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Researchers say Cloudflare is a haven for disinformation

Cloudflare is one of dozens of companies keeping the Internet running quiet, helping 36 million web pages per second reach Internet users as expected. But now it is also facing scrutiny for its role in keeping platforms running that have been called toxic and hateful.

More recently, she has come under pressure from activists who have urged her to withdraw her services from Kiwi Farms, an online group that has been described by New York magazine as “the web’s largest stalker community”.

Kiwi Farms is reportedly behind an ongoing harassment campaign targeting a trans activist and livestreamer, an effort so destructive that drove his target into hiding earlier this month. insider has reported thatin the past, Kiwi Farms’ harassment campaigns have been linked to three deaths by suicide.

Although Cloudflare does not host Kiwi Farms (and therefore does not have full control over whether it remains online), it does provide several key services for the site, Axios reports.

Critics say Cloudflare, and others like it, are turning a blind eye to hate and misinformation. They have corralled their anger under different hashtags on Twitter, including #dropkiwifarms other #cloudflaresupportterrorists.

To date, Cloudflare has declined to comment on the allegations and whether it will continue to work with Kiwi Farms. The company did not respond to TIME’s request for comment.

The outsized role of companies like Cloudflare

Cloudflare is, in essence, a content delivery network (CDN) that quickly serves the websites of users who request through their web browsers. It also defends sites against attackers. James Ball, author of The Tangled Web We Weave: Inside the Shadow System That Shapes the Internethe tells TIME that such companies are “the backbone of the modern Internet.”

But a new study suggests that Cloudflare also plays a role in maintaining sites that promote hate and misinformation. the study may 2022 Researchers at Stanford University analyzed which services were hosted by 440 of the world’s most prominent disinformation websites.

They found that Cloudflare was a safe haven for toxicity. Although Cloudflare hosts only one in five websites on the mainstream Internet, it hosts one in three websites known primarily for spreading hate speech or misinformation.

That makes Cloudflare the main platform disinformation websites have used for hosting since 2015.

“We find anecdotally that sites prefer Cloudflare because of its lax acceptable use policies and its free DDoS protection services that help protect against vigilante attacks,” the researchers write. They note that AmmoLand, a popular gun rights blog, has praised the company “for its self-described ‘content neutral’ stance.”

Cloudflare is not alone in its hands-off attitude: other companies also continue to provide services that, if denied to toxic sites like Kiwi Farms, would bring those websites down.

Amazon, Google, GoDaddy and Unified Layer round out the top five CDNs hosting misinformation websites, according to the Stanford researchers.

Ball says that many CDNs argue that they are neutral service providers that simply pass data through their systems to meet user demand.

But Ball says, “However, that’s not true.” He points to the ways social media companies have routinely, if imperfectly, kicked out toxic users. “Just like social networks choose who is allowed on their platform, CDNs choose their customers.”

And those choices, says Ball, have consequences: “The decision to continue serving a client is a decision to help them publish their content.”

If you or someone you know may be experiencing a mental health crisis or contemplating suicide, call or text 988. In emergencies, call 911 or seek care from a local hospital or mental health provider.

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