Citing imminent hazard, Cloudflare takes down hate website Kiwi Farms

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Citing a “direct threat to human life,” Cloudflare has removed infamous stalking and harassment site Kiwi Farms from its internet security service following an online campaign started by transgender Twitch streamer Clara Sorrenti to pressure her into doing so.

“This is an extraordinary decision for us to make and remember Cloudflare’s role as a provider of Internet infrastructure, which is dangerously inconvenient for us,” CEO Matthew Prince wrote in a statement. blog post Saturday around the face after previously insisting that the company will not block the site. “However, the rhetoric on the Kiwifarms website and specific, targeted threats have escalated over the past 48 hours to the point where we believe there is an unprecedented emergency and a direct threat to human life unlike any we have seen before from Kiwifarms or other customers. . before.”

For years, members of the site created and operated by Joshua Conner Moon, 29, have gathered at what they call a “light discussion forum” to organize a campaign of vicious harassment against transgender people, feminists and others they deem to be ridiculed. They gang up on victims and collect their personal information such as addresses and phone numbers in a practice called “doxxing”, spreading vile rumors and targeting workplaces, friends, family and homes. Another favorite tactic is “hitting” – making a fake emergency call to provoke an armed police response at the target’s home. Some people who are subjected to group harassment have died by suicide.

Sorrenti, who uses “Keffals” online, has led a campaign to pressure Cloudflare to stop Kiwi Farms. In August, he fled his home in Canada for Europe after he was poisoned and slapped. His online stalkers, however, found him in Belfast, Ireland, too and continue to intensify their campaign of harassment against him just as his campaign against Kiwi Farms and its supporters is gaining momentum.

“When multi-billion dollar companies like Cloudflare have to stop Kiwi Farms because of the ‘immediate and urgent threat to human life’, it’s no longer a matter of free speech. Removing Kiwi Farms from the internet is a public safety issue for everyone online,” he tweeted Saturday.

On Sundays, Kiwi Farms is inaccessible. But the version of the site with the .ru domain name is sometimes up and running, although it’s not clear if it will stay active.

The decision to discontinue Kiwi Farms on Saturday was a big change for Cloudflare and Prince, who earlier this week put out a 2,600-word blog post — without naming the site — duplicating a decision to protect it and comparing Cloudflare to a phone company that “doesn’t disconnect you if You say bad, racist and bigoted things.”

But Sorrenti and other targets of the site say it’s much worse than that, as trolls on the site relentlessly pursue their victims offline — often for years.

“They are trying to put people out of work. They’re trying to make people homeless, starving and homeless,” Liz Fong-Jones, a former Google engineer and transgender cloud computing expert, told the AP last week. “And then they go after people’s families and then they tell people that the only way out is to kill themselves.”

Moon started Kiwi Farms almost a decade ago as a wiki site dedicated to harassing a transgender woman; Moon even used the woman’s initials in an early version of the site’s name. Over time its users began to target other people — mostly active online users who were transgender, had autism or other mental conditions. Kiwi Farms in its current form was born in 2015.

The overarching theme of the site’s discussion centers on users’ fierce opposition to transgender children receiving gender-affirming medical care. Members typically refer to those who support treatment such as “guards” and “pedophiles,” rhetoric also increasingly used by conservatives against LGBTQ rights.

“There has never been a violent incident in our history, which cannot be said for the many other sites that still exist in Cloudflare. This narrative feels like a lie spun around to save face,” Moon, who posted on Kiwi Farms under the pseudonym “Null,” posted Saturday in response to Cloudflare’s discontinuation. Contacted earlier by The Associated Press for comment on the campaign against his site, Moon replied simply “the press is trash.”

KiwiFarms.ru is registered and protected by the Russian company DDoS-Guard, whose customers have in the past included Russian government websites including the Ministry of Defense and cybercrime forums where stolen credit cards are bought and sold.

Last year, DDoS-Guard sheltered pro-Trump social media site Parler.com for a while after Amazon withdrew its hosting service. KiwiFarms.ru was registered on July 12, indicating Moon, aware Cloudflare could delete his site and thus create a backup plan.

DDoS-Guard did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment on Sunday. Kiwi Farms’ internet connection is provided by VegasNAP, a Las Vegas-based company that said in response to inquiries last week that it did not disclose information about its clients. Contacted again Sunday, the company did not immediately respond.

“In the past, DDoS-Guard has been known to stop support for some very problematic websites, apparently as a result of press inquiries. It’s very likely to happen again, in this case, but I wouldn’t bet,” said independent internet expert Ron Guilmette. “Obviously, a lot has changed in the world since February 24, 2022, and I believe that, in general, Russians lately, and over the last 6 months in particular, have learned not to care too much about what else. the world thinks about them and/or their actions.”

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