After renowned, hate-filled internet cesspool 8chan was linked to a third deadly mass shooting, San Francisco-based internet service and security provider Cloudflare finally decided to pull the plug on it.
Late Sunday, Cloudflare announced that it was pulling security services for 8chan, after it became widely known that the suspected shooter in the El Paso Walmart shooting on Saturday posted a hate-filled manifesto in an 8chan forum minutes before he went on his rampage. As the Associated Press reports, 8chan went offline at midnight Pacific time, even though it's unclear whether Cloudflare was the sole hosting platform for the site. The site's owners posted to Twitter saying, "There might be some downtime in the next 24-48 hours while we find a solution."
As of earlier on Sunday, 8chan had remained defiantly present, with its header banner reading, "Welcome to 8chan, the Darkest Reaches of the Internet." As the New York Times reported, the unmoderated site has become a haven for extremists and their would-be trainees, a place for sharing white supremacist literature and celebrating atrocities like the two that occurred over the weekend. "Users on 8chan frequently lionize mass shooters using jokey internet vernacular, referring to their body counts as 'high scores' and creating memes praising the killers," as the Times writes.
Both the Christchurch, New Zealand mosque shooter and the Poway, California synagogue shooter used 8chan earlier this year to announce their massacres ahead of time, just as the El Paso suspect did on Saturday. Both the Poway and El Paso shooters cited the Christchurch killer as their inspiration.
21-year-old Patrick Crusius, the El Paso shooting suspect, is believed to have posted his four-page manifesto on 8chan 19 minutes before the first 911 call at the Walmart. It spoke of a "Hispanic invasion of Texas," as the Times reports, and discussed dividing the country up into territories based on race.
The founder of 8chan, Frederick Brennan, who sold the site to an American military vet and fellow expat in the Philippines Jim Watkins, is now publicly calling for the site to be shut down. "It’s not doing the world any good," Brennan tells the Times. "It’s a complete negative to everybody except the users that are there. And you know what? It’s a negative to them, too. They just don’t realize it."
Brennan gave an interview to Tortoise Media in June in which he made similar comments, and discussed how he was no longer the angry teenager who felt the need to create an anonymous space with even fewer restrictions than 4chan. The wheelchair-dependent 24-year-old lives with brittle bone disease, and was shuttled through the foster-care system as a child. Finding a refuge in the more anger-filled corners online, Brennan built 8chan. But as Tortoise noted, "The anger and hate that spews from 8chan is not a conscious extension of the anger and hate of its creator – though he had plenty – but an inevitable byproduct of the dark structure he built."
Writing about the decision to pulls its services from 8chan, Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince published a blog post Monday saying, "The rationale is simple: they have proven themselves to be lawless and that lawlessness has caused multiple tragic deaths." Prince added, apparently referring to the 1996 Communications Decency Act that shields social platforms from liability for their users' content, "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."
Cloudflare had earlier resists de-platforming 8chan, though in the wake of the 2017 events in Charlottesville, it did remove the neo-Nazi-associated site The Daily Stormer, under pressure from politicians and the media. At the time, Prince wrote about his objection to de-platforming, saying, "I woke up in a bad mood and decided someone shouldn’t be allowed on the internet. No one should have that power."
Prince seemed torn about the decision on Sunday, but finally made the decision late in the day. "[8chan has] been not only actively ignoring complaints they receive, but sometimes weaponizing those complaints against people who are complaining about them,” Mr. Prince said to the Times. “That lawlessness feels like a real distinction from the Facebooks of the world."
Whether or not this case, along with the Dayton shooting less than a day later and the Gilroy shooting less than a week earlier — in which the disaffected 19-year-old shooter appears to also have shared some extremist views of the likes of 8chan users, though his presence on that site has not yet been established — will result in any movement in the gun control debate remains unclear. What is clear is that Democrats will seize on these events to connect President Trump's racially charged rhetoric to the world of mass shooters and potential mass shooters that is clearly proliferating online.
Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke, who represented El Paso in Congress, went on Face the Nation on Sunday and blamed President Trump for "sow[ing] the kind of fear, the kind of reaction that we saw in El Paso yesterday," and saying that Trump "has a lot to do with what happened."