Former members of 8chan spread across the Internet after the far-right site was closed over the weekend, finding new services on other right-wing sites, encrypted messaging services and major social media platforms.
8chan went dark this week after security service provider Cloudflare ended the extremist message as one of its clients after the El Paso shooting.
The anonymous nature of 8chan can make it difficult for its followers to track, said Joan Donovan, director and chief researcher of the Shorenstein Center for Media, Policy and Public Policy Research at Harvard Kennedy School. But 8chan's user base overlaps multiple sites and platforms, making it likely that community members will move to other sites and messaging platforms, she noted.
"Most likely, these groups are moving to alternative social media platforms where there is a pre-existing community to participate in," agreed Benjamin Decker, CEO of Memetic Digital Investigation Consulting. "Removing 8chan is just crossing one more platform from the list that they won't use for now, but it won't necessarily disrupt the community structure."
Community migrates to other platforms
As users look for new platforms, content “gamification” - getting votes for comments and posts - is critical, Decker said. But most important is anonymity.
“At the end of the day, these user communities will move into an anonymous space. They prefer not to be exposed for having such opinions, ”Decker said.
Among the sites that 8chan users seem to be relocating to, is Gab, the forum frequented by the alleged shooter in the November 2018 synagogue attack in Pittsburgh. In a statement issued on Wednesday, Gab said he is adding more than 1.000 new users per day, while "technology forbids people."
"The more journalists demonize companies like Gab and 8chan, the faster you move us toward the inevitable decentralized, open source future," Gab said.
Decker noted that there was also discussion in the 8chan community about moving to lesser known services.
Some users may also be returning to 4chan, the message board that preceded 8chan and enforces more hate speech rules. An analysis of the SimilarWeb web analytics service found that traffic to both sites peaked on 4 in August, a day after the El Paso shooting.
“These traffic increases for 8ch.net and 4chan.org may suggest that people unfamiliar with what 8chan are going to the site because of the media frenzy surrounding it, and recurring visitors to 8ch.net are switching to 4chan. org after the close of 8ch.net, ”said Ilana Marks of SimilarWeb.
A second chance on the net
8chan has also found a second life in parts of the internet that are harder to reach. In recent days, a replica of the site has surfaced on the deep web, Decker said, referring to unindexed web pages that require a special browser to access.
He added that a separate mirror version of the forum came up on Zeronet, a dark web alternative that requires you to host content on your own computer.
It is unclear who is behind the Zeronet version. An 8chan administrator said the Zeronet site was not built by the original 8chan team, and added that he "had no idea who set it up." Former members of 8chan have warned users that downloading Zeronet may be inadvertently hosting child abuse images on their computers.
Encrypted Messaging Applications
Encrypted messaging platforms can also provide the means of communication for the 8chan community. Telegram saw an increase in far-right speech as users migrated to anonymous service, Decker said.
Donovan also said his research was showing that the predominant discussions on 8chan were increasingly emerging in Telegram conversations. And other 8chan users talked on Twitter about switching to Discord, a voice and text app. Telegram and Discord did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The fact that 8chan has been pushed underground has positive and negative effects, experts say. Banishing the dark web site makes it less accessible to the average person and much harder to find. But it can also make it harder to monitor dangerous speech and help proliferate hate movements.
Tech giants absorb 8chan community
While underground and encrypted platforms are seeing an increase in traffic, more mainstream platforms may also see an influx of 8chan users, Decker said. And these platforms took a long time to block overflow from 8chan.
Traditional sites can play a role in radicalizing users: About 90% of extremists between 2005 and 2016 were influenced by social media, and of these, 65% used Facebook, according to a report from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism. and Responses to Terrorism. .
Some 8chan users seem to be gathering in the comment sections of YouTube videos and others in private Facebook groups devoted to QAnon's conspiracy theory.
Keeping up with the spread of these communities is difficult, and so far technology companies have focused on removing violent images rather than on language that slowly radicalizes users.
"One way to prevent 8chan users from migrating to alternative social media spaces like YouTube and Facebook would be to build a gap around platforms to prevent inbound links from these sites," Decker said. “As a researcher, it's frustrating to see traditional social sites not employing this advocacy strategy.”
Facebook automatically blocks links from the Daily Stormer, a white supremacy message board that was widely deplored after being linked to the violence in Charlottesville on 2017, but links from Gab, 8chan and 4chan are still categorically allowed.
A Facebook spokeswoman told Guardian that the company blocked links to other sites when the content violates community standards on a case-by-case basis. In the aftermath of El Paso, Facebook blocked links to sites that contained the manifest posted by the shooter.
YouTube told Guardian that it was removing comments that violated community guidelines, but the videos remain. The company declined to say whether it plans to direct 8chan users to the platform, and YouTube still allows links from 8chan and 4chan to be posted in video comment sections.
While 8chan members are likely to prefer anonymous platforms for Facebook and YouTube, it is important that these companies crack down on site content, Decker said.
“There is inherent value in the deplatform of the site as a whole and makes it difficult to access because the nature of these communities makes it difficult to inoculate the spread of this toxicity.