Cloudflare’s CEO Matthew Prince has announced that his company will no longer be providing service to the online imageboard 8chan because of the recent El Paso shooter’s alleged actions on the site and other previous incidents.
The decision comes after an original statement from Prince that was published earlier today suggested that Cloudflare would continue providing service to 8chan because it allows the company to flag illegal content to law enforcement. With Cloudflare's decision to end service for 8chan, this will no longer be possible.
In a statement posted to the Cloudflare blog, Prince suggested that the El Paso shooter had been inspired by 8chan and posted a manifesto to the site before beginning his attack. He cited this and previous incidents involving the Christchurch shooter and the Poway synagogue shooter as examples of how “8chan has repeatedly proven itself to be a cesspool of hate.”
Prince gave the following reasoning for dropping 8chan:
“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.”
He went on to say that Cloudflare reluctantly tolerates content it finds reprehensible but that the company draws the line when it believes platforms inspire tragic events or are “lawless by design.”
Cloudflare is a content delivery network and DDoS (Denial of Service) attack preventer, meaning that the suspension of service from the company will now leave the site open to potential DDoS attacks.
Many people, including the original founder of 8chan Fredrick Brennan, who no longer is associated with the site and has become one of its biggest critics, have celebrated Cloudflare’s decision to suspend service to 8chan.
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. They could have prevented this and chose not to.
— Fredrick Brennan 🔣🇵🇭✝ (@HW_BEAT_THAT) August 5, 2019
However, Prince and others have indicated that there are downsides to this decision. He suggested that making the decision has been tough for the company as they “feel incredibly uncomfortable about playing the role of content arbiter and do not plan to exercise it often,” – something that many other Silicon Valley companies don't think twice about.
Prince added that the company understands that the decision to suspend service wouldn't really fix anything going forward, saying:
“I have little doubt we'll see the same happen with 8chan. While removing 8chan from our network takes heat off of us, it does nothing to address why hateful sites fester online. 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.”
Peter R. Neumann, a professor at Kings College London, seconded this notion and said taking 8chan down will not solve the problem.
Prince’s statement also described how Cloudflare keeping potential hate sites in its network allows the company to work with law enforcement and civil society organizations and notify law enforcement about indicators of potential violence.
Additionally, NBC News Justice Correspondent Pete Williams reported that some authorities became aware that the El Paso shooter was planning the attack before the shooting took place because of the post on 8chan.
Williams: "There is a real commonality here. The internet has speeded up the ability by which these people inspire each other." pic.twitter.com/ImCrFd1BPs
— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) August 4, 2019
In this instance, authorities were unable to use this information to prevent the shooting but the statements from Cloudflare and Williams show how information from 8chan allows law enforcement to investigate crimes more effectively and potentially prevent future mass shootings.
Last year, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) warned about the dangers of excessive online content moderation in the wake of the New Zealand mass shooting. The EFF expressed concerns that increased moderation of content on the internet would make it more difficult to showcase and gather evidence of crimes and could ultimately cause platforms to “over-censor.”