Over the weekend, internet infrastructure company Cloudflare removed support and dropped Kiwi Farms, a hate website tied to the harassment, doxxing and the swatting of several people.
Last week, we reported on Cloudflare’s response to mounting pressure brought on by the #DropKiwiFarms campaign. The company likened removing its support for Kiwi Farms to the fire department not putting out fires at a house belonging to people “who do not possess sufficient moral character”.
Now, Kiwi Farms has been entirely dropped by Cloudflare. If you try to access the original Kiwi Farms URL, for example, you’ll be presented with the following message:
Supposedly after Cloudflare put up its post defending its support for Kiwi Farms, threats to human life increased, as indicated by Cloudflare’s blog post on the termination of service.
“This is 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,” the post reads.
“However, the rhetoric on the Kiwi Farms site and specific, targeted threats have escalated over the last 48 hours to the point that we believe there is an unprecedented emergency and immediate threat to human life unlike we have previously seen from Kiwi Farms or any other customer before.”
The spotlight was cast on Cloudflare over the past fortnight by the #DropKiwifarms campaign, which Cloudflare claims was not a direct reason for removing support for Kiwi Farms.
However, the pressure mounted on Kiwi Farms seemed to lead to users lashing out more, which is why Cloudflare said it took action.
Our statement on Cloudflare dropping Kiwi Farms. pic.twitter.com/PrjtnfPLuX
— keffals #DropKiwifarms (@keffals) September 3, 2022
Not long after Cloudflare removed support for Kiwi Farms, the #DropKiwifarms campaign released a statement.
Today Cloudflare has dropped the notorious far-right hate forum Kiwi Farms. As CEO Matthew Prince has noted, threats against human life have been escalating in the last 48 hours on the website, and happening in a much faster manner than law enforcement is able to keep up with. 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. This is a historical moment where thousands of people have stood up and taken a stance against online harassment and hate.
We’re happy with the decision that Cloudflare came to, and this deals a big blow to Kiwi Farms and their community, one they may never recover from. But that doesn’t mean we should rest on our laurels. While we should celebrate today, this may not be the end of their community. We have shown that when united together we are capable of moving mountains, and if we continue to stand together and fight back, we can see this until the end.
The campaign added that it’ll be redirecting pressure at Fiberhub, the company that hosts the servers of Kiwi Farms.
However, shortly after Kiwi Farms was dropped by Cloudflare, users noticed that the site was back online with a Russian domain. It’s also accessible through a Tor browser.
“Cloudflare changed their mind about providing services to Kiwi Farms and so they went elsewhere and found those services from another provider that competes in the same market as Cloudflare,” Justin Warren, the chair of Electronic Frontiers Australia, a not-for-profit Australian organisation that promotes digital rights in the country, told Gizmodo Australia.
“[Kiwi Farms] have been doing this for so long that I think people are fed up. Now there is a group of people that are both highly motivated and well-resourced, and they have taken it upon themselves to do something about this because no one else has.
“The people on Kiwi Farms, they will likely scatter and find other places to hang out. However, we do know that de-platforming does tend to work in that it takes some of the energy out of the system that binds these people together.”
Hard cases are what clarifies the law. Easy cases don’t require you to make hard decisions or wrestle with the complex balancing of competing rights and interests that serious people do all the time.
— Justin Warren (@jpwarren) September 4, 2022
However, Cloudflare’s response remains an issue. Although the web infrastructure company acted arguably quickly when put under pressure, that pressure still had to be applied. Additionally, the company only acted once threats on Kiwi Farms appeared to escalate and not after years of such threats, doxxing and harassment campaigns.
That being said, as Warren highlighted, freedom of expression is important. While pressuring Cloudflare to drop Kiwi Farms has worked, Warren said that the same tactics have been applied by right-wing and religious groups to ban books or to pull services from sex workers.
In 2018, Cloudflare terminated services for Switter, a sex worker-friendly social media platform, after former U.S. President Donald Trump signed the SESTA/FOSTA Bill into law.
“Cloudflare is more than happy to kick off other people without legal processes … [Cloudflare] are trying to have it both ways. They are trying to have all the power without any of the responsibility that comes with that power… If Cloudflare wants to position itself as a vital utility, then it will need to be regulated in the same way that other vital utilities are regulated,” Warren said.
If Cloudflare wants to be treated like it’s above making takedown decisions, like it has done for Kiwi Farms, along with 8Chan and The Daily Stormer in the past, then the takedown process would need to change. Warren thinks that, as a society, we need to reckon with the nuances of what makes a platform necessary to be de-platformed.
“I’m not a free speech absolutist, but I am cautious about how power is used and what precedent it does set,” said Warren.
“Our expectation should be from Cloudflare, if it wants to be treated like a common carrier, it needs to behave like one. And that means, when it makes a decision, and a decision to keep a customer is still a decision, it should be able to provide a detailed set of reasons that balances competing rights and interests of different groups to arrive at a conclusion. That is how the process works under regulators … they do that so that we can understand the reasons that lead to a decision and the nuances that are involved in weighing up the competing interests.”
He said that, for example, the right to freedom of expression is one right, however, the right not to have your private information leaked all over the internet by people in bad faith is another competing interest.
“And then, another competing interest is whistleblowers who are leaking private information in order to throw light onto abuses of power. And so a power lens, understanding power differentials, is a vital part of that balancing of rights and interests. Cloudflare has done none of that,” he explained.
Additionally, Warren said that it’s very easy to remove people from the internet that “lack power” and that the victims of Kiwi Farms have traditionally had less power than the users of the website.
“That needs to be dealt with by regulators and us as a society and what we’re seeing here, in one way, is that regulators aren’t very good at this and that it’s dangerous for us to place too much power in regulators’ hands,” added Warren.
“I think we should be cautious about concentrating more power into any individual’s hands and, by contrast, we have seen actually we don’t need to do that either. We can quite successfully, as a society, band together in groups and discuss things and come to a conclusion about the kind of society that we want to have and then take action to build that sort of society. I think that’s actually the lesson from this.”
Kiwi Farms continues to operate without the support of Cloudflare. The #DropKiwifarms campaign says it will continue to lobby businesses that work with the website to pull their support.
If you or someone you know is in need of crisis support or someone to talk to, contact the Lifeline Australia hotline at 13 11 14, the Suicide Call Back Service at 1300 65 94 67 or the Kids Helpline (for ages 5-25) at 1800 55 1800.