Cloudflare cites an increase in “specific, targeted threats”
Internet infrastructure company Cloudflare has been raising eyebrows of late, as it recently reversed it’s decision and dropped KiwiFarms on Saturday, an online forum known for hateful content, days after indicating it had no plans to do so because it regretted taking similar action in the past. In a post on Cloudflare’s blog, the company said Kiwi Farms posed an “immediate threat to human life,” citing an increase of “targeted threats” over the past two days.
Cloudflare, which provides protection to websites from distributed denial-of-service attacks, had been under pressure to cease protecting Kiwi Farms, a community forum website that frequently targets trans people online.
Concerns about Kiwi Farms grew after transgender YouTuber and Twitch streamer, Clara Sorrenti (Keffals), had been targeted by a dangerous harassment campaign by users from the site. Last month, Kiwi Farms users waged a swatting attack against Sorrenti, otherwise known as the act of providing a false tip to police that someone’s planning on carrying out a violent crime, resulting in police swarming the victim’s home.
In a blog post on Wednesday, which didn’t mention Kiwi Farms or the pressure campaign, Cloudflare’s chief executive, Matthew Prince, and its vice-president of public policy, Alissa Starzak, suggested the company regretted taking action against the far-right websites 8chan and Daily Stormer in 2019 and 2017, saying there was a “deeply troubling” response afterwards from authoritarian regimes calling for the company to block human rights websites.
But on Sunday, Prince said in a tweet and a blog post that the company had reversed its decision.
“We just blocked Kiwi Farms,” he said in the tweet.
Sorrenti later went into hiding and started a #DropKiwifarms campaign that urged Cloudflare to stop serving Kiwi Farms. Users across Twitter shared the hashtag, also with some revealing the harassment they’ve experienced at the hand of Kiwi Farms’ users.
Cloudflare initially resisted calls to drop Kiwi Farms, saying that it would be “an abuse of power” to do so. In an update posted to its site last week, Cloudflare outlined its policies on abusive content, laying out an argument for maintaining service without explicitly mentioning Kiwi Farms. In the post, Cloudflare argues that its termination of sites like The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi message board, and 8Chan, a forum that breeds extremist content, led “authoritarian regimes” to ask Cloudflare to “terminate security services for human rights organizations.”
“Turning of security services because we think what you publish is despicable is the wrong policy”
“Just as the telephone company doesn’t terminate your line if you say awful, racist, bigoted things, we have concluded in consultation with politicians, policy makers, and experts that turning off security services because we think what you publish is despicable is the wrong policy,” Cloudflare explains.
In its more recent update, Cloudflare cites an “unprecedented emergency” as justifying both the takedown and the service’s change of heart. Notably, Cloudflare didn’t provide hosting for Kiwi Farms’ website, but provided security services that many saw as instrumental to keeping the site online.
“Visitors to any of the Kiwifarms sites that use any of Cloudflare’s services will see a Cloudflare block page and a link to this post,” Cloudflare explains. “Kiwifarms may move their sites to other providers and, in doing so, come back online, but we have taken steps to block their content from being accessed through our infrastructure.” Cloudflare has also coordinated with law enforcement to address some of the threats on the site, but claims the “process is moving more slowly than the escalating risk.”
In the update, Cloudflare claims it didn’t block the site due to the social media campaign that pleaded with the service to drop Kiwi Farms as a customer. Instead, the post says the decision was based on an uptick in aggressive activity on the platform. Still, Cloudflare says it’s “uncomfortable” with its decision to banish the site, and believes its action “may have further heightened the emergency.”
Kiwi Farms first emerged in 2013, and was created by former 8chan administrator Joshua Moon. The site has become known for the harassment and stalking of “lolcows” — the term Kiwi Farms uses to describe its victims (who are often neurodivergent or a member of the LGBTQIA+ community). A report from New York Magazine called Kiwi Farms “the biggest community of stalkers,” with harassment so severe that the site has been blamed for the deaths of several victims.
“The threats on the site escalated enough in the last 48 hours that, in spite of proactively working with law enforcement, it became enough of an imminent emergency we could no longer wait for them to act.”
In the blog post, Prince said that while it “would have been appropriate as an infrastructure provider for us to wait for legal process, in this case the imminent and emergency threat to human life which continues to escalate causes us to take this action.
“Hard cases make bad law. This is a hard case and we would caution anyone from seeing it as setting precedent. The policies we articulated last Wednesday remain our policies.”
Members of Kiwi Farms have recently targeted Clara Sorrenti, a Canadian Twitch streamer and trans activist who has had her personal information posted on the site repeatedly. Sorrenti has also been swatted – where people make hoax calls to emergency services to a person’s house. She subsequently founded the #dropkiwifarms campaign.
Prince said Kiwi Farms could come back online if another provider agreed to protect it and he noted “the emergency threat to human life” may actually be made worse by Cloudflare’s decision.
The website remained available online on Sunday using a slightly different URL.
“Finally, we are aware and concerned that our action may only fan the flames of this emergency. Kiwi Farms itself will most likely find other infrastructure that allows them to come back online, as the Daily Stormer and 8chan did themselves after we terminated them.
“And, even if they don’t, the individuals that used the site to increasingly terrorize [sic] will feel even more isolated and attacked and may lash out further. There is a real risk that by taking this action today we may have further heightened the emergency.”
In a statement, the #dropkiwifarms campaign said it welcomed the decision but its fight was not over and it could now target the Las Vegas-based company that hosts Kiwi Farms on its servers.
“Kiwi Farms has been around for over a decade and at no point in the site’s history have they come under this much fire,” the statement said.
“This is a historical [sic] moment where thousands of people have stood up and taken a stance against online harassment and hate. This deals a big blow to Kiwi Farms and their community, one they may never recover from.”
Cloudflare’s midweek stance not to intervene was similar to many tech companies reluctant to act as content moderators. The company’s position was similar to that of social media platforms Facebook and Twitter before they began to ramp up moderation in response to the rise of the far right and the Covid-19 pandemic.