Kiwi Farms, a website that exposes and mocks people it deems “lolcows” or “exceptional individuals”, has been hit with a $445,000 defamation verdict in Australia. The case was brought by Liz Fong-Jones, a transgender activist and former Google engineer, who was targeted by an online harassment campaign from the website.
Fong-Jones sued an Australian company, Flow Chemical, and its director, Vincent Zhen, for providing web hosting services to Kiwi Farms. She claimed that they were liable for the publication of the defamatory material on the website, which included personal information, false allegations, and abusive comments about her gender identity, sexuality, appearance, and professional conduct.
The court agreed with Fong-Jones and awarded her $445,000 in damages for defamation and breach of confidence. The court also ordered Flow Chemical and Zhen to take down the website and prevent access to it from Australia. However, the website remains online and accessible as of October 27, 2023.
Fong-Jones said she was not going to let Kiwi Farms get away with their actions. “They can’t hide behind anonymity and technicalities. They have to face the consequences of their actions,” she said.
Kiwi Farms is notorious for its online harassment campaigns against various targets, including transgender people, autistic people, feminists, journalists, and celebrities. It has been linked to several suicides and attempted suicides of its victims.
The case raises legal questions about the responsibility of web hosting providers for the content they host, the jurisdiction of Australian courts over foreign websites, and the effectiveness of defamation laws in the internet age.
“It’s open in future cases for people in similar positions to argue the point that they’re not publishers or not liable for publication,” he said. “This case … points to the difficulty of defamation law adapting into the internet age.”
The pressuring of companies that provide online infrastructure to drop Kiwi Farms has also been criticised by groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which recently warned “site-blocking, whatever form it takes, almost inevitably cuts off legal as well as illegal speech”.
“Arguing that organizations like Cloudflare are illegitimate targets for grassroots activism feels arbitrary and mostly disconnected from the ongoing battles in the rest of the world,” she wrote. “Authoritarian censors were doing their fell work long before Kiwi Farms’ victims began to fight back.”
Gail McEwen, a lawyer who represented Fong-Jones, said the internet was not a lawless zone where anything goes. “There are rules and standards that apply to online speech and conduct. The court has sent a clear message that web hosting providers have a duty of care to prevent harm from their services,” she said.
- Defamation in the internet age: could a $400,000 Australian court ruling silence the notorious online forum Kiwi Farms? | Online abuse, The Guardian, October 23, 2023
- Kiwi Farms ruling sets “dubious” copyright precedent, expert warns, Ars Technica, October 25, 2023
- Kiwi Farms: The dark side of the internet, ABC News, October 26, 2023
- How Kiwi Farms dodges the law and fuels online hate, Wired UK, October 27, 2023