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Under pressure, security firm Cloudflare drops Kiwi Farms website


SAN FRANCISCO — Reversing course under growing public pressure, major tech security company Cloudflare announced Saturday that it will stop protecting the Kiwi Farms website, best known as a place for stalkers to organize hacks, online campaigns and real-world harassment.

Cloudflare Chief Executive Matthew Prince, who this past week published a lengthy blog post justifying the company’s services defending websites such as Kiwi Farms, told The Washington Post he changed his mind not because of the pressure but a surge in credible violent threats stemming from the site.

“As Kiwi Farms has felt more threatened, they have reacted by being more threatening,” Prince said. “We think there is an imminent danger, and the pace at which law enforcement is able to respond to those threats we don’t think is fast enough to keep up.”

Prince said contributors to the forum were posting home addresses of those seen as enemies and calling for them to be shot.

After Cloudflare’s move, visitors to Kiwi Farms were greeted by this message: “Due to an imminent and emergency threat to human life, the content of this site is blocked from being accessed through Cloudflare’s infrastructure.”

In a post on Telegram, Kiwi Farm’s founder, Josh Moon said Cloudflare made its decision “without any discussion” and said he had not been contacted by law enforcement about threats on the site. “It’s early morning hours here,” the post said. “My thoughts will be articulated better in the morning.”

Kiwi Farms launched in 2013 and quickly grew into a popular internet forum for online harassment campaigns. At least three suicides have been tied to harassment stemming from the Kiwi Farms community, and many on the forum consider their goal to drive their targets to suicide. Members of the LGBTQ community and women are frequent targets.

Cloudflare has faced broad backlash in the past week as a campaign for it to drop the service gained steam and widened to pressure paying customers to drop Cloudflare if it held firm. The company says it provides some services, mostly for free, that protect nearly a fifth of all internet traffic.

On Aug. 24, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) called for Kiwi Farms to be taken down after she was swatted by a person claiming to be affiliated with the site. “Isn’t it concerning that such a website exists?” Greene said in an interview with Newsmax. “That website needs to be taken down. There should be no business or any kind of service where you can target your enemy.”

It was around then that the company stopped selling Kiwi Farms a $20 per month service to customize error messages shown to web users when its pages wouldn’t load. On Saturday, it withdrew the remaining free services, which fend off denial-of-service attacks and speed content delivery by making copies of the site in many locations.

Clara Sorrenti, a trans Canadian Twitch streamer known online as Keffals, launched the #DropKiwiFarms campaign after being targeted by Kiwi Farms posters for over half a year.

Forum users had repeatedly doxed Sorrenti and her family, posting addresses and more, and last month they called in false crime reports to draw police to her home in “swatting” attacks. Sorrenti fled to Northern Ireland late last month, and within 48 hours users of the forum had pinpointed her location and she began receiving threats.

On Saturday, she spoke with The Post just minutes after police had arrived at her residence after another swatting attempt.

“There are countless people suffering because of this website,” Sorrenti said. “Kiwi Farms isn’t about free speech, it’s about hate speech. The majority of the content on the site is threads used for targeted harassment against political targets.”

Sorrenti’s campaign against Cloudflare went viral in the past several days, with organizations and influencers joining in the call to ban Kiwi Farms from Cloudflare’s service. The Anti-Defamation League called Kiwi Farms an “extremist-friendly forum that has been the breeding ground for countless harassment campaigns.”

In the interview, Prince said he was uncomfortable dropping Kiwi Farms despite its content and would have preferred to have done so only in response to a court order.

But he said it was an easier call than his previous decisions to drop neo-Nazi site the Daily Stormer and the 8chan website because those two were not hotbeds for specific violent plots.

In a post Wednesday, Prince and another executive had written that they saw providing basic security and caching services as infrastructure, like internet connectivity, and should not be held responsible for content without judicial proceedings. They contrasted that with website hosting, which they said should have increased responsibility and discretion.

Prince said Saturday he stands by that reasoning, and he wrote in a new post that dropping Kiwi Farms was a “dangerous” decision. He added in the interview that it might provoke forum users to escalate even more, and that the forum would likely reappear online with help from Cloudflare competitors.

“This may largely kick the problem down the road and worse, might even escalate as the posters at Kiwi Farms feel attacked,” Prince told The Post.

Some technology experts supported Cloudflare’s resistance to acting. Daphne Keller, director of the Program on Platform Regulation at Stanford’s Cyber Policy Center, cited recent arm-twisting at Facebook by the current government of India over content from political opponents.

“The question is, which parts of the technical `stack’ of the internet are supposed to be neutral, which ones are supposed to moderate content, and is there some intermediate set of obligations that should apply to the middle layers?” Keller told The Post.

But a large swath of technologists disagreed with the previous stance. On Friday, Stanford University’s Alex Stamos wrote on Twitter that the position to keep serving Kiwi Farms was “not tenable.”

“Soon a doctor, activist or trans person is going to get doxxed and killed or a mass shooter is going to be inspired there. The investigation will show the killer’s links to the site, and Cloudflare’s enterprise base will evaporate,” Stamos wrote.

Prince said in the interview he couldn’t provide the number of new threats he had seen on Kiwi Farms, but he said they had escalated rapidly alongside the criticism of the forum. He said the company had shared specifics with the FBI and law enforcement in the United Kingdom and Australia, but that none of those agencies had asked him, even informally, to drop Kiwi Farms.

Broader concerns about violent organizing online have been climbing for years, accelerating after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Law enforcement and intelligence warnings have also pointed to potential violence around the November elections, or even sooner, as former president Donald Trump has compared the FBI and other institutions to organized crime.

Incitement by others online over gender issues has inspired recent threats against children’s hospitals.

Moon, Kiwi Farm founder, is a former administrator of 8chan, a forum popularized by followers of the QAnon extremist ideology. After hosting a video of the Christchurch mosque shootings in 2019 that killed 51, New Zealand internet service providers blocked Kiwi Farms after Moon denied a police request for information on posts related to the shooting.

Last July, Kiwi Farms was booted from its domain registrar, DreamHost, following the suicide of a software developer called Near, who was a long time target of the site’s user base.

“Like many trans people coming out as having been targeted by this site, I too was targeted by Kiwifarms,” Erin Reed, a trans activist and content creator, tweeted on Saturday. “They showed up at my local courthouse to grab my divorce files. They posted Google images of my house. They try to scare trans people into silence.”

But Chelsea Manning, a trans activist, offered a more nuanced opinion. “I don’t think long term the solution to this kind of dangerous speech is to ask hosting providers to have to take these things down,” she told The Post. “We need a more balanced and measured long-term approach.”

Lorenz reported from Los Angeles.

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