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28 May 2020

93 Days Dark: 8chan Coder Explains How Blockchain Saved His Troll Forum

93 Days Dark: 8chan Coder Explains How Blockchain Saved His Troll Forum

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8chan, the anarchic internet forum that went dark in August, came back online this weekend as 8kun.

“We are at the forefront of the deplatforming war and developing tools and techniques that other websites can use when they too get deplatformed,” Ron Watkins, an 8chan admin, told CoinDesk.

“Unlike other platforms that have faced controversy for banning relatively innocuous speech, 8chan features a full commitment to the promise of the First Amendment,” site owner Jim Watkins (Ron’s father), told the House Committee on Homeland Security in a closed-door session on Sept4

While the clearnet, or publicly available, version of the site is down intermittently, and unlikely to survive an onslaught of continued compromising attacks, Watkins described a strategy to rebuild 8chan through decentralized workarounds instead of relying on consolidated services that become unusable in the face of controversy.

Lokinet provides a pathway for hosting web content – including decentralized marketplaces, forums and other web applications – that is resistant to censorship and deplatforming.

Any website accessed through the “.loki” top-level domain (TLD) is passed through an “onion-style” router that bounces user data packets, necessary to surf the web, through a distributed network of nodes to obfuscate users’ destinations and origins.

Watkins was clear that 8kun has not partnered with the Loki development team, but instead is “using the network that they set up and made available for anybody.”.

Simon Harman, director of the Loki nonprofit based in Melbourne, Australia, said he was surprised that the network withstood the influx of new users, many of whom likely downloaded the software to support 8chan’s relaunch.

Watkins said he set up a few Lokinet addresses and front ends that connect to the network and service the website.

“I have no intention of trying to get rid of 8kun or shut down the network, I’m just worried that it is quite easy to [attack] the network in this early state, and someone will probably do it, but it certainly won’t be me,” he said.

The limited number of nodes running Loki will make 8kun highly visible on the network, and vulnerable to government crackdowns, Shpak said.

“User- and community-built nodes can sustain 8kun on lokinet with or without the lokinet dev team’s approval,” he said.

In 2018, when 8chan was still alive and alternately horrifying or thrilling people, Watkins and Brennan began developing a blockchain solution that would become known as susucoin.

Blockchains are “shitty, slow, and expensive databases that do not scale well at all for something like user-generated content across billions of data points,” said Andrew Torba, CEO of Gab, a social network that prioritizes free speech over mainstream sensitivities and was itself deplatformed amid a media controversy.

“For liability to stick, one would, for example, need to prove a direct connection between a user’s post and an 8kun employee, or that 8kun knew of specific harmful behavior on its platform and chose not to report it — essentially, that 8chan had exercised editorial control over its contents, which can be difficult to prove in a court of law,” said Nicole Ligon, lecturing fellow at Duke University School of Law.

As 8kun’s lights flickered on for the first time Saturday, Watkins told Twitter followers that the new rollout would take a few days to become stable.

“The risk is that if we cannot defend against the attack then our presence will be on and off until we figure out how to defend it,” Watkins said.

Through this process, Watkins has begun to doubt that blockchain technology can save free speech, let alone save 8kun.

“Right now, all the blockchain-based platform experiments still impose too much technical friction for users, such that normal people won’t bother with them,” said Justin Murphy, an independent scholar who studies fringe online political groups

The answer probably lies in maligned sites going dark, whether that be through tor, loki, i2p or zeronet, Watkins said

“What matters on the deepnet is that large public corporations are not in control and don’t have a say in what content is online or not,” he said

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