What is 8chan? A look at the website that was shut down after El Paso mass shooting

CHICAGO — Controversial internet message board 8chan went offline Monday after internet infrastructure company Cloudflare stopped providing support for the website used by the suspected gunman in El Paso to post a hate-filled screed.

“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,” Matthew Prince, Cloudflare CEO wrote in a blog post.

The announcement was an about-face after Cloudflare told CNN earlier Sunday that it had no plans to stop providing its services to 8chan. The company had said it has been in contact with law enforcement about Saturday’s mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, where the suspect is believed to have posted what police describe as a manifesto on 8chan minutes before the attack. People accused of a synagogue shooting in Poway, California, and shootings at two mosques in New Zealand also reportedly announced their plans on 8chan.

The website is a message board — an anonymous one at that. In recent years it has become a community meeting place for like-minded people. The thought behind the website was harmless enough, until the topic those people all had in common was hate for minorities, people from other countries or with different beliefs.

The shootings in El Paso, New Zealand and in Southern California were all considered domestic terrorism. All three gunman posted their manifestos on 8chan right before carrying out the attacks.

Maurice Dawson Jr. is a national and international cyber security expert at Illinois Institute of Technology and said the people on the website are fueling each other which motivates one another to go toward a hate crime and actually do it.

Another site, 4chan, was founded by Christopher Poole and started as an online message board where people subscribing to the same thought about something could get advice, seek opinions, or sound off. When the topics focused on hate, 8chan — an off shoot of 4chan — was born.

The rhetoric on the site is fueled with hate and extremist messages. First amendment rights protect the people behind it and Dawson said, there is little government funding to monitor it well.

“On these message boards, nothing happens. They say what they want without being penalized,” Dawson said.

No fines, no charges. President Donald Trump has called to have sites or message boards like 8chan investigated.

“If it was me and I was going to investigate the activity here, I would have let it stay up and let it use individuals to infiltrate the group to see what is going on," Dawson said.

But who can dedicate the time to such an endless pursuit on the World Wide Web? Right now, according to cyberseek.org, there are hundreds of thousands of job openings in the country when it comes to cybersecurity.

In Chicago, there are over 11,000 jobs, 22,00 in New York and 40,000 in Washington D.C. There is a total of about 300,000 openings.

Law enforcement is left choosing between what could be empty threats or on line posturing versus a major identity breach at a large bank or credit card company. Dawson said there is not enough manpower to explore both.

Until domestic terrorism is made a greater priority, he said, websites, message boards and the emboldened who post on them may get shut down, but only move around on the web even pop up under a different name or IP address.

“The new stage of war is a cyber one, not troops and guns. Things are done via the web,” Dawson said.

For parents worried about what their kids are into: monitor them and make no apologies about doing so. People who act on their fears or prejudiced thoughts often live in silos, Dawson said. their community is others who think just like them. These sites and message boards can be blocked according to the cyber security expert. He says if your children of any age are on them, find out why.

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