Cloudflare has pulled support for 8chan after it emerged the far-right messaging board had hosted content posted by the gunman accused of perpetrating the shootings in El Paso, Texas that saw 20 people killed and 26 injured.
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According to investigative journalism site Bellingcat, the killer announced the start of his rampage on 8chan’s /pol board, attaching a four-page manifesto. The original 8chan thread was deleted almost immediately by site moderators, but others have continued to post copies of the shooter’s post and links to his manifesto.
It comes after immense pressure on the Cloudflare following other high-profile terrorist incidents which saw extremist and violent content posted on the 8chan site.
Cloudflare, which allows websites to run faster and protects them from distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks where Web servers are overwhelmed with traffic, has come under fire previously for its “neutral” approach. This saw it fail to pull the plug after a man murdered 49 people in Christchurch, New Zealand and a 74-page “manifesto” spread from 8chan across Facebook and Twitter.
And this wasn’t the first time 8chan had hosted inappropriate content. Known as an even more extreme version of the unruly site 4chan, 8chan was found to host child pornography, leading it to be delisted by Google.
Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince said in an announcement that 8chan is “uniquely lawless” and that “lawlessness has contributed to multiple horrific tragedies.”
“Enough is enough,” he said.
Cloudflare said it was terminating 8chan as a customer effective at midnight last night (August 4) Pacific Time. “The rationale is simple: they have proven themselves to be lawless and that lawlessness has caused multiple tragic deaths,” said Prince.
As a result, 8chan is currently offline. However, the site’s admins say they are working on getting it back online. An admin named Ron said via Twitter: “8chan is coming back online across the world as DNS is propagated. Please report any bugs or weirdness to me so I can fix it.”
Cloudflare drops 8chan: Why now?
Being dropped by Cloudflare marks an interruption for 8chan, but it probably won’t be the end. Two years ago, Cloudflare also dropped neo-Nazi and white supremacist website and message board Daily Stormer after the 2017 Charlottesville riots.
But following a brief interruption in the site’s operations, it came back online using a Cloudflare competitor.
The same will probably happen now. However, even 8Chan’s creator Fredrick Brennan wants the site shut down due to the way it’s being run by its current administrators. “Shut the site down,” Brennan told the New York Times. “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 realize it.”
8chan is an extremely dangerous platform because it is hard to control and easy to abuse. “8chan was designed to promote free speech and not audit content in the same way other message boards do,” says Lisa Forte, partner at Red Goat Cyber Security. “This automatically lends itself to abuse,” she says.
Prince admits that Cloudflare will “reluctantly tolerate content that we find reprehensible.” However, by directly inspiring the El Paso shooting, he concedes the platform had gone too far. “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.”
Ian Thornton-Trump, security head at AmTrust Europe, points out that Cloudflare has “a history of protecting some pretty controversial content in the past.”
He says content delivery networks like Cloudflare “have a responsibility to society,” adding that a brand can be damaged “by association to distasteful and inappropriate content.”
He acknowledges what must have been a difficult call for Cloudflare. “But at the end of the day, the CEO has to make the hard call on what the company stands for and what’s in the best interest of society–especially when the company is in the position of protecting or providing content.”
Cloudflare and the rule of law
According to Prince, Cloudflare’s policies are based on “the rule of law,” which requires them to be “transparent and consistent.”
He also pointed to Europe, which “has taken a lead in this area” after setting regulation to place the onus on firms such as Facebook and Google to help curb extremist content and online hate speech.
Sites such as 8chan are “lawless platforms,” said Prince. “In cases like these, where platforms have been designed to be lawless and unmoderated, and where the platforms have demonstrated their ability to cause real harm, the law may need additional remedies.”
“The European Union are much better at demanding content be taken down or blocked,” says Forte. “The U.S. needs to put pressure on companies to take responsibility for the discussions and harm that can flow from the use of their platforms.”