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Reddit Takes Down Groups Hosting Celebrity Nudes, Walks A Blurred Line On Free Speech

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Reddit did two things last night that, on the surface, seemed pretty contradictory. It published a post by CEO Yishan Wong offering an explanation for why the site does not generally take down “morally objectionable or otherwise inappropriate” subreddits. At around the same time, Reddit took down /r/TheFappening and related subreddits, where many of the images from the celebrity photo hack were posted.

The post itself has been updated to acknowledge that this was a little weird, explaining the situation like so:

Those two events occurring together have created great confusion. That is: we put up a blog post explaining why we don’t ban things for reason X (which some people want us to, but we will not), but at the same time behavior in a subreddit started violating reason Y (a pre-existing and valid rule for which we do ban things) and we banned it, resulting in much confusion.

Apparently “Reason Y”, in this case, has nothing to do with the general horribleness of sharing stolen nudes, and more with the fact that Reddit was receiving DMCA takedown notices, i.e., legal complaints from copyright owners.

In a follow-up comment, Wong wrote, “I said that we don’t ban subreddits for being morally bad. We DO ban subreddits for breaking our rules, and one of them is repeatedly and primarily being a place where people post copyrighted material for which valid DMCA requests are being received.”

(Another result of the scandal: 4Chan has introduced its own DMCA policy.)

Not everyone has been satisfied with Wong’s explanation, particularly since Reddit was willing to keep the Fappening up for a week (benefiting from a big boost in traffic), and because it hasn’t taken down other subreddits, such as /r/SexWithDogs and /r/CuteGirlCorpses /r/CuteFemaleCorpses, that are pretty horrible but aren’t drawing as much ire from celebrities or the media.

On the first point, sysadmin Jason Harvey tried to counter arguments that Reddit (which is owned by Condé Nast) is being purely self-serving, and he offered a little more context about the decision-making process. He said that at first, the Reddit team was just trying to take down individual images in response to DMCA requests (as well as concerns that some photos showed minors), “but it quickly devolved into a game of whack-a-mole”. As a result, “It became obvious that we were either going to have to watch these subreddits constantly, or shut them down. We chose the latter.”

On the question of other awful content, it sounds like Reddit won’t be taking down most objectionable groups unless it’s getting letters from lawyers.

For what it’s worth, I do think Reddit was in a tough spot here, albeit one that it benefited from in some ways. By the nature of the site, there’s going to be content that really pushes the boundaries of both legality and morality, and that means it’s going to face questions without easy answers.

At the same time, limiting itself to DMCA requests and a few other narrow legalities might not be an adequate way to grapple with those questions. (And by the way, some of the comments here offer suggestions about how Reddit can increase transparency around this process.) If nothing else, it makes high-minded posts with titles like “Every Man Is Responsible For His Own Soul” (and descriptions of Reddit as “the government of a new type of community”) ring a little hollow.

Featured Image: Eva Blue/Flickr UNDER A CC BY 2.0 LICENSE