It wasn’t the first time a white terrorist had committed a massacre, nor the first time the terrorist had posted their intentions on 8chan, but Cloudflare has decided they’ve had enough and announced Monday they were terminating 8chan as a customer. As a result 8chan disappeared overnight Sunday with the New York Times reports the site went dark about 03:00 Eastern time after Cloudflare’s services were withdrawn around midnight and at the time of writing was still down.
The move follows the El Paso massacre by a white terrorist who used 8chan to post his hate-filled racist manifesto, as did other white terrorists who committed massacres at mosques in New Zealand and a San Diego-area synagogue.
Even 8chan’s founder is calling for it to be shut down.
“Shut the site down,” Frederick Brennan said in an interview with the New York Times. “It’s not doing the world any good. It’s a complete negative to everybody except the users that are there. And you know what? It’s a negative to them, too. They just don’t realize it.”
Brennan claims “he got the idea for 8chan while on psychedelic mushrooms, set out to create what he called a free speech alternative to 4chan, a better-known online message board. He was upset that 4chan had become too restrictive, and he envisioned a site where any legal speech would be welcome, no matter how toxic.”
In a post on their blog outlining Cloudflare’s reasoning for terminating Cloudflare as a customer, CEO Matthew Prince wrote:
“8chan is among the more than 19 million Internet properties that use Cloudflare’s service. We just sent notice that we are terminating 8chan as a customer effective at midnight tonight Pacific Time. The rationale is simple: they have proven themselves to be lawless and that lawlessness has caused multiple tragic deaths. 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.”
“We do not take this decision lightly. Cloudflare is a network provider. In pursuit of our goal of helping build a better internet, we’ve considered it important to provide our security services broadly to make sure as many users as possible are secure, and thereby making cyberattacks less attractive — regardless of the content of those websites. Many of our customers run platforms of their own on top of our network. If our policies are more conservative than theirs it effectively undercuts their ability to run their services and set their own policies. 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. It will therefore no longer be allowed to use our services.
It’s the second time Cloudflare have terminated services to a company linked with white supremacists and terrorists. In 2017 Cloudflare kicked “another disgusting site off Cloudflare’s network: the Daily Stormer. That caused a brief interruption in the site’s operations but they quickly came back online using a Cloudflare competitor. That competitor at the time promoted as a feature the fact that they didn’t respond to legal process. 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.”
“I have little doubt we’ll see the same happen with 8chan. While removing 8chan from our network takes heat off of us, it does nothing to address why hateful sites fester online. It does nothing to address why mass shootings occur. It does nothing to address why portions of the population feel so disenchanted they turn to hate. In taking this action we’ve solved our own problem, but we haven’t solved the Internet’s.
“In the two years since the Daily Stormer what we have done to try and solve the Internet’s deeper problem is engage with law enforcement and civil society organizations to try and find solutions. Among other things, that resulted in us cooperating around monitoring potential hate sites on our network and notifying law enforcement when there was content that contained an indication of potential violence. We will continue to work within the legal process to share information when we can to hopefully prevent horrific acts of violence. We believe this is our responsibility and, given Cloudflare’s scale and reach, we are hopeful we will continue to make progress toward solving the deeper problem.”
Rightly, Cloudflare isn’t comfortable with being a content moderator and deciding what content their customers who use their services should be allowed to publish. It’s not a Frist Amendment issue either, but a rule of law issue.
“First, we are a private company and not bound by the First Amendment. Second, the vast majority of our customers, and more than 50% of our revenue, comes from outside the United States where the First Amendment and similarly libertarian freedom of speech protections do not apply. The only relevance of the First Amendment in this case and others is that it allows us to choose who we do and do not do business with; it does not obligate us to do business with everyone.”
“Instead our concern has centered around another much more universal idea: the Rule of Law. The Rule of Law requires policies be transparent and consistent. While it has been articulated as a framework for how governments ensure their legitimacy, we have used it as a touchstone when we think about our own policies.”
Prince concludes his post with sympathies for the grieving families and says “unfortunately the action we take today won’t fix hate online. It will almost certainly not even remove 8chan from the Internet. But it is the right thing to do. Hate online is a real issue.”