A notorious hate speech site has been knocked offline after a web security firm dropped support due to fears of an “imminent and emergency threat to human life”.
Cloudflare initially resisted calls to block Kiwi Farms from its services, however CEO Matthew Prince said he took the “extraordinary decision” after targeted threats escalated over the last two days.
“Kiwifarms has frequently been host to revolting content. Revolting content alone does not create an emergency situation that necessitates the action we are taking today,” Mr Prince wrote in a blog post.
“However, as the pressure campaign escalated, so did the rhetoric on the Kiwifarms site… While we believe that in every other situation we have faced – including the Daily Stormer and 8chan – it would have been appropriate as an infrastructure provider for us to wait for legal process, in this case the imminent and emergency threat to human life which continues to escalate causes us to take this action.”
The pressure campaign was started by transgender Twitch streamer and YouTuber Clara Sorrenti, who uses the moniker Keffals, who claims to be in hiding as a result of coordinated attempts by Kiwi Farms users to harm her.
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 target victims by pooling 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 favourite 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.
In August, Keffals fled her home in Canada for Europe after she was doxxed and swatted. Her online stalkers, however, found her in Belfast, Ireland, 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.
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.
Mr Prince warned that Kiwi Farms could find other web protection services, similar to other sites blocked by Cloudflare, such as the Daily Stormer and 8chan.
“Kiwifarms itself will most likely find other infrastructure that allows them to come back online,” he wrote.
“Even if they don’t, the individuals that used the site to increasingly terrorize will feel even more isolated and attacked and may lash out further. There is real risk that by taking this action today we may have further heightened the emergency.”
Additional reporting from agencies.