Citing imminent danger, Cloudflare drops hate site Kiwi Farms

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Citing an “immediate threat to human life,” Cloudflare has removed notorious harassment and harassment site Kiwi Farms from its internet security services following an online campaign launched by the transgender streamer Twitch Clara Sorrenti to pressure him.

“This is an extraordinary decision for us to make and given Cloudflare’s role as an internet infrastructure provider, a dangerous role that we are not comfortable with,” CEO Matthew Prince wrote in a post. blog post on Saturday in an about-face after earlier insisting that the company would not block the site. “However, the rhetoric on the Kiwifarms site and the specific and targeted threats have escalated over the past 48 hours to the point where we believe there is an unprecedented urgency and immediate threat to human life contrary to what we’ve seen before from Kiwifarms or any other customer before.”

For years, members of the site created and operated by Joshua Conner Moon, 29, have congregated in what they call a “lightweight chat room” to stage vicious harassment campaigns against transgender people, feminists and others they deem mocking. They gang up on victims and pool their personal information such as addresses and phone numbers in a practice called “doxxing”, spreading vile rumors and targeting workplaces, friends, families and homes. Another favorite tactic was “swatting” – making fake emergency calls to provoke an armed police response to a target’s home. Some people subjected to abuse by the group have died by suicide.

Sorrenti, who impersonates “Keffals” online, led a campaign to pressure Cloudflare to drop Kiwi Farms. In August, she fled her home in Canada for Europe after being doxxed and run over. Her online stalkers, however, also found her in Belfast, Ireland, and continued to escalate their campaign of harassment against her even as her campaign against Kiwi Farms and its enablers gained momentum.

“When a multi-billion dollar company like Cloudflare has to abandon Kiwi Farms due to an ‘imminent and urgent threat to human life’, it’s no longer a matter of free speech. Removing Kiwi Farms from the internet is a matter of public safety for every person online,” she tweeted on Saturday.

On Sunday, Kiwi Farms was inaccessible. But a version of the site with a .ru domain name was up and running intermittently, though it was unclear if it would stay that way.

The decision to abandon Kiwi Farms on Saturday was a U-turn for Cloudflare and Prince, who earlier in the week published a 2,600-word blog post – without mentioning the site by name – doubling down on the decision to protect it and comparing Cloudflare to a phone company that “doesn’t terminate your line if you say horrible, racist, bigoted things.”

But Sorrenti and other targets on the site say it was far worse than that, as the site’s trolls relentlessly pursued their victims offline, often for years.

“They try to make people lose their jobs. They try to make people lose their homes and go hungry 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 the only way out is to kill themselves.”

Moon started Kiwi Farms nearly 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 started targeting other people – mostly active online users who are transgender, have autism, or other mental health issues. Kiwi Farms in its current form was born in 2015.

A dominant theme of the site’s discussions centers around users’ fierce opposition to transgender children receiving gender-affirming medical care. Members generally refer to those who support such treatment as “carers” and “pedophiles”, rhetoric that is also increasingly used by conservatives in their opposition to LGBTQ rights.

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

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

Last year, DDoS-Guard shielded pro-Trump social media website Parler.com for a while after Amazon pulled hosting services. KiwiFarms.ru was registered on July 12, suggesting that Moon knew Cloudflare could take down his site and so created a backup plan.

DDoS-Guard did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment on Sunday. Kiwi Farms’ internet connection is provided by VegasNAP, a Las Vegas-based company that said in response to questions last week that it does not disclose customer information. Recontacted on Sunday, the company did not respond immediately.

“In the past, DDoS-Guard has been known to discontinue support for some seriously problematic websites, apparently as a result of press inquiries. It could very well happen again, then, but I wouldn’t bet on it,” 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 these days, and in the last 6 months in particular, have learned to care a lot less what the rest of the world thinks of them and/or their actions.

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