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Network provider Cloudflare to drop 'lawless' 8chan after El Paso shooting

Image: Shoppers exit with their hands up after a mass shooting at a Walmart
Shoppers exit with their hands up at the nearby Cielo Vista Mall after a mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas on Aug. 3, 2019. Copyright Jorge Salgado Reuters
Copyright Jorge Salgado Reuters
By Tim Stelloh and Brandy Zadrozny with NBC News Tech and Science News
Published on
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Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince said the anonymous internet forum's "lawlessness" caused "multiple tragic deaths."

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Internet services provider Cloudflare announced on Sunday that it planned to cease doing business with an online forum that a gunman apparently used before killing 20 people in El Paso, Texas, the company said

Cloudflare's CEO, Matthew Prince, wrote in a blog post that his company was dropping 8chan after gunmen in Christchurch, New Zealand, and Poway, California, also used the site.

The anonymous forum, which the Anti-Defamation League has tied to the rise of online extremism, had shown itself to be "lawless," Prince said. "That lawlessness has caused multiple tragic deaths. Even if 8chan may not have violated the letter of the law in refusing to moderate their hate-filled community, they have created an environment that revels in violating its spirit."

In El Paso, investigators are "reasonably confident" that suspect Patrick Crusius, 21, posted an anti-immigrant screed on the site shortly before the shooting. That note referenced the mass killing in Christchurch, when a white supremacist gunman allegedly gunned down 51 people and posted links to a livestream of the attack on 8chan.

In Poway, a gunman also posted "a hate-filled 'open letter' on 8chan,'" Prince said. "8chan has repeatedly proven itself to a be a cesspool of hate."

Cloudflare provides services like protection against common cyberattacks that can cripple websites, and Prince has described himself as a "free-speech absolutist."The company has only cut service once before — to neo-Nazi site the Daily Stormer after a white supremacist protest in Charlottesville, Virginia.

At the time, Prince, called the decision "arbitrary" and "dangerous," and warned of growing calls to censor speech on the internet.

Frederick Brennan, who started 8chan, told The New York Times on Sunday that the website should be shut down.

Cloudflare's decision to stop doing business with Daily Stormer did not mark the end of the extremist website. It is still operational thanks in part to Bitmitigate, a Seattle-based company that provides similar services to Cloudflare.

The move comes as platforms including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have cracked down on hate speech, citing an interest in protecting their users and fostering healthy discussion.

Cloudflare, however, is a different type of company, providing services that help websites stay online, which put it in a position of power over the internet as a whole rather than just a particular platform. Prince has pointed to Cloudflare's role in the internet ecosystem as a major reason why his company has almost always declined to take action against particular websites.

On Sunday, message threads lionizing the recent mass shooters were eclipsed by 8chan users mourning Cloudflare's decision.

In threads titled "It's over," and "The end," some users suggested alternatives sites alongside racist rants and downplayed the effects of a shutdown.

One offered bleakly, "so just post our manifestos to facebook now?"

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