Almost 72 hours after Cloudflare, a widely used internet services company, booted 8chan, the notorious internet message board has suffered some stumbles but remains online.
Though it has endured intermittent outages and limited functionality, the website has remained up using a variety of technical tweaks. It has alternated its domain name and used its direct, numerical internet protocol address. The website also remains active through its .onion address, which is only accessible on the darknet via the Tor Browser.
The result has been that while 8chan seems to have taken a few blows, it's shown no indication that it will disappear for good. Its experience highlights how while major platforms such as Facebook and Twitter can unilaterally decide to cut off certain users and act to limit the spread of hate speech, it is much harder to wipe something from the internet.
Still, with many companies declining to work with the website — and even going as far as to stop working with companies that work with it, its existence on the internet remains tenuous.
“If you’re 8chan, your options are rapidly dwindling as we speak,” Ron Guilmette, an independent California-based security researcher, said.
The reality of the modern internet means 8chan’s continued operations will be difficult. While there are a labyrinth of companies that offer crucial internet services, websites can struggle to remain online without companies such as Cloudflare, which provide a shield against online attackers.
The website and its owners also face growing pressure off the internet. On Tuesday evening, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security requested that 8chan owner Jim Watkins appear to testify on the site’s “efforts to investigate and mitigate the proliferation of extremist content.”
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There is no evidence that Watkins has answered this request. His son, Ron Watkins, the website’s administrator, did not respond to a request for comment.
Investigators are “reasonably confident” that the suspect in the El Paso shooting, Patrick Crusius, 21, posted an anti-immigrant screed on the website shortly before the shooting. His note referred to the mass killing in Christchurch, New Zealand, in which a white supremacist is accused of gunning down 51 people and posting links to a livestream of the attack on the website.
In a shooting in Poway, California, the gunman also posted “a hate-filled ‘open letter’ on 8chan,'" Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince wrote this week, explaining why the company was ceasing to do business with the website.
“8chan has repeatedly proven itself to a be a cesspool of hate,” Prince wrote.
Previously, Cloudflare, whose founder had expressed near-absolutist views when it came to free speech, once acted as essentially a shield against any online miscreants who would wish 8chan harm. Without Cloudflare, 8chan is now more vulnerable to cyberattacks that use fake traffic in what’s known as a “distributed denial of service” attack, which would make it near-inaccessible for real users.
“What you're really saying is that these people should be more vulnerable to attacks,” said Chris Vickery, director of cyberrisk research at UpGuard, a cybersecurity company. “Nobody is the 800-pound gorilla that Cloudflare is.”
After Cloudflare ceased its relationship with 8chan, another lesser-known internet services company known as BitMitigate stepped in. As a result, Voxility, which was actually providing the bulk of BitMitigate’s underpinning services, has stopped working with BitMitigate.
Since then, no other major internet services company has stepped in to help out 8chan.
But the website still has options. The site could move entirely to being a Tor-hidden site, which would require the use of the Tor browser to access, making access to 8chan slightly more difficult. A security researcher also found that a version of 8chan had shown up on a peer-to-peer network on the darknet. Such distributed systems have been used by terrorist organizations and can be almost impossible to take down.
For his part, Watkins has seemingly disavowed any role the site has played in acting as a platform for inciting violence.
“8chan is an empty piece of paper for writing on!” he said in a YouTube video Tuesday attributed to him.
On the same day, 8chan’s founder, Frederick Brennan, called for the site to be shut down.
“I don't understand why they keep it running: it's not making money, it's a total drain on anybody that has ever come into contact with it,” he said.