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Taking Down Hate: How Websites Can Disappear from the Internet! 8chan

In the aftermath of the tragic shooting in El Paso, the spotlight shifted to a small, barely moderated forum that became the epicenter of attention: 8chan. The perpetrator had posted a rambling essay on 8chan, laying bare his hate-fueled motives. Unfortunately, this wasn't the first instance of such an incident happening on 8chan. Since its launch in 2013, 8chan has gained notoriety as a breeding ground for hate. Even the site's founder has expressed that the world would be better off without it. Consequently, any company associated with 8chan faces immense pressure to sever ties and kick the site offline.

But how does one take a site off the internet?

Running a website involves a complex web of services. If a site gets blocked or deplatformed at any level, it can become challenging to access or even completely inaccessible. Let's break down the different layers of this web. At the foundation, we have the host, which is the server holding the site's information. To reach the host by typing a link, a registered domain is required. The registration process is handled by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and various registrars. Moving up the stack, we find more specialized services that serve specific roles. For instance, if a site wants to accept credit card payments, it needs a payment processor like Stripe or PayPal. To safeguard against denial-of-service or DDoS attacks, a mitigation service from a company like Cloudflare is essential. Finally, there are major social networks, mobile app stores, and search engines that can amplify a site's reach.

Opponents of sites like 8chan have targeted every layer of this web, and they have achieved some success. Cloudflare, a provider of DDoS protection, terminated its services to 8chan shortly after the shooting, leaving the site vulnerable to attacks. 8chan then moved to another provider called Epik, but Epik faced a roadblock when the company leasing hardware to them, Voxility, banned Epik as soon as it learned about 8chan's association. Subsequently, 8chan effectively vanished from the internet.


However, does this mean a site will remain offline forever?

Probably not. There are numerous internet infrastructure companies specializing in keeping offensive or even illegal sites online, often just beyond the reach of law enforcement. Anonymity networks such as Tor can obscure the hosting location of content or enable sites to bypass the traditional domain name system. Banning a site from the internet indefinitely is usually impractical. A prime example occurred in 2017 when the neo-Nazi blog, Daily Stormer, faced widespread condemnation for its derogatory remarks about the death of anti-racist protester Heather Heyer. GoDaddy, Cloudflare, Google, and other major companies ceased working with Daily Stormer. For a period, the site struggled to find a domain registrar, making it difficult to locate. However, once the controversy subsided, it managed to find a new registrar and resume its operations.

Members of a site can also regroup and form new communities elsewhere. Many of 8chan's users originated from another message board called 4chan, which attempted to moderate some of its toxic elements but inadvertently pushed them toward an even more extreme platform. If 8chan were to be shut down, users could migrate to other forums or establish private chat rooms.


So, what's the purpose of deleting a website?

There are several compelling arguments for pressuring companies to deplatform hate sites. By doing so, it becomes significantly harder for these sites to generate revenue through ads or other means. Additionally, making it more difficult for people to encounter these dark corners of the internet in the first place is a crucial objective. It's important to note that these sites, like 8chan, are not massive platforms like Reddit or Twitter. In reality, 8chan is a relatively small space. As we witnessed earlier this week, revoking services such as DDoS protection can cause a site to go offline, especially during times of increased publicity. While it may not be possible to keep something off the internet permanently, reducing its influence is a significant accomplishment.

However, there is a dark side to deplatforming, as it essentially relies on a handful of private companies and CEOs acting as internet gatekeepers.

Cloudflare, for instance, wields immense power, with nearly 20% of the top 10,000 internet properties relying on its services. Yet, it lacks a comprehensive system of accountability or transparency. In 2017, when Cloudflare terminated services for the Daily Stormer, its CEO, Matthew Prince, made an arbitrary decision to drop the site. Although Cloudflare is a private company entitled to refuse service to anyone, Prince acknowledged his discomfort with making subjective judgments about which sites should remain online. Infrastructure providers like Cloudflare historically attempted to avoid content moderation due to the profound impact their decisions can have on internet freedom of speech. While banning repugnant sites may seem like an obvious choice, these companies face pressure to ban political dissidents worldwide. Repressive governments often employ similar arguments to portray these groups as hateful and dangerous.

Relying solely on a few CEOs to make substantial decisions without oversight or an appeals process is far from ideal. Even Cloudflare recognizes this. When Cloudflare removed 8chan, it called upon governments to establish improved guidelines regarding site takedowns. Many countries have access to 8chan, and if it weren't so easy to carry out mass shootings in America, online hate might not spill over into deadly violence with such frequency. However, in the United States, where Cloudflare operates, there appears to be uncertainty in addressing white nationalist terrorism. Moreover, when Congress has attempted to amend laws to keep objectionable content offline, the results have often been unfavorable. The FOSTA-SESTA bill, intended to combat online trafficking, inadvertently caused web companies to marginalize sex workers or remove adult content altogether.

Crafting policies to tackle hate online and establishing effective enforcement systems may require a considerable amount of time, if it happens at all. Thus, if people wish to keep these sites off the internet, they must exert pressure on companies like Cloudflare, even when these companies would prefer not to make such decisions.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. The topic at hand is incredibly serious and extends well beyond the realms of the internet. Please share this piece with your friends and acquaintances to foster awareness and encourage meaningful discussions on the subject. Together, we can strive for a safer and more inclusive online environment.

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