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After three mass shootings where perpetrators used the anarchic message board 8chan to post their manifestos, media figures and anguished family members alike spent months asking why, exactly, the place still existed. Then it suddenly didn’t.
In early August, web security company Cloudflare stopped protecting the board, and 8chan was immediately swamped with denial of service attacks that crashed it.
At first, 8chan found a new home with another security site, Bitmitigate. But in a long and complex chain of events, the new web service company turned out to be renting servers from a different infrastructure firm, Voxility, which wanted nothing to do with 8chan. They kicked Bitmitigate off its equipment, deplatforming not only 8chan, but also the neo-Nazi forum The Daily Stormer, which shared the same server.
It looked like 8chan would jump from host to host, like an unwelcome guest crashing on an endless series of digital couches. But that didn’t happen. The last real attempt until earlier this month was some 8chan users trying to revive it through peer-to-peer sharing, only for it to fall apart when users began getting swamped with malware.
But site owner Jim Watkins and his chief administrator (and son) Ron Watkins are still trying. Despite seemingly constant promises that the site would be back “soon” or “in a few days,” once various security or infrastructure issues were dealt with (mid-September was one date Jim Watkins himself gave that came and went), 8chan hasn’t come back.
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. Beta testing of infrastructure in progress - verifying and confirming that all systems are functioning as expected.— Ron (@CodeMonkeyZ) October 6, 2019
The site recently rebranded itself as “8kun” a play on Japanese honorifics denoting that 8chan has grown up, and isn’t the cesspool it used to be. But so far, multiple attempts to get the board back up as anything other than a test version have failed— and original 8chan creator Fredrick Brennan couldn’t be happier.
Brennan created 8chan in 2013 as a free-speech alternative to what he saw was increasing censorship and moderation on other boards, but sold the site to Watkins in 2016. Since then, he has not only called for it to be shut down, but has actively tried to keep Watkins from bringing it back.
Less than a day after Ron Watkins announced data migration from the old 8chan to the new 8kun was about to start, 8kun lost the new security provider it had found, the British firm Zare—thanks to Brennan’s intervention.
“Suffice to say, today’s victory brings 8kun one step closer to total annihilation,” Brennan told the Daily Dot.
But why is 8chan having so much trouble finding a new home? Can’t it just relaunch anywhere? It’s just a message board, and there are countless examples of those, for every niche and hobby you can imagine.
And what of the mysterious QAnon, the supposed Trump administration insider that’s cooked up a vast conspiracy theory about the upcoming purge of the deep state? Why can’t Q just post somewhere else, like 4chan, where the first Q posts originated?
“I know people in the press and public have been baffled by this,” Brennan said of the technical complexity behind 8chan’s demise and potential rebirth. It comes down to both 8chan’s reputation as one of the worst places on the internet, and the difficulty in independently getting a website up and running safely without a major service provider.
8chan wasn’t one board, but the home of hundreds of user-created message boards all hosted on the same site. Some were extremely active, others had little or no activity. The notoriously racist discussion board /pol/ was the most active, and another heavily-trafficked one was /qresearch/, the one and only home of QAnon.
Q was able to have others recognize them as Q because the board provided a unique tripcode that can’t be used anywhere else— and Q followers have been conditioned to believe that Q will only post on 8chan. Hence why Q doesn’t just return on something like Twitter or Telegram. The avatar can’t post anywhere else and confirm their identity.
Brennan believes that the more service providers he can turn against hosting 8chan/8kun, the less likely it is for the site to return.
Being kicked off Zare “won’t kill 8kun by itself, but the more [internet service providers] I get to say ‘no thanks’ to 8kun, the more they’ll have to rely on expensive ‘bulletproof’ providers who charge more to cover [the] costs of police raids and high powered attorneys,” he explained.
Still, isn’t someone going to see profit in the notoriety of 8chan? It was a hugely popular site that drew tens of thousands of unique views every day—and outsized media attention to go with them. Even now, QAnon acolytes hold their breath in anticipation of 8chan’s return, hanging on every update, timetable, or bit of technical jargon.
The #StreisandEffect has been building like Old Faithful in anticipation for 8chan's next generation return. Expect a surge in traffic to #8kun beyond what was seen before as the cork is let out if the bottle of the #GreatAwakening and Q drops by to tell us what we missed.— Joe M (@StormIsUponUs) October 16, 2019
Even the noxious neo-Nazi hub The Daily Stormer managed to find a new host after being dumped by Cloudflare, so why not 8chan? Brennan sees them as related, but not the same.
“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.”
Beyond that, The Daily Stormer was a publication, not a message board. It’s much easier to revive something like a blog than an image board, which “thrives on instant updates and threads looking the same for everyone.”
Because few companies own the servers that could host a site, the security software to protect it, and the infrastructure to get it out to the world, Watkins has to deal with multiple firms to get 8kun off the ground. And any of them can pull its support at any time, crashing the entire enterprise. This is the key to what Brennan is doing.
“Jim is finding it harder to line up support and my action is increasingly isolating him,” Brennan said. “I got Zare to drop him, the next domino will probably be OVH,” the company that owns the servers 8kun was set to use.
8Chan Returns As 8Kun https://t.co/kvdYSbDAff— X22 Report (@X22Report) October 17, 2019
“Remember that these ‘free speech’ content delivery networks [like former 8chan host Cloudflare] are all relying on network providers upstream. They don’t own the lines. Jim won’t be able to afford multiple connections right to the internet backbone,” Brennan explained.
And Brennan believes that once other companies shun 8kun, all that will be left are “shady Russian and Eastern European ISPs which may not even want to work with him and which will charge exorbitant rates.”
Referring to the publicly available parts of the internet that most of us use, Brennan says “the clearnet is really not as lawless as people think.”
So does Brennan think 8kun will eventually come online? He’s not sure, but he believes he’s delayed it for at least a week or more. Meanwhile, 8chan’s current owners continue to tease that the site is about to return, with Jim Watkins recording a short video encouraging followers to “hang together,” while Ron Watkins tweets potential logos and detailed updates about events that may or may not be happening.
The fight is happening to this very day.
On Oct. 17, Brennan discovered Watkins was attempting to use cloud computing infrastructure owned by Chinese e-commerce giants Alibaba and Tencent. He responded by sending an open letter to both companies, asking them not to allow something as toxic as 8kun on their servers, citing the Watkins’ “desperation” to find a new host. They haven’t responded as of press time.
As of now, 8kun’s status continues to hang by a thread.
Update 2:56pm CT, Oct. 23: In a statement to the Daily Dot, Tencent said they would not work with the rebooted 8kun and have removed the site from its servers.
“We noticed recent reports about 8kun and discovered that 8kun resolved one of its domains to a virtual machine on Tencent Cloud. We have shut down the IP address, after discovering violations to our terms of service. These violations include, but are not limited to, the posting or transmission of content that is hateful, harassing, abusive, racially or ethnically offensive and harms or exploits any person.”
Mike Rothschild is a writer who specializes in researching and debunking conspiracy theories and fringe beliefs. He also writes about politics, history, and breaking news.