Jim Watkins, the owner of 8chan, gave testimony to Congress on Thursday after the House Homeland Security Committee subpoenaed him for testimony last month.
Watkins’ appearance before the committee was prompted by a series of racist shootings across the world where attackers posted manifestos outlining their hateful, white supremacist motives to the imageboard prior to opening fire. The latest attack prefaced by a manifesto in the United States occurred last month in El Paso, Texas, resulting in the deaths of over 20 people and drawing the attention of lawmakers who compelled Watkins to speak on Thursday.
“This is at least the third act of white supremacist extremist violence linked to your website this year,” committee leaders wrote to Watkins last month. “Americans deserve to know what, if anything, you, as the owner and operator, are doing to address the proliferation of extremist content on 8chan,” A week later, the committee subpoenaed Watkins for the testimony he plans to give today.
8chan “has no intent of deleting constitutionally protected hate speech”
In his prepared remarks, Watkins paints 8chan as “a one-of-a kind discussion board” where users discuss politics, video games, and “down-home recipes.” The racist speech that plagues the platform only comes from “a small minority of users,” according to Watkins, and 8chan “has no intent of deleting constitutionally protected hate speech.”
Watkins does address all three major racist shootings in his prepared statement; including Christchurch, New Zealand; Poway, California; and El Paso. He lists how long it took for moderators to take down the original postings from the shooters (varying from a few minutes to several hours) and says that all deleted content is removed by hand from 8chan’s human moderators.
“I consider myself a good and faithful American man and promise to do my best to help you solve your dilemma with the hate speech and censorship of minority opinions of voices on the internet,” Watkins says. “I will say today contrary to some rather noisy folks that my company is law abiding and we understand that the restriction of some speech is necessary.”
8chan is still down on the web after several internet infrastructure companies like Cloudflare pulled their services to the site after the El Paso shooting. Watkins says that the site will continue to stay “offline voluntarily” and “may come back online” as soon as he is able to develop new tools to counter illegal content. Prior to El Paso, Watkins says that his team was working on a way to restrict the site when in an emergency, like creating a “read-only” mode or prohibiting users from posting files or using the Tor Network to access the site.
8chan “is currently working to expand on these models,” Watkins said. It’s not clear if the site’s moderators were aware that the site was developing these new restriction tools.
Watkins’s appearance before committee staffers happened behind closed doors on Thursday, not to lawmakers directly. For this meeting, Watkins retained lawyer Benjamin Barr, who has represented the right-wing Project Veritas group before. It’s unclear if or when a transcript of the meeting will be released publicly.
“We want to thank Mr. Watkins for his cooperation today,” committee leaders said in a statement following the meeting. “He provided vast and helpful information to the Committee about the structure, operation, and policies of 8Chan and his other companies. We look forward to his continued cooperation with the Committee as he indicated his desire to do so during today’s deposition.”
Updated September 5th, 2019 at 3:00 p.m. ET: Updated to include a statement from the House Homeland Security Committee.