For years, an online forum called Kiwi Farms has served as a staging ground for right-wing campaigns of intimidation and harassment. These campaigns have ruined the lives of ordinary, innocent people, particularly feminists and individuals who are transgender, autisic, or disabled. A recent effort to bring visibility to the site’s campaigns, led by a group of trans women who had been among its targets, culminated this weekend with Kiwi Farms being dropped by Cloudflare, an internet security service whose protection from DDOS attacks allows sites to function. That knocked it offline.
As this effort has gone on, Kiwi Farms and its defenders have tried to wrap themselves in the cloak of speech, painting opponents as attempting to suppress free expression. That gets it exactly backward: All those who genuinely love free speech should rejoice at Cloudflare finally dropping the site, thereby making it far harder for the forum to remain accessible on the web. If the larger effort to drive Kiwi Farms off the internet succeeds, survivors of the harassment campaigns, long silenced by fear, may at last be able to re-enter the public sphere and use their voices freely.
It’s simply true to say that Kiwi Farms has suppressed the speech of others. A culture of silence has surrounded the website and protected it from consequences. This silencing effect did not act only on those targeted, but on broader communities and even on established journalists. In a Twitter thread, Ben Collins of NBC News described how he’d long known about Kiwi Farms but avoided writing about them, tweeting, “For years, there was one site extremist researchers warned me not to cover because publicizing it would be dangerous.”
Kiwi Farms was born out of harassment. It was created so that users of 4chan and Something Awful could have a dedicated place for their years-long harassment of a single autistic trans woman, then expanded out to find more targets. Its founder, Joshua Moon, has been an active moderator and participant in the site’s activities throughout, under the handle Null.
Simply writing about Kiwi Farms was enough to attract the attention of its users, and that attention was scary enough to dissuade reporters from covering the site. A French-language article on Vice from 2020 describes their methods in depth. To summarize: Potential targets were posted about by individual users. The site’s users would decide as a group on whom to focus for harassment. This harassment included online death threats, rape threats, and name-calling; harassment via email and text messages; and aggressive doxxing. Family members of targets received texts and emails, either harassing them too or falsely accusing their loved ones of criminal behavior. Bosses and co-workers were contacted with similar lies, resulting in job loss for some of their targets, as Vice reported. Users also made false police reports, recruiting police guns into their campaigns of terror in the practice known as swatting. Some targets’ bank accounts were drained with fraudulent purchases, and on and on. Few people would knowingly risk such potentially ruinous consequences, and so journalists stayed quiet. This helped suppress public knowledge of the site and its tactics, making it easier for Kiwi Farms users to drive the people they decided did not deserve a voice into hiding and, in a few cases, to suicide, as reported by Vice and the Daily Beast (in the latter case, Kiwi Farms wasn’t named to avoid giving it publicity).
As a transgender person myself, I’ve had the experience of many trans folks who weren’t directly targeted: I knew what Kiwi Farms was and what its users were capable of, and I saw more than one online acquaintances go offline for good after becoming a target. I avoided typing the name of the site on social media hoping not to attract its notice. (I was particularly scrupulous about this when serving as a foster parent, because I had children who relied on me.) Still, I knew there was a randomness to it all that made it impossible to fully protect myself. I never became a target, primarily because I just got lucky.
From the moment Kiwi Farms users chose Clara Sorrenti, who streams on Twitch using the handle Keffals, however, I knew there was a chance they had bitten off more than they could chew. Keffals is unique. She’s an internet personality first, and an advocate for trans rights a sincere but distant second. One of the bits she’s known for is “ratioing” politicians, transphobes, and famous people, enlisting her fans to give her own reply more likes than the tweet that she’s replying to. Keffals fans were thereby accustomed to acting in concert well before she became a target of Kiwi Farms. In addition, Keffals has never been one to back down, hitting back hard when she is criticized, whether or not the criticism was justified. This has made her polarizing within the trans community, but it means she’s the type of person who, after an Aug. 5 swatting incident put her in fear for her life, was not cowed for even a moment.
Keffals doesn’t back down, and this time, despite its drastically higher stakes, proved no exception. In media and on Twitter, Keffals said in no uncertain terms that Kiwi Farms would have to kill her if they wanted her to stop advocating for transgender issues. Then, she started a counter-campaign to shut down her harassers. Hoping against hope that this time might be different, victims slowly began to speak up about the devastating harassment they’d been subjected to.The larger trans community on Twitter rallied behind the effort, and soon major news outlets began covering a story reporters had been afraid to touch for much of the hate site’s history. After resisting for several days, Cloudflare announced that it would no longer protect the site after Kiwi Farms users continued and escalated their death threats against Keffals and others.
A common objection to the tactic of pressuring security providers like Cloudflare has been that DDOS protection is such a basic, architectural web service that it ought to be content-neutral. In a statement made before Cloudflare stopped supporting Kiwi Farms, CEO Matthew Prince drew a distinction between DDOS protection and hosting a website, suggesting that hosts were a more legitimate target for activism. But activists claimed that Cloudflare services allowed Kiwi Farms to hide where the site was hosted, a capability the provider is known to be capable of. In such a case, Cloudflare becomes the only place where those hoping to end the abuse and terror can go. The line between hosting and providing security is impossibly muddied when part of the security service provided makes contacting the host directly impossible.
There are some reports on Twitter that Kiwi Farms may have already found a new security provider. If they haven’t yet, it’s likely that they soon will do so, following the path laid down when Cloudflare removed support from the Daily Stormer, a white supremacist hate site, following a similar public outcry. However, don’t think this makes the effort worthless. Sites generally lose users when they’re forced to move, and struggle with outages when they have to rely on shady, fly-by-night providers rather than large mainstream companies. This was certainly the case after Cloudflare and other services booted 8Chan, another notorious troll forum.
The debate over Kiwi Farms has centered on free speech, and that’s appropriate. All people deserve the right to express their views. This famously includes hateful views, but it also includes views like advocacy on behalf of trans or women’s rights, as well as “views” that consist of simply sharing one’s life and experiences as a trans, disabled, or autistic person. Kiwi Farms’ whole reason for being has been to suppress the freedom of those they disagree with. Their users didn’t merely express themselves in hateful ways, but took action, often criminal action, to silence others. That’s why these online hooligans should never be allowed to wrap themselves in the free speech mantle. Free speech can thrive as long as Kiwi Farms can’t.