Three mass shooters, including the suspect who opened fire on the Chabad of Poway Synagogue on April 27, posted their manifestos on a website called 8Chan.
The shooter responsible for the attack on a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand posted his manifesto on 8Chan, as did the shooter in El Paso.
“8Chan is an extremist website,” said Matt Wagner, who is with the Anti-Defamation League in San Diego. “Our national director and CEO has previously referred to it as the septic tank of social media.”
Wagner says websites like 8Chan, and even mainstream websites like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, have a responsibility to act.
“You have a moral and ethical responsibility to call out hate and bigotry and extremism and to take action, not just words but action to stop it. Wagner recognizes Americans have right to free speech and he says the ADL has stood for more than 100 years in defense of free speech.
“That does not mean free speech needs to be met with acceptance or complacency,” he said.
Wagner says the ADL applauds the hosting service that dropped 8Chan as a client, but says there will be other outlets to take its place.
“Maybe extremists will continue to find places to talk to each other but what we can hope is that responsible private businesses and elected leaders can stop giving them a platform to spread their message.”
“Before the internet and social media, extremists would have to go out and find people in person, meet them face to face, and cultivate them,” says NBC correspondent Jacob Ward. “These days we’re talking about it happening in masse over platforms that are incredibly difficult to patrol.”
Ward says under the Communications Decency Act, these websites are immune to prosecution. “They are treated as a neutral purveyor of content created by their users. They are not legally liable for what comes across their platforms.”
People basically have a right to say and write what they want under the First Amendment. That right of free speech makes it more challenging to patrol these websites too.
“You have to remember in a country that values free speech, we are not allowed to follow and monitor the communication of every-day citizens without probable cause, and so it’s a very difficult task. How do we get out in front of these sentiments before they become full-fledged acts of violence that we are seeing?” Ward said.