Last night Redditors and Reddit spectators who attempted to check out /r/TheFappening, the dumping ground for the hacked/stolen personal photos of various female celebrities last week, were met with a big surprise: the subreddit has been banned. A victory indeed! But it's bittersweet—it wasn't exactly a decision of ethics, but rather legal convenience.
The banning is definitely good news, however as always, there's more to the story. Last night, there was a bit of confusion and therefore a rage shitstorm in response to the banning of The Fappening. See, around the same time, Reddit user yishan, aka CEO of Reddit Yishan Wong posted a note to redditblog discussing the celebrity hack and Reddit's response in a post entitled "Every Man Is Responsible For His Own Soul" (oh great). In it, yishan discusses Reddit's response, and why Reddit was not going to change their position:
While current US law does not prohibit linking to stolen materials, we deplore the theft of these images and we do not condone their widespread distribution.
Nevertheless, reddit's platform is structurally based on the ability for people to distribute, promote, and highlight textual materials as well as links to images and other media. We understand the harm that misusing our site does to the victims of this theft, and we deeply sympathize.
Having said that, we are unlikely to make changes to our existing site content policies in response to this specific event.
Translated: Hey guys, we don't really like it when you do shitty things. I mean, we want you to feel comfortable doing shitty things, and sorry not sorry to those who have been the target of shitty things. But we're not going to really do anything about the shitty things that we're not specifically legally bound to do. Shitty right? Yishan goes on, expounding on the virtues of free speech and the personal agency of individual users in deciding "between right and wrong, good and evil," putting the responsibility of moral action on the individuals. Because (while noble and optimistic) that has gone so very well on the internet in general:
You choose what to post. You choose what to read. You choose what kind of subreddit to create and what kind of rules you will enforce. We will try not to interfere - not because we don't care, but because we care that you make your choices between right and wrong.
Virtuous behavior is only virtuous if it is not arrived at by compulsion. This is a central idea of the community we are trying to create.
LOLOLOL. Okay, so if we're going to get all Aristotle/Nicomachean Ethics on this shit, I think it's pretty important to note that by Aristotle's standards, ignorant people, people who are drunk or in a rage or those of "bad character" are technically unable to make a virtuous decision. I'm willing to wager that there are plenty of Redditors (as there are plenty of Kinja users, Twitterers, Facebookers, and um, humans) who fall under such a category. But I digress.
Redditors were confusenraged as to why the site would herald their commitment to freedom of speech, and then turn around and ban what some incredibly misguided users see as a testament to freedom of speech. Redditor alienth, aka Reddit systems administrator Jason Harvey, gave a very detailed rundown of exactly what happened and exactly why /r/TheFappening was banned. And it basically came down to the same kind of whack-a-mole race that has affected our site and, in general, permeates the internet:
The situation we had in our hands was the following: These subreddits were of course the focal point for the sharing of these stolen photos. The images which were DMCAd were continually being reposted constantly on the subreddit. We would takedown images (thumbnails) in response to those DMCAs, but it quickly devolved into a game of whack-a-mole. We'd execute a takedown, someone would adjust, reupload, and then repeat. This same practice was occurring with the underage photos, requiring our constant intervention.
It became obvious that we were either going to have to watch these subreddits constantly, or shut them down. We chose the latter. It's obviously not going to solve the problem entirely, but it will at least mitigate the constant issues we were facing. This was an extreme circumstance, and we used the best judgement we could in response.
(Note: A DMCA—Digital Millennium Copyright Act—takedown is when a site removes content at the owner's request.)
There you have it. Reddit took down TheFappening because they simply couldn't keep up with the bullshit that, personal opinions aside, turned their response to a massive violation of privacy into nothing more than a comment about being understaffed and overwhelmed. Meanwhile, 4chan has adopted a DMCA takedown option.
I am, of course, glad that /r/TheFappening is gone. But it looks like that's only because the victims are socially visible enough to warrant immediate DMCA notices and because the trolls are just too good at trolling.
Screenshot via Reddit.