Epik (company)

Epik is an ICANN-accredited domain registrar and web hosting company known for providing services to websites that host far-right, neo-Nazi, and other extremist content. It was described in 2019 by Vice as "a safehaven for the extreme right" because of its willingness to host far-right websites that have been denied service by other Internet service providers.[1][7] Epik was founded in 2009 by Rob Monster, and is based in Washington.[2]

Epik, Inc.
IndustryWeb services
Founded2009; 11 years ago (2009)
FounderRob Monster
Headquarters,
Key people
Rob Monster (founder and CEO)
ServicesDomain name registration, web hosting
Websiteepik.com

HistoryEdit

Epik was founded in 2009 by Rob Monster, who serves as the company's chief executive officer. The company is based in Sammamish, Washington.[2] As of December 2019, Epik is the 22nd largest domain registrar in the United States, as measured by the number of domains registered through the company.[8][9]

BitMitigateEdit

In February 2019, it was announced that Epik had acquired BitMitigate, an American cybersecurity company based in Vancouver, Washington. BitMitigate protects websites against potential threats including distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. The company continues to operate as a division of Epik, and BitMitigate's founder Nicholas Lim briefly served as Epik's chief technology officer.[5]

PayPal terminationEdit

In October 2020, financial services provider PayPal terminated service for Epik due to financial risk concerns relating to the company's alternative currency called "Masterbucks", which can be used to purchase services from Epik or can be exchanged for U.S. currency.[10] Mashable alleged that PayPal's concerns were related to the potential for money laundering, and that PayPal terminated service because Epik allegedly had not taken the proper legal steps to offer an alternate currency after being made aware of the issue a month prior. Mashable also reported that the termination was partly due to concerns by PayPal that the site was encouraging tax evasion by advertising the "tax advantages" of using Masterbucks.[10][11] Epik subsequently published what Mashable described as "a series of unhinged open letters" targeting "PayPal, Hunter Biden, Bloomberg News, and several Avengers" and accusing PayPal of terminating service because they were biased against conservatives.[11]

Hosting of far-right and illicit contentEdit

Epik is known for providing services to websites with far-right content, such as the social network Gab, video hosting service BitChute, conspiracy theory website InfoWars, and neo-Nazi message board website The Daily Stormer.[1][6][12] Epik describes itself as a protector of free speech, and its CEO has defended its decisions to host extremist content as being a part of Epik's commitment to "welcome all views, without bias or preference".[6][1] The Counter Extremism Project's Joshua Fisher-Birch has criticized Epik for this stance, saying, "While Epik portrays this as a noble exercise in anti-censorship, they're making a business decision to continue to amplify voices calling for violence."[1]

8chanEdit

On August 5, 2019, Epik competitor Cloudflare announced that in the wake of the 2019 El Paso shooting they would no longer be providing services to 8chan, a far-right imageboard known as a location for hateful content and child pornography,[13][14] which the perpetrator of the shooting had allegedly used immediately prior to the attack to post a manifesto justifying his actions.[15] The same day that 8chan was removed from Cloudflare, Epik began providing hosting services, and Monster released a statement explaining their decision. Later that day, Epik's primary hardware and connectivity provider Voxility banned Epik from renting their server space.[16] Voxility's vice president of business development stated, "We have made the connection that at least two or three of the latest mass shootings in the U.S. were connected with [Epik and BitMitigate]. At some point, somebody needed to make the decision on where the limit is between what is illegal and what is freedom of speech and today it had to be us."[17] The Voxility ban took 8chan offline, along with The Daily Stormer and other Epik customers. On August 6, Epik reversed course and announced that they would not provide hosting services to 8chan; on August 7, Ars Technica noted that Epik had only ceased hosting their content and was still providing 8chan with DNS services.[18][19]

GabEdit

Epik received media attention in early November 2018 for registering Gab, an English-language social media website known for its mainly far-right user base, after it was ousted by GoDaddy for allowing "content on the site that both promotes and encourages violence against people". This came shortly after it was revealed that the perpetrator of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting had used the service to post "hateful content".[2][20][21][22] Tal Moore, a member of Epik's board, resigned in December 2018 over the company's involvement with Gab.[3] On November 7, 2018, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro sent a subpoena to Epik requesting "any and all documents which are related in any way to Gab" after Gab registered its domains onto Epik.[23][12] Gab posted screenshots of the subpoena letter in a tweet on the day the subpoena was sent, despite being asked to keep the letter confidential.[23][12] The tweet was deleted hours later.[23][12] In an email statement to Ars Technica, Monster stated that "the news of the subpoena was not intended for public consumption" and that "we are cooperating with their inquiry".[12] On August 9, cloud hosting provider Linode informed Epik they would be terminating services to the company.[24] As of October 2020, Epik was still providing services to Gab.[11]

Lack of response to reports of illegal activityEdit

Wired wrote in 2018 that Epik has a history of not responding to reports of illegal activity on the websites they register, which the magazine noted is unusual for domain registrars based in the United States.[4] Pharmaceutical watchdog website LegitScript reported in 2018 that they had alerted Epik to the sale of illegal drugs and counterfeit medications on websites registered by Epik, and that Epik had not acted upon the information.[4]

The Daily StormerEdit

In August 2017, Epik and BitMitigate (an American cybersecurity company later acquired by Epik in 2019) began hosting American neo-Nazi, white supremacist, and Holocaust denial commentary and message board website The Daily Stormer.[29] This was in response to GoDaddy and Cloudflare terminating services for the site after it published an article mocking Heather Heyer, the victim of the vehicle ramming attack that occurred at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that same month.[30]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b c d e Makuch, Ben (May 8, 2019). "The Far Right Has Found a Web Host Savior". Vice. Retrieved May 10, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d Baker, Mike (November 4, 2018). "Seattle-area company helps fringe site Gab return in wake of Pittsburgh synagogue shooting". The Seattle Times. Retrieved May 5, 2019.
  3. ^ a b Schulberg, Jessica (December 12, 2018). "The Bible-Thumping Tech CEO Who's Proud Of Keeping Neo-Nazis Online". HuffPost. Retrieved May 5, 2019.
  4. ^ a b c Martineau, Paris (November 6, 2018). "How Right-Wing Social Media Site Gab Got Back Online". Wired. ISSN 1059-1028. Retrieved May 5, 2019.
  5. ^ a b Macuk, Anthony (February 15, 2019). "Epik buys Vancouver-based BitMitigate". The Columbian. Retrieved May 10, 2019.
  6. ^ a b c Hayden, Michael Edison (January 11, 2019). "A Problem of Epik Proportions". Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved May 5, 2019.
  7. ^ [2][3][4][1][5][6]
  8. ^ "Registrar Stats: Top Domain Registrars in UNITEDSTATES". Domain State. Retrieved April 20, 2020.
  9. ^ "Total Domains by Registrar". Registrar Owl. December 2019. Retrieved April 20, 2020.
  10. ^ a b Fingas, Jon (October 25, 2020). "PayPal drops domain registrar Epik over its 'alternative' digital currency". Engadget. Retrieved October 25, 2020.
  11. ^ a b c Binder, Matt (October 23, 2020). "Home to Proud Boys domain, Gab, and other right-wing sites posts unhinged letters after PayPal cuts ties". Mashable. Retrieved October 24, 2020.
  12. ^ a b c d e Lee, Timothy B. (November 8, 2019). "Gab cries foul as Pennsylvania attorney general subpoenas DNS provider". Ars Technica. Retrieved May 5, 2019.
  13. ^ Wong, Julia Carrie (August 5, 2019). "8chan: the far-right website linked to the rise in hate crimes". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved August 11, 2019.
  14. ^ Howell O'Neill, Patrick (November 17, 2014). "8chan is home to a hive of pedophiles". The Daily Dot. Retrieved August 11, 2019.
  15. ^ Robertson, Adi (August 6, 2019). "Why banning hate sites is so hard". The Verge. Retrieved August 11, 2019.
  16. ^ Robertson, Adi (August 5, 2019). "8chan goes dark after hardware provider discontinues service". The Verge. Retrieved August 11, 2019.
  17. ^ Bajak, Frank (August 5, 2019). "Online providers knock 8chan offline after mass shooting". The Associated Press. Retrieved August 11, 2019.
  18. ^ Macuk, Anthony (August 6, 2019). "Epik reverses course, says BitMitigate will not support 8chan". The Columbian. Retrieved August 11, 2019.
  19. ^ Salter, Jim (August 7, 2019). "8chan resurfaces, along with The Daily Stormer and another Nazi site". Ars Technica. Retrieved August 11, 2019.
  20. ^ Hess, Amanda (November 30, 2016). "The Far Right Has a New Digital Safe Space". The New York Times. Retrieved December 3, 2016.
  21. ^ Robertson, Adi (September 6, 2017). "Far-right friendly social network Gab is facing censorship controversy". The Verge. Archived from the original on April 4, 2018. Retrieved April 3, 2018.
  22. ^ Selyukh, Alina (May 21, 2017). "Feeling Sidelined By Mainstream Social Media, Far-Right Users Jump To Gab". National Public Radio. Archived from the original on November 21, 2018. Retrieved November 21, 2018.
  23. ^ a b c Blake, Andrew (November 9, 2018). "Epik, Gab's newest domain provider, subpoenaed in wake of Pittsburgh synagogue shooting". The Associated Press. Retrieved May 5, 2019.
  24. ^ Nickelsburg, Monica (August 8, 2019). "Amazon seeks to root out any ties to 8chan, as tech firms grapple with implications of extremist sites". GeekWire. Retrieved October 26, 2020.
  25. ^ Wines, Michael (July 5, 2015). "White Supremacists Extend Their Reach Through Websites". The New York Times. Archived from the original on October 24, 2015. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  26. ^ Pearce, Matt (June 24, 2015). "What happens when a millennial goes fascist? He starts up a neo-Nazi site". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on August 16, 2015. Retrieved August 22, 2015.
  27. ^ O'Brien, Luke (January 19, 2018). "American Neo-Nazi Is Using Holocaust Denial As A Legal Defense". HuffPost. Archived from the original on April 23, 2018. Retrieved April 25, 2018.
  28. ^ O'Brein, Luke (December 2017). "The Making of an American Nazi". The Atlantic. Archived from the original on April 4, 2018. Retrieved April 4, 2018. As Anglin would later write, the official policy of his site was: "Jews should be exterminated."
  29. ^ [25][26][27][28]
  30. ^ Conger, Kate; Popper, Nathaniel (August 5, 2019). "Behind the Scenes, 8chan Scrambles to Get Back Online". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved August 11, 2019.

External linksEdit