Internet sites blamed for helping incite racist violence, but there’s no plan to rein them in
White supremacists and neo-Nazis have found a racist’s virtual paradise that authorities believe has now become home to three hate-filled rants by suspected mass shooters.
That place — the open internet forum 8chan — is being blamed for fostering violent white supremacists in the US and other countries.
8chan has not responded to CNN’s inquiries.
The suspect in Saturday’s massacre in El Paso, Texas, put what police called a “manifesto” on 8chan shortly before opening fire at a Walmart in an attack that killed more than 20 people.
The writer said he was inspired in part by another manifesto full of white supremacist language posted on 8chan by a person identifying himself as the man who killed 51 people at two mosques in New Zealand earlier this year. That atrocity was also cited in an 8chan message before a shooting at a synagogue in Poway, California, by someone identifying himself as the suspected gunman.
8chan is part of what Joanna Mendelson, a senior researcher with the Anti-Defamation League, calls the “lion’s den of hate.”
It is not a site on the dark web that required special knowledge to reach. It’s been a public bulletin board on the open internet that’s been co-opted by far-right extremists because of its commitment to allow any form of speech.
Keegan Hankes of the Southern Poverty Law Center told CNN: “8chan is among one of the more influential sites that plays a role in radicalizing young men when it comes to far-right extremism.”
The mass availability of 8chan may now have changed with internet service companies Cloudflare and Voxility removing their technical support for the site on Monday.
One 8chan administrator wrote on Twitter that the site would be back online as soon as possible.
While the hate permitted by 8chan and other public sites like Gab and 4chan is very much out in the open, it’s of limited use to law enforcement officials tasked with stopping attacks.
Firstly, the FBI can’t simply troll through sites looking for threats from white supremacists unless there is an active investigation under current law, explained former FBI agent Josh Campbell, now a CNN law enforcement analyst.
And even if the law was changed to allow agents to dig into Americans’ activities in the way people supporting foreign terrorists can be scrutinized — a possibility that alarms some minority groups and civil libertarians — it may not help.
“There is so much garbage out there on these sites,” Campbell said. “Also, rarely do these shooters telegraph in advance the carnage they are about to cause.”
Requiring moderation of comments and regulation to separate legal free speech from potentially illegal incitement to violence could be one way forward.
But in a recent congressional hearing when Rep. Mike Rogers, a Republican from Alabama, asked intelligence and law enforcement experts from the FBI, Justice Department and DHS for suggestions to tackle hate sites in advance of possible legislation, he was met only by silence.