The notorious forum 8chan is signaling a return after its connection to multiple mass-murders got it booted offline this summer. But its comeback strategy might not be the clever fix followers want.
Late Sunday night, 8chan tweeted a teaser for what appears to be a new site called “8kun.” The new name is an obvious reference to the old site, which has been suspended from multiple web service companies. (In Japanese, the suffix “chan” usually refers to a child, whereas “kun” typically refers to a young man.) The rebrand, accompanied by a slightly different logo, appears to be an attempt to make good with the web service companies that banned it this summer. Those tech companies might not be fooled.
The 8kun announcement looked like the stuff of a low-budget sci-fi movie trailer. The new website’s name and logo (a snake in the shape of an eight) waved on a black flag while too-dramatic music and thunder played in the background. But coming from 8chan’s developers, who have been promising the forum’s return for months, the rebranded site is likely less groundbreaking than the announcement implies.
8chan has been offline since August, when cybersecurity and content delivery company Cloudflare dumped them as a client. Cloudflare is notoriously reluctant to deny service, but pulled the plug after the site was linked to extremist violence this year. Between March and August, three white supremacists posted their manifestos to 8chan before allegedly killing a combined 76 people at a mosque in New Zealand, a synagogue in California, and a Walmart in Texas.
Other web service companies also stopped working with the forum. After some hesitation, web registrar Tucows dropped 8chan in early August. Epik, a company that has come to the aid of other extremist-friendly sites, attempted to come to 8chan’s aid, but that deal also fell through. (Epik rented servers from the company Voxility, which cut them off when it learned about Epik’s deal with 8chan.)
Since then, 8chan has claimed to be “voluntarily” offline until the site is “able to develop additional tools to counter illegal content under United States law,” owner Jim Watkins said in congressional hearing last month.
In reality, 8chan has likely struggled to find companies that will keep it online. Over the past months, 8chan and administrator Ron Watkins have claimed they were rebuilding the site on new infrastructure.
“After a few weeks of building new groundwork to better protect user privacy and security, we are now in the final stretches before getting things back online,” Watkins tweeted Sunday. “Beta testing of infrastructure in progress - verifying and confirming that all systems are functioning as expected.”
Ron Watkins did not return a request for comment on Monday morning. (He and his father, 8chan owner Jim Watkins, live in the Philippines.)
But 8chan’s estranged founder, Frederick Brennan, voiced skepticism that the site’s new incarnation would become successful. He noted that 8kun’s apparent new URL (which has registered by 8chan’s parent company NT Technology last month) is registered with Tucows, which already banned 8chan in August. He also noted that 8kun was using OVH, an internet service provider that Brennan claimed had banned 8chan in 2015.
“In what world do they think domain hosts and providers will say, ‘oh, 8chan? No can do. But 8kun? You're hired!’” Brennan tweeted.
Neither Tucows nor OVH returned The Daily Beast’s requests for comment. As of Monday afternoon, 8kun remained offline.
Brennan, who denounced the site after it was linked to a massacre in an El Paso, Texas, Walmart in August, said he doubts the site will stay live for long, even if it manages to launch.
“Heading off to bed, but will make a prediction before doing so. If ‘8kun’ comes online while I'm gone, it will last maybe a few hours until it's taken down,” he said, pointing to the site’s unpopularity with web service providers. “Either their network providers will turn on them again or DDoS will strike.” (During a DDoS incident, attackers overwhelm a website with fake web traffic, bringing it to a standstill. Cloudflare is one of the most popular companies providing DDoS protection.)
Previous attempts to resuscitate 8chan have been less successful. In August, an 8chan fan made an unlicensed version of the site, which was not endorsed by 8chan administrators. The copycat site boasted that it was impossible to take offline, because it used a peer-to-peer software that hosted the site on users’ computers. But as some 8chan fans quickly realized, the site’s seedy reputation meant a chance of accidentally downloading things like child pornography.
Many users of the knockoff site also accidentally revealed their identities, The Daily Beast reported at the time. Although 8chan thrives on anonymity, the new site revealed users’ IP addresses unless they took specific measures to protect themselves.
Among the identifiable people was a Georgia user who ran a server with a “Hitler did nothing wrong” banner.