Social community website, Reddit is at the centre of a new controversy. This one is around self-censorship and how powerful moderators on the site decided to block all links from Gawker after journalist Adrian Chen exposed the true identity of Violentacrez, one of Reddit's most notorious moderator.
Violentacrez was the man behind, famous subreddits like JailBait (which had sexualised images of underage girls taken without their permission). You can read the entire Gawker piece here. This piece is a must read for all social media addicts.
Chen writes in his piece for the Gawker,
Jailbait was the online equivalent of systematized street harassment. Users posted snapshots of tween and teenage girls, often in bikinis and skirts. Many of these were lifted from their Facebook accounts and thrown in front of Jailbait's 20,000 horny subscribers.
Chen exposed the identity of Violentacrez as a Michael Brutsch, a middle-aged man who works in a financial services company in Texas. For Reddit community users and moderators this outing of Brutsch was breach of Reddit rules (Reddit thrives on anonymity and personal information is not to be posted on the site), and thus links from Gawker and other content from the site were systematically censored and blocked.
The Verge writes,
Reddit's reactive censorship, spearheaded by the leaders of massive million-member subreddits like r/politics, attacked Chen for "threatening to publish" the real-life identity of one of its most controversial users. In the days since, Reddit's moderators have scrambled to control the damage of Violentacrez's leaked identity.
For a site that thrives itself on the free-speech, Reddit's users seem have to taken a rather hypocritical stand when it comes to the Gawker by censoring all links on the site, just because it exposed a man who clearly was responsible for a whole lot of sexual violence on the site.
JailBait, and Creepshots (another subreddit which Violentacrez later moderated, he didn't start it) that also had shots of women's asses or breasts put out for voyeuristic pleasure, weren't banned by Reddit admins for quite some time.
In the case of Jailbait, it was only banned in September 2011 after CNN's Anderson Cooper questioned Reddit for hosting it. It was only Cooper's outcry that forced Reddit administrators to change their policy over sexualised content featuring minors.
In the case of Creepshots, which was taken down only on Thursday, Reddit's General Manager Erik Martin said to BuzzFeed, "We don't get in involved unless it has someting to do with rules." He also defended the dependence on community and his response to the Gawker controversy was this.
"Journalists are different in that they're accountable," says Martin, referring to their use of real names and susceptibility to lawsuits, "that system on some level works."
This isn't the first time that someone has tried to expose Reddit users, who engaged in content that was sexually violent and invasive in nature. Jezbel did an in-depth story with Samantha (not real name), a 25-year-old Redditor who recently launched Predditors, a blog dedicated to exposing those who were running Creepshots. The blog was shut down by Tumblr but was later restored.
The Reddit case is another one of how Internet anonymity and free speech are often used to legitimise violence and the objectification of the women. For a community that doesn't want personal information about moderators posted or revealed, it certainly had no qualms looking the other way when 'personal' pictures of women were posted online.
But as Chen writes about Violentacrez,
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. It was called "Creepshots." Now Brutsch was the one feeling exposed and it didn't suit him very well.