Why 8chan, white supremacist terrorists' favourite website, hasn't been taken offline

The boss of an internet company that ensures hate-filled sites can't be knocked offline has defended its policy of not getting involved.

But the founder of freewheeling messageboard 8chan says it's now providing a "receptive audience for domestic terrorists" and should be shut down.

Just before the weekend's shooting in El Paso which left 20 dead, a white supremacist manifesto was uploaded to 8chan which law enforcement officials say they're "reasonably confident" was written by the alleged gunman, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius.

In it, the author claims he is "defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion" of Hispanics, citing the far-right Great Replacement conspiracy theory.

If that sounds familiar, it's because the alleged Christchurch gunman cited the same reasons for his attack on two Christchurch mosques in his manifesto, which was also uploaded to 8chan immediately beforehand. 

The alleged El Paso shooter's manifesto even begins with a message of support for the Christchurch atrocity. 

It also echoes a racist screed uploaded before the Poway synagogue attack in April, which was also posted on - you guessed it - 8chan. 

The site was started in 2013 as a place where anything goes, as long as it doesn't breach US law. It quickly became popular with paedophiles and misogynists, particularly after rival site 4chan banned discussion of 'Gamergate', a harassment campaign targeted at women in the gaming industry.

Google blacklisted it from its search results in 2015, but attempts to take the site offline completely have failed thanks to a service called Cloudflare, which protects against DDoS attacks - when people try to overload a website with a flood of traffic

Cloudflare HQ in San Francisco.
Cloudflare HQ in San Francisco. Photo credit: Getty

Cloudflare chief executive Matthew Prince told the Guardian it's not up to him to police the content posted on their clients' websites.

"It would be the easiest thing in the world and it would feel incredibly good for us to kick 8chan off our network, but I think it would step away from the obligation that we have and cause that community to still exist and be more lawless over time."

Cloudflare gave up protecting white supremacist site the Daily Stormer in the wake of 2017's Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, which ended with a racist driving his car into a crowd of protesters, with fatal consequences. Prince said he woke up "in a bad mood and decided to kick them off the internet", but later regretted it - the site was only down briefly, and soon popped up again.

Prince told the Guardian he's actually been asked by law enforcement officials to keep certain sites online so they can be monitored, but didn't say whether 8chan was one of those.

He also rejected suggestions he was only interested in the money 8chan pays his company for the service.

"Of the 2 million-plus Cloudflare customers, they don't matter, and the pain that they cause is well beyond anything else... the internet is home to many amazing things and many terrible things and we have an absolute moral obligation to deal with that."

8chan founder Fredrick Brennan cut ties with the site in 2018, and after the Christchurch attacks said it was causing "more misery than anything else". He told the Washington Post on Sunday, after the El Paso attack, it now provided a "receptive audience for domestic terrorists" and the New York Times that it should be shut down.

"It's not doing the world any good. 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 realise it."

He said he's tried to convince the current owners of the site to take it offline, but they won't listen.

8chan's current owners are yet to comment on the latest links between the site and white supremacist terrorism. The site on Sunday presented visitors with a banner reading 'Welcome to 8chan, the Darkest Reaches of the Internet', according to the New York Times.

In 2017 Jim Watkins, who runs the site with his son Ron, told Buzzfeed News it didn't make money but is "a lot of fun". 

The 8chan logo.
The 8chan logo. Photo credit: 8chan

Cloudflare general counsel Douglas Kramer told the Post there were no plans to cut ties with 8chan, even though its own terms of service ban terror propaganda networks.

"Inserting ourselves as the judge and jury on these things is very problematic. It's easy for folks to approach us with one website, but for us, we need to come up with a rule that we can apply to over 20 million different web properties."

Mainstream social media sites like Twitter, YouTube and and Facebook have this year promised crackdowns on white supremacist and nationalist content, with mixed results.