Owner of site linked to US mass shooting sues founder for cyber libel in PH

enablePagination: false
maxItemsPerPage: 10
maxPaginationLinks: 10

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 11) — The owner of 8chan, linked to mass shootings in the US, has sued the messageboard’s founder for cyber libel in the Philippines over a series of tweets where he was called “senile” and “incompetent.”

James Arthur “Jim” Watkins filed on October 30 a complaint for violation of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 against 8chan founder Fredrick Robert Brennan, claiming the latter “maligned” his reputation. Both are US nationals who have resided in the Philippines.

Watkins’ complaint stems from Brennan’s tweets in reaction to his testimony before the US Congress in September, where he was grilled over 8chan’s links to at least three racist violent incidents in the past year.

“I’ve had a theory for a while that Jim Watkins doesn’t talk to the media as he’s going senile and can’t control his emotions while on the phone,” read one of Brennan’s tweets which Watkins complained about.

In another tweet, Brennan said 8chan’s administrators are “terrible incompetent people” with whom he has a “vendetta.”

“[Brennan’s] Twitter posts are not only an innocent commenter, with knee-jerk reactions and comments just to catch in on the controversy. His statements were posted out of pure hate and lust for vengeance to ride on and exacerbate the issue so as to darken [my] reputation and competence,” Watkins said in his 12-page complaint obtained by CNN Philippines.

Brennan shrugged off the complaint as “frivolous,” maintaining that his comments were not libelous. He said that he suspects that Watkins is out to intimidate him.

“He’s very much trying to punish me and I feel like he’s trying to intimidate me by making me feel that I can go to prison,” Brennan told CNN Philippines. “I don’t know if he’s trying to make me leave the country in fear. I will not do that and I will not be intimidated by this.”

He admitted, however, that facing the libel charge has been stressful for him, especially since he could face jail time of six to 12 years if proven guilty.

“I have a serious disability and there’s no doubt at all that I would certainly die in prison here. There’s no way I can survive in a local prison, that’s not even possible. I cannot even go to the toilet on my own. I cannot bathe myself, you know. I’m supposed to eat a certain diet for my bowels. I am on so many different medications,” he said.

Defamation is a criminal offense in some states in the US.

Sour relationship

Brennan created 8chan in 2013 and eventually turned over ownership of the website to Watkins, but stayed on as an administrator until 2016. He has completely severed ties with the messageboard since then and has expressed that the current administrators of the website "are running it in a way that is indefensible."

Brennan and Watkins’ relationship soured beyond 8chan, with the former opposing the 8chan owner’s bid to be naturalized as a Filipino citizen.

He alleged that Watkins had not been actually residing in the country and provided incomplete information in his naturalization documents. He also said Watkins should not become a Filipino citizen because he created porn websites.

Watkins’ bid to become a Filipino citizen has yet to be decided on.

What’s 8chan?

8chan is an online messaging board that has been used by anonymous accounts to share extremist messages and cheer on mass shooters. It is rife with racist and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

CNN has reported that at least three atrocities have been linked to the messageboard, including the shooting in El Paso, Texas, which killed 22 and injured 24 others.

8chan has struggled to stay online since the attack, as service providers repeatedly refuse to host the messageboard.

However, 8chan has briefly returned online, rebranding itself as 8kun last week, with a vow to take down anything that is illegal in the US.

The Philippine National Police is probing whether 8chan is being ran from the Philippines.