Why Google should delist 8chanPosted: March 10, 2016
The post originally appeared on the TouchVision website in August of 2015 until January 2016 when the company closed down. Given the recent 8chan controversy over archiving and child porn, I thought I would upload it here.
Sometime on Aug. 12, Google took a rather monumental step by delisting 8chan, an imageboard largely known as the central hive for pro-GamerGate supporters. But then a few days later, it seems Google changed its mind, as the site began appearing again in search listings, some links with a warning.
Google did not respond to a request for comment about this flip-flopping, but that’s not the real issue, here. It’s clear, now, years after its debut, that 8chan should remain delisted, aka not show up in search results, permanently. By delisting 8chan, Google would set a major precedent for how to quell harassment, especially of women, on the web, as we wait for laws and legislation to catch up with technology — after all, most of the high profile cases, especially in GamerGate, have stemmed from 8chan.
Besides being the central hub for GamerGate, that vitriolic movement of busybodies who crusade to eradicate progressive values in video gaming and related journalism (mainly by harassing women), 8chan is also known for its robust pedophilia community. Child abuse in the form of sexualized images of children is apparently why Google delisted 8chan in the first place. Or that was the reason given in (the lack of) search results, anyway. The warning now shows up in search — “suspected child abuse content” — for certain 8chan listings.
8chan was founded in October of 2013 by software developer Fredrick Brennan, who said he thought the Internet was becoming too constrictive, specifically 4chan, which he called too “authoritarian” (ha!). 8chan was supposed to be a “free-speech-friendly 4chan alternative,” which means the site hosts content even 4chan won’t. The site was a bit of a dud until September of last year when it exploded in popularity because of a 4chan ban on GamerGate threads for violations of the site’s policies on harassment. GamerGaters then moved to 8chan, so they could continue to freely “discuss” topics related to how women in the video game industry were ruining everything with their opinions.
Fast forward to last week, when it seems 8chan had finally gotten too creepy and cesspool-y for Google (despite always being like that). In response to the delisting, Brennan wrote a Medium post implying some conspiracy at Google and how bothered he was by this unfair action, while at the same time writing this won’t affect the site — most of 8chan’s traffic is direct and doesn’t come through Google search. In regards to the charges of sexualized images of children on the site, Brennan has called the content “reprehensible” but has been steadfast in his mission to support totally unrestricted free speech on 8chan. It is important to note that child porn is not protected by the First Amendment, so Brennan is advocating for a type of freedom that the United Nations, and even the Phillipines, where Brennan lives, does not support.
But let’s say Google did want to single 8chan out in delisting it from search results, a move the company has so far only made for sites containing things like credit card fraud or copyright infringement — they wouldn’t be in the wrong to do so. In fact, it would make the web a safer place for women and minorities, the most common targets of angry “Chan” hordes.
Again, according to the message posted in Google search results, 8chan was delisted because it was housing content considered to be abusive of children. But the harm the site inflicts isn’t limited to pedophilia. 8chan is known for a bunch of other abhorrent activity that can be quite literally life-ruining. There’s even a tutorial section called “Ruin Life Tactics,” where Channers suggest doing everything from sending someone pizzas they didn’t order or signing victims up for email spam to putting gross stuff in their mailboxes or even putting holes in condoms.
One of the boards on 8chan, the infamous /baphomet/, has been behind most of the harassment of GamerGate victims since last year. Zoe Quinn tweeted that the board “exists purely to post doxx and organize SWATing attempts,” and she wasn’t exaggerating. Doxxing is the act of sharing sensitive personal information in order to punish and humiliate the target. Brianna Wu had her personal information leaked on 8chan, as have countless other women. The threat to shoot up Anita Sarkeesian’s talk at Utah State University — or at the very least talk of where to buy a gun near the university — was discussed on 8chan days prior to the threat.
Harassment isn’t confined to GamerGate victims on 8chan, though — users will go after anyone. In February, 40 police officers and a judge were doxxed, and their social security numbers sold to others.
In January, the site became a hotbed for SWATing, the practice of calling in a fake bomb threat or hostage situation at a private residence so a group of officers show up and violently arrest the target (usually the homeowner). This is, again, done to humiliate and embarrass victims, not to mention be a potentially expensive and dangerous prank depending on how severe a threat the SWAT team thought the homeowner was. Broken windows, doors and dead pets are par for the course.
Those in the /baphomet/ board state their tactics are “within the law,” but they’re really not. SWATing could be prosecuted as a federal crime. Doxxing, collecting information on someone, is technically legal, but it is prosecutable if it leads to harassment or something like revenge porn, for which many states have passed laws criminalizing it. 8chan activities, like mobilizing a mass of people to send threatening text messages to a woman, are only within the confines of the law because the law has yet to catch up with technology. Delisting a site like 8chan would help mitigate the harassment women and minorities face online.
Aside from the child abuse images, SWATing and GamerGate harassment that originates on the site — things that some consider debatable in terms of legality — consider all of the definitely illegal activities of 8chan users. Some are more on the benign side, like the coordinating of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, but others like credit card fraud are more malignant.
Ars Technica called Google’s move to delist 8chan an “unprecedented” step, but Google has been filtering search results because of illegal activity, like that of torrent sites because they share copyrighted material, for years now. Google also started removing results related to revenge porn (now a punishable crime in many states) this June, when exes share nude photos of their former lovers in order to humiliate and punish. Google said, “Revenge porn images are intensely personal and emotionally damaging, and serve only to degrade the victims—predominantly women.” The search engine has also removed listings of sensitive information (namely banking information) at the request of victims who have been doxxed.
Sure, 8chan as a site isn’t posting abhorrent content everywhere — one of the site’s most popular sections is its right-leaning political boards — but that doesn’t mean its content should be featured and readily available as a top search result, especially when it has become such a driving force in online harassment. The more accessible the sensitive information on 8chan is, the more it will be abused, and the more harm it will cause to people.
So if Google is already removing content that humiliates, degrades and causes harm — like that of revenge porn — delisting 8chan wouldn’t be that much a stretch. And it’s a move that could have greater positives than negatives for the Internet, and its users, as a whole.