'Hotwheels', And The Regrets Of Fredrick Brennan

Fredrick Brennan

"Even the idea that some cultures are supreme to others is on shaky grounds in some leftist circles. Supremacy, any kind of supremacy, is toxic politically."

- Fredrick Brennan

Many people dislike rules. For many reasons, restrictions limit creativity, free speech, and innovations of new things.

This is why rules are made to be broken.

Unfortunately, when some rules are broken and people are happy with the derestrictions, the moment often brings the inner devil in us.

The same goes with 8chan, the American-based imageboard website composed of user-created boards.

With users becoming moderators of their own boards, the site has literally zero interaction from administrators. As a result, the site has been linked with harmful subcultures of the internet and activism.

Google and others hate it, and so as its founder, Fredrick Brennan.


Early Life

Fredrick Brennan was born in 1994, and raised in Albany New York.

Brennan has a rare disease called Osteogenesis imperfecta, or also known as brittle bone disease. Mainly affecting his bones, Brennan who is also known for his nickname 'Hotwheels', estimated that he experienced broken bones 120 times in his first 19 years of his life.

This condition paralyzed his growth.

His short limbs prevented him in doing what normal people can do, and requires him to use a wheelchair.

Brennan comes from a multigenerational family with this disease, with his mother also suffering from the same condition.

After his parents divorced when Brennan was 14, Brennan was placed in a foster care in New York. But because of his conditions, and how he saw his life was, he once supported the voluntary sterilization of people with similar severe inheritable genetic conditions, to prevent more people like him to be born.

Disabled since birth, Brennan couldn't do what normal children do. As a result, he was "hooked" on activities he can do alone, including using computers, in which he started learning it since the tender age of 6.

Brennan created his first computer program at the age of 13, and started putting interest in the internet culture, most notably after being introduced to 4chan in 2006.


Early Career

With his knowledge in computers and the internet from such a young age, he helped mirror Encyclopedia Dramatica.

At that time. Encyclopedia Dramatica, the parody-themed wiki website launched on December 10, 2004, was already a place for those who love discussing events related or relevant to contemporary internet culture. The site serves as a repository of information and a means of discussion for the internet subculture known as 'Anonymous'.

The encyclopedia is one of those places where 'internet trolls' live, spreading their hate, sexism, racism, homophobic and misogynist thoughts; a place where people shared documents, internet memes, pranks, hack attempts, criticisms and others.

In other words, the site was regarded as the Wikipedia's evil twin.

When Encyclopedia Dramatica's URL was redirected to a new website named 'Oh Internet', the community was shocked. With the culture fading, its users retaliated and bombarded the new Oh Internet with hate messages. Many of Encyclopedia Dramatica users made mirrors of the original site to continue this ungoverned culture.

And that includes Fredrick Brennan.

In 2012 Brennan joined Wizardchan, an internet community for male virgins. He bought the site from its original administrator in March 2013 and owned it until September 2013, after losing his virginity.

This was when Brennan moved from his mother's home in Atlantic City, New Jersey to Brooklyn, where he started working as a web developer and the head of programming for RazorClicks, a company which helps small businesses with their internet marketing.

The company paid Brennan's apartment rent, but for not for his expenses. So here, Brennan had to get a second job in which he work remotely for a Canadian company.


8chan

Fredrick Brennan

Also in 2013, Brennan founded 8chan, or also called 'Infinitechan'.

He created the imageboard as an alternative to the free speech 4chan, while on influence of psychedelic mushrooms. While 4chan was already a popular site dedicated to free speech, Brennan was upset of 4chan because the site had become too restrictive.

Seeing 4chan to have grown into authoritarianism, Brennan idea for creating 8chan also came to him after he observed that the internet has started to lose anonymity, and increased surveillance which resulted in the loss of free speech.

With 8chan, Brennan envisioned the site as a "free-speech-friendly" place where any legal speech would be welcome, no matter how bad it may be.

Initially, 8chan prohibited "any content illegal in the United States of America". But with users started populating its boards with contents, Brennan claimed that, while he found some of the content posted by users to be "reprehensible," but as the operator of the site, Brennan still felt obligated to uphold the site's integrity by tolerating those kinds of discussions.

Then in 2014, Brennan agreed to partner 8chan with 2channel, a Japanese message board.


The Dark And Darker 8chan

Due to the fact that people can post just about anything on 8chan, the site turned from dark to became a much darker place after subsequent controversies, including the Gamergate, swatting incidents and violent threats, to child pornography, QAnon and others.

Brennan didn't like how 8chan have turned out, and Brennan doesn't support how it has become. But still, he allowed it despite his moral stance was against it.

Due to the controversy surrounding the site, the crowdfunding site Patreon removed 8chan's fundraising page in January 2015. The site's registrar also put the original domain 8chan.co on hold, citing the presence of child abuse content as the reason.

The site also experienced bugs that forced it to move to a newer platform dubbed 'Infinity Next'. After long testing period, the site was attempted to be migrated, but failed in the process.

Brennan fired the main developer, Joshua Moon, with Brennen himself officially resigning from the platform in July 2016. Brennan turned the site's control to Jim Watkins, a U.S. Army veteran and his son Ronald, after the registrar relinquished control of the domain back to its owner.

8chan has then been run out of the Philippines.

Brennan said that the failure of the Infinity Next' project and his disappointment of what 8chan had become as his reasons of leaving.


The Regrets That Followed

When Brennan started 8chan, the online message board was meant to be a free speech utopia. But it turned out to be something much worse: a place for hate, mass shooters, a recruiting platform for extremists and violent white nationalists.

8chan has become the breeding ground for violence, and the dark place of the web where people who have been banished from popular platforms to gather and share their ideas and beliefs that are most likely dangerous.

After Brennan departure from 8chan, the site remains almost completely unmoderated. Even without Brennan, Watkins has committed to keep the site up, even when the most violent speech has made the platform a place for extremists to test their ideas, and share their condemned literature.

Most notably, users on 8chan frequently praise gunmen, referring to their body counts as “high scores” and creating memes to hail the killers.

From the shooter of he mosque killings in Christchurch, New Zealand, the shooter at Poway, California, to the El Paso shooter - which have all been announced in advance on the site, often accompanied by racist writings that seem engineered to go viral on the internet.

Brennan called for 8chan to be taken offline before it leads to further violence.

"Whenever I hear about a mass shooting, I say, ‘All right, we have to research if there’s an 8chan connection,'" Brennan said. And following the El Paso shooting, Brennan tweeted: "Another 8chan shooting? Am I ever going to be able to move on with my life?"

After taking some distance from 8chan and its owners, Brennan still expressed his regrets over his role in the site’s creation.

He warned that violent culture on both the internet and the real life has taken some of its roots from 8chan boards.

Watkins, who runs 8chan along with his son, has remained uncooperative despite increasing criticism, and resisted the calls to moderate or shut down the site. 8chan has even put up a banner against those people, which reads:

Welcome to 8chan, the Darkest Reaches of the Internet.

"I’ve tried to understand so many times why he keeps it going, and I just don’t get it," said Brennan. "After Christchurch, after the Tree of Life shooting, and now after this shooting, they think this is all really funny."

Brennan once defended 8chan, when he said that “anonymity should not be taken away from everyone just because of a few bad apples", back in 2015. But when he realized what the board has become, he regretted it.

Owning and operating 8chan, Jim Watkins has continued what Brennan has left off, and created an internet businesses with a technical fortress to guard the site from potential take downs. According to Brennan, Watkins owns nearly every component securing the site, including its servers, which are scattered around the world.

"You can send a complaint, but no one's going to do anything. He owns the whole operation," Brennan said. "It's how he keeps people confused and guessing...." Watkins is content to lose money, Brennan said, because he sees it as a pet project.

"8chan is like a boat to Jim. It doesn't matter if it makes money. He just enjoys using it...."

According to Brennan, 8chan doesn't make any money, at least at the time when Brennan was still in control of the site. Brennan once said that running 8chan was "a lot of fun", but he regretted saying that. Brennan hope that Watkins would come to his senses, hoping that the pressure would make Watkins and his son to change their minds eventually, and take down the site for good, once and for all.

"Shut the site down," he said in an interview. "It’s not doing the world any good. 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."

"How long are they just going to allow this to go on?" Brennan asked.

Urging The Providers

Many people urged the site’s service providers to get it taken down. And Cloudflare, which is one of its providers, has taken steps. But its CEO, Metthew Prince, expressed concerns about revoking the site's protection, saying that it would be "dangerous" to do so.

Prince said that disabling the site’s Cloudflare protections could jeopardize law enforcement investigations, because this would remove the source of data about bad actors.

"If we kicked 8chan off our network, the crowds would cheer, and we’d suddenly not be in the middle of this horrible tragedy," Prince said. "But law enforcement would have less visibility into what’s going on."

"I don’t know what we’re going to do."

Then on August 5th, 2019. Prince revised his stance, and posted a blog post on Cloudflare, saying that "8chan has repeatedly proven itself to be a cesspool of hate".

"8chan is among the more than 19 million Internet properties that use Cloudflare's service. We just sent notice that we are terminating 8chan as a customer... The rationale is simple: they have proven themselves to be lawless and that lawlessness has caused multiple tragic deaths. Even if 8chan may not have violated the letter of the law in refusing to moderate their hate-filled community, they have created an environment that revels in violating its spirit."

"We do not take this decision lightly", Prince said.

Despite this, he argued that 8chan may only be interrupted for some times, before eventually return stable by using other providers and protections similar to Cloudflare.

"Unfortunately, we have seen this situation before and so we have a good sense of what will play out. Almost exactly two years ago we made the determination to kick another disgusting site off Cloudflare's network: the Daily Stormer. That caused a brief interruption in the site's operations but they quickly came back online using a Cloudflare competitor," Prince said.

But still, Brennan thank Prince for his decision, tweeting on Twitter by saying that:

"Thank you so much @CloudFlare. Finally this nightmare might have an end. I just want to go back to making my fonts in peace and not have to worry about getting phone calls from CNN/New York Times every time a mass shooting happens. They could have prevented this and chose not to."


Personal Life

Brennan has become a Christian, and started attending a Baptist church.

He no longer believes in compulsory sterilization, and even considered having a child with his wife.

Brennan and Watkins are actually living near each other in the Philippines, with Brennan saying that he often drives past Watkins’s house on his way to the church. Brennan tried to persuade Watkins to shut down the site, for numerous times when "I still gave a fuck".

Brennan said that other platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, are also playing a tole in spreading violent messages and contents, and that they often originated from 8chan. But since those much more massive platforms are totally against violence, they are more proactive in removing dangerous contents, making them less appealing to dangerous people.

Unfortunately, 8chan isn't anything like Facebook or Twitter.

"Shutting it down, having these chan sites pushed underground, it wouldn’t totally stop these kinds of things from happening," said Brennan. "But it wouldn’t happen every few months."

During his days since away from 8chan, Brennan avoided publicity when he can, and have taken projects, including creating fonts to be distributed on GitHub.