When the forum 8chan went offline following the alleged murder of 20 people by a white supremacist this weekend, 8chan devotees searched for an alternative way to access the site.
They found a temporary fix. The problem: they worry it’s downloading child pornography to their hard drives.
On Saturday, the shooter allegedly posted an anti-immigrant manifesto to 8chan before opening fire at an El Paso Walmart, killing 20 people. The El Paso shooting marked the third time in recent months that a white supremacist allegedly posted a manifesto to 8chan before going on to murder racial or religious minorities.
The web security company Cloudflare announced Sunday that it would stop providing protection for 8chan, and the site has been intermittently offline due to distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks as 8chan moderators search for a new service. When Bitmitigate, another web security company, tried to take 8chan on as a client, Bitmitigate’s partners cut ties, once again taking 8chan offline.
While the site is down, some 8chan fans have turned to a peer-to-peer version of the site, which not even 8chan’s admins endorse. The site’s administrators are still trying to bring 8chan online, they say. But in the meantime, someone else set up an 8chan clone on Zeronet, a peer-to-peer network.
An 8chan administrator told The Daily Beast he was unfamiliar with Zeronet, and that 8chan did not know who set up the clone site.
Most websites operate from a central server, which passes content straight to visitors. Peer-to-peer networks, often available through specialized browsers, cut out the middleman and let users share content directly with each other. While the peer-to-peer model is harder to take offline, it also turns 8chan users’ computers into hosts for the website. That means potentially downloading and redistributing content from the 8chan Zeronet site, which hosts a board called “Child Porn.”
“Say someones a f****t and uploads cp [child porn],” one Zeronet user wondered on Wednesday, as 8chan users flooded Zeronet’s discussion board. “If i happen to download it, it gets shared from my computer, right? And if i dont notice it bunch of people can download it from me? So im a distrubutor at that point, arent i?”
Fortunately for Zeronet users, their computers will only download and host content from pages they’ve clicked on. Unfortunately for 8chan fans, the website is home to images of gore, porn, sexualized drawings of children and sometimes illegal child pornography (which 8chan bans, in theory).
A Zeronet spokesperson told The Daily Beast 8chan content would be downloaded to visitors' computers, although they could delete it later.
"If you visit a site, then it's get downloaded to your computer and you start serving it to other visitors," Zeronet said. "So yes, it could happen, but if you find something problematic that you don't want to host you can delete the site any time using the web interface."
The Zeronet incarnation of 8chan has a board labeled as hosting child pornography. Some users cautioned each other to avoid boards that clearly hosted illegal content.
“Yeah but what if i dont notice the pedo,” a Zeronet user replied. “id be storing cp on my drive, so if my computer got seized for whatever reason im fucked.”
Others advised each other to just delete all the thousands of files their computers automatically downloaded from each session—a solution others rejected, with some saying that to avoid the worst of the image board, maybe it shouldn’t be allowed to host images.
“None of the ‘just delete everything’ solutions are acceptable and thus far they seem the only way,” one wrote. “I agree that text-only places are way of the future. I'm interested in illgal opinions, not illegal graphics.”
Elsewhere, the conversation devolved into a discussion of whether illegal porn was really just an “illegal combination of 0s and 1s” online, and whether banning child porn was “censorship.”
The fear of downloading the worst of the website has already kept some 8chan fans from joining the Zeronet version. Fans of QAnon, a far-right conspiracy theory that thrives on 8chan, cautioned each other on Twitter not to install Zeronet because “this version of 8ch will make you download EVERY CONTENT on the site. This include CP,” one QAnon fan warned on Twitter. (This is not technically true.)
Even without the spotty reputation, Zeronet is harder to use than a conventional browser, a fact that will likely keep many 8chan fans off the new site. And not all who migrated to Zeronet were happy with the experience.
“Why is everyone here so MEAN?” the title of one Zeronet discussion thread read on Wednesday. “I get it guys, we're all a little mad about the whole 8chan debacle, but SERIOUSLY, calm down! No need for all this racism/anti-semitism/homophobia.”
The conversation almost immediately turned to users calling each other racist slurs and debating whether sexualized cartoons of children were pedophilic.
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