To the outside world last week's creeps-on-Reddit takedown kerfuffle looked like a defense of pornography while the Reddit community framed it as a defense of freedom of speech. However, a recent leaked chat between Redditors and the site's actual employees suggest that what they fear most is being Reddited themselves. Generally, Reddit admins don't get involved in what gets posted unless it breaks one of five rules, as General Manager Erik Martin explained to Buzzfeed last week. But, last week when a Jezebel post linked to Predditors, a Tumblr that violated the "no personal information" on Reddit creed, the moderators and admins got together to figure out what to do. Though vague, "personal information" includes anything that might incite "witch hunts and vigilantism" that "hurt innocent people."
This, of course, is a really weird principle to rally behind for the right to post the "real-life details" (like the cleavage of an unsuspecting woman) on a widely read website that just might be read by friends, employers, or total strangers with the very real potential to "hurt innocent people," which of course what the subreddit Creepshots was. But it was asserted over and over again after a Tumblr called Predditors, which turned the tables on the Creepshot redditors, got linked by a bunch of blogs like Jezebel and The Atlantic Wire. Reading the drama from the outside, you couldn't help imagine that you were peering into the Gchat of one of the nonvolunteer stars of Creepshots trying to figure out how to keep the information from spreading: "Deleting things that link to bad links is not sustainable," wrote one site admin. In other words: redditors got reddited and there is nothing Reddit can do about it. Redditors don't like that.
It is, in other words, a blaring double standard. Redditors get to post identifying information about people while assert a right to remain anonymous across all Internet platforms always and forever, no matter what they do. Reddit's ability to turn nobodies into celebrities is, in fact, one of Reddit's favorite things to do. Just this month, there was Alexander Rhodes, a guy who violated that "don't post personal information" rule by commenting how he is an extra credited as "Suspicious Onlooker" in the upcoming Tom Cruise movie Jack Reacher, linked to his IMDB page. His post became a meme and went to the site's front page. So did this self-congratulatory one: "MSN talks about Alexander Rhodes being ranked higher than Tom Cruise on imdb. Just keep looking at what we've done, reddit." Tom Cruise even tweeted about him. Rhodes is now hoping that the fame boosts his career, but his initial responses certainly captured the fear anyone who suddenly finds themselves being talked about all over the Internet by people they do not know has felt:
I'm still slightly freaking out have no idea how to react to this reaching #1 on the frontpage of Reddit.
You guys are hilarious. Hate you and love you at the same time and don't know what I'll do next week if the profile updates to the top 10 list or something.. probably will hide in my bathroom for a couple days and then laugh for the rest of the week. ... THANK YOU SO MUCH AND SCREW YOU GUYS
Turning someone else into a viral star is OK, but the redditors themselves don't want the same thing to happen to them. They assert a right to remain anonymous across all Internet platforms that casually and routinely deny their subjects. Once something gets traction of Reddit, web's army of Googling monkeys turn to unearthing every bit of digital information on that person. This isn't necessarily wrong, but it is how the online reporting eco-system works. And redditors should know that best.
How is that any different than what happened to Violentacrez a.k.a Michael Brutsch the man behind the jailbait subreddit? Gawker's Adrian Chen found something(s) he posted on the Internet and wanting to know about him did some searching, which led to his eventual outing on a website that isn't Reddit. But it's not okay for that to make its way onto the social news site because... ?
Some might argue it has to do with consequences. Rhodes got Internet famous in a good way, These Redditors don't want their Internetting to ruin their real lives. Brutsch posting under a new Reddit handle says he lost his job because of Chen's article. And certainly other moderators don't want to end up like him. As many who have become Internet famous before, it can be a double-edged sword. Take this Philadelphia police officer who got fired because of a video of him punching a woman that went viral on Reddit and elsewhere. People will disagree whether it's Brutsch losing his job is as "good" as this cop's, but let's set aside the notion that anonymity and protecting people from "real-life" consequences of online talk is a first principle of Reddit.
Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian said as much in an interview with The Verge's T.C. Sottek: "Just as social media and ubiquitous smartphones have enabled people to document and share police brutality (a positive for society), they also enable reprehensible behavior like taking and sharing these 'creepshots' (an obvious negative for society)." From this standpoint, Reddit is value-neutral, it's the people who use it who make moral choices. And that leads to lots of disagreements. For Jezebel's Katie J.M. Baker and the creator of Predditors, their efforts are a "positive for society."
Yet, it's still not okay to reddit the redditors. The site claims to operate under a free market, letting the subreddits do whatever they want. If the creeps of Reddits had made some other platform their home, Reddit would be all about it. But because this story is about redditors themselves, they don't like it. Welcome to the Internet jungle.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.