♀ Translation from Weasel-Speak to English of Reddit CEO's Recent "Modtalk"


Gawker’s Adrian Chen recently leaked a memo from Reddit CEO Yishan Wong, in which Wong clarifies Reddit’s values with regard to free speech and “doxing”, or publicly posting personal, identifying information about others. With deference to John Gruber, I will now interpret this memo in full.

There sure has been a lot of trouble lately for reddit[sic], and I’d like to talk a bit about that before I nip off for a spot of tea.

I’m going to explain why it’s only “asking for it” when we’re talking about a woman being raped.

We’d like to chart the right course for reddit’s future, and we are taking this seriously.

I’m so serious about it I put off having tea to write this, guys.

We stand for free speech.

We stand for free speech for Redditors.

This means we are not going to ban distateful subreddits. We will not ban legal content even if we find it odious or if we personally condemn it.

We know /r/creepshots and its ilk drive a ton of our traffic, so we’re going to keep them around.

Not because it’s the law in the United States - because as many people have pointed out, privately-owned forums are under no obligation to uphold it -

Shut up, haters.

but because we believe that ideal independently, and that’s what we want to promote on our platform.

If we started censoring misogyny and bigotry, eventually people would be clamoring for us to censor more legitimate content, and we don’t want to open that door.

We are clarifying that now because in the past it wasn’t clear, and (to be honest) in the past we were not completely independent and there were other pressures acting on reddit. Now it’s just reddit, and we serve the community, we serve the ideals of free speech, and we hope to ultimately be a universal platform for human discourse

Those squares over at Condé Nast just wanted to stifle us, the real journalists.

(cat pictures are form of discourse).

You should now never listen to another thing I say about “discourse”.

We also know that this will be a difficult course to take. We know that some will not agree with us. And we even know that we may not succeed, or that we may even be forced to compromise.

We’re pre-blaming any censorship we eventually decide to do on unidentified outside forces who just don’t love freedom as much as we do.

But we also think that if someday, in the far future, we do become a universal platform for human discourse, it would not do if in our youth, we decided to censor things simply because they were distasteful.

Our grandiosity knows no bounds.

Our rules today include the following two exceptions:

1. We will ban illegal content, and in addition sexualized pictures of minors, immediately upon any reports to us.

We will ban illegal content. Sort of. Mostly. Depends on your definition of illegal, and which state you live in. Sexualized pictures of minors are fine if no one can prove they’re underage.

We gave our rationale for that back when that issue was resolved, and we will maintain that policy for the same reasons.

We don’t want to get sued or jailed, which is why we’re sticking with plausible deniability, so you can quit your whining, perverts.

2. We will ban the posting of personal information (doxxing), because it incites violence and harassment against specific individuals.

We will ban the posting of personal information because if people could be held accountable for what they post we wouldn’t get all this lovely linkbait.

The current events have made it clear that the implementation of #2 requires some development.

All this bad publicity is hurting us, so we’re going to make a token change to the rule.

Those of us who’ve been around are familiar with the reasons behind that rule, the destructive witchhunts in reddit’s past against both users and mods - even people who had no idea what ‘reddit’ was - prompted suspicion and ire, and often ending with undeserved harassment, death threats, job loss, or worse for the affected individual.

Getting a taste of our own medicine is just the worst.

Even reddit’s favorite journalist Adrian Chen once wrote an article decrying the practice and mob mentality behind it (see:

Adrian Chen’s story of the totally baseless persecution by Redditors of what turned to be a lovely young woman attempting to raise money for a children’s hospital shows how terrible it is when people persecute Redditors. In other news, we have always been at war with Eastasia.

But our ability to enforce policy ends at the edges of our platform.


And one of the key functions of our platform is the sharing of content on the internet. I’m sure you see the problem.

With the entire internet turning against us, how else can we post links to things on the internet?

So we must draw a line, and we’ve chosen to do the following:

1. We will ban doxxing posted to reddit.
2. We will ban links to pages elsewhere which are trivially or primarily intended for the purposes of doxxing (e.g. wikis or blogs including dox)

In response to public outcry against our banning of links to Gawker articles, we’ve decided to ban links to even more sites.

But, we will not ban things which are legitimate investigative journalism.

This is how we’ve made our peace with tacitly encouraging trolls and relying on them to do our dirty work but trying to stay buddy-buddy with the members of the press who out them.

Free speech is expressed most powerful[sic] through the press, and many times throughout history a bad actor has been exposed by an enterprising (even muckraking) journalist,

Screw you, Adrian Chen.

and it has been to the benefit of society. We include in this definition blog posts that a reasonable person would consider a piece of journalism that happens to include a link to #2 above.

I hereby designate all Redditors “reasonable people” and empower them to decide when we should engage in censorship.

We recognize that there will be a continuum between trivially obvious doxxing sites (e.g. a wiki page entitled “Collect the dox here!”) and “true” journalism, but the world requires judgment calls so the area in between will be where we focus our efforts in adjudication.

I put the word “true” in scare quotes so you would know I don’t really mean it.

I do believe that reddit is in some ways like a city-state, and we need to move towards transparent and codified systems of enforcement. We hope to make these calls together in a helpful, precedent-setting manner.

If I use lots of official-sounding words like “adjudication”, “codified”, and “precedent”, no one will see through us when we decide to keep censoring anyone who makes it harder for us to be hateful and creepy. Plus, in the future when anyone criticizes us for censorship, we can blame it on our “systems of enforcement”.

We know that some of you may not agree with where we’ve drawn the line. But this is our best judgment given the competing principles at stake. We want to do it openly and honestly, even if it is imperfect, and we do it because reddit needs a decision in order to move forward. We ask that you support us.

We encourage all you decent, humane people outraged by the misogyny, racism, homophobia, and pedophilia we’ve been permitting to quit being babies.

There is another thing.

I will now say the same thing a different way.

Let’s be honest, this ban on links from the gawker[sic] network is not making reddit look so good.

I hate it when we lose money, you guys! Also, capitalizing stuff is really hard. Don’t you hate using the Shift key? You have to move your entire hand over, like, half an inch! Then your little finger is totally useless while you’re doing it; don’t even get me started on capital “z”s.

While the ban was originally being discussed by mods, we were discussing it internally too. We even briefly considered the consequences of a site-level ban on the entire gawker network,

We really wanted to do a site-level ban, but then we pansied out, because money beats principles every time.

and realized three things about it:

1. It would ultimately be ineffective at stopping off-site doxxing. People who want to go after someone off-site would still do it. They have plenty of other megaphones besides reddit.

If only there were some way to keep people from operating websites that aren’t Reddit.

2. It would definitely raise the profile of the issue with the general public, and result in headlines like “gawker exposes creepster; reddit engages in personal vendetta to defend pedophile.”

We know because we’ve already seen hundreds of headlines exactly like this.

This would hardly help us explain the problem of irresponsible release of personal information to the general public.

All this reasonable criticism is really cramping our ability to convince people that it’s consistent on our part to permit violating the privacy of underage girls but forbid simply printing the real names of some of our more disgusting, subhuman users.

3. Practically speaking, it wouldn’t really deter or hurt gawker anyways. This is in contrast to domain banning spammers, where it is not just punitive, it literally stops the spam.

I can’t even tell you how much I wish we could stop Gawker.

We do believe that doxxing is a form of violence, rather unique to the internet.

(Unlike upskirt photos, which are a form of violence unique only to slimy perverts.)

Even innocent individuals can be accidentally targeted due to mistaken identities - a key difference between online mobs versus with journalists who have a system of professional accountability.

The only real problem with our appalling behavior of late is that we occasionally get our facts wrong.

And we believe that while we can prohibit it on our platform, we can only affect the opinion of others outside of reddit via moral suasion and setting an example.

The real bad guys here are the people who call us out for our hateful habits.

From the time when reddit first banned doxxing on its platform, I feel that there has been a change in the general attitude towards doxxing on the internet. It’s still widespread, but we made a clear statement that it was a bad thing, worth exercising restraint over.

We’ve encouraged other people to believe that internet anonymity results in a net benefit to everyone, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

TL;DR: We stand for freedom of speech.

We don’t stand for freedom of speech.

We will uphold existing rules against posting dox on reddit.

What we actually stand for is saying whatever we want without consequences.

But the reality is those rules end at our platform, and we will respect journalism as a form of speech that we don’t ban. We believe further change can come only from example-setting.

We know we lost this one.

All of us at reddit work here because we think that reddit is a community like none other.

(i.e., the kind that makes us rich)

We think it can be a powerful force to change the world for the better.

Where “better” really means “worse”.

There are numerous examples of how we - all together - have already begun to do this in small and large ways.

I’m sure someone can list at least a few of them. Anyone? Just call one out, any time. Yes, back there in the corner? Oh. Thought you said something. You know what? Let’s move on.

And I think that part of our ability to do so lies in our ability to set an example with our actions and decisions. In our case as admins, we chose to recognize that opponents have the right to criticize us, to expose us, to tell a story about us - even if we don’t like that story or we feel it’s wrong.

Whoops, I forgot to put scare quotes around “chose”. I’ll get to that after tea, I guess.

So we reversed the site-level ban on Chen’s gawker piece.

You know, the one I earlier implied that we only considered but never actually implemented.

The mod-implemented ban on the gawker network is still in place,

See? Nothing’s really changing. B-t-dubs, if any of you mods want to take it upon yourselves to—oh, I don’t know—institute bans on other sites that criticize us or expose the identities of our creepier users, then that’s obviously up to you. We like to stay pretty hands-off in our ivory tower so we can plead ignorance or high-mindedness when things start to heat up.

and we know that some of you disagree. We seem to have a difference in opinion, and we hope you’d like to share with us why.

We love criticism from within, because that increases traffic. Now, which of you lovely ladies has my tea?[1] Bend over and grab it for me, will you, Sweetheart?

Via The Atlantic Wire

  1. Note from Ryan: to be clear, I actually love tea.  ↩

Sympathy for Violentacrez?

Emily Bazelon of XX Factor on Michael Brutsch, AKA Violentacrez, the Redditor moderator outed by Adrian Chen of Gawker as the troll behind /r/creepshots:

Here’s why I feel a bleat of sympathy, though, for Brutsch, who turns out to be a 49-year-old computer programmer working at a Texas financial services company. Or worked, I should say, since he says he lost his job after being outed. Brutsch comes across as loathsome and pathetic in Chen’s telling. But he’s now not just one of thousands of loathsome and pathetic trolls—he’s the one whose story has gone viral and whose disabled wife stands to lose her health insurance as a result.

So? Big mistakes earn big consequences. Brutsch did a lot of terrible things, and I don’t feel bad at all that his employer did not want to retain his services after they found out about those things.

But there’s something so unsettlingly selective about the way in which we punish the few people whose bad Internet behaviors become mainstream notoriety. When prosecutors enforce the law to go after criminals, they’re supposed to do it uniformly… I wish Michael Brutsch could bear his share of responsibility and sprinkle the rest onto all the other trolls out there.

Don’t we all. But as Bazelon says, “Brutsch was king troll”. The most egregious offenders earn the worst punishments; some get away scot-free. I’m not going to feel sad that one person involved in this misogyny got caught and punished just because not everyone did; if I hold out for 100% victory I’ll never get to celebrate.

I feel sorry for Brutsch because he’s obviously a poor, stunted excuse for a man who needs therapy and more, importantly, Jesus. I refuse to feel sorry for him because he got the just reward of his ugly behavior.

The Biggest Troll on the Web

Adrian Chen profiles Michael Brutsch, known as Violentacrez on Reddit, where until recently he moderated over 400 subreddits, many focused on sexualized or pornographic photographs, or inflammatory topics designed to inflate page views.

His most famous subreddit was CreepShots, one of whose contributors was the Georgia teacher fired for posting upskirt photos of his underage students.

How to Shut Down Reddit's CreepShots

One afternoon in late September, Coweta County Sheriff Investigator Jason Fetner asked Christopher Bailey, a 35-year-old substitute teacher at East Coweta High, to meet with him regarding a school theft. But when Bailey arrived, Fetner told him the real reason for their meeting: he knew that Bailey had been posting photos of his students—“Hot senior girl in one of my classes,” read one charming caption—on the subreddit r/CreepShots, some of which had been viewed thousands of times.

Other Redditors have been gathering information about posters to the CreepShots thread and using it to ID the worst offenders.

It seems as though they may have succeeded in shutting down the subreddit, probably due to—and this may be my favorite part—blackmailing the senior moderator in charge of it.

No Reasonable Expectation of Privacy Under Your Skirt

A Georgia teacher is under investigation for photographing his female students without their knowledge and posting the results to the Reddit “creepshots” thread.

Which is only right, as this is obviously very disturbing and illegal behavior. Even more disturbing, though, is Reddit’s refusal to shut down the thread entirely:

People constantly have their pictures taken, without their consent, and used in publications without their knowledge. When you are outside and in public space, you do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Laws probably vary from state to state and city to city, but it seems only reasonable that people should have the expectation of privacy under their clothes. Reddit need not cross the boundary into censorship in order to acknowledge that.

Subhead: A Reddit Jackass Apologizes

After an unauthorized picture of her was posted in Reddit’s “Funny” section, a Sikh woman who sports noticeable facial hair because her faith prohibits body alteration of any kind responded with a detailed explanation of the beliefs behind her unconventional appearance:

Yes, I realize that my gender is often confused and I look different than most women. However, baptized Sikhs believe in the sacredness of this body - it is a gift that has been given to us by the Divine Being [which is genderless, actually] and, must keep it intact as a submission to the divine will. Just as a child doesn’t reject the gift of his/her parents, Sikhs do not reject the body that has been given to us.

And then, restoring everyone’s faith in humanity, the Redditor who posted the picture actually apologized to the woman. With a genuine apology and everything.

Two things:

  1. Seriously, guys. An actual apology. On the internet.
  2. If this woman can not only walk around in a beard all the time but behave graciously and receptively to people who mock her, what does that say about the robustness and veracity of my own faith?

♀ The False Dilemma of Avoiding Rape

"We should just do a better job of supervising."

This was what the director of my division said when my boss proposed moving the cabinet containing all our medications to a different room never accessed by our clients.

I work in a group home for at-risk boys. The suggestion came on the heels of an incident in which, because of lax supervision by staff, a client nearly died because he was able to steal and swallow a large quantity of Benadryl. Our building keeps its medications in a room that also contains the phones on which our clients call their families, so we are used to granting them access to that room. Unfortunately, we have also developed a habit of letting them in at times when their presence is not at all necessary or advisable. My boss thought we might help to avoid a similar situation in the future if we moved all the medicine to a different room.

His boss, the director, correctly pointed out that the more fundamental problem was not which room we used to store medications but the fact that we were doing a poor job of supervising our clients. Even moving the medication cabinet would not totally prevent future incidents if our practices did not improve.

A recent Reddit thread solicited the stories of rapists, and the anonymity of the internet allowed many to tell their stories, which are chilling. Katie J.M. Baker covered the story for Jezebel. Her article is thoughtful and worth reading, especially if you would like to avoid the grueling perusal of the entire Reddit thread and just want some relevant quotes.

Where Baker misses, in my opinion, is near the conclusion:

We have to acknowledge that the people telling these stories and making these decisions are the men (and women) next door, not necessarily inhuman savages. Otherwise, anti-rape campaigns will continue to tell victims to dress and act differently as a matter of "prevention...." (Emphasis mine)

I'm with Baker (and the many other feminist writers who erroneously equate caution with victim-blaming) in believing that rape is only the fault of the rapist and never in any sense the fault of the victim. But I don't agree that encouraging women to act cautiously constitutes shifting responsibility from the perpetrator.

Our culture must continue to take other steps toward rape prevention; de-objectifying women and teaching healthy attitudes toward our sexuality would be great first steps. But until rape goes the way of church-burning--an aberration rather than a frequent occurrence--refusing to be cautious because it's not your responsibility to avoid rape seems to me very similar to my boss's ultimate decision not to move the medications.

Was it the supervising staff's fault they failed to prevent the client's theft and eventual hospitalization? Absolutely. Was it my boss's fault for not moving the medications to a different room? Absolutely not. But would moving the medications help prevent a similar incident in the future. Probably.

Women (and men) will have to make their own decisions about how much time they want to spend thinking about precautionary measures. I advocate avoiding fear-based decision-making whenever possible, so I don't think people should let the possibility of rape shape their entire lifestyle. But refusing to give any consideration to the matter because "people just shouldn't rape" is putting principle before pragmatism.1

  1. Which, to be fair, I strongly incline toward doing.