8chan Owner Jim Watkins Facing Summons to Testify Before US Congress, Child Porn Probe in Philippines

By Tom McKay on at

Infamous image board 8chan, breeding ground for neo-Nazis and a favoured place for white supremacist mass shooters to drop manifestos before going on murder sprees, is only having its troubles get worse.

Following another massacre in El Paso, in the US state of Texas, this weekend reportedly targeting Hispanic shoppers and shortly preceded by the appearance of a racist manifesto on 8chan, web security firm Cloudflare dropped the site, which shortly after lost its hardware provider. 8chan has seemingly struggled to keep itself online since and its online community has splintered. Its founder, Fredrick Brennan, has called for it to be shut down. Now, its owner Jim Watkins is facing a call to testify before the US House Homeland Security Committee and his company, N.T. Technology, may be facing serious trouble with Filipino authorities.

Per the Wall Street Journal, Watkins took to YouTube on Tuesday to insist (with “Taps” playing as he was flanked by a photo of Benjamin Franklin) that CloudFlare’s decision to stop doing business with the site was both politically motivated and to dump baggage before an upcoming Initial Public Offering. Watkins said during the video that “It is disturbing to me that it could be so easily shut down,” adding Cloudflare has “dispersed a peacefully assembled group of people talking.” He also claimed that “less than credible journalists” had misrepresented 8chan’s record of working with law enforcement.

Watkins also claimed that the El Paso shooter’s manifesto was first uploaded to Facebook subsidiary Instagram and that it was not later “uploaded by the murderer” to 8chan. Facebook told the Journal it had found no evidence to support this, and that an Instagram account belonging to the shooter was deleted, but had been inactive for over a year.

Watkins also aired some gripes about what he claimed were large tech companies working to silence free speech and shut down forums where users could air “thoughts free from having to worry about whether they are offensive.” That’s probably not the best defence playbook from the operator of white supremacist website, but hey:

It is effective to silence these people by removing the pen and ink that they write with. Let’s look at the deflection that took place here: Public companies casting blame for murder on small, private companies, law abiding companies... Ours is one of the last independent companies that offer a place you may write down your thoughts free from having to worry about whether they are offensive to one group or another. Power consolidation of the media beginning as radio and TV stations were gobbled up by a few strong and rich companies is now moving at a breakneck pace through the internet. It will effectively silence the masses and leave them with no place to voice their messages.

“Jim totally deserves this, he wasn’t willing to even pretend to care or do the minimum after shootings to stop users inciting further violence,” Brennan told the Post. “Given he hasn’t acted in good faith throughout this crisis, it’s ultimately a good thing for everyone, even 8chan’s own users, that 8chan is struggling to come back online.” On Twitter, he further stated that Watkins is “assuredly lying about the manifesto having been posted on Instagram first.”

Watkins is a US Army veteran who lives in the Philippines and reportedly rarely leaves, so it’s unclear whether he will voluntarily comply with the House request for testimony. However, according to Wired, Cybercrime Division at the Philippines’ National Bureau of Investigation chief Victor Lorenzo said that his agency is looking into 8chan—which has long insisted it is subject only to US law because its data centre is located there—and N.T. Technology after hearing from his American counterparts. While Lorenzo said he was concerned about the site’s role in spreading violence, he also said that his agency is investigating whether 8chan’s role in facilitating the spread of child pornography violates the Anti-Child Pornography Act.

“Considering that the Philippines was tapped as the epicentre of child pornography materials, we are interested in this issue,” Lorenzo told Wired. “If you are going to visit his site, he is actually trying to promote, or catering to, child pornography, and it is a serious offence here... Considering that the registration is here, we have jurisdiction.”

The House Homeland Security’s chair and co-chair, Representatives Bennie Thompson and Mike Rogers respectively, noted in their letter requesting Watkin’s testimony that the El Paso attack appears to be the third in 2019 linked in 8chan, counting the Christchurch, New Zealand mosque attacks (51 dead, 49 wounded) and the Poway, California synagogue attack (one dead, three wounded).

“Americans deserve to know what, if anything, you, as the owner and operator, are doing to address the proliferation of extremist content on 8chan,” the representatives wrote. “To that end, the Committee on Homeland Security respectfully requests your presence to provide testimony regarding 8chan’s efforts to investigate and mitigate the proliferation of extremist content, including white supremacist content, on your website.”

Featured image: Screenshot: YouTube