Reddit controversy leaves lasting effects

Reddit logo.

Reddit logo.

Where is the line drawn on privacy on the Internet, and should journalists be hunting down and outing the personal information of previously anonymous users? Reddit, a popular news and content aggregator, has recently come into conflict with blog network Gawker after they hunted out the personal details of a user for an exposé on the seedier side of the website.

Reddit is divided into various communities called subreddits that can focus on any interest, hobby, or theme. One such less reputable group was the now defunct r/creepshots, where users shared candid and voyeuristic pictures of unsuspecting women. While creepy in its nature, the subreddit was not strictly illegal. As long as no child pornography was posted, it fit within legal limits. Still, many people found the content disturbing and called for the site to be taken down. An anonymous Internet user set up a Tumblr blog, which is no longer available to the general public, and began posting details on the lives of the posters, moderators, and administrators of r/creepshots. Eventually, the creator of the subreddit was blackmailed into taking down the group, but other users created similar communities and despite arguments within Reddit, r/creepyshots was born.

Things took a turn into touchy territory when Gawker journalist Adrian Chen began to investigate r/creepyshots. The piece focused on creepyshots moderator Michael Brutsch, who went by the username Violentacrez until the exposure of his private details and connection to his Internet activities forced him to delete his account. In fulfilling his hobby of “riling people up,” Brutsch created and participated in several ill-reputed subreddits with the intent of making people angry, disgusted, or offended.  He now fears for his livelihood, as connection to such actions caused him to be fired from his job.

The fallout of the Gawker article has produced considerable drama and controversy amongst the users of Reddit, with several prominent users and many involved in the outing of Brutsch deleting their accounts. On one side, users argue that Gawker violated Brutsch’s right to privacy and while not all support the content of r/creepyshots, some argue that its removal was a violation of free speech.

“Whether it’s Tom Hanks’s son, LucidEnding, the Daily Show’s supposed sexism, or Violentacrez, they’re always going to do takedown pieces,” a user who has deleted his account at the time of this writing commented. “The difference with the last one is that they’ve finally transitioned from picking out notable people or pulling pranks that just waste people’s time into singling people out and writing one of their for-profit takedowns.”

On the opposing side, many find the content disturbing and disgusting and call for its removal.

“Why shouldn’t someone online be subject to the same social pressures that shape and guide behavior in the real word?” Reddit user frolicofmyown asked.

Even the creator of Tumblr stumbled into the controversy.

“They can get away with it scot-free, which is one of the reasons why sexual violence is so prevalent around the world,” he said.

While Reddit strives to maintain their users right to free speech and privacy, the site administrators must handle situations of media controversy carefully. The backlash has caused many users to leave the site, and several subreddits have been closed down in the wake of r/creepyshot’s demise. Many users who had their identities revealed fear for their personal safety, and some claim to have been physically assaulted or harassed. Several other subreddits such as r/politics have begun boycotting links to Gawker and its affiliates and other groups with questionable content, fearing they may be the next targets of unwanted attention.