AP Explains: What is the online forum 8chan?

NEW YORK (AP) — An anonymous online forum called 8chan has drawn attention in the wake of mass shootings in Texas and Ohio because violent U.S. extremists have used it to share tips and encourage one another. The site suffered sporadic outages Monday after its cybersecurity provider cut off support for what it called a "cesspool of hate."

WHAT IS 8CHAN?

The online message board dates back to 2013. Under the banner of free speech, it allows users to post graphic and extremist content and doesn't censor posts.

The site has been linked to violent extremists. Police are investigating commentary posted on 8chan believed to have been written by the suspect in a shooting Saturday that killed 22 people in El Paso, Texas.

If there is a connection, it would be the third known instance of a shooter posting to the site before going on a rampage. In March, the gunman in mass shootings at two New Zealand mosques posted a rambling manifesto to the site, as did another who injured several people and killed one at a California synagogue in April.

8chan's founder, Fredrick Brennan, is no longer running the site. In an interview with The New York Times on Monday, he said the site wasn't doing any good and called for it to be shut down.

31 PHOTOS
El Paso shooting leaves 20 dead, more than two dozen injured
See Gallery
El Paso shooting leaves 20 dead, more than two dozen injured
Law enforcement from different agencies work the scene of a shooting at a shopping mall in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. Multiple people were killed and one person was in custody after a shooter went on a rampage at a shopping mall, police in the Texas border town of El Paso said. (AP Photo/Rudy Gutierrez)
Law enforcement work the scene of a shooting at a shopping mall in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. Multiple people were killed and one person was in custody after a shooter went on a rampage at a shopping mall, police in the Texas border town of El Paso said. (AP Photo/Rudy Gutierrez)
Police tape strung across an intersection behind the scene of a shooting at a shopping mall in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. Multiple people were killed and one person was in custody after a shooter went on a rampage at a shopping mall, police in the Texas border town of El Paso said. (AP Photo/Rudy Gutierrez)
An El Paso police officer talks to a store employee following a shooting at a shopping mall in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. Multiple people were killed and one person was in custody after a shooter went on a rampage at a shopping mall, police in the Texas border town of El Paso said. (AP Photo/Rudy Gutierrez)
Law enforcement officers make their way along a walkway to the scene of a shooting at a shopping mall in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. Several people were killed in the shooting Saturday in a busy shopping area in the Texas border town. (AP Photo/Rudy Gutierrez)
People walk out of an elementary school after family members were asked to reunite following a shooting at a shopping mall in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. Multiple people were killed and one person was in custody after a shooter went on a rampage at a shopping mall, police in the Texas border town of El Paso said. (AP Photo/Rudy Gutierrez)
An El Paso police officer checks vehicles along a roadway near the scene of a shooting at a shopping mall in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. Several people were killed in the shooting Saturday in a busy shopping area in the Texas border town. (AP Photo/Rudy Gutierrez)
Ambulances stage in the parking near the scene of a shooting at a shopping mall in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. Several people were killed in the shooting Saturday in a busy shopping area in the Texas border town. (AP Photo/Rudy Gutierrez)
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers stage along a street near the scene of a shooting at a shopping mall in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. Several people were killed in the shooting Saturday in a busy shopping area in the Texas border town. (AP Photo/Rudy Gutierrez)
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers gather near the scene of a shooting at a shopping mall in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. Multiple people were killed and one person was in custody after a shooter went on a rampage at a shopping mall, police in the Texas border town of El Paso said. (AP Photo/Rudy Gutierrez)
People walk into an elementary school to look for loved ones near the site of a shooting at a shopping mall in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. Several people were killed in the shooting Saturday in a busy shopping area in the Texas border town. (AP Photo/Rudy Gutierrez)
A law enforcement officer walks near the scene of a shooting at a shopping mall in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. Multiple people were killed and one person was in custody after a shooter went on a rampage at a shopping mall, police in the Texas border town of El Paso said. (AP Photo/Rudy Gutierrez)
Law enforcement officers arrive near the scene of a shooting at a shopping mall in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. Several people were killed in the shooting Saturday in a busy shopping area in the Texas border town. (AP Photo/Rudy Gutierrez)
A police officer stands outside a home in Allen, Texas, believed to be associated with a mass shooting at a busy shopping area in the border town of El Paso, Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Jake Bleiberg)
Agentes de varias corporaciones se presentan en el lugar donde se registró un tiroteo en un centro comercial de El Paso, Texas, el sábado 3 de agosto de 2019. (AP Foto/Rudy Gutierrez)
Agentes de varias corporaciones se presentan en el lugar donde se registró un tiroteo en un centro comercial de El Paso, Texas, el sábado 3 de agosto de 2019. (AP Foto/Rudy Gutierrez)
Edie Hallberg, left, speaks with police officers outside the Walmart store as she's looking for her missing mother Angie Englisbee, 87, who was in the store during the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. Multiple people were killed and one person was in custody after a shooter went on a rampage at a shopping mall, police in the Texas border town of El Paso said. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
Edie Hallberg cries while speaking to the police outside the Walmart store as she's looking for her missing mother Angie Englisbee, 87, who was in the store during the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. Multiple people were killed and one person was in custody after a shooter went on a rampage at a shopping mall, police in the Texas border town of El Paso said. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
Texas state police cars block the access to the Walmart store in the aftermath of a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. Multiple people were killed and one person was in custody after a shooter went on a rampage at a shopping mall, police in the Texas border town of El Paso said. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
An El Paso Police officer stands guard outside a Walmart store in the aftermath of a deadly shooting in El Paso, Texas, Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
From left, Melody Stout, Hannah Payan, Aaliyah Alba, Sherie Gramlich and Laura Barrios comfort each other during a vigil for victims of the shooting Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019, in El Paso, Texas. A young gunman opened fire in an El Paso, Texas, shopping area during the busy back-to-school season, leaving multiple people dead and more than two dozen injured. (AP Photo/John Locher)
People embrace during a vigil for victims of the shooting Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019, in El Paso, Texas. A young gunman opened fire in an El Paso, Texas, shopping area during the busy back-to-school season, leaving multiple people dead and more than two dozen injured. (AP Photo/John Locher)
People attend a vigil for victims of the shooting Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019, in El Paso, Texas. A young gunman opened fire in an El Paso, Texas, shopping area during the busy back-to-school season, leaving multiple people dead and more than two dozen injured. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Melody Stout and Hannah Payan comfort each other during a vigil for victims of the shooting that occurred earlier in the day at a shopping center, Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019, in El Paso, Texas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
People gather in Juarez, Mexico, Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019, in a vigil for the 3 Mexican nationals who were killed in an El Paso shopping-complex shooting. Twenty people were killed and more than two dozen injured in a shooting Saturday in a busy shopping area in the Texas border town of El Paso, the state’s governor said. (AP Photo/Christian Chavez)
People gather in Juarez, Mexico, Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019, in a vigil for the 3 Mexican nationals who were killed in an El Paso shopping-complex shooting. Twenty people were killed and more than two dozen injured in a shooting Saturday in a busy shopping area in the Texas border town of El Paso, the state’s governor said. (AP Photo/Christian Chavez)
From left, Samuel Lerma, Arzetta Hodges and Desiree Quintanar attend a vigil for victims of the deadly shooting that occurred earlier in the day at a shopping center Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019, in El Paso, Texas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
People gather in Juarez, Mexico, Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019, in a vigil for the 3 Mexican nationals who were killed in an El Paso shopping-complex shooting. Twenty people were killed and more than two dozen injured in a shooting Saturday in a busy shopping area in the Texas border town of El Paso, the state’s governor said. (AP Photo/Christian Chavez)
People gather in Juarez, Mexico, Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019, in a vigil for the 3 Mexican nationals who were killed in an El Paso shopping-complex shooting. Twenty people were killed and more than two dozen injured in a shooting Saturday in a busy shopping area in the Texas border town of El Paso, the state’s governor said. (AP Photo/Christian Chavez)
A police officer stands in the doorway to a Walmart where a gunman opened fire in a shopping complex Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019, in El Paso, Texas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
A woman sits next to a sign with a message that reads: ¨No More Guns! Make Love¨, in Juarez, Mexico, Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019, where people are gathering for a vigil for the 3 Mexican nationals who were killed in an El Paso shopping-complex shooting. Twenty people were killed and more than two dozen injured in a shooting Saturday in a busy shopping area in the Texas border town of El Paso, the state’s governor said. (AP Photo/Christian Chavez)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

WHY DID 8CHAN GO DOWN?

The site went down briefly after security provider Cloudflare said it would stop supporting the site. Without Cloudflare, the site was vulnerable to outside hackers who shut down the site.

"8chan has repeatedly proven itself to be a cesspool of hate," Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince wrote. "They have proven themselves to be lawless and that lawlessness has caused multiple tragic deaths."

CAN 8CHAN BE SHUT DOWN?

8chan's popularity rose after the similarly named but unaffiliated site 4chan cracked down on more extreme posts. Because the U.S. doesn't specifically outlaw domestic terrorism the way it does foreign-sponsored extremism, such sites enjoy broad protection from government oversight under the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment.

Even if that weren't the case, content on sites like 8chan are also difficult to stamp out because users can simply move on if moderators grow stricter or if a site shuts down.

"Dealing with incitement to violence and hatred online goes well beyond any one platform," the Anti-Defamation League's Oren Segal said.

"These hate and racist posts will find another way to get their message out and another site with less scruples will pop up to host them," added Tim Bajarin, a technology columnist and president of Creative Strategies. "The internet has always been a Wild, Wild West medium with very little controls to keep this type of harmful commentary from seeing the light of day."

WHAT ABOUT REGULATION?

Mutale Nkonde, a fellow at the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard, said it's time to think about creating a legal definition for harmful speech that could be regulated.

"We need to seriously balance do we want to be secure as a nation and have the ability to go to Walmart or we want to protect the speech of those who want to destroy our country from within?" she said.

But there has been resistance to passing legislation, said David Kaye, the U.N. special rapporteur on freedom of expression and a University of California-Irvine law professor.

"It's very difficult to get any kind of law adopted in the United States," Kaye said. "Even after these terrible crimes and the connection the 8chan forum has to them, I don't see much of a likelihood of a pretty serious debate about how the companies should be regulated."

Kaye said that in the absence of U.S. government action on online speech, the most Americans can hope for is that companies like Cloudflare are transparent about their policies regarding hate speech — and what should be regarded as incitement to violence and not tolerated.

"There is probably horrible content that's being hosted by its clients in other parts of the world," he said, "but is it applying the same measures there?"

___

This story has corrected Oren Segal's title.

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.