Things have gotten a little dicey on the Internet as moderators from the social news site Reddit exchanged jabs with Gawker over an alleged attempt to reveal the personal information of a controversial Reddit moderator.
Rumors began swirling on Reddit that Gawker writer Adrian Chen was planning a post revealing the identity of Violentacrez, a user who moderates the subreddit r/creepshots forum, which posts sexual photos of women taken without permission. Hearing the news, the moderators of Reddit's very popular politics subreddit instituted a ban on all Gawker links, adding fuel to this peculiar Internet fire.
Other tech journalists entered the fray on Twitter, asking actual Reddit employees to step up and exert some authority over its comment moderators.
Reddit needs to take control of its reputation and start nailing subreddit mods claiming to speak for it
— Rob Beschizza (@Beschizza) Oct. 11, 2012
Reddit, however, maintains a steadfast devotion to protecting the free speech of its community, regardless of its controversial nature. "Reddit moderators are volunteers, not employees. They're free to moderate how they want. If they want to ban domains, users, even us, that's all OK," Martin told Adweek, noting that some news outlets have created confusion by failing to distinguish volunteer moderators from official company staff.
When asked if Martin had spoken with the politics section moderators about banning Gawker links, he said, "This happened so fast that we didn't really have any communication…but we told them we're looking into it and that we ban any user who distributes personal information."
After Adweek spent over a week in close confines with both Martin and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian on their cross-country bus tour, it's clear that there is conflict when it comes to Reddit's underbelly. Ohanian has specifically mentioned that the site goes to great lengths not to impose or dictate terms to its communities. The subject also came up in last weekend's panel discussion at the University of Nebraska. "The root problem here is humans," Ohanian told the crowd when asked about some of the darker corners of the social news site. "This is not new to the Internet. The same way we nurture good behavior in, say, meetup communities, we have to do it online as well."
Currently, Reddit is home to over 10,000 subreddit communities, with the site pulling down well over 3 billion pageviews per month. "Some of these moderators," Martin told me "are in communities that are as big, if not bigger, than Reddit itself was when I started."
To its credit, the site has been an agent for some positive change as well. For the past 10 days, Reddit has been traveling the country visiting small businesses to educate citizens through its Internet freedom bus tour. But that freedom clearly comes at a cost, as we see in seedy communities like r/creepshots or r/jailbait, which the site shut down one year ago after child pornography was found in the site section.