The US has experienced some tragic events recently. The end of July and into the beginning of August, the country saw 5 mass shootings within a span of 8 days. Every time something like this happens, many people seek to answer the prevailing question, “Why?” Behavioralists and investigators comb through suspects’ social media accounts and online presence looking for hints that might give insight into things like motive, target selection, and patterns of aggression. In the recent attacks, the website 8chan often came up, leading many people to ask, “What is 8chan?”
What Is 8chan?
8chan is an online message board/image board, similar to sites like 4chan and Reddit. Users can create boards of any topic they choose and share it on the site. Other users can access and interact with the boards. Anyone who browses the site can find both general forums covering broad topics as well as highly specific forums.
For example, a Reddit user can find an entire subreddit dedicated to things like pictures of bears doing human things or cats that look like loaves of bread when their feet are tucked under them (both actual subreddits). Although the messageboard content can be harmless and even cute, extremists have been utilizing 8chan recently to spread messages of white supremacy, radicalizing followers and facilitating mass-shootings.
There are two things that differentiate 8chan from other social news aggregators and forums: the lack of guidelines and the lack of moderation. There are no strict guidelines laid out that the 8chan community must obey when creating message boards. As long as there is nothing in overt violation of United States law, it is unlikely that the content will be taken down.
The only person with the capability to moderate the content permitted on each individual forum is the original creator of the board. Other sites like Reddit have problems with hate-speech, too. The difference is that they have moderators.
By contrast, if a Facebook user posts something overtly racist, homophobic, or bigoted, that user is already in violation of site-wide Facebook proper use guidelines. In addition, if that user posts something that is not a clear violation but questionable, other users have the opportunity to report content that may be inappropriate for Facebook moderators to review. Once that content has been flagged and reviewed, moderators can take it down.
Where Did 8chan Originate?
8chan is garnering more attention lately because mass shooters have used it to foster communities where prejudice and racism are received and honored, but the site itself is not new.
Fredrick Brennan developed 8chan in 2013 as a response to stricter guidelines on the site’s predecessor, 4chan. It was that perceived censorship, in conjunction with psychedelic mushrooms, that spurred Brennan on to develop a website where any individual can state almost anything without fear of judgment or consequence.
While he did not have any malicious intentions in creating 8chan, Brennan regrets inadvertently providing violent extremists with a platform to proselytize their ideas. In 2015, only two years after launching the site, Brennan relinquished control of the site and has since tried to move out from under its shadow. Brennan has gone on record saying that the site should be shut down.
“It’s not doing the world any good,” he said. “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.”