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8chan is under police investigation in the Philippines

8chan is under police investigation in the Philippines

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Police in the Philippines are investigating the imageboard 8chan, which has been accused of creating a safe space for far-right mass shooters, according to The Wall Street Journal. The investigation is apparently just beginning and will focus on whether 8chan owner Jim Watkins — who lives in the Philippines — was negligent in his moderation practices. “The first thing we want to know is the influence of 8chan in the Philippines,” chief investigating officer Lt. Col. Elpidio Ramirez told the Journal.

Reuters reported earlier this week that police were investigating 8chan but offered no further details. According to a report in Wired, the Philippines’ National Bureau of Investigation already had an “ongoing” probe into the site and had been contacted by US law enforcement after the 8chan-linked March shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The NBI was allegedly focusing on the proliferation of child pornography on the site. Now, 8chan is in the spotlight again because of a screed apparently posted by the man who killed 22 people in El Paso, Texas, this weekend. The site has gone offline after being dropped by infrastructure providers Cloudflare and Epik. An unofficial version is running through a peer-to-peer network, although users are apparently fearful of accidentally distributing illegal content through it. 8chan’s original creator, Fredrick Brennan — who also moved to the Philippines several years ago — has called for the site to be shut down permanently.

Watkins currently isn’t located in the Philippines, according to officials. He was asked earlier this week to testify before Congress in the US, and he posted a message on 8chan’s Twitter account claiming to be “on my way back to America as we speak.” Watkins responded to the shooting in a YouTube video, claiming that the company “has always worked with law enforcement to help them with their investigations.” He also suggested that the shooter had originally posted the rant on Instagram and not 8chan — a claim Instagram has denied.

The United States has expansive laws protecting freedom of speech, and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act broadly shields sites like 8chan from liability if users post illegal content. But that won’t necessarily protect it elsewhere.