In the wake of mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, over the first weekend of August, internet domain masking service Cloudflare cut ties with the anonymous web forum 8chan, citing its role in radicalizing white supremacist extremists.
The El Paso shooting suspect was at least the third person in 2019 to announce a shooting on 8chan prior to the actual event. Prior to this, the individuals accused of mass shootings at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March and Poway Synagogue in San Diego in April both posted manifestos to 8chan attempting to justify and amplify their actions.
Both the Christchurch and Poway manifestos were steeped in the meme-heavy language of white supremacists on 8chan and its older cousin 4chan — a.k.a. the use of “shitposting” and ironic language used to mask the sincerity of the beliefs behind the language. The El Paso shooting manifesto was devoid of the same rhetorical style of masking its real aims in joking, mocking hyperbole, but it was laden with similar white extremist ideology. The focus on targeting Latino immigrants also echoed the racist aims of the Islamophobic Christchurch shooter and the anti-Semitic Poway shooter.
In a blog post published Sunday night, August 4, Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince observed that 8chan “has repeatedly proven itself to be a cesspool of hate.” Citing the company’s own precedent of shuttering the neo-Nazi site Daily Stormer in 2017 — a response to the murder of peaceful protester Heather Heyer during the white supremacist Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia — Prince explained that his company developing policy regarding 8chan and extremist sites was something of a revised version of its former commitment to free speech above all else.
“We reluctantly tolerate content that we find reprehensible,” he wrote, “but we draw the line at platforms that have demonstrated they directly inspire tragic events and are lawless by design. 8chan has crossed that line.”
Cloudflare’s previous termination of service to the Daily Stormer website had come alongside similar service termination by Google and GoDaddy, which were each responsible for maintaining different parts of the Daily Stormer’s upkeep. The companies’ refusal to serve the Daily Stormer meant that while the site is still online, it is much less stable and has been forced to bounce around hosts and domains in the years since. (Its founder, Andrew Anglin, has also become mired in defamation and harassment lawsuits.)
Cloudflare serves an important, if largely unseen, role online: It acts as a proxy server network for a website (in essence distributing data equally to users) and additionally implements security measures to protect websites from getting hit with denial-of-service attacks (DDoS attacks). Cloudflare was a DDoS protection service for 8chan, which went offline following the company’s announcement; however, it was soon back up and running as of publication time, with its mottos of “Embrace infamy” and “Welcome to 8chan, the Darkest Reaches of the Internet,” unchanged.
Prince had previously expressed reluctance to take action against 8chan; earlier in the day on Sunday, as public cries for Cloudflare to take action against 8chan increased, he had told reporters that the company would not be giving 8chan the boot. But in his announcement of the policy reversal, Prince stated, “enough is enough,” but that “this isn’t the end” of the conversation around 8chan and online extremism.
We just sent notice we are terminating service for 8chan. There comes a time when enough is enough. But this isn't the end. We need to have a broader conversation about addressing the root causes of hate online. https://t.co/ZsctDpswM5— Matthew Prince (@eastdakota) August 5, 2019
Now that Cloudflare has taken action, calls for action have shifted to its other service providers. 8chan’s URL and domain name have been registered by a different company, Tucows. Public scrutiny of Tucows has increased, along with that of Amazon, which has sold audiobook content owned by 8chan’s owner Jim Watkins. In an emailed response to Vox, an Amazon spokesperson contested the linked report, calling it “sensationalized reporting based on inaccurate assumptions” and noting, “Amazon has not had any direct relationship with [Watson’s third-party book website] for several months.” Amazon also noted that the site has generated very little revenue overall, less than a thousand dollars.
8Chan, where three racist mass killers have posted their screeds, is protected by @Cloudflare, hosted by @tucows and is monetized by @amazon.— Sleeping Giants (@slpng_giants) August 4, 2019
If you’re doing business with a site that helps people spread violent, racist ideologies, you are just as culpable. Full stop.
A spokesperson for Tucows told the New York Times that the company’s leaders had “no immediate plans” to shut off the website’s domain access, “other than to keep discussing internally.” However, some eagle-eyed domain watchers have noted that 8chan seems to have switched domain registrars from Tucows to the alt-right friendly registrar Epik, whose CEO Rob Monster aided the alt-right-centered social media platform Gab after multiple tech companies ended their relationship with it. Epik also stepped in to provide service to the Daily Stormer after CloudFlare suspended its service.
Shortly after coming back online, 8chan went offline again, which could be due to a change in the site’s domain registration. A WhoIs lookup confirms that the site’s registrar has switched from Tucows to Epik. The New York Times’ Kevin Roose is reporting as of Monday afternoon, August 5, that 8chan isn’t using Tucows’s services. (Vox has reached out to Tucows for comment.)
New: Tucows, 8chan’s domain name registrar, which said last night that it had “no immediate plans” to boot the site, tells me it is no longer providing services to 8chan.— Kevin Roose (@kevinroose) August 5, 2019
Epik directed Vox to a public statement about the switch, in which it pointed out that the company “did not solicit this business,” and that it would be evaluating whether to do business with 8chan:
Specific to any of the “Chan” sites, Epik did not solicit this business. We have not made a definitive decision about whether to provide DDoS mitigation or Content Delivery services for them. We will evaluate this in the coming days. From what little we know so far, the Chans are not lawless and do have moderation, especially in regards to DMCA and content which is illegal in the United States. Ultimately, we believe that the best disinfectant for darkness however this must absolutely occur within the bounds of the law.
Meanwhile, Epik’s own backend services may be getting hobbled due to action taken by another service provider, Voxility. As noted by Stanford tech authority Alex Stamos, Epik was renting most of its services from Voxility, which summarily suspended service Monday afternoon to Epik’s domain registrar company, Bitmitigate.
“I confirm we proceeded with suspending all services to Epik/Bitmitigate in minutes after we were notified by the content hosted by this reseller,” Voxility’s VP of Business Development, Maria Sirbu, told Vox in an email. “We are a registered telco that provides Infrastructure as a Service to identifiable hosting resellers and we do not tolerate hate speech throughout Voxility network. This is a firm stand from us.”
She added, “Hopefully, more telco companies will take actions after today.”