Reddit, Gawker clash raises questions over inappropriate content and privacy

Gawker

Two of the Internet's most influential websites waged war on each other last week. While the details of why Reddit and Gawker are at odds are fodder for industry insiders, questions were raised over what is more important: protecting user privacy or exposing users who post inappropriate content?

Reddit is a link-sharing community that is known for posting everything from photos of cute animals to question-and-answer sessions with celebrities, as well as explicit content meant to shock.

Last week, the media gossip blog Gawker published an article revealing the full name and photo of a Reddit user named Violentacrez, who they called "the biggest troll on the Web."

In the article, Gawker staff writer Adrian Chen describes how Violentacrez, who is a 49-year-old Texas man, created the controversial section of Reddit called "Jailbait," which featured photos of girls who appeared to be under 18. It was shut down by Reddit last year.  Although Chen says Violentacrez did not create a sub-Reddit called "Creepshots," where users post photos of women -- including invasive "upskirt" or cleavage-baring shots -- without their knowledge, he was one of the section's moderators.

Creepshots was also flagged by women's blog and Gawker sister site Jezebel. The writer said that in order to shut down Creepshots, the real-life identity of anonymous posters must be revealed to create public pressure. The post was inspired by allegations that a 35-year-old substitute teacher was posting photos of his female students on Creepshots.

Reddit has a reputation for being a safe haven for anonymous users. In retaliation over what the Reddit community calls "doxxing" -- which means revealing the real identity of an anonymous online person -- several moderators have banned all links originating from Gawker Media.

Reddit general manager Erik Martin told Forbes that the company does not have a full ban on Gawker domains; rather, the ban was decided section-by-section.

"Some of them felt that this was not journalism, this was witch hunting of someone that they didn't agree with from a publication that they didn't really consider journalistic," Martin told Forbes.

Martin says that the content on Reddit is not something he or his must colleagues agree with, but that they strive to foster a community that can speak freely.

"There's a lot of content on Reddit that we're not proud of or that we don't support, or that doesn't support our values or most users," Martin said. "But we still find the right balance between things like safety and the law, and also being a free and open."

The New York Times, which also identified the man as Michael Brutsch, reports that he will likely appear on "Anderson Cooper 360" Thursday, presumably to defend his position. The Times points out that Brutsch is now operating under a new Reddit account, MBrutsch, which suggests a connection to his real identity.

Chen told CBS News over the phone that he has not been in contact with Brutsch, but said he understood the man was fired from his job soon after the expose went live. It's worth noting that even Chen admits there is not evidence to suggest that Brutsch broke any laws.

"He says he never posted anything illegal," Chen told CBS News. "And he says deleted posts that were illegal. I don't know if it's true but I don't see any evidence that would suggest otherwise."

The question, however, is who is right in this situation? Brutsch, who anonymously participated in posting photos of young women without their knowledge or permission, or Chen, who went through great lengths to reveal the identity of a man who did not appear to break any laws?

Creepshots has been inaccessible on Reddit since late last week, but according to Chen, CEO Yishan Wong reportedly said in a private moderator chat Tuesday that Reddit would not take down offensive content, as long as it does not break the law.

From the evidence circulating around the Internet, it appears that neither party broke any federal law, retired FBI agent Jeff Lanza, who is not connected to either party, told CBS News over the phone.

When asked why he wanted to expose Brutsch, Chen told CBS News, "He was using his anonymity to hurt women."

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