ASPI explains: 8chan
5 Aug 2019|

On 3 August at around 11 am, a 21-year-old man named Patrick Crosius posted a PDF to an online forum. Ninety minutes later, he walked into a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, and opened fire. Twenty people were killed and 82 were wounded. Crosius was captured unharmed, apparently after having surrendered to police. Authorities have opened a domestic terrorism investigation.

Since the shooting, much attention has been paid to the shooter’s ‘manifesto’, a typo-riddled four-page document outlining his deeply racist justifications for the attack. Attention has also focused on 8chan, the forum to which he posted the document.

Here’s what you need to know about 8chan.

What is 8chan?

8chan is an online forum that has existed since 2013. It’s a spin-off from 4chan, another online forum known for misogynist, racist and other extreme content. 8chan was created by users who felt that 4chan didn’t allow them to go far enough. It has become infamous for the extremist and, in particular, the white nationalist views of its user base.

8chan allows users to post without creating an account or logging in, which gives them a limited degree of anonymity (it doesn’t necessarily protect them from being identified by law enforcement, journalists or other investigators, however).

How many mass shootings has 8chan been linked to?

Three mass shooters in the past six months have posted ‘manifestos’ to 8chan: the Christchurch shooter Brenton Tarrant in March 2019, the Poway synagogue shooter John Earnest in April 2019, and El Paso shooter Patrick Crusius in August 2019. Another mass shooting at a California garlic festival in July is also thought to have links to 8chan.

Why aren’t law enforcement and intelligence agencies watching this board?

They are. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean they can always determine whether the threats are real, identify and physically locate the posters and mobilise officers in time to prevent every attack. In the case of the El Paso shooting, the shooter’s manifesto was uploaded shortly before the attack, which meant there was a very small window of time to respond.

Why hasn’t 8chan been shut down yet?

Many have tried. In 2014, 8chan was banned from raising money on the fundraising site Patreon. In 2015, Google briefly removed 8chan from its search results for hosting child abuse content. In 2019 after the Christchurch shooting, Australian and New Zealand internet service providers temporarily blocked access to 8chan and a number of other platforms.

Despite growing political pressure, permanently shutting the platform down has proven difficult, however. The current owner of 8chan, US Army veteran Jim Watkins, is based in the Philippines where he runs a pig farm. Watkins’s company NT Technology is behind a number of other sites, including a far-right ‘alternative news’ site.

The biggest obstacle to shutting down 8chan has been that it’s protected by another company called Cloudflare. Cloudflare provides protection for many websites against distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, including 8chan. Using Cloudflare’s services has allowed 8chan both to protect itself from DDoS attacks that might have been launched at the site by those who want to take it down, and to conceal the hosting provider for the platform. Cloudflare has been widely criticised in the past for protecting sites like 8chan and the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer.

What’s changed?

It seems as though the El Paso shooting was the last straw for Cloudflare. In a blog post on 5 August, Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince announced that the company is walking away from 8chan. At midnight Pacific time, Cloudflare’s protection will be withdrawn from the 8chan site.

Is this the end of 8chan?

Almost certainly not. While the immediate future is likely to be rocky for 8chan and its administrators, users are already making plans to regroup if the entire site goes down permanently, which is unlikely. One possibility is that 8chan could move onto the dark web, but that’s unlikely for a number of reasons. A more probable outcome is that, like other far-right sites before it, 8chan will go down briefly before finding another DDoS protection service willing to work with it. One way or another, 8chan will be back.

Should we be trying to take 8chan down permanently?

It’s a difficult question with reasonable arguments on both sides. Some, including the original founder, believe the platform is a breeding ground for extremist violence and needs to be taken down. Others argue that the problem isn’t the platform, it’s the people using it, and that taking the platform down will only make them go elsewhere, as we already know they plan to do.

This is a fast-moving story, and what happens when Cloudflare’s protection is removed from 8chan at midnight will be interesting to watch. Whatever happens, one thing is for sure: we haven’t heard the last of 8chan.

Update: As expected, 8chan went down almost immediately after Cloudflare removed its DDoS protection services from the platform. A few hours later, 8chan briefly returned with the help of a company called Bitmitigate, which is in turn owned by Epik. Epik is positioning itself as a rival to Cloudflare, including offering services to the alt-right social platform Gab and the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer, which was also previously kicked off Cloudflare.

In an unexpected twist, however, shortly after 8chan came back online, 8chan, the Daily Stormer and Bitmitigate itself all went offline. It appears that the company which Epik rents hardware from, Voxility, only recently became aware of the kind of content Epik was hosting on its servers. Voxility warned Epik to remove the Daily Stormer from its infrastructure, which Epik claimed to have done. On learning that Epik was also planning to host 8chan, Voxility pulled the plug on Epik entirely, taking down 8chan and BitMitigate—and exposing that Epik had been less than truthful about removing the Daily Stormer from Voxility’s infrastructure in the process.

8chan administrators have posted on Twitter that they are still working to get the platform back up, but as of 10 am AEST on 6 August, 8chan remains down.