After a gunman opened fire at a Walmart in the US city of El Paso, Texas on Saturday killing 22, and a manifesto posted online believed to be written by the shooter exalted previous mass shootings and referenced the “Hispanic invasion of Texas,” the link between real-world violence and extremist forums is being further scrutinised.
Most recently, police in the Philippines opened an investigation into 8chan, an anonymous message board connected to the manifesto, according to the Wall Street Journal. Jim Watkins, the owner of 8chan, lives in the Philippines. Police are reportedly in the early stages of their probe, and are looking into the moderation efforts of both 8chan and Watkins.
“The first thing we want to know is the influence of 8chan in the Philippines,” Lt. Col. Elpidio Ramirez, the chief investigating officer on the case, told the Wall Street Journal.
The El Paso Walmart mass shooting reportedly served as a catalyst for the Philippines investigation, which aims to better understand how the imageboard notorious for not only creating a space for but encouraging unpoliced speech, has affected the country. On Tuesday, Watkins posted a YouTube video after its website security firm dropped 8chan, and in his statement went on to criticise the censorship and closure of forums with seemingly unmoderated speech. He said:
“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.”
8chan’s founder, Fredrick Brennan, sold the site to Watkins in 2015 and has recently been openly critical of his own creation, telling the New York Times that he believes it should be shut down. On Thursday, Brennan told the Wall Street Journal that he’s cooperating with authorities in the Philippines where he is also a resident.
This isn’t the first time 8chan has been connected to a mass shooting, with reported links this year to the Christchurch mosque massacre and the attack on a synagogue in Poway, in the US state of California. And this also isn’t the only investigation into the message forum following the mass shooting in El Paso—Watkins is also being called to testify before the US House Homeland Security Committee.
“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 Committee wrote in a statement on Tuesday. “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.”
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