的域名注册服务Google Domains迅速上线，但遭到了拒绝，其他几家域名注册商也让它吃了闭门羹。
Southern Poverty Law Center的汉克斯说几乎可以肯定8chan将回归，原因是此类网站在被某家服务提供商拒绝后，总会有公司愿意保护它，或者对仇恨网站表示欢迎。