What is 8chan? The site used by NZ terrorist to spread hate

Shortly before the mass shootings at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch, the gunman posted a link on 8chan to the Facebook page where he would live-stream his attack.

A man aged in his 20s has been charged with murder following the shootings at the al Noor mosque in central Christchurch and then the nearby Linwood mosque.

Posting to 8chan, he wrote: “The Facebook link is below, by the time you read this I should be going live.”

He encouraged users to spread his message.

Within minutes users were applauding the gunman and sharing the link, while others said that sharing the information could land 8chan in trouble.

:: So what is 8chan?

It is an imageboard, a type of internet forum in which people primarily discuss topics using images attached to each of their posts rather than just text, which contains explicit and offensive material.

It is unaffiliated with the infamous imageboard 4chan although it shares the same culture of anonymity and format of image posting.

In practice, its different boards focus on different topics, including video games and anime.

They each feature a wide range of anonymous contributions and discussions, but those on its ‘politically incorrect’ board prominently include hate speech and antisemitic conspiracy theories, as well as an abundance of slurs towards minority ethnic and sexual groups.

8chan features discussions of alleged “Muslims [sic] Reactions” inciting racial hatred, with unsourced images purporting to show a Muslim social media account reacting to the shooting by declaring war.

Another thread alleges that the shooting was conducted as part of a Jewish conspiracy, and others referencing a far-right party being elected in a local election in Spain.

It has been the subject of numerous scandals, including hosting child abuse material, involvement in the harassment of female games developers during Gamergate, and for its involvement in so-called swatting attacks – where people make false reports to police in order for them to be targeted by SWAT teams.

:: What is it used for?

Image boards have historically been used to discuss anime, originating with the 2chan image board founded in 2001.

However, the lack of moderation on English-language site 4chan meant that they developed a particular kind of lawless culture, and historically were where many internet memes originated.

However, in recent years they have become exceptionally controversial, particularly due to harassment campaigns and alleged raiding activities carried out by the alt-right.

:: Right-wing extremism

The most popular board on 8chan is the ‘politically incorrect’ board.

Although other boards exist discussing video games, anime, and pornography, the role of the politically incorrect board on both 8chan and 4chan has been the subject of much scrutiny by academics.

Speaking to Sky News in 2017, one academic researcher who had analysed the role of so-called “politically incorrect” boards in online hate speech, said that they had a significant effect on attacks on other websites.

:: Were there connections to violence?

The site claims to have one global rule, that users: “Do not post, request, or link to any content that is illegal in the United States of America and do not create boards with the purpose of posting or spreading such content.”

This means that much of the content is protected by US free speech laws, although it could be considered illegal in other jurisdictions such as the UK.

Among the most contentious areas of debate of US law are what actually constitutes incitement to violence.

In the hundreds of messages posted about the shooting, many express respect and apparent endorsement of the terror attack with Nazi imagery and antisemitic language.

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