The adolescence of Reddit

Joel Johnson on what went wrong at Reddit, where moderators closed ranks around a particularly nasty member in the face of outside scrutiny: "outcast cultures ... must survive an awkward adolescence before integrating fully back into the culture from which they are spawned. And like most teenagers, there is a lot of whining, misfired blame, and crying about “never asking to be born” before those cultures realize that despite their memory of an idyllic second childhood, everyone must eventually grow up."


  1. Well, there’s also the fact that the majority of Redit users are actual adolescents.  ( medical dictionary defines it as 11 – 19 )

  2.  Is anyone really having an existential crisis over SRS? The wisdom of Reddit here would actually be something more like: turn off the computer; go outside; and breathe (also, delete your facebook and hit the gym).

    1.  You know, watching this fight is like watching two people you really don’t like slug it out. Don’t care who wins, just having fun watching them get injured.

      Concern trolls vs. shock trolls. Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!

  3. Violentacrez wasn’t considered a particularly nasty member, nor did any moderators turn against him. He was nearly universally liked outside of the SRS crowd, whom no one really takes seriously.

    He deleted his account after receiving numerous threatening phone calls, people ringing his doorbell and running away, pizzas ordered, death threats, etc.

    Violentacrez was into porn and all things NSFW. He was a pornography enthusiast if you will. Spent most of his time doing this, contributing a whole shitload to reddit in the process. He was one of the most prominent moderators, and wrote numerous moderation guides for reddit, how to identify spammers, etc. All around decent guy. His hobbies weren’t for everyone, but we all looked up to him as our creepy uncle violentacrez.

    I don’t even think he was that active in /r/creepshots (the source of this drama), but he was often the first and most vocal to stand up for free speech issues on the site. It seems he threw himself under the bus on this one, defending people’s rights to post creepy, unsettling, yet perfectly legal pictures. Unfortunately gawker decided it would be a great idea to put his phone number and home address online and encourage people to send him death threats.

    1.  I beg to differ: *I* am a pornography enthusiast. I *am* actually some kid’s for real lovable creepy Uncle – the childless Uncle who moved to the city, dates questionably and tells dirty stories about weird consensual sex on youtube which hopefully their parents don’t let them see.

      This guy, from what I can see, wasn’t just a an uncle on the fringe, he was a creepy misogynistic troll who spent his free time flamebaiting, taking ethically questionable non-consensual pics of jailbait, and moderating boards with racist and trolling etc names. All around decent? Seriously? Taking covert panty pics is all around decent? The guy said he *lived* for porn. I’m not all around decent and I just enjoy it, not live for it. And I’ve pissed off nobody other than my parents and my siblings who wish I could be a nice little suburban drone like them.

      I’m not saying the guy is a war criminal as some has, but please don’t portray him as just a weird-and-fun-but-creepy-dude who never hurt a soul and was an “all around decent guy”; it gives those of us in that category a bad name.

    2. All around decent guy. His hobbies weren’t for everyone, but we all looked up to him as our creepy uncle violentacrez.

      I think Chen summed up Brutsch pretty well here: “If you are capable of being offended, Brutsch has almost certainly done something that would offend you, then did his best to rub your face in it. ” As Violentacrez, Brutsch created entired subreddits like “N****rjailbait” and “Picsofdeadjailbait” (which was dedicated to pictures of dead teenage girls). Those aren’t “hobbies,” they are highly disturbing activities that have real, devastating impact on the lives of innocent human beings.

      If you looked up to him then I can’t imagine how deep of a hole you must be living in.

      1. VA created hundreds of subreddits, those are just two. Many were jokes, others were trolling. Many were perfectly SFW, normal forums for discussing decent things, others were weird and twisted fetishes. He actually created none of the content in any of the subreddits. Most he never even posted in, he merely acted as a janitor, deleting the truly despicable or illegal content other users would post. Other times he would repost crap he found on 4chan.

        Here’s a partial list from 7 months ago of all the different forums he created or moderated:

        1. VA created hundreds of subreddits, those are just two.

          Why doesn’t anyone ever bring up all the kids Jerry Sandusky DIDN’T rape?

          1. I was making an analogy for your lame defense, not equating the crimes. But you’ve got some f-ed up idea of what constitutes a “joke.”

            “Sure, I uploaded pictures of your dead daughter so necro-pedophiles could use it as masturbation material. But it was just a JOKE! It’s funny because she’s DEAD, and that gives creepy guys a total hard-on! Get it???

          2. @inedible:

            His tastes differ from most people’s, but he does things he enjoys. I figured BB would appreciate that. We all dig the lizardman, even though most of us wouldn’t want to adopt his lifestyle. 

            It’s not about how “popular” someone’s lifestyle is, it’s about how it impacts others. The Lizardman’s unusual hobbies involve things he does to his own body, not things involving unwilling participants. The people in all those thousands of photos weren’t just computer-generated avatars.

    3.  “…defending people’s rights to post creepy, unsettling, yet perfectly legal pictures.”

      Perfectly legal: yes. However, just because the pictures are legal does not mean that the posters aren’t being total jerks by posting them.
      This is not a free speech issue. No laws are being passed prohibiting this. However, a large number of people across the Internet have taken action.

      Once again: this is not something done by the legal system. This is, rather, a moral decision made by the members of the internet-as-community, and bears close ties to classic ‘community justice’ and even the behavior of undirected mobs.

      Whatever your views on this, one thing is certain: such behavior— crowd-directed moral judgements— is, and will be, impossible to remove from the structure of the Internet.

  4. “To get into a weights-and-measurements squabble about the relative ethics–especially any argument based on the notion of free speech, which has everything to do with government and nothing at all to do with what is legal or proper on privately owned web sites”
    I have a bit of a problem with this and with other parts of the article that claim Reddit trying to represent “The Internet”. The author rightly points out that they do not represent the entirety of the Internet but they do represent part of it. If we fall back on outdated ideas of privately held entities, making web sites and forums into next generation newspapers, we lose some essential part of what makes it special. If free speech does not exist on individual websites then where does it live? An oldy but still good:

      1. Sorry that my definition as an inalienable human right rather than a government activity restriction bothers you.
        Again, where on the Internet (the worldwide public square of our age) can we exercise our human rights? Especially if people like the author continue to break it down into corporate fiefdoms.

        1. You can exercise your inalienable human right to be an asshole and others can exercise their inalienable human right to publicly humiliate you for it or to duct tape your mouth shut when you’re doing it in their living rooms. You want to be able to do whatever you want to do, wherever you want to do it, and without consequences.

          1. Will you be so sanctimonious when this escalates? How would you feel about VA getting assaulted? How about one of these social vigilantes?

          2. Just once, I would like to see someone apply that same consideration to the girls whose photos were being posted for ogling. What if escalation happened there? Because privacy was already being violated here.

            But all these defenses are always about the privacy of this one dude, and how it should protect him from the speech of this other dude. Like privacy counts for them but not anybody else; they don’t matter like internet dudes do.

            It is not impressive, to put it mildly.

          3. So much sympathy for the perp, so little for the victims. And sympathy based on hypotheticals, no less.

          4. It wouldn’t let me reply to the two of you, so I will reply to myself.

            We are not debating the morality of r/creepshots. We are debating the morality of doxxing. Is /r/creepshots awful? Yes. However, it is possible that both acts are immoral. To brake out my platitudes, two wrongs do not make a right. What is immoral you night ask? Vigilantism. It replaces the neutral(ish) (well.. more neutral than the mob) mediator and replaces it with the mob mentality that makes anything that goes against the whim of the mob a crime.

            You don’t like r/creepshots or similar behavior? lobby to make it a crime (better yet, make it tortious conduct) (for those who scream “but the First Amendment!”, there are already several privacy torts on the books).

          5. …two wrongs do not make a right.

            A euphemism for, “Victims have to play by more difficult rules than bullies.”

          6. @anonmouse: The post here was about the culture of Reddit, what they stand for and what they don’t. The conversation was about acceptable speech.

            So when you assume the doxxing is the one part we are all supposed to be talking about, well, that’s what I said: making the internet dudes the only thing that matters.

            Yes, so far a couple VA-privacy defenders have agreed the creepshots are wrong, too – but only after they’re reminded there are violations there too. It sure doesn’t seem like what’s been happening is considered important compared to hypothetical vigilantism.

            And yes, I’m against vigilantism, but this isn’t it. This is someone who lives by the sword finding they work both ways.

          7. “when this escalates”

            I suspect we will all, yourself included, remain exactly this sanctimonius under nearly all circumstances.

            Including vaguely threatening ones hinted at by cowards.

          8. It is the law of unintended consequences..

            You make it sound like one of the laws of thermodynamics. There’s no such thing as a “law of unintended consequences”. It’s a figure of speech.

          9. @boingboing-25d11f8e1a305f5eaf4caa32877882f3:disqus : hypothetical? It has already begun. And I love it how you are so black and white. If VA is wrong, anything done to him is right. Anyone uncomfortable with what happened likes looking at panties. If you don’t like doxxing, you must think that the victims are sluts and to blame. 

          10. @boingboing-d219d1d50d8a2d640e322727994fbacc:disqus – vaguely threatening =/= a threat

            reconsider your previous interpretation of my words, this time with nuance, if you’re capable?

          11. @anonmouse:twitter  So far as I have heard, all that happened to VA is that people now know what he does, and his work has held him accountable. The possible escalation you were talking about is still only possible, right?

            And the idea that VA deserves whatever happens to him is not what I said. All I said is that it is hard to pity violation or privacy in a passionate defender of violating privacy. Definitely secondary to his victims.

            Who again, you don’t mention. Which was my main point: as much as they claim to value about privacy and protection, VA’s defenders only seem to care about them to him, not so much the girls who were posted. Two standards.

          12. Not without consequences, the only problem I have with gawker is that it is using the elimination of anonymity and privacy to chill online speech. It does not matter how disgusting the speech is. The ACLU still defends the KKK to speak in public arenas. If there were specific laws broken by the ACTIONS of this poster, then I would support legal consequences, but so far I have not seen that.
            To me this is more about the call for Reddit to impose censorship or not. Reddit so far has chosen not to and is being pilloried as adolescent because of that. To me their response was very mature. They choose to allow the community to respond with more speech, not less.

            I think we all realize that the Internet is much more than a collection of private living rooms. It is more than a broadcast system. It is more than a telecommunications system. I just want to make sure that we do not lose fundamental rights just because we add ‘on a computer’ to it.

          13. “is that it is using the elimination of anonymity and privacy to chill online speech.”

            … of someone who respected neither.

            Cyber life IS Real Life. If you’re a douche online, you’re a douche in real life.

            Real Life douches get theirs.

          14. @boingboing-580eafb56868c6d0047b3e1fb4c11a6c:disqus  yes, because the mature thing to do is to lower yourself to your opponent’s level.

          15. yes, because the mature thing to do is to lower yourself to your opponent’s level.

            For the third time: one set of rules for bullies; one set of rules for victims. If you don’t have a new argument to make, then stop.

          16.  @nowimnothing:disqus – the mature thing to do is, ultimately, to respect the decisions of the people who own the front porch your squatting on, or leave.

          17. @boingboing-580eafb56868c6d0047b3e1fb4c11a6c:disqus  I do not disagree, but the article focused on the unwillingness of the owners of said porch (Reddit) to kick him off. Now anybody who is supporting the right of Reddit to deal with this in the way they want to, by encouraging more speech rather than shutting up one asshole, is somehow siding with the asshole and is Pedobear or something. 
            Maybe it is just me but I prefer jerks to be out in the open where there can be ongoing dialog on why they are being a jerk rather than just duct-taping their mouth shut so we don’t have to hear their ideas and we can blissfully pretend they do not exist.
            What Gawker did was an attempt to shut him up, not an attempt at dialog.

          18. Not without consequences, the only problem I have with gawker is that it is using the elimination of anonymity and privacy to chill online speech.

            What on earth do you think the bullies are doing but chilling online speech by making it utterly miserable for whole groups of people to participate? And not only that, but the victims are generally classes of people who face violence and discrimination in daily life. Again, one rule for the bullies; one rule for the victims.

  5. It’s funny that we make statements about “Reddit is this” and “Redditors think that”, because they’re inherently problematic. Reddit is a microcosmic society; a very big group of many individuals with vastly different opinions. The site administrators, who have taken a very “laisse faire” approach to what can and can’t go on the site, can’t really be fingered as a definitive source of Reddit’s “identity” either. Reddit is us, and we are Reddit. 

    So as a society, Reddit is pretty anarchist. So how would a “real life” society handle these issues? Are the answers to the question even applicable to the situation?

    Also, as to Reddit’s demographic, I suspect that the median age of Reddit will climb over time as the internet-literate population of the world ages. I am of an age with Joel, and I’ve found that internet literacy increases with people younger than me and decreases with those older. Perhaps this situation is a symptom of a problem that will “age out”?

    Lots of thorny questions, and unless you’re a bit of an authoritarian, not a lot of easy answers. 

    1. So as a society, Reddit is pretty anarchist. So how would a “real life” society handle these issues?

      I think pretty much any “real life” society would have ostracized people like Michael Brutsch long ago.

      1. Thank goodness we have proactive ostracizers from Gawker to make sure that no one goes unpunished on the interwebs.

        1. Yes, and they bravely protect us from the janitor/moderator of certain objectionable content, rather than the actual CREATORS of said objectionable content… because that’s all… like… hard… and stuff…

  6. So you used Slander and Libel to take down someone who had done nothing illegal. Are you happy? Who’s the target of your next witch hunt?

    1. It’s only slander or libel if it’s untrue, sport. And if we’re only concerning ourselves with what’s “legal” then what’s your beef with Adrien Chen?

        1. I have yet to hear an clear, objective standard that can be evenly and fairly applied to all parties, that is not subject to the whims/abuse of the moderator. If legality is not the standard, then what is?

          1. If legality is not the standard, then what is?

            As someone who, for example, can’t legally marry the person of my choice, I find that to be a tragicomically bizarre standard.

            I have yet to hear an clear, objective standard that can be evenly and fairly applied to all parties…

            We certainly don’t claim to be objective, partly because there’s no such thing as objectivity, nor is it necessarily desirable. It’s a form-based argument, rather than a content-based argument.

            …that is not subject to the whims/abuse of the moderator

            What you’re describing is a robot. I make many decisions based on how things feel because, ultimately, my gut feeling is a better indicator of how things will be perceived than any algorithm.

          2. Whether you can marry or not legally is irrelevant to the topic at hand. If there is no objective standard, then the system is based on inequality. Users are left to the capricious whims of the moderator with no way to conform their actions to the expectations of the group.
            I just want to point out that I am not necessarily talking about you. You do not come across as arbitrary (but I only wade into the comments occasionally). However, I think the view that you expressed in unsustainable.

          3. Whether you can marry or not legally is irrelevant to the topic at hand.

            If you push for ‘legality’ to be the standard for moderation, then it’s completely relevant to point out that the law is often unfair and oppressive. I might also point out that the tubes go to Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe as well as to Iceland and the US. Whose notion of legality are you going to choose?

          4.  @boingboing-d219d1d50d8a2d640e322727994fbacc:disqus – I was answering -your- query:

            “I have yet to hear an clear, objective standard that can be evenly and fairly applied to all parties, that is not subject to the whims/abuse of the moderator”

            And I am saying that that standard, in real life and online, is set by you. Think on it.

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