8chan Founder, Who Has Denounced The Site, Now Facing 'Criminal Cyberlibel' Charges From Current Owner

from the oh-come-on dept

Fredrick "Hotwheels" Brennan founded 8chan in 2013 after he and a group of other fairly naive souls felt that 4chan (yes, 4chan) had become too unfriendly to "free speech" because it had started to block some harassment and abuse on the site. It's always amazing to me the people who insist that internet platforms should allow all speech, without recognizing that what they are asking for is inevitably a cesspool of garbage. Brennan eventually realized as much, relinquished control over the site to Jim Watkins, and even called for the site to be shut down and criticized Watkins. Back in November, Watkins responded by filing a criminal "cyberlibel complaint" in the Philippines. The latest news, from the Filipino site Rappler, is that warrant has been issued for Brennan's arrest.

There are so many insane things about this, it's difficult to know where to start. First of all, I'm always perplexed by people who position themselves as free speech absolutists then suing people for libel. It seems to kind of prove that they don't actually believe what they claim to, and have no problem using the powers of the state to silence speech they dislike.

Second, the whole idea of criminal libel -- let alone the "cyber" variety -- seems positively insane, though we've seen it used before in the Philippines, including against Rappler founder, Maria Ressa. At the very least, it would seem to go against Section 4 of the Filipino Bill of Rights, which states:

No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.

Even the comments that Brennan made, that Watkins has filed these claims over, seem pretty ridiculous. Brennan had tweeted "My theory that Jim Watkins himself is going senile and actually believes in Q is no longer a theory" after it was reported that Watkins was wearing a "Q" pin when testifying before Congress. Calling someone senile would not be libel in the US, and the idea that it would be criminal makes no sense at all.

Brennan happens to be in the US at this time and apparently has decided not to return to the Philippines (where both he and Watkins live) as long as the charges remain in place.

The surprise decision means that Brennan, who is confined to a wheelchair and suffers from a condition known as brittle bone disease, could face up to 12 years in prison.

“It’s basically a death sentence,” Brennan told VICE News from Los Angeles.

His lawyers have filed an appeal of the indictment, which is a fascinating read on its own. It opens with a Voltaire quote: "I may utterly detest what you write, but I shall fight to the death to make it possible for you to continue writing it." And then states:

VOLTAIRE'S PONTIFICAL VERSE bestirs once again the basic liberties to free speech and free press -- liberties that belong as well, if not more, to those who question, who do not conform, who differ. For the ultimate good which we all strive to achieve for ourselves and our posterity can better be reached by a free exchange of ideas, where the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the free market -- not just the ideas we desire, but including those thoughts we despise.

RESPONDENT-APPELLANT FREDRICK ROBERT BRENNAN ("Respondent"), by counsel, most respectfully files this APPEAL/PETITION FOR REVIEW ("Appeal") to the Honorable Secretary of Justice to REVERSE AND SET ASIDE the highly arbitrary, completely baseless, grossly unjustified and manifestly erroneous RESOLUTION of the investigating prosecutor Juliene Raymond A. Cabanacan, acting as Assistant City Prosecutor of Pasig City ("ACP Cabanacan"), dated January 02, 2020 ("Resolution), copy was received by the undersigned counsel on February 19, 2020, finding probable cause for the offense of cyber libel against respondent.

For lack of attention to detail, ACP Cabanacan erroneously cited an incorrect provision of cyberlibel under RA 10175. He cited Section 4 paragraph 4 as an offense that has been violated by respondent. This is defective and is not the correct provision on Cyberlibel in RA 10175.

It goes on from there, but the presentation here is quite fascinating -- from the Voltaire quote to the "most respectfully" immediately followed by "highly arbitrary, completely baseless, grossly unjustified and manifestly erroneous" bit. One would hope that the DOJ would rethink this, but given what little we've seen of how this bizarre cyberlibel law is enforced in the Philippines, I wouldn't hold out much hope.

Filed Under: criminal, cyberlibel, defamation, fredrick brennan, free speech, jim watkins, libel, phillippines
Companies: 8chan


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Feb 2020 @ 8:02pm

    "Free speech" has become the battlecry of disingenuous asshats who don't believe in freedom of speech for everyone, but rather want to exploit the goodwill of others to allow them to wreak havoc with a descent into the lowest levels of hatred and vitriol under the guise of protecting speech, but they'll turn on free speech the moment someone says something they don't like.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Feb 2020 @ 8:33pm

    'Voltaire' only by popular attribution...

    The Voltaire quote has its origins in one of Voltaire's biographers, one Beatrice Hall.

    Remember that other famous quote:

    The problem with quotes on the Internet is that it is hard to verify their authenticity. -- Abraham Lincoln

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anon E Mouse, 28 Feb 2020 @ 11:24pm

    Additional layer of irony

    One of 8chan's core ideas is anonymity. It enforces the idea that a post should be judged on its own merits, not on who posted it.

    Which is obviously why both the founder and the owner are big cult of personality types, badmouthing each other very loudly and very personally.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Feb 2020 @ 2:18am

    Huge lie, techdirt. You call HW the "founder". He was the OPERATOR FOR YEARS, AND WITH THE WORST CONTENT OF THE SITE'S HISTORY.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 29 Feb 2020 @ 3:08am

    Was he the founder? If so, Techdirt didn’t lie.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Bobvious, 29 Feb 2020 @ 4:36am

    Re: 'Voltaire' only by popular attribution...

    Not forgetting the band that Voltaire was in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cabaret_Voltaire_(band)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Feb 2020 @ 4:45am

    Re:

    Omission is a form of lying, as everyone with any knowledge of the world knows.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Feb 2020 @ 5:38am

    Re: Re:

    Seems you have omitted a bit there also.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Feb 2020 @ 5:40am

    "the whole idea of criminal libel -- let alone the "cyber" variety -- seems positively insane"

    That's because it is insane.
    What's next ... criminal disrespect?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Max, 29 Feb 2020 @ 6:03am

    And it's always amazing to me the people who insist that internet platforms should censor an arbitrarily defined cesspool of garbage never seem to realize that this never stops until it's full-on censorship of everything that might possibly offend anyone, aka nothing but anodyne trash, hiding behind the worn-out "we don't have to allow anything, we're a private forum!".

    I have no more wish than you to read most of that cesspool - but there are no mid-stops on that slope; and forums requiring me to wear a muzzle controlled by some inevitably power-tripping mod look to me like the worse of the two outcomes, especially when there is no real choice of some mythical "other platforms" and the real choice is only between being silenced on the de-facto sole option available or not being heard at all.

    (Note: none of this is meant as specific to 8chan in particular - they certainly don't make it easy for anyone to defend them; it's just what happens everywhere every time in the long run, and I don't see it serving anyone's interest beyond the short-sighted "read no evil, therefore the problem is solved!" approach)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Feb 2020 @ 6:18am

    Cesspools of garbage have their purpose, too. It's useful to have a place to put garbage so that people who don't want to see it don't have to.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Feb 2020 @ 6:34am

    Re: Cesspool

    imagine what America would look like now --- if anyone could just produce whatever books, magazines, pamphlets, flyers, newsletters, etc ... that they felt like

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 29 Feb 2020 @ 7:37am

    Re:

    If "criminal disrespect" were a crime, Rodney Dangerfield would have pressed so many charges…

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Feb 2020 @ 8:17am

    Re: Re:

    I see you have omitted your social security, credit card info, bank account info, and autobiography.

    Omission can be a form of lying. However it is not always.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    DNY (profile), 29 Feb 2020 @ 8:26am

    Internet sites allowing all content, or just 8chan?

    I think the point of 8chan was not that internet sites, qua internet sites, ought to allow all content, but that there ought to be one which does.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 29 Feb 2020 @ 9:12am

    Omission is a form of lying

    Except, in this case, it isn’t. Techdirt omitted the fact that Hotwheels was 8chan’s admin by noting that he was the founder of 8chan — a fact we can use to safely assume he was the site admin for however long he was in that role.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 29 Feb 2020 @ 9:14am

    Yes, I can’t count the number of times an interactive web service went from blocking racial slurs and homophobic language to being a “family-friendly” platform where even h*ck and d*ng are censored to keep up the gimmick~.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 29 Feb 2020 @ 9:15am

    It would look like it does right now.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 29 Feb 2020 @ 9:17am

    Look what happened to 8chan when Hotwheels did that: The site turned, almost immediately, into a cesspool of bigotry, hatred, and even CSAM. Some experiment, huh.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Feb 2020 @ 9:38am

    Re:

    I agree, we should just end free speach laws, which are out of date. It was clearly a failed experiment.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Feb 2020 @ 10:09am

    Re:

    Then you must be 13, because that description fits half the Internet before corporate took over

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Feb 2020 @ 5:57pm

    Re: Re:

    It's usually just in the form of Contempt of Cop.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), 29 Feb 2020 @ 7:42pm

    Re:

    This is how we identify someone who has never run an internet forum before.

    Try it sometime. And then you'll realize how naive and ignorant you sound.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Mar 2020 @ 9:05am

    No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.

    Wow, that sounds familiar. Looks like they copied the First Amendment of the US Constitution word-for-word... except that somehow they left off the first and most important right protected by the First Amendment. And now their country is a terrible place overrun by tyranny, violence and poverty. Gee, who'da thunk it?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Mar 2020 @ 7:56pm

    IIRC Hotwheels didn't start 8chan because he felt 4chan was too censorious. He started 8chan because the idea came to him during a mushroom trip.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Mar 2020 @ 7:57pm

    Re:

    To be fair, the same can be said of Twitter in regards to a cesspool of bigotry, hatred, and even CSAM.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Mar 2020 @ 9:50pm

    Re:

    Same diff.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Mar 2020 @ 10:27pm

    Re:

    Looks like they just split it up into two sectionsConstitution of the Philippines, Art III:
    "SECTION 4. No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.

    SECTION 5. No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Mar 2020 @ 11:07pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Flagging an innocent comment is another form of lying, did you know?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Mar 2020 @ 11:13pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    That's sensitive information. What's done at law is you have the police handle cases of sensitive information, or other experts. An example is DNA. The DNA isn't published, because it's private (obviously). However, the experts verify if there is a match. Thus, although a man may be found guilty by DNA, it's not given to the whole world.

    But the information that HW was the OPERATOR of the site DURING SOME OF THE WORST EPISODES (things unfit for discussion by civilized persons such as ourselves) in Internet history is no small matter, and it's a lie to omit it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Mar 2020 @ 11:17pm

    Re:

    So all Jim has to do is sell the company and then start a Twitter war with some new founder, and the left will side with Jim then? Is that all it takes, a flipped position, once convenient, and some mean Tweets?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. identicon
    Rocky, 1 Mar 2020 @ 11:47pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I see your reading comprehension isn't the best, but people with an axe to grind usually don't try to really understand what they read.

    1. Brennan was one of the founders
    2. Brennan relinquished control of 8chan

    A smart person infers from those statements that Brennan actually operated 8chan until he didn't. Are you a smart person?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2020 @ 1:38am

    Re: Re:

    Nice try, Hamilton.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2020 @ 2:46am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Do tell

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35. identicon
    bobob, 2 Mar 2020 @ 6:09am

    That 4chan and 8chan permit just about anything to be posted is really not alarming, What is alarming is that there are so many people posting there who really believe in what they post and for every person contributing to the cesspool there are probably many more lurkers who agree with them.

    I'm also not sure why techdirt is singling them out for criticism while so often stating that moderation doesn't scale. At least the existence of 4chan and 8chan provide a window into how far the cesspool extends to the population at large.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36. identicon
    bobob, 2 Mar 2020 @ 6:21am

    Well, consider the UK where even the truth is not necessarily a defense against defamation. The Phillipines may have gone overboard when they came up with criminalizing it, but they are hardly alone, even in the so-called free world in tacitly permitting libel laws to be used to try to silence criticism. Take Nunes here in the US, for example, or now Trump suing the New York Times. The US has already turned some civil actions into criminal actions (e.g., copyright infringement), so I wouldn't be too sure that libel won't be on the table one day here in the US.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2020 @ 7:51am

    Re:

    The chans have undergone many an Eternal Summer.

    While the overwhelming majority of those on 4chan don't actually believe what edgy memes depict on the board, it's very much a victim of its own infamy. Even a single news report by a reporter who doesn't fully understand the communities sends floods of new people to the platform who may have the wrong impression about what the platform is.

    When new people come in too great a number to acculturate in too short a period of time, the platform's culture is what changes instead.

    And when news reports are "platform X is full of hate-mongerers, white nationalists, Nazis, and the alt-right", well....one hopes the platform's original constituency can fight off the new wave of people. Almost always the platform changes for the worse.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2020 @ 7:57am

    Re:

    I agree, and am I ever glad for free speech laws, which are as relevant today as ever. It is clearly a successful idea.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39. icon
    Thad (profile), 2 Mar 2020 @ 8:42am

    First of all, I'm always perplexed by people who position themselves as free speech absolutists then suing people for libel. It seems to kind of prove that they don't actually believe what they claim to, and have no problem using the powers of the state to silence speech they dislike.

    It's not that hard to decode.

    People like Gavin McInnes, Dennis Prager, Jim Watkins, et al are not really free speech absolutists. They're just racists.

    They say they're free speech absolutists, because it's a lot more palatable to hide behind the "I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" fig leaf.

    But when the rubber meets the road, they make it clear that they will absolutely not defend to the death people's right to say things they disagree with.

    So if they're not willing to defend people's right to say things they disagree with, that kinda implies that all the stuff they're defending people's right to say is stuff they agree with.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40. icon
    Thad (profile), 2 Mar 2020 @ 8:47am

    Re:

    ...you're posting on a forum that has moderators right now, you damned nitwit.

    Yes, Techdirt has a pretty light touch when it comes to moderation, but it's not "anything goes". They block spam. They block repeated comments. Occasionally one of my posts fails to get through because it's got too many links in it or something. Oh noes, tyranny!

    If you've got a problem dealing with Mike and his gang of power-tripping mods putting a muzzle you, go have fun on 8chan.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41. identicon
    Dan, 2 Mar 2020 @ 9:09am

    Re:

    Prager a racist? Do tell. He's certainly inconsistent on the subject of free speech (as, unfortunately, are many people), but what has he said or done that's racist?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42. identicon
    CapnMissouri, 2 Mar 2020 @ 10:35am

    Anyone who wants to hear directly from Brennan about all this should listen to this podcast interview:

    https://www.iheart.com/podcast/105-behind-the-bastards-29236323/episode/the-man-trying-to-resurrect -8chan-52653860/

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43. icon
    Thad (profile), 2 Mar 2020 @ 10:55am

    Re: Re:

    It just so happens that I'm just coming off another comments thread where a bunch of sealions repeatedly ask what Prager said that was so bad. So rather than risk tripping the filter with a series of links, here's a link to a post containing multiple YouTube links that address the question you are definitely posing in good faith.

    There are more links and examples throughout the (rather long) thread there, but those oughta get you started.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2020 @ 10:55am

    Re: Re:

    Not sure what 4chan looks like these days, but back in '04 it was already a cesspool of basement dwellers. Has it actually gotten worse somehow?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45. identicon
    Talmyr, 3 Mar 2020 @ 7:53am

    Re: Re: Re:

    A cesspool of basement dwellers accelerated up to the Warp 10 Threshold...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Mar 2020 @ 10:09pm

    About the most Anonymous and 4chan were useful for was the harassment of Scientologists and shining a light on its dubious rituals and behaviors.

    They might have legitimized the stereotypical basement dweller as a force for altruism. Instead they decided to dedicate their efforts to swastika-shaped assemblies in HabboHotel. A few times on Ars Technica, posters mused if Anonymous could hack into RIAA computers to blow the whistle on their shitty evidence standards. This was met by swift rebuttal by Anonymous supporters, expressing outrage at people who DARED to suggest that the forces of Anonymous could be harnessed, and directed for a purpose Anonymous itself did not decide.

    The whole point of Anonymous was to do stupid shit for the lulz. Bonus points if it's offensive and disturbing. The whole idea was encapsulated in a sample of Kim Possible Rule34 I came across once which ended with Kim dismembered, Josh Mankey institutionalized and Ron Stoppable with a bullet-induced lobotomy, finishing with a picture of "Anonymous" in his green-headed, tuxedo-sporting glory. "We fuck things up because we can."

    Save for Techdirt's own TAC, Anonymous all but nuked their own chances. Their original bunch of hackers collapsed because the idiots inside tried to fight for leadership in a group premised on the idea that you can't HAVE figures of leadership, leading to infighting and betrayal. It's nerds trying to act like jocks competing for the position of alpha male.

    I can't think of any better outcome for their present place in society: fucktards who can't get laid. Police shootout or loneliness they'll eventually Darwin-Awards themselves out of the gene pool.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.