As Reddit trips over itself trying to contain its stolen nude photo problem, CEO Yishan Wong finally addressed the controversy on Saturday by releasing a remarkably clueless manifesto. Reddit, he wrote, is "not just a company running a website where one can post links and discuss them, but the government of a new type of community." So, then, what type of government is Reddit? It's the kind any reasonable person would want to overthrow.
Imagine you live in a nice little community. You have barbecues with the folks next door and discuss your mutual interests. You feel safe walking the streets at night. You trust the local police, who are selected from your neighbors. Everything is going well. Then, one day, someone breaks into your house and steals private photos from your safe. They're naked photos you took with your partner in a safe environment. The burglar crosses the tracks into the bad part of town and sells your photos to the highest bidder. There, a gang of men wearing masks print your photos out and post them all over town. You find out the identity of one of the men peddling your stolen photos, and tell your neighbors about him as a warning. He walks free, but because you unmasked him, you are sent to jail. The government does nothing to protect you, because the men sharing your photos are simply exercising their right to "free speech." When your neighbors appeal to the government to get you out of jail, making light of this injustice, they're rounded up in black vans and disappeared, with no explanation, never to be seen again.
Reddit's government is more interested in protecting "John" than the women he harassed
Reddit wants to be a techno-libertarian's wet dream, but in practice it's a weak feudal system that's actually run by a small group of angry warlords who use "free speech" as a weapon. Reddit is mostly a nice place filled with nice people who run nice little communities, but there's virtually nothing keeping them safe from bullies like "John," a 33-year-old man who brazenly dispersed stolen private photos and then cried foul when The Washington Post published information about him. Reddit's government is more interested in protecting John than the women he harassed.
Wong wrote that "the role and responsibility of a government differs from that of a private corporation, in that it exercises restraint in the usage of its powers." Forgiving for a moment the fact that this metaphor is completely fraudulent, Reddit's justification for this special type of behavior is incoherent since it does exercise its powers to censor content and protect people, unless they are victims.
Try to reconcile the following statements from its CEO:
We deplore the theft of these images and do not condone their widespread distribution
We understand the harm that misusing our site does to the victims of this theft, and we deeply sympathize
We are unlikely to make changes to our existing site content policies
We believe that you, the user, has the right to choose between right and wrong
Virtuous behavior is only virtuous if not arrived at by compulsion
So it's not Reddit's problem if you're being harassed on the internet because it's not the government's job to enforce morality. Only copyright:
In accordance with our legal obligations, we expeditiously removed content hosted on our servers as soon as we received DMCA requests from the lawful owners of that content
In other words, Reddit feels really bad that your stolen nude photos are being shared all over its website, but won't do anything about it unless you're privileged enough to understand the copyright system or able to afford a lawyer who does. And unlike (many) governments, Reddit has profit motives — it makes money when people share nude photos because men are pervs and there's a huge audience out there for naked women, perhaps especially for naked women who haven't given us consent to share their bodies. In a bizarre follow up post, Wong explained his use of gendered language, pointing out that "the perpetrators were almost certainly men, the people spreading and viewing the images were overwhelmingly men, and the people being victimized were exclusively women."
Reddit is the kind of government that gets 99.9% of the vote
It may be no surprise that Reddit finds itself here again — it's the kind of government that gets 99.9% of the vote and never learns from its mistakes. Last time the company found itself here it was dealing with negative press over a couple of seedy communities that were distributing "creepshots:" sexualized photos taken of women, often in awkward or compromising positions, without their knowledge. Reddit allowed this to go on for some time, but only brought out the big guns when Gawker revealed the creepshot ring leader was a 49-year-old man named Michael Brutsch, because Reddit believes in free speech unless your speech involves speaking truth about the unsavory men who keep exploitative content flowing. Even charities won't accept money from these men, but Reddit will.
According to a report from Recode, Reddit's free speech zone, where men run wild over women's privacy and dignity, may be worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $500 million.
If Reddit wants to be thought of as a government, we'll call it what it is: a failed state, unable to control what happens within its borders. At minimum, Reddit is a kleptocracy that speaks to lofty virtues while profiting from vice. It might be forgivable if we were talking about taxing cigarettes and booze, but we're not talking about that. What we're talking about is more like sexual assault, condoned by a state that earns revenue from it. "Reddit doesn't have much of an interest in banning questionable content," Wong wrote last year. "'Family-friendly' is out, 'edgy' is in." Are those the words of a president, or a pimp?