The suspect of shooting rampage at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, allegedly posted a hate-filled manifesto on the same online messaging platform- 8chan, used earlier this year by the suspect in the Christchurch mosque massacre and Poway, California synagogue shooting.
8chan - a website hosting user-generated message board- founded in 2013 by a computer programmer and self-proclaimed eugenicist Fredrick Brennan. The site was modelled after another message board called 4chan with the only exception of content verification.
Brennan was committed to near absolute free speech when 4chan banned the discussion of the misogynistic harassment campaign known as Gamergate in 2014. 8chan is blocked by corporate firewalls and isn’t indexed by Google’s search engine.
Since the New Zealand and El Paso incidents, 8chan has largely stuck to its policy of minimal intervention in what is posted on the site. “In the interest of free speech, only content that violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act or other United States laws is deleted,” the site says.
As the El Paso news breaks Brennan tweeted in response to the killing spree, “Another 8chan shooting?” In that message, he attacked the forum’s owner, Jim Watkins, and called on him to shut the site. Later he thanked Cloudflare (technology that helps websites protect themselves from the floods of hacker traffic that can knock sites offline in so-called denial of service attacks.) for withdrawing its support for the site.
The message board used by three alleged killers to distribute racist and white nationalist manifestos prior to mass shootings lost the protection of Cloudflare, on Monday, with a blog post saying- “terminating 8chan as a client”.
The trend of expressing extremist views are migrating to fringe websites, such as 8chan, that place fewer limits on views. El Paso attack marks the third mass shooting in less than six months that was announced in advance on the message board.
The man accused of the October 2018 shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue that left 11 dead allegedly used another fringe online forum, called Gab.com, to broadcast his intentions. The company later said it had suspended the account. Other sites, such as Discord, a chat service for video gamers with 250 million users, also have become outlets for extremists to communicate.
The shootings come at a time when large social-media companies such as Facebook Inc.and Google parent Alphabet Inc. have been trying to moderate online content after fierce criticism over fake news, content with violence and harassment.
The suspected Christchurch mosque shooter, whose rampage left 50 dead in March, chose 8chan as the outlet for announcing his intentions before broadcasting the killing spree live on Facebook. “I have provided links to my writings below,” he allegedly wrote to the readers of the site, adding “please do your part by spreading my message, making memes and shit posting as you usually do.”
In response, an 8chan user posted hundreds of messages, digitally altered photographs and videos of the shooting designed to become viral “memes” that quickly spread around the internet.
8chan creator Mr Brennan cut ties with the site after the Christchurch shooting last December, told The Wall Street Journal he believed 8chan’s administrators were too slow to remove the shooter’s posts and others on it that incite violence.
Brennan told the Journal in March that 8chan had about 100,000 people regularly using the site and that it had revenue of no more than $100 a month through advertisements and donations.
Cloudflare terminates 8chan
US cyber security firm Cloudflare on Monday said it would terminate online message board 8chan as a customer after a gunman used the messaging forum prior to killing 20 people at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas on Saturday.
The gunman is believed to have posted a four-page statement on 8chan, and called the Walmart attack “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas”.
Police in the Philippines, where 8chan is hosted, told Reuters they were investigating the messaging board but were unable to give details, such as when the inquiry began and what prompted it.
The suspect was officially identified as a 21-year-old white male from Allen, Texas, a Dallas suburb about 650 miles (1,046 km) east of El Paso, which lies along the Rio Grande, across the US-Mexico border from Ciudad Juarez. Citing law enforcement officials, media named the suspect as Patrick Crusius.
The suspect’s post on 8chan expressed support for the gunman who killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March.
"We just sent a notice that we are terminating 8chan as a customer effective at midnight tonight Pacific Time," Cloudflare Chief Executive Matthew Prince said in a blog post.
“Based on evidence we’ve seen, it appears that he (gunman)posted a screed to the site immediately before beginning his terrifying attack.”
Prince’s blog added that while 8chan did not violate the law by not moderating the “hate-filled” content posted by users, it had “created an environment that revels in violating its spirit”.