22 Oct 2019

8chan founder seeks to stop current owner's bid for Philippines citizenship

7:58 am on 22 October 2019

The creator of the 8chan website - used by the 15 March gunman to promote the video of the atrocity - is locked in a bitter battle with its current owner.

The owner of 8chan, Jim Watkins.

The owner of 8chan, Jim Watkins. Photo: YouTube

After the Christchurch mosque attacks, 8chan founder Fredrick Brennan called for it to be shut down and cut all his ties with the forum.

The website's current owner, Jim Watkins, wants to be a citizen of the Philippines, where he's lived on a pig farm for the past 10 years.

Mr Brennan said he feared this would make accountability even more difficult and is trying to block Mr Watkins' application.

He believes the citizenship application is a ploy to make it easier for him to get the message board back online, despite at least two more mass shootings in the United States being linked to the site.

Both men are American citizens living in the Philippines.

Such was Mr Brennan's concern about the prospect of 8chan falling outside the jurisdiction of US authorities, he made his way into the court house in Manila to file a hastily written submission in opposition, without a lawyer.

"He wants to have a big business in the United States with his big data centre. He wants to affect the lives of Americans - there were two shootings in the United States related to his businesses," he said.

"But then he doesn't want to be a citizen so that he doesn't have to deal with any of the fallout of that, because none of the fallout is in the Philippines. All of the fallout has been either in the United States or in New Zealand."

Mr Brennan said he was amused to discover that Mr Watkins hadn't shown up for his own citizenship hearing, but it went ahead anyway.

He told the judge why he believed Mr Watkins doesn't deserve the privilege of the Philippines citizenship, claiming he doesn't have the good moral character required for it to be successful.

"He's kind of betting his whole business on this 8chan thing. It just seems to be all about his ego and about him going down as like a free speech warrior, rather than any concern about how it affects society or how it affects anybody else other than Jim.

"You know, Jim seems to really love the infamy ... [and] after all three shootings he had on the 8chan homepage: 'Embrace infamy'."

8chan allows users to post anonymously, and has been used to promote white supremacism, neo-Nazism, child pornography and the mass shootings in Christchurch, El Paso and a California synagogue.

Fredrick Brennan in 2014.

Fredrick Brennan in 2014. Photo: Screenshot / YouTube

Mr Brennan set it up in 2013 as a way to give users complete freedom to chat about what they wanted, without the moderation of the site's previous incarnation 4chan.

"The kind of stuff that we would run into were child pornography, death threats, bomb threats," he said.

"The child porn problem was such huge problem that that was one of the things that led me to quit."

He left in 2016, with his relationship with Mr Watkins also on the rocks.

After 15 March, he said when it became clear 8chan was a hotbed for extremism and that Mr Watkins wasn't going to do anything about it, he sought to shut it down altogether.

"There were three ... attacks and he did basically nothing to prevent or stop that. All he did was delete the original posts that the shooters made, which is not nearly enough.

"He didn't delete any of the celebration of the shootings and incitements to further violence, people saying they wanted to carry out their own attacks. None of that seem to faze them at all."

Mr Brennan believes that Mr Watkins is on a mission to resurrect 8chan, which was shut down in August.

On Mr Watkins' YouTube channel, an ad was posted for a site called 8kun earlier this month with a "coming soon" headline.

Mr Watkins couldn't be reached for comment but has made numerous videos, which were eagerly received by his followers.

Following the attacks in El Paso and Dayton Ohio and shortly after 8chan was shutdown, he made the following comments.

"It's actually sinister behaviour. Ours is one of the last independent companies that offer a place you may write down your thoughts free from having to worry about whether they are offensive to one group or another," he said.

"Power consolidation of the media, beginning as radio and TV stations, were gobbled up by a few strong and rich companies is now moving at a breakneck pace through the internet. It will effectively silence the masses and leave them with no place to voice their messages."

A decision on Mr Watkins' citizenship application is expected in February.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Morning Report other than the platforms that had already signed up to the Christchurch Call, the plan was to work "domestically to look at ways we can work alongside ISPs (internet service providers)".

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. 11 September 2019.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern Photo: RNZ / Ana Tovey

"I'm not down at the moment to directly have a bilateral [with The Philippines]. But there's other kind of conversations we have in the margin, so I wouldn't rule out if that opportunity arose ... at least having a conversation around the issue of 8chan. I wouldn't necessarily get into specifics around citizenship."

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