Explained | Why are web hosting providers de-platforming Kiwi Farms?

Two web-hosting providers have confirmed that they no longer serve a hateful content-promoting messaging board called Kiwi Farms. The notorious website has enabled people to spread misinformation and harass vulnerable groups

September 06, 2022 04:35 pm | Updated September 07, 2022 05:01 pm IST

Explained | Why web hosting providers are de-platforming Kiwi Farms?

Explained | Why web hosting providers are de-platforming Kiwi Farms? | Photo Credit: AP

The story so far: Internet infrastructure provider Cloudflare caved in to pressure on Saturday. The U.S.-based company blocked the notorious messaging board Kiwi Farms from its platform. Their decision to de-platform the site came after Canadian activist Clara Sorrenti and her supporters strongly criticised the company for providing security to the site against DDoS attacks. Ms. Sorrenti claimed that Kiwi Farms organised a swatting campaign against her, which led to her arrest in August. While the web-hosting service first expressed its discomfort with the idea last week, Cloudflare confirmed on September 4 that it had blocked Kiwi Farms. A day later, the Russia-based DDoS-Guard also announced it was terminating DDoS protection services for a version of the Kiwi Farms website.

On September 6, Ms. Sorrenti tweeted, “We won. Kiwi Farms is dead. #DropKiwiFarms.”

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What is Kiwi Farms?

Kiwi Farms is a hate group that lets its users harass women, people who are neurodivergent, or members of the LGBTQIA+ community. The group is known for ‘doxxing’ vulnerable individuals whom it classifies as “lolcows” or sources of entertainment. These people’s personal details are made public for others to harass them, sometimes though ‘swatting’.

Swatting is a tactic used by the site members to send law enforcement teams to their targets’ homes by submitting fraudulent reports. Kiwi Farms has also been linked to the suicides of multiple people who were targeted. The site was blocked in New Zealand after the 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings.

Kiwi Farms “swatted” Ms. Sorrenti on August 5 by impersonating her and sending terrorism threats via email to the city councillors of London, Ontario. Ms. Sorrenti was arrested at gunpoint, deadnamed by police officers and incorrectly referred to as a man. She claimed the incident was an attempt by Kiwi Farms to humiliate her.

Ms. Sorrenti and her community tweeted the #DropKiwifarms and #CloudflareProtectsTerrorists hashtags to pressure Cloudflare to stop providing security to the website. Cloudflare did not host Kiwi Farms, but only protected it from distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.

What is the impact of the web-hosting company’s action?

Companies like Cloudflare prevent online platforms from being hit with distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, wherein floods of requests are used to bring down targeted hosts. Co-founder & CEO of Cloudflare, Matthew Prince, confirmed on September 4 that Cloudflare had blocked Kiwi Farms, describing the decision as “extraordinary” and “dangerous.”

“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 we have previously seen from Kiwifarms or any other customer before,” he said in a company blog post.

In 2017, Cloudflare blocked the neo-Nazi troll site ‘The Daily Stormer’, and in 2019, blocked the conspiracy theory forum 8chan, calling their content “reprehensible.”

According to a Telegram statement shared by a journalist on September 4, Kiwi Farms announced that it received a “vague suspension notice” and that Mr. Prince’s message was “unclear.”

“If there is any threat to life on the site, I have received no communication from any law enforcement,” stated the announcement. Kiwi Farms also confirmed it was repairing its URL on Tor, a privacy browser used to access the deep web and dark web.

“The two hosts confident they can handle the Kiwi Farms are probably wrong. DDoS-Guard was confident they could handle the Kiwi Farms and said “bring it on” for less than 24 hours,” added Kiwi Farms’ statement on September 5.

Ms. Sorrenti tweeted at Moon on September 6, claiming, “Your site is dead, you have no major source of income, and you have no options.”

She invited the Kiwi Farms founder to sell his domain to her so that she could re-direct it to a suicide crisis hotline. However, unless more web-hosting providers drop Kiwi Farms, it is possible for the platform to survive, albeit in a more erratic and patchy form.

“Kiwifarms itself will most likely find other infrastructure that allows them to come back online, as the Daily Stormer and 8chan did themselves after we terminated them,” said Mr. Prince in a statement.

Cloudflare is one of the largest networks in the world and said it powered “nearly 10 percent of all Internet requests for more than 2.5 billion people worldwide.”

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