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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“Nudges were not for flirting”: growing up on MSN Messenger

New Statesman staff discuss the hundreds of hours they spent on the instant messaging site – and why it was eventually time to move on. 

With us are princess_in_waiting (who usually goes by Barbara Speed, tech and digital culture writer), iwalkalonelyroad (Stephen Bush, special correspondent), cazzie_alice1988 (Caroline Crampton, web editor), and insanelycheerful (Anna Leszkiewicz, pop culture writer).

We've reluctantly decided not to use our preferred MSN colours and fonts in the following conversation. You're welcome. 

Let’s talk about usernames. Why were they so embarrassing? What was their purpose?

insanelycheerful: This was the email I signed up with, which my best friend chose for me. I suppose I wanted it to convey the fact that I was upbeat to the point of mental illness, which feels starkly opposed to my current self. As I remember it, a lot of my peers had a similarly flippant approach to mental health at the time with usernames like “xXJustALittleBitMentalXx”.

iwalkalonelyroad: I used quotes from song lyrics – mainly by Green Day, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Avril Lavigne, god, I had terrible music taste as a teenager. I also used my name and a dash and the words "A Wide Eyed Wanderer" because I used to write fanfic under that name.

insanelycheerful: Yeah, it was the done thing to have a song lyric – I can’t remember doing it myself, but I remember a boy I had a crush on had the first line of Kanye’s "Homecoming" as his. I had no idea what it was but googled it and started a conversation with him by sending him the next line, like, “Yeah, I totally get and enjoy this song too, fellow human. *sunglasses emoji*​

princess-in-waiting: Mine was also my hotmail, and I really have no idea why. I didn't particularly like princesses.

cazzie_alice1988: Mine was a nickname nobody ever called me (but I secretly wished they would) combined with my middle name and the year I was born.

What about your special font and font colour?

princess-in-waiting: I favoured purple, a colour I now hate.

cazzie_alice1988: Always green. And I liked "classy" fonts like Garamond. What a combination.

iwalkalonelyroad: I liked Garamond too! I went through phases with fonts but changing the colour was definitely a girl-only thing at school. But mainly I used things like High Tower Text or Garamond, before I got obsessed with Penguin Classics and Gill Sans.

cazzie_alice1988: I can actually trace my interest in how the internet works back to changing the font on MSN... I got really into making custom greens with hex codes, which lead to me first learning HTML.

iwalkalonelyroad: Were you one of those people with a bespoke MySpace?

cazzie_alice1988: YES. Sometimes I would get the width of the boxes wrong and it would look like The End of Times had come.

princess-in-waiting: Wow, I never did anything that useful. My only "skill" was the sheer number of chats I'd have open at once.

cazzie_alice1988: I am so jealous. Our family PC could only handle about three at a time. What was your record?

princess-in-waiting: Eight? Including group ones, but then obviously with individual chats with each person outside it discussing the non-conversation in the group chat.

Set the scene. Where was the computer you used? When would you go online? 

cazzie_alice1988: Ours was in what we called the study, which was like the end of the hall with a desk and a book shelf. It didn't have a door, just an archway. I used to minimise windows anytime anyone walked past

princess-in-waiting: Mine faced directly onto our kitchen/dining room for a while, so I think I went for little gnarled fonts so conversations couldn't be read over my shoulder… I would go on for 1-2 hours a night if not more, which must have been infuriating for everyone else in the house.

insanelycheerful: I started using my mum’s computer, which was in her office downstairs (she worked from home). But shortly after I got a computer in my own room, for “homework”. When I had my own computer I think I was on from the second I got home from school until the second I went to bed, with a short break for dinner in the middle. The banality of the conversations were stunning. I would mostly just talk to my best friend and narrate the absolute minutia of whatever else I was doing at the time. Like, drinking a squash.

iwalkalonelyroad: By that time my mum was working as a vicar so we had this huuuge house with a study where the computer was, which meant it was very private, and my mum has always been very hippy-dippy about privacy so would always knock, but I was liable to get kicked off if she needed to write a sermon/plan a funeral/have a confidential vicar meeting.

cazzie_alice1988: Same - I remember having to disconnect for ten minutes at a time so my parents could make phone calls. So annoying - the boy I liked might get bored and go and do something else! Muuuuum! Etc.

iwalkalonelyroad: Heh, so what I regard as the MSN era happily coincided with the diocese agreeing to pay for broadband so we didn't have any of that "Get off the internet, I'm waiting for a phone call"  - thankfully, because the phone was always ringing off with calls from church people.

princess-in-waiting: How The Church Gave Me My Social Life: The Stephen Bush Story. I definitely think it was a precursor to WhatsApp/Facebook culture, in that things would happen at school which no one would really discuss, then we'd all race for the family computer when we got home to dissect everything

cazzie_alice1988: Totally: I also had a lot of friends who didn't go to the same school as me, who I only saw in lunchtimes or on MSN.

Let's talk a bit about etiquette. In what conditions would you use a nudge? And would you do that awful thing of appearing offline and only talking to your faves from behind a ghostly grey avatar?

cazzie_alice1988: Totally yes to the latter. I almost never went fully public.

iwalkalonelyroad: Everyone had that one friend who no-one wanted to talk to who you would all immediately appear offline to. And occasionally something big would happen on one chat and you'd appear offline so you could talk about how best to put your moves on. Nudges were for two things. When someone was being rubbish about replying to a plan for the weekend, and for flirting.

cazzie_alice1988: Nooooo, nudges were not for flirting! I think I used to do them to my friends, but never anyone I fancied. "COME BACK HERE PLATONIC FRIEND, YOU DIDN'T SAY WHAT TIME WE'RE MEETING." 

What about arguing? Flirting? 

iwalkalonelyroad: Never really had a big argument, although did have a very tense conversation with a friend after it came out we had been catfishing him for the best part of a term. It got deep and meaningful. A lot of song lyrics in usernames that day.

cazzie_alice1988: I don't remember ever having a proper argument either. It was mostly very tense and passive aggressive, always dancing around the subject but never really tackling it. Just as I'd never say "I fancy you, shall we go out sometime", I'd never have said "I'm really upset with what you did". Nothing makes me happier than knowing time is taking me further away from the terrifying era of "[yourcrush] is typing a message".

princess-in-waiting: I’m not sure I even ever did what an outsider would consider flirting. A boy once told me a long story about what I thought was real life paintballing but in fact was a videogame, and asked me out at the end, and I was like “Is this what dating is like?! This is mystifying to me.”

iwalkalonelyroad: I think this is an interesting gender divide in that I think some of the conversations I look back on and go "Yeah, that laid the foundations of the few enduring friendships I have from school" were on MSN, because we could be more honest to each other. But then, boy, "flirting" (in heavy inverted commas), what a nightmare that was. I spent the best part of my time on MSN nudging back a girl on Messenger from some afterschool thing. We never talked in real life. Or indeed, on MSN.

princess-in-waiting: Looking back I really don’t know what we were talking about for all those hours, but there was something comforting in that "hey"/ "hey" / "wuu2" / "nm" / "me either" / "u do that history thing yet" / "nah" nothingy conversation.

insanelycheerful: Conversations with my best friend would swing from, “The jumper hanging from the back of my door kind of looks like a face” to “Never speak to me again you cruel and heartless monster!!!” in under 60 seconds. I spent hours locked in a circular conversation with a crush who would try and guess who my crush was (I never admitted it was him, at one point making up a fake crush on a different boy in an attempt to both throw him off the scent and force some confidence). I also remember some darker things too, like less popular girls being invited into group chats only to be terrorised for their looks by the boys who started the thread. It was a semi-anonymous, unregulated microcosm that could accelerate intimacy and aloofness with equal measure.

What would you have been doing instead, a) before MSN existed and b) if you were a teen now?

iwalkalonelyroad: Talking on landlines. Hanging around in parks. Even more hanging around in parks.

cazzie_alice1998: Probably writing it all in a diary (I used to keep one obsessively before my family got the internet, it had a padlock and everything). I also had a secondary volume I wrote in the character of Hermione Granger. My sister (who is 6 years younger than me) is all about Facebook and WhatsApp. I think the fact that my sister could be in her room on her own laptop with the door closed made my parents way more suspicious of what she was doing, and their relationships were strained as a result.

princess-in-waiting: Now I think we'd be doing the same, but over Snapchat and group WhatsApp. Though the constant availablility must sap some of the excitement.

iwalkalonelyroad: Everyone thinks that the times they live in are the end times, etc, but am glad that my mum's work meant that I was continually getting kicked off the desktop PC. It wasn't 24-7, like it would be today.

insanelycheerful: Before MSN I spent each night racking up horrific phone bills on our landline, via three hour conversations to my best friend’s house (my mum had to teach me to hang up at 59 minutes and call back to avoid extra charges). In 2016, every teenager has their phone on them all the time, so I’d assume that the main difference for teens is that the MSN-style chat has become more all-consuming, which feels utterly terrifying. School time and MSN time could never overlap when I was at school.

What about code words, acronyms, and emoticons? 

iwalkalonelyroad:"brb" was basically the all-purpose "I'm being asked to do chores, my mum's in the room, someone's called for me on the landline, the doorbell's rung", etc.

cazzie_alice1988: And brb was torture, because it could mean "my mum's called me to have dinner" or "I'm slagging you off to other people right now".

iwalkalonelyroad: Speaking of codes, a friend of mine used to seriously claim until, like, 2011, that he had invented "BTW". He claimed that one day, in conversation, he used it, and then it "started to get around".

princess-in-waiting: My favourite emoticon was always the upside down smiley face. I was delighted when it became an emoji for real.

iwalkalonelyroad: I think my favourite was probably :wink: . Lot of plausible deniability with winky-face.

When did you stop using MSN? Why? 

cazzie_alice1988: I went to university and suddenly everything was on email... 

iwalkalonelyroad: Somehow I associate the last gasp of MSN with study leave and that very long summer from the end of secondary school to us all going our separate ways. Mobiles became widespread and then Facebook happened.

cazzie_alice1988: I think there was also a sense that we knew it was a bit childish, so you had MSN friends and then new people you met as a "grown up" didn't get connected with it.

iwalkalonelyroad: Yeah, definitely. And there was also an economic aspect in that at secondary school we were all broke and stuck and each other's houses. (we had a lot of "x says y" passing on in convos) but then at sixth form we had the amazing EMA grant.

princess-in-waiting: On that note, I gtg.

cazzie_alice1988: brb.

iwalkalonelyroad: *appears offline*​

insanelycheerful: ttyl!

princess-in-waiting: *opens other window to discuss you all with each other*

This piece is part of our themed Internet Histories week. See the rest of the stories here