Refugees from the anonymous 8chan forum are flooding into a new censorship-resistant home on the dark web, and inadvertently giving up their anonymity along the way.
A reincarnated version of the hate-filled forum, now linked to three mass shootings, appeared Monday when the original 8chan lost its hosting service. The new site, called 08chan (with a leading zero), has no affiliation with the original and it’s not entirely clear who set it up, but 8chan’s diaspora have been flooding in as word of the site spreads through right-wing social media.
The distinguishing feature of the new site is that it lives on ZeroNet, a peer-to-peer network designed by information activists to allow for uncensorable websites immune from government or corporate intervention. Instead of relying on a central server, a ZeroNet site is hosted in bits and pieces by everyone browsing it, making it virtually impossible to shut down.
“Hard as they try, they will never stop us,” enthused one poster to the white supremacist “/pol/” board on 08chan. “We are smarter and more innovative.”
“The old 8chan site may be ashes, but this is the phoenix egg buried beneath,” another wrote.
There’s just one catch. Peer-to-peer networks expose a user’s internet address to anyone who cares to look. That’s how copyright lawyers catch people trading movies, music and software, and it’s how police and FBI agents arrest pedophiles trading child porn online.
ZeroNet works the same way, a fact that’s been much-discussed on the new site. For that reason, ZeroNet integrates tightly with Tor, an anonymity system that places layers of cut-out addresses between a user and the websites they visit. But only 41 percent of 08chan’s users’ are using Tor, based on our analysis of the peer-to-peer traffic at the site.
Users on 08chan have been complaining that the site is buggy and slow over Tor, and the site’s own administrator initially encouraged anons to just connect directly. “Feel free to post without Tor,” he wrote in a welcome message. “Even as the admin I have no power to identify anyone.”
A Twitter user called “AcidOverlord”, a self-described veteran of the misogynistic gamergate harassment campaign, has taken credit for creating 08chan. He didn’t respond to inquiries for this story and has since deleted his tweets on the subject.
The Daily Beast captured 819 IP addresses for 08chan users connecting from 62 different countries. Most users in our sample, 437 of them, are in the U.S., with Canada (46 users), and the U.K. (37), a distant second and third place. Ordered by states, California, Texas, Washington, and Florida top the list.
Some users connected over VPNs, shielding them from our analysis, but hundreds logged in directly from cable TV broadband networks and other residential services.
Though an IP address alone doesn’t identify the person behind it, it can nonetheless be telling, particularly when a user is running websites or other services off the same IP, as dozens in our sample were. One anon in Georgia runs an open file-sharing server from home. The server’s banner message: “Hitler did nothing wrong.”