Anonymous message board 8chan, which has become a hotbed for the so-called manifestos of mass shooters and white supremacists, is being forced to create a copy of its message boards to on an obscure, decentralized platform. The move comes after multiple companies booted the site or its providers from their own services, including internet infrastructure firm Cloudflare.
The platform doesn't run on traditional web servers that can be seized or denied to certain customers. Instead, it spreads a site's content across the computers of people who install the related application, similar to the way BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer systems function. Supporters of the Islamic State have also turned to the platform.
Motherboard verified that the decentralized version of 8chan is accessible at the time of writing, though we don't know if it was created by 8chan's admins or users. The number of 'peers'—people who are running the software so others can access 8chan—appeared low, at just over 30 when Motherboard tested.
Over the weekend, a terrorist posted a message to 8chan before murdering 20 people in an El Paso Walmart. In response, Cloudflare, which has provided 8chan distributed-denial-of-service (DDoS) attack mitigation faced renewed criticism for protecting white supremacist websites. Eventually, Cloudflare's CEO Matthew Prince decided to cut off 8chan. That created a cascading flow of other companies severing ties with 8chan, including its domain registrar Tucows, and Voxility, which was providing infrastructure to Epik, an internet infrastructure company favored among the far-right. Voxility's move also interrupted service for white supremacist website The Daily Stormer.
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Now that 8chan has a version on the decentralized platform, it does not have to rely on companies such as Voxility or those offering web hosting. But accessing a site like this is significantly more cumbersome than just visiting a site on the normal web, and it's unclear how many people who visited 8chan will invest the time in needing to find the tools to switch over.
Supporters of the Islamic State have also used the platform in the past.
"Islamic State supporters did try to adopt [this tactic] to disseminate propaganda and cybersecurity advice, but it failed to catch on because the program didn’t align with their needs," Jade Parker, an expert in the online activities of violent non-state actors, told Motherboard, because Islamic State material can often be very large video files.
"8chan, on the other hand, has different needs for the software than Islamic State supporters. Aside from gifs and jpegs, their content may upload and download much more quickly than the case of terrorist propaganda and cybersecurity materials. If so, it will be much less of a hindrance on the continuity of their operations. Whether it will catch on among 8chan users, time will tell," she added.
According to a tweet from an 8chan admin, the site is also trying to improve the service of its Tor hidden service, another type of site extremists sometimes setup after being booted from traditional web companies.
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