A leaked chat log between Reddit employees and volunteer moderators over whether or not to ban links to Jezebel and Gawker because of articles the sites published that gave out Reddit users’ personal information reveals Reddit’s official hands-off approach to handling censorship.
Quick backstory: This Wednesday, Jezebel ran an article about a controversial subreddit called Creepshots where men posted pervy photos of women in public and the anonymous Tumblr, "Predditors" (now password-only), which listed real names of those men. The same day, it came to light on Reddit that a powerful moderator involved in Creepshots's real name would be revealed in an upcoming profile on Gawker. Revealing other users’ real names and personal information is a huge sin on Reddit, and many Reddit moderators voluntarily chose to ban any links to Gawker media sites as retribution for the crime of releasing Redditors' info.
In the IRC chat log, posted anonymously in a Pastebin text document, appears to have taken place on Thursday, mainly addressing the Jezebel article. Volunteer moderators ask Reddit employees including general manager Eric Martin for help in banning the offending material and to take further action.
The admins tell the moderators that they have done a site-wide ban to the predditors tumblr link, much to the moderators’ relief. However, the moderators want it taken a few steps further, since the Jezebel article links to the Tumblr, they want the Jezebel article blocked as well:
redtaboo: ok, spladug the jezebel article links to it though
spladug [Reddit Admin]: that's not exactly something we can fix, redtaboo
redtaboo: you can remove that article
MillenniumFalc0n: ...couldn't you ban that specific jezebelle article?
solidwhetstone: is reddit going to be making a public statement any time soon?
Kemitche [Reddit admin]: would we then have to remove articles that link to the jezebel article?
sodypop: The Jezebel article also contains personal information other than the predditors site, right?
Solidwhetstone: either to the members or the public?
Kemitche: and articles that link that articles that link to jezebel?
GuitarFreak: why not just ban the whole site?
The moderators do not appear offended by the article being critical --they’re appear to be only worried about the personal info link. At no point in the chat do they discuss the content of r/creepshots or the right of people to post those photos; they're intently focused only on the issue of user info being revealed. They are intensely fearful of being "doxxed” – having their real names and other personal information (“pi”, as they refer to it), such as the workplace, address, or family members' names revealed:
spladug [Reddit admin]: deleting things that link to bad links is not sustainable. what if it were in a wikipedia article, should we ban that whole domain?
redtaboo: ok, do you see where this gets us though? this puts us in the position of wondering what happens when it's one of us
MobileFalc0n: I think you should require mods to remove links on a case by case basis. For instance, with the jezebelle article which clear links to pi
MobileFalc0n: Most mods are removing it anyways, but you should step in with the few who dont
MobileFalc0n: This is an example of malicious doxxing, designed to incite a witch hunt
chromakode [Reddit admin]: redtaboo, we understand. what can we do to help in such a case?
redtaboo: enforce the removing of all PI
ManWithoutModem: start by banning /r/srs and PI
spladug: redtaboo: we can't control things that aren't on reddit. they could just as easily dox any of us admins too. fundamentally, they will have to face the consequences of their own actions and we can't control that.
Reddit general manager Erik Martin joins the chat from the Reddit bus, where he’s been touring with Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian advocating for the internet in politics. He addresses the moderator’s fears:
hueypriest [Eric Martin]: i understand everyone is worried about being doxxed. and understand you don't agree with not banning the jezebel link, but we have a pretty good track record of banning personal info quickly, and i think have been pretty consistent over the years
solidwhetstone: reddit =/= phone company...i think that parallel breaks down
sodypop: Without assurances of anonymity, I have very little motivation to put in the many hours I spend moderating.
Hueypriest: this is a unique case we have not encountered before
Raerth: hueypriest, it's not an unpredictable case
Currently, a site-wide ban on the specific link to the offending Gawker and Jezebel articles are in effect, but it’s up to moderators whether or not to ban links to other Gawker media links. The reason for the ban on the two stories is not because they are critical of Reddit, but because they contain personal information on Redditors.
Eric Martin told FWD earlier this week on Reddit's policy, "we don't get in involved unless it has someting to do with rules," in this case, the rule being about personal information being posted. Peeking into the process of admins negotiating with overzealous moderators about what kind of content can be posted to Reddit verifies what admins have always said: they’re pretty hands-off and act more as courtroom bailiffs than judges.
Update: Erik Martin tells BuzzFeed FWD via email: "The sitewide ban of the recent Adrien Chen article was a mistake on our part and was fixed this morning. Mods are still free to do what they want in their subreddits."
Katie Notopoulos is a senior editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Notopoulos writes about tech and internet culture is cohost of the Internet Explorer podcast.
Contact Katie Notopoulos at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.