You may have heard about a website called Reddit recently. According to pieces in major blogs such as Gawker and more recently, a report by Anderson Cooper at CNN, it is some sort of haven for pedophiles. How'd these claims start and is there any truth to them? What exactly is going on?
I spend more time browsing through Reddit than I want to admit, and I've seen some amazing things on the site. It is where the "I'm With COCO" movement, Sad Keanu jokes, and other Internet wonders started. It also has plenty of porn-themed subsections which focus on models and performers of legal age — or so I'm told.
Of course my browsing habits account for only a fraction of the 700,000+ page views Reddit can see over the course of just fifteen minutes.
Now there is a corner of Reddit which contains images of scantily clad — though never nude — young women. It is a subsection called /r/jailbait — I won't link it here — and it is dedicated to "ephebophiles," adults who are sexually attracted to mid-to-late adolescents.
This subsection — called a subreddit — is one of over 85,000 user-created communities on Reddit. It has over 21,000 subscribers — individuals who selected the subsection to be among the ones listed on their customized front pages.
To put that into perspective, consider that more popular subsections such as /r/funny or /r/pics have nearly a million subscribers each.
Like other subsections, /r/jailbait contains text-based links to sites, stories, images and so on along with intentionally enticing headlines. Most of the links in this particular section lead to candid images of girls — many of which look a great deal like those you might see posted on social networking sites such as MySpace or Facebook. There are no details regarding where the photos of the youths in /r/jailbait come from, but it is speculated that some are in fact gathered from social networking websites and then reposted without permission.
Though that's a tragedy of the Facebook generation — anyone can easily download, screen-capture, or otherwise save images of you and then abuse them in some manner — Reddit does not actually host any of this content.
One of the key things to note about the images found in /r/jailbait is that they are only links. User-submitted links and headlines lead to photos hosted on image-sharing services, personal websites and other third-party sources. This structure of course makes it rather simple for the folks at Reddit to wash their hands of most responsibility when it comes to questionable content. It never touches their servers.
Reddit simply allows moderators — who are each subsection's first subscriber as well as any individuals empowered by that person — to run their own communities. This means that each individual Reddit community is run differently — and that there isn't always agreement among the communities perspectives or beliefs.
In fact, a comment thread reacting to a CNN report about /r/jailbait contains a handful of remarks suggesting that such subsections are "a complete embarrassment" and "really drag down the reputation of the site."
Yet despite this disagreement, very few Reddit users are reaching for their torches and pitchfork and demanding that /r/jailbait be banned. Why?
Because they don't want to put their own freedoms at risk.
As one Reddit user explains in the same comment thread, banning or removing one subsection would put all others into jeopardy:
Should reddit shut down subreddits that people find morally objectionable? Kiss /r/atheism goodbye. Is there an anti-Scientology subreddit? You know that's gone. /r/NSFW? Gone.
I'll wager there are folks who would step in to shut down /r/Assistance because they'll argue that charities should be registered or some crap.
Cable companies would love to get rid of /r/cordcutters
/r/trees "only exists to advocate illegal activity"
And so it goes. Open the door to shutting down subreddits based on moral objections and it will never end.
Because of the way it has organically grown, Reddit has become, essentially, a cross-section of the Internet.
There's good: Reddit has hosted communities which dedicated themselves to shutting down auto-warranty robo callers, reuniting a mother and son who'd been apart 21 years, raising $500,000 for DonorsChoose.org, donating over $185,000 to Direct Relief International for Haiti after an earthquake devastated the island in January 2010, preventing suicide, helping promote a large rally in Washington starring Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, and more.
Unfortunately, there's also bad ... and ugly.
- Reddit-connected activist indicted in MIT theft
- Police spied on Reddit data downloader in January
- Reddit aggregates porn, 'jailbait' and racist commentary
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