Internet

Why anti-trans web forum Kiwi Farms was erased from the internet

In 2013, users on an online trolling and harassment chat forum known as Kiwi Farms began a hate campaign against Chloe Sagal, a transgender game developer.

Kiwi Farms targeted Sagal, known for developing a popular indie horror game called Homesick, after she began raising money for gender reassignment surgery. They created a thread to target her and then users harassed and stalked Sagal for years.

In 2018, Sagal set herself on fire at a park in downtown Portland, Ore. She was 31 when she died.

Joshua Moon, the owner of Kiwi Farms, posted a live YouTube video celebrating Sagal’s death while other Kiwi Farms users laughed and mocked the game developer, according to screenshots of chat forums and videos shared by DropKiwiFarms.net, a campaign dedicated to taking the site down. Some Kiwi Farms users increased the “kill count” on their profile pages.

“I do hope they blame us for literally murdering another [obscenity],” one user wrote. “Dibs on credit.”

Earlier this month — more than four years after Sagal’s death — American cybersecurity firm Cloudflare dropped security services for Kiwi Farms, taking the forum offline by stripping it of needed internet security protections that kept the site running.

A few days later, Russian firm DDoS-Guard also dropped security services for the website, and by the end of the week the country of Iceland had removed the website domain. Internet archive site Wayback Machine even blocked access to archived information on Kiwi Farms.

The domino effect has effectively killed the website, marking one of the internet’s most successful takedown campaigns.

“What we have accomplished in such a short time has never been done before in the entire history of the Internet,” Clara Sorrenti, a Twitch streamer and gamer who launched Dropkiwfarms.net, wrote on the website. “The countless victims of Kiwi Farms can sleep soundly knowing that the site is doomed, will never regain its former momentum, and will continue to bleed followers and become more and more irrelevant with each passing week.”

Moon acknowledged his website was likely not going to recover in a Telegram post last week, in which he blamed a “coalition of criminals trying to frame the forum for their behavior,” accused journalists of canonizing “professional victims” and said critics “want the average person to be able to speak in channels where only specific thoughts are acceptable.”

“I do not see a situation where the Kiwi Farms is simply allowed to operate. It will either become a fractured shell of itself, like 8chan, or jump between hosts and domain names like Daily Stormer,” he wrote, referencing the two other hate forum sites dropped by Cloudflare. The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website, was dropped in 2017 and 8chan in 2019.

‘It’s like a seesaw’

Charlotte Laws — an author and activist who successfully led a campaign to take down the revenge porn website IsAnyoneUp.com — said enraged Kiwi Farms users might come back “ten times harder” through other iterations of the site or different names.

“It’s like a seesaw, you push it down in one spot, but bam, it just pops up on the other side,” Laws told The Hill. “People [can get] very angry when they’re silenced, and it makes them more ferocious in their views.”

Cloudflare, which protects about 20 percent of the internet against cybersecurity attacks such as distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, said it made the decision because of an “immediate threat to human life” posed by the website.

Because Cloudflare announced this was a unique action, Laws said taking down Kiwi Farms likely wouldn’t set a future precedent for action on other hate forums.

Kiwi Farms began as a wiki forum in 2007 called CWCki, devoted to harassing and stalking transgender internet personality Christine Weston Chandler, also known as Chris Chan. The community rebranded as the website Kiwi Farms and moved from several internet hosts until Moon’s company, 1776 Solutions, became the formal website provider in 2018.

Moon, nicknamed “Null” on Kiwi Farms, has a history of harassing and stalking people online, as well as for making racist, anti-Semitic and anti-trans posts and comments. I previously worked for the controversial website 8chan, which Cloudflare dropped services for following a shooting in El Paso, Texas, during which a gunman killed 23 people. I had posted a manifesto on 8chan.

1776 Solutions is based in Wyoming and was previously called Final Solutions. The Hill has reached out to a representative for Moon’s company for comment on this story.

Kiwi Farms works by vetting victims, known as “lolcows” through a chat forum known as a “prospering ground,” and then creating a thread devoted to harassing, stalking, exposing addresses or other identifying information online — known as doxxing — and otherwise attacking victims through social media and other virtual methods.

In 2016, New York Magazine dubbed Kiwi Farms the “web’s biggest community of stalkers.”

Kiwi Farms gained international attention in 2019. The domain was blocked in New Zealand after Moon refused to hand over information requested by the country. A man had uploaded a manifesto to Kiwi Farms before killing more than 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch.

But the chat platform kept running elsewhere across the world, often targeting the LGBTQ community, whose members are more than four times as likely to commit suicide.

Before she took her life in 2019, Kiwi Farms users relentlessly attacked 19-year-old teenager Julie Terryberry, who was targeted because she posted her mental health struggles on social media. Sensitive pictures of her were reportedly leaked online by Kiwi Farms users, according to Inputmag.

‘The internet is not a game’

The latest victim for Kiwi Farms was David Kirk Ginder, a game developer who went by the name Near. Near famously created one of the most accurate emulators for the Super Nintendo in 2004.

Near was harassed by Kiwi Farms because they were nonbinary. They committed suicide in June 2021.

A day before Near took their life, they exchanged a series of emails with Moon, asking the site’s owner to take Near off the Kiwi Farms thread, according to documents shared by DropKiwiFarms.net.

They offered $120,000 to eliminate the thread targeting them. Near, then living in Japan, said they felt their entire identity was connected to their online presence and could not mentally handle being attacked online. They threatened to hang themselves.

Moon replied that he would “not be extorted” and declined to take down the thread.

That same day, Near wrote in a Twitter thread that they long struggled with mental health, but “Kiwi Farms has made the harassment orders of magnitude worse,” writing there was always a “new dox, a new thread, a new tangent.”

“The internet is not a game. It’s real life. I’m a real person. This stuff really hurts,” Near tweeted. “It’s too late for me, but I pray that someone, at some point, will do something about that website.”

Near’s friend, Hector Martin, said in a document shared on Twitter that Near did not commit suicide but was “murdered” by relentless Kiwi Farms users.

“The looming threat of Kiwi Farms, of their power to destroy not just Near but also their friends, caused them daily anxiety that just wouldn’t go away,” Martin wrote.

“To the people of Kiwi Farms, this is a video game. That the people on the other side of the screen are real makes no difference. They delight in the kill counter going up just like an FPS [first person shooter video game] player would. Lacking any empathy, they have no regard for the damage they inflict on others,” he wrote.

Kiwi Farms has an unclear number of victims, considering not all those stalked and harassed by Kiwi Farms aired their problems with the hate forum.

‘Things are going to be okay’

In August, Sorrenti, also known as Keffals, launched the Drop Kiwi Farms campaign after she received death threats and harassment from Kiwi Farms’ users.

The campaign website lists information about the hate forum, including its victims, and it directed people to put pressure on Cloudflare to take it down.

At the beginning of September, Sorrenti announced a planned protest for Sept. 18 at an upcoming Cloudflare conference in Sydney, Australia.

Matthew Prince, the CEO and co-founder of Cloudflare, said in a blog post he was not reacting to the pressure campaign when he pulled services earlier this month, saying the threat to human life had just become too great.

“The rhetoric on the Kiwifarms site and specific, targeted threats have escalated over the last 48 hours to the point that we believe there is an unprecedented emergency and immediate threat to human life unlike we have previously seen from Kiwifarms or any other customer before,” Prince wrote.

Russian company DDoS-Guard said in a statement it is typically “not our duty to moderate content” but they had received complaints that Kiwi Farms violated their policies.

“Having analyzed the content of the site, we decided on the termination of DDoS protection services for kiwifarms.ru. To all those who brought this incident to our attention, we thank you,” the statement read.

Laws, the author and activist, said she does not support tech companies taking down websites unless there is clear illegal behavior, such as spreading revenge porn.

“There are laws against stalking, there are laws against cyber stalking, there are laws against incitement,” she said. “Those are serious things and tech companies are justified in taking that kind of content down.”

She added that companies like Cloudflare should err on the side of free speech, but she said Congress should create clearer guidelines on what tech companies should do in response to these types of hate incidents.

Moon has kept his followers up to date on efforts to revive Kiwi Farms through a stream of messages on Telegram. In those Telegram posts, I blamed the media for orchestrating an “organized attack” against him and Kiwi Farms.

Last week, he promised he would create a torrent file of the site available for download if he could not bring Kiwi Farms back online.

As Moon scrambles, Sorrenti has taken a victory lap, claiming the “campaign is over.”

“Thank you all for supporting me over the last month. I went through one of the worst experiences in my life and came out of it optimistic about the future. Kiwi Farms users are still spreading misinformation to encourage people to harass me, but I know people have my back,” she tweeted last week.

“I’m going to be able to return to streaming regularly soon. I’m returning to Canada in October. Things are going to be okay,” she wrote.

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