Reddit Moderators’ Gawker Ban: Boldly Defending Your Right to Post Child Porn Anonymously
If you’re a casual internet user this might be kind of inside baseball. I’m not really a Reddit guy myself, so I’ve been a casual spectator at best to the controversy. But I know there is a controversy, despite not being a Reddit user, and that means — much to MA101′s delight — that somewhere along the way, someone fucked up their messaging.
The usual run-down for people who haven’t seen this story before:
- Reddit is a massive info-sharing site where people post basically any content you can imagine. Other people “vote” on the content they like, and the more votes your post gets the higher on the page it moves. The site is divided into thousands of independently-administrated “subreddits” with specific topics — if you want to post cute cat pictures, you go to the /r/catpics subreddit, and so on.
- One of Reddit’s most influential “mods” — the unpaid admins who run the subreddits — went by the handle Violentacrez, under which he posted pretty much every kind of offensive content you can think of. He was probably most famous for the “Jailbait” subreddit, which was devoted to pictures of underage girls in revealing clothing and was eventually shut down by the site owners, and for the “Creepshots” subreddit, which collected photos of women taken in public without their knowledge, including frequent “upskirt” shots, but also frequently created subreddits dedicated to themes like racist humor, pictures of domestic violence, and so on.
- On October 12, writer Adrien Chen “outed” Violentacrez’s real-life information in an article on Gawker. The lengthy article makes extensive use of what Chen describes as about an hour-long phone conversation with Michael Brutsch, the man behind Violentacrez.
- Following the outing (sometimes referred to as “doxxing,” a word for revealing someone’s real-life identity online), many subreddit moderators (though not the site owners, an important distinction) issued a blanket ban on links to any Gawker (and Gawker-affiliated) content in reprisal, effectively keeping Gawker off of their part of “the front page of the internet” as a punitive gesture.
And now people are going back and forth about it in just about every corner of the internet, so I figure what the hell, let’s take a brief, MA101-style look at it too.
First, the editorial perspective: Gawker’s house as a whole is not in such order that they should really be casting stones, but let’s not kid ourselves — there was nothing wrong in Adrien Chen’s behavior as a journalist. Someone who has built himself into an internet celebrity through any means is fair game for journalists, to say nothing of someone who did it based on a personality of racism, hatred, and pedophilia. Violentacrez/Michael Brutsch made himself into a story and someone reported on it. We need shed no tears for him.
But to pivot to what’s rapidly becoming our specialty here at MA101, let’s talk about the subsequent crisis control.
From Reddit itself, we’ve heard almost nothing. That’s not unusual — one of the site’s strengths is its claim to a sort of hive-mind democracy, where the users determine what the popular opinion is rather than an editor, though as people have been pointing out recently it’s really more of a feudal empire, with moderators (like Violentacrez) holding the power to promote or censor other user’s content in exchange for doing the unpaid gruntwork that keeps the site running smoothly. So a certain editorial caginess is typical here.
But a lot of those moderators feel very strongly invested in their little internet fiefdoms, hence the clannish backlash against the entire Gawker family of blogs (which, again, let’s be honest, are total shit, but the point is that they’re not getting blocked for being total shit; they’re getting blocked for having offended Reddit moderator’s principles of internet anonymity).
And that was, as any attempt to censor a news agency always is, a terrible fucking idea.
You know why? It’s not because free speech, power of the press, blah blah blah.
It’s because most people using Reddit don’t want to think about this issue. They do not like it. It is morally complex, it ties a pasttime they enjoy directly to creepy people who take sexualized pictures of women without consent, and it in general makes them have bad feelings when they are made aware of it.
But the moderators who blocked links to Gawker content forced it into everyone’s laps anyway. If you’re just an average Reddit user who’s never even heard of Violentacrez, going to post your daily link to some article you liked over at Jezebel or Kotako or whatever, and suddenly you find that you can’t? You take a look and find out why.
And then you have to deal with all this shit.
And suddenly Reddit seems way less fun than it used to be.
Now how much long-term affect this will have on Reddit’s membership? Probably not that much. There have been various “I am leaving because of this controversy” posts, but they’re not exactly a crippling flood. The front page of Reddit is still humming along merrily.
But the more individual moderators try to keep the issue alive, the more alienating I think they’re going to find themselves. There comes a point at which you have to ask yourself “is defending the right to post underage voyeur porn anonymously really the hill I want to die on?”
Actually, strike that last comment. You shouldn’t ever have to ask yourself that question in the first place.
But I guess that’s why I never got much into the Reddit thing.