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Reddit Faces Challenges Over Site Censorship

Celebrity Leaks Removed By Admins

Freedom of speech is an enthusiastically defended aspect of internet culture, and the right to speak one’s mind online is often seen as a cornerstone of modern life. It is true that cyberspace provides a place where people can air issues and discuss problems which they would never be able to talk so openly about in the real world; the thriving LGBT communities and forums dedicated to mental health issues like Asperger’s are testament to the vital role which the internet plays in many people’s lives.

At the other end of the spectrum are those for whom freedom of speech means making crude racial slurs under YouTube videos of puppies or, as has dominated the headlines recently, publishing the private and explicit photos of celebrities. It is this latter contingent who has kicked up such a fuss over Reddit’s recent decision to shut down the subreddit r/TheFappening, the main distribution centre of many of the aforementioned images.

Reddit, the self-styled ‘front page of the internet,’ allows users to set up their own forums, known as subreddits, within the main site. There are subreddits dedicated to everything from pictures of baby elephants to world news, and are the primary contributor to the site’s ever-increasing popularity.

r/thefappening was the fastest-growing subreddit in the site’s history, attracting millions of new users in the few days in which it was active. It also led to Reddit being hit with a swathe of DMCA takedown notices from the legal teams of the individuals concerned, which the site’s admins stated was the primary reason for the action which they took: they weren’t prepared to have Reddit be the host for such flagrantly illegal activity.

Two issues caused a little consternation among users, however. The first was a blog post put up at the same time as r/thefappening was taken, the content of which seemed to suggest that there was as much an ethical bent to the decision as a legal one. Not only did this smack of censorship for many, but it opened the door to the observation that Reddit hosts many subreddits which plenty of people would consider far more disreputable than pictures of naked celebrities and which the site admins have taken little action against.

The second was a slight variant on this apparent hypocrisy on the part of Reddit’s admins; namely, that they allowed the forum to stay active for a week (bringing in a host of new viewers and thus advertising money to the site) until they suddenly shut it down claiming a confused mixture of legal threats and moral indignation. Many have also pointed out that these celebrities’ pictures are not the only illegally obtained pornographic material on the site – it just so happens that the average person can’t afford the lawyers which Jennifer Lawrence can.

The site was certainly in a prickly position, and their handling of the issue after the fact is perhaps to be criticised more than anything else. But the issue serves to highlight growing tension between the internet as a bastion of free speech and its growing role as a place where real crimes take place and which existing laws are ill-suited to dealing with.


Douglas is an English Literature graduate who has written about everything from music to food to theatre, now a content creator for Social Media Frontiers. No topic too large or too small. Follow him @DouglasAtSMF.

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Reddit Faces Challenges Over Site Censorship Reviewed by Douglas Clarke-Williams on Tuesday, September 09, 2014 Rating: 5
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