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A handful of companies that provide crucial internet services have announced they will not work with the anonymous online forum 8chan or other companies that work with it in the wake of a shooting in El Paso, Texas, in which at least 22 people were killed.
Cloudflare, which provides a variety of internet services including protection against common cyberattacks, said Sunday that it planned to cease doing business with 8chan after the alleged gunman in the El Paso attack apparently posted a racist screed to the website.
Cloudflare’s CEO, Matthew Prince, wrote in a blog post that his company was dropping 8chan, which the Anti-Defamation League has tied to the rise of online extremism, after gunmen in Christchurch, New Zealand, and Poway, California, also used the site.
"The rationale is simple: They have proven themselves to be lawless, and that lawlessness has caused multiple tragic deaths," Prince said of the decision. "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.”
The message board suffered intermittent outages on Monday morning after Cloudflare cut its services.
On Monday, Voxility, another internet services company, said it would also cease working with 8chan. Voxility barred 8chan's host, Epik, from its platform, effectively cutting off other hate sites that also use Epik's services.
In El Paso, investigators are “reasonably confident” that the suspect in the shooting, Patrick Crusius, 21, posted the anti-immigrant screed on the site shortly before the shooting. That note referred to the mass killing in Christchurch, in which a white supremacist is accused of gunning down 51 people and posting links to a livestream of the attack on 8chan.
In Poway, a gunman also posted “a hate-filled ‘open letter’ on 8chan,'" Prince said. “8chan has repeatedly proven itself to a be a cesspool of hate.”
Cloudflare provides services like protection against common cyberattacks that can cripple websites, and Prince has described himself as a “free-speech absolutist." The company has cut service only once before — to the neo-Nazi the Daily Stormer after a white supremacist protest in 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
At the time, Prince, called the decision "arbitrary" and "dangerous," and warned of growing calls to censor speech on the internet.
Cloudflare's decision to stop doing business with Daily Stormer did not mark the end of the extremist website. It is still operational thanks in part to Bitmitigate, a Seattle-based company that provides similar services to Cloudflare. Bitmitigate is owned by Epik.
On Monday morning, 8Chan was brought back online through Bitmitigate, according to an 8chan administrator and confirmed by NBC News.
Alex Stamos, a professor at the Stanford Internet Observatory and former chief security officer at Facebook, said Voxility and Cloudflare’s rejection of 8chan will make it “super hard for them to find a content delivery network,” making the site unreliable and much harder to use and maintain.
“It will be slow globally. It’ll be super hard to find, super slow. Connectivity is going to be up and down all the time,” said Stamos, who is also an NBC News contributor.
Stamos added that while 8chan will probably survive, it could have trouble with some basic operations such as email.
“8chan will end up existing, but in some place next to all the spammers and all the nasty stuff," he said. “They’ll be back in one of the spam hosts in Russia and Ukraine that host anything. Some of those hosts, their IP address are blocked by companies for hosting so much spam and malware."
Internet service providers and browsers have blacklisted spam, malware and child pornography hosts for two decades, in part to limit the spread of harmful viruses or overflowing the web with malicious pop-ups and spam.
“Censorship happens all the time on the internet. It’s just different than how we normally talk about," Stamos said. "The internet would not work if there wasn’t a coalition all the time to fight against spam and malware."
Cloudflare's move comes as platforms including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have cracked down on hate speech, citing an interest in protecting their users and fostering healthy discussion.
Cloudflare, however, is a different type of company, providing services that help websites stay online, which put it in a position of power over the internet as a whole rather than just a particular platform. Prince has pointed to Cloudflare's role in the internet ecosystem as a major reason why his company has almost always declined to take action against particular websites.
On Sunday, message threads lionizing the recent mass shooters were eclipsed by 8chan users mourning Cloudflare’s decision.
In threads titled “It’s over,” and “The end,” some users suggested alternative sites alongside racist rants and downplayed the effects of a shutdown.
One offered bleakly: “So just post our manifestos to facebook now?”