SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Citing an "immediate threat to human life," Cloudflare has dropped the notorious stalking and harassment site Kiwi Farms from its internet security services following an online campaign started by transgender Twitch streamer Clara Sorrenti to pressure it to do so.
"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," CEO Matthew Prince wrote in a blog post Saturday in an about-face after earlier insisting that the company would not block the site. "However, the rhetoric on the Kiwifarms 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 what we have previously seen from Kiwifarms or any other customer before."
For years, members of the site created and operated by Joshua Conner Moon, 29, have congregated on what they call a "lighthearted discussion forum" to organize vicious harassment campaigns against transgender people, feminists and others they deem mockable. They gang up on victims and pool their personal details such as addresses and phone numbers in a practice called "doxxing," spreading vile rumors and targeting workplaces, friends, families and homes. Another favorite tactic has been "swatting" — making false emergency calls to provoke an armed police response at a target’s home. Some people subjected to the group’s abuse have died by suicide.
Sorrenti, who goes by "Keffals" online, has been leading a campaign to pressure Cloudflare to drop Kiwi Farms. In August, she fled her home in Canada for Europe after she was doxxed and swatted. Her online stalkers, however, found her in Belfast, Ireland, as well and continued to intensify their harassment campaign against her just as her campaign against Kiwi Farms and its enablers was gaining momentum.
"When a multi-billion dollar corporation like Cloudflare has to drop Kiwi Farms because of an ‘imminent and emergency threat to human life’ it is no longer a matter of free speech. Removing Kiwi Farms from the internet is a matter of public safety for every single person online," she tweeted on Saturday.
On Sunday, Kiwi Farms was inaccessible. But a version of the site with a .ru domain name was intermittently up and running, though it was not clear whether it would remain up.
The decision to drop Kiwi Farms Saturday was an about-face for Cloudflare and Prince, who earlier in the week put out 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 awful, racist, bigoted things."
But Sorrenti and other targets of the site say it was far worse than that, as trolls on the site relentlessly pursued their victims offline — often for years on end.
"They are trying to get people to lose their jobs. They’re trying to get people to lose their housing, to be starving and homeless," Liz Fong-Jones, a former Google engineer and cloud computing expert who is transgender, 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 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 began to target other people -- mostly active online users who are transgender, have autism or other mental conditions. Kiwi Farms in its current form was born in 2015.
An overarching theme of the site’s discussions centers on users’ fierce opposition to transgender children receiving gender-affirming medical care. Members typically refer to those who support such treatment as "groomers" and "pedophiles," rhetoric that is also used increasingly 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 still on Cloudflare. This narrative feels like a lie spun up to save face," Moon, who posts on Kiwi Farms under the pseudonym "Null," posted Saturday in response to Cloudflare's cutoff. Reached earlier by The Associated Press to comment on the campaign against his site, Moon replied only "the press are scum."
KiwiFarms.ru is registered to and protected by the Russian company DDoS-Guard, whose customers have in the past included Russian government websites including the Defense Ministry and cybercriminal forums where stolen credit cards are bought and sold.
Last year, DDoS-Guard protected the pro-Trump social media website Parler.com for a time after Amazon withdrew hosting services. KiwiFarms.ru was registered on July 12, suggesting Moon, was aware Cloudflare could drop his site and thus 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 queries last week that it does not disclose information about its clients. Contacted again Sunday, the company did not immediately respond.
"In the past, DDoS-Guard has been known to discontinue support for some seriously problematic websites, apparently as a result of press inquiries. That very well may happen again, in this instance, 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 do believe that, in general, Russians these days, and over the past 6 months in particular, have learned to care a whole lot less about what the rest of the world thinks of them and/or their actions."