Homeland Security Chairman Bennie G. Thompson and Ranking Member Mike Rogers have sent a letter to Jim Watkins, the owner of the online imageboard 8chan, requesting that he appear before Congress to answer questions about how the site investigates and mitigates “extremist content”.
The request comes after multiple media reports alleged that the El Paso shooter posted a racist manifesto to 8chan before the shooting. Watkins has disputed these allegations, claiming that the El Paso shooter posted on Instagram, not 8chan, and that a manifesto which was later uploaded to 8chan was not uploaded by the El Paso shooter. Facebook has responded to Watkins’ claims by saying: “We have found nothing that supports this theory.” Facebook further said that the shooter's Instagram account was disabled after the shooting but it hadn't been active in over a year.
The letter from Thompson and Rogers cites various reports alleging that in total three mass shooters have posted racist letters or manifestos to 8chan before mass shootings – the El Paso shooter, the Poway synagogue shooter, and the Christchurch shooter.
“Regrettably, this is at least the third act of white supremacist extremist violence linked to your website this year,” the letter reads. “In April, the killer who murdered one Jewish worshiper and wounded three others at a synagogue in Poway, California, appears to have posted an anti-Semitic and racist open letter on 8chan shortly before carrying out the mass shooting.”
It also references comments made by Cloudflare’s CEO Matthew Prince when he announced that his company would be suspending service to 8chan, comments from 8chan’s former owner Fredrick Brennan, and comments from others that are critical of 8chan. These comments describe 8chan as a “cesspool of hate,” call for it to be shut down, and suggest that it leads to radicalization of its users.
“On August 5, 2019, your network service provider, Cloudflare, called 8chan a “cesspool of hate” before suspending service. Fredrick Brennan, 8chan's founder, called the site “a complete negative to everybody except the users that are there,” and called for 8chan to be shut down.” Experts have described 8chan as a platform for amplifying extremist views, leading to the radicalization of its users.”
In a statement posted earlier today, Watkins spoke of 8chan’s commitment to law enforcement:
“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. 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.”
He also spoke about the importance of the free speech that 8chan provides, saying:
“Ours is one of the last independent companies where you may write down your thoughts, free from having to worry about whether they are offensive to one group or another.”