On Monday I took a walk to the bank to deposit a couple of checks. On my way I watched two men in a pickup truck stare for longer than is decent as a female jogger ran by. That classic no-blink, head following the jogger’s movement kind of stare. I’m pretty sure everyone knows it. It’s a small interaction, but it’s a daily occurrence. It’s also why I have the utmost respect for women who jog, because stares are the least of their worries.
Later that night I ended up checking out LoveGov, which features as part of its mission statement the “right to individual privacy”. When you see that on the Internet, it usually means the ability to protect personal information from view or misuse, and often it means protecting anonymity on the Internet. In a larger context, it usually fits into “Internet freedom”, which organizations like Demand Progress have taken the lead in fighting for. I want to be clear, I don’t think LoveGov or Demand Progress are advocating anything of the sort that follows.
But, idling about the Internet, I stumbled across this article on Reddit and its user-created censorship of Gawker and the reasons and consequences. To sum that up, a reporter from Gawker was investigating a Reddit moderator (who don’t run the site, and are pretty much given free rein) and decided to publish the Redditor’s real name. The Gawker reporter, Adrian Chen, describes this Redditor as specializing in “distributing images of scantily-clad underage girls, but as Violentacrez [his Reddit username] he also issued an unending fountain of racism, porn, gore, misogyny, incest, and exotic abominations yet unnamed“. The current focus of this guy was on a part of Reddit called “CreepShots” which is summed up nicely in this manner “When you are in public, you do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. We kindly ask women to respect our right to admire your bodies and stop complaining.” Essentially, “we’re going to take pictures of women (usually their breasts and bottoms) and post it on the Internet. Good day.”
So you might see why this makes my jaw drop. But then there’s also something here. Someone decided that the creeps needed to be outed. And out them they did, which is leading police to pursue charges against at least one man. In fact, good people, lead by an anonymous woman are doing so, collecting information on those who posted on CreepShots and posting it publicly to a Tumblr called Predditors, as well as sending it to employers and law enforcement. If you scroll through it, you find a bunch of average men. Average men who just happened to take pictures of women without consent and then post those pictures publicly online.
Reddit, in case you’ve forgotten, was a major player in the SOPA/PIPA Internet blackout. In fact, while this was happening, some of its heads were touring the country touting Internet freedom and activism.
Naturally, the creepers are running scared. One of the fundamental rules of Reddit is “don’t post personal information“. Any of them could be next. And in response to this, the outing of people doing frankly disgusting acts, how did much of the Reddit community respond? When word leaked that Mr. Chen would expose the identity of Violenacrez (a well-connected moderator), the Reddit moderator community preemptively banned all Gawker links across various sub-boards on Reddit. Mr. Chen sums it up simply:
Under Reddit logic, outing Violentacrez is worse than anonymously posting creepshots of innocent women, because doing so would undermine Reddit’s role as a safe place for people to anonymously post creepshots of innocent women.
I am OK with that.
As a feminist, I’m disgusted by these actions. This is the sort of action that people who’ve made the mistake of treating anonymity as equaling “male” would undertake. I know it’s surprising to folks, but it’s no longer a man’s web. The stereotype of computer users being nerds who’d drool over the thought of a woman has long since passed. Social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook are dominated by women. Female consumers are the economic engine that makes the Internet profitable.
And as someone who values liberty and free speech, I’m disgusted. There are times when anonymous speech is right and just. And then there are times when anonymity is used merely to shield yourself from the consequences of reprehensible behavior. And the latter is what every poster on Reddit who ever posted a creepshot is engaging in. It’s what every pseudonymed commenter on the Journal or GoLocalProv who posts something they’d never ever say in public engages in. You have the right to say whatever horrible thought springs into your head. But you don’t have the right not to suffer consequences. Especially if it’s sexist garbage.
Good on the people behind Predditors for creating consequences.
As an added note, Tuesday was Ada Lovelace Day, named for the first computer programmer.