AAfter weeks of pressure from activists, internet infrastructure company Cloudflare recently ended its support for Kiwi Farms, an online group described as “the largest stalker community on the internet.” The Breaking Point: A targeted campaign of harassment against a trans livestreamer and activist that was so severe it drove its target underground. Cloudflare provided essential technical infrastructure for site security and speed, and after those things were taken away, Kiwi Farms’ site crashed.
But what should happen to locations like Kiwi Farms in the future? And what’s the content moderation responsibility of companies like Cloudflare, which provide essential – normally invisible – services to the vast majority of the web? The US and EU are facing increased scrutiny of online privacy and security this year, and some say service providers like Cloudflare must also take responsibility.
Fredrick Brennan is the founder of 8chan, a forum associated with hate speech, white supremacy and nationalism. In 2019, six years after the message board was created, a user of the site carried out a mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand and posted his manifesto on 8chan. It was later linked to several other shootings.
Brennan dismissed his creation in the press and has continued to campaign for action against image boards such as Kiwi Farms and the website he founded. The 28-year-old is a software developer.
In this Q&A, adapted from two interviews with Brennan in September, he explains why the internet should be more regulated in the US, like other industries, to address the problems posed by toxic websites.
It has been edited for length and clarity.
Were you surprised that Kiwi Farms was shut down by Cloudflare?
Frederick Brennan: No, not really, especially because of the target audience. I’m not surprised at all. I saw it as inevitable. Josch [Moon, the founder of Kiwi Farms] makes mistakes like this all the time. He is uncompromising when it comes to people he hates. He obviously hates trans people and has been known to believe slander against one of them.
A logical operator in his position just wouldn’t have wanted to get involved in this fight, and I think he mistakenly assumed that Cloudflare would lag behind him. I think his ideology is the reason he can’t see what’s going to happen.
They have first-hand experience with such sites. Should Cloudflare’s action trigger something broader for companies that provide hosting, security, and other infrastructure for websites?
It’s multifaceted. There’s really only one country where something like this shitty site can exist and that’s the United States due to the overlap of different laws. This simply isn’t possible in other jurisdictions – even in places where you would expect it to be. Singapore for example? No, it’s impossible. Japan? no That’s the biggest problem because the United States is a broken democracy right now. you know i’m american I don’t mind saying that.
All social media are based in the US. It’s not because we Americans are uniquely good at making this stuff. I work on free software and have worked with developers from practically every country and there is nothing special about our programming skills. There’s nothing special about American thinking when it comes to building web services. It’s all legal and corporate stuff.
It really is legal arbitrage where you get the least trouble in the US. So I don’t really know how to answer your question because I don’t know if there is any world power that can do anything other than the United States. And I just don’t know how the United States can even begin to respond to that because our system is just so broken.
Our government in the United States has decided that its technological supremacy gives it great power on the international stage. And that is why the market regulations are so low that they are practically zero. So all tech companies want if they don’t have their company registrations here, which they usually do, then they want their entire infrastructure here.
Continue reading: Cloudflare is one of the companies quietly powering the internet. Researchers say it’s a haven for misinformation
Activists demonstrated against Cloudflare and asked the provider to shut down the site. The site now moves between providers in Russia and Portugal, in a game of cat and mouse with activists launching retaliatory attacks. What happens to Kiwi Farms now?
I think they get away with so much that people just keep doing justice to this vigilantism [providers like Cloudflare] will move out. This is emblematic of the wild west culture of the US internet, where it is heavily based on vigilante justice.
How do you get out of this vigilante based system?
I don’t know if there is a good way. But I think we’re going to see some sort of new system emerge. I first thought about it after the Christchurch shooting when the nations of Australia, New Zealand and some European countries not only blocked Kiwi farms but also 8kun, the 8chan website where the shooter posted his manifesto. It is essentially based on a concept of cyber sovereignty.
Internationally, a norm shift is taking place, where politicians are fed up with the United States and its total inaction. The Internet will most likely become much more fragmented. And the websites you can access depend more and more on the nation you are in.
Is there a regulatory model outside of the US? Is that even an option?
Hopefully. I think the UN needs to have some sort of internet policy agreement or framework. Otherwise there is complete chaos as each country decides for itself which websites are accessible based on local laws.
What should we do now?
I think what we should do is what I do, which mainly focuses on the admins and whether or not they are acting in good faith or bad faith. That’s mainly why I don’t make it a topic of speech most of the time – like a topic about the content itself. I tend to make it a question of what the admins think, why they allow certain content, what their processes are like. And when it comes to the kiwi farms, their lawsuits are terrible and they’ve done things that are literal blackmail.
I think there needs to be stricter enforcement against what admins do. But regulation is also needed. Just like we have an FDA overseeing foods and drugs and an SEC overseeing securities, you need a regulator just for social media companies. Incidentally, imageboards like Kiwi Farms and 4chan are also an IT company that this regulator could take action against, as is Facebook.
I’d like to see if that helps at all before we fundamentally change freedom of expression.
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