A notorious internet message board with connections to the Christchurch mosque attacks and other mass shootings is being investigated over child sex abuse content.
Authorities in the Philippines, where the owner of the site lives, said the investigation began after they had received requests from overseas agencies to monitor it.
8chan has been the site of choice for a number of mass shooters.Credit:
"They informed us that [Jim] Watkins migrated to the Philippines and he's connected with some sites that are questionable in nature – we're looking at 8chan," said Attorney Victor Lorenzo, head of the cybercrime division of the Philippines National Bureau of Investigation.
Watkins, a US citizen who now lives in the Philippines capital, Manila, has owned 8chan since 2014.
The decision to focus on child sex abuse content is a blind-side move against 8chan, which has come under increasing global pressure since the attacks of March 15, when 51 people were killed.
Links to a livestream video of the attack, a manifesto, and a message to supporters were posted to a message board on the site moments before the shooting.
Anonymous users celebrated and amplified the attack, translating the manifesto, saving and distributing the video, and creating memes lionising the alleged shooter.
Since then, two other attacks – one in Poway, California, and another in El Paso, Texas – have been connected to 8chan.
The El Paso attack forced 8chan's security provider to cut ties, leading to 8chan disappearing offline, although Watkins has indicated that is only a temporary glitch, and the site's administrators have vowed to bring it back.
But the latest move by the Philippines authorities could thwart that.
Lorenzo said his office was aware of the Christchurch links with 8chan but while he personally found the site "disturbing", his office focused on child sex abuse content.
"When we visit that site they're also catering to child pornography and some other illegal activities, so we focus our investigation on child pornography because they are violating a specific law here in the Philippines," he said.
The offences carry a penalty of six to 12 years' imprisonment, followed by deportation in the case of an "undesirable alien".
Watkins is a former US Army soldier who began building his computer technology empire while still in the army.
He runs his company, NT Technology – which hosts 8chan among dozens of other sites – out of Manila, where he now lives. He has declined media interviews since the Christchurch shootings, including with Stuff Circuit, but has said in an online video statement, "I had nothing to do with this. I'm not a white supremacist".
While there have been calls for 8chan to be permanently shut down, experts remain sceptical that is even possible.
Fredrick Brennan, the founder of 8chan who has now cut ties with it and spoken out against the site, said he did not believe moves by some internet service providers to block it would stop 8chan or its users.
"I know that in [New Zealand] some [internet service providers] tried to block it … but a lot of people got around that," said Brennan. "The most tech-savvy people can find ways around those things, always."
Even during the temporary ban, for instance, users have been able to access 8chan via the dark web.
"What I would say is, I don't feel like the way the internet is architectured that there's anything that can really be done about 8chan," said Brennan.
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