MANILA, Philippines — 8chan founder Fredrick Brennan talks to Rappler and reiterates his criticism of the message board he founded in 2013.
Brennan recently appeared before the PNP to help in their investigations into the role the site plays in recent US mass shootings. Both the current owner, Jim Watkins, and Brennan are based in the Philippines.
According to Brennan, he started 8chan "in a moment of profound naivete" in 2013 with the idea of combining the features of 4chan and Reddit – an image board where users can curate their own boards.
"Previously on image board sites, the administrator was in full control of what topics to discuss. I wanted to see what would happen if users could decide what topics to discuss,"
He was aware of the pitfalls of unmoderated topics but he says he did not expect real-life repercussions.
"I expected them to talk about anonymous taboo topics. I expected they would be more toxic than 4chan users but I never expected it would leak out into real life as often as it has."
According to Brennan, in the early days of 8chan, some of it were written off as jokes.
"Back then there was the narrative that it's all free speech. If we're all just talking, the best ideas will win out. They're just joking when they're making threats. It was a different time. They're just joking, they're just playing around. There was even a narrative that they're just pretending to be racists, pretending to be white supremacists. But now it's obvious that there's a cohort of users who is totally serious and not joking."
In 2014, 8chan began to take off after 4chan began clamping down on misogynistic user-generated content in the wake of the Gamergate controversy. "Gamergate"is a term used to describe the harrassment of women in the video game industry after discussions of sexism in the industry.
Because of the cloak of anonymity provided by message boards such as 4chan, 8chan, and Reddit, vitriol spread fast in these communities. When 4chan shut down those threads, users flocked to 8chan.
Brennan says that he doesn't know what changes transpired between his time at 8chan versus now but that the administration of the current owner, Jim Watkins, might be one of them.
"In many ways Jim Watkins was kind of operating things in a way that was different than what I had done. He created a far-right conspiracy website called the Goldwater and he hired so-called 'journalists' to write articles on the Goldwater which were ranked to be conspiracy theories. He also wrote on the 8chan homepage 'embrace infamy' so after all 3 shootings, he still has this embrace infamy on there. Its hard to say what really changed but it's clear that after the shootings, they did not take the problem seriously," says Brennan.
The handling of the issues, especially after the mass shootings, was problematic according to Brennan.
"It seems like they got high on the media attention. Somebody called them the 'darkest reaches of the internet' so they added that to the homepage. I have no idea where the words 'embrace infamy' came from but anybody with eyes to see can see that that's extremely dangerous after a shooting to tell users to embrace infamy."
Currently, Brennan is calling for a permanent takedown of the site and for users to avoid message boards like those.
"8chan is a cesspool. It is some of the worst content on the internet. They have so many problems but they keep growing no matter what."
"Don't go on sites like 8chan. It's not good for your psyche, especially those boards that are very negative politically. It gets you into a cycle of negativity and problems. Limit the time you spend on messageboards and chat rooms. A half hour to an hour is more than enough. I know many 8chan users, including me before, spending 6, 8, 12 hours. That's not healthy." —Rappler.com