ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (FOX 13) - Less than 19 minutes before a gunman opened fire at an El Paso Walmart, killing 22 people, investigators believe he posted a 4–page document of white nationalist, anti-immigrant writings on "8chan," a website once called a free-speech utopia.
Now, experts say it has become a cesspool of the internet’s darkest content and, in some cases, violent threats made by would-be gunmen who would go on to carry out mass shootings.
This is not the first time "8chan" has been used by accused gunmen in deadly mass shootings. The man accused of shooting up a synagogue in California, and the alleged gunman at a mosque in New Zealand, also posted on the site in the days, weeks, and months before opening fire.
Now, the website’s creator is calling for it to be shut down.
“'8chan' specifically became a place to go to where people would push the boundaries for what was acceptable,” said cyber expert Chris Jenkins, the chief digital officer at the Symphony Agency.
The website is described as an imageboard website made up of user-created message boards, solely moderated by the users themselves, without any interaction with the website’s administrators.
“Anyone is capable of posting anything. They are often collection points for people who don’t feel well-integrated into society," Jenkins said.
Jenkins said "8chan" users often egg each other on.
“When the guy posted before he did the shooting in El Paso, someone immediately posted underneath him ‘get the high score’ meaning get more kills than previous shooters have," Jenkins said.
Since the shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, where nine people were shot and killed in the city's Oregon District, the website’s owner, Jim Watkins posted a video message on YouTube.
“My company takes a firm stand in helping law enforcement and within minutes of these two tragedies we were working with FBI agents to find out what information we could to help in their investigation," Watkins said.
As of Thursday, "8chan" is no longer active after it’s network provider, Cloudfare terminated its service in the wake of its connection to the El Paso shooter.
“Some of these guys are like, 'Oh, it’s satire. It’s just a joke. I wasn't really going to do that,' until they do. So trying to figure out where that line is, that’s a challenge to be figured out,“ Jenkins said.
The federal government does regularly monitor sites like an "8chan" for threatening posts that may incite violence. Just this week, the United States House Committee on Homeland Security called for the owner of the website, Jim Watkins to testify, but it's unclear if and when that may happen.