The Mods are Always Asleep
Ask the question “is there child pornography on 8chan?” and you’re likely to get two responses. First a repetition of the collective wisdom: of course, everyone knows that there is, right? Second, denial: no there isn’t, and what (teeny, tiny, almost infinitesimal) amounts do squeak through are instantly taken down by diligent moderators!
So, what’s the truth?
One of the major problems with collective wisdom about the production and trade of child pornography and other pedophiliac material is that it’s almost entirely based on hearsay. Unlike, say, the online drug trade where the contraband itself still remains distant and offline, where a screenshot can safely prove the cost of cocaine in bitcoins, contraband pornography is pulled into your cache as thumbnails and embedded images the moment you navigate to the containing page. Rather than using a site to purchase a contraband product, the site itself is the product.
The nature of the material makes most people, even those who have become accustomed to much of the shock material the internet has to offer, unwilling to confirm just what, exactly, is out there in these darker corners. Even for those who are willing to take the precautions, and the risks, confirmation is difficult, as that confirmation tends to simply feed more hearsay because of difficulty taking that material out to a wider audience in a safe way. Broader than simply the legal aspect is communicating the enormity of what is found, there’s almost no way to “clean it up” in a way that conveys the gravity while remaining palatable for a sensible audience.
There are no warnings that suffice. Even the text, stripped of images, takes a hard psychic toll that there is little preparation for. And there’s yet further ethical and legal concerns: how do you reveal evil’s “tricks of the trade” without inadvertently teaching others how to do evil? Once everything has been scrubbed of all material that could enable seekers to track it down there’s almost nothing left.
This leaves the public at a difficult impasse, accepting on faith that this stuff is out there, and that someone else is dealing with it; trusting that the laws on the subject are sensible and sufficient. In what is, perhaps, a mote of hope for humanity, the pitfall here is that good people often lack the imagination needed to comprehend evil. “Child pornography” exists only as a vague, generalized concept; people just aren’t quite sure what it really is.
The major problem with denial, in this case, is that it is a falsehood, relying on the slimmest of legal justifications; justifications that fall apart under any sort of focused scrutiny.
The moderated rules conform only with the bare minimum of US federal statutes defining child pornography which requires sexualized nudity or the explicit presence of an adult engaging in sexualized behaviour (gazing counts, as in an adult gazing on a heavily sexualized but clothed minor, though the implicit presence of the photographer’s gaze is insufficient if unseen).
However federal laws are not the only laws, and the US is not the only country. The material that is traded, collected, and solicited on these boards is often in violation of the laws of individual states, such as Ohio where the statute requires that “the material or performance is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable for juveniles”. Wyoming doesn’t require nudity, only “lascivious exhibition of the genitals or pubic area”. Canada’s federal statutes do not require nudity, or even flesh and blood, as the statute covers all written and visual depictions; in 2005 Gordon Chin of Edmonton was convicted of possession and importation of child pornography after importing a lolicon hentai from Japan.
Even US Federal laws aren’t as cut-and-dry as they seem at first glance. The line of distinction in the statute is simply the point at which the thing speaks for itself, res ipsa loquitur. A photograph of penetrative intercourse with a minor is a clear violation with no defence, its existence is proof of its own crime. However, that doesn’t mean that “tamer” material is safe. People have been charged and convicted of possession, production, and distribution of child pornography masquerading as “modelling.” Photos of children, boys and girls, in lingerie, fetish wear, and bathing suits coaxed into poses that, even clothed, would be considered too lewd for Maxim and other lad mags, being wholly over the line into the territory of Playboy and Hustler.
This is the bulk of the material you will find on 8chan.
So this argument is not one of a slippery slope: 8chan is not sitting on the edge of a precipice, it’s already at the bottom of the ravine, claiming legality because it came to rest on top of a rock inches from the floor.
This brings us back to the question: does 8chan host child pornography?
Yes, beyond a shadow of a doubt.
8chan hosts over a dozen boards dedicated to the trade of child pornography. As with most any sizeable pornography hub the material is divided and sub-divided based on interests, fetishes, production company, and age range. These range from general interest pedophilia to lewd photographs to XXX illustrations of toddlers.
Although I have taken steps to clean up the evidence that follows, bringing it within the boundaries of the law, there is, as discussed earlier, a limit to what can be done. While the edited images will not compromise you legally, I can’t in good faith claim they’ve been brought within the bounds of good taste. At this point I have left post numbers and board names un-obscured. These boards aren’t hidden off in some unlisted corner of the internet, they’re on public display in 8chan’s master list of boards. This article is, ultimately, a poor signpost for material that is, more or less, already out in the open.
It should be noted that of what follows there is still more, and worse, posted to these public boards, without mod intervention, that is simply beyond “cleaning up.”
A common defence for the type of softcore photos and videos openly traded on 8chan is that the material is often no different than, say, common photos or home video taken by parents of their growing children. However this defence admits that these photos, animations, and videos all exist in a larger context, thus we shouldn’t merely discuss the subject of the photos, but also the context that they are presented in.
Such as soliciting photos of underage girls in thongs while salivating over a deleted photo of a young child, requesting that it be re-uploaded.
Or gathering videos of young children dancing in bikinis or lingerie, soliciting specific production houses known for creating material “relevant to their interests.”
From the text contents of the board the subject matter is unambiguously sexual, and is being used for pornographic purposes.
They also routinely fantasize about taking their “interests” out into the real world:
Not everyone agrees with the more violent fantasies, however.
Of course much of the material reflects the tone, tenor, and style of adult pornography, with subjects bent over, lifting skirts, and spreading legs.
This includes much of the same innuendo, posting photos of children with expressions mimicking those common in “facial” pornography.
This includes the frat-house “ranking” of girls based on their sexual desirability.
They display all this proudly.
Threads will be dedicated to altering photos to be more risqué.
They have lengthy discussions fantasizing about finding children who would appreciate their sexual advances, and dismiss the harm.
They discuss ways of proselytizing, including recruiting under age girls to act as their mouthpiece, using deception if necessary, or adopting the language of social justice.
Often fantasy gets set by the wayside, and they discuss practical ways to secure access to real children, or share stories of abuses they have already committed.
The Mods are (Always) Asleep
The content on these boards persist because while it is often very illegal the posters and moderators and owners of 8chan are well aware that resources for these cases are limited, and the situation is fraught with legal and jurisdictional issues. So long as they remain out of the realm of res ipsa loquitur hardcore pornography they can, and do, fly just beyond the effort of federal investigators who spend their limited resources pursuing producers or trading groups for more extreme material.
Codewords, Misdirection, and Free Speech
Under the banner of “free speech” Fredrick Brennan and his adherents defend their content, claiming protection under the auspice of the 1st Amendment. However 8chan is not, in reality, a brave bulwark protecting controversial and boundary-pushing art. It is not even skating along the edge of legality. Its contents are illegal, and its users are simply exploiting the system’s lack of the resources and drive necessary to respond. They float just out of notice, moderating themselves just enough that there’s always a bigger fish to catch.
While the above images may, despite the censoring, still be too harsh, too sensitive, for many, I feel like this is necessary in the light of public interest. The groups that produce, distribute, promote, share, collect, and trade these images cloak their work in codewords and euphemisms. They refer to their victims as models and insist that their work is beauty photography, casting a pall of doubt over the issue, as though this were no different than a teen boy sneaking off with the Sears catalogue.
Make no mistake: this material is produced and distributed with this exact market in mind. The notion of innocence, that the children victimized are no more mistreated than if they were modelling bathing suits for stock photos, is sleight of hand. It is not merely the gaze of the camera that is invasive. It is not merely the gaze of the audience that is leering. The scenes are crafted. The children are directed and posed, run through the same gamut of titillating poses and angles common in pornography of all stripes. I want there to be no mistake, no excuse, dismissing these images as harmless or out of context. I want there to be no doubt as to what is going on.