The head of Cloudflare — the U.S. company that helps keep 8chan online — on Sunday said his company will stop hosting the fringe online platform known for supporting white supremacists.
Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince's decision comes shortly after a gunman in El Paso, Texas, allegedly posted an anti-immigrant manifesto to 8chan before killing 20 people and injuring two dozen more.
If investigators conclude the manifesto did come from the gunman, it will be the third incident this year in which a suspect is believed to have posted a hateful, white extremist screed to 8chan — the anonymous message board which dubs itself the "darkest reaches of the Internet" — before committing a mass shooting.
"There might be some downtime in the next 24-48 hours while we find a solution (that includes our email so timely compliance with law enforcement requests may be affected)," 8chan tweeted.
Two other mass shootings have been liked to 8chan this year alone. In April, a gunman killed and wounded worshippers in a California synagogue after posting on 8chan’s /pol/ board, which is known largely as a gathering place for neo-Nazis. And in March, a shooter livestreamed the massacre of 50 people in two New Zealand mosques to Facebook after posting an anti-immigrant manifesto to 8chan.
The Anti-Defamation League in April in written testimony to Congress said fringe websites like 8chan and 4chan “serve as round-the-clock white supremacist rallies.”
Congress has hauled in the country’s top tech companies for hearings on online extremism and hate speech multiple times this year, but they have not found a way to bring in the owners of fringe platforms like 8chan. The current owner of the platform, a U.S. veteran, currently lives in the Philippines.
Companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google’s YouTube have pledged that they are doing more to coordinate their efforts to take action against organized hate groups. Experts have continued to insist they should do more to ensure extremists are not drawn from those online spaces to the more extreme platforms.
Rep. Mike RogersMichael (Mike) Dennis RogersAfter messy Afghanistan withdrawal, questions remain Congress should control its appetite for legacy programs when increasing defense budget The Pentagon budget is already out of control: Some in Congress want to make it worse MORE (Ala.), the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, in a statement on Sunday denounced the fringe platforms for “propelling young people toward violence.”
“The Homeland Security Committee has been closely tracking the accelerating pace of online radicalization,” he said. “I have made clear that hateful ideologies amplified by 8chan and other fringe websites are propelling young people toward violence before law enforcement is able to act. Yesterday’s events were yet again enabled by the echo chambers these fringe websites have created.”
Officials from the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice told the House Homeland Security Committee earlier this year that they are working to take more action against extremism, but they are limited in how much they can investigate domestic actors due to U.S. laws around free speech.
“Even if a social media company was able to report to us 'this terrorist has put a manifesto' or 'this person has put up a thing criticizing various ethnic groups,' that’s not something we can investigate ... solely on the basis of that information,” Brad Wiegmann, a Justice Department official, told lawmakers at the May hearing.
The debate over what to do about those websites has raged for years, as some argue kicking those users off one platform will just push them further into dark corners of the internet while others say it is productive to cut off the issue at the root.
“Unfortunately the action we take today won’t fix hate online,” Prince wrote in the blog post on Sunday. “It will almost certainly not even remove 8chan from the Internet. But it is the right thing to do. Hate online is a real issue.”