Lentis/8chan

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Introduction[edit]

8chan, also called Infinitechan or Infinitychan (stylized as ∞chan) is a controversial imageboard that has been linked to white supremacy, racism, and several mass shootings[1]. The website is currently blocked on most popular search engines, and lost access to network infrastructure providers such as Cloudflare and BitMitigate, as well as web service companies like Voxility. The website relaunched itself in November 2019 under a new name, 8kun.[2]

This chapter discusses the uniqueness of 8chan and the socio-technical insights that can be drawn from its controversy-rife timeline.

History[edit]

Before 8chan[edit]

4chan was founded in 2003 by computer programmer Christopher Poole. The website was created to be an English version of Futaba Channel, or 2chan, a popular Japanese imageboard.[3] Originally 4chan was intended solely for posting images and discussion on anime. However, the website quickly became popular for its lax moderation, and soon grew to 72 public boards with topics including politics, sports, video games, music, and many others.[4]

As the website grew, it continued to involve itself in numerous controversies. 4chan became known as a place to coordinate pranks, conduct harassment, spam hateful speech, post illegal content, misogyny, racism, and threats of violence. As a response to this conduct, Poole found it difficult to keep the website alive due to a lack of ad revenue. In 2011, Poole announced 4chan’s first ever deletion of a board. The board, "ROBOT9000", had become dedicated to racist discussion.[5]

4chan's financial difficulties led to increased moderation and as a response to the moderation, saw an uptick in denial of service attacks. 4chan responded by using Cloudflare, a content delivery network, to mitigate the ability for the website to be taken down. The final straw was Gamergate, a harassment campaign targeting several women in the video game industry for speaking out about sexism in the industry.

The void created from Gamergate gave rise to 8chan's popularity. Though, the site was created a year earlier, in 2013 by computer programmer Frederick Brennan. The website was a response to a perceived loss of free speech on the internet. At the time, Brennan called it a "free-speech-friendly 4chan alternative". [6]

Creation of 8chan[edit]

8chan was created in 2013 by computer programmer Frederick Brennan, known online by the alias “Hotwheels”. The website came as a direct response to the Gamergate controversy on 4chan. 8chan was a website containing relaxed moderation, only asking users to not post illegal content according to U.S. law. [7]

In 2015 the site changed its domain from 8chan.co to 8chan.net after reports of child pornography on the website. 8chan eventually regained the domain name, but had it redirect to the new domain. [7]

Brennan has said he finds much of the content on the website “reprehensible”, but tolerates the discussion to maintain the websites integrity. In 2015, Frederick Brennan decided to cease being the owner of the website, giving ownership to 8chans current owner, Jim Watkins. In 2018 Brennan announced he wanted the website to cease to exist. [7]

Clearnet Availability[edit]

In August 2015, Google blacklisted 8chan from its search results. This was following numerous reports of what Google described as "suspected child abuse content."[8] Following three shootings in 2019 associated with 8chan, Cloudflare, 8chan's content delivery network, refused to do business with them.[9] Other cloud service providers also refused to host 8chan, effectively taking the website off the clearweb.[10]

On the day of the El Paso shooting Cloudflare's CEO, Matthew Prince, was questioned on his support of hosting 8chans website. Prince initially defended the companies decision on hosting the site, but terminated support for 8chan the following day. [11][9]

Appearance before the House Homeland Security Committee[edit]

On August 14, 2019, 8chan owner Jim Watkins was subpoenaed by the House Homeland Security Committee. In September, Watkins testified that 8chan "has worked responsibly with law enforcement agencies when unprotected speech is discovered on its platform." Watkins also testified that 8chan had been voluntarily taken offline since late August, seemingly contradicting the statement from Cloudflare.[12][9]

Reappearance as 8kun[edit]

8kun appeared on November 2, 2019 as a replacement for 8chan, remaining under the ownership of Jim Watkins. Upon release, it was fairly similar to 8chan but had a few changes, notably that the /pol/ (politically incorrect) board was removed, and it was only consistently accessible from the Tor darknet.[2] Without DDoS protection services previously provided by Cloudflare, 8kun mitigates DDoS attacks by itself. According to 8kun operator Ron Watkins, the site saw a 500 Gigabit/s DDoS attack in early December 2019.[13]

Controversies[edit]

Gamergate[edit]

In the fall of 2014, the Gamergate controversy drastically spiked 8chan’s popularity. What started as a way to bring inclusivity and diversity into video games, ended up rallying angry young men. When 4chan banned all discussion of Gamergate after boards quickly devolved into hate speech and death threats, thousands of users flooded to 8chan, where they were free to say whatever they wanted. [14]

2019 Shootings[edit]

In 2019, the mass shootings at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, a synagogue in Poway, California, and a Walmart in El Paso, Texas were all linked to 8chan. All three shooters spread their manifestos using 8chan. On August 4, 2019, Cloudflare shut down 8chan’s servers. In a statement, Cloudflare’s CEO cited all three shootings in their decision, saying “8chan has repeatedly proven itself to be a cesspool of hate”. He also correctly predicted that this would only be temporary, and that hateful communities like 8chan always find a way to come back. [9]

Christchurch mosque shootings[edit]

On March 15, 2019, 51 people were killed and 49 people were injured in a mass shooting inside their mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. [15] Before the shooting, the gunman posted his manifesto on Twitter and 8chan. He livestreamed the shootings from a helmet mounted camera on Facebook and 8chan. Within hours, Facebook’s AI was removing any copy of the video from its site. On 8chan, the video spread rapidly and the shooter was hailed as a hero. [16]

Poway synagogue shootings[edit]

On April 27, 2019, 1 person was killed and 3 were injured in a shooting in their synagogue in Poway, California. [17] The shooter claimed that 8chan was the source for his radicalization. [18] In his manifesto, the shooter idolizes the Christchurch shooter. [19]

El Paso shooting[edit]

On August 3, 2019, 22 people were killed and 24 were injured in a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas. [20] The shooter posted his manifesto on 8chan, also claiming to be inspired by the Christchurch shootings. After 8chan moderators removed the post, it was quickly reposted by other users. All three shootings were praised on the site for their “high scores”. [21]

Legality of Hate Speech[edit]

In most liberal democracies, hate speech is restricted in some way.[22] The United States, however, does not legislate against hate speech. The United States Supreme Court has ruled against hate speech restriction several times, including in Virginia v. Black, Snyder v. Phelps, and Matal v. Tam. If 8chan removes speech that directly incites violence, it operates legally in the United States, but the Internet is global. Many countries have legislated against running platforms like 8chan, yet citizens can still view the site. It is clear that 8chan has been linked to violent events outside of the United States.[23]

There is currently no global Internet moderator or censor to protect countries from each other's internet usage laws.[24] The European Court of Human Rights has written opinions consistent with the United States Supreme Court, holding that hate speech that does not directly incite violence is protected.[25]

Anonymity and Free Speech[edit]

Although 8chan has been criticized for allowing users to use online aliases to remain anonymous while spreading hate speech, this is not against the law in the United States. Speech that directly incites violence or "fear of bodily harm," however, does constitute illegal speech, the Supreme Court found in the 2003 case of Virginia v. Black.[26]

There are various degrees of anonymity in the context of internet services. In the context of 8chan, "anonymous" users are anonymous only to other users, not to internet service providers or 8chan operators. For more information, see the Lentis chapter on Internet Anonymity.

Insights and Generalizations[edit]

8chan is unique in that it is almost universally hated, yet, because the US government has found no evidence of wrongdoing, the US government has not pursued legal action against 8chan or Jim Watkins. The general public has therefore had to rely on private companies such as Cloudflare and other internet service hosts to refuse to host 8chan. However, even without support from a network infrastructure company, 8chan has remained functional, albeit under the new name 8kun. This shows that legal grounding for certain actions are necessary for those actions to be effective. The United States cannot protect itself from web services that compromise public safety without legislating against them.

8chan, while complying with US law, is claimed by many to incite violence, even if not directly.[27] The site's creator Fredrick Brennan has been vocal since 2016 – when ownership was transferred to Jim Watkins – about the sites potential to cause harm.[23] 8chan's links to mass shootings demonstrate that the current interpretation of the law may be detrimental to public safety, and a new legal definition of "directly inciting violence" may be pursued in the future.

Instead of redefining "direct incitement of violence," other countries have been successful by restricting hate speech. The United States does not take this approach, in opinion of US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, to protect its democracy.[28] However, most countries do not heavily censor traffic, only preventing malicious services from being hosted in their country. For this reason, United States telecommunications and speech laws can severely impact other nations. This has been demonstrated with the New Zealand Christchurch shooting.

Potential Chapter Improvements[edit]

Analysis of Tor[edit]

8chan may be a unique web service, but there are other applications that allow for generally unpoliced internet usage. The anonymity service Tor is one of the most widely used, and controversies surrounding it may add to the findings in this chapter. Tor has many uses around the world, but it claims to support worldwide activism and free speech. Tor was created by the United States Naval Research Laboratory but is now maintained by the nonprofit organization The Tor Project.

The Tor darknet has been the home for many illegal services such as drug dealing platform Silk Road and child pornography websites[29]. A full analysis of the Tor hidden service landscape may be helpful.

References[edit]

  1. Wong, Julia Carrie (2019-08-04). "8chan: the far-right website linked to the rise in hate crimes" (in en-GB). The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/aug/04/mass-shootings-el-paso-texas-dayton-ohio-8chan-far-right-website. 
  2. a b Glaser, April (11 November 2019). "Where 8channers Went After 8chan". Slate. https://slate.com/technology/2019/11/8chan-8kun-white-supremacists-telegram-discord-facebook.html. 
  3. 4chan. "FAQ". https://www.4chan.org/faq#what4chan. 
  4. 4chan. "Frames". https://www.4chan.org/frames. 
  5. Poole, Christopher (19 January 2011). "Why were /r9k/ and /new/ removed?". https://www.webcitation.org/6159jR9pC?url=http://content.4chan.org/tmp/r9knew.txt. 
  6. O'Neill. "https://www.dailydot.com/layer8/8chan-pedophiles-child-porn-gamergate/". https://www.dailydot.com/layer8/8chan-pedophiles-child-porn-gamergate/. 
  7. a b c Mclaughlin. "The Weird, Dark History of 8chan". https://www.wired.com/story/the-weird-dark-history-8chan/. 
  8. Machkovech, Sam (17 August 2015). "8chan-hosted content disappears from Google searches". https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2015/08/8chan-hosted-content-disappears-from-google-searches/. 
  9. a b c d Prince, Matthew (4 August 2019). "Terminating Service for 8Chan". Cloudflare. https://blog.cloudflare.com/terminating-service-for-8chan/. 
  10. Coldewey, Devin (5 August 2019). "8chan’s new internet host was kicked off its own host just hours later". https://techcrunch.com/2019/08/05/8chans-new-internet-host-was-kicked-off-its-own-host-just-hours-later/. 
  11. Roose, Kevin (4 August 2019). "‘Shut the Site Down,’ Says the Creator of 8chan, a Megaphone for Gunmen". https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/04/technology/8chan-shooting-manifesto.html. 
  12. Shepardson, David. "8chan owner vows changes in House testimony over links to mass shootings". Reuters. https://reuters.com/article/us-usa-shooting-tech/8chan-owner-vows-changes-in-house-testimony-over-links-to-mass-shootings-idUSKCN1VQ2DU. 
  13. Watkins, Ron (3 December 2019). "Tweet". https://twitter.com/CodeMonkeyZ/status/1202021231488188416. 
  14. Beran, Dale (4 August 2019). "Why Does 8chan Exist at All?". https://medium.com/@DaleBeran/why-does-8chan-exist-at-all-33a8942dbeb2. 
  15. "Police with the latest information on the mosque shootings". Radio New Zealand. 17 March 2019. https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/384896/police-with-the-latest-information-on-the-mosque-shootings. 
  16. Graham-McLay, Charlotte; Ramzy, Austin; Victor, Daniel (14 March 2019). The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/14/world/asia/christchurch-shooting-new-zealand.html. 
  17. CBS/AP (28 April 2019). "Woman killed, 3 injured in shooting at California synagogue". CBS News. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/poway-synagogue-shooting-suspect-john-earnest-in-custody-after-1-dead-3-injured-today-live-updates-2019-04-27/. 
  18. Dickson, EJ (29 April 2019). "After California Synagogue Shooting, 8Chan Is Back In the Spotlight". Rolling Stone. https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-features/poway-synagogue-shooting-8chan-white-supremacist-828647/. 
  19. Gage, John (28 April 2019). "California Police Investigate Hate-Filled 8chan Manifesto That Could Link Synagogue Shooting to Mosque Attack.". Washington Examiner. https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/california-police-investigate-hate-filled-8chan-manifesto-that-could-link-synagogue-shooting-to-mosque-attack. 
  20. Blankstein, Andrew (7 August 2019). "El Paso Shooting: 20 People Dead, 26 Injured, Suspect in Custody, Police Say.". NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/active-shooter-near-el-paso-mall-police-responding-n1039001. 
  21. Evans, Rober (4 August 2019). "The El Paso Shooting and the Gamification of Terror.". Bellingcat. https://www.bellingcat.com/news/americas/2019/08/04/the-el-paso-shooting-and-the-gamification-of-terror/. 
  22. "Freedom of Speech". Freedom of Speech. 2017-05-01. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/freedom-speech/#MilHarPriHatSpe. 
  23. a b Roose, Kevin (4 August 2019). "‘Shut the Site Down,’ Says the Creator of 8chan, a Megaphone for Gunmen". The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/04/technology/8chan-shooting-manifesto.html.  https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/04/technology/8chan-shooting-manifesto.html
  24. Davidovic, Ivana (20 August 2019). "The people policing the internet's most horrific content". BBC. https://www.bbc.com/news/business-49393858. 
  25. "Hate Speech". Press release. October 2019. https://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/FS_Hate_speech_ENG.pdf. Retrieved 10 December 2019. 
  26. Christine, Lawrence (17 August 2018). "If you care about free speech, shed your online anonymity". The Washington Post (Bethesda). https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/if-you-care-about-free-speech-shed-your-online-anonymity/2018/08/17/5e71415e-a1a0-11e8-a3dd-2a1991f075d5_story.html. 
  27. {{ cite news | url = https://www.wsj.com/articles/inside-the-toxic-online-world-where-mass-shooters-thrive-11567608631 | first1 = Georgia | last1 = Wells | first2 = Ian | last2 = Lovett | title = ‘So What’s His Kill Count?’: The Toxic Online World Where Mass Shooters Thrive | work = The Wall Street Journal | date= 4 September 2019 | access-date = 10 December 2019
  28. Hudson Jr., David. "Snyder v. Phelps (2011)". The First Amendment Encyclopedia. https://www.mtsu.edu/first-amendment/article/1474/snyder-v-phelps. 
  29. Farivar, Cyrus; Blankstein, Andrew (16 October 2019). "Feds take down the world's 'largest dark web child porn marketplace'". NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/crime-courts/feds-take-down-world-s-largest-dark-web-child-porn-n1066511.