Image via gawker.com.
A holy war is being waged right now, people, but unless you regularly venture into the poorly lit, lawless backstreets of the Internet, the chances are you blissfully unaware of it.
For those who limit their social networking to the sunny, tree lined and visibly policed avenues of Facebook, reddit is a user generated news website that relies on individuals posting stories which are then rated by other users. If a story link or photograph are rated highly, the item moves up the ranks and may end up featuring on the site’s front page. It’s hands-off approach to moderation, combined with the anonymity provided by the internet and that innate desire in all of us for status among our peers, has led to significant controversies arising from the reddit community – namely people posting increasingly shocking and/or controversial threads or images to attract attention.
The holy war I speak of has come about because a writer from gawker.com decided to “dox” (internet slang for revealing the real world identity of a user) a poster named Violentacrez. Violentacrez had become somewhat infamous on reddit for generating increasingly tasteless content, including the famed “Jailbait” thread which first brought him to the attention of Adrian Chen, the gawker writer in question. “Jailbait” was a place where users could look at and post sexualised images of underage girls.
It’s horrific, obviously, but the fact that “Jailbait” was receiving millions of page views a month and was one of the more popular reddit sub-categories is not very surprising if you’re familiar with stats like “116,000 searches for child porn every day“. Other categories that Violentacrez was involved with included “Chokeabitch“, “Rapebait” and “Incest“.
You can see why “doxing” is considered a heinous crime in internet communities.
It’s obvious that the majority of the people using these categories have lives that are entirely separate to their online identities – lives that would crumble if it their predilections were exposed. Indeed, Adrian Chen’s decision to out Violentacrez, prompted after he became involved with a sub-reddit category “Creepshots”, has attracted massive criticism in the community, who feel their rights to privacy and free speech are under threat. Moderators on the site released the following statement on the politics thread in response to Chen’s move.
As moderators, we feel that this type of behavior is completely intolerable. We volunteer our time on reddit to make it a better place for the users, and should not be harassed and threatened for that. We should all be afraid of the threat of having our personal information investigated and spread around the internet if someone disagrees with you.
To reiterate, this statement was released by moderators of reddit, after a journalist named the man behind an internet thread that encouraged users to take and post upskirt photographs of young women without their consent. The guidance notes on the thread advise the protagonist to “Use stealth, cunning and deviousness to capture the beauty of [their] unsuspecting, chosen target.”
The darker side of humanity is something we prefer not to explore in polite society, but with every technological development that improves the internet, the notion that human beings are fundamentally good is increasingly difficult to sustain. Violentacrez is not the sinister, powerful force his online activities suggest, but a programmer with a financial services company, father, husband and cat lover. He’s the guy next door, but will be dismissed as a freak or a pervert by the majority, who cannot bring themselves to face the truth.
Not all of the people who make up the 116,000 searching for child porn on the internet, or trying to take photos of young girls on the bus to post on reddit, can possibly be weirdos, freaks, pervs or whatever other title we choose to dismiss them with. A decent proportion of them will be husbands, dads, college buddies – ‘normal’ guys who can cleverly mask the self-loathing, aggressive misogyny and pitilessness required to engage in such activities.
By pretending that they are anomalies, we perpetuate the sinister schism that has opened and into which these people can anonymously, inexorably slide and we never have to deal with it. But they don’t just go away. They find strength in numbers and kudos in breaking down societal boundaries that evolved to keep us civilised. Unless people like Adrian Chen expose them, they will evolve in that darkness and the consequences will impact us all.
I feel like my right to know if someone in my life was involved in such a thing trumps the ‘freedom of speech’ argument every time. Don’t you?