When most of the world condemned last week's mass shooting in New Zealand, an opposite story line appeared on 8chan, online messaging cards where the alleged shooter had notified the attack and urged others to continue the slaughter. "Who shall I kill?" Wrote an anonymous poster. "I've never been so happy," wrote another. "I'm ready. I'll fight."
For experts in online extremism, the performance repeated another brand of terrorism – performed by Islamist militants who have long spent the Web mobilizing supporters and encouraging violence. Their tone, tactics and propaganda were honest alike. The biggest difference was their ambition: a white-supremacist uprising, instead of a Muslim caliphate.
As Facebook, YouTube and other tech companies ran to contain the sound and images of the cruel recording, 8chan helped it thrive, giving a non-blocked forum that further pushed extremism and encouraged new attacks.
The maintenance of violence at 8chan has led some experts to call for harsher actions by world governments, some saying the site is increasingly resembling the jihadiforas organized by the Islamic state and al-Qaeda masters in bending the web's power to spread their id eologies and recruit new terrorists. Critics of 8chan argue that the website and others like it, may justify a similar government response: close monitoring and, when the speech turns to violence, law enforcement investigation and intervention.
Owner and administrators of 8chan, registered as a property of the Nevada-based company NT Technology, did not respond to multiple comment requests via e-mail addresses listed for the site, as well as a request made by a founder of the site that said he is still in contact with Jim Watkins, an American based in the Philippines and owning the company.
The 8chan site's Twitter account said on Saturday that it "responds to law enforcement regarding the recent event, where many websites were used by a criminal to publish its crime" and noted that it would not comment further. New Zealand police refused to comment on whether they had contacted 8chan.
But the violence of the threats of racist and anti-Muslim violence published on 8chan represents a striking new challenge to a basic idea of the internet: that in all with the most extreme cases, such as child pornography, the hosting sites that are not legally or morally responsible for the content are other uploads to them.
Telecommunications companies in Australia and New Zealand have already taken the rare step of blocking internet access to 8chan and some other sites. Public pressure is also based on other companies, including some based in the United States, providing the technical infrastructure for websites that promote violence against Muslims, African Americans and Jews.
"This is terrorism. It is no different from what we see from ISIS," says Joel Finkelstein, CEO of the Network Contagion Research Institute, who, in collaboration with the Anti-Defamation League, examines how hateful ideas are spreading online. "The platforms are responsible if they organize and multiply terror."
A crash would mark an extraordinary step in confronted online extremism. Terrorism experts say US law enforcement and intelligence agencies have been reluctant to treat white supremacists and right-wing groups as terrorist organizations, because they typically include Americans among their ranks and create complex legal and political issues. It's also a foggy problem for technology companies: Platforms like Facebook and Twitter blocked white-supremacist content after the Charlottesville robbers in 2017, a watercraft's moment, which was a censorship debate.
Some are also skeptical about the fact that any effort to suppress such activity online would be successful because the decentralized nature of the web makes targeted takedowns difficult and allows hate groups to quickly retreat underground.
The still hateful tone of 8chan has become a warning of how corners of the grid can be radiated. Launched in 2013, the site grew out of an exodus from the lightly moderated message card 4chan and quickly got an audience as the boiler of the extreme content that few other places are willing to support. The last week has marked a new low.
"I had never seen the whole board so happy about what had just happened. Fifty people have died and they are in complete ecstasy," said 8chan's founder, Fredrick Brennan, who said he went as an administrator in 2016 and stopped working with the site's ownership in December.
Brennan said he has been anesthetized to see how little current administrators have done to curb violent threats, and he voiced remorse over his role in creating a site that now calls itself "the darkest rows of the internet. " But he worries that there are no true technical solutions beyond a total redesign of the internet, focused on identification and moderation that could undermine it as a place of free expression.
"The Internet as a whole is not made to be censored. It was made to be resilient," Brennan said. And as long as there is a contingent of people who like this content, it will never go away. "
A step to silence 8chan would tie in with a key limitation on the Internet set in a milestone in 1996 US law that allows Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and others to operate with minimal government effort. The Communications Decency Act limits it legal responsibility for platforms for the content that their users send.
But the content of the concealment of last week's shoot has renewed debate on whether the Internet's freewheeling culture has gone too far from white-supremacist violence. face the same depth of government control that previously seemed to be reserved for chat rooms occupied by members of Islamist terrorist cells.
Federal authorities in the United States – aware of constitutional protections for the free speech rights of Americans and, in some cases, their relations with the traditional political actors – have long been reluctant to collect intelligence For example, potential domestic terrorists are in the same urgent ways as they do among foreign terrorist groups, said Clinton Watts, a senior scholar at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and a former FBI counter-terrorism campaign.
Although the alleged Christchurch sh otter last week was an Australian and 8chan operated from the Philippines, Watts says the site probably attracts Americans, making it part of one of the agency's legal blind spots to fight domestic terrorism.
"These domestic extremists organize the same way" as foreign Muslim extremists who use websites to inspire bloodshed, radiate believers and even plan assaults, he said. However, there was an important difference in the political and legal dynamics, but: "Domestic terrorists vote. Foreign terrorists do not."
It is unclear how close law enforcement is to investigating places like 8chan already. The FBI said in a statement that while "individuals are often radicalized by looking at propaganda on social media and in some cases deciding to carry out acts of violence … the FBI only examines issues where there is a potential threat to national security or a possible violation of federal law. "
Any move to knock down websites hosted by the host conversation, no matter how fierce, will confront the constitutional protection of free speech and the conviction of many experts who suppress speech in a part of the Internet, will only put its growth elsewhere online .
There is an ever-increasing number of technological opportunities to evade government censors, hide identities, decay places, and send identical copies of unfavorable content, making any attempt to crack down on perceived abuse that scares the authorities, if not impossible. 19659029] The spread of the shooting videos last week was a classic example: Even Facebook and YouTube were over-matched by human users, partially organized at 8chan and were unable to block images of mass murder for days. Both companies subsequently said they were struggling to control the disruption of uploads during the hours of the attack, but took steps to prevent a recurrence.
"When you shut things down of that kind, another jumps," said Jonathan Albright, research director at Columbia University's Tow Center for Digital Journalism. "What we've seen at 8chan is right on the surface."
However, there is less disagreement that New Zealand's shootings – two deadly attacks on mosques, including a live stream on Facebook – fit classic definitions of terrorism, meaning the Action was intended to inspire public fear and spread an ideology. The platforms that helped spread videos of the killings, such as 8chan, played a role in the action that went beyond mere free speech exchanges as commonly understood, experts in online extremism said.
Facebook's former security chief, Alex Stamos, said that the alleged gunman's tactics mimicked them in the Islamic state: commits to displaying a mass of attention-demanding violence and then strengthening and shaping this attention through technological means.
"For all his hatred of Muslims, he copies a Muslim superior organization," said stamos. "There is a sad irony there."
Stamos is cautious of government tactics censoring: He has long argued that any power you give to liberal Western democracies will be used by non-liberal autoriters to block legitimate speech. But he favors more aggressive law enforcement monitoring of any site where terrorist acts are planned.
For years, the FBI and other US authorities have infiltrated the Internet sites of foreign terrorist organizations, as designated by the State Department, experts in political extremism said. This has included active monitoring of chats on jihadi themes by using fake personas to engage potential terrorists in direct conversation and, in the most severe cases, take action when violent plans appeared to be formed.
"Thanks to corporate efforts and law enforcement, potential ISIS supporters came to the point where they couldn't trust anyone they met online," Stamos said. "They stripped the hobbyists and left only real supporters in some of these online groups."
An anonymous audience for hate
The anonymity of 8chan is the most critical feature – there are no profiles or record stories for users who call themselves "anons", making it difficult to know how many people visit the site, who they are, and whether their messages are legitimate threats or just inflammatory posts intended to shock.
The site portrays itself as a trace of free speech and says it only deletes posts that clearly violate US law, such as those containing copyrighted material or child pornography. The most active forum, the "politically incorrect" board "/ pol /", has more than 12 million posts and runs violently with images of disturbing violence, white supremacist memes and far right hate speech. Brennan estimates that more than 100,000 people visit the site every week.
8chan lists an administrator – Ron Watkins, son of NT Technology owner Jim Watkins – and about a dozen programmers and "global volunteers." Brennan said Jim Watkins owns other internet businesses and has built a technical fortress to protect 8chan against possible takedowns: He owns almost all components that secure the site to the backbone of the web, including its servers scattered around the world.
"You can send a complaint, but no one will do anything. He owns the whole operation," said Brennan. "That's how he keeps people confused and guesses."
Watkins did not respond to repeated requests for comments.
The site's only revenue comes from a small group of donors and advertisers whom Brennan estimates pay about $ 100 a month, which he said is not enough to cover the area's expenses. But Watkins is happy to lose money, said Brennan, because he sees it as a pet project: "8chan is like a boat to Jim. It doesn't matter if it makes money. He just enjoys using it."
has become increasingly fanatical, says Brennan, as the users of early trolls and internet libertarians have ceded the land to the "committed Nazis" who now dominate the place. In previous mass shootings, he said that the board often ran anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that painted the attacks as false. Christchurch shooting marked the first moment Brennan said most users portrayed an attack as pride and a step toward their goal of a global race.
Posters have pushed each other to flood the New Zealand police email inbox with pictures of gore and pornography, for widespread propaganda writing, and to spray-paint a neo-Nazi symbol of "Muslim" schools and businesses. Many glorified the slider as a "hero" and said they would hang posters around their neighborhoods in a meme showing the slider with his rifle and manifest in a messianic bag, a halo of sun around his helmet camera. "This guy is the only person I have ever really admired / looked up to in my life," wrote a poster.
Posters this week shared the names and addresses of religious centers, they said they intended to target tips for future shooters on how to improve their videos for more "amazing kill shot" [and] details, how many of us are salivating for. "Links and memes of gunman's video and manifesto could be found almost everywhere, as well as threats and eager calls for more violence." Invaders, a poster wrote, had 90 days to leave the United States and other countries or "be executed on the spot . "
Some 8chan posters suggested even more private gatherings online. When a poster saying he was a white nationalist," strongly inspired "by the killings, asked where the board's plans were to" accelerate "the gunman's plan, another poster that "we are not discussing this" but on a web site on dark web availability became only to those who "prove themselves."
Brennan said 8chan is only the most visible corner of a large network of Private organized sites, such as shelter and fuel extremist thought, and while he believes that 8chan and sites like it should enforce stricter moderation for violent messages, he also worries about a broad shift towards censorship that could push email people into the digital shadows: sites on the dark web, secret chat rooms and decentralized file sharing networks that are even harder to monitor and close.
Brennan expects there will be another recording due to 8chan, and he said he hasn't seen anything from leaders there to suggest they would start to crack down on brutality. Some of the people expected to moderate the site, he said, subscribing to extreme beliefs themselves. "It's like having lunatics drive asylum," he said.
& # 39; An Extraordinary Answer & # 39;
Persistent extremism on 8chan reveals what experts say has become an existential crisis for the network: how to get freedom to digital connect together the most gloomy and dangerous views, often anonymously and without consequence.
It also highlights how even the greatest improvements from tech giants like Facebook and YouTube, which in recent days have completed hundreds of accounts "created to promote or glorify the shooter," will do little to limit false speech on one global stage.
The anonymity of the sites can have the effects of reality. Public school campuses in Charlottesville closed for two days this week following threats of "ethnic cleansing" at a high school that flooded Wednesday at 4chan.
Internet service providers in Australia and New Zealand, which temporarily blocked access to 8chan, 4chan and Other forum and video sites hosting the recordings, showed a potential technical means. Telstra, Australia's largest telecommunications company, said it was acting on a request from the New Zealand government saying sharing the content is a criminal offense. Nikos Katinakis, a top Telstra director, said that while some sites have removed the content and seen their blocks lifted, 8chan remains blocked. "Extraordinary circumstances … demanded an extraordinary response," he said in a statement.
8chan, however, is shielded in another way: the US web service giant Cloudflare, which helps websites protect against "distributed denial of service" or DDoS attacks that online vigilante groups have used to target 8chan in the past.
Cloudflare says it helps 8chan and other sites, regardless of content, as long as they do not violate US law, and that the company adheres to legal orders, law enforcement, and prohibits terrorist propaganda networks and other groups on official sanctions lists. Cloudflare would not discuss specific business or financial details of its relationship with 8chan.
After the Charlottesville robbers, Cloudflare ceased to work with the neo-Nazi site Daily Stormer, a ban that led Cloudflare chief Matthew Prince to later ask if he had set a dangerous political precedent.
Alix Starzak, Cloudflare's Chief of Police, said the police's role should be left to the companies, governments or content members. She questioned the free-speech branches to revoke services from websites that host content that the company disagrees with. "It will still be on the Internet," she said. "They may be more open to a DDoS attack, but is that the goal? A vigilant attack?"
Alice Crites and Devlin Barrett contributed to this report.