Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, Kaley Cuoco, and Kirsten Dunst are just a few of the celebrities who saw their iCloud accounts hacked, their personal pictures stolen, and those pictures subsequently posted on the internet for the entire world to see. Yes, they're all public people, but their private lives were, until this week, private.
And although the media outrage over the dissemination of the stolen photos has been loud and clear this week, it looks like many Redditors remain undeterred.
While the FBI has launched an investigation into the theft of these photographs, at least one person at the center of story isn't hiding. His username on the Reddit is "Johnsmcjohn," and as Caitlin Dewey, who tracked his online persona for a story in The Washington Post on Friday put it, "If you’ve seen the photos, [John] is, to large degree, the person who made that possible."
Although the pictures were originally disseminated through the anonymous community on 4Chan, and the actual thieves remain unknown, most people first saw them in a forum on Reddit that became a organized depository for the collected images. "John" has been one of the lead moderators for that particular subreddit, helping to keep the photos organized, weeding out fakes, unrelated and illegal images, and bringing a eerie sense of order to chaos.
In her investigation, Dewey found that "John" — unlike many of Reddit's most well-known users — has made no apparent effort to hide his real identity. His Twitter profile is public, he is still active on Reddit, and he has even openly celebrated the traffic the stolen pictures have contributed to his message board. Even though his real name appears on profiles on other websites, Dewey chose not to publish it, offering a better privacy deal than the actresses whose photos he collected ever got.
"Thank you to everyone who has made this possible. It's been great watching and helping this place grow. :)", "John" posted in his Reddit forum on Tuesday.
Followers have also taken to Reddit to heap praise on John. Yesterday, a user called "YOU_WANT_ANTS" publicly thanked Johnsmcjohn. "There has been so much shit posting and misinformation the mods have done a great job of keeping it under control. Cheers..." the user wrote on. The post quickly had 41 comments ranging from "I LOVE YOU" to "My new hero."
So with little fear of retribution, under the new and popular mantra of Internet freedom, there seems to be a growing consensus in some corners of the web that it's okay, even laudable, to disseminate and organize any information no matter the ethical nature of its source.
Update: On Saturday evening, Reddit CEO Yishan Wong wrote a blog post defending his site's action on the principles of free speech, saying "we believe that you - the user - has the right to choose between right and wrong, good and evil, and that it is your responsibility to do so." However, at almost the exact same time, Reddit moderators banned the most popular subreddit where the pictures were being posted, saying it was for other violations of Reddit rules.