Shutting Down 8chan

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Shutting Down 8chan

transcript

transcript

Shutting Down 8chan

Hosted by Michael Barbaro, produced by Jessica Cheung, Clare Toeniskoetter and Luke Vander Ploeg, and edited by Lisa Tobin and M. J. Davis

Several mass shootings this year have been announced in advance on the internet message board. Now, the founder says he wants the site taken offline.

michael barbaro
From The New York Times, I’m Michael Barbaro. This is “The Daily.” Today: For the third time this year, a mass shooter has posted his manifesto on 8chan. The battle over whether to shut the site down. It’s Tuesday, August 6.
archived recording 1
The Christchurch shooter’s specific part of the internet that he came from was a message board called 8chan and specifically a chunk of 8chan called /pol.
archived recording 2
The suspected gunman in Poway posted praise for 8chan just before the shooting, saying, I’ve only been lurking for a year and a half, yet what I’ve learned here is priceless. It’s been an honor.
archived recording 3
We’re back with the breaking news, a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, at the Cielo Vista Mall.
archived recording 4
Minutes before the shooting in El Paso, Texas, the suspect posted his racist, anti-immigrant manifesto to the online message board 8chan.
archived recording 5
The suspect there posted a manifesto on the website 8chan moments before the shooting.
archived recording 6
He posted that hate was his motive on 8chan.
archived recording 7
8chan claims they deleted the post 9 minutes after it was published, but other calls to violence remain.
michael barbaro
Kevin Roose, it feels noteworthy that we now routinely turn to our technology columnist, you, after every mass shooting, but tell me where your head went after the news broke this weekend of this shooting in Texas.
kevin roose
I immediately thought about Fredrick Brennan. He’s the founder of 8chan, and he was sort of a vocal defender of this community for a long time, and then recently has been expressing some real misgivings about it, and he was explicitly calling for the site to be shut down. So I wanted to talk to him about that, so I looked him up. I got in touch. He agreed to talk. He would Skype with me from his home in the Philippines. So after getting up on Sunday morning, I went to my computer and I called him on Skype.
kevin roose
Hey, sorry about the delay on that.
fredrick brennan
Yeah, no problem.
kevin roose
How are you?
fredrick brennan
I’m good. I can only talk for, like, 20 minutes, so you should put your important questions first. Just saying.
kevin roose
That’s fine.
michael barbaro
Kevin, he seemed very happy to hear from you.
kevin roose
Yeah. This was probably not the best part of the day.
fredrick brennan
You know, it’s just really annoying to keep — and look, it’s like, people’s lives were affected in ways that are much more serious than how my life is affected by it when this happens again and again and again. But at the same time, it’s like, every single time one of these shootings happens and there is an 8chan connection, I’m always just dragged into it, and I know.
kevin roose
I got the sense that one of the reasons that he is calling for 8chan to be taken down is that it would make his life a lot easier. He wouldn’t have to be involved in explaining 8chan every time there’s a mass shooting that involves the site. He wouldn’t have to field calls from the media. He could kind of move on with his life and not have this part of his past come up every time it’s implicated in one of these mass shootings.
fredrick brennan
You know, as soon as this happened and I saw the original articles that said maybe the shooter posted on 4chan or 8chan — it wasn’t clear in the beginning. Well, I just very quickly just opened up a few sites, and I was very easily able to determine that it was legitimate.
kevin roose
He said that he always has kind of the same routine whenever there’s a mass shooting. He sort of has to go research whether there is an 8chan connection.
fredrick brennan
And I probably would have done that much faster, but just due to time zones — it was a Sunday, so I was at church instead of doing that research, and I decided that was more important than staying here and dealing with it right away.
kevin roose
He told me that he got up, saw this news, and sort of instead of going through his normal routine of doing all of his research to figure out whether there was an 8chan connection, he went to church. He sounded like a lot of us. He understands that there’s a pattern now.
kevin roose
At the same time, do you feel a sense of frustration with Jim that he won’t take down the site?
fredrick brennan
Yes. Yes. I really do.
michael barbaro
Kevin, who is Jim?
kevin roose
Jim is Jim Watkins, who’s the current owner of 8chan, and he’s the guy who, if he wanted to, could take the site down.
michael barbaro
Could do what Fredrick wants?
kevin roose
Exactly, but he doesn’t want to.
fredrick brennan
And I just don’t — I’ve tried to understand so many times why he keeps it going, and I just don’t get it. Two days ago —
michael barbaro
And what’s the story of these two guys?
kevin roose
So the story of 8chan goes back to 2013, and explaining it well sort of requires explaining this whole kind of internet underbelly, so just bear with me. There’s going to be some weird stuff here. So Fredrick Brennan was sort of a known figure in this kind of internet underworld. He was a longtime user of 4chan, the sort of bigger, older, more established site. He was briefly the administrator of a message board for adult male virgins, which he then had to resign, he said, because he was no longer a virgin. He was involved in a lot of other sort of internet communities. And then in 2013, he said that he was high on psychedelic mushrooms, and he got an idea for a website called Infinitechan. And Infinitechan, he thought, would be sort of like the ultimate free speech, anything-goes version of 4chan. It would be 4chan with even fewer guardrails, and it would be a site that would allow anyone to kind of not only go to this free speech utopia but to create their own versions of it. There would kind of be any number of anonymous, free-for-all message boards. And he called it Infinitechan. He uses the infinity symbol, which is sort of the sideways eight.
michael barbaro
Thus 8chan.
kevin roose
Hard to type that, so people just start calling it 8chan. So the site is not all that popular at first. It’s pretty small. Nobody really knows about it. And then in 2014, 8chan kind of gets a lucky break, because a bunch of guys sort of affiliated with a movement called GamerGate, which was a kind of reactionary movement of gamers who were upset about sort of social justice warriors destroying video games, who had gotten kicked off of 4chan — they needed a new place to go where there were fewer rules, where they could post whatever they wanted, where they wouldn’t be censored or moderated in any way, and so they found 8chan. 8chan became kind of the unofficial home of GamerGate.
michael barbaro
It sounds like, from the very beginning, 8chan is a home to kind of those who nobody else wants to house, the worst of the worst.
kevin roose
Exactly. 8chan becomes kind of like the quarantine zone of the internet. 8chan has sort of hosted the largest group of QAnon supporters. Incels, various other sort of internet communities that aren’t really allowed or encouraged to congregate on other sites, they often set up shop on 8chan. It’s kind of the platform of last resort.
michael barbaro
So how does Jim Watkins come into this picture?
kevin roose
So Jim Watkins is a 50-something Army veteran who has been living in the Philippines for a number of years. He’s kind of a libertarian, free speech, absolutist guy. And he finds out about 8chan from his son, and it sort of strikes him as an interesting project. And he contacts Fredrick and basically offers to get involved. So Jim has been sort of around technology for a while. His big, successful project before 8chan was that he ran an Asian porn site. He made some money from that and then formed a technology company. So he had a couple things that Fredrick needed. He had money, he had some tech expertise, and he was willing to get involved.
michael barbaro
So at this point, the two key figures in this site already designed to be a free speech haven are an internet troll who didn’t think the last site he was on was free enough and the founder of a porn site.
kevin roose
Correct. In 2014, Fredrick decides to actually move to the Philippines to work with Jim on 8chan. So he leaves New York. He moves to the Philippines, and they start working together on building 8chan into something bigger and better.
michael barbaro
We’ll be right back. So where do things go wrong in this partnership?
kevin roose
So I’m not exactly sure what happened between Fredrick and Jim, but at some point there was a rift. They had disagreements. They sort of had a falling out, and last year they formally split. Fredrick left Jim’s company, no longer has anything to do with 8chan. And that sort of coincides with the rise of these mass shootings. And so Fredrick then starts this kind of public campaign against Jim and 8chan, and he becomes one of the most vocal critics of the site and of its ownership. And he moved to the Philippines to work with Jim, but he’s stayed there. He never moved back. So he still lives in the Philippines, actually quite close to Jim. And they’re not really speaking, but he’s now become this kind of prominent thorn in Jim’s side as he tries to run 8chan.
fredrick brennan
It’s funny, because on my way to church, I pass by where he lives. So it’s always when I pass by there, it’s like, ugh, because I have a very — let’s just say it’s a very noticeable car. It’s a very unique color, because I had it colored that way. Yeah, it’s just very unique. So I know that they have probably noticed me driving by before, because there’s many people in that household. He has a driver. He has a maid. He has a wife. He has kids. So there’s probably at any one time somebody looking out the window and seeing my car.
kevin roose
And so he thinks someone is probably seeing him drive past. It’s probably kind of a visual reminder to Jim that Fredrick is there in pretty close proximity, giving him a hard time about 8chan.
fredrick brennan
And another thing about it is they still have that stupid saying on the front of the site, “embrace infamy.” It’s like they think this is funny. I never had that on there, and you can check the archives to see that that’s true. That “embrace infamy” thing is their thing. And after Christchurch, after the Tree of Life shooting, and now after this shooting, it’s still there. It’s like they think that this is all really funny. Oh, we’re infamous. We’re, you know — I don’t know. Sorry. I’m just very frustrated.
michael barbaro
So it sounds like there is more to his desire to get this site shut down than his frustration with the attention that comes to him after these shootings or his grievances with Jim Watkins, that he is genuinely troubled and upset by what’s happening on the site.
kevin roose
Yeah, I think he really is disturbed by what has been happening on 8chan.
kevin roose
Do you agree with people who say that it’s become sort of a haven for terrorist incitement?
fredrick brennan
Certain boards, yes. Yeah.
kevin roose
And specifically on a section of the site that’s about politics called pol.
michael barbaro
P-O-L.
kevin roose
P-O-L.
fredrick brennan
Yeah, pol. The other news boards also, to a degree, but of course pol is the biggest one.
kevin roose
That’s where a lot of these mass shooters have been going, and there is a culture in pol of kind of celebrating these mass shooters while they’re carrying out the mass shootings and afterward. So for example, after the synagogue shooting in California earlier this year, there was a thread on pol that was basically egging this shooter on, and these people were saying they hoped he could beat the high score of the New Zealand shooter, by which they meant killing more people than the New Zealand shooter. I would characterize it as kind of the worst, most vile part of the worst, most vile website.
fredrick brennan
I’m not saying that they caused the shooting, but 8chan is definitely highly implicated in three shootings.
kevin roose
And so I think Fredrick is really disturbed, and he’s not only disturbed that there is this kind of culture of celebrating mass shooters and lionizing them. He’s also disturbed by kind of how 8chan is being used as a kind of archiving service.
fredrick brennan
When potential shooters saw how successful it was to post on 8chan — because in the past, they would post on Facebook only or Twitter only, and the tech companies would suppress it really fast, and there would be no archive, you know what I mean? It would not spread. You would not be able to find it. And that happened a few times, where the manifesto did not become public domain. But when they saw, oh, wow, these 8chan, they’re good with computers. They love shooters. They ripped that livestream from Facebook in minutes. If he had just posted it on Facebook and maybe Reddit, more normal sites, I don’t think anybody would have ripped it. I don’t think that would have gotten out there. Just saying. People say the internet is forever, but it’s kind of not. It’s kind of not among normal people, you know.
michael barbaro
But Kevin, even if Fredrick succeeded in getting Jim to take down 8chan, couldn’t another site fulfill that role he’s describing to you, and wouldn’t another website pop up to fill that role instantly?
kevin roose
We talked about this.
fredrick brennan
I’m not even saying that if 8chan is shut down, that this kind of thing would stop. There’s obviously a problem in American society that shutting down 8chan is not going to fix, because the society gave rise to 8chan. It’ll give rise to something else. I’m not politically ignorant enough to think that, oh, we shut down 8chan. It’s all over. Obviously that’s not true.
kevin roose
But he does think that if Jim took down 8chan, there wouldn’t really be something that popped up to replace it exactly as it is, with the same kind of culture of tolerating and celebrating violence, with the same unmoderated structure.
fredrick brennan
It wouldn’t necessarily, totally stop these kind of things from happening, but it wouldn’t happen every few months. It would be more rare. I just feel like it would really slow things down if there wasn’t a big clearnet site that you can just open a browser and type a few numbers and letters and get there.
kevin roose
The internet is sort of divided into the clearnet and the dark web. So the clearnet is sites that you and I visit. It’s — anything that you can get to in a normal web browser with a normal internet connection is considered to be part of the clearnet. The dark web is a different set of websites that you need special tools to access, including a browser called Tor.
fredrick brennan
I feel like if it was pushed into Tor, it would be harder for people to get to these chan sites.
kevin roose
That would make it much harder to access for the casual person who doesn’t want to go through a whole lot of steps to get there.
fredrick brennan
Teenagers would have to learn a bunch of computer stuff, learn about Tor, learn about networking to be able to access these kind of sites.
kevin roose
That it would kind of put more friction into the process of discovering these sort of violent extremist communities.
fredrick brennan
This wouldn’t happen as often. So yeah, maybe my reasons are partially selfish, and obviously

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