Cloudflare, the online security provider and web infrastructure company that provides security protections for the anonymous message board 8chan, on which the accused El Paso shooter posted his manifesto minutes before the attack, has pulled its support from 8chan, thus causing the site to, at least temporarily, go dark.
In a blog post, Matthew Prince, CEO of Cloudflare, wrote: “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.”
A San Francisco-based tech company, CloudFlare provided tools to protect clients from cyber attacks, thus enabling sites like 8chan to run smoothly. The decision to cut 8chan as a client comes on the heels of Saturday’s mass shooting at a WalMart in El Paso, Texas, in which a gunman opened fire on a crowd, killing 20 and injuring dozens. Shortly after the attack, it was reported that the alleged shooter had posted a four-page manifesto on the anonymous web forum 8chan, whose /pol/ board has been accused of serving as a radicalizing force for aspiring far-right extremists.
In the manifesto, the shooter claimed that the attack was motivated by the “invasion” of Mexican people into Texas, making references to rhetoric propagated by President Trump referring to immigrants in similar terms. It also explicitly made reference to the March mosque shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, in which another gunman opened fire on a crowd of worshippers, taking 49 lives. The gunman also livestreamed the attack and posted his manifesto on 8chan shortly beforehand.
In addition to the Christchurch shooting, the gunman behind the Poway, California, synagogue shooting in April of this year also posted his own manifesto on 8chan, making similar hateful references to immigration and blaming Jews for the genocide of the white race.
Founded by Frederick Brennan, who has since disavowed his association with the website and called for its shutdown, 8chan has long been considered a bastion of white supremacist and far-right extremist rhetoric, specifically the /pol/ board, which has been a font of anti-Semitic, misogynistic, and racist memes.
Although many activists have called for the shutdown of 8chan, particularly following the Christchurch mosque shooting, Cloudflare had previously been reluctant to do so, arguing that it had no responsibility to police or edit content on the platform. “We really don’t have anything to do with content,” Cloudflare general counsel told CNN as recently as Sunday. “We see bits moving around the internet and we are one of the groups that make sure those bits move safely and securely.”
In the wake of the third shooting this year that has been linked to 8chan, however, Prince has apparently changed his mind, though it remains to be seen whether 8chan will find another host. (When Cloudflare suspended service to the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer in 2017, for example, they were able to go back online within a day using a Cloudflare competitor, according to Prince’s blog post.)
In his blog post, Prince acknowledged this reality. “While removing 8chan from our network takes heat off of us, it does nothing to address why hateful sites fester online,” he wrote. “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 interim, however, many are pleased that the company finally took a stand against 8chan, however fleeting that stand may be. “Thank you so much @CloudFlare. Finally this nightmare might have an end. I just want to go back to making my fonts in peace and not have to worry about getting phone calls from CNN/New York Times every time a mass shooting happens,” Brennan tweeted. “They could have prevented this and chose not to.”