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With a Media War Brewing, Reddit Faces Its Biggest Decision Yet

The "front page of the Internet" chooses between r/creepshots and being a media player.
October 12, 2012, 2:36am

Violentacrez, a Reddit user who made a name for himself by moderating r/creepshots dedicated to taking creepy and explicit pictures of women in public, recently deleted his account. Now the reason has dropped: Adrian Chen of Gawker, who’s vocally not a fan of Reddit, was apparently near posting an article href="">revealing the identity of Violentacrez, who also had heavy involvement in r/jailbait before it was shut down.


It’s now brewing into a real shitstorm. Chen (and Gawker) have long battled with Reddit; Chen once tried to convince the community that he was the user LucidEnding, whose href="">class="caps">AMA about taking his life before succumbing to terminal cancer blew up on the site. But while that was cause for animosity, Chen’s apparent doxing of a famously (and disgustingly) sleazy member of some of Reddit’s foulest areas has infuriated other moderators. Now the mods of r/politics have banned all Gawker posts, with href="">other major subreddits following.

Both href="">Betabeat and href="">the New Statesman have good rundowns of Gawker’s history with Reddit, which both mostly focus on how absurdly creepy and offensive Reddit can get. Reddit administrators — you know, the actual bosses — have yet to say anything, as has been href="">incorrectly reported elsewhere. But a website war is brewing, and all blog posts point to it being thermonuclear.


Gawker’s ban isn’t site-wide, and guessing by how hands-off Reddit’s bosses are in the operations of individual subreddits, it likely won’t be. Still, if major subreddits ban Gawker links, Gawker Media’s cadre of blogs are likely to see a hit to their traffic. But all Gawker properties have large readerships, and it’s tough to tell if Reddit even makes up much of their traffic flow. (For a small blog, Reddit can be a boon, but it might be small for a big one. But then again, a big blog might have more posts submitted and upvoted in Reddit’s system.) If the flurry of posts about the current battle is any indicator, Gawker itself would probably get a boost from taking on Reddit, but that might not trickle down to Jalopnik and Kotaku, who both have posts on Reddit regularly.

For its part, Reddit is such a behemoth that the loss of one source of content isn’t going to do much, but the site’s seedier sections have been cause for ire in web media for ages. If there really is some sort of web war between Reddit and Gawker, there are a whole lot of bloggers and journalists that would love to pile on in attacking Reddit. There are plenty of defenders of Reddit, to be sure; and yeah, the site does aggregate thoughtful posts and cat pictures on top of underage quasi-porn. But for Redditors that prize the site’s anything-goes culture, the media shining its light on Reddit’s darker sections would likely result in a cleanup. That’s how r/jailbait and other pedophilic subreddits got axed last year.

War or not, Reddit’s own code of freedom of information is facing an increasing groundswell of public scrutiny. The code is amusingly hypocritical: On Reddit, anything — cute, intelligent, or skin-crawlingly offensive — goes, even if its peephole shots in a bathroom. But as soon as Reddit stuff crosses over into real life, like Chen’s threat of a dox, people freak out. I mean, Gawker being banned for sharing information? That’s a pretty amusing reaction from moderators defending a guy who created the subreddit for posting lewd pictures of unknowing women, which he and others defending by saying that their subjects had no right to privacy because they were in public.

But Reddit bills itself as the front page of the internet, and it’s become such a ridiculous megalith by providing an impartial platform for everything on the Internet. And like the Internet, Reddit’s freedom has given a platform for individuals to spread filth right along with puppy videos. The only issue is that, while that filth has been driven more and more underground on the web, Reddit’s system is designed to make that content more visible, more searchable, and more accessible. You can’t just Google “naked high school girl” and expect to find much, but there was a time when all you had to do was type r/jailbait.

That’s since been rightfully axed, mostly do to public backlash, and there were Redditors furious about the supposed censorship. To be fair (and I think a lot of assessments of the site miss this point), Reddit is a massive community; for all the assholes whinging about freedom of speech and invoking the First Amendment to defend their ruthless invasion of others privacy, there were plenty of others applauding the change. Still, the supposed war coming between Gawker and Reddit isn’t the big news here. It’s that, as media sentiment increasingly solidifies against Reddit for providing an unchecked platform for sick individuals, Reddit faces a big decision about its future.

The site is still one of the biggest and most important sites on the web, and recently has signaled that it’s interested in developing more original content in an attempt to grow even bigger. There’s no denying that everyone on the web drools over its massive user base, and Reddit’s higher-ups know they can leverage that. And whatever it does — start flagging users, bring r/jailbait back, or whatever — Reddit is still going to maintain a ton of those users. But if the begrudgingly-accepting web environment turns hostile towards Reddit, it’s going to see a lot of its opportunities disappear. So the decision must be made: Does Reddit want to risk its brand equity on defending the quasi-legal and extremely distasteful posting of some of its members (if Condé Nast, its owner, will even let it), or will it start cleaning house? Either way, there’s one thing that won’t change: the legions of Redditors that are href="">fired up for another Internet shitstorm.