8chan, CloudFlare, Web Culture, web hosting, White Supremacist

Inside the fight to keep 8chan offline

Days after one of its members shot and killed 22 people in an El Paso Wal-Mart, the hate-filled imageboard known as 8chan is finding it hard to stay online.

In a 180 degree turn from its , web security provider Cloudflare Sunday to terminate its services with the online community.  The imageboard was back online via a different security service several hours later — until another firm that service relies on gave it the boot.

The El Paso shooter was found to have posted his intent, as well as a racist anti-immigrant manifesto, to 8chan. This year alone, two other white supremacist mass killers, including the Christchurch mosque shooter, had also posted prior warning and distributed their screeds on the site.

8chan’s troubles are also creating problems for other far-right internet denizens. The white supremacist is now part of the same provider as 8chan. And then there’s , which is so unhinged that the FBI is issuing warnings about it. The anonymous propagator of that bizarre conspiracy theory, “Q,” posts on 8chan using a unique “trip code”. Without 8chan, it will be difficult for followers to determine whether any message is from the original Q. 

8chan launched in 2013. But it didn’t take off until the site’s developer Fredrick Brennan offered it as an outlet to GamerGate supporters. Competing imageboard 4chan banned discussion related to the  misogynist harassment campaign from its forums. The site has provided an outlet to violent reactionaries and white supremacists ever since.

Brennan cut ties with 8chan in 2016. Jim Watkins, an American pig farmer and internet entrepreneur living in the Philippines, took over administrative duties. Watkins had previously worked with Brennan to keep 8chan afloat before his departure. (Brennan, who once defended his website during doxxing and child pornography controversies, now calls for his creation to be shut down.)

Watkins runs the site under his company N.T. Technology, alongside his son, developer Ron Watkins. On Sunday and Monday, Ron offered live updates on 8chan’s status and his attempts to get the site back online.

After it was booted from Cloudflare, 8chan went to Bitmitigate — which also offers protection against distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, a common form of internet warfare that can take a site offline. Bitmitigate was acquired earlier this year by domain registrar Epik.

Epik, led by founder and CEO Rob Monster, has welcomed controversial in the past. When the alt-right social network Gab.com was kicked off GoDaddy following the discovery of links to the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, Epik get the site back online.

In a , Monster defended his decision to work with extremist websites. He also claimed that Epik “did not solicit this business” with 8chan.

But 8Chan wasn’t out of the woods yet. Following its move to Bitmitigate, former Facebook security chief pointed out that the Epik-owned company was providing services thanks to hardware rented from infrastructure provider Voxility. 

Once Voxility was made aware of the move, the company quickly to ban Bitmitigate from its service. Voxility’s didn’t just take down 8chan but also other extremist websites that used Epik, including .

None of these companies actually host 8Chan content, which is where things get murky. By providing security, companies like Cloudflare or Bitmitigate show up as the hosting company for the websites using its services. But after Cloudflare disassociated with 8Chan, domain information searches briefly showed that the site’s content was  hosted by N.T. Technology — 8chan’s parent company, owned by Jim Watkins. 

But Watkins doesn’t actually own the physical servers. According to N.T. Technology’s website, its data center is located at an address in San Francisco associated with a company called Digital Realty. 

Mashable spoke with a representative at Digital Realty, who offered the company’s condolences to those impacted by the tragedy. But the company also insists N.T. Technology is not a client.

“Some of our customers are hosting companies, but we have no visibility into the content flowing through their sites,” Digital Realty said in a statement provided to Mashable. “N.T. Technology is not a Digital Realty customer anywhere in our portfolio.”

This means that a company renting space from Digital Realty is likely providing hosting services for N.T. Technology and its network of websites, including 8chan. 

Which to a tech firm also based out of San Francisco called . The company at the same Digital Realty facility listed on N.T. Technology’s website. Plus Ron Watkins himself stated that the company was N.T. Technology’s provider … way back in a

Centauri Communications has not yet responded to inquiry from Mashable.

In addition to the changes in hosting-related services, 8chan’s domain name is no longer listed with its former domain service provider, Tucows. Epik is now also listed as the website’s domain name registrar. Tucows it had “no immediate plans” to take action against the 8ch.net domain. 

The transfer of the domain from Tucows to Epik appears to be a choice made by 8chan’s administrators as a precautionary measure. 

It seems likely 8chan will keep jumping from service provider to service provider until it finds a stable home. As of publishing time, 8chan is offline once again.

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