Cloudflare, the host of hate-groups
Bio/description for Instagram: Among its extensive list of customers, Cloudflare provides internet services to far-right extremist groups. The recent takedown of Kiwi Farm has reopened critic against the company for this. In this article Dillon looks at the case of Kiwi Farm and how Cloudflare justified it’s upkeep, until the voices of the public were too loud to ignore.
Cloudflare might not be a name you’re familiar with, but I’m sure you’ve seen a pop-up on your computer screen from time to time reading “Checking your browser before accessing…Please allow up to 5 seconds”. This pop-up is the proud work of Cloudflare, an internet infrastructure provider whose services include offering content delivery and DDoS protection to over 4.1 million customers. However, as previous reports have found, some of these customers are groups and websites many would prefer to see DDoSed at the very least. Since 2016, Cloudflare has provided internet infrastructure to at least 48 far-right or hate-peddling internet forums and websites. Sites which the company supported until public demand for them to be taken down forced Cloudflare to do so, not because they saw it as the right thing to do. The recent shutdown of Kiwi Farms is a case-in-point, and there are many others. In this article, the shutdown of Kiwi Farms will be discussed as well as other nefarious sites Cloudflare has serviced and their Abuse Policy, which they claim protects their customers.
Kiwi Farms, much like the extensive list of forums that came before it, is a strong contender for the title “worst place on the internet”. For the last nine years, this site has facilitated the discussion and harassment of online figures and members of marginalised communities. Its targets have been subjected to organized trolling, private information publication and stalking, with the forum’s members going as far as pushing their victims to commit suicide. In 2019, the forum republished the livestream and manifesto of Brenton Tarrant, perpetrator of the Christchurch Mosque shooting. This history of activities contributed towards the site being temporarily disabled but it wasn’t until September 3rd, 2022, that Cloudflare stopped providing services to the site. This move was quickly followed by other providers who halted support for Kiwi Farms due to the “imminent and emergency threat to human life” the forum presented. However, this victory was short-lived as the forum was brought back online three days later after VanwaTech, a company notorious for supporting neo-Nazi and far-right activities provided Kiwi Farms with the services needed to remain online.
While the takedown of Kiwi Farms was hailed as a victory, it was long and hard fought for. The CEO of Cloudflare, Matthew Prince has firmly stood against content moderation, permitting the company to provide internet infrastructure to al-Qaeda, neo-Nazi site the Daily Stormer, and to Kiwi Farms’ parent site, 8chan until evidence of real-world harm these sites cause forced him to fold. The story of Kiwi Farms followed a similar cycle, where only once death threats were made against him, did Prince agree to take the site offline. Prior to this however, Cloudflare, released an updated version of their abuse policy and approach towards sites with reprehensible content in an attempt to justify their past decisions to keep sites online until public outcry was too loud to ignore.
The entire policy can be read here, but in short, Cloudflare emphasises that their guiding principles ensure that the actions they take reflect their ability to address harm and minimise it’s intended consequences. In many past cases, however, they failed to achieve this. Consider the case of Kiwi Farms where users of the forum singled out transgender and neurodivergent people like Clara Sorrenti. These individuals sustained harassment in the form of swatting, threats and violence which, and in the case of Sorrenti, forced her to relocate from Canada to Northern Ireland. Her stalkers were persistent however and quickly found her, and continued the harassment. Sorrenti publicised this ordeal and consistently called upon Cloudflare directly to take down the site and encouraged her fanbase to do the same. Instead, Cloudflare further justified its reluctance to take down the hate-speech fuelled website by citing its desire to avoid abusing power:
“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. 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.”
The company went on to argue that in the long term the choice to protect content, while difficult, supports oppressed and marginalised voices against attacks. Such a statement falls flat however, when up until 2021, one of its censored domain network system products blocked LGBTQ+ support and aid sites as well as sex education resources by predefinition. While this issue was quickly rectified by Cloudflare, it does not paint a flattering portrait of the company – where sites that preach love and equality are blocked and those which push hate and violence are not. Despite heavy criticism for their stance, Cloudflare echoes the position held by many others in Silicon Valley, that it isn’t up to platforms and providers to police speech online. However, when the content it hosts is explicitly banned in countries that hold its data centres, Cloudflare has an obligation to terminate support for these sites. An obligation that in many cases has yet to be fulfilled.