Aug 25, 2022 - Technology

Campaign pushes Cloudflare to drop trans hate site

Illustration of a repeating pattern of computers with skulls on the screens
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Network infrastructure giant Cloudflare faces pressure from activists to stop providing services to a nearly decade-old website where anonymous users organize the harassment and "doxing" of trans people, in some cases with the goal of driving them to suicide.

The big picture: Many technology providers prefer not to stand as judge of their own customers' behavior or content, but the Trump-era rise of the far right has repeatedly forced Cloudflare and others companies into that position.

  • In 2017 Cloudflare cut off service to the Nazi Stormfront organization and its Daily Stormer website in the aftermath of the far-right rally in Charlottesville. However, in a blog post following the move, CEO Matthew Prince expressed deep reluctance to censor content and a desire to avoid playing a similar role in the future.
  • Today red states are passing new laws limiting the rights of transgender people and deepening a climate of fear. Meanwhile, a number of right-wing sites and activists have been targeting drag queens, transgender people and medical providers who provide gender-affirming health care.

Catch up quick: The site, Kiwi Farms, was described in a 2016 New York Magazine profile as "the web's biggest community of stalkers."

  • Kiwi Farms spun off from the notorious anonymous-trolling forum 4chan in 2014. Its users claim their site is about laughing at people they call "lolcows."
  • But the targets of their abuse are typically transgender or neurodivergent people.
  • The range of harassment, according to many of those targets, extends to publishing personal information, efforts to get individuals fired from their jobs, and "swatting" incidents where local police are told a crime is underway at their home addresses. These campaigns in some cases have been sustained over months or years.

The end point of these efforts, in many cases, is to persuade targets that the only way to end their abuse — and that of their families — is to kill themselves.

  • Several trans and nonbinary people have taken their lives amid Kiwi Farms-led campaigns, including prominent emulator programmer Near, who blamed the site for spawning unendurable levels of harassment.

The latest wave of attention to the site and its users followed an incident earlier this month in which prominent Twitch streamer Clara Sorrenti (who goes by Keffals online) was swatted, prompting her to go into hiding and sparking the new campaign aimed at Cloudflare's services to Kiwi Farms.

  • "Multiple people have died because of this website," Keffals told Axios. "So many lives have been ruined, and unless people stand up and do something about it, many more will as well."

How it works: Cloudflare doesn't host Kiwi Farms, but it provides a number of services that help keep the site online and distribute its content efficiently.

  • Liz Fong-Jones, a former Google engineer and cloud computing expert who has been targeted by Kiwi Farms users, said in a Twitch webcast that the campaign hoped Cloudflare would "do the right thing" — and that, without the cost efficiencies its services provide, Kiwi Farms would be unsustainable as a business.

What's happening: Kiwi Farms' web presence has flickered off and on this week, but there's no indication that Cloudflare has withdrawn its service, and the company has not responded to requests for comment.

  • A posting from the site's operator, Joshua "Null" Moon, said he was "looking at what my other options are" and argued that the site's critics "falsely equate information with harassment, speech with violence, and discussion with stalking."

The intrigue: Kiwi Farms' name emerged in a different context Wednesday after an incident in which Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) was "swatted" at home and a caller to the police claimed responsibility, describing himself as a Kiwi Farms user.

  • The anonymity of everyone on the site means it's effectively impossible to verify such claims, raising unresolvable questions of intent and suspicions of "false flag" behavior from all sides.

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or you can text message or call 988.

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