8chan owner vows changes in House testimony over links to mass shootings
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – 8chan, the online message board linked to several recent mass shootings, plans to restrict parts of the website during a “state of emergency,” the site’s owner Jim Watkins told a U.S. House panel in a written statement.
Watkins completed his closed-door deposition on Thursday, said Representative Bennie Thompson, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee and Ranking Republican Mike Rogers. The panel last month subpoenaed the American living in the Philippines to answer its questions about whether the website “amplifies extremist views, leading to the radicalization of its users.”
Watkins “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,” they said in a joint statement.
“If 8chan comes back online, it will be done when 8chan develops additional tools to counter illegal content under United States law,” Watkins said in the statement released by his lawyer.
“If 8chan returns, staff would implement a way to restrict certain parts of the website during a state of emergency, in which case any board in question would be put in a read-only mode until it would be deemed safe enough to enable posting again,” it said.
Critics last month pressed tech companies to shun 8chan, which in its Twitter profile describes its location as “The Darkest Reaches of the Internet” and has become a hotbed for white extremist content.
Thompson and Rogers said last month the shooting deaths of 22 people at an El Paso Walmart store was “at least the third act of supremacist violence linked to your website this year.”
The El Paso gunman allegedly posted a four-page statement on 8chan before his attack, while the site was also apparently used this year by the shooters who attacked two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand and a synagogue in Poway, California, lawmakers told Watkins in a letter last month.
Benjamin Barr, a lawyer for Watkins, said in a statement to the committee, that “8chan has never tolerated illegal speech and has a consistent track record of working with law enforcement agencies when appropriate.”
Watkins said 8chan “has worked responsibly with law enforcement agencies when unprotected speech is discovered on its platform. No single platform can sensibly prevent all hateful, illegal, or threatening speech – it can only act in due time to remove it.”
The company did remove some posts soon after mass shootings in Texas, California and New Zealand, he said.
But Watkins added, “my company has no intention of deleting constitutionally protected hate speech. I feel the remedy for this type of speech is counter speech, and I’m certain that this is the view of the American justice system.”
The message board has been voluntarily down since late August.
Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Bill Berkrot