Cloudflare co-founder and CEO Matthew Prince
Photo: Getty

Following a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday that left at least 20 people dead and dozens more injured, an anonymous forum at the center of the tragedy, 8chan, is no longer protected by the website security firm Cloudflare. The company’s abandonment of 8chan leaves the online shitbox vulnerable to distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks that could render the site unusable.

As of publication late Monday morning, however, 8chan remains online but has repeatedly gone offline. It is not currently clear whether 8chan has found a replacement for Cloudflare, but it seems likely that the site’s administrators will find an undiscerning alternative soon if they haven’t already.

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Cloudflare co-founder and CEO Matthew Prince announced the decision to ditch 8chan in a tweet on Sunday night along with an accompanying company blog post in which he referred to the imageboard site as a “cesspool of hate.” Cloudflare, which provides DDoS protection and other infrastructure services, previously stopped working with a notorious neo-Nazi website, the Daily Stormer, but it has largely remained neutral concerning the activities of its clients

The suspected El Paso shooter, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius of Allen, Texas, is believed to have posted a racist, anti-immigrant manifesto on 8chan prior to the attack. In that manifesto, the author mentioned the Christchurch, New Zealand, terror attack in March, during which a man livestreamed himself killing 51 people on Facebook after posting about his plans on 8chan. There were also reportedly discussions on the website celebrating the Christchurch killings. The person suspected of killing one woman and injuring three during a shooting at the Poway, California, synagogue shooting in late April also shared a hateful statement about his intentions on 8chan.

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“The rationale is simple: they have proven themselves to be lawless and that lawlessness has caused multiple tragic deaths,” Prince wrote. “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.”

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The decision was a reversal from a statement Prince made to the Guardian on Saturday night—the same night, incidentally, that a gunman killed nine people in Dayton, Ohio. In a phone call, he told the newspaper that he wished he could “wave a magic wand” and make sites like 8chan and the neo-Nazi outlet Daily Stormer disappear, “but I think it would step away from the obligation that we have and cause that community to still exist and be more lawless over time,” he said.

But by Sunday night, Cloudflare told the Guardian it had switched course and decided to terminate business with 8chan at midnight Pacific Time.

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A recent Gizmodo report found that Cloudflare provided services to at least 56 hate groups, as of early July. However, dozens of other companies that provide infrastructure services, such as web hosting, have hate groups as clients and have been far less willing than Cloudflare to distance themselves from these groups or to even address the fact that they count them as customers.

8chan founder Fredrick Brennan thanked Cloudflare for taking action.

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In a New York Times article about 8chan’s connection to mass shootings published Sunday, and in a March interview with the Wall Street Journal following the Christchurch shooting, Brennan expressed regret for creating 8Chan, which he originally envisioned as a free-speech platform. (Brennan has also espoused appalling views. He wrote an article for the Daily Stormer about his support for eugenics because he believed at the time he should not have been born since he has osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease.)

In Prince’s blog about cutting off 8chan, he mentioned Cloudflare’s decision two years ago to cut ties with the Daily Stormer. That site is still online as it has found other companies that have provided similar services. “They are no longer Cloudflare’s problem, but they remain the Internet’s problem,” Prince wrote. “I have little doubt we’ll see the same happen with 8chan.”

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