Google appears to have taken an unprecedented step in filtering its search results by banning an entire domain—and adding a warning about “suspected child abuse content” to a search for the domain itself. Ars Technica has been unable to determine exactly when the change went into effect, but Imgur posts as early as this Wednesday pointed to a Google-wide ban of the imageboard site 8chan.
As of press time, cursory attempts to find Google search results with content hosted at that site came up empty; searches for specific pages, or for sites containing terms 8chan, 8ch, or 8ch.net, only brought up related sites such as 8chan’s official Twitter account. In the case of a search for the domain directly, or for more targeted terms, the brief page of results would end in the aforementioned warning.
After users began reporting the lack of 8chan-hosted content among Google’s links, 8chan founder Frederick Brennan took to Medium on Thursday to confirm his findings and publicly ask why 8chan had been singled out. “It seems to me like Google has abandoned the same policy we use, and a policy that U.S. hosted websites have held to for a very long time,” Brennan wrote, referring to Google’s reactive removal of links after DMCA or abuse reports have been filed. Brennan also pointed out that the “child abuse content” phrase attached to the domain’s searches had only appeared on ten other Google results up until that point; Ars noticed that the phrase pops up just as infrequently in a Bing search.
Though Brennan didn’t mention it in his Medium post, Google also uses a hashing system to automatically filter and block search results that contain previously reported images of abuse—and according to Ars’ interview with Brennan earlier this year, 8chan employs a similar system to block reported images with matching hashes.
A November Daily Dot report, mentioned by an Observer report on this week’s 8chan news, recounted 8chan’s history as a less-regulated alternative to the already-controversial imageboard site 4chan. Its author asked Brennan pointed questions about specific, repeated examples of child pornography found in a cursory 8chan search, along with borderline-pornographic content at 8chan subsites (which is nothing to say about the site’s reputation for hosting conversations about doxing and swatting, as well). In the case of the latter, Brennan said the responsibility was in the hands of “the studios who are producing this content. Some of them are even legally based in the USA. That’s the real story here, not some perverts posting them online after the fact.”