Founder of 8chan: The U.S. Must Build a Safer Internet

fter weeks of activist pressure, internet infrastructure company Cloudflare recently ended its support for Kiwi Farms, an online group that’s been described as “the web’s biggest community of stalkers.” The breaking point: a targeted campaign of harassment against a trans livestreamer and activist so severe that it drove its target into hiding. Cloudflare was providing essential technical infrastructure for the site’s security and speed, and with those things taken away, the Kiwi Farms site crashed.

What should be done with sites such as Kiwi Farms? And what is the content moderation responsibility of companies like Cloudflare, which provide basic—usually invisible—services for the vast majority of the web? Both the U.S.A. and EU have been under increasing scrutiny this year regarding internet safety, privacy and security.

Fredrick Brennan founded 8chan. This message board has been linked with white supremacy and hate speech. In 2019, six years after the message board’s founding, a user of the site carried out a mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, and posted his manifesto to 8chan. This was linked to several other shootings.

Brennan has disowned his creation in print and continues to push for actions against image boards such as Kiwi Farms or the website he started. He is now a software developer at the age of 28.

In this Q&A, adapted from two interviews with Brennan in September, he explains why the internet should be more regulated in the U.S., the way other industries are, to address the problems raised by toxic sites.

The text was edited for clarity and length.

Did you find it surprising that Kiwi Farms was demolished by Cloudflare

Fredrick Brennan??No, they didn’t target me. I’m not surprised at all. It seemed to be a given. Josh [Moon, the founder of Kiwi Farms]This is a common error. In his hatred of people, he’s not willing to make compromises. He is clearly hostile to trans people and has publicly stated that he believes in slandering one.

An intelligent operator would never have wanted to enter this war, which he assumed Cloudflare would do. He is blinded by his ideologies, which I believe is why he is unable to predict what will happen.

These types of websites are familiar to you from your own experience. Should Cloudflare’s action trigger something broader for companies that provide hosting, security and other infrastructure for websites?

It’s multifaceted. There is really only one country where something like this sh-tty site can exist, and it’s the United States due to the intersection of different laws. In different jurisdictions, it’s just not possible—even in places that you would expect. Singapore for example? No, it’s impossible. Japan? No. That’s the biggest problem because the United States is a broken democracy right now. You know, I’m American. I don’t mind saying that.

The US is the home of all social media. It’s not because us Americans are uniquely good at making this stuff. My work involves free software. I’ve worked with programmers from almost every country. There’s nothing special about the American mind when it comes to making web services. It’s all legal and corporate stuff.

It’s really legal arbitrage, where you get in the least trouble in the U.S. That’s why I don’t really know how to answer your question, because I don’t know if there’s any world power that can do anything other than the United States. And I just don’t know how the United States can even begin to act on this, because our system is just so broken.

The United States government has determined that its technological dominance gives it much power on international stages. Therefore, market regulations seem to be virtually zero. So all the tech companies want to—if not have their corporate registrations here, which is usually the case—then to have all of their infrastructure here.

Continue reading: Cloudflare One of Many Companies that Quietly Powers The Internet Researchers Say It’s a Haven for Misinformation

Cloudflare was rebuffed by activists, who demanded that the service provider be shut down. Now, it is moving between Portuguese and Russian providers. This creates a vicious circle with activists taking revenge. Is Kiwi Farms in danger?

They get away with so many things that it is likely that vigilante justice will continue so they can keep their hands off of them. [providers like Cloudflare]You will be evicted. That is emblematic of the Wild West culture of the U.S. internet, where it’s highly vigilante-based.

What can you do to get rid of this vigilante-based system

I don’t know that there’s a good way. It is possible to envision a brand new system. It was after the Christchurch shooting that I began to consider it. This happened because the countries of Australia, New Zealand and other European nations blocked 8kun. That is 8chan’s website, where the gunman posted his manifesto. It’s basically based on a concept of cyber sovereignty.

There’s becoming a change in norms internationally, where politicians are fed up with the United States and its total lack of action. It is likely that the internet will get more fractured. The websites you can access will change depending on where you live.

What is the best model for regulation outside of the U.S.? This is even possible?

That is what I would like. It is essential that there be some sort of UN agreement regarding internet policy. Otherwise there’ll be complete chaos with every country deciding on their own, based on local laws, which websites are accessible.

What can we do now?

My opinion is that we should focus more on administrators, and whether they act in good or bad faith. That’s mostly why I don’t tend to make it a speech issue most of the time—like an issue about the content, per se. It becomes a question about the administrator’s thinking and why certain content is allowed. The Kiwi Farms’ processes are horrible and have made a lot of extortionary decisions.

It is necessary to have stricter oversight of what administrators do. Regulators are also necessary. Just like we have the FDA to monitor food and drugs, and an SEC to monitor securities, there needs be a regulator for social media businesses. By the way, picture boards such as Kiwi Farms or 4chan could be regulated by this agency just as Facebook..

I’d like to see if that helps at all, before we change fundamental things about freedom of speech.

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