How Cloudflare got Kiwi Farms wrong

I like Cloudflare technology. I think they do a great job of building things that are very useful, very innovative, and very reliable. That’s no easy task, especially while shipping pretty regularly as they do. I’ve been known to do pretty glowing podcasts about them, unsponsored, like this on Durable Objects, Workers, and HTMLRewriter.

That makes it rather awkward when Cloudflare is in the news for shitty reasons, like whether or not they should be helping horrendous websites avoid DDoS. That was exactly the case a few months ago when the discussion centered around a website called Kiwi Farms, an absolute internet shithole that “has become notorious for waging online harassment campaigns against LBGT people, women, and others.” That quote is from Casey Newton’s How Cloudflare got Kiwi Farms wrong, who did a good job of covering all this.

Cloudflare wanted to bring nuance to the party. They attempted a moral high ground by way of avoiding moderation of provided services in any sense. The Fire Department analogy used directly:

Some argue that we should terminate these services to content we find reprehensible so that others can launch attacks to knock it offline. That is the equivalent argument in the physical world that the fire department shouldn’t respond to fires in the homes of people who do not possess sufficient moral character. Both in the physical world and online, that is a dangerous precedent, and one that is over the long term most likely to disproportionately harm vulnerable and marginalized communities.

I admit that reads pretty nicely at first pass. We do not, indeed, want a fire department that checks to see if you are a swell person before responding to your 911 call. I appreciate Jenn’s takedown of this though.

… their actions are already “disproportionately harm[ing] vulnerable and marginalized communities.” – they’re past the point of avoiding that outcome

To me, you just can’t punt this one up to some abstract philosophy you have about what is best for humanity. You look right in front of you. Humans are being hurt. Then you look at yourself. What are you doing? You’re being a bodyguard to the abusers. You aren’t even being asked to stop the abusers, you’re being asked to step aside and not actively protect the abusers.

They did eventually drop Kiwi Farms, just as they’ve done twice before. It was the right move all three times. I hope they keep it up and drop shithole sites before it becomes a thing and it appears they are doing it just from social pressure. Because honestly I wanna keep liking Cloudflare. They make good internet stuff.

Hey internet, you’d love me as the CEO of any tech company. If I found out my company provided services for abhorrent garbage like Kiwi Farms, I would immediately kick their asses right off the platform. This isn’t theoretical either, as a co-founder of CodePen. We’ve removed all sorts of spam, fraud, and abhorrent garbage off of CodePen and I’m glad to do it. I don’t find having a moral compass terribly difficult.

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