19 8chan

8chan logo
8chan logo via Wikimedia Commons.

8chan (also known as infinitychan or infinitechan) originated in October 22, 2013 as a response to the supposed “authoritarian” development of the imageboard 4chan according to its developer Frederick Brennen, otherwise known by his online pseudonym “Hotwheels”. 8chan is an imageboard designed to allow for the unabridged free speech of its anonymous users. It has a small user base when compared to social media giants like Facebook, but ranks 3776th in global user visits.  The site requires no registration for its use, and claims to hold no information on its users (a claim doubted by some users), with users being identified only by IP address and a randomly generated numeric code. It is only moderated by the individual board’s owner, allowing difficulty in holding individual rule-breakers accountable outside of removing their rule-breaking posts & banning their IP addresses.

There is one guiding rule for the entirety of the site: “Do not post, request, or link to any content that is illegal in the United States of America and do not create boards with the purpose of posting or spreading such content.” The site accepts advertisement, allowing for threads’ placement at the top of board pages with payment. Despite these routes, the site is bankrolled by the owner of the site, Jim Watkins. Watkins got his start in the online pornography business in the early days of the internet, and owns NT Technology, a server hosting business which he used to repossess the domain of 2chan. The website has yet to make profit, instead surviving due to Watkins’ patronage, for better or worse. 8chan has had some of its largest struggles with policing its own community; many cases of legal offenses and even some terroristic events have occurred.

Media Spotlight

While 8chan itself is far from a ‘news site’ in any classic definition of the phrase, it certainly does its fair share to earn itself a name in the news. Its continual gain in attraction to nefarious counter-culture groups like the Alt-right, the site even hosts a board which provides a space for pedophiles to create dialogue, some users even sharing links to child pornography images or sites. The track record is not good, and appears as though the site is making no genuine efforts to correct the actions that have been made clear to them. Some would argue, including Brennan himself, that ‘it is simply the cost of free speech…’. But the crackdowns below are not the first, nor the last of 8chan’s problems with the law, nor are they exhaustive at this point.

/Baphomet/ & Swatting: An escalation of Gamergate

Baphomet, the supposed idol of the Knights of Templar turned symbol of the Church of Satan, was co-opted by 8chan users in 2015 on the tail end of the gamergate scandal. The group was a hub of people who desired to ‘SWAT’ on those that the community of the board deemed threatening/critical of the goals of gamergate: the increase in numbers of female video game developers and producers. Eventually, much of the thread was expunged from 8chan, but only after a user of the board attempted to ‘doxx Judge Katherine Forrest, who preceded over the influential Silk Road case.

8chan Removed From Google Search Results Over Reports of Child Abuse

Later in the same year as the SWATing incident, 8chan was removed from the search results of Google’s search engine during an investigation into allegations of child abuse, ranging from images of children that were just on the close side of the law to explicitly sexual images of children and the discussion of pedophile’s lust for children, including their tips and tricks for dealing with their sexual appetites, and even discussions of what they felt was their ‘persecution’.

Louisiana State Police and Alleged Antifa Membership Roster

The Louisiana state P.D. is being sued over its refusal to allow the public release of a supposed Antifa roster which some argue has been harvested from the boards of 8chan. Knowing the reputation of this site concerning false sources, pranks, and harassment, the factual validity of the document is questionable, at best. This document has been circulated throughout the Louisiana Police Dept. and appears to be part of an active investigation.

Shooter’s Manifestos Posted to 8chan

In April of 2019, two seperate terrorists posted manifestos to 8chan before engaging in violent actions that left over 50 dead, collectively. Both of these actions were politically motivated, and inspired, at least in part, by the extremity of 8chan’s white nationalist population. In New Zealand, the shooter’s anti-Muslim bigotry inspired him to open fire on two separate religious establishments, with catastrophic results. Shortly afterward, another gunman mimicked the New Zealand terrorist, posting his own manifesto in which he praised the New Zealand shooter. He then traveled to a synagogue to act out his own attack on one of Powey, California’s Jewish communities.

8chan’s Culture

Having been popularized during an exodus of extremist users from 4chan and other message board sites, 8chan has only one intention: to be a haven of unfettered free speech rights. As mentioned in the introduction, there is only one universal rule for using the site, and that is to avoid posting/linking services and content that is illegal in the United States. This rudimentary set of guidelines is still too stringent for the admins of 8chan, and as a result they only seem to respond to their own rules when violations of U.S. laws are waved before their faces or when they are threatened with legal action. All marginalized groups are fair game on this website, which is resistant to political correctness, anti-feminist, and home to radical voices from many ideologies.

I don’t have a problem with white supremacists talking on 8chan.
Jim Watkins, 8chan owner

8chan also allows for complete anonymity for its users, requiring no registration, log in, or verification of identity. Users are instead identified merely by a number serial which is random, resulting in a loss of personal identification and accountability. The 8chan administration can view what IP address that users are browsing with, and ban them from the site, but users are otherwise protected from punishment. While in line with the goal of the site, these facts make it no easy task to hold users accountable, and emboldens them to behave in ways which they would not be able to on other, more moderated platforms.

“Free speech” in the case of 8chan, has lead to a prevalence of conspiracy theories due to a complete lack of moderation. From claims that Hillary Clinton ran a child sex trafficking ring from the basement of a pizza parlour, to assertions that there is a deep-state government controlling the heads of state (specifically those opposed to the sitting president), many subversive opinions and theories gain traction on this site, and some even seep into the pores of more credible sources. This muddling of people’s worldview is part and parcel of the overall ‘Troll’ mentality of the user base, which consistently uses disinformation campaigns, exploitation of technology, and online mob-tactics to spread its ideology.

A quick key to imageboard vernacular

  • fullchan: 8chan
  • halfchan: 4chan
  • normalf*g or normaln*****: normal person, especially one who follows/subscribes to mainstream beliefs and popular culture
  • Xf*g: person overly obsessed with X thing
  • >>>/out/ or >>>/reddit/ : used in a reply when a person does not put enough effort into their post. the Reddit reference comes from the popular idea on 8chan that Reddit users come to 8chan to find memes and flood the board with low-quality, low-effort posts
  • boomer: pretty much anyone over the age of 40; derogatory for someone who is out of touch with the ongoings of the world
  • zoomer: a person in Generation Z; derogatory for a young person interested or obsessed with mainstream culture
  • doomer: a depressed person who has given up on the world or otherwise believes the world is doomed, usually because of “degeneracy”. mostly bunkers in the /doomer/ board on 8chan
  • fed: anyone who advocates for governmental control over imageboards and other parts of the internet, or is believed to be a member of law enforcement attempting data collection on the users of the site
  • tripf*g: a person who uses the tripcode system in order to have a persistent username on the site. Tripcodes are cryptographically generated from a password, which is entered every time one makes a post or reply on the site. derogatory as “tripf*gging”, the act of using a tripcode to identify oneself across posts, goes against the board culture of anonymity
  • avatarf*gging: including an image of the same character or person across all of one’s posts, much like one would have an avatar or profile picture on a traditional social media site
  • “glow-in-the-dark n***** from the CIA”: a person who advocates for governmental surveillance and backdoored online services, particularly on /tech/ where the prevailing board culture values libre software, security, and privacy. comes from a popular verbal tic of Terry Davis, a programmer revered by imageboards for his frequent racist screeds and singlehandedly creating the computer operating system TempleOS because be believed God told him to
  • lolcow: a person who can be easily goaded into doing embarrassing things on the internet for trolls’ amusement

8chan Iconography and Dog-Whistles

A dog-whistle in a political sense is coded language employed in a way so that the general public cannot fully understand the true meaning that the ingroup understands it. Dog whistles are often disguised as completely mundane and innocuous language as to allow those in the ingroup to completely disavow the dog whistle’s true meaning and say that they were using the normal usage of it. Both 4 and 8 chan have created multiple dog-whistles and have worked them into their existing iconography.

  • Pepe
    • Probably the oldest and best-known image coming from 4 and 8 Chan. The character originated from the comic Boy’s Club written by Matt Furie but quickly was co opted by the Chans and became a mascot of sorts. But as they moved further towards extremism and bigotry so did Pepe leading to the Anti-Defamation League classifying it as a hate symbol.
  • NPC
    • The NPC meme was created to mock progressives and pretty much everyone else left of center by comparing them to NPCs (non-player characters) from video games. A video game NPC is nothing but a machine programmed to repeat the same lines over and over. Members of 4 and 8 Chan compare their political adversaries to them in order to dehumanize them, which could potentially lead to violence.
  • Kekistan
    • A fake nation created in 4chan around 2017 as a home for the members of site. It became a symbol for /pol/, and as time went on the flag started to show up at right wing rallies such as the “Unite the Right Rally” where Heather Heyer was killed. The flag itself looks like an altered nazi flag with the swastikas replaced with the word “Kek” and the flag itself recolored to green, doubtlessly referencing Pepe.
  •  The “Ok Hand”
    • One of the older dog whistles but one that is still being used today. It was originally created to make people who called them out on it look absurd. The sign means white power, the three fingers are the W and the thumb and the pointer finger along with the wrist being the P. The members of 4chan showed an image of Mel Gibson (who famously made multiple anti-Semitic remarks) making the sign alongside an image explaining it to give the fake dog whistle credibility. As time has passed, the hand sign has developed from a meme into a disparaging symbol, as shown with the Christchurch shooter making it during his shooting and in court.
  • Any common noun (who, they, etc.) surrounded with three sets of parentheses or asterisks
    • This is a way for them to discuss their Jewish deep state conspiracy without being too overt. Many members on the Chans believe that there is a vast Jewish conspiracy that has control of the world governments and mainstream media. Replace the noun in the parenthesis or asterisks with “The Jews.”

What Can Be Done?

To ban or not to ban, that is the question, and around that question there is much debate. Hate groups, like white nationalist organizations and anti-gender-equality groups, often espouse the message that they are woefully oppressed and suppressed by the government and liberals, hence their migration to platforms like 8chan to escape accountability. In a climate such as this, marginalizing them further may lead to deeper convictions. Unfortunately, as the administrative leaders of 8chan are reluctant to acknowledge their role in the real-life consequences of their cyber laissez-faire, there are not many courses that this website will take. This problem is exacerbated further by the fact that while the website has servers in the United States, those in control of the site itself reside outside the legal bounds of the U.S. system.

Would government action restricting content on the site violate the First Amendment? A great deal of the population would refer to the website as the darkest place on the internet, which some would use to argue for the censorship of its content. The First Amendment states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” At the time of its creation, the First Amendment was devised to protect the individual from having their civil liberties infringed upon by a tyrannical government. Acts of violence encouraged by a space that does not have an underlying ethical conformity besides freely speaking like this site poses a challenge: is this speech legally protected? Cases such as of Miller v. California (1973) which proposed a test for whether speech is obscene and therefore not protected and Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire (1942), concerning speech that provokes violence, suggest some of the speech expressed on 8chan is not necessarily protected under the First Amendment. However, the site’s administrators live abroad and might claim immunity is provided by Section 230 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Commercial constraints are not likely to moderate 8chan. This is not a normal case of social media management, and therefore will be near impervious to economic constraints, seeing as it already appears as though the site doesn’t earn enough money itself to stay in the dark. Social pressure also will not alleviate this problem, as 8channers are the type to feed off of detraction. Hopefully, as this site grows in its influence and popularity, its administration will be forced to seek new employees, some of whom may see this problem for what it is, not as some bastion of free speech, but a host for those who are willing to weaponize it to prove a point.

Some countries, like New Zealand, that have seen extreme violence as a result of the radicalization of the site’s users are blocking accessibility to the site, taking the only recourse left to them by a website that continually pushes the envelope. Unfortunately, users in these countries may be empowered by this silencing of their counter culture, but the world may have to cross each bridge as we get to them in cases like these.

Recommended Reading and Viewing

Meet the Man Keeping 8chan, The World’s Most Vile Website, Alive” by Ethan Chiel, Splinter, April 19, 2016.

The Other America ‘Frederick Brennan’ Al Jazeera America, n.d.

The Cops Want to Know What’s Happening on 8Chan” by Ali Breland, Mother Jones, April 5, 2019.

Why Banning the Toxic, Racist 8chan Message Board Could Backfire” by Ali Breland, Mother Jones, May 1, 2019.

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Clickbait, Bias, and Propaganda in Information Networks by Folke Bernadotte Memorial Library is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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