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Reddit CEO defends free speech -- even for creeps like Violentacrez

  • Oct. 12, 2012: A Gawker expose revealed the identity of Reddit user "Violentacrez," the admiinstrator of several odious forums including "creepshots" and "jailbait."Gawker

  • The logo for social news site Reddit.com.Reddit

Everyone has a right to free speech -- and that even extends to creeps.

49-year-old computer programmer Michael Brutsch was the main moderator for Reddit’s “Creepshot” forum, which sparked outrage last month for encouraging users to post “covert photos they had taken of women in public,” typically close-ups of body parts for voyeuristic sexual thrills.

Brutsch was publicly exposed by Gawker writer Adrian Chen last weekend, leading his real-world employer to fire him and many Reddit administrators to ban links to Gawker websites as a show of solidarity with head creep Brutsch.

Please don’t do that, said Yishan Wong, CEO of the massive social news site.

“We stand for free speech,” Wong wrote in a private post on the site obtained by Chen. “We will not ban legal content even if we find it odious or if we personally condemn it. Not because that’s the law in the United States … but because we believe in that ideal independently.”

Besides, banning any links from Reddit to Gawker just looks bad, he wrote.

“Let’s be honest, this ban on links from the Gawker network is not making Reddit look so good,” Wong wrote.

Wong began his post -- titled “we seem to be in a bit of a pickle” -- by laying down the law: Reddit is all in favor of the freedom of legal speech, even if that speech is as clearly offensive as Brutsch’s Creepshots was.  

The majority of Wong’s posting dealt not with free speech or whether Reddit ought to host forums such as Creepshots -- a revolting collection of images so widely denounced that it was ultimately removed from the site -- but Chen’s investigative journalism and ultimate decision to reveal the identity of the forum moderator.

 “Moderators were enraged by Violentacrez's "doxxing" (hacker slang for outing) and decided to censor Gawker links in protest,” Chen explained.

Wong ultimately concluded that such an expose, muckracking though it may have been, was in the collective good and worth endorsing.

 “Free speech is expressed most powerful through the press, and many times throughout history a bad actor has been exposed by an enterprising (even muckraking) journalist, and it has been to the benefit of society,” he wrote.

The many bans on links to Gawker sites still exist, however, Chen said.

 “Currently more than 70 subreddits have censored Gawker links, including the popular Politics and TodayILearned subreddits.”