The termination of the website's security feels like a missed opportunity
Last month, Ciara Sorrentini, a 28-year-old Canadian trans-woman, was arrested at her apartment, after politicians received threats by someone using her name and address — a harassment tactic known as “swatting,” intended to inflict emotional distress on its targets.
One would imagine that once the police figured out what happened, they would have advised her not to communicate with that person again. But Sorrentini’s next moves included goading her stalkers, posting photos of her hotel online, and recounting the entire event in a video.
Far from an innocent civilian, naive to wicked online games, Sorrentini is a savvy internet personality known as ‘Keffals,’ with a popular channel on Twitch, the gamer-centric streaming platform. Her channel features her attacking other internet personalities, often on the grounds of ‘transphobia’, which has resulted in the deplatforming of another streamer named Destiny and the banning of Rebel News’s Lauren Southern from the platform.
The swatting incident was covered by outlets like CBC and Vice, and Keffals started a GoFundMe campaign that raised $100k during its brief run. On August 18th, she uploaded a video explaining that she’d gone into hiding after swatters discovered her previous location and sent several pizzas to her room. She told her 30,000 subscribers that she was the target of transphobic stalkers from Kiwi Farms, an internet forum dedicated to the discussion and harassment of niche online figures and communities, and asked for their help in taking the site down. Ironically, congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Q-anon supporter with a history of transphobic remarks, joined Keffals in calling for the site’s removal several days later, after her own swatting incident by an alleged member of the forum.
From her new home at an undisclosed location in Northern Ireland (or so she claims), Keffals and her fans successfully got hashtags #DropKiwiFarms and #CloudfareProtectsTerrorists trending, in a campaign to pressure Cloudfare, a web security company, to drop Kiwi Farms as a client. For some time, Cloudfare held firm and refused to axe the website, but a few days later, Taylor Lorenz, the Grande Dame of Doxxing, released a bombshell in the Washington Post: Kiwi Farms was dropped.
What happened? According to Cloudfare CEO Matthew Price, Kiwi Farms was cut because of a rise in the number of violent threats coming from the site. But according to Kiwi Farms creator Joshua Moon, the company made no attempt to communicate with him directly during the #DropKiwiFarms campaign. Instead, Cloudfare terminated its services in the wee hours of the morning on September 3rd, greeting visitors with an unusual error message: “Due to an imminent and emergency threat to human life, the content of this site is blocked from being accessed through Cloudflare’s infrastructure.” Several hours later Kiwi Farms was back up and running, under a new URL through a Russian hosting company, but it was taken down shortly after.
But the campaign isn’t over. This week, the Internet Archive deleted all records of the forum from its database, as with Sanctioned Suicide last year following a sensationalistic New York Times hit piece. Removing any trace of the site seems more retaliatory than preventative.
Communities like Kiwi Farms are often described as lawless, but if the allegations against them were true — if “swatting,” violence, or real-world harassment were explicitly encouraged — the nine-year-old site would have been dead-on-arrival.
Anyone can post heinous things online, and a website cannot reasonably be deemed responsible if it is removed as quickly as possible given the resources available. Indeed, Keffals screenshotted and tweeted out a post from Kiwi Farms that was deleted a mere 14 minutes later.
Surely a more effective approach would have been to encourage Kiwi Farms to make some changes to the website, like enforcing stricter rules about doxxing, in order to mitigate some of these harmful features, rather than allowing it to join a hosting company that will give it near-total freedom?
None of this is to defend Kiwi Farms, a habitually vile website where mean-spirited users gather to attack niche internet celebrities like Keffals. But the termination of the website’s security feels like a missed opportunity. Just as “swatting” can upend someone’s life with a few keystrokes, a poorly substantiated report can destroy a business. Targets of both deserve proper investigations, regardless of who they are.