The Buffalo massacre puts the spotlight on a hateful website

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By Donie O’Sullivan, CNN Business

On Saturday afternoon, an anonymous user on online forum 4chan wrote: “Just 20 minutes ago I witnessed a mass shooting at a top supermarket live on Twitch with about 20 other viewers.”

The hateful forum 4chan, where all users post anonymously, appears to be at the center of the made-for-web massacre that took place at a Buffalo supermarket on Saturday – from the discussion on the platform apparently helping to pin down the alleged attacker inspire to spread the gruesome video of the shooting.

A 180-page document attributed to the man suspected in the shooting that killed 10 people references how he was affected by what he saw on 4chan, including how he was affected by watching a Videos of the 2019 mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand – which were also streamed live.

Ben Decker, the CEO of Memetica, a threat analysis company, told CNN, “This is a step-by-step copycat attack on Christchurch, both in real attack; planning and selection of destination and online; Coordinating the live stream and dissemination of the manifesto via fringe forums.”

Founded in 2003, 4chan claims it receives 22 million unique visitors each month, half of which are in the United States.

While the site hosts forums on a variety of topics — including video games, memes, and anime — and says it has rules against racism, its lax approach to content moderation means that hate speech, which isn’t allowed by mainstream platforms, grows spread more freely on 4chan.

4chan is part of the wild west of the internet. While big tech platforms like Facebook and Twitter are at least trying to monitor their sites, almost anything goes on 4Chan. Some parts of its forums are devoted almost entirely to sharing racist and anti-Semitic memes and tropes.

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A similar site, 8kun — originally called 8chan and spun off from 4chan when that forum banned the movement known as Gamergate — has been linked to other atrocities.

Immediately after the Buffalo shooting, some users on 4chan didn’t discuss the horrific loss of life, but instead shared methods of re-uploading the shooting video so more people could see it.

Twitch, the Amazon-owned service on which the shooter live-streamed part of the attack, said it removed the video for violating its policy two minutes after the violence in the video began. The actual live stream itself was only seen by a small number of people, maybe just 20 or so, according to screenshots circulating from the stream.

4channer, who appeared to have screen-recorded the live stream, discussed tactics for re-uploading the video to other websites and services that could be used to hide their identities while they did so.

Copies of the video circulated online on Sunday. Some of these copies have reportedly been viewed millions of times.

Platforms like Facebook and Twitter banned sharing of the video on their websites, but the companies were clearly struggling to contain the spread on Sunday.

We don’t have statistics for the Buffalo video yet, but in the 24 hours after the Christchurch shooting, Facebook said it removed 1.5 million copies of the shooter’s video.

The preservation and sharing of these videos by far-right communities on 4chan and other fringe forums, according to Decker, may help incite further bloodshed, as indicated by what the Buffalo suspect wrote in his alleged document.

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CNN reached out to 4chan for comment.

The CNN Wire
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