Website infrastructure and security services provider Cloudflare will stop providing service to 8chan, wrote Matthew Prince in a blog post, describing the site as a “cesspool of hate.” Service will be terminated as of midnight Pacific Time.
“The rationale is simple: they have proven themselves to be lawless and that lawlessness has caused multiple tragic deaths,” wrote Prince. “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.”
The decision was made after the suspect in this weekend’s mass shooting at El Paso posted a lengthy racist and anti-immigration “manifesto” to 8chan almost immediately before the attack, which killed at least 20 people. Federal authorities are treating the shooting as an act of domestic terrorism and the Justice Department is also considering bringing federal hate crime and firearm charges, which both potentially carry the death penalty, against the shooter.
8chan was also used by the perpetrator in March’s terrorist attacks on two Christchurch, New Zealand mosques, as well as the suspect in the April shooting at a synagogue in Poway, California.
“The El Paso shooter specifically referenced the Christchurch incident and appears to have been inspired by the largely unmoderated discussions on 8chan which glorified the previous massacre,” wrote Prince. “In a separate tragedy, the suspected killer in the Poway, California synagogue shooting also posted a hate-filled ‘open letter’ on 8chan. 8chan has repeatedly proven itself to be a cesspool of hate.”
Before Cloudflare announced its decision to terminate service to 8chan, Prince spoke to reporters from The Guardian and The New York Times, telling The Guardian that he wanted to “kick 8chan off our network,” but also (in the later interview with The New York Times), expressed hesitation because terminating service may make it harder for law enforcement officials to access information on the site.
Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince says that his decision is not about free speech or making money. Instead, he says keeping 8chan within Cloudflare’s network facilitates monitoring of the site and cooperation with law enforcement. https://t.co/PVnnu6LFxM pic.twitter.com/4ffQ8AWLfC
— Julia Carrie Wong (@juliacarriew) August 4, 2019
Update: I talked to Cloudflare CEO @eastdakota, who said he is undecided about whether or not to allow 8chan to continue using its DDOS protection service (which effectively allows the site to stay online) https://t.co/tewgBEqYeF pic.twitter.com/WkU1NYBm6g
— Kevin Roose (@kevinroose) August 4, 2019
(8chan creator Fredrick Brennan, who intended the site to be a free speech alternative to message board 4chan but has now distanced himself from the site and its current owners, told The New York Times he now wants it to be shut down).
In his blog post, Prince explained Cloudflare’s ultimate decision to cut service, writing that more than 19 million internet properties use Cloudflare’s services and the company “[did] not take this decision lightly.”
“We reluctantly tolerate content that we find reprehensible, 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,” he wrote.” It will therefore no longer be allowed to use our services.”
This is not the first time Cloudflare has cut off service to a site for enabling the spread of racism and violence. Cloudflare previously terminated service to white supremacist site Daily Stormer in August 2017, but noted that the site went back online after switching to a Cloudflare competitor. “Today, the Daily Stormer is still available and still disgusting. They have bragged that they have more readers than ever. They are no longer Cloudflare’s problem, but they remain the Internet’s problem,” Prince wrote.
Prince says he sees the situation with 8chan playing out in a similar way. Since terminating service to the Daily Stormer, Prince says Cloudflare has worked with law enforcement and civil society organizations, resulting in the company “cooperating around monitoring potential hate sites on our network and notifying law enforcement when there was content that contained a legal process to share information when we can hopefully prevent horrific acts of violence.”
But Prince added that the company “continue[s] to feel incredibly uncomfortable about playing the role of content arbiter and do not plan to exercise it often,” adding that this is not “due to some conception of the United States’ First Amendment,” since Cloudflare is a private company (and most of its customers, and more than half of its revenue, are outside the United States).
Instead, Cloudflare “will continue to engage with lawmakers around the world as they set the boundaries of what is acceptable in those countries through due process of law. And we will comply with those boundaries when and where they are set.”
Cloudflare’s decision may increase scrutiny on Amazon, since 8chan’s operator Jim Watkins sells audiobooks on Amazon.com and Audible, creating what the Daily Beast refers to as “his financial lifeline to the outside world.” (UPDATE: In a statement to TechCrunch, an Amazon spokesperson said of the Daily Beast article that “the conclusions made in the blog post are wrong. This is sensationalized reporting based on inaccurate assumptions” and “Amazon has not had any direct relationship with Books.Audio for several months. Independently from Amazon, Books.Audio offers audio-narration services to authors, and then the authors themselves, not Books.Audio, list those titles for sale on Audible.”)