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Dec. 11, 2019

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8chan back online under the name 8kun

Founder of local software company VanwaTech appears to play role in re-emergence of website

By , Columbian business reporter
Published: November 7, 2019, 9:46pm

8chan, the self-described free speech forum that developed a reputation as a haven for white supremacists, has relaunched after being kicked offline in August. And it appears that one of the players in the site’s return is Nick Lim, a Vancouver software developer who has previously made headlines for providing services to other controversial websites.

The new iteration of the site bears the name 8kun, but tweets from 8chan administrator Ron Watkins suggest that 8kun is intended to be essentially a continuation of 8chan, migrating most of the old website’s topic boards and content over to the new one.

Tweets from Watkins and Lim in October indicated that 8kun would relaunch using security service and a decentralized content delivery network provided by VanwaTech, a software company Lim founded earlier this year.

The apparent goal is to create a version of the website that is not dependent on service from mainstream web hosting and security companies, and therefore can’t be knocked offline if those companies decide to cut off access.

The launch began over the weekend, although Watkins’ tweets make it sound like it’s off to a shaky start.

“We should be live on 8kun.net now,” Watkins tweeted on Saturday. “Not sure how long we will be able to stay online with clearnet due to activists trying to deplatform us, and hackers preparing to ddos us. The tor hidden service should remain available regardless.”

A previous tweet described the “tor hidden service” as a path to access another version of the site hosted by a “deepnet CDN” built by VanwaTech.

8kun’s return is the latest twist in a saga that began to play out in August when website security provider Cloudflare announced that it would no longer provide services to 8chan.

Cloudflare said its decision was prompted by reports that the suspect in the Aug. 3 mass shooting at a Walmart store in Texas had posted a white nationalist manifesto to the imageboard – marking the third time in six months that a mass shooting suspect had posted a hate-filled screed on 8chan beforehand.

Cloudflare provides protection from threats such as distributed denial-of-service attacks, which are intended to knock websites offline by overloading their servers with traffic. Most websites rely on support from Cloudflare or a similar security provider, and 8chan was quickly knocked offline after Cloudflare’s decision to no longer provide its protection.

The imageboard made a brief return a few days later with new security provided by BitMitigate, a company founded by Lim. BitMitigate previously made headlines when Lim began providing services to neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer after Cloudflare dropped it in 2017. Lim sold BitMitigate last year to Seattle-based domain registration company Epik.

Not long after Bitmitigate began providing service to 8chan, the company’s own server provider, Voxility, dropped support, resulting in both Bitmitigate and 8chan being knocked back offline. Epik later said it would no longer support the site.

8chan subsequently bounced around through several different iterations, occasionally popping back online for short periods of time and then disappearing again after being dropped by various service providers.

One the biggest voices fighting to keep the site offline has been its original founder, Fredrick Brennan, who ceded ownership to Ron Watkins and his father Jim Watkins in 2015 and later cut ties with the site, renouncing its right-wing extremist content. According to an Oct. 18 VICE story, Brennan has been contacting the site’s new service providers and urging them to follow Cloudflare’s lead.

Tweets from Lim and Watkins indicate that the decentralized version supported by VanwaTech has been in the works for at least a few weeks. Lim did not reply to messages seeking comment.

Ron Watkins has consistently argued that 8chan serves a critical role as an unrestricted forum for free speech and open discussion, although during congressional testimony in September Jim Watkins stated that 8chan would be back when the site “is able to develop additional tools to counter illegal content under United States law,” according to multiple reports.

Other media reports have noted that the relaunched 8kun so far does not appear to have retained its predecessor’s “/pol/” section, which was the specific board where the suspected mass shooters posted their manifestos — although other unsavory material has quickly re-emerged, including anti-semitic content and a board devoted to the “QAnon” conspiracy theory.

Like Watkins, Lim has also historically cited support for free speech to justify providing services to websites like The Daily Stormer and 8kun, arguing that technology companies should not be in the business of regulating content that users post on the internet.

“I am a 100 percent believer and advocate of free speech that is in accordance with U.S. law,” Lim wrote last week in a Twitter conversation with Brennan and another user. “I believe hugely and absolutely in the values of free speech and the net positivity it brings to the world.”

Brennan offered a different assessment.

“You see getting 8kun back online as a challenge,” he wrote. “You think if you succeed that will help your street cred. I see keeping it offline as a challenge.”

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