In the past six months, three different far-right extremists have used the website 8chan to advertise their deadly attacks. The most recent example occurred on Saturday when a suspected gunman, who allegedly said he was fighting the “Hispanic invasion of Texas” in a manifesto posted to the site, killed 20 people at a mall in El Paso.
Now, 8chan’s support system may have finally had enough. In a statement on Sunday night, Cloudflare, a network operator which helps protect websites against hacks and security threats, made the unusual announcement of saying that it would no longer be hosting 8chan.
“They have proven themselves to be lawless and that lawlessness has caused multiple tragic deaths,” company co-founder and CEO Matthew Prince said in a statement. “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.”
To be clear, Cloudflare kicking 8chan off its services does not mean that the site is no longer accessible. As of Monday morning EST the site is still up. While 8chan tweeted Sunday that the site “can expect some downtime in the next 24 to 48 hours while we find a solution,” it is more than likely that 8chan will simply shift to one of Cloudflare’s competitors. This was a point that Prince made in his statement.
“We have seen this situation before and so we have a good sense of what will play out. Almost exactly two years ago we made the determination to kick another disgusting site off Cloudflare’s network: the Daily Stormer,” Prince said. ” That caused a brief interruption in the site’s operations but they quickly came back online using a Cloudflare competitor… [The Daily Stormer] are no longer Cloudflare’s problem, but they remain the Internet’s problem.”
According to The New York Times, as of Monday morning, 8chan is now using BitMitigate, a service similar to Cloudflare which is also owned by the same web host which took on the website Gab after it was tied to the Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh last year.
Prince is right in saying that there will always be those willing to provide website services to even the most vile and disgusting sites.
But that’s not to say that kicking a website out of the more mainstream internet architecture doesn’t have an effect. While it is true, for instance, that the Daily Stormer remains accessible online, it has not exactly had it easy the last two years. The site has repeatedly bounced from domain to domain in search of a home. Gab may still have a user-base, but it is relatively small and the site is frequently beset by technical glitches.
Throughout this process, one voice which has become a consistent advocate for shutting down 8chan completely has been its creator Fredrick Brennan, who passed over control to current owner Jim Watkins in 2015. “Finally this nightmare might have an end,” he tweeted on Sunday after the Cloudflare news broke. “I just want to go back to making my fonts in peace and not have to worry about getting phone calls from CNN/New York Times every time a mass shooting happens. They could have prevented this and chose not to.”
Watkins, who runs 8chan with his son in the Philippines, which has less stringent digital laws than the United States, is unlikely to share Brennan’s concern, and repeatedly has said that he is unbothered by white supremacists using his website.
More than anything, the Cloudflare news is yet another example of how tech companies’ laissez-faire approach to moderation and regulation on their platforms has backed them into a corner where they’re forced to take action they would have previously found uncomfortable, a point which Prince emphasized in his statement.
“We continue to feel incredibly uncomfortable about playing the role of content arbiter and do not plan to exercise it often,” he said. “Our concern has centered around another much more universal idea: the Rule of Law.”