Cloudflare tries to ignore the world

You don’t have to take their money

Cloudflare is a fascinating company, an interesting collection of people and technology that has a real shot to transform the way enterprise computing is built over the rest of this decade. It’s also an infuriating company, stubbornly dedicated to a principle that time and time again puts it in cahoots with some of the worst people on the internet.

Online protests against Cloudflare have been growing over the past few weeksafter transgender activist and Twitch streamer Clara Sorrenti was forced into hiding thanks to a campaign organized on a discussion forum called Kiwi Farms, a site with a long history of harassment and hate. Sorrenti was “swatted” and later tracked down at hotels by posters on Kiwi Farms, which appears to use Cloudflare for several enterprise services.

  • One of Cloudflare’s most popular services is anti-DDoS protection, which routes attempts to knock a web site offline by flooding it with traffic through its unique worldwide network.
  • Without that service, it’s unlikely Kiwi Farms would be able to stay online.
  • Several companies offer similar services, but it’s not clear that Kiwi Farms — which has been blamed for several suicides following harrassment carried out by its users — would be able to find another provider.

Cloudflare, however, has made it clear several times in the past that it doesn’t think it should deny services to companies that people don’t like.

  • It only dropped support for the Daily Stormer after Heather Heyer was killed in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 during a white supremacist rally.
  • Until then, the company proudly declared in its transparency reports that “Cloudflare has never terminated a customer or taken down content due to political pressure.”
  • In a blog post explaining that decision, CEO Matthew Prince wrote: “The tipping point for us making this decision was that the team behind Daily Stormer made the claim that we were secretly supporters of their ideology.”

Cloudflare has remained silent during this new round of protests, disabling replies on its corporate Twitter account and declining to explain its thinking for several reports. (It likewise declined to make Prince available for an interview with Protocol.)

  • Given that silence, the easiest conclusion is that Prince and Cloudflare don’t think that companies that enable targeted anti-trans hate and other harassment campaigns that have already led to several deaths are as big a societal problem as sites like the Daily Stormer.
  • Philosophical debates about how infrastructure companies should handle objectionable content on the internet have become very real, and those companies do not have to do business with sites as toxic and harmful as Kiwi Farms under the banner of free speech.
  • Prince was willing to acknowledge that last year in an interview: “I think we’ve gone from saying, ‘We would prefer to never kick anyone off,’ to saying, ‘Listen, we’re going to be a little bit more nuanced about that.’ If you have a bad individual, a bad platform and a bad host, then sometimes it might actually fall to us to take action, but that should happen fairly rarely.”

But for Cloudflare, these issues aren’t just going to fade away. After speaking with one researcher, Time concluded that “although just one in five websites across the mainstream internet are hosted by Cloudflare, it hosts one in three websites known primarily for spreading hate speech or misinformation.”

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