– After the horrific shooting in El Paso,
a small barely moderated forum
became the center of attention.
– 8chan.
– After 8chan.
– I mean it was on 8chan.
– A site 8chan.
– The killer posted a
rambling essay on 8chan,
laying out his hate fueled motives.
And it wasn’t the first time
this had happened either.
Since it’s launch in 2013,
8chan has become known
as a place where hate can thrive.
Even it’s founder has
said we’d be better off
if the site just disappeared.
And any company that works with 8chan
is under pressure to kick it offline.
But how do you take a
site off the internet?
Running a website requires
a whole stack of services.
And if it gets blocked, or
deplatformed at any level
it can become either hard to use
or completely inaccessible.
At the bottom of the
stack you’ve got the host.
The server that actually holds
information for the site.
If you wanna reach that
host by typing a link
you need a registered domain
which is handled by an
organization called ICANN
and a series of companies
called registrars.
In the middle, you’ve got other services
that serve more specialized roles.
If a site wants to collect
money with credit cards
for example it needs a payment processor,
like Stripe or PayPal.
If it wants to protect
itself from denial-of-service
or DDoS attacks, it needs
a mitigation service
from a company like Cloudflare.
And on top on all that, there
are big social networks,
mobile app stores and search engines
that can boost the sites reach.
Opponents of sites like 8chan
have targeted every level
of that stack and they’ve
seen some success.
Cloudflare cut off 8chan’s
DDoS protection shortly
after the shooting,
leaving it open to attack.
8chan moved to a competing
provider called Epik
but that provider was
leasing hardware from
a different company called Voxility,
which banned Epik as soon
as it heard about 8chan.
After that, 8chan just
dropped off the internet.
Is it going to stay offline though?
Probably not.
There are all kinds of internet
infrastructure companies
that specialize in keeping offensive
or even illegal sites online.
Sometimes just outside the
reach of law enforcement.
Anonymity networks like Tor can disguise
where content is hosted
or let sites bypass
the traditional domain name system.
There’s usually no way to ban a site
from the internet forever.
One of the clearest examples
of this happened in 2017.
When the neo-Nazi blog, Daily Stormer
was widely condemned for mocking the death
of anti-racist protester, Heather Heyer.
GoDaddy, Cloudflare, Google and others,
all stopped working with the site.
And for a while it couldn’t
find anywhere to register
a domain name, which made
it very hard to find.
But once the controversy died down
it found a new registrar
and resumed operating.
Members of a site can also
just go form a new community.
A lot of 8chan’s members came
from another message board
called 4chan, which had
tried to moderate some
of its most toxic elements and ended up
just sending them somewhere worse.
If 8chan gets shut down, users
can move on to other forums
or launch private chat rooms.
So, what’s the point then?
Well, there are a few major arguments
for pressuring companies
to deplatform hate sites.
It makes it a lot harder
for sites to collect money
or run ads, even if they get traffic.
It can also make it harder
for people to encounter
these dark corners of the
internet in the first place.
These aren’t huge platforms
like Reddit or Twitter.
At the end of the day, 8chan
is a pretty small place.
And as we saw earlier this week,
revoking things like DDoS protection
can knock a site offline
while it’s experiencing
a burst of publicity.
Just because you can’t keep something off
the internet forever,
doesn’t mean you can’t reduce its power.
But there’s also a dark
side to deplatforming
because it basically
involves asking a handful
of private companies or CEOs
to act like internet gatekeepers.
Cloudflare is incredibly powerful.
Almost 20% of the top 10 000
internet properties use it right now.
And it has no real system of
accountability or transparency.
When Cloudflare kicked off
the Daily Stormer in 2017,
Cloudflare’s CEO, Matthew
Prince essentially got mad,
pushed a button and dropped the site.
– I woke up one morning and got sick
of these jerks using our
platform and I flipped a switch
and they were no longer on the internet.
And I’m not sure that that’s a power
that any individual,
especially any individual
that isn’t politically sort of,
has a political legitimacy to them
that any individual should be making.
– Cloudflare is a private company,
and it has every right to ban a customer.
But Prince said that he wasn’t comfortable
making arbitrary decisions
about which sites can stay online.
These lower level
infrastructure businesses
have traditionally tried to
stay out of content moderation.
Because any decisions they make
will have huge ramifications
for freedom of speech on the internet.
And while banning some ugly sites
might seem like an easy call,
these companies also face pressure
to ban political dissidents
across the world.
And repressive governments use
a lot of the same arguments to paint
those groups as hateful and dangerous.
It’s certainly not
ideal to have a few CEOs
making huge decisions with no
oversight or appeals process.
Cloudflare certainly thinks so.
When it kicked out 8chan
it asked governments
to establish better guidelines
for when to pull a site offline.
Lots of countries can access 8chan
and if it weren’t so easy
to carry out mass shootings
in America, online hate might not spill
into deadly violence so often.
But at least in the US,
where Cloudflare operates,
institutions don’t seem sure how
to deal with white nationalist terrorism.
And when Congress has amended the law
to keep bad content offline,
it’s often turned out badly.
Like the FOSTA SESTA bill,
which is meant to stop online trafficking.
But has ended up making
web companies marginalize
sex workers or purge
adult content in general.
Crafting policies to address hate online
and setting up systems to enforce them
could take a long time
if it happens at all.
So if people wanna keep
these sites off the internet
they basically have to pressure
companies like Cloudflare.
Even if the companies don’t
want to be making those calls.
Thank you for watching this
is a very serious topic
that goes far beyond just the internet.
If you wanna help out some
of the communities affected
or fight hate groups please just check out
the links in the
description of this video.