On Tuesday, an email message threatening a massacre caused the entire Los Angeles Unified School District to shut down for the day. Although authorities decided it was too risky to dismiss, the message bore a number of signs of being a prank. The writer claimed to represent an “army of allah,” but failed to capitalize allah; they threatened “every school” in a 1,000-school district, and they sent the email from a penis-themed domain name, cock.li.
Vice’s Motherboard blog got in touch with the owner of the playfully phallic webmail site and got the story of how cock.li came to host nearly 30,000 accounts. Would you be surprised to hear it started on 4chan?
Vincent Canfield, a software developer, told Motherboard that he bought cock.li to use as his own personal email domain. But two years ago, he mentioned it on 4chan, and people started asking if they could have their own cock.li accounts.
Why not? It’s not that much more demanding than having one or two accounts, and it pays for itself through donations. In a November blog post, Canfield considered the first two years of the site and concluded he might as well keep it going.
“I have ultimately accepted my fate and decided I will keep the water heated as long as the fish are still alive, and keep the tank big enough to hold everyone,” he wrote.
Now Canfield is providing mail services for a whole slew of foul domains, including the charming “horsefucker.org” and the much less charming “nigge.rs.” Between them, they host 60,000 total accounts for the denizens of 4chan and its unctious offshoot 8chan.
Going forward, though, he might face more law-enforcement scrutiny. Cock.li has received and complied with four subpoenas for user records over the past month or so, including one from the NYPD this week. New York City schools received a threat nearly identical to the one that closed down L.A. Unified, apparently also sent from a cock.li address.
That certainly doesn’t mean he should take it down, but other email services have chosen to go dark to protect their users’ privacy. Time will tell whether, unlike those, cock.li can stay up when the pressure is on.