Owner of forum site 8chan vows to implement changes after Homeland Security inquiry
A still taken from Jim Watkin's video statement published Tuesday, August 6, 2019 (Youtube)
The owner of forum site 8chan, the website where the El Paso gunman reportedly posted a 'manifesto,' prior to the shooting, has vowed to implement changes after a Homeland Security Committee inquiry.
Jim Watkins, who was subpoenaed on Aug. 14 by the House Committee on Homeland Security to testify about “white supremacist extremist violence" linked to the site, completed a closed-door inquiry on Thursday with U.S. Homeland Security Chairman Bennie G. Thompson and ranking member Mike Rogers.
In a joint statement issued Thursday, Thompson and Rogers said that 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.”
What was said?
Although the deposition was behind closed doors, Watkins issued a statement through 8Chan’s attorney Benjamin Barr, laying out the sites organization, structure and its relationship with law enforcement and future plans for improvement.
“If 8chan comes back online, it will be done when 8chan develops additional tools to counter illegal content under United States law,” the statement reads.
Watkins says in the statement that the site is currently “offline voluntarily,” after a very public battle last month to restore the site after the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas. The gunman reportedly posted his “manifesto” on 8chan, which caused a chain reaction of web hosting companies cutting ties with the forum site, forcing it to go dark.
8Chan has courted controversy for years as it purports itself to be the one of the last bastions of 'free speech' on the Internet, and has been accused of harbouring and amplifying extremist, white supremacist and misogynistic hate speech content.
The site and Watkins allege that under U.S. First Amendment laws, all speech, except for a tiny percentage of criminal hate speech, should be protected, which Watkins expounded upon in a fiery video statement released on YouTube last month.
What is going to change?
In the preface to Watkin’s personal statement, attorney Barr said that “while Mr. Watkins is empathetic to the victims” of the mass shootings associated with the site, “8chan has never tolerated illegal speech and has a consistent track record of working with law enforcement agencies when appropriate.”
The statement outlines instances where content was removed after acts of violence such as the Christchurch shooting, the Poway synagogue shooting and the El Paso shooting.
Barr claims that after 8Chan went dark last month, the site took “steps to improve its ability to identify illegal content and to act more quickly in doing so.”
One of those steps is a promise from Watkins that “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.”
Watkins said that he and his company “intend to fully comply with the removal of speech that does not pass the emergency test,” but that the company “has no intention of deleting constitutionally protected hate speech.”