Reddit & Gawker: sex, anonymity and free speech

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reddit

Well this is interesting. There has been a slow scandal brewing over content posted on Reddit for some time now but it seems it’s time to air the dirty laundry.

In a recent post, Matthew Ingram of GigaOM talks about the dark side of communities such as the social bookmarking site, Reddit.

His piece follows a statement from a Reddit sub-forum, “r/politics” stating that it will be banning links from all Gawker Media properties because one of its writers [Adrian Chen] was planning on exposing a Reddit moderator responsible for “r/creepshots” and “r/jailbaits” pages dedicated to sexualised pictures of women and sexualised pictures of under 18s. Incidentally, as Ingram points out, the same stellar character was also responsible for another page that Reddit deleted last year in an effort to clean up the site, the page was called “r/incest”.

The statement that ensued all the kerfuffle says the decision was made with the aim of making Reddit a “better place”:

As some of you may know, a prominent member of Reddit’s community, Violentacrez, deleted his account recently. This was as a result of a ‘journalist’ seeking out his personal information and threatening to publish it, which would have a significant impact on his life.

As moderators, we feel that this type of behavior is completely intolerable. We volunteer our time on Reddit to make it a better place for the users, and should not be harassed and threatened for that. We should all be afraid of the threat of having our personal information investigated and spread around the internet if someone disagrees with you. Reddit prides itself on having a subreddit for everything, and no matter how much anyone may disapprove of what another user subscribes to, that is never a reason to threaten them.

As a result, the moderators of /r/politics have chosen to disallow links from the Gawker network until action is taken to correct this serious lack of ethics and integrity.

It is important to note that Reddit’s administrators and owners barely interfere in the day-to-day of the site, it’s entirely left up to the site’s moderators to self regulate and make sure the site is a “better place for all”.

One may present an argument for freedom of speech and expression as has been pointed out by the New Statesman’s Alex Hearn who calls it “complex”. Then there is the issue which the r/politics moderators so gallantly stand for: protection of personal information and individual privacy.

The unlucky women who, unbeknownst to them, have had inappropriate images of them posted on r/creepshots seems to be exempt from the individual privacy clause these moderators so defend.

“It’s okay for anonymous Redditors to post upskirt photo after upskirt photo, but a huge violation of privacy for a journalist to report on the men who post them? How does that make any sense?” says Jezebel (a Gawker Media family member) author Katie J.M. Baker.

The man who brought up all this debate is yet to publish the “shaming” of the moderator in question — violentacrez. Violentacrez has however deleted his Reddit account and has taken his pages with him. But another redditor has taken the matter further. A Tumblr blog has been created in response to r/creepshots. The blog, Predditors, names and shames people who post on r/creepshots by exposing their personal information such as Facebook profiles and images of them posted online.

The 25-year-old behind the now password protected blog says:

“Reddit’s defense of [CreepShots] is that it’s ‘technically legal.’ So I’m doing something that’s technically legal, but will result in consequences for their actions. These fuckers think they can get away with it scot [sic] free, which is one of the reasons why sexual violence is so prevalent around the world.”

She has already started contacting the authorities about the men who have been “outed” on her blog, deeming them sexual predators.

The nature of online communities is a complicated affair and moderation rules require constant rejigging. The internet is plagued with far more darkness than we care to admit to or believe exists. It is a world where trolling is prevalent, anonymity is sometimes key and politicians and celebrities are stripped of their glamour and appeal by ill thoughout tweets.

Last year, in an ill begotten joke, Chen trolled Reddit into thinking he was the cancer faking user who wanted to get more karma (Reddit point system).

It’s a complicated world being online, where regulation is possibly even more complicated. For communities like this self-regulation is the best option to protect free speech.

Ingram sums up online communities all up quite nicely:

If you’re an optimist about the power of online communities like Reddit and its cousin 4chan (which has been home to even worse content, if that’s possible), you could see this as a kind of self-regulating process at work.

Given the ability to post anything whatsoever, with little or no oversight from any site editors — apart from periodic attempts to remove illegal content — it’s natural to assume that every dark element of human nature will be represented. And in some cases, moderators will actually trample on the principle of free speech even as they allegedly are trying to protect it.

Reddit has done some good. It has reported on breaking news issues where members updated live information from the New York shooting a few months ago. It gave US president Barack Obama the opportunity to talk to members about issues facing the country.

Whether or not Chen publishes his controversial piece remains to be seen.

Image: Eva Blue

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