‘It’s not that hard’: Does kicking Kiwi Farms off the internet prove tech companies can take action against hate speech?

AAs the internet continues to evolve from its beginnings as the unregulated Wild West, the big debates about what people should be allowed to see and do online have moved away from major platforms like Facebook, Google and Twitter to focus on the stocks of a small group of technology companies.

These service providers operate under the radar to run the engine of the internet without the fanfare of their more recognizable counterparts. But for activists interested in stamping out toxic hate speech and online harassment, they have become the latest targets of an ongoing campaign.

Last week the traveling spotlight fell on a new player called Diamwall. Open to the public for just a month, the Portugal-based Content Delivery Network (CDN) provider, which filters website traffic and blocks malicious requests, had been hired by the popular trolling website and of doxing Kiwi Farms after it was abandoned by its former supplier. , Cloud Flare.

It wasn’t long before Diamwall CEO Hugo Carvalho explained his decision to do the same in a blog post on the company’s website:

The owner of Kiwi Farms needed DDoS protection and since his website was offline due to a DDoS attack, we didn’t really know what was on his website. They had a PROBLEM and we had the SOLUTION.

Soon the reports started coming in and we started digging deeper and deeper into this website, soon enough we discovered that Kiwi Farms was hosting a lot of revolting content.

We don’t think it’s fair to end a service because of public pressure, but in this case we think there’s a basis behind all these demands and we really don’t want to have anything either to do with it.

An internet forum known for its active targeting and harassment of trans people, Kiwi Farms has also been accused of suicides after people were driven offline – and sometimes out of their homes – by a firehose of coordinated vitriol and directed from the site.

In August, users of the site targeted Canadian Twitch streamer and trans activist Clara Sorrenti, who fled Canada after Kiwi Farms users called a fake bomb threat at her home and police fled. presented to her. The Kiwi Farms trolls then followed her around the world to continue their harassment.

Major tech platforms now have strict content moderation practices to prevent the proliferation of this type of behavior online, but as a standalone website, Kiwi Farms is beyond their reach.

Instead of making his case to a regulatory body that doesn’t really exist, Sorrenti used his large online following to turn the tables, starting a “Drop Kiwi Farms” movement to get the site launched on the internet by targeting the companies that kept them. operational.

Cloudflare has been in the spotlight for the past two months. As the name suggests, Cloudflare keeps websites online by offering cloud-based services, as well as protection against Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks that could take sites down. The company claims to have around 25% of the websites on the internet among its customers.

While the #dropkiwifarms hashtag was trending, Cloudflare’s social accounts were inundated. The company initially tried to deflect responsibility for keeping Kiwi Farms operational in a move that mimicked early attempts by major social platforms to avoid content moderation. But in early September, Cloudflare finally backtracked and stopped offering services to the site.

The company made it clear that it acted reluctantly. Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince said in an interview with the Australian Financial Review that he doesn’t want to be in a position to decide what can and cannot appear on the internet. “You don’t want some random guy who lives in the United States choosing what is and isn’t online,” he said. “I have no political legitimacy, do I? At all.”

Prince likened the company’s role to that of a telephone company, pointing out that utilities don’t have the power to cut you off if they don’t like the way you use them.

Ever since Cloudflare abandoned Kiwi Farms, activists have played molehill to keep the site offline. They sent letters to Diamwall explaining what Kiwi Farms was and arguing that Diamwall shouldn’t accept its business – and provided templates for supporters to do the same. So far, the strategy has been successful.

A spokesperson for the Communications Alliance – an Australian lobby group that represents not just digital platforms but also CDNs and internet service providers – said the extent to which private companies should be held accountable for online content is a global problem that has yet to be solved.

“This is a complex and evolving problem and, as is often the case, industry, regulators and government are aware of the challenges and are seeking to develop coordinated and effective responses.

Professor Nicolas Suzor, from the Digital Media Research Center at Queensland University of Technology, explains that companies like Cloudflare routinely make decisions about which customers they will accept.

“I have heard complaints from sex workers and other groups [who] have a really hard time getting hosting with Cloudflare or with Google or AWS,” he says. “So I think it’s sometimes a bit dishonest for cloud providers, infrastructure providers to claim that they don’t make these decisions all the time.”

Electronic Frontiers Australia President Justin Warren said Cloudflare has “taken the conveniently naive position that a neutral position favors neither side, which is not true – the neutral position favors dominant players in the situation”.

Warren says the notion of net neutrality holds that powerful bodies should not wield power capriciously and arbitrarily, and if Cloudflare sees itself as a public service, then there should be rules and transparency in how these rules are applied.

“If you participate in society, then there are these rights and obligations imposed on you as a condition of participation in society,” he says.

Suzor agrees, saying infrastructure providers will increasingly be called upon to regulate the services they provide.

“Cloudflare has had at least four years of deep introspection, and they haven’t done anything to really build a better system. It’s not like it doesn’t exist,” he says.

“You can easily imagine different ways to make these decisions in a much more open, transparent and legitimate way, either within the company or by outsourcing them to mediation providers or other organizations.

“Establish a clear set of rules and follow them – it’s not that hard.”

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