(CNN) – Clara Sorrenti, a trans activist who was forced to flee her home in Canada after users of a hate-filled website targeted her, has succeeded in her campaign to have the site taken offline, for the moment.
Sorrenti, better known by her online username ‘Keffals’, has become the target of an organized harassment campaign on Kiwi Farms, a notorious online forum where users are openly transphobic after they started talking about trans rights. on Twitch, a live video streaming platform popular with video gamers.
“When you get your own feed on Kiwi Farms, it means there are enough people interested in engaging in a long-term harassment campaign against you,” Sorrenti told CNN in an interview on Monday, explaining how she became the target of Kiwi Farms users. .
“The first thing they did when my thread opened up was find my late father’s obituary and use it to find his memorial Facebook page,” she explained. “They were able to find a picture of my dad on the porch of my childhood home and from there use Google Maps and figure out where it was.”
What followed was months of abuse and threats, which eventually led to armed police showing up at Sorrenti’s home in Ontario after trolls called in a fake emergency, a harassment tactic known as of swatting that resulted in the death of people.
When the trolling and harassment continued, and with more information about her location available to trolls, she decided to leave Canada and stay with a friend and fellow trans activist in Belfast, Ireland. North. But the trolls found her here too.
“Exhausted” from the race, Sorrenti finally decided to launch a campaign to get Kiwi Farms off the internet.
What Sorrenti has done and the questions she has raised may well be the next frontier in the debate about what big internet companies should do in the face of online hate and harassment campaigns staged with the support of their services.
Although the focus in recent years has been on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, other internet service companies are also coming under scrutiny.
Getting a website removed from the internet is not a simple task. It’s certainly not as easy as, say, reporting a hateful Twitter or Facebook account, a situation where only one company can make a decision about what they allow on their platform. The internet as a whole is much more free and unregulated.
But websites don’t get or stay online on their own — they rely on companies that provide hosting, cybersecurity, and other services. Now, say activists like Sorrenti, it’s time these providers also take responsibility for hateful and violent threats online.
One of these companies, which has played an important role in the Kiwi Farms discussion, is Cloudflare, a large American company.
Cloudflare offers a suite of services, but in the case of Kiwi Farms, it was neither a platform nor a host. Instead, Kiwi Farms used Cloudflare’s security services to protect against cyberattacks. These types of services are essential for keeping a website online. if Cloudflare blocks its services on a site, it can essentially take it offline, at least until the site finds another provider.
In 2019, Cloudflare withdrew its support for 8chan, another hate-filled forum, after it was linked to a shooting in El Paso, Texas that killed 23 people. Cloudflare also blocked neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer from using its services in 2017.
But Matthew Prince, the CEO of Cloudflare, has long expressed discomfort with the potential role his company could play if it decides what can and cannot go online. Prince’s position is frequently echoed by others in Silicon Valley who argue that it shouldn’t be up to them to talk to the police online.
Cloudflare initially indicated last week that it would not take action against Kiwi Farms, explaining in a blog post what it considered to be the unintended consequences of its removal from support for 8chan and The Daily Stormer.
The post didn’t directly refer to Kiwi Farms, but Cloudflare said its decisions to stop supporting 8chan in 2019 and neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer in 2017 had unintended consequences.
“In a deeply disturbing response, after the two dismissals, we have seen a dramatic rise in authoritarian regimes trying to get us to terminate the security services of human rights organizations,” the blog read. .
But on Saturday, amid a flurry of media attention on Kiwi Farms following an NBC report on the site, Cloudflare changed its stance, deciding to stop providing services to Kiwi Farms, citing “threats imminent for human life”.
After Cloudflare removed support, Kiwi Farms was temporarily inaccessible but was soon back online with support from a Russian internet service company, DDos-Guard. (DDos is a type of cyberattack that can make websites inaccessible.)
But on Monday, DDos-Guard also blocked Kiwi Farms.
DDos-Guard issued a statement in which it explained: “We want to emphasize that access to our services is available to any customer, even without the involvement of managers. This is how Kiwi Farms activated the DDoS protection service. Then we came back after the weekend and found ourselves in the spotlight.
“We do not moderate content posted on customer sites because we are not Facebook and do not aspire to be,” the company said, but added, “there are some things we find unacceptable in all circumstances”.
Alissa Starzak, Cloudflare’s global head of public policy, told CNN on Monday that a more “holistic” approach is needed to tackle online hate.
“We really need long-term solutions because removing the security services,” she said, “does not solve the long-term threat of online harassment or the escalation of violence or certainly not the death threats”.
“I think I understand where they’re coming from,” Sorrenti said of Cloudflare’s initial response. “They don’t want to see a future where companies can decide, ‘I like this site. It should be on the internet. I don’t like this site. It shouldn’t,’ but I don’t think that’s a issue of freedom of expression.
“When it gets to the point where a website is a threat to people’s lives, it should definitely be taken off the internet,” she added.
Cloudflare and DDos-Guard’s actions have essentially knocked Kiwi Farms offline, at least for now.
Sorrenti knows that not all trolls will leave just because the site is offline, but she hopes it will be harder for them to mobilize.
“Showing them that we can organize against this type of online harassment and succeed in doing so will have a deterrent effect,” she said.
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