Sorrenti, better known by his online username “kefles”, became the target of a harassment campaign organized at Kiwi Farm, an infamous online forum where users are openly transphobic when they spoke about trans rights on Twitch. Started Speaking in , which is a popular live video streaming platform. With video gamers.
“When you get your own thread on Kiwi Farms, it means there are enough people out there to engage in a prolonged harassment campaign against you,” Sorrenti told CNN in an interview on Monday. ,
“When my thread opened, the first thing they did was find the obituary for my dead father and use that to find his memorial Facebook page,” she explained. “They were able to find a picture of my dad on the front porch of my childhood home and from that use Google Maps and find out where he was located.”
When the trolling and harassment continued, and with more information about her location available to trolls, she decided to leave Canada and live with a friend and fellow trans activist in Belfast, Northern Ireland. But the trollers tracked him down here too.
“Exhausted” by running, Sorrenti eventually decides to launch a campaign to remove Kiwi Farms from the Internet.
What Sorrenti did, and the questions she raised, could be the next frontier in the debate about what major Internet companies should do about online hate and harassment campaigns that are conducted with the support of their services.
While social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have been more focused in recent years, other Internet service companies are also now facing scrutiny.
Removing a website from the internet is not an easy task. It’s certainly not as easy as, say, reporting a hateful Twitter or Facebook account, a situation in which a single company can make decisions about what’s allowed on its platform. The Internet as a whole is far more free and unregulated.
But the websites themselves don’t come or stay online — they rely on companies that provide hosting, cyber security, and other services. Now, campaigners like Sorrenti say, it’s time those providers too take responsibility for hateful and violent threats online.
One such company, which has been in the discussion about Kiwi Farms, is the US-based firm Cloudflare.
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 cyber attacks. These types of services are important for keeping the website online; If Cloudflare blocks its services on a site it could essentially take it offline, at least until the site finds another provider.
In 2019, Cloudflare pulled its support for 8chan, another hate-filled platform, after it was linked to a shooting in El Paso, Texas, in which 23 people were killed. Cloudflare also blocked neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer from using its services in 2017.
But Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince has long expressed unease about his company’s potential role in deciding what can and can’t happen online. Prince’s position is often echoed by others in Silicon Valley who argue that it should not extend to his online police speech.
Cloudflare initially indicated last week that it would not take action against Kiwi Farms, explaining in a blogpost what it saw as unintended consequences of pulling support for 8chan and The Daily Stormer.
The post did not directly reference Kiwi Farms, but Cloudflare said its decisions to stop providing support to 8chan in 2019 and the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer in 2017 had unintended consequences.
“In a deeply disturbing reaction, following both terminations we saw a dramatic increase in authoritarian regimes attempting to end protection services for human rights organizations,” the blog post said.
But as of Saturday, amid a wave of media attention on Kiwi Farms following an NBC report about the site, Cloudflare decided to stop providing services to Kiwi Farms, citing “imminent threats to human life”. changed his position.
After Cloudflare pulled its support, Kiwi Farms was temporarily inaccessible, but was soon back online with the support of DDoS-Guard, a Russian Internet services company. (DDoS is a type of cyber attack that can make websites inaccessible.)
But on Monday, DDoS-Guard also blocked Kiwi Farms.
DDoS-Guard issued a statement in which it explained, “We would like to emphasize that access to our services is available to any customer, even without the involvement of managers. As such Kiwi Farms activated the DDoS protection service. Then we came back after this weekend and hit the headlines.”
“We do not moderate content posted on customer sites, as we are not Facebook and do not aspire to become one,” the company said, but “there are certain things that we find unacceptable under any circumstances.”
Cloudflare’s global head of public policy Alyssa Starzak told CNN on Monday that a more “holistic” approach is needed to tackle online hate.
“We really need a long-term solution because removing security services,” she said, “doesn’t address the threat of online harassment or escalating violence or certainly death threats in the long term.”
“I think I understand where they’re coming from,” Sorrenti said of Cloudflare’s initial reaction. “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. I shouldn’t,’ but I don’t think it’s a matter of free speech. ”
“When it gets to the point where a website is a threat to people’s lives, it should be removed from the Internet entirely,” she said.
The actions of Cloudflare and DDos-Guard have essentially taken Kiwi Farms offline, at least for now.
Sorrenti knows that not all trolls will go because the site is offline, but he expects it to be difficult for them to mobilize.
“By showing them that we can organize against this type of online harassment and be successful in doing so, it’s going to have a cooling effect,” she said.