[Editors note: The New York Times weighed in with “When the Web’s Chaos Takes an Ugly Turn“, which includes several quotes from Tufekci.]
Reddit may be the most important Internet forum that you have never heard of. It has more than a billion page-views a month, originates many Internet memes, brilliantly exposes hoaxes, hosts commentary on everything ranging from the trivial to the most serious–and it is the forum that President Barack Obama chose for his “ask me anything” session. Part of Reddit’s success has been due to it’s “live and let live” ethos in sub-forums, called “subreddits.” These sub-forums are created and moderated by volunteers with little or no interference from Reddit, whose parent company is the publishing conglomerate Condé Nast. This delegation approach facilitates Reddit’s business model, allowing it to operate with a comparatively small paid staff. However, the sub-forums that have flourished under this model are at times predatory and disturbing. For instance, “jailbait” was dedicated to sexually suggestive pictures of minors, and “creepshots” specialized in nonconsensual revealing photos of of women in public places–including infamous “upskirt” photos.
The brewing controversy came to a turning point last week after the infamous moderator of sub-forums “jailbait”, “creepshots”, “rape”, “incest”, and “PicsOfDeadKids” was outed by Gawker. The moderator, “Violentacrez”, was revealed to be 49-year-old computer programmer Michael Brutsch. Outing a person’s name, or “doxxing”, is one of the few things that Reddit bans outright. Thus, Reddit chose to ban all links to Gawker from the site, but later rescinded the decision. The issue has been taken up in high-profile Reddit forums like “politics” an “TIL” (“Today I Learned”). Michael Brutsch, meanwhile, lost his job.