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WHAT IS 8CHAN AND WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?

Alex Ciarniello August 22, 2019 Open Source Threat Intelligence

Launched in 2013, 8chan is an imageboard site similar in structure to 4chan. The site has 35,000 daily users.

8chan was built as a discussion platform to circumvent what it’s creator, Fredrick Brennan, perceived as a loss of free speech on the Internet. 8chan is affiliated with hate-groups (such as neonazis, alt-righters, and misogynists) and illegal activity. 

The site gained traction after the popular imageboard site 4chan banned posts affiliated with Gamergate (a widespread harassment campaign against women and progressivism in the gaming community). 

It was blacklisted by Google in 2015, and taken off the clearnet in August 2019 after the manifesto for the El Paso and Dayton shootings was published on its /pol board. The future of 8chan is in question as web hosting companies drop their site support in the aftermath of the shootings.

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HOW DO PEOPLE USE 8CHAN?

8chan users are able to anonymously discuss controversial or harmful topics that have been flagged and banned by other imageboard sites, such as 4chan. Despite its original rule—Do not post, request, or link to any content illegal in the United States of America. Do not create boards with the sole purpose of posting or spreading such content—the site contains topics about illegal activities and hate-filled discussion.

EXAMPLES OF SITE ACTIVITY INCLUDE:

Swatting and coordinated harassment. Users organize prank phone calls to incite emergency services deployment to a victim’s address. 

Child pornography. Users have created boards to discuss child pornography and rape, and share images.

Conspiracy theories and harmful activism. 8chan has hosted discussions on conspiracy theories, such as deep state theories associated with QAnon, and the Pizzagate conspiracy targeting democrats in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election.

Shootings and manifestos. 8chan has been linked to multiple mass shootings. Perpetrators have posted manifestos and links to live videos of the crime scene before conducting an attack. Events include:

  • Bethel Park Highschool: An 18-year-old was arrested and charged after threatening on 8chan to carry out a mass shooting at Bethel Park Highschool in March 2019.
  • Christchurch Mosque Shootings: Brenton Tarrant posted links to a 74-page manifesto and a livestream of the attack on 8chan before killing 51 individuals at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 15, 2019.
  • Poway Synagogue Shooting: John T. Earnest posted an open letter to 8chan shortly before opening fire in the California Synagogue on April 29, 2019, killing one.
  • El Paso Shooting: Patrick Crusius posted a four-page manifesto to 8chan shortly before opening fire in an El Paso Walmart on August 3, 2019, killing 22.

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WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?

8chan and similar anonymous forums on the deep web contain information about criminal activity that is critical to public safety. Accessing this information is essential to public safety officials seeking to mitigate and investigate crime.

8chan contains discussion about illegal activities and information linked to harassment campaigns and mass public shootings. Being able to access this information could lead to more proactive security and more thorough investigations in the aftermath of such events.

8chan may no longer be a consistent data source, since it has been thrown offline by web hosting companies. However, even though the name 8chan might soon be history, it is likely that equivalent platforms will arise out of its absence. Whether or not 8chan is online, its premise and rhetoric matters for the future of public safety and criminal investigations.

8CHAN AND THREAT INTELLIGENCE

Anonymous, public imageboard sites such as 8chan are an incredible source of intelligence for analyzing and understanding the aftermath of an event, as well as for advising public safety teams on how to prevent future incidents. How can public safety officials access relevant information quickly?

Due to the nature of their content, imageboard sites such as 8chan are often not indexed by search engines on the clearweb, or have moved entirely to the darknet. This makes searching for relevant information extremely difficult and time-consuming. Threat intelligence discovery tools, such as Beacon, are necessary to locate useful information.

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Beacon is a fully-indexed deep and dark web discovery tool that allows users to search for discussion board content from the safety of their usual browser. Instead of manually searching through sites like 8chan for useful intel, Beacon aggregates relevant data based on keywords and search filters such as site name, date published, and post title. For example, Beacon users can search for any known usernames tied to a specific event or discussion, or search for keywords prevalent in manifestos (perpetrators will often reference previous attacks and use hate speech).

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The prevalence of 8chan as a platform for illegal activity, harassment campaigns, and mass shootings makes it and other imageboard sites crucial sources of intelligence for public safety officials. Deep web search tools play a huge role in accessing this information quickly and effectively.

Book a demo to learn more about what Beacon can do for your organization. 

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