AAfter weeks of activist pressure, Internet infrastructure company Cloudflare recently ended its support for Kiwi Farms, an online group that has been described as “the web’s largest stalker community”. The breaking point: a targeted campaign of harassment against a live trans and activist so severe that drove his target into hiding. Cloudflare was providing the essential technical infrastructure for site security and speed, and with those things removed, the Kiwi Farms site crashed.
But what should happen to sites like Kiwi Farms in the future? And what is the content moderation responsibility of companies like Cloudflare, which provide basic, often invisible, services for the vast majority of the web? United States and The United States are facing increased scrutiny over online privacy and security this year, with some saying service providers like Cloudflare must also take responsibility.
Fredrick Brennan is the founder of 8chan, a message board that has been linked to hate speech, white supremacy, and nationalism. In 2019, six years after the message board was founded, a user of the site carried out a mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, and posted his manifesto on 8chan. He subsequently linked himself to various other shootings.
Brennan repudiated his creation in the press, and has continued to advocate for action against image boards like Kiwi Farms and the site he founded. Now 28, he 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, as other industries are, to address the issues posed by toxic sites.
It has been edited for length and clarity.
Were you surprised that Kiwi Farms was removed by Cloudflare?
fredrick brennan: No, not really, especially because of who they targeted. I’m not surprised at all, I saw it as something inevitable. Joseph [Moon, the founder of Kiwi Farms] constantly make mistakes like this. He is uncompromising when it comes to people he hates. Clearly, he hates trans people and has gone on record that he believes in the slander against one of them.
A logic operator in his position simply wouldn’t have wanted to get into this battle, and I think he wrongly assumed that Cloudflare would stay behind him. I think his ideology is what makes him unable to see what is going to happen.
You have first-hand experience on these types of sites. Should Cloudflare’s action trigger something broader for companies that provide hosting, security, and other infrastructure for websites?
It is multifaceted. There is really only one country where something like this shit site can exist, and that is the United States due to the intersection of different laws. In different jurisdictions, it’s just not possible, even in places you’d expect. Singapore for example? It is not impossible. Japan? No. That’s the biggest problem because America is a broken democracy right now. You know, I’m American. I don’t mind saying that.
All social networks are based in the US It’s not because we Americans are exceptionally good at doing these things. I work on free software and have worked with developers from basically every country and there is nothing special about our programming skills. There is nothing special about the American mindset when it comes to creating web services. Everything is legal and corporate.
It’s really legal arbitration, where you get into the least trouble in the US. That’s why I really don’t know how to answer your question, because I don’t know if there is any world power that can do more than the US. And I just don’t know how the United States can begin to act on this, because our system is so broken.
Our government in the United States has decided that on the international stage, its technological supremacy gives it too much power. And therefore the market regulations are so low that they are basically zero. So every tech company wants, if they don’t have their corporate records here, which is often the case, then they want to have their entire infrastructure here.
read more: Cloudflare is one of the companies quietly powering the Internet. Researchers say it’s a haven for disinformation
Activists demonstrated against Cloudflare and urged the provider to shut down the site. The site is now moving between providers in Russia and Portugal, in a cat-and-mouse game with activists launching retaliatory attacks. What happens now with Kiwi Farms?
I think they get away with it so much that people will continue to do justice to this vigilante so that [providers like Cloudflare] wants to take out That’s emblematic of the Wild West Internet culture of the US, where it relies heavily on vigilantes.
How to get out of that system based on vigilantes?
I don’t know if there is a good way. But I do think we’re going to see some sort of new system emerge. I started thinking about it after the Christchurch shooting, when the nations of Australia, New Zealand, and some European countries blocked not only Kiwi Farms, but also 8kun, the 8chan website where the shooter posted his manifesto. It is basically based on a concept of cyber sovereignty.
A change of norms is taking place internationally, where politicians are fed up with the United States and its complete inaction. Most likely, the Internet will be much more divided. And the websites you can access will depend more and more on the nation you are in.
Is there a role model outside the US in terms of regulation? Is that even an option?
I hope so. I think the UN needs to have some sort of agreement or framework on Internet policy. Otherwise, there will be total chaos with each country deciding on its own, based on local laws, which websites are accessible.
What should we be doing now?
I think what we should be doing is what I do, which is primarily focused on administrators and whether or not they are operating in good or bad faith. That’s mostly why I don’t tend to make it a voice issue most of the time, like a content issue per se. I tend to make it an issue of what the admins are thinking, why they allow certain content, what their processes are like. And when it comes to Kiwi Farms, their processes are terrible and they have done things that are literally extortion.
I think there should be a stricter enforcement of what administrators do. But there also has to be regulation. In the same way that we have an FDA that monitors food and drugs and an SEC that monitors securities, a regulatory agency is needed just for social media companies. And by the way, image boards like Kiwi Farms and 4chan are an IT company that this regulatory authority could take action against just like Facebook..
I’d like to see if that helps anything, before we change fundamental things about free speech.
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