Kiwi Farms is an internet message board known for being an epicenter of vicious, anti-trans harassment campaigns. It has operated for nearly a decade with the backing of some tech companies that refuse to drop services for it. But now, as the site’s users launch a wave of anti-trans attacks, a trans Twitch streamer targeted by Kiwi Farms is spearheading an unprecedented campaign to take down the fringe website.
Clara Sorrenti and those supporting her are hoping to open up Kiwi Farms to debilitating virtual attacks by demanding Cloudflare, one of its internet security service vendors, drop the site. (Citing an ‘imminent and emergency threat to human life’, Cloudflare said on Saturday that it would block Kiwi Farms, putting the future of the forum in doubt.)
In a public statement posted Wednesday, under Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince’s byline, the company said that it will not drop security services for any of its customers. (The statement did not mention Kiwi Farms by name.) A Cloudflare representative referred NBC News to the blog post when reached for comment.
If the ongoing efforts to close the forum fail, experts warn Kiwi Farms’ target list and techniques could expand as culture war issues gain more attention ahead of the 2024 election, potentially affecting more LGBTQ private citizens or creating a national security threat with the expansion of Kiwi Farms’ harassment tactics to new targets.
Kiwi Farms has become synonymous with doxxing (the release of an individual’s identifying information with malicious intent), swatting (a term for when an anonymous person sends an urgent, false tip to the police about a violent crime in a victim’s home in the hopes that law enforcement will raid it and potentially harm the person inside), and archiving controversial materials such as manifestos by mass shooters and recordings of their livestreams.
The forum is a massive archive of sensitive information on their targets, which has been used to repeatedly harass them. Kiwi Farms’ most notorious section is titled “lolcows” and targets transgender people.
The archive often features social media pictures of their targets’ friends and family, along with contact information of their employers. The information is used in an effort to get their targets fired or socially isolated by spreading rumors that they are pedophiles or criminals.
Experts fear Kiwi Farms is starting to target other communities — and that their tactics are being duplicated throughout the political world to intimidate political enemies.
“This kind of Kiwi Farms thing could easily become, say, an FBI agent database. It would not be hard,” warned Fredrick Brennan, who previously worked with the founder of Kiwi Farms at another extremist site, 8chan. Brennan believes that the harassment techniques being used to target trans people now could easily be channeled toward larger goals and government targets — including other recent political targets of the far-right, like the FBI.
Kiwi Farms is owned and operated by Josh Moon, a former administrator of 8chan, a forum that became known as a dumping ground for white nationalist screeds posted by mass shooters and the conspiracy theory movement QAnon. Brennan, the founder of 8chan who has spent the last several years trying to take down the site he created due to its adoption by extremists, said he worked with Moon for years in Manila, Philippines, as a fellow 8chan administrator.
Brennan said that, while websites like 4chan and 8chan can pose substantial national security risks, “what Moon is doing is worse, because he’s actually targeting specific people” on a more organized website.
When reached for comment, Moon replied via email, “The press are scum.” He did not respond to specific questions.
Unlike sites like 4chan, where administrators have little direction over the harassment campaigns of its userbase, Brennan said Moon’s power over Kiwi Farms is different. Moon is himself a frequent poster and moderator on Kiwi Farms, under the username Null.
“Kiwi Farms is extremely centralized, with Josh Moon right at the top deciding who is the target and who’s not,” said Brennan. “He can delete any thread for any reason.”
Moon frequently participates in discussion threads about individuals who are being targeted on the site, posting personal email correspondences and encouraging the discussions. On Friday, Moon replied in a thread dedicated to posting personal information of “trans-identified activists” that he does “regularly curtail posts which detract from the overall quality of the site.”
At least three people have died by suicide after becoming targets of Kiwi Farms harassment campaigns, according to Vice. In 2016, the family of a trans person who died by suicide, Lizzy Waite, was harassed by Kiwi Farms trolls for weeks after her death. She had posted a suicide note on Facebook.
Sorrenti became a target of Kiwi Farms after she gained notoriety for speaking about the recent wave of anti-trans legislation in the U.S. and challenging conservative viewpoints and personalities online. After a streamer who criticized Sorrenti was banned from Twitch in March, Kiwi Farms users created a discussion thread about Sorrenti that included sexually explicit material of her, phone numbers and addresses belonging to Sorrenti and her family, and her dead name — the name she used before her gender transition.
Sorrenti, known to fans of her streaming channel as “Keffals,” says that when her front door opened on Aug. 5 the first thing she saw was a police officer’s gun pointed at her face. It was just the beginning of a weekslong campaign of stalking, threats and violence against Sorrenti that ended up making her flee the country.
Police say Sorrenti’s home in London, Ontario, had been swatted after someone impersonated her in an email and said she was planning to perpetrate a mass shooting outside of London’s City Hall. After Sorrenti was arrested, questioned and released, the London police chief vowed to investigate and find who made the threat. Those police were eventually doxxed on Kiwi Farms and threatened. The people who threatened and harassed Sorrenti, her family and police officers investigating her case have not been identified.
“It was particularly bad because I’m trans, but literally anyone could make a burner email in your name and attach a photo of a gun and say you’re going to go on a mass shooting,” Sorrenti said during a video call with NBC News, which she conducted from a hotel where she is hiding. “Depending on who the cops are and how you react, you might die as a result of it.”
After her swatting, Sorrenti fled to a nearby hotel. Within hours, stalkers determined which hotel in her city had matching bed sheets from a photo Sorrenti tweeted of her cat. Trolls then sent dozens of pizzas to Sorrenti’s hotel in an apparent effort to make her aware that her hotel had been identified.
Sorrenti said her Uber account was then hacked. Hundreds of dollars worth of groceries arrived at her hotel. Through Uber, Sorrenti said that hackers were able to obtain her phone number, home address and email address, as well as the addresses and numbers of her family members.
According to Uber, the company has taken steps to secure Sorrenti’s account and is working to get in touch with her to issue a refund for unauthorized charges.
Sorrenti then fled to Europe, but Kiwi Farm users were able to identify her hotel using small hints from her streams. A Kiwi Farms user took a picture outside of what their userbase believed to be Sorrenti’s temporary home base in Europe on Tuesday.
“It’s been a nightmare,” Sorrenti said. “I constantly have this lingering thought in the back of my head, ‘What are they up to? Are they planning something? Is there going to be another escalation?”
Sorrenti shared an example of one of the calls she received harassing her. In the call, a computer-generated voice warns that “someone special has it out for you.”
The same tactic was used when Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., was swatted just days later, according to a police report from the incident obtained by NBC News. The caller identified themselves as a Kiwi Farms user and used a computer-generated voice, the report said. It’s not clear if the person who swatted Sorrenti also swatted Greene. Greene’s representatives did not respond to a request for comment.
Alejandra Carabello, an attorney at Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic, worries that Kiwi Farms’ typical “playbook” — in which trolls weaponize years of online data against various individuals because of their stances on a constellation of culture war issues — will be opened up to more and more private citizens as political rhetoric heats up before the 2024 election.
“This is stochastic terror that’s being implemented as part of the culture war,” said Carabello, adding that Sorrenti has faced every tactic in Kiwi Farms’ information war playbook. “Kiwi Farms’ goal is a world where LGBTQ users are not going to be as out and open on social media — they’re going to live in fear of threats and harassment.”
Sorrenti fears Kiwi Farms’ harassment techniques will soon be duplicated by far-right trolls to advance larger culture war goals.
“Something like Kiwi Farms could be utilized by people with a lot more resources to do a lot more harm,” Sorrenti said.
Recent anti-trans and culture war harassment campaigns have not just targeted trans people. On Tuesday, Boston Children’s Hospital received a bomb threat after a weekslong harassment campaign from anti-trans activists had targeted the hospital’s pediatricians by name.
On Wednesday, Alex Kaplan, the senior researcher at Media Matters, reported that trolls from Kiwi Farms and 4chan — with support from other far-right influencers — began a campaign to clog up suicide hotlines for The Trevor Project, which is meant to help LGBTQ+ youth who are considering self-harm.
For years, targets of Kiwi Farms have avoided drawing major attention to the harassment they face, many out of fear. Sorrenti is one of the first Kiwi Farms targets who has created a significant movement to shut down the website.
In the week following her arrest, Sorrenti crowdfunded nearly $100,000 to move out of her previous home and pay for a legal defense to “seek justice and make sure something like this doesn’t happen to anyone else.” As the harassment campaign continued, Sorrenti began to call out Cloudflare directly and organize her supporters around the mission to end Kiwi Farms.
Sorrenti has organized trending hashtags like “#DropKiwiFarms” and “CloudflareProtectsTerrorists,” which have trended over the past two weeks on Twitter, due to support from her fanbase on Twitch. Organizations like the Anti-Defamation League have joined in, calling Kiwi Farms an “extremist-friendly forum that has been the breeding ground for countless harassment campaigns.”
Cloudflare provides protection for websites like Kiwi Farms against distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, which attempt to take sites offline by overloading them with traffic. If Cloudflare stopped protecting Kiwi Farms, the site would be vulnerable to such attacks. Cloudflare is a major provider of security services online, claiming that over 20% of the web relies on its products, but it is not the only option in terms of protection from online attacks.
The effects on Kiwi Farms and Cloudflare have gone beyond social media. Kiwi Farms is at its highest Google search engine ranking ever, according to Google’s public data, beyond when it was covered after the Christchurch shooting. Kiwi Farms republished the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto and livestream of the attack, then refused to work with New Zealand authorities. Cloudflare’s market cap has fallen over 12%, past the NASDAQ index during the same time period, in the last week, as Sorrenti’s campaign has continued. It’s not clear that the fall and the campaign are related.
Previously, after widespread negative attention, Cloudflare has removed its services from websites like the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi hate forum, and 8Chan, the extremist platform. In its statement, Cloudflare said that after terminating services to those websites, “authoritarian regimes” attempted to get Cloudflare to terminate services to human rights campaign websites, often “citing the language from our own justification back to us.”
“Just as the telephone company doesn’t terminate your line if you say awful, racist, bigoted things, we have concluded in consultation with politicians, policy makers, and experts that turning off security services because we think what you publish is despicable is the wrong policy,” Cloudflare’s statement reads.
In a tweet responding to Cloudflare, Sorrenti wrote that she and her supporters are “beating Cloudflare in the marketplace of ideas and in the marketplace of money.”
“They have had twitter replies disabled for more than two weeks and their CEO stopped tweeting. Eventually, they will have to capitulate. We can and will win this,” she wrote.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect Cloudflare’s announcement on Saturday that it would block Kiwi Farms