‘Free speech’

Fredrick Brennan - 8chan
Fredrick Brennan, creator of imageboard website 8chan, speaks during an interview with AFP in Manila on August 6, 2019. The American creator of the 8chan website linked to deadly US mass shootings said August 6 he hoped the El Paso carnage would be the "final nail in the coffin" for the forum, which he accused of harbouring "domestic terrorists." Fredrick Brennan told AFP in an interview in Manila that he sometimes regretted setting up the unmoderated message board in 2013 -- adding that turning it over to a new owner last year was a mistake. / AFP / TED ALJIBE

MANILA — The owner of the 8chan chat forum has described moves to shut down his website because it hosted hate messages linked to deadly US killings as “sinister” and “cowardly”.

In a video uploaded to Youtube on Tuesday, Philippines-based Jim Watkins said the deadly weekend attacks in the American cities of El Paso and Dayton were a tragedy.

But Watkins insisted 8chan had not broken any laws, and devoted most of his seven-and-a-half-minute video to criticizing the subsequent moves to shut down his forum.

“It is actually sinister behavior. Ours is one of the last independent companies that offer a place you may write down your thoughts free from having to worry about whether they are offensive to one group or another,” Watkins said.

Watkins portrayed efforts against 8chan as part of the “power consolidation” of the internet by a few strong and rich companies in the way of radio and television stations in previous generations.

“It will effectively silence the masses, and leave them with no place to voice their messages,” Watkins said.

8chan, which promotes itself as a site devoted to the “darkest reaches of the internet”, has been home to posts from right-wing extremists, misogynists and conspiracy theorists.

A manifesto denouncing a “Hispanic invasion”, said to have been written by the young white male American suspect in the El Paso attack, was posted on 8chan shortly before he gunned down 22 people and wounded more than 20 others.

8chan was forced offline shortly afterwards when digital infrastructure firm Cloudflare terminated its services to the forum.

In a blog post announcing the move, Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince described 8chan as “a cesspool of hate”.

Watkins said the accusations had caused him “immense damage” and hit back at Prince.

“I wish his company the best and hold no animosity towards him or his cowardly and not-thought-out-actions against 8chan,” Watkins said.

He said 8chan remained offline, after a second upstream provider had also shut off service to another site where the forum had transferred.

But Watkins said he was looking at ways to get 8chan, which he said had a community of one million users, back online.

“It is unfortunate that this place of free speech has temporarily been removed. We are working to restore service,” he said.