The owner of the anonymous online messaging board 8chan, which has been increasingly used by extremists, white supremacists and alleged by gunmen in mass shootings, has been subpoenaed by the House Homeland Security Committee to answer questions next month about countering potentially dangerous content posted to the site.
“In recent years, violent extremist content has proliferated on both large and small social media platforms,” committee chairman Bennie Thompson, a Democrat, and ranking member Mike Rogers, a Republican, said in a joint statement. “At least three acts of deadly white supremacist extremist violence have been linked to 8chan in the last six months. We have questions on what is being done to counter this trend so we can be sure it is being properly addressed.”
The subpoena, issued to Jim Watkins, came in the wake of two deadly mass shootings committed earlier this month by separate gunmen in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas. The alleged El Paso gunman posted a 2,300-word manifesto filled with racist and white nationalist language to 8chan just minutes before gunning down nearly two dozen people at a Walmart.
A U.S. veteran who now lives in the Philippines, Watkins rejected the notion that his platform contributed to the shooting.
“My company takes a firm stand on 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 investigations,” Watkins stated in a 7-minute long video posted to YouTube.”We have never protected illegal speech, as it seems that we have been accused of by some less than credible journalists.”
In an interview following the shootings, the website’s creator told The New York Times that it was time to “shut the site down” because of the type of hateful messages and content it’s fostered in recent years.
“It’s not doing the world any good,” said Fredrick Brennan, the creator of the website. “It’s a complete negative to everybody except the users that are there. And you know what? It’s a negative to them, too. They just don’t realize it.”
The committee’s subpoena states that Watkins must appear the morning of September 5 to testify.
This is a developing story and will be updated with additional information.