Cloudflare’s CEO Matthew Prince has announced that the company will cease offering its services to 8chan effective at midnight tonight Pacific time. Cloudflare is an internet infrastructure company that offers tens of millions of websites cybersecurity protections from distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, which without, can leave websites vulnerable to takedowns by hackers.
Prince announced Cloudflare was shutting 8chan out after it became known that the 21-year-old suspected shooter of the El Paso Walmart shooting is believed to have posted a manifesto to the 8chan forum before he went on his rampage that killed at least 20 people and left another 26 injured. Writing in a blog post announcing the move, Prince called 8chan a “cesspool of hate”:
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Nearly the same thing happened on 8chan before the terror attack in Christchurch, New Zealand. The El Paso shooter specifically referenced the Christchurch incident and appears to have been inspired by the largely unmoderated discussions on 8chan which glorified the previous massacre. In a separate tragedy, the suspected killer in the Poway, California synagogue shooting also posted a hate-filled “open letter” on 8chan. 8chan has repeatedly proven itself to be a cesspool of hate.
8chan is among the more than 19 million Internet properties that use Cloudflare’s service. We just sent notice that we are terminating 8chan as a customer effective at midnight tonight Pacific Time. The rationale is simple: they have proven themselves to be lawless and 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.
Prince also took the time to dismantle one of the most frequent rebuttals used by white supremacists when a company takes actions against their websites. Those people argue that when a company kicks websites that promote violent and dangerous acts from their services that means the company is denying them their freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment. However, as Prince notes, the First Amendment provides freedom of speech protections from the government, not from corporations:
We continue to feel incredibly uncomfortable about playing the role of content arbiter and do not plan to exercise it often. Some have wrongly speculated this is due to some conception of the United States’ First Amendment. That is incorrect. First, we are a private company and not bound by the First Amendment. Second, the vast majority of our customers, and more than 50% of our revenue, comes from outside the United States where the First Amendment and similarly libertarian freedom of speech protections do not apply. The only relevance of the First Amendment in this case and others is that it allows us to choose who we do and do not do business with; it does not obligate us to do business with everyone.
But sadly, Prince points out another reality—kicking 8chan off of Cloudflare’s services will probably not mean the end of the site. Two years ago, Cloudflare kicked the Daily Stormer off its services and that site simply went to a Cloudflare competitor to get back online. Still, Prince says Cloudflare is doing the right thing with 8chan, even though it likely won’t be the last we hear of the site:
Unfortunately the action we take today won’t fix hate online. It will almost certainly not even remove 8chan from the Internet. But it is the right thing to do. Hate online is a real issue.