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8chan is struggling to relaunch as “8kun” in the face of censorship and deplatforming campaign

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8chan is attempting to come back online as a spiritual successor called 8kun after two months of turmoil for the message board site and several weeks after a lawyer for 8chan owner Jim Watkins said that the site would return. The site is fighting against a campaign of censorship from those that don’t want to see the site online. 

On October 6, 8kun admin and son of Jim Watkins, Ron Watkins said, “After a few weeks of building new groundwork to better protect user privacy and security, we are now in the final stretches before getting things back online.” Ron had added further that they were currently beta testing their infrastructure and “verifying and confirming that all systems are functioning as expected.”

On October 9, 8kun operators said: “If you were previously a Board Owner on 8chan, please email us … with your shared secret if you are interested in migrating your board to 8kun.”

The “shared secret” relates to the account-recovery system that was inherent in 8chan and is a randomly generated password given to board owners. If they ever lost control of their board through a hack or a phishing attempt, the board owners could send the password to 8chan to regain their control of the board.

But even though rumors of its return were strong, the site has so far struggled to get off the ground.

8kun flickered online on October 17 for around 20 minutes before being taken offline again when UK provider Zare pulled support. “The problem is, these private companies don’t want to support us,” Watkins said at the time. “This is what happens when you try to support the First Amendment and the freedom of speech in America.”

The founder of 8chan, Fredrick Brennan, left in 2016 but has recently been running a censorship campaign to get 8chan/8kun taken down for good. As well as making several media interviews, Brennan has been consistently tagging various service providers, encouraging them not to work with 8kun, and reveling in the fact that 8kun was being deplatformed.

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In an open letter to Chinese companies Alibaba and Tencent on October 18th, Brennan encouraged the companies not to work with 8kun, saying that “In 2019, three terrorist manifestos were uploaded to 8chan.”

Brennan went as far as reminding service providers that 8chan was one of the few platforms providing a safe free speech haven for Hong Kong protestors that are campaigning for their sovereignty against the oppressive Communist Chinese Government. “8chan also hosted a board supportive of the Hong Kong protesters, and which many Hong Kong people used in their campaign against the Chinese government,” Brennan said in his open letter, as he attempted to appeal to the Chinese companies’ worst nature and their support of the authoritarian Chinese mainland against the pro-liberty protestors in Hong Kong.

“They are now trying to use your network as their host. I hope that you will not allow them to, and will show them the door, as others have,” Brennan continued.

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Brennan followed up, and let his Twitter followers know that the companies would be blocking the 8kun IP address as a response to his censorship campaign.

Today, Fredrick Brennan is publishing more open letters, trying to get Tucows to drop the new 8kun.

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“We’re winning the war but don’t get overconfident, it’s not over until Jim Watkins announces he’s giving up,” Brennan said on October 20th.

But Jim Watkins doesn’t appear fazed. “I’ve got this awful sneaking suspicion more people are going to come to 8kun than ever came to 8chan,” Watkins recently said – but, so far, 8kun’s efforts to find service providers that aren’t intimidated by censorship campaigns seems to be an uphill battle. 

Recently, to The Daily Dot, Brennan suggested why he thinks 8chan shouldn’t come back and that 8chan can’t make a successful free speech argument; because it’s directly related to death. “I would say that 8chan is much more notorious due to all the deaths directly related to it,” Brennan said. “The Daily Stormer was toxic, but nobody died from it. So it was much more able to make the free speech argument to ISPs.” 

While live-streams of terrorist attacks on Facebook (El Paso, Texas, USA) and Twitch, (Halle, Germany) appear to be increasingly common in today’s world, having three terrorists post their manifestos to 8chan has been enough for a media campaign to suggest 8chan is somehow directly responsible for the attacks – the same criticism that isn’t directed towards Facebook or Twitch that actually streamed the terrorist activity live.

On September 5th, 2019, Jim Watkins gave evidence to congressional staffers to comply with a subpoena the House Homeland Security Committee issued after a manifesto from the El Paso mass shooter was posted to the site before the shooting spree on August 3rd.

The heat had been further turned up on 8chan when the site was also wrongly accused by The New York Times of hosting the manifesto of a shooter in Oslo, Norway – something that was impossible at the time as 8chan had remained down for over a week at the time of that shooting.

The New York Times later made a correction, but not before 8chan was already being painted as being a safe haven for mass shooters by news media – despite the fact that, in the aftermath of the Christchurch, New Zealand shooting in March, 8chan removed the shooter’s manifesto even faster than Facebook removed the live-streamed video of the actual shooting that was broadcast and hosted using Facebook Live.

Even weeks after the shooting, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was still criticizing Facebook for not doing more to remove the violent terrorist content from the Facebook platform.

After DDoS protector Cloudflare controversially pulled support for 8chan in the aftermath of the El Paso shooting, a debate ensued about whether infrastructure companies should reject service to websites that were fully complying with the law – such as 8chan.

“My company takes a firm stand with helping law enforcement and within minutes of these two tragedies, we were working with FBI agents to find out what information we could to help in their investigations,” Watkins said, after 8chan became the center of a media storm, with news media outlets praising Cloudflare for dumping 8chan. “Our company has always worked with law enforcement to help them with their investigations. We have never protected illegal speech as it seems that we have been accused by some less-than-credible journalists.”

Even former President Barack Obama weighed in on the debate, saying “law enforcement agencies and internet platforms need to come up with better strategies to reduce the influence of these hate groups.”

After losing Cloudflare, another internet firm, Tucows, which helps companies register their domain names, also pulled its support for 8chan, leaving the site without even functioning web address.

It didn’t take long for 8chan to look for alternatives. The website administrators hurried to find other solutions. They went to Epik, a free speech-supporting infrastructure company that could help the site register its web address again. An Epik subsidiary, BitMitigate also was going to help 8chan mitigate against DDoS attacks.

After 8chan migrated to Epik and BitMitigate, the site had come back online in some regions. But its return was fleeting. Voxility, a company that provides computing services to Epik, was criticized by the news media and other tech executives for helping to keep 8chan on the web, even if indirectly.

In response, Voxility cut its ties with Epik, taking BitMitigate offline in the process — and taking 8chan offline again.

This shows how hard it can be for a website that’s been given a bad reputation to stay in operation – especially when the news media themselves are putting pressure on infrastructure providers.

Jim Watkins had then decided to keep 8chan offline until he had made his case to Congress. But, as of today, it hasn’t been able to get itself back online as service providers seem to buckle.

Defending the First Amendment to Congress, Watkins said he believes that keeping the website offline has censored voices around the world. “It has censored and silenced the voices of those across our country. It has also censored those in other societies where our forum was the only outlet available to express themselves safely,” the 8chan owner said.

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