Despite growing pressure to cut ties with Kiwi Farms, an online forum that has become infamous for spreading hate and fueling harassment, the internet services company Cloudflare suggested in a statement Wednesday that it does not plan to drop the website as a customer.
“Terminating security services for content that our team personally feels is disgusting and immoral would be the popular choice,” said Cloudflare, in a blog post authored by CEO Matthew Prince and global public policy chief Alissa Starzak that does not mention Kiwi Farms by name. “But, in the long term, such choices make it more difficult to protect content that supports oppressed and marginalized voices against attacks.”
Cloudflare offers a range of services to digital clients, from cyber security to web hosting. The company made headlines in 2019 afterthe message board 8chan, a site known for harboring violent hate speech, where the gunman at a Walmart in El Paso posted his manifesto, causing it to temporarily shut down. Cloudflare had earlier terminated its services to the extremist site Daily Stormer.
The company has faced criticism recently for providing security services to Kiwi Farms, whose users frequently dox and harass transgender people and where a campaign that specifically targeted a popular trans Twitch streamer pushed her into hiding. The streamer and activist, Clara Sorrenti, known as Keffals on social media, detailed in videos her experiences being doxed — when someone’s private information is published online, typically in cyberbullying and cyberattack scenarios — and swatted, a cybercrime that aims to send armed emergency personnel to a victim’s residence after a hoax 911 call.
Sorrenti is now leading calls for Cloudflare to end its ongoing business relationship with Kiwi Farms, and receiving broad support from internet users as well as LGBTQ+ and women’s rights organizations. The Anti-Defamation League has also called for Cloudflare to drop Kiwi Farms, calling it “an extremist-friendly forum that has been the breeding ground for countless harassment campaigns, including this recent brutal campaign of swatting, doxing and hacking” in a tweet last week.
Although Cloudflare did not reference Kiwi Farms by name in its Wednesday blog post, called “Cloudflare’s abuse & policies approach,” the company acknowledged that the statement came in response to “questions that have arisen” about how it handles abuse when issues arise that are related to its products and services.
The company explained that content shared on sites that it hosts is subject to removal if it violates Cloudflare’s policies against content that is “illegal, harmful, or violates the rights of others, including content that discloses sensitive personal information, incites or exploits violence against people or animals, or seeks to defraud the public.” But most of its customers only use Cloudflare’s security services and do not face the same content restrictions. Cloudflare confirmed that it does not host the Kiwi Farms website in comments to CBS News.
“The policies we built reflect ideas and recommendations from human rights experts, activists, academics, and regulators,” the statement read. “Our guiding principles require abuse policies to be specific to the service being used. This is to ensure that any actions we take both reflect the ability to address the harm and minimize unintended consequences.”
Defending its argument against terminating security services to websites whose content Cloudflare says it “[finds] reprehensible,” the company said that doing so could set a dangerous precedent about speech censorship and prompt the kind of backlash it received after canceling services to the Daily Stormer and 8chan.
“Some argue that we should terminate these services to content we find reprehensible so that others can launch attacks to knock it offline. That is the equivalent argument in the physical world that the fire department shouldn’t respond to fires in the homes of people who do not possess sufficient moral character,” Cloudflare said. “Both in the physical world and online, that is a dangerous precedent, and one that is over the long term most likely to disproportionately harm vulnerable and marginalized communities.”
Cloudflare said responses it received after dropping the Daily Stormer and 8chan were “deeply troubling,” and recalled “a dramatic increase in authoritarian regimes attempting to have us terminate security services for human rights organizations — often citing the language from our own justification back to us.”
“Since those decisions, we have had significant discussions with policy makers worldwide,” the statement continued. “From those discussions we concluded that the power to terminate security services for the sites was not a power Cloudflare should hold.”