On Friday, a man murdered 49 people in Christchurch, New Zealand. He targeted Muslims at two mosques in the city in what’s been deemed a terrorist attack, one of the most horrific acts of violence the country has ever seen.
Shortly before the attack, in what appeared to be posts from the alleged shooter, links to a Facebook livestream of the killings were shared on 8chan. Social media channels later struggled to remove copies of that stream, while his 74-page “manifesto” also spread from 8chan across the likes of Facebook and Twitter.
Long known as a haven for extremist, right-wing thought, and a wilder version of the already unruly 4Chan, the 8chan forum has courted controversy in the past. In 2015, for instance, users of the fringe site started a campaign to boycott Star Wars because it had black and female leads. In the same year, child pornography appeared on 8chan, leading Google to delist it. Channels that appear to advertise child-abuse material remain live on the site today.
If the New Zealand terrorist really was radicalized on 8chan, and if there’s such a cornucopia of appalling material on the forum, what should be done to counter extremism and illegal activity on the site? Should it be taken down entirely?
Cloudflare: no action on 8chan
One company that’s helped keep the site secure and easily accessible is U.S. internet infrastructure and security provider Cloudflare. Its tech gets websites to run faster and protects them from distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks where Web servers are overwhelmed with traffic. Over the years, Cloudflare has stuck by its policy of allowing anyone to enjoy its services, regardless of how extreme the website. And it has repeatedly been criticized for its “content neutral” approach. In December, it came under fire for protecting websites promoting material for groups deemed terrorist organizations, including al-Shabab and the Taliban.