How the founder of 8chan went from creating the 'darkest reaches of the internet' while on psychedelic mushrooms to calling for it to be shut down

YouTube8chan founder Fredrick Brennan, left, next to the website’s current operator, Jim Watkins.
  • Fredrick Brennan started the online image board 8chan in 2013 as a space for free speech, resulting in a website that has come to be known as one of the darkest corners of the internet.
  • The site’s uncensored nature – where anyone can post anonymously – has led it to become a platform for mass shooters to vocalize and spread their ideas. It’s been linked to three mass shootings this year, including the one in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday that left 20 people dead.
  • Brennan, who says he came up for the idea for 8chan while on a psychedelic-mushroom trip, has since called for the site to be shut down in interviews with The New York Times and The Washington Post.
  • This represents a shift in perspective for Brennan, who said in 2015 that shutting down sites like 8chan might only worsen the situation.
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The computer programmer Fredrick Brennan started the online image board 8chan in 2013 as a space for uncensored speech, a place where anyone could anonymously post whatever they wanted without moderation. It didn’t take long for the site to become known as one of the darkest corners of the internet – a haven for extremist and hateful content.

It has since become a platform for mass shooters to vocalize and spread their ideas, prompting Brennan to call for the site to be shuttered. “Shut the site down,” Brennan said to The New York Times. “It’s not doing the world any good. 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 realise it.”

8chan has been linked to three mass shootings that took place this year, including the one in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday that left 20 people dead. Before the shooting, a racist manifesto appeared on 8chan, and police believe it was published by the shooting suspect. The attack was also celebrated on 8chan on Sunday, The Washington Post reported.

“Once again, a terrorist used 8chan to spread his message as he knew people would save it and spread it,” Brennan said to The Washington Post. “The board is a receptive audience for domestic terrorists.” Brennan was not immediately available to comment when contacted by Business Insider.

Cloudflare, the cybersecurity company that protected 8chan, announced that it had terminated its relationship with the website, prompting it to go offline. However, 8chan’s site administrator has announced plans to move to BitMitigate, the same company that protected The Daily Stormer after Cloudflare ended its business with the neo-Nazi site in 2017, according to the BBC.


The creation of 8chan

4chan4chan is an online image board that preceded 8chan.

Brennan founded 8chan in 2013, but it began to gain traction in 2014 at the height of GamerGate. The term “GamerGate” is used to describe a controversial online movement that represented the clash between those advocating for greater inclusion in gaming and internet trolls who believed the video-game industry and its representation in the press was being influenced by liberals.

Moderators of 4chan, an online image board that preceded 8chan, began taking down GamerGate-related content, prompting users to turn to Brennan’s 8chan. “I saw the GamerGate controversy as a way to expand 8chan,” Brennan told The Wall Street Journal in March. “I wanted to unseat 4chan and to me it didn’t matter how it happened.”

Brennan came up with the concept for 8chan while on a psychedelic-mushroom trip, he said in an interview with the website Know Your Meme four years ago. He sought to create a place where anyone could make their own image board without express approval from administrators.

While he didn’t create 8chan as a specific response to the GamerGate movement, he said 4chan’s decision to ban GamerGate content made him realise that the website had changed. “The rules keep getting more and more strict on 4chan even though there is no legal requirement for them to do so,” Brennan told Know Your Meme.


Cutting ties with 8chan

YouTube/The GoldwaterThe current operator of 8chan, Jim Watkins.

Brennan voluntarily left 8chan and ceded control of the site to its current operator, Jim Watkins, in 2015, according to reports from The Journal and The Times. He continued to work for Watkins until December.

Although Brennan only recently called for the site he created to be shut down, he expressed concern over 8chan’s link to the mass shooting that occurred in New Zealand several months ago. He told The Journal in March that he believed the site’s administrators were too slow to take down posts from the New Zealand shooter, Brenton Tarrant, and said he had “no desire” to ever be involved in the image-board world again.

“It was very difficult in the days that followed to know that I had created that site,” Brennan said to The Journal after the New Zealand shooting. “It wouldn’t surprise me if this happens again.”


A shift in perspective

Al Jazeera America

Brennan’s comments about shutting down 8chan appear to be in contrast to his views from 2015, when he spoke with Ars Technica about why anonymity could be beneficial for the internet, among other topics. In that interview, he suggested that closing sites like 8chan and 4chan wouldn’t help stop toxic content from spreading.

“If you shut down 4chan, shut down 8chan, you’re just pushing it under the rug,” he said to Ars Technica. “Underground, it’s just gonna get worse.”

Now, Brennan has shifted his thinking, telling The Times that shutting down sites like 8chan may stop such attacks from occurring so often.

“Shutting it down, having these chan sites pushed underground, it wouldn’t totally stop these kinds of things from happening,” he said to The Times. “But it wouldn’t happen every few months.”

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