The endless battle to banish the world’s most notorious st…[ad_1]
When he heard that Kiwi Farms had been knocked offline, "Clay," a member of the anonymous online forum, was flooded with relief. "I thought to myself, 'This hell on Earth has finally been vanquished.'"
Founded in 2013, Kiwi Farms has been used to organize vicious harassment and stalking campaigns against targets including Clara Sorrenti, a transgender activist known as Keffals, and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), a far-right Republican. It went down exactly one year ago, after Cloudflare, a major tech security firm, stopped providing services, saying contributors to the forum were posting the home addresses of those seen as enemies and calling for them to be shot.
Subscribe to The Post Most newsletter for the most important and interesting stories from The Washington Post.
But in the week that followed, Kiwi Farms scrambled to stay alive, jumping from Russian servers to a Ukrainian hosting service to VanwaTech, a Vancouver, Wash.-based hosting and security company infamous for providing refuge to 8chan, a message board notorious for white-supremacist content. As it became increasingly clear that Kiwi Farms would not go down without a fight, "Clay" - who spoke on the condition that he be identified by a pseudonym to avoid retribution - joined forces with Liz Fong-Jones, one of Kiwi Farms's fiercest adversaries, and launched a dogged campaign to keep the site offline.
Over the past year, their little group of internet sleuths, trans engineers and activists has methodically chased Kiwi Farms across servers and networks around the globe, successively persuading more than two dozen companies to drop the site. Despite this laborious undertaking - described exclusively to The Washington Post - the site has endured, showing up for months at a time, sometimes as a "mirror" of itself on an entirely different URL or as a foreign domain in countries such as Poland.
The group's Sisyphean battle illustrates the lack of mechanisms for reporting online abuse, much less for banishing harmful content. It also raises serious doubts about society's ability to block any site from the global web - even one that explicitly incites violence.
"Either people think Kiwi Farms is dead forever . . . or they think it's up and therefore it's going to remain up forever," said Fong-Jones, a transgender site-reliability engineer who had been targeted by the forum. "Neither of those two narratives are true."
Founded by Joshua Moon, a former 8chan administrator, Kiwi Farms evolved into a popular platform for creating harassment campaigns. Its users often fixated on transgender people, relentlessly stalking and doxing them. At least three of its victims died by suicide.
In response to a request for comment, Moon wrote by email, "Do you still print that rag on paper? If so, please send a physical copy of your smear piece to the PO box listed on the website so I can frame it. Thanks."
The campaign against Kiwi Farms began in earnest last summer. Sorrenti, a Twitch streamer who became famous as a news star for trans youth, had been under attack for months by Kiwi Farms users, who she said doxed her address and "swatted" her home, filing a false crime report that drove police to her door. In August, she fled her native Canada for Europe and launched a social media campaign to pressure internet providers to stop protecting the forum, using the hashtag #DropKiwiFarms.
From her home in Vancouver, Fong-Jones heard about the harassment against Sorrenti and immediately recognized the tactics.
Fong-Jones also had been targeted by Kiwi Farms beginning in 2017, when she donated to a transgender nonprofit. Users published her home address, the names of her biological parents and a redacted copy of her birth certificate in a thread that included racist and transphobic slurs. Members smeared her online in an attempt to ruin her Google search results, then sent her employers the false information.
Though the harassment had died down, Fong-Jones still felt compelled to contribute to the #DropKiwiFarms campaign. She made videos for her YouTube channel explaining Cloudflare's complicity in keeping the site online.
Those videos soon reached Katherine Lorelei, a transgender IT worker in Norman, Okla. Lorelei had never heard of Kiwi Farms and was distraught by what she learned from Fong-Jones's presentations.
Lorelei had been taking gender transition hormones for less than a year and had no connections to activist circles. Beyond wrangling server space, she had never worked on systems that spanned the entire internet. But she volunteered to help, starting as Fong-Jones's assistant, before stepping up to co-lead the team.
"I had no idea I had these skills, to be honest," Lorelei said.
The group began spending dozens of hours each week navigating the byzantine web of network infrastructure, trying to ferret out connections between no-name intermediaries to track down Kiwi Farms's new home. Then they would send carefully worded emails to those companies' employees - even cold-messaging on LinkedIn - to persuade them to stop working with the website.
The group operated in cells in case they were doxed but kept track of every internet provider they persuaded to cut ties with Kiwi Farms.
Moon had a few major advantages. After earlier attempts to take down the site, he incorporated as his own internet service provider, acquiring his own physical hardware, network resources and a block of IP addresses, making Kiwi Farms much more difficult to dislodge. It marks the site as a "peer" on the internet, meaning Moon directly receives any abuse reports and is entitled to a presumption of good faith.
When the team alerted FiberHub, a data center in Las Vegas, to alert the company to the bad actor using their facilities, the center said they merely provided the electricity and power cord but had no bearing on the servers that kept the site online. Those belonged to Moon's hosting company, originally incorporated under the name Final Solutions, a Nazi reference. FiberHub did not immediately respond to request for comment.
The group slowly discovered a network of what they called "sh—hosts" - low-end internet providers who work with disreputable sites that spread malware or offensive content, arguing that they have a right to free speech.
But the group had an asset of their own.
Clay had been a member of Kiwi Farms in his teens. He was bored, seeking community, pressured by his friends and going through a libertarian phase, he said. But following the suicide of one of the site's targets, he began to push back on the forum's creed that its victims weren't human. He withdrew from the site after he saw Kiwi Farms members turn their talents for doxing and harassment on other members.
His goal in joining Fong-Jones and Lorelei's group was to help the forum's users, he told The Post. He pointed to Frederick Brennan, the creator of 8chan who called for that site to be taken offline after it played a role in mass shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, and El Paso. Brennan, he said, "wanted to free [the] user base of that site from being radicalized, from going down a darker path. And that's what I'm sort of doing here."
Having Clay onboard was a game changer. One of the challenges in persuading companies that Kiwi Farms was a bad actor was the site's opaque language. Outsiders might overlook terms such as "TTD," which in Kiwi Farms's vernacular means "total tr—ny death," using a slur to refer to transgender people.
Clay could translate this language. He also could show how Kiwi Farms users migrated to Discord servers, where they were more explicit about planning attacks. He led activists to the threads most rife with racism and calls for violence. And he confirmed the trolls' habit of using the phrase "in Minecraft" to pretend an illegal activity, such as revealing the Social Security numbers of their targets, was just something they did in the online game.
"He was the Kiwi Farms whisperer," Fong-Jones said.
Clay, in turn, was getting an education of his own. Fong-Jones helped him get up to speed on the "backbone" of the internet - massive networks responsible for publishing or passing along content known as Tier 1 ISPs - as well as the smaller downstream companies that depend on them for global reach.
Specialists schooled him in navigating the labyrinthine telecommunications industry. They explained Border Gateway Protocol, the automated routing system that picks the best path for traffic. And they explained how to leverage Tier 1 ISP's acceptable use policies, the contracts that typically prohibit clients from using networks for theft, hacking, harassment, and other unwanted or illegal activity.
In October, the group made a breakthrough.
After rotating among web hosts, Moon had settled on Zayo, a company based in Boulder, Colo. Fong-Jones contacted someone at Zayo, a former colleague who was alarmed to learn his company was working with Kiwi Farms and escalated the matter to senior leadership.
Kiwi Farms' services were soon terminated. In a statement, Zayo said it concluded that the forum had violated its acceptable use policy, "which allows for termination of service."
For Fong-Jones, it was a wake-up call. There are less than 20 Tier 1 ISPs in the world, and they get a ton of complaints: Spam. Malware. Harmful content. By and large, they try to stay out of such disputes, preferring to assume they are doing business with reputable companies. But the Zayo experience showed that - if Fong-Jones could reach the right people - top-tier providers were willing to prioritize enforcing their acceptable use policies.
Threats loomed over the group. After her YouTube videos about Cloudflare, Kiwi Farms users posted Fong-Jones's home address, Social Security number and driver's license. Once Zayo dropped the site, she began receiving death threats by phone.
Still, a year after the Cloudflare decision, asking providers to drop Kiwi Farms generates controversy. Last week, the Electronic Frontier Foundation published an opinion piece arguing that Tier 1 ISPs should not bow to pressure to drop Kiwi Farms, calling the move "a dangerous step" toward censorship.
"If the site in question were Reddit, or Planned Parenthood, or even EFF, the internet would be up in arms," wrote the foundation, a nonprofit digital rights group based in San Francisco.
Alejandra Caraballo, a clinical instructor at Harvard Law School's Cyberlaw Clinic, called that argument misplaced. "Fundamentally, EFF fails to acknowledge how power dynamics and asymmetrical threats can act as its own form of censorship," Caraballo wrote on X, the site formerly known as Twitter.
Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince has confessed to mixed feelings. While the company has withdrawn security services for the Daily Stormer and 8chan - both linked to real-world violence, including mass shootings and a deadly riot - Prince argues that revoking services based on reprehensible content sets a dangerous precedent.
"Deciding what isn't allowed is the job of governments and regulators, not ISPs and network providers," he said via the messaging app Signal. Still, he added, "I don't miss having to worry about [Kiwi Farms] and their often vile content."
Amid that debate, Kiwi Farms remains online. Without Cloudflare or Zayo or any of the two dozen other companies that have dropped the forum since the group started in September, Fong-Jones says it is down to a limited number of lifelines.
Lorelei, who is now committed full-time to trans activism, wants to move on to other causes. Fong-Jones is moving on as well. Clay and another one of the younger members of the group plan on carrying the torch.
Reflecting on the past year, Fong-Jones said it's unreasonable to expect victims of harassment to have to do this work.
It's true Kiwi Farms keeps finding more providers, she said. But, "it's a finite list. And this is why we know we're going to win."
- - -
Joseph Menn contributed to this report.
Cedar Key survives Idalia, but climate change is testing its resiliency
Ron Rivera is on the hottest of hot seats among NFL coaches
In Florida, Idalia leaves a trail of destruction and a sense of relief
Tags: Anonymous, Don Lichterman, SCA Sunset, Sunset Host Co