Reddit free speech scandal: ‘creep’ unmasked, CEO speaks out

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So by now you’ve heard of the drama between social bookmarking site Reddit and Gawker Media properties. It seems that after many articles across the web, Reddit’s CEO has finally noticed that the site has found itself in “a pickle”, according to a leaked memo.

The issue began when Gawker’s Adrian Chen decided to expose one of Reddit’s moderators, Texas programmer Michael Brutsch (aka Violentacrez). The moderator labelled Reddit’s “most powerful creep” was responsible for sub-pages “r/creepshots” and “r/jailbaits” pages dedicated to sexualised pictures of women and of under 18s.

Chen’s unmasking of Brutsch calls him out as the “biggest troll” on the internet, saying:

“If you are capable of being offended, Brutsch has almost certainly done something that would offend you, then did his best to rub your face in it. His speciality is distributing images of scantily-clad underage girls, but as Violentacrez he also issued an unending fountain of racism, porn, gore, misogyny, incest, and exotic abominations yet unnamed, all on the sprawling online community Reddit.”

Before the exposé was published there was an outcry on Reddit asking moderators to block all links from Gawker Media properties, saying Chen’s witch hunt was a violation of Brutsch’s personal information and individual privacy. This then led to comments across the web of Reddit’s role on free speech.

In the leaked memo from Reddit CEO Yishan Wong, it seems he has noticed that there “has been a lot of trouble lately for Reddit.” So he decided to say a few words on the matter before he “nip[ed] off for a spot of tea”. In the memo he mentions Violentacrez by name and emphasizes Reddit’s commitment to free speech:

We stand for free speech. This means we are not going to ban distasteful subreddits. We will not ban legal content even if we find it odious or if we personally condemn it. Not because that’s the law in the United States – because as many people have pointed out, privately-owned forums are under no obligation to uphold it – but because we believe in that ideal independently, and that’s what we want to promote on our platform. We are clarifying that now because in the past it wasn’t clear, and (to be honest) in the past we were not completely independent and there were other pressures acting on reddit. Now it’s just reddit, and we serve the community, we serve the ideals of free speech, and we hope to ultimately be a universal platform for human discourse (cat pictures are a form of discourse).

Wong explains that the banning of links of Reddit does not make the site “look good”, and his memo takes issue with wide spread censorship being initiated on the site as 70 subreddits (topic pages) have now banned links from Gawker Media properties. Though the site administrators did institute a site wide ban of the link to Gawker’s umasking article for doxxing (hacker term for outing), Wong admits this was a mistake.

Let’s be honest, this ban on links from the gawker network is not making reddit look so good.
While the ban was originally being discussed by mods, we were discussing it internally too. We even briefly considered the consequences of a site-level ban on the entire gawker network, and realized three things about it:

1. It would ultimately be ineffective at stopping off-site doxxing. People who want to go after someone off-site would still do it. They have plenty of other megaphones besides reddit.

2. It would definitely raise the profile of the issue with the general public, and result in headlines like “gawker exposes creepster; reddit engages in personal vendetta to defend pedophile.” This would hardly help us explain the problem of irresponsible release of personal information to the general public.

3. Practically speaking, it wouldn’t really deter or hurt gawker anyways. This is in contrast to domain banning spammers, where it is not just punitive, it literally stops the spam.

Following Chen’s article, Brutsch has been fired from his job and claims most his medical insurance has been revoked.

“All my remote access has been disabled, my health insurance and FSA were cancelled immediately (so they had to drag someone in over the weekend to do that). At this point, if any of the dozens of death threats I’ve gotten were to make good on their promises, at least my wife would have the insurance,” he writes on Reddit.

According to a Guardian report, supporters of the man formerly known as Violentacres have launched a campaign to raise money to help him through his newly unemployed status. Brutsch has also released his email address on Reddit so supporters could send him money via his PayPal account.

Image: Eva Blue

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