This article originally appeared on Geek Feminism.
So there’s Reddit. For the Reddit abstainers like me (I’m also not on Tumblr or Facebook, I’ll move on and set up neo-Luddite Feminism Blog any day now), a quick intro: discussion forum, encouraging the creation of Reddit subforums (subreddits) around any topic you can think of. Hugely popular: the mainstream press tends to cite Barack Obama’s Ask Me Anything thread as proof.
Reddit is strongly committed to what their users call freedom of speech, but that isn’t a very specific term on the Internet: it can mean anything from “I believe governments should not restrict expression” to “I believe that never deleting comments* from a forum improves the quality of discussion” to “I believe that never deleting comments from a forum is the only ethically correct way to run a forum.” (Or the disingenuous version: “I believe that I personally should be able to say what I want in any forum.”)
In Reddit’s case, freedom of speech basically amounts to “we believe that any user should be able to create a subreddit and moderate it how they and fellow moderators choose.” They host, for example, hate speech subreddits. They also until recently hosted r/CreepShots, a subreddit for sharing non-consensual photos of girls and women (up-skirting and such).
Over the last week, there’s been several eruptions around Reddit. Recently, Samantha** set up Predditors, which posts publicly available information about contributors to r/CreepShots, gathered from other sites linked to their Reddit pseudonym. It’s up and down: right now the first entry lists the full name, date of birth, employer, marital status and several photographs of one Eric Gore, Reddit username “ocbaud”, who submitted covert shots of women taken in his workplace. Jezebel posted about Predditors on October 10: How to Shut Down Reddit’s CreepShots Once and for All: Name Names. Predditors was temporarily closed by Tumblr shortly after, although at time of writing it is back with two profiles of Reddit users.
“Reddit’s defense of [CreepShots] is that it’s ‘technically legal,’ [Samantha**] explained. (The subreddit’s bio mansplains it well: “When you are in public, you do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. We kindly ask women to respect our right to admire your bodies and stop complaining.” You can also click here for information on how little Reddit’s administrators seem to care about policing the subreddit.) “So I’m doing something that’s technically legal, but will result in consequences for their actions. These fuckers think they can get away with it scot free, which is one of the reasons why sexual violence is so prevalent around the world.”
In addition, on October 12, Gawker published Adrian Chen’s Unmasking Reddit’s Violentacrez, The Biggest Troll on the Web, identifying Reddit user Violentacrez, a moderator of r/CreepShots and several other subreddits hosting racist, misogynist and/or sexually abusive content, as Michael Brutsch, a computer programmer in Texas. Brutsch apparently moderated most of the subreddits out of a commitment to a “I believe that never deleting forums from Reddit is the only ethically correct way to run Reddit” version of free speech, but was more personally interested in r/CreepShots, regularly contributed content. Chen also describes a reasonably close working relationship between Reddit staff and Brutsch, who was active in training other moderators, and in identifying illegal content so that Reddit could remove it (that they don’t want to host).
It’s not yet clear how things will go from here: will Predditors survive, will Samantha** survive burnout, will creep shots remnants pop up all over the web like zombies? (The last is already happening***.)
Some of Geek Feminism’s authors have had a backchannel discussion over the last year or so about various Database of Harassers proposals. The proposal there is for documentation of in-person harassment incidents, for people who would rather not make their harassment accusations public in a blog entry or etc for the usual reasons We’ve taken a pretty skeptical view of the likely success of such a project. What do you think? Does the success of the wiki’s own incidents listing (which relies on third party public reports) or Predditors change your opinion?
* No one seems to believe this about spam.
** The pseudonym that was used in the Jezebel article.
*** Link is to a Jezebel article, not directly to a creep shots site.
37 Replies to “Discussion starter: Reddit, Predditor, and outing bad behaviour”
Put bluntly, I have no sympathy for the people being “outed” on Predditors, or for Violentacrez. They’ve engaged in anti-social behaviour under the veil of anonymity, and now that anonymity is being stripped away and they have to face the consequences of their actions. As a woman, I object extremely strongly to the notion that my body is public property, available for anyone to photograph and comment on. If someone wishes to “admire” my body, they can do it without taking photographs, thank you very much.
I realise their “outing” is likely to have an impact on their workday lives. But I still have no sympathy. None of them were coerced into behaving in such a fashion (I am, of course, willing to hear of any actual evidence of coercion, such as actual, credible threats to person and family, or actual guns being held to actual heads). Really, if you think some aspect of your behaviour on the internet is going to impact poorly on your workday life, there’s a very simple remedy (and one women, racial and sexual minorities have been using since approximately forever): don’t do that.
[Context: I’m open online about being female, fat, forty-ish and mentally ill, despite the impact this is likely to have on my chances of being employed. I’m also open about writing fan fiction. If I’ve put it out there, I’m not ashamed of it. Contrariwise, if I’m ashamed of it offline, I won’t do it online.]
One part of me is very strongly happy to see some consequences for the predditors’ actions that they’ve felt so smug about for so long. The teacher who was fired after being outed for posting creepshots of a student definitely deserved to lose his job for that.
Another part of me feels that they’re now just more likely to go further underground, find some darker corners on the web to flaunt their disdain for the privacy of others. There’s of course some social value in showing them (and the lurkers) that what they do is so far beyond the boundaries of acceptable that going dark is necessary for them to continue getting away with it, but it’s certainly not going to stop all of them carrying right on doing it. For some of them that will only make it more exciting.
Then there’s the escalation issue. What will these people be looking to do in return to outers like “Samantha”?
I can’t say I like this. Yes, if someone is taking these photos in schools or workplaces, report them to those workplaces, schools, etc. But this is more than that – it’s the ‘eye for an eye’ style vigilante justice element that I don’t like.
Two wrongs don’t make a right and I don’t think that just because you’re doing something bad (public shaming and breach of privacy, potentially putting people in danger) to a bad person doesn’t make it less bad. I worry that this is falling into the same hole we always condemn when it comes to victim-blaming. The ‘you deserved it’ mentality. Sure there should be consequences, and women should be protected from this horrid behaviour, but posting this sort of information is not just protecting people, it’s attempting to punish and deter. And I do not think that that is okay in these circumstances.
In response to T’s comment: Calling people on bad behaviour doesn’t necessarily need to be a ‘punishment’ type scenario. And I think the Predditors Tumblr or things like it may serve as a way to get Reddit to start policing their own forums (which they were negligent in not doing, in my opinion – if not legally then definitely socially). In the ideal world (online and offline) your peers/families/workplace can signal to you if you’re breaching the bounds of acceptable behaviour. “Oi, that’s out of line”. Some online forums (clearly Reddit or some parts of it at least) have evolved to say ‘anything goes’. But I think that calling people on their actions when they are clearly harming other people is ok – in fact as moral humans I think it’s our responsibility – personally and collectively. It’s just a shame that really big communities like Reddit have adopted the “anything goes” mentality for so long, that people there are getting a shock when people call them on their crap. I think it’s especially important to be able to have a way to socially moderate peoples behaviour online because in many (most?) cases, reporting it to the police isn’t effective. In many online harrassment cases, they won’t get involved until something really serious (ie violent) has happened.
I have followed the discussion on the Reddit situation and outing the abusers. What I fail to understand is why the illegality of what the creepshots reddit is not being discussed. What this forum is/was doing is pedophilia and that is illegal and so it should have been shut down a long time ago on those grounds alone surely? So for me, this is not about ‘outing’ those who posted the upskirt shots/pics of underage girls in bikinis, but about not allowing posters to commit an illegal act. Beyond this, I think that outing posters for mysogynistic hate speech/pics is par for the course – as another commentator said, maybe this will focus the owners of Reddit’s minds on what they are allowing on their forum. Finally to address the Geek Feminism backchannel discussion – this is similar to the Dodgy Punter/Ugly Mugs scheme in the UK where sex workers report aggressive/suspect behaviour to a central source – if there are enough reports, then the police become involved and the information collected is then used to build a case. Central to this scheme is training for the people who take the report which allows the information legal status. So, I think the collection of such information is userful in the event of an incident that causes harm.
Which jurisdiction? That’s always the first question, when something is ‘illegal’ on the Internet.
My husband and I had a long talk about creepshots the other day. I hadn’t seen the predditors tumblr, so I wasn’t sure the extent of the information posted, so I was uncomfortably siding with it. Seeing it now, though, I do think it was one of the few reasonable options left. I don’t generally condone escalating behaviour, but creepshots has been discussed so many times, and any concerns so wholly dismissed, that it had become clear nobody was going to listen.
The action that was taken was a taste of their own medicine. They claim you can’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy in a “public place,” and nobody should complain – so what’s the problem with posting informaton that was already available in a public place to a blog, and why do they get to complain?
I don’t know if I totally like it, but I liked empowering creepshots through inaction a lot less.
My first thought about this was “what if she gets it wrong”? I’m not sure what methods she uses to unmask the redditers, but I’m sure it’s not 100% effective. And even if she posts an apology, nothing ever dies on the internet, so someone could end up explaining “it’s actually someone with a similar name who posts creepshots” for the rest of their life.
I’m also not sure how I feel about unmaking people on principle … this is something I actually have experience with, a (former) friend once posted photos of me from a trip to a mutual friend’s cottage on a “beautiful bottoms” forum. I already knew who he was, and he posted using his real name, so unmasking him wasn’t an issue. But I don’t think publicly shaming him would have made me feel any better, especially since this guy had a lot of problems, including a mental disability, and I don’t know how he would have reacted, since he felt justified in his behavior. I suspect he would not have been ashamed at all. I ended up having his friend talk to him, and stopped hanging out with him all together, and I don’t think he’s posted any such photos since.
Maybe it’s time for a “I’m the lady in the photo” teachable moment, a la Balpreet Kaur?
I realise Reddit isn’t a homogenous group, but I wouldn’t think that r/CreepShots would be less likely to harass a woman who showed up and was reading comments than r/Atheism proved to be.
Making yourself vulnerable to harassers, as Balpreet Kaur did so effectively, may or may not result in anyone learning anything, and it’s not in the power of the person being harassed.
I’m 100% okay with outing these guys. Holding people to their own standards seems reasonable to me, as does striking back at people who are doing you (and people like you) harm. If these creepers don’t believe their targets deserve a reasonable expectation of privacy or respect, I don’t believe the creeprs deserve a reasonable expectation of privacy or respect. If you’re posting creepshots of women doing ordinary things in public and sexualising them in public space, you’ve already said “we get to hurt people in real life with the internet, and that’s sexy and awesome!” and if people decide that means you get disgraced in public space, you started it and you earned it. When you hurt people using “free speech” and the manipulation of their selves/bodies/personae on the internet, you’ve antagonized people and shouldn’t be shocked when they treat you like you treat them. This isn’t “she had it coming because she dared to exist in public” this is “he had it coming because he was cruel in public.”
Frankly, I’d be viciously delighted to see a blacklist. I’d love to find out these guys will never hold jobs again, anywhere. But then, I’m a lot less “oh play nice with the bullies and don’t be mean or sink to their level and they’ll go away” than a lot of other folks. Seriously, has the pacifistic “if you do anything to respond you’re just as bad/don’t feed the trolls/two wrongs don’t make a right” thing ever worked???
Could such a database be modeled on WikiLeaks? I think transparency is key, submissions should be open, but that contributors and the hosting group would both need to be protected as well.
I’m a bit disturbed by some of the comments here favouring outing, because the comments follow the same pattern, and use the exact same arguments as those who advocate outting people as gay, trans*, and more. Especially the idea that outting will cause societies’ mob rule to deal with them.
I can answer the last comment about justification of outing. I wrote a blog entry about it here if anyone’s interested in it, but the essence of the argument is that it’s different from outing gay/trans/etc. people because the “Predditors” are actively harming people, and hiding in anonymity in order to avoid the social/legal/ethical consequences of their activity. Outing them forces them to account for their actions and can be a deterrent to others who might try to hide behind anonymity and behave in ways they wouldn’t associate their real names with.
I really agree with this. For me a big part is comparing the power differentials between the predditors and their victims: he was a grown man with fully developed frontal cortices who was stirring up shit on the internet for the fun of it by the sounds. In my eyes, privacy is due to people who have done nothing wrong. Outing people for other things is completely different; this person was being predatory, violating consent, etc etc.
I generally agree with the concept that in the absence of an engaged and credible authority, it’s worth identifying these posters. I’d be in favor of taking care when outing detailed personal information, but I think that in large part, people indulge in this behavior because they feel safe from repercussions.
In a very real sense, Reddit is saying they prefer these men feel safe on their site than that women feel safe both on their site and in the world. If this is the only way women can try to reclaim a modicum of security and respect, I will not be the one to say they should remain silent.
I wanted to put out there the point of view we don’t hear: a friend of mine had photos of her put on the web, not on Reddit but on another forum dedicated to creepshots. None of the photos featured nudity, most were pictures of her in sexy clothes at parties, being drunk and silly. The pictures were mostly taken from Facebook. However when they were posted in this forum with lots of really, really, disgusting commentary, and the effect was completely different. She asked the person who posted them to take them down, and he did, but then put them back up on a different thread in the same forum. The person who posted them invited other men on the forum to post degrading commentary and say what they wanted to do to her (sexual violence). My friend went through more than six months of hell. She was terrified each day of what new pictures of her would surface, and where on the web they’d be posted. The police basically shrugged and made her feel like a fool for even telling them about it. Most people she talked to were not supportive and told her to laugh it off, which made her feel even worse. She was terrified that her students would see the pictures, or her colleagues, since this would probably have led to her losing her job. She locked down her social media and eventually switched to all-new accounts on Facebook etc., which obviously meant she had to break a lot of online connections and friendships she’d made over the years.
My friend is a smart, tough, self-sufficient adult, and she went through hell, I can’t even imagine what it must be like for, say, a teenager to have to deal with this. So, yeah. In a perfect world, this harassment would be taken seriously by the police and would lead to arrests, but since we don’t live in that perfect world, I am 110% in favour of predditors and outing harassers.
There is an ongoing discussion/thread over at http://whatever.scalzi.com/ – the proprietor is (very) active at moderating his comment threads, so I thought some here might find it interesting.
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