Liz Fong-Jones is a developer advocate, labor and ethics organizer, and Site Reliability Engineer (SRE) with 18+ years of experience. She is currently the Field CTO at Honeycomb. Previously, she was an SRE working on products ranging from the Google Cloud Load Balancer to Google Flights. Liz lives between Vancouver, BC and Sydney, NSW with her wife Elly, partners, and a Samoyed/Golden Retriever mix. She plays classical piano, leads an EVE Online alliance, and advocates for transgender rights.
It was a windy and snowy November Wednesday at my home in Vancouver. The notification icon on my chat client lit up. My heart lurched when I saw this threat from a stranger instead of a message from a friend:
<Whalley4Life> How about that snow eh? Those were some big f*** snowflakes falling weren’t they and that f*** windstorm. Me and my homeboys don’t like f***s in dresses who think it’s cool to rape girls. Better watch your back next time you’re in Surrey.
This message was just one of dozens of threats that my employer and I received as retaliation for my speaking out about the role of multinational corporations such as Cloudflare in publishing the online hate forum Kiwi Farms. Within days of being “featured” by the site administrators as one of their top enemies, my home address had been posted alongside egregiously false accusations and incitement to harm me.
A phone caller threatened that “bad things could happen to (my) family. Another caller suggested that they would come to my house to mangle my genitals. My colleagues and investors received messages demanding that I should be fired based on false accusations of pedophilia and sexual assault. Kiwi Farms members shared how much they would enjoy assaulting me, strangulating me, and “improving” my appearance by “shooting my face off with buckshot”.
These transphobes deny that I’m a woman, yet subject me to gendered, misogynistic violence – relentless negging about my appearance coupled with threats to sexually assault me.
Being a woman of colour compounds transphobic harassment. Not only are we called repulsive, but we are stereotyped as less feminine, hypersexual, and abusive just as our racialized cis peers are.
Friends, colleagues, and acquaintances have asked me to not acknowledge or speak to them in public, for fear of also becoming targets. The Vancouver Police Department told me they could not investigate the hate-based incidents because these anonymous threats had been masked and appeared to come from outside their jurisdiction. I no longer felt safe speaking in public. My life has significantly changed since last summer.”
In August of 2022 Clara Sorrenti, a white, transgender, Canadian political streamer known online as “Keffals,” became perhaps the most prominent public face of collective efforts to deplatform Kiwi Farms. Clara experienced dangerous abuse and stalking from Kiwi Farms, including being swatted and falsely arrested via the London, Ontario Police Services. I reached out to her following her experience. Together, we named Cloudflare as the entity to hold responsible for the longevity of Kiwi Farms’ abuse. Our hope was that Kiwi Farms would quickly be defanged once it no longer enjoyed the subsidized edge caching, obfuscation of its backend hosting, and protection against cyberattacks that Cloudflare provided.
Cloudflare dropped Kiwi Farms back in September 2022. While this was a crucial development, it was not an entirely decisive blow. Being the primary organizer of that campaign, Sorrenti had done a press tour and declared on dropkiwifarms.net that “victims of Kiwi Farms can sleep soundly knowing that the site is doomed.” Yet, we both continue to experience severe harassment and threats of violence from Kiwi Farms to this very day.
Clara’s public brand has consistently been “edgy” and provocative, with a trail of previous incidents labelled by racial justice advocates as racism or appropriation. While I initially stood behind her during the Drop Kiwi Farms effort, hoping that unity in the face of transphobic abuse was the right decision, I could no longer hold my tongue once she declared victory. I attempted to call her in privately, then publicly, and found myself relentlessly harassed by not only Kiwi Farms but also her parasocial following. Her streaming audience was known for relentlessly brigading those who attempted to criticize her with racist abuse, and I experienced this myself. I was accused of “clout chasing,” of being jealous of Clara’s fame, and was erased from the campaign. All the while, the racist behaviour continued.
Long after the TV cameras left and the drumbeat slowed of triumphant news stories, my team and I continued to spend countless hours, as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars litigating to permanently stop Kiwi Farms’s providers from further harming marginalized people.
Meanwhile, completely absent from Clara’s outreach or messaging, was any sign of solidarity with the women of colour who had carried on the struggle that she had started. The oxygen had been sucked out of the room, rendering it difficult to obtain the public support we need to sustain our efforts.
As of the end of 2023, Kiwi Farms still presents a very real threat to transgender, neurodivergent, and other marginalized people. Our work has been hindered by the fallacious belief that Clara Sorrenti was the sole leader of a successful campaign to make Kiwi Farms no longer operational. Although weakened from the initial campaign that Clara played a prominent role in, Kiwi Farms would have bounced back quickly had our team, including co-organizer Katherine Lorelei and I, not continued the less glamorous deplatforming work using our technical skills and tenacity.
To be clear, these issues are largely systemic. Society and mainstream media tend to focus predominantly on white, traditionally attractive people and elevate them as spokespeople and leaders, when our communities are made up of diverse individuals who all do important work. This leads to Indigenous, Black and racialized communities being left out, written off, or ignored. It can feel isolating, almost like being in exile, and often leaves our communities without the support that is so desperately needed to continue the work.
We need to do better about tackling systemic barriers like these, ones that we loudly proclaim we fight to take down in other contexts yet leave up within our own communities.
I wish we would crucially examine who we hold up as heroes and why we are doing so. We should do better by identifying and supporting the people who are doing the grassroots, longer term work, rather than only those who are the most visible at moments of crisis.
For now, due to the racism and lack of solidarity, I feel far less accepted as an Asian woman in the predominantly white Canadian trans community than as a trans woman in a predominantly cis community of Asian settlers in Canada.