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Fredrick Brennan Is the Founder of 8chan. Now He Wants to Take It Offline.

Fredrick Brennan

Fredrick Brennan founded the 8chan image board that became home to QAnon conspiracists. Now he’s horrified by the site — and wants it offline. Brennan talks to Bhaskar Sunkara about free speech in the digital age, how 8chan became such a reactionary cesspool, and what we need to do to build a better internet.

Fredrick Brennan, creator of image board website 8chan, speaks during an interview with AFP in Manila on August 6, 2019. (Ted Aljibe / AFP via Getty Images)

Interview by
Bhaskar Sunkara

A new documentary from HBO, Q: Into the Storm, introduces us to many of the odious characters who helped create and popularize the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory. Set against the cultural backdrop to the Trump era, it offers useful insight into the strange mixture of reactionary politics, grift, and nihilism that helped push the United States to the right. But it’s at its strongest in depicting the rise of today’s internet culture — and chronicling how memes and obscure image boards made the journey from irony-poisoned trolling to non-ironic reaction.

In his early twenties, software designer Fredrick Brennan found himself in the middle of this wave. He created the image board website 8chan, which later became home to Gamergate proponents and QAnon acolytes, in 2013. Since then, he’s become an outspoken critic of the conspiracy theory and has fought to have 8chan (which he no longer owns) taken offline.

Brennan sat down and spoke with Jacobin publisher Bhaskar Sunkara about his life trajectory, what the internet should be, and the question of free speech.


BKS

Since so much of the 8chan conversation has to do with “internet culture,” let’s start with computers and the internet. You said that with your disability, computers provided you with an escape from a young age. You started programming early on too, right?

FB

I started with Python 2. That came about in a weird way. I had an old, broken laptop, and one day, its CD drive stopped working. There was no way to reinstall Windows way back in those days without a CD drive, so I just had to install Linux and figure it out. And that’s why I started with Python 2.

BKS

I feel like you couldn’t say there was something as hegemonic as “internet culture” back then. Everyone was segmented into little cliques.

FB

Back then things were very, very different. I don’t even think that term [internet culture] existed. There weren’t any people you could get to appear on CNN to talk about it, at least.

My first experience online was through a game I had when I was very young — like eight, nine years old — Sonic Adventure 2. We were very poor, so we didn’t replace games or the consoles very often. We would play this game over and over and over again, hundreds of times.

The game had a feature where you could have virtual pets. This was supposed to be a throwaway feature, but after you played the game a few hundred times, that was the only thing left to do. In the game, if you walked up to the bulletin board, the board showed a link you could go to if you had internet, and there was a BBS [bulletin board system] that you could go on, Chao BBS. That was my first online forum.

I have no idea why Sega thought this was a good idea, because Chao BBS was anonymous. You just had to check a box that said you were over thirteen, which everyone under thirteen was doing, and you could read the threads before you did that.

Sega hired moderators, but they weren’t really active. This very early web forum wouldn’t get the company in any trouble at all. But one day the BBS got raided by 4chan while I was on it. That was my first exposure to 4chan. They came in and flooded it, so that every thread just fell off the board.

BKS

How old were you when you first encountered 4chan?

FB

I was eleven. The first time 4chan raided, I was with other old users. Well, we considered ourselves old users of this BBS because we’d been there for months, and these 4chan people were new. We were all against them. We emailed the tech support email for Sega and told them, “You need to ban all these trolls; they’re ruining our Chao BBS.”

The Sega moderators would come on sometimes and do a little cleanup before deciding they had better stuff to do, because this happened over and over. And then I decided that [the 4chan users] were doing something fun.

BKS

If you can’t beat them, join them.

FB

Exactly.

BKS

You go from a niche site for people with niche interests to a site that was far more free-flowing and bizarre.

FB

Compared to the extremely basic Chao BBS that did not even have images, [4chan] was extremely different. It had people of all ages, which was different too. And they discussed topics that adults would not normally talk about with kids.

Now that I look back as an adult, I understand that the Chao BBS was essentially based on 2chan. When I go back at the really old archive and look at how the threads are laid out, I understand that this was actually a two-channel BBS system implemented for a video game release.

BKS

To give readers a bit of background, 2chan was created in 1999 by people trying to circumvent Japan’s restrictive censorship laws.

FB

The laws in Japan were restrictive to the point where you could not really run a BBS because of all the complaints that you would get. You would need an entire team of moderators to field liable complaints. And you would have to take down an enormous amount of content.

BKS

In the United States, there’s just a small category of things you have to look out for: copyright demands, child pornography, direct incitement, and things like that.

FB

Japan has a far more expansive definition of libel, defamation, and so on. The whole point of being anonymous online is to talk shit about people, right? That seems to be the general understanding, and that seems to be what users do on this kind of site. So a BBS that says, “You cannot libel anyone,” is going to be extremely unpopular compared to one that embraces free speech.

2chan had US servers, and US laws applied to them, but since the website was in Japanese, it attracted a Japanese audience looking for an alternative.

BKS

So, Chao BBS (though moderated and presumably based in Japan) was designed at a technical level on the 2chan model, and it then led you to 4chan.

FB

Because Chao BBS had an anonymous two-channel format, it prepared me in a weird way for 4chan. The posting system was similar, and the thread layout is based on age, so that the new stuff is always at the top. Chao BBS was an introduction to 4chan. It was like the training wheels version of 4chan. Then the training wheels come off, and you see this much bigger bulletin board that is about every topic, not just a specific Sega video game.

BKS

I imagine that was more fun.

FB

Much more fun. I was just on 4chan all day now.

BKS

At the beginning, 4chan didn’t really have a politics that was ascribed to it. It was just a free-for-all.

FB

Yes. This was very early.

BKS

This is maybe 2006?

FB

Yes. The first time 4chan started to feel political was when they started attacking Scientology, but that is not far-right politics.

BKS

It’s vaguely progressive.

FB

Vaguely progressive, though generally apolitical. The transition of the 4chan user base to further right ideas happened very slowly — so slowly that most of the users were like frogs in a slowly heating pot of water. Because they were there every day, engaging with the threads and the opinions on the board, they didn’t necessarily see how radical it was getting. I would say that of myself too.

BKS

How do you develop a consistent user base when the board is anonymous? There were no stars by your name or a count of the number of posts you made, like on most of the message boards of the period.

FB

The way that older users make themselves known to each other is by alluding to things that happened a long time ago, things that the newer users would not know about. You prove you’re not new by having a deep institutional knowledge.

Of course, on 4chan, there are ways to post with a trip code. But most of the time, anonymous users can easily identify a long-term user by the way that they write, the things that they know, or how adept they are with the memes.

BKS

It’s like any other subculture, with its own references and callbacks.

FB

Yeah, but 4chan also has a big element of mob mentality and cult-like thinking. On 4chan, getting a lot of replies and attention makes something popular. That’s what keeps threads near the top. This is unlike a traditional forum, where the person posting something is somebody known, and they’re going to get replies in their thread just asking about their day. 4chan is more about the content of the moment. To keep chasing that, to keep getting more replies and more people into their threads, users are going to do what’s popular in 4chan.

BKS

Every day is fresh. You have to earn your views.

FB

Exactly. It’s not like on Twitter, where if you have twenty thousand followers, pretty much anything you tweet is going to get a like or two. When you wake up and it’s a new day on 4chan, you have to innovate again.

That’s what leads to narratives easily taking shape on these communities. You have a bunch of trolls that are just bullshitting with each other, and a big public that takes it seriously. Then, some of the other users on the board start taking it seriously, too, and the original crop of trolls fades away.

This is what happened with QAnon in 2017. There were no proper trolls to fade away. There were new users who actually believed what the original trolls were saying, and they built up the whole construct.

BKS

Chris Poole said there were twenty million active users at 4chan’s peak, but I’m still grappling for its more political shift. Gamergate is often considered its defining right-wing political moment. Was there anything before that — besides the anti-Scientology stuff?

FB

Yes, 4chan was heavy behind Ron Paul in 2012, which was before Gamergate. They essentially made Ron Paul into a meme. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the meme that’s like, “Ron Paul Will Make Anime Real.”

BKS

I remember that one.

FB

I was so enthralled with that when I was eighteen that I even voted for Ron Paul.

BKS

What did you like about Ron Paul? Was it just that he wasn’t Mitt Romney? Was it his libertarian stances on speech, drugs, and that sort of thing?

FB

4chan users went to those things to articulate why they liked Ron Paul. He didn’t want to throw a bunch of people in jail for doing drugs — and for good reasons, the “war on drugs” was extremely unpopular on 4chan.

Ron Paul at a campaign stop in 2011. (Wikimedia Commons)
BKS

What about the other part of Ron Paul’s content, the “you’re on your own” economics — was that appealing to people?

FB

Back then on 4chan, it was hard to say, because there was no Bernie Sanders candidate loudly presenting an antiestablishment. It was basically Obama and Romney.

BKS

But there was no apparent hostility to the welfare state itself and to its helping the “weak” or oppressed minorities.

FB

Obviously, I can’t speak for every single user, but I feel like people were more interested in [Ron Paul’s] wanting to stop the wars and to legalize drugs, especially marijuana.

Of course, the Right was starting to take over on 4chan, and Gamergate sealed the deal, but that wasn’t dominant among most users yet.

BKS

What do people on 4chan say about the drug war now?

FB

These days, given how racist [the site] has become, posters sometimes say, “People shouldn’t go to jail for doing drugs, but [the War on Drugs] is good because it keeps a lot of people we don’t like in jail.” But it wasn’t like this at first. The neo-Nazis had not yet taken over.

BKS

What would happen back then if a Nazi showed up on the board? Would they get denounced or just ignored?

FB

The far-right, neo-Nazi members were so committed to staying on 4chan and arguing with people that they were eventually able to convert more and more of the user base. It happened slowly, but they would first siphon themselves off and have a “National Socialist” general thread.

Everyone would know that the thread with the Nazi flag was for them. But the rest of the board is still ours — right? A lot of people went in there and trolled them, but they would argue with you about anything that you trolled them with, and they would try to convert you. Their strategy was to say, “We’re just here to talk, like you; we’re just here for our free speech. Just leave us alone.”

That was the way that they dealt with the wider community in the beginning. Their theory was: “Why are you so afraid of us? The best ideas will rise to the top. Don’t you believe in free speech?” And this theory worked. The average 4chan user would have to say, “Yes, we do believe in free speech.” So they were able to take over more and more of the board until now. The /pol/ board on 4chan is essentially a Nazi haven. I would say it’s 90 percent of the users.

BKS

Do you think there was something intrinsic about fascism that appealed to the user base? In another universe, could the apolitical culture of 4chan have morphed into a socialist subculture instead of a reactionary one?

FB

No. I do think that there is something intrinsic to fascism because it preys so much on people’s emotions; it’s not as intellectual as socialism. The things that do well on 4chan are things that you don’t have to think too hard about — easy, simple, good-and-evil stories. It’s the same on Facebook, it’s the same on Twitter, but it’s heightened to such a degree on 4chan because there are no rules.

The Nazis are never getting banned on 4chan. They are just going to keep growing.

BKS

Was there something about the culture and the language of the board that facilitated that shift too?

FB

4chan users would always try to go to extremes and troll each other. When they threw around the N-word, the word “cripple,” and “They should all be gassed” — things about Jews — it started to become, like, are they really joking? Are they just trying to emulate South Park? And is this a joke? Or are they starting to actually believe this? This kind of behavior became less about just offending for the sake of offending and more, “No, this is actually what we believe.”

BKS

From an irony humor to a nihilism to an open fascism?

FB

Yes. Ron Paul is essentially the nihilist choice, right? The person you rally behind when you feel like this system has no good choices.

BKS

There’s the controversy around Gamergate and the leaked celebrity nudes. 4chan is now under a lot of pressure to properly moderate their boards. And that’s what opens up the space for alternatives to 4chan. Is that a fair summary?

FB

That is maybe a little bit simplified but not too much. For example, even the people that were very against Scientology got banned from 4chan. They weren’t allowed to stay. They had to form their own offshoot site.

BKS

Why is that?

FB

4chan has a rule against movements. It wasn’t well-enforced back then, because their moderation was terrible. They had so many users and so few moderators, but it was always part of the official rules — that you could not incite real-world action.

BKS

The Nazis got around it because they were just discussing a topic, not telling people to join the Nazi Party or something else.

FB

You can’t say, “Go and join this protest at this date. Go and flood this web server.” Those were technically against the rules, even though they were there all the time. Users would eventually get banned. With the celebrity leaks, 4chan hit a crisis where they had to figure out how to moderate the site and keep stuff off of it.

Trying to keep things off the website, even though they were still there, had worked with the Scientology thing, but it wasn’t going to work now. The site was really going to get shut down. So, with advances in machine learning and by ramping up the number of volunteers, [4chan founder Chris Poole] was able to quash [the controversy]. Then, because he had the power to actually enforce the rules, he was finally able to enforce 4chan’s rules when Gamergate happened. This is what led to Gamergate not only getting banned from 4chan but staying banned.

[The site moderators] were barely trying with the Scientology case. Now, they had rewritten their software to make it easier for human moderators to ban by keyword, ban by this, ban by that. They had algorithms like big social media companies have now — Poole works at Google now. He learned a lot of this stuff by himself on 4chan. He developed the ability to crack down on rule violations; Gamergate was an obvious thing to crack down on, and that directly led to 8chan becoming popular.

BKS

You start 8chan in 2013 as just a programming experiment — you are trying to see how a board like 4chan works. You’re trying to improve the model when you don’t have that many active users.

FB

Correct. In the first year, 8chan is barely a blip on the image board radar. Most users would not know what it is. On 4chan, most users would have no interest in it. Sometimes, users would go to 4chan specifically because they didn’t like the way that Reddit is set up, and 8chan was set up a lot like Reddit. That hurt 8chan’s early chances.

BKS

You weren’t really marketing 8chan for commercial reasons. You were just trying to build a better mousetrap — and your big innovation was allowing users to create their own boards.

FB

I was a free software developer. That was what I was doing for a living. I was working on other people’s image boards. And this was my great portfolio piece, to show that I could change an image board in any way.

I could take an image board software and make it into Reddit. I was entirely focused on the software side; I kept releasing new features and seeing the number of users slowly tick up, and thinking, “Hey, this is working.” But I was not actively trying to get people to come. The only reason that they ended up coming to 8chan was because after they got banned from 4chan, they Googled alternatives to 4chan and started going down the list. All of the other websites were set up in such a way that to get a new board, you needed to ask the admin.

These users went onto websites and started threads all over the website, saying, “Hey, make us a new board. We want this new board. This big thing happened over on 4chan; you can get a lot of users.” These other communities, like 7chan or 4chon, were small insular places. They said, “No, get out,” and banned large swaths of these users. But 8chan was set up differently; the users didn’t need to ask anyone. It was just like making a subreddit.

There was no great marketing campaign. The technical attributes of the site were different enough that they could just click “create your board,” make one, and then start advertising it.

BKS

What were your personal thoughts at the time on Gamergate? Obviously, it’s leading to people on your site and that’s good for you, but did you actually feel strongly about it? Were you a defender of “ethics in video game journalism”? [Laughs]

FB

After I stopped playing that Sonic game, I stopped being a “gamer.” To this day, I don’t play video games in my daily life. I’m just not that good at them — and I feel like they’re dopamine machines that make you think that you’re achieving things when you’re not really achieving anything at all. It would be a better use of my time to contribute to software development.

If I want to relax, I just watch something instead of putting all of that mental energy into a game. So I’m not a gamer. This whole controversy started on 4chan’s /v/ board, which was not a board that I frequented. I was totally caught off guard. I did not know that this was about to happen.

A QAnon sign is seen as Donald Trump supporters hold a rally on January 5, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images)

When it did happen, I figured out what was going on alongside the other users. But I’ll be perfectly honest. I had very good reasons to look the other way — look how popular my site is now. Am I really going to kick these guys off? They’re having such a good time with all these features I wrote; it’s finally working.

This early on, when there wasn’t any mainstream press about Gamergate, was I going to tell them, “Well, actually, I think you all are wrong”? That wasn’t in the cards. After the first month, when I started getting offers from people like [Jim] Watkins to take over the site, I knew it was really something.

BKS

You didn’t really have a commercial plan, because it was just a programming project to you, right? Even if you wanted to monetize it, that would have been difficult because of the huge bandwidth burden, and because you didn’t have advertisers who wanted to be associated with the content being posted.

FB

If you want to understand my thinking, you’ve got to understand the free software movement itself. In my mind, even if I was not the one who could keep this going, I had done a good thing by innovating in the world of free software. Someone could use the software that I had written and make their own version of it. Now, users will demand the ability to create boards. It’s something that has to be there.

BKS

You’re losing money as the site grows.

FB

I would never have called myself a socialist back then, but I was extremely socialist in thinking. You give away all the software for free, based on your ability to make it, and people help support your efforts with whatever they can give. It’s a gift economy.

BKS

More of the communist ethos than the socialist one.

FB

Yes, that ideal of the gift economy. But I knew that this was never going to be my main job, and I knew that I was not able to keep 8chan up for long. So I was essentially looking for someone to take it over as soon as it became popular. I didn’t want to run this for long.

BKS

What kind of server bills were you racking up?

FB

Our costs went from $10 a month to $2,000 a month. That’s just bandwidth. There’s an extra $1,000 for the servers; there are all sorts of extra costs around domains, and you need servers in certain countries and data centers that aren’t going to kick you out. That costs more.

Basically, you need to not work anymore, so you need to fund yourself too. This website is extremely toxic to your life. Administering it is your life now.

BKS

You have volunteers to help you moderate it, though, right?

FB

Yes, and that helps a lot, but there still needs to be somebody with a final say, the administrator. There still needs to be somebody who vets all of the legal requests and works to make sure the site continues to operate as it’s rapidly expanding.

BKS

Were you getting some donations to keep things going?

FB

We had Patreon for a while, and then Patreon cut us off. Once that happened, it was essentially a financial death spiral. No bank in the world would give me money without a business plan.

I know image board economics, and I know that Christopher Poole struggled throughout 4chan’s entire history to keep it online. That is the history we’re dealing with here.

The cost became insurmountable, and if the Watkinses or someone else had not taken it over, it would have closed in January 2015 at the latest.

BKS

You talk a lot about free software and that culture and ethos but not a lot about free speech. Did you feel strongly about the principle, and was it an animating part of creating 8chan?

FB

The opinion grew on me over time, as it was the main thing that I could say to convince people that 8chan was good. I learned how to make that argument, and I was around Jim and Ron Watkins, who are basically the experts of making that argument.

They would essentially form a feedback loop. The funniest thing about 8chan was the rules page, which just said something like, “Don’t do anything illegal.” That was actually an act of laziness — not ideological belief.

It became a rallying point of principle after the users looked at that and said, “Oh, this is great. This is the best thing we’ve ever seen. We love this idea of “everything is permitted except for what’s explicitly illegal by US law.” But it was only there because I wanted to think of a short way to write a rules page so I could move on to what I found more interesting about the software.

BKS

How much personal moderation did you have to do in the later days? Were you actually scrolling through some of the nasty stuff being posted? Or, by then, were there volunteer moderators doing that?

FB

Even in the earliest first year of 8chan’s history, I came up with a way to blackmail the owners of large boards to do the moderation work themselves. Large board owners received a lot of benefits from having these boards. They didn’t want me to take their boards away from them, and they had no way to stop me from doing that.

So I told them, “Hey, this whole site is going to close if there’s not some more moderation against child porn and illegal content, and as the largest board owner, it is your responsibility to do that cleanup. Otherwise, I will take your board away and give it to somebody who will do it.” That was the deal. And the crazy thing is, most of the board owners were completely fine with that, because it gave them more power.

BKS

You created federalism, basically.

FB

I created feudalism.

BKS

Feudal lords got a yield of the crops being produced — you just got sent the server bills!

FB

But here’s the thing: Christopher Poole over at 4chan could have never done what I did, because he created all the boards, and he had to actually put out volunteer moderator applications. But I would just pick from the top board owners and say, “Hey, you and your volunteers need to start doing this.” The responsibility was shifted.

BKS

How many active users did you have at your peak?

FB

The statistic that I tracked always was posts. In 2013, we would get one hundred posts in a day. And then at the peak of Gamergate, we were getting seven thousand posts an hour.

BKS

You found your benefactor able to take on the server costs — the Watkins father and son — who reach out to you, and you arranged to hand over 8chan to them, but for an initial period, you remain on as administrator.

FB

Yeah. 8chan was in extremely dire straits. There was no way for it to raise funds after the Patreon got cut off. I was not even that upset about that. I thought that this was an amusing little misadventure and that somebody who has more money than me was probably going to use my software after 8chan went down and make something like it.

But the Watkinses had a totally different view, which is that keeping the users where they are is the most important thing. It wasn’t about the board software or anything like that. It was about keeping these users active on our platform.

They pitched themselves to me as being these wonderful, unknown American benefactors of 2chan. They proved to me that they actually owned 2channel by putting a link to 8chan on 2chan.

2channel was mythical in the US as the grandfather of the image boards. Legitimate ownership of 2chan would make them perfectly qualified to operate 8chan, and it seemed like a no-brainer to me.

That crumbled with time — and I later found out that they apparently stole 2chan.

BKS

Did they actually think they could monetize 8chan? Right now, they talk a lot about how it’s a drain on their productive businesses, but they keep it going for the sake of free speech.

FB

In the beginning, they absolutely thought that they could make money with it. I would never have encouraged that — it’s always been a money sink.

But Ron [Watkins] mostly convinced his dad [Jim Watkins] to do it, I think. Ron puffed up the idea that it could make money for his dad, and his dad saw all of the users and all of the activity and thought that it could. So, in the very beginning, they were looking at using their data center, where they were already paying a lot of these bills. They have their own data center; they have their own electric; they have their own technician in that data center. It’s like any consolidation. Adding 8chan onto that was a lot cheaper for them than it would be for me.

BKS

This transfer happens in 2015?

FB

Yeah.

BKS

Obviously, I’m in my bubble, but when I think of 2015 and 2016 and youth politicization in the Anglophone world in that time, I think of the political left. You have the alt-right and the Trump memesters, but a lot of our generation is supporting Bernie Sanders’s long-shot campaign and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK.

But 8chan, which has a large internet reach, is by now pretty firmly entrenched on the Right. Was it like that from the beginning — with a distinct political hue — instead of just being an eclectic internet thing?

FB

After Gamergate, pretty much all of the users that came over [to 8chan] were the far-right users. They had all gotten banned from 4chan because they were the ones that supported Gamergate.

They flooded in and made this a right-wing website. But one interesting thing — the first leftist image board started on 8chan too.

It wasn’t all right-wing, then. But you’re totally right to say that the majority of the users were far-right.

BKS

At the time, how would you have described your politics?

FB

Pretty much libertarian. That’s how I always described myself back then. I essentially believed in all of that.

In my really grandiose moments, I would even try to say that 8chan is like an establishment of anarcho-capitalism: you’re all board owners, and you’re all working together on this collective to make sure that we have certain principles. But now I see that it was basically feudalism.

BKS

A lot of that jives with my understanding of capitalism too. Are you attracted to either Bernie or Trump at the time in any way, as establishment alternatives?

FB

I was always interested in Bernie Sanders, and I would even say that I’m one of the rare mythical people who supported Bernie Sanders first and then got mad at the establishment Democrats when he lost.

I moved to the Philippines, and so US politics became a lot less important in my daily life. It barely impacted my life at all — even though what we were doing obviously had a negative impact on political life back home.

BKS

Both the Watkinses were Trump supporters, openly?

FB

Well, they became Trump supporters. Before [Trump] went down that escalator [to announce his presidential bid in 2015], they weren’t Trump supporters, but then they quickly shifted over to his side.

BKS

Do you feel like they had a political core, or were they just nihilists playing a game?

FB

They’re nihilists in the sense that they don’t think what they’re doing is going to work. But they also thought that if it did work and there was a fascist coup — as Jim says in the Q: Into the Storm documentary, if all of the politicians got lined up and then shot, and then you brought in the next batch and they got lined up and shot — that this would be really cool, and that it would solve a lot of problems.

I guess it’s better to say that they’re fascists who are not very confident they’re going to get their way. But that vision of rupture is what excited them so much about Q.

BKS

I’ve been avoiding Q stuff, even though that’s the thing that’s going to get all the clicks, but do you think Ron Watkins is Q?

FB

He became Q. Absolutely.

BKS

And do you think at the beginning it was probably a Trump operative or someone else?

FB

I have no way of knowing if it was a Trump operative or not. I tend to think that it wasn’t, because if you look back through the archives of the /pol/ board on 4chan, you can see that there were many similar LARPers, as we would call them — just people that were pretending at the time.

But these guys would get bored, and they’d either stop posting or admit it was all fake and go away.

With Q, that never happened — they never gave up the game. That made it valuable when it landed in 8chan’s lap for Ron Watkins to take over.

BKS

The broader question about free speech has been brought up a lot in response to 8chan and its developments. What do you think should be done? On the one hand, we already have speech laws in the United States around direct incitement and around a host of other things. And it seems like the issue with 8chan was that those existing laws and rules weren’t being enforced and that there wasn’t a clear mechanism to punish the owners for not enforcing it.

FB

Not “there wasn’t” — there isn’t. We’re in the same situation; there’s no way to enforce or punish at all.

BKS

So what should be done?

FB

Well, I hate to disappoint you, but I’m a computer programmer, and these days I mostly work as a type designer. I’m not the best person to tell you what the future of the internet should be.

BKS

But it’s a space where you made a big impact!

FB

Right now, if we do not start to enforce some rules online, the internet is going to balkanize, and we’re going to lose something great. People are going to look back on this era of the open internet as the time before national exchanges where you’re passing email, but you’re not really able to engage on [other people’s] websites, and they’re not able to engage on yours. Everybody is enforcing local law — it’s called cyber sovereignty, right?

Every contract right now is pursuing a version of that, where they enforce their local laws on websites and websites that refuse to comply. 8chan got banned in Australia, New Zealand, etc.

We are at a big risk of losing our global internet if we don’t find an international way to come together and to enforce some standards on the internationally available internet. Because if the US continues to be ineffectively governed and to have a Congress that is not able to pass any laws, no other country is going to want to let their citizens access our internet. And that is going to hurt the entire internet. Every country will have a great firewall, like China and Russia; those are being built all over. There’s even one in Thailand, which is a small country. We’re talking way back to these past periods where Japanese users could just hike on over to American servers.

I do agree with you that we need a way to enforce existing laws and standards, because Jim and Ron Watkins impersonated a federal agent for gain. That is a federal crime, and they weren’t ever punished.

We absolutely need to start enforcing our laws better and see that the internet and the world are not separate things. If we continue to have this artificial disconnection in the minds of our leaders, that somehow crimes that happen online are less important than crimes that happen in the real world, then no other country is going to want their citizens to [join our internet]. I do feel strongly about that. Since we have not even tried enforcing our own laws and standards yet, why don’t we do that before we make sweeping changes beyond that?