Australia Won’t Censor 8chan Unless It Hosts The Christchurch Video, Says Internet Watchdog
Australia's internet watchdog blocked 8chan, but now it's back under a different name.
Australians can again access the website formerly known as 8chan, despite the government’s attempts to block the forum for its role in spreading the Christchurch shooter’s livestream footage and manifesto.
The site is back online as 8kun, a near-identical clone of the anonymous imageboard, which went offline in August when service provider Cloudflare decided the site had "caused multiple tragic deaths".
The Australian eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant told BuzzFeed News she is aware of the new site but has no plans to restrict access to it because nobody has posted content from the Christchurch shooting — that she's aware of.
"If the Christchurch attack video and/or manifesto are shown to be hosted on 8kun or any other site, Australians can report it to the eSafety Commissioner and we will consider exercising our range of powers, as appropriate," she said.
The eSafety Commissioner has wide-ranging powers to carry out its aim of protecting Australians from harmful online content, including everything from image-based abuse to violent terrorist material.
In September, Inman Grant directed Australia's internet service providers and telecommunications companies to block eight websites said to be hosting content related to the Christchurch shooting, including 8chan.
This ban doesn’t apply to 8kun. The reincarnated version of 8chan comes with a new domain name (reportedly based on a Japanese honorific wordplay) and host, which means it circumvents the site-blocking list maintained by Inman Grant.
Inman Grant said that if 8kun did host the Christchurch video, she would just update the list to block it.
ISP and telecommunication industry peak body Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton said the change in domain name illustrates the challenges of blocking online content.
"The so-called ‘whack-a-mole’ syndrome, whereby sites reinvent themselves under new names and domains, is an inherent limitation to any form of site-blocking regime," Stanton told BuzzFeed News.
La Trobe University senior lecturer and CEO of the Online Hate Prevention Institute, Andre Oboler, said his problem with the eSafety Commissioner’s website blocking isn’t the method, but the narrow use of the powers to block only Christchurch material.
He said the harm done by 8chan is a consequence of its community. He says the /pol/ board, where the alleged El Paso and Poway synagogue mass shooters also posted their manifestos, has become a "new form of terrorist threat".
"It’s a cultural problem that needs to be addressed," Oboler told BuzzFeed News. "Whether it can be addressed by banning it or whether it’s addressed by bringing the site into closer cooperation with authorities, there are policy decisions that need to be made."
8kun brings back many of the same boards but there are some differences. The /pol/ board is notably absent. The home page now includes a disclaimer: “Any content that violates the laws of the United States of America will be deleted and the poster will be banned.” The site's old posts (including the Christchurch shooter's content) do not appear to be available.
Oboler thinks this may signal that 8kun is acting more responsibly than its predecessor.
"If they’re co-operating, the platform can play its part and should be able to remain. Where it has technical mechanisms that make it impossible for law enforcement to do its job and makes it possible for people to do illegal activity, that’s when the platform becomes a problem."
8kun also brings back the tripcode, a feature that allows users to “sign” their posts to verify their identity to other users while not revealing any personal information about themselves.
This paved the way for the return of someone claiming to be Q, the user whose 8chan posts spawned the nonsensical QAnon conspiracy theory. The theory, which baselessly claims Donald Trump is going to expose a shadowy, powerful ring of satanic paedophiles, has high-profile supporters including a family friend of the Australian prime minister Scott Morrison and actress Roseanne Barr.
Since 8kun launched, the site's admin said they've been struggling to keep the imageboard online because of cyberattacks.
At the time of writing, 8kun is down but remains unblocked in Australia.