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Gunmen in attacks in the US and New Zealand were tied to racist manifestos on the same website. The founder says the online community would likely be responsible for future tragedies.

Ellen Cranley , Business Insider US
 Aug 05, 2019, 12:25 PM
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(Photo by Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
  • The August 3 mass shooting that left 20 dead in an El Paso Walmart marked the third devastating attack that was tied to the fringe message board site 8chan.
  • The site's founder previously predicted the site would play a role in a future hate-based mass attack.
  • In a Wall Street Journal interview published in March, 25-year-old Fredrick Brennan expressed concern about the site's actions in the wake of a shooting that killed 50 at two New Zealand mosques days before when dealing with a racist manifesto and footage connected to the attack.
  • Similarly, a manifesto was posted on the site by a user of the same name as a man identified by police as a suspect in the April 27 shooting at a California synagogue that killed one and injured four.
  • The site was blocked by Internet service providers in the wake of the New Zealand attacks, but rampant racism and extremist views thrive on the site.
  • For more stories, go to www.businessinsider.co.za.

The founder of a fringe message board site that has been connected to several mass shootings this year previously predicted the site would be responsible for future mass attacks.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal published in March, 25-year-old Fredrick Brennan said the close ties between the site and the shooting that killed 50 at two New Zealand mosques days before, which was widely popular among users who spread the shooter's post, was an example of the real dangers posed by the toxic online community.

"It was very difficult in the days that followed to know that I had created that site," he told the Journal. "It wouldn't surprise me if this happens again."

Brennan, who has since cut ties with the site, founded 8chan five years ago as an image board with room for active users to remain anonymous, according to the Journal. The free-range platform has provided an open space for communities based on extreme views to catch fire, namely in the site's /pol/ forum.

The site's anonymity and platform for images has proved damaging in the wake of extremist acts.

Investigators were probing a document posted soon before the August 3 mass shooting that left 20 dead in an El Paso Walmart in the site's latest connection to a devastating attack.

One day before the New Zealand mosque attacks, a man uploaded a racist manifesto on the site, detailing his plan to kill Islamic "invaders." The post was later linked to 28-year-old Brenton Tarrant, who police identified as the shooter.

After the attack, Internet service providers in the country and Australia blocked platforms including 4chan, 8chan, and LiveLeak after the sites were found hosting footage of the shootings.

The blocks aimed to stifle the viral nature of shooting-adjacent materials that are popular among users who are keen to spread references to the attack in pictures, videos, and memes.

Beyond the deaths and damage from the mass shooting, these online fragments spread quickly, serving as fuel for the flames of the community and contributing to radicalising current and future members.

"I have provided links to my writings below," Tarrant allegedly wrote when sharing his manifesto to the community, as noted by the Journal, "please do your part by spreading my message, making memes and s---posting as you usually do."

A manifesto posted the same day as the shooting at a California synagogue on 8chan's /pol/ forum cites Tarrant by name as inspiration for the attack and addressed the online community.

The "open letter" was attributed to a user named "John T. Earnest," the same name as the 19-year-old shooting suspect currently in police custody, San Diego County Sheriff William Gore said Saturday.

Gore said authorities "have copies of his social media post and open letter," which outlines the author's hatred for Jewish people and pride in European heritage. When referring to the online community, the author references a "score," or death toll, which was echoed by users cheering on the attack.

"It's been real, dudes," the post linking to the manifesto read, apparently addressing the community. "From the bottom of my heart thank you for everything."

Brennan told the Journal that the only solution to curbing the site's toxic communities would be if the internet were "to be totally redesigned and re-engineered with more censorship in mind."

Amid a massive rise in hate crimes and anti-Semitism, online communities pose a massive regulation challenge that leaders in technology, social media, and digital policy have yet to solve.

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