Cloudflare, a website security firm used by some of the world’s largest companies, announced Sunday night that it would be ending protections and all network services for 8chan, the anonymous online forum where multiple people have posted messages of their violent intent before carrying out mass shootings in the last year.
Cloudflare’s decision to end its relationship with 8chan comes after the site hosted the racist, hate-filled manifesto believed to be from the 21-year-old suspected shooter in Saturday's attack in El Paso, Texas. Twenty-two people were killed and dozens more injured in the shooting.
It also represents a significant U-turn after the company’s general counsel told BuzzFeed News earlier this weekend that ending protections for 8chan would be “very problematic.”
In a blog post, the San Francisco–based company's CEO noted that 8chan was just one of more than 19 million internet properties that employ its services. Cloudfare will no longer serve 8chan as of midnight Pacific time on Sunday. Although the company does not host the site itself, Cloudflare provides security services that help 8chan remain online and accessible.
“The rationale is simple: they have proven themselves to be lawless and that lawlessness has caused multiple tragic deaths,” Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince said in the post. “Even if 8chan may not have violated the letter of the law in refusing to moderate their hate-filled community, they have created an environment that revels in violating its spirit.”
For Cloudflare, the move comes amid increasing pressure on the company in the wake of two mass shootings in less than 24 hours that have rocked the United States. One of those, in El Paso, was the third mass shooting this year in which 8chan played a role.
In March, following the mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, that left 51 dead, Cloudflare continued to work with 8chan even after authorities found the perpetrator was radicalized on the site and distributed his own manifesto through the forum.
Calling 8chan a “cesspool of hate,” Prince cited the tragedies in El Paso and Christchurch, as well as another shooting — involving an 8chan-radicalized individual at a Poway, California, synagogue in April this year — as support for his decision.
“Nearly the same thing happened on 8chan before the terror attack in Christchurch, New Zealand. The El Paso shooter specifically referenced the Christchurch incident and appears to have been inspired by the largely unmoderated discussions on 8chan which glorified the previous massacre,” Prince wrote.
Cloudflare, which is readying for an initial public offering, has faced intense scrutiny in the past for continuing to work with websites that foster hate. In 2017, it made a rare move to discontinue services to neo-Nazi blog the Daily Stormer; Prince noted at the time that the company hoped to never do that to any site again.
In his blog post, Prince cited that incident and noted that the Daily Stormer “is still available and still disgusting” with allegedly more readers than ever.
“I have little doubt we'll see the same happen with 8chan,” Prince said. “While removing 8chan from our network takes heat off of us, it does nothing to address why hateful sites fester online. It does nothing to address why mass shootings occur. It does nothing to address why portions of the population feel so disenchanted they turn to hate. In taking this action we've solved our own problem, but we haven't solved the Internet's.”
Prince, via a Twitter direct message, told BuzzFeed News he was "hopeful the precedent [the company] set won’t open a can of unintended consequences."
Cloudflare’s move comes after the company told multiple outlets that it would not cut off service to 8chan as of Sunday afternoon.
“Scratching an itch in a situation like this is very problematic,” Cloudflare general counsel Doug Kramer told BuzzFeed News before the company reversed its decision. “We would just be taking parts of the internet and opening them up and making them less secure.”
Tucows, a Canadian company that provides domain name registration services to 8chan, told the New York Times as of Sunday evening that it had no plans to disable the site’s online address. The company did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment from BuzzFeed News.
Prince ended his post on Sunday night by asking lawmakers around the world to do more. Making it clear that he didn’t want Cloudflare to have the responsibilities of government, he suggested that there was need for legislation to deal with “lawless platforms” like the Daily Stormer and 8chan.
“In cases like these, where platforms have been designed to be lawless and unmoderated, and where the platforms have demonstrated their ability to cause real harm, the law may need additional remedies,” he said.
Ryan Broderick contributed reporting from New York.