Reddit blocks Gawker in defence of its right to be really, really creepy

Links from Gawker are banned from /r/politics, after journalist threatens to reveal the identity of the man running Reddit's "creepshots", "beatingwomen" and "jailbait" forums.

Links from the Gawker network of sites have been banned from the Reddit US Politics sub-forum, r/politics. The ban was instigated by a moderator after a Gawker.com journalist, Adrian Chen, apparently threatened to expose the real-life identity of redditor violentacrez, the creator of r/jailbait and r/creepshots. These two sub-forums, or "subreddits" were dedicated to, respectively, sexualised pictures of under-18s and sexualised pictures of women – frequently also under-age – taken in public without their knowledge or consent.

Both subreddits have since been deleted. The first went in a cull of similarly paedophilic subreddits in August last year, which also took down r/teen_girls and r/jailbaitgw ("gone wild", as in "girls gone wild"). The second was made private and then deleted due to the fallout from Chen's investigation.

According to leaked chatlogs, Chen was planning to reveal the real name of violentacrez, and approached him – because come on, it's a he – for comment. That sparked panic behind the scenes, and eventually prompted violentacrez to delete his account.

Reddit's attitude to free speech is a complex one. The extreme laissez-fair attitude of reddit's owners and administrators (the site is owned by Condé Nast, which doesn't interfere in the day-to-day management, and similarly the site administrators typically refuse to police any sub-forums) means that replacements for r/creepshots will likely spring up again, albeit more underground. Indeed, r/creepyshots was started then closed within a day. The ability of any redditor to create any subreddit they want, without the site's administration getting involved, is fiercely protected by the community, and that has led to subreddits focused on topics ranging from marijuana use and My-Little-Pony-themed pornography to beating women (also moderated by violentacrez) and, until yesterday, creepshots.

The moderators of the r/politics subreddit apparently consider Chen's attempt to find out more about violentacrez – a practice known as doxxing – to be in violation of this covenant. They write:

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. [emphasis original]

It is important to note that the action is taken only by the moderators of r/politics, and not reddit as a whole. Nonetheless, r/politics is an extremely busy subreddit, one of the defaults to which all new redditors are subscribed, and has almost two million subscribed readers, and likely an order of magnitude more who read without subscribing. Of the last 23 gawker.com links posted to reddit, five went to r/politics.

The whole affair has an extra level of irony, because in hoping to post online publicly available information against violentacrez wishes, Chen was doing exactly the same thing which violentacrez and other moderators of r/creepshots claimed was legal and ethical. By requiring that all photos be taken in a public area – and, after a public outcry, banning photos taken in schools or featuring under-18-year-olds – they hoped to stay on the right side of the law. Even then, however, the rules were regularly flouted, with a de facto "don't ask, don't tell" policy about location and age of the subjects of the photos.

Whether or not Chen publishes the violentacrez "outing", a group of anonymous sleuths tried to take the same idea further. A now-deleted tumblr, predditors, linked reddit usernames to real people. One user, for example, had the same username on reddit.com and music site last.fm, and the last.fm profile contained a link to his Facebook page. Cross-referencing comments about his age, university and hometown allowed the connection to be confirmed, and meant that the blog could put a name and a face to comments like "NIGGERS GET THE KNIFE" and submissions like "a gallery of my personal collection of shorts, thongs, and ass".

Jezebel interviewed the woman behind predditors, who argued that:

CreepShots is a gateway drug to more dangerous hobbies. Fetishizing non-consent "indicates [that CreepShots posters] don't view women as people, and most will not be satisfied with just that level of violation," she said. "I want to make sure that the people around these men know what they're doing so they can reap social, professional, or legal consequences, and possibly save women from future sexual assault. These men are dangerous."

Whether or not she's right, the site is certainly incredibly creepy, and it's hard to feel too sorry for men merely getting a taste of their own medicine. But as this debate has spilled over into the more mainstream areas of the site, Reddit risks becoming increasingly associated with defending the rights of its users to post jailbait and creepshots in the minds of the public. 

Update

Tumblr has reinstated the Predditors blog, and tells me that:

This blog was mistakenly suspended under the impression that it was revealing private, rather than publicly-available, information. We are restoring the blog.

The (anonymous) administrator of the blog itself appears to have set a password on it, however, putting a lid on how far it can go.

The front page of r/politics

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Robots versus immigrants: which group would “steal” the most British jobs?

We look behind sensationalist headlines to figure out whether Great British Jobs™ are being robbed by robots or taken over by immigrants.

By 2035, you’ll be lucky to have a job. According to the Bank of England’s chief economist, nearly half of all British workers will be replaced in the next two decades. But by who?

If you base all of your worldly judgements on the rants of your drunk uncle Nigel and the fact you can now get pierogi in Tesco, then the answer is easy: immigrants.

If you pay closer attention to global trends (and the self-checkout machine you use to buy your pierogi in Tesco), then the answer is very different: robots.

As far as scaremongering and selling papers goes, “stealing your jobs” is a great way to end a headline. But with robots and immigrants getting equal press for snatching Great British Jobs™, which group should you really be worried about? Is Roboxit the only answer?

Let’s start broadly. Between 1997 and 2016, the number of non-UK nationals working in the UK increased from 966,000 to 3.45 million. That’s around 138,000 new working immigrants a year, meaning that if trends continued, there would be nearly 4.7 million foreign-born workers in the UK by 2035. That’s a headline-worthy number of jobs “stolen”, we’re sure, if it weren’t for the fact that the aforementioned chief economist of the Bank of England predicted precisely 15 million British jobs will be lost to robots by that very same year.

Which is all very well and good, of course, but what about the immigrants who are “stealing” our gosh darn jobs right nowAccording to the University of Oxford's Migration Observatory, the industry with the highest share of foreign-born workers in 2014 was “food products manufacturing”, whereby 38 per cent of the workforce were not born in the UK. Next came the “domestic personnel” sector, where 32 per cent were foreign-born workers, followed by the “manufacturing of wearing apparel” at 29 per cent.

Having a third of an entire industry’s jobs filled by migrants is sure to get your jowls a-quivering, and a customary angry wave of the Union Jack might be necessary at this point. But how do these figures compare to the robots who have replaced such jobs? Deloitte, a giant professional services firm, has examined census records from every decade since 1871 to analyse how technology has affected employment. It found that jobs that require “muscle power” – such as factory workers and domestic personnel – decreased dramatically from 23.7 per cent of total employment in 1871 to 8.3 per cent in 2011, due to technological advancements.

Long before the dramatic rise of immigration to the UK in the 1990s, robots and machines were making us redundant.  

“But what about taxi drivers!” you cry. “They’re all foreign, eh? Eh!” True enough, it has been alleged that one in seven UK taxi drivers are from Pakistan, which, if true, means 15 per cent of the industry’s jobs have been snatched away from poor, poor ol’ Brits. But 15 per cent, I’m sure you’ll agree, is a lot less than the 100 per cent of taxi-driving jobs that are currently under threat from driverless cars.

The new technology is predicted to eliminate millions of jobs worldwide, affecting everyone from limo to truck to taxi to bus to ambulance to van drivers in the coming decades. There are 2.5 million white van drivers in the UK, 242,000 licensed taxi drivers, 600,000 Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) licensed drivers, and in 2011 there were just over 47,000 registered driving instructors. That’s 3,389,000 driving jobs in the UK, before we even consider the buses. Every single working immigrant in the UK would have to take up a transport job today in order to take as many jobs as driverless cars will in the next few decades.

But who cares about drivers and factory workers when the NHS has said that 4 per cent of registered nurses are EU migrants and a further 5 per cent of NHS staff are from a non-EU country? Nursing is one industry that hasn’t been affected by the rise of the robots, as Deloitte concludes that the 909 per cent increase in nurses between 1992 and 2014 is because technology is not yet sufficient to replace caring and social work roles. The immigrants then, are “stealing” far more nursing jobs than the robots.

If only, of course, there wasn’t a nursing staffing crisis in the NHS. Immigrants aren’t stealing healthcare jobs from Brits, but are actually filling posts that have remained vacant for years. Data recently obtained by the BBC shows that the NHS had over 23,443 nursing vacancies at the end of 2015, and experts have already predicted that Brexit will make staff shortages worse.

When we imagine robot workers we think of creaky, metallic versions of you and me. In actual fact, they are the self-checkout machines in your local McDonald’s and the giant mechanical arms in our factories that have been silently encroaching on British jobs for decades. Technology has destroyed British jobs for thousands of years, well before Queen Elizabeth I refused to patent a new knitting machine in 1589 for fear it would put people out of work. In May, the technology company Foxconn replaced 60,000 Chinese factory workers with robots. In contrast, no one has yet been able to prove conclusively that immigration actually does negatively affect British employment.

All of this is to say nothing of the fact that both immigrants and robots actually create jobs and boost the economy. Ironically, too, the people who will suffer most from job automation are immigrants, as experts have predicted that, post-Brexit, most EU migrants’ jobs will go to robots.  

Don’t worry, though, if you’ll miss being bigoted by the realisation that robots, not immigrants, are stealing your jobs. Why? Well, because, if you want to get technical, most of our robots are immigrants anyway.

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.