8chan is struggling to stay online after El Paso massacre

Security platform Cloudflare ditched 8chan, leaving it vulnerable to attacks. The extremist forum appears to remain knocked offline.

Ian Sherr Contributor and Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. As an editor at large at CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Daniel Van Boom Senior Writer
Daniel Van Boom is an award-winning Senior Writer based in Sydney, Australia. Daniel Van Boom covers cryptocurrency, NFTs, culture and global issues. When not writing, Daniel Van Boom practices Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, reads as much as he can, and speaks about himself in the third person.
Expertise Cryptocurrency | Culture | International News
Ian Sherr
Daniel Van Boom
5 min read
Multiple Fatalities In Mass Shooting At Shopping Center In El Paso

Twenty-two people died in the massacre in El Paso, Texas. 

Getty Images

8chan, a site popular with extremists where at least three gunman have posted manifestos before shooting rampages this year, is no longer accessible on the internet. The site has been mostly offline since early Monday after a series of companies, starting with security platform Cloudflare, decided to stop working with the site. 

The catalyst was a mass shooting that killed 22 people and injured another two dozen Saturday at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. A hate-filled manifesto from the suspected gunman was published on 8chan just before his attack.

The manifesto railed against immigrants, declaring "this attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas." Members of 8chan cheered on the shooting and remarked about the number of people killed. That massacre was followed less than a day later by a seemingly unconnected shooting in Dayton, Ohio, that left nine dead and 27 injured.

The shock of the weekend's atrocities raised questions about 8chan and its continued existence on the internet. White supremacy and domestic terrorism in the US have been on the rise, and researchers say websites like 8chan, its cousin 4chan and social networks like Reddit, Gab, Twitter and YouTube are being used to spread hate and recruit more attackers.

8chan, launched in 2013 as the ultimate freedom-of-speech site, has become a gathering site for all forms of hate, child pornography and conspiracy theories. A shooter who attacked two New Zealand mosques in March and another who attacked a California synagogue in April posted their manifestos to 8chan as well.

The revelations of 8chan's central role in encouraging attacks drove companies that until now have defended 8chan to take action. Security platform Cloudflare, which had previously defended working with 8chan, announced Sunday that it would drop the site.

Watch this: What might happen to 8chan? (The Daily Charge, 8/7/2019)

"8chan is among the more than 19 million internet properties that use Cloudflare's service," Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince wrote in a Sunday blog post. "We just sent notice that we are terminating 8chan as a customer effective at midnight tonight Pacific Time. The rationale is simple: They have proven themselves to be lawless and that lawlessness has caused multiple tragic deaths. 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."

Shortly after, BitMitigate, a site that appeared to work with 8chan after Cloudflare dropped out, no longer seemed accessible on the web either. BitMitigate apparently resold services from another company, Voxility, which said in a statement that it pulled access to its services as soon as it learned 8chan was running on its network.

BitMitigate's other high-profile client, hate site The Daily Stormer, also seemed partially knocked offline Monday, something its publisher Andrew Anglin confirmed. It was still accessible on the dark web, though.

On Tuesday, BitMitigate parent company Epik said the company made the decision not to provide services to 8chan.

"Upon careful consideration of the recent operating history of 8Chan, and in the wake of tragic news in El Paso and Dayton over the weekend, Epik has elected to not provide content delivery services to 8Chan, the company said in a statement. "This is largely due to the concern of inadequate enforcement and the elevated possibility of violent radicalization on the platform."

8chan didn't respond to requests for comment.

Calls to shut 8chan down

8chan has long been associated with darker parts of the web. But as it has become known as breeding grounds for extremism, calls to shut it down have grown. On Sunday, 8chan founder Fredrick Brennan told The New York Times that the site he created should no longer exist

"Shut the site down," he said. "Whenever I hear about a mass shooting, I say, 'All right, we have to research if there's an 8chan connection.'" 

Brennan has said he started the site to create a free-speech forum bereft of any censorship. He resigned from the site in 2016. Since then, it's been controlled by owner Jim Watkins and son Ron Watkins.

"I no longer have anything to do with 8chan -- any 8chan questions post-April 2016 I don't know the answers to," Brennan states on his Twitter bio.

The CEO of Cloudflare told Wired that his company had been reconsidering its relationship with 8chan for a while.

"8chan has been on our radar for a long time as a problematic user," Prince said. "But we have a responsibility, which is much beyond 'we terminate sites we don't like.' I'm nervous about whether we've made the right decision, and I'm nervous about how this will set precedent in the future."

It's the second time that Cloudflare has made such a decision. In 2017, Cloudflare dropped The Daily Stormer. That decision followed the death of Heather Heyer, who was run over while protesting a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017. The man who purposely drove his car into the crowd was sentenced in July to life in prison, plus 419 years, on federal hate crime charges.

In 2015, 8chan was blacklisted from Google searches due to the child pornography content shared on the site. In 2014, Brennan told the Daily Dot: "I don't support the content on the [child pornography] boards you mentioned, but it is simply the cost of free speech and being the only active site to not impose more 'laws' than those that were passed in Washington, DC." 

Brennan has changed his mind about the "cost of free speech" since then.

"It's not doing the world any good," Brennan told the Times on Sunday of 8chan. "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."

Tucows, which controls 8chan's domain name registration, doesn't expect it will disable the site's web address. 

"We have no immediate plans other than to keep discussing internally," Graeme Bunton, manager of public policy at Tucows, told the Times.

Ron Watkins, who co-manages 8chan with his father, tweeted Monday that if BitMitigate isn't able to come back online, 8chan may go to the "clearnet," which likely means it would be accessible on the internet without extra security or anonymity protections.

Tucows didn't responded to a request for comment. 

CNET's Sean Keane contributed to this report.

Originally published Aug. 4, 7:31 p.m. PT. 
Update, Aug. 5 at 5:50 a.m. PT: Notes that 8chan is back for some. Update, 6:22 a.m.: Adds that Tucows doesn't plan to disable 8chan's web address. Update, 9:35 a.m.: Updates the El Paso death toll after more victims died Monday morning. Update, 12:45 p.m.: Updates throughout about 8chan no longer working, and companies cutting connections.
Update, Aug. 7: Adds statement from BitMitigate parent company Epik.