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 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 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 and music site, and the 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. 


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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First The Dress, now The Legs: Why is the internet so obsessed with optical illusions?

Ever since The Dress, optical illusions have dominated our feeds and brains. What does this tell us about 21st-century society?

Are these legs shiny and oily, or are they legs with white paint on them? That’s the first question. The second question is: why do we care? Ever since the fateful first light of 25 February 2015, optical illusions have become the internet’s currency. “Is this dress white and gold or black and blue?” whispered the world wide web on that day, paving the way for our news sources to be replaced by a constantly updating feed of hidden cigars in brick walls, phones concealed in carpets, and a lonely Cheese & Onion Bake secreted in some Steak Bakes.

Today, The Dress has been usurped by The Legs. Within the last few hours, news stories on The Telegraph, Metro, Mashable, Buzzfeed and The Independent’s Indy100 have popped up about a tweet from Twitter user @kingkayden, who posted a picture of legs-splattered-with-white-paint-that-sort-of-look-like-legs-splattered-with-oil. No one on social media can shut up about it, and – aside from the fact that anything, absolutely anything, which distracts us from Brexit will do – it’s a mystery why.

“Optical illusions have always been very popular because they challenge the basic notion that we are able to see what is right in front of our eyes,” says Richard Wiseman, a psychologist, author, and owner of the YouTube channel Quirkology, which is full of optical illusions and tricks. “In fact, perception is constructive and our brains are constantly making guesses about what is happening around us. But it doesn't feel like that.

“Illusions show us that we are not really seeing the world as it is and I think people find that fascinating. The web just allows these images and videos to be shared more quickly than ever before.”

It’s a fascinating explanation, but there are also much more cynical tricks at play. News websites deliberately play on this basic psychological love of optical illusions to ensure that they spread online and therefore generate clicks.

“If you sell the story on social channels as a challenge it’s more likely to perform well,” explains a writer for a popular viral news website who wishes to remain anonymous. “I honestly think people like the feeling that they’re intelligent or have completed a challenge simply because they can see the reasoning behind why a certain illusion works.”

Although the writer, understandably, doesn’t want to share the number of clicks an average optical illusion story gets, they assure me that they are a huge traffic driver. “I think there’s something to be said for optical illusions stories being entertainment as news – they’re innocuous pieces which pretend to teach you something about the way your eyes and brain work, but actually you’re just clicking on it because you think you know what the trick will be. Of course this is a fallacy, but it’s one that works for everyone – the ‘news’ website gets traffic, the people get entertained,” they say.

“That it’s become such a success story for viral news outlets is more concerning – the traffic these stories generate mean they often supersede actual news in terms or priority, even if the news is thoroughly entertaining. This is where I think we hit murky waters if we attempt to define our product as 'news'.”

It's true that there's room on the internet for everything and everyone, and optical illusions shouldn't disappear from our hearts and feeds, but it is fair to be worried about their prevalence online. When news websites sell stories as something “Only 2 per cent of people can see!!!”, we are simultaneously dumbing down and pretending we are smart. 

Besides, the legs clearly have white paint on them.

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