POLICE in the Philippines said they are investigating the controversial website 8chan, which has received backlash after it was found to be linked to the recent mass shooting in El Paso, Texas that left 22 people dead and 24 injured.
The investigation is being done by the Philippines’ National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), which was prompted after reports that the El Paso shooter published a 2,300-word white nationalist manifesto on the site before carrying out the attack.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the investigation is looking at whether the site’s current Philippine-based owner Jim Watkins was negligent in moderating the site.
“The first thing we want to know is the influence of 8chan in the Philippines,” Lt. Col. Elpidio Ramirez, the case’s chief investigation officer, told the Wall Street Journal.
But Watkins wasn’t in the Philippines as of Thursday, August 8, according to Philippine officials. Watkins did say earlier this week that he was headed to the U.S. where lawmakers have requested he testify, but it is unclear whether he intends on testifying.
He did post on Twitter a screenshot of an email he sent to Homeland Security Committee leaders, Reps. Bennie Thompson and Mike Rogers, saying he would be in the U.S. and was willing to talk on the phone.
“Rest assured I am not an extremist,” wrote Watkins. “My telephone should work worldwide.”
In a video statement posted Tuesday, August 6, Watkins defended the 8chan website and downplayed claims of it being used as a platform for far-right extremism and mass shooters.
“My company takes a firm stand on helping law enforcement, and within minutes of these two tragedies, we were working with FBI agents to find out what information we could to help in their investigations,” said Watkins.
“We have never protected illegal speech, as it seems that we have been accused of by some less than credible journalists,” he added.
Numerous reports have recently pointed out that manifestos were posted on 8chan by both the gunman who attacked two New Zealand mosques, and the gunman who attacked a Southern California synagogue earlier this year.
Watkins though said in his video that the El Paso shooter’s manifesto was originally posted on Instagram, and later uploaded by someone else to 8chan.
“First of all, the El Paso shooter posted on Instagram, not 8chan,” said Watkins. “Later someone uploaded a manifesto. However, the manifesto was not uploaded by the Walmart shooter. I don’t know if he wrote it or not, but it was not uploaded by the murderer.”
However, a spokeswoman of Facebook, which owns Instagram, denied Watkins’ claims and said the company has “found nothing that supports this theory.”
Matthew Prince, chief executive of Cloudflare — a U.S. cybersecurity firm that served 8chan — affirmed that there has been evidence that the manifesto was uploaded to 8chan prior to the attack.
‘A cesspool of hate’
Cloudflare announced on Monday that it would no longer be providing services to 8chan, making it hard for the site which remains operative. Currently, an error message shows up on the site’s address.
“8chan has repeatedly proven itself to be a cesspool of hate,” Prince wrote in a Monday blog post.
Watkins described Cloudflare’s move as “cowardly.”
8chan was founded in 2013 by the now 25-year-old Fredrick Brennan as a place for unfettered speech — an alternative to another notorious site, 4chan, that became subject to self-censorship after facing numerous controversies.
Watkins, a U.S. military veteran who learned his way around computers while in the Army, came into the picture in 2014 and eventually took full ownership.
Following the El Paso shooting, Brennan has also called for 8chan to be shut down, saying that Watkin’s irresponsibleness has turned the site into one where extremism is embraced.
Brennan left the 8chan in 2016 and cut ties with Watkins in 2018.
“It’s not doing the world any good,” Brennan told the New York Times on Sunday. “It’s a complete negative to everybody except the users that are there. And you know what? It’s a negative to them, too. They just don’t realize it.”
On Twitter, he posted, “The only ones who will suffer from 8chan going down are mass shooters who planned to use it as a platform and Jim Watkins.” (Rae Ann Varona/AJPress)