Major internet security services provider, Cloudflare, announced over the weekend it ceased business with Kiwi Farms. Kiwi Farms is a notorious online forum whose users recently made headlines for the organized harassment of a trans video game streamer.
In a statement released on Saturday, CEO Matthew Prince expressed his displeasure with the move, arguing that “this an extraordinary decision for us to make and, given Cloudflare’s role as an Internet infrastructure provider, a dangerous one that we are not comfortable with.” However, Prince went on to concede that “specific, targeted threats have escalated … to the point that we believe there is an unprecedented emergency and immediate threat to human life unlike we have previously seen from Kiwifarms [sic] or any other customer before.”
Kiwi Farms has long garnered a reputation as an online haven for some of the internet’s most extreme, offensive, and inflammatory content, with roots going as far back as 2007 stalking and harassment campaigns against trans individuals. Since then it has continually fostered a violently transphobic community that frequently targets specific victims—in this most recent case, Clara Sorrenti, a trans woman and Twitch gamer who uses the alias “Keffals.”
Last month, forum users not only uploaded Sorrenti’s personal information including her home address and phone number (a tactic known as “doxxing”), but also called in a false emergency to local authorities that resulted in a house raid and Sorrenti’s false arrest—a potentially fatal prank referred to as “swatting.” The abuse forced Sorrenti to flee her home in Canada and temporarily relocate to Ireland, where her location was yet again uncovered by the Kiwi Farms community.
Sorrenti’s subsequent online pleas for action generated a groundswell of support calling for Cloudflare to sever business with Kiwi Farms, but the company initially indicated it would not change course. “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,” Prince argued in an earlier blog post on August 31.
According to Cloudflare’s CEO, this weekend’s reversal is solely to result of what he considers to be actionable and serious threats against Sorrenti, and not a change in overall policy. “Kiwifarms has frequently been host to revolting content. Revolting content alone does not create an emergency situation that necessitates the action we are taking today,” Cloudflare’s CEO wrote in his Saturday statement. Prince’s statement criticizes Sorrenti’s supporters, writing on his blog “the pressure campaign escalated, so did the rhetoric on the Kiwifarms site. Feeling attacked, users of the site became even more aggressive.”
[Related: How data brokers threaten your privacy.]
This isn’t the first time Cloudflare has reluctantly decided to cut controversial clientele. In 2017, the security service provider ceased business with the infamous neo-Nazi site, The Daily Stormer, and did the same two years’ later for the similarly problematic, sparsely moderated forum, 8chan, known for trafficking in violent misogyny, as well as revenge and child pornography. Prince said he is “aware and concerned that our action may only fan the flames of this emergency. Kiwifarms 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.”
Kiwi Farms was briefly saved by a Russian company called DDOS-Guard, but soon found itself dropped once again for “violations of the acceptable use policy.” Research shows deplatforming campaigns often successfully curtail public access to fringe groups, misinformation, and radicalization efforts. However, there is also some evidence deplatforming can further isolate and reinforce dangerous online communities.
There will likely always been alternative online options for groups like Kiwi Farms, but there is still no third-party replacement for getting booted from major platforms and services, as was the case for sites like InfoWars and its owner/principal actor, Alex Jones.
“[W]e recognize that while our blocking Kiwifarms temporarily addresses the situation, it by no means solves the underlying problem. That solution will require much more work across society,” Prince argued in this weekend’s announcement. “We are hopeful that our action … will help provoke conversations toward addressing the larger problem. And we stand ready to participate in that conversation.”