Follow-Up: A Few Questions About Reddit's Stance On Free Speech

Culture, Politics & Current Events

My post yesterday about the dispute over Gawker outing a Reddit moderator generated a lot of interest and discussion. I'd like to revisit the issue in light of a statement by Reddit CEO Yishan Wong. Gawker published that statement here.

Wong's core statement of Reddit's support for free speech is this:

We stand for free speech. This means we are not going to ban distasteful subreddits. 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 – because as many people have pointed out, privately-owned forums are under no obligation to uphold it – but because we believe in that ideal independently, and that's what we want to promote on our platform. We are clarifying that now because in the past it wasn't clear, and (to be honest) in the past we were not completely independent and there were other pressures acting on reddit. Now it's just reddit, and we serve the community, we serve the ideals of free speech, and we hope to ultimately be a universal platform for human discourse (cat pictures are a form of discourse).

These are admirable goals. It's a good thing for sites like Reddit to create free-speech platforms, particularly in light of the sort of pervasive threats to free speech we like to discuss here at Popehat.

Wong follows up with the exceptions:

Our rules today include the following two exceptions:

1. We will ban illegal content, and in addition sexualized pictures of minors, immediately upon any reports to us. We gave our rationale for that back when that issue was resolved, and we will maintain that policy for the same reasons.
2. We will ban the posting of personal information (doxxing), because it incites violence and harassment against specific individuals.

It's important to emphasize as a starting point that as a private actor, Reddit is free to restrict whatever speech it likes. In fact, Reddit is free to call itself a free speech platform and then still restrict any speech it likes. The only consequences are social ones, barring breach of contract or fraud (if, for instance, Reddit were in the business of selling membership based on a promise of free speech, then restricted it, you might have a cause of action).

However, observers of Reddit have free speech rights as well. Reddit's stance is fair game for criticism and inquiry.

Take a look at Wong's explanation of the anti-doxxing policy:

The current events have made it clear that the implementation of #2 requires some development. Those of us who've been around are familiar with the reasons behind that rule, the destructive witchhunts in reddit's past against both users and mods – even people who had no idea what ‘reddit' was – prompted by suspicion and ire, and often ending with undeserved harassment, death threats, job loss, or worse for the affected individual. Even reddit's favorite journalist Adrian Chen once wrote an article decrying the practice and mob mentality behind it (see: http://gawker.com/5751581/misguided-internet-vigilantes-attack-college-students-cancer-fundraiser).

But our ability to enforce policy ends at the edges of our platform. And one of the key functions of our platform is the sharing of content on the internet. I'm sure you see the problem.

So we must draw a line, and we've chosen to do the following:
1. We will ban doxxing posted to reddit.
2. We will ban links to pages elsewhere which are trivially or primarily intended for the purposes of doxxing (e.g. wikis or blogs primarily including dox).

Wong follows up later:

We do believe that doxxing is a form of violence, rather unique to the internet. Even innocent individuals can be accidentally targeted due to mistaken identities – a key difference between online mobs versus with journalists who have a system of professional accountability. And we believe that while we can prohibit it on our platform, we can only affect the opinion of others outside of reddit via moral suasion and setting an example. From the time when reddit first banned doxxing on its platform, I feel that there has been a change in the general attitude towards doxxing on the internet. It's still widespread, but we made a clear statement that it was a bad thing, worth exercising restraint over.

This leaves me with some questions.

To whom does the anti-doxxing policy apply? I think it's clear that Reddit means its anti-doxxing policy to prohibit Redditors from posting the "personal information" of Reddit users — that is, it prohibits "outing" Redditors.

But does it prohibit "outing" non-Redditors?

For instance, this week Anonymous outed someone they accused of driving Canadian teen Amanda Todd to suicide through vile conduct. Can a Redditor do that on Reddit, if the person outed is not a Redditor, or didn't bully the teen on Reddit? Can a Redditor link to an Anonymous site that is primarily intended to out the bad guy?

Does the policy only apply to online conduct? Does the anti-doxxing rule only apply to pseudo-anonymous or anonymous online conduct, or to real life conduct as well? Assuming these two louts aren't Redditors, would a Redditor be allowed to post on Reddit something like this piece at Above the Law, identifying two law students who killed an exotic bird at a Vegas casino? What about someone like, say, Jennifer Petkov, the woman who mocked and harassed a dying seven-year-old neighbor — would the doxxing ban prohibit someone from releasing personal information on Reddit about her, perhaps by digging up court records of arrests or child custody disputes?

Let me give you another example. After yesterday's "Town Hall" debate, some people researched whether a purported undecided questioner was actually a political operative from an interest group. Would that sort of analysis — which involved inquiry into the name and suspected work contact information of the individual — be banned on Reddit under the anti-doxxing rule?

Or, in another example, let's say someone is accused of a terrible crime and their name is published in a local paper. Would the anti-doxxing policy prohibit Redditors from, say, researching and then linking on Reddit to his Facebook page, or the web page for his employer? What about pulling the person's criminal records and posting them?

Why I Care

I ask these things because I'm trying to get at the heart of what Reddit is actually doing. Are they trying to prevent real-world harm — or are they trying to create a space where the expression of their own members is insulated from real-world consequences, including social consequences? I ask these things because, though I think anonymity should enjoy protections from the government, I don't think that it's clear that insulating anonymity from private inquiry is a free-speech value. Can the prospect of being outed "chill" speech? Of course. But anonymous harassment and abuse can "chill" speech as well. I tend to argue that the remedy for the chilling effect of anonymous harassment and abuse — if it doesn't break the law — is more speech. I think that more speech is the right remedy for the chilling impact of outing as well. It's not clear to me why it is principled to give anonymity preferential status.

If Reddit's anti-doxxing policy would not prevent the outing of Amanda Todd's tormentor, or the outing of the accused bird-killers, or finding and posting the Facebook pages or company web sites of people in the news, then I have to ask how sincere they are about their concerns regarding "undeserved harassment, death threats, job loss, or worse." If the position is "Redditors will be protected from outing here, but non-Redditors will not," then, well, that's an ethos, but I'm not sure it's one worthy of any respect.

Again, Reddit can run their show any way they like, and can set up any rules they like and put the label "free speech" on it. But the accuracy of the label, and the credibility of their justifications for exceptions to it, are fair game for discussion.

Last 5 posts by Ken White

63 Comments

61 Comments

  1. Grifter  •  Oct 17, 2012 @10:16 am

    @Ken:

    I believe that the "no-doxxing" rule only applies to the redditt community, and the justification is that doxxing a reddit user would chill speech within the sphere they operate.

    Any statements a user makes regarding their own identity are generally ignored…if I went on reddit and claimed to be Bill Gates, they wouldn't bother to dox me, they just wouldn't believe me.

    A classic example for why not to dox is a 16-year old asking about abortion being outed by an anti-abortion activist. If a user posts that they are a 16-year-old, that is taken as true based on its plausibility unless and until their statements cause people to question that, but nobody goes on to try to "prove" who they "really" are; they might also be an anti-aboriton activist themselves, trying to steer the debate. Doesn't matter.

    I think their policy is aimed at keeping speech free within their domain. If Douchey McGee is publicly outed as the guy who put flaming poop on the lawn of the White House, that's fine, because Douchey McGee is not being linked to a reddit user, and knowing that the poop-bagger is Mr. McGee does nothing on Reddit. He might be a Reddit user, or not; if someone tries to link a reddit SN to Douchey McGee, that is where they draw the line. Within their domain, the anonymity of their users is protected; I do not believe that it would be considered "doxxing" if someone said "I'm Douchey McGee, hi!" and someone else posted a link to the video of the poopery and said "You're that guy?"

    Is that sensical?

  2. Ken  •  Oct 17, 2012 @10:20 am

    @Grifter:

    Of course, they are masters of their domain — but that extends to not only doxxing of Redditors but to doxxing of others.

    Again, I'd like to know if the policy is "you can't doxx a Redditor here because you disagree with ihs speech, but you can doxx a non-Redditor here because you disagree with his speech." If that's the policy, I think it calls into question the sincerity of the justifications for the policy.

  3. Steve  •  Oct 17, 2012 @10:22 am

    These are all great questions. I'm a Reddit user myself, and in addition to the points you brought up, I'd have to ask how they want to handle some of the identifying quests Reddit goes on.

    There are threads like this one – "Bought storage items – got a guys entire military career 1942-1960's. Help me find his family"

    or – "I found a thumb drive 5 years ago, and this morning found hundreds of modeling images hidden on the drive. Can anyone help me find this person?"

    These show up regularly, and while most times I've seen the info get sent privately to the poster, there are times it doesn't. Also, being on the internet, there's little reason to believe the reasons they are looking for these people are legitimate.

    I hope you get answers to your questions. I'm kind of curious myself.

  4. Josh C  •  Oct 17, 2012 @10:28 am

    I was with you until "Are they trying to prevent real-world harm — or are they trying to create a space where the expression of their own members is insulated from real-world consequences, including social consequences?" isn't that the same appeal to categorical thinking which you've repeatedly condemned when used to support TSA's excesses, or censoriousness generally? Whether or not their actions serve the second aim is completely irrelevant to whether they serve the first.

    Whether anonymity has its own value is too complex for a single comment (at least for me), but there is clearly at least a strong minority view supporting that. Why else would ballots be secret, courtrooms regularly be sealed, or (going way back) Franklin have published under so many names? Accepting then at minimum, that many people have viewed anonymity as at least necessary to important speech, how is it difficult to see protection of anonymity as a principled stance?

    (As an aside, I don't hang out on reddit at all. If there's something specific about it as a forum that makes my objections not apply, then I'm sorry for fussing.)

  5. Pierre  •  Oct 17, 2012 @10:34 am
  6. Matt  •  Oct 17, 2012 @10:41 am

    Seeing as how the "Anti-doxxing" policy is purely symbolic anyway (they only control their own site, and regardless of how they implement the rule, they lack the power to prevent their users' personal information from being disclosed on other sites).

    My reading of it is more along the lines of "we won't link to outings" as being the policy, with "this only applies to Reddit" being a statement to the effect that they know that they're utterly powerless over the rest of the web, rather than a caveat that carves a hole in the policy for non-users of Reddit.

    The only truly defensible policies on outing/doxxing are:

    1. No policy
    2. "We're for it! Information wants to be free, man!"
    3. "We're against it! We can't stop you from doing it elsewhere, but don't expect us to help you in any way, including posting links to it."

    I lean toward #3, myself, but I will concede that the others also have at least internally-consistent justifications.

  7. Ken  •  Oct 17, 2012 @10:45 am

    @JoshC

    I was with you until "Are they trying to prevent real-world harm — or are they trying to create a space where the expression of their own members is insulated from real-world consequences, including social consequences?" isn't that the same appeal to categorical thinking which you've repeatedly condemned when used to support TSA's excesses, or censoriousness generally? Whether or not their actions serve the second aim is completely irrelevant to whether they serve the first.

    You are correct that those are not the only two options, and that they may be compatible. My point is that if they articulate the avoid-harm principle, but then let Redditors dox non-Redditors, then their belief in the principle is open to question, and it's reasonable to suggest they may only sincerely hold the one about insulating speech from criticism.

  8. Grifter  •  Oct 17, 2012 @10:46 am

    @Ken:

    I think, though, that they are interested only in the protection of speech within their domain. Looked at through that lens, their specific limitation of only preventing the doxxing of reddit users makes sense, since outing others does not affect the speech on reddit? "Within our domain, you may pick a name, and that name may not be linked without your permission to your physical self or "real" name".

    The debate the other night had no such rule for the public participants, which is why they might be considered fair game to "dox"; they were not in a space where anonymity was promised. Similarly, I suspect that if there were a website entirely devoted to doxxing users who were anonymous on other sites, in violation of those other sites policies, Reddit would not allow the posting even if it didn't technically affect Reddit users, out of respect for those other sites. The doxxing rule only applies to places where you should be, or where you had a reasonable expectation to be, anonymous, as opposed to places where you just thought people weren't looking. The Alleged Bird Killers would not be "doxxed" by posting the arrest reports online any more than VA would have been "doxxed" by posting old chat logs from previous boards he moderated…those were things he specifically linked to that "user ID", and the arrest reports are specifically linked to the ABKs "public names".

    I see it as similar in kind to HIPAA issues. Medical information is spread relatively freely among medical professionals, but releasing that information publicly is a shitty and illegal thing to do. Now, of course, medical information and personal information are totally different things and I'm not trying to equate them, and am certainly not talking about making it illegal; but more than the illegality of me telling you about your cousin's syphilis is the ethics of it.

  9. Ken  •  Oct 17, 2012 @10:47 am

    @Matt:

    My reading of it is more along the lines of "we won't link to outings" as being the policy, with "this only applies to Reddit" being a statement to the effect that they know that they're utterly powerless over the rest of the web, rather than a caveat that carves a hole in the policy for non-users of Reddit.

    But they do have power over Reddit.

    If their policy is "you can't doxx Redditors on Reddit, but you can dox non-Redditors on Reddit," then doesn't that call the sincerity of their expressed values into question?

  10. Grifter  •  Oct 17, 2012 @10:54 am

    @Ken:

    I read this comment by Mercury on the other post:

    "I think it’s worth keeping in mind the difference between 'anonymous' and 'pseudonymous' as they are not quite the same thing."

    I think that their statements are attempting to explain their desire to grant a right of pseudonym to their users, and you see condradictions because what they're saying is anonymity.

  11. PhilG  •  Oct 17, 2012 @11:00 am

    @Ken I read this post as oddly antagonistic. I don't know if that was the intended inflection or I'm adding it in myself.

    I see to reason to assume they are implying that you can doxx non-Redditors on Reddit from his statement. In fact, part of the whole drama surrounding this was the Predditors tumblr doxxing using of /r/creepshots and the support that tumblr received in places like /r/srs and how users felt this completely violated the no-doxxing policy spirit if not letter.

    @Grifter I think you nailed it.

  12. Russell  •  Oct 17, 2012 @11:08 am

    From the reddit.com FAQ:

    Is posting personal information ok?

    NO. Reddit is a pretty open and free speech place, but it is not ok to post someone's personal information, or post links to personal information. This includes links to public Facebook pages and screenshots of Facebook pages with the names still legible. We all get outraged by the ignorant things people say and do online, but witch hunts and vigilantism hurt innocent people and certain individual information, including personal info found online is often false. Posting personal information will get you banned. Posting professional links to contact a congressman or the CEO of some company is probably fine, but don't post anything inviting harassment, don't harass, and don't cheer on or vote up obvious vigilantism.

    I guess this isn't as clear as it could be, but it seems to pretty strongly indicate that personal information of anyone is unacceptable content on Reddit, not just personal information of people that happen to have Reddit accounts.

    @Grifter- What indicates to you that the policy is intended to apply only to personal information of Reddit users?

  13. Ken  •  Oct 17, 2012 @11:12 am

    Thanks, @Russell. It would be interesting to know if Redditor-doxxing and non-Redditor-doxxing are enforced equally.

  14. Pliny  •  Oct 17, 2012 @11:18 am

    In my experience on Reddit this past year, posting anybody's personal info (Real name, phone number, address, etc), redditor or not is verboten.

    It's kind of like an interwebs version of HIPPA. You can talk about people, but you can't connect the label you're using with enough information for somebody to find and harass them.

  15. Grifter  •  Oct 17, 2012 @11:21 am

    @Russell:

    I tried to clarify in my second post. I think, for example, that Ken's example of the Alleged Bird Killers on Above the Law would be an okay thing to post on Reddit, would it not?

  16. Shane  •  Oct 17, 2012 @11:28 am

    @Pierre
    Anonymous was not "wrong". They outed a person that was in high likelihood (note the statistical reference) the person that tormented Amanda. They posted the "evidence" of their belief that this was the person. So to say that they outed the wrong person is a lie, because no one can say for sure that he was the right guy, or the wrong guy. And to go by just his word that he wasn't the one is laughable.

    This problem is that of a country where the police force is either corrupt or non-existent. Hence the word vigilantism in all of the titles, relating to this story. The real question for me is, if this man did this to this girl in RL how would we as a society deal with that, and if it is different than hyper space then what is different?

  17. Russell  •  Oct 17, 2012 @11:29 am

    That's a good question and I've been trying to think of a way to look into it. I can say anecdotally that the majority of commenters on the subreddits I visit seem to be strongly opposed to any sort of doxxing or witch-hunting behaviors. There are a few voices that think the policy against doxxing is hypocritical, but they appear to be in the minority.

  18. Jill A.  •  Oct 17, 2012 @11:39 am

    Reddit states that one of the exceptions to free speech they enforce is that they will not permit personal information to be posted. Why is a photo not considered personal information? Under law, it is an accepted form of identification.

    Would the Gawker article have been more acceptable to them if it had not revealed violentacrez' name, merely his photo, a photo of his home, his work place, his wife and son?

  19. Mercury  •  Oct 17, 2012 @11:40 am

    I suspect that we’re slowly arriving at a point where the gratuitous use of another person’s personal information will largely be thwarted not by a yet to be evolved legal or moral framework but by the likelihood that the potential aggressor will invite retaliation which he is not willing to withstand.

    At some level you don’t start throwing punches in a crowd (for whatever reason may be motivating that impulse) because you’ve carefully weighed the legal pros and cons and decided against it but because you realize that you would be asking for a serious ass-beating and so you restrain yourself.

    As everyone else’s personal information becomes more accessible via they myriad internet and database sources that constantly surround us these days it seems inevitable that some watershed Supreme Court case will come along involving information privacy and Reddit, Facebook or the notoriously evil-free folks at Google. Good luck with a happy outcome there but I wonder if the problem might not eventually solve itself to a considerable extent when defensive technology becomes as (or more) powerful than offensive technology similar to what has been the case many times in military history.

  20. Dan Weber  •  Oct 17, 2012 @11:44 am

    One question is how much a place like "Above The Law" counts as journalism, which I'm glad to see the admins admit requires human judgment. I think reddit has gotten into a lot of its own trouble by trying to have a rule-based system manage their site instead. This has the advantage of no humans messing things up, but it has the disadvantage that there are no humans to stop stupid crap from happening.

  21. Grifter  •  Oct 17, 2012 @11:52 am

    @Russell:

    To answer the question about whether the post about the alleged birdkillers would be legit, there's this subreddit:

    http://www.reddit.com/r/Bad_Cop_No_Donut/

    Where, as an example, this link exists:
    http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/1271979–prison-service-wants-ashley-smith-videos-kept-secret

    That very much personally identifies someone…but what it doesn't do is break through anyone's pseudonym; I think that the fact that that's the real issue if "just understood" by those within the reddit system, but, as Ken demonstrates, is unclear to those who are not.

  22. Shane  •  Oct 17, 2012 @11:58 am

    Having played WoW for some time what gets me the most about this debate is the fact that people use their anonymity to do things that would seriously get them in trouble in RL. I often wonder if their cyber life doesn't spill out into RL (I hope it does). If Reddit decides that they want to call what they are doing free speech then so be it, but in reality it is not. That they are creating a place where people can come take a shit "anonymously" then grande. But seriously who wants to go to a place like that? Imagine that a Reddit store opened next to your favorite Walmart, and when you entered you were given a Guy Fawkes mask and told that you couldn't remove it or neither could you remove other masks. I think I would tire of the "free" ideas in this place, as I tired of the continuous stream of vomit in trade chat on WoW.

    I think that Voilentacerz is weak willed person and that he would not own up to his own "contribution" to the interwebz. I also think that if Granny Wonderful is doxed for stealing a cupcake recipe from Martha Stewart and posting it as her own, there wouldn't be much fuss. There seems to be something that Voilentacerz has done that might cause violence against him. Once again if I walk down the street and troll every passerby, while what I am doing is not technically illegal, I will get responses that I might not like (perhaps my boss is watching this behaviour as I am going to lunch). I think Reddit is hypocritical for not letting people be held accountable for their actions.

  23. Lizard  •  Oct 17, 2012 @11:59 am

    Am I the only person who has a (ahem) violent reaction to any form of the expression "Speech is violence"? It's an Orwellian construct that is parroted so many times that few people seem willing to call a shrieking halt to the conversation and point out the Emperor is buck-ass naked, and apparently has herpes.

    It doesn't bug me in an obviously metaphorical concept — we talk of "killing an idea" or "that movie raped my childhood" or "this book is an assault on all things decent", and often use violent imagery when discussing non-physical things. However, I see it used very frequently in contexts that do not seem metaphorical, and it is a dangerous meme that is trying to establish itself in the population (yes, memes don't just mean captioned cats), for it is very generally agreed that one of the main purposes of government and law is to prevent violence (and punish the violent), so, once you get the idea internalized that "speech is violence", it is very easy to sell the next idea:"Government should regulate speech."

    This is the kind of thing that I cannot let pass unnoticed; regardless of the topic, when someone pulls out "Speech is violence", I feel it's a moral duty to stop and say, "No, it isn't. Try again." (Speech can LEAD to violence. So can football games. (OK, football games ARE violence, so, not a good example. Ah well. I've got work to do. Make your own metaphor.))

  24. PhilG  •  Oct 17, 2012 @11:59 am

    Why is a photo not considered personal information? Under law, it is an accepted form of identification.

    Sadly a photo of my ass, as memorable as it may be, is not an acceptable form of identification. Some day…some day.

  25. Dan Weber  •  Oct 17, 2012 @12:00 pm

    Grifter, The Star seems like a journalism site, which the memo says you are allowed to link to.

    I can see the distinction of giving large sites a break; reddit can't stop the information after it's being reported on the nightly news. But there are sites that are largely ignored by everyone until reddit links to them, and so reddit can stop the leaking there.

    Intent also matters, and it's not hard for a human to apply judgement. It's the same human judgement you would use to decide whether a picture someone took of someone in public is covert or not.

  26. Lizard  •  Oct 17, 2012 @12:05 pm

    @Grifter: I think you hit to the heart of it when you discuss HIPAA issues. That's a case where someone is contractually obliged not to release information (and presumably to take reasonable precautions to keep others from releasing it), and you give them that information under the agreement that their ability to release it is constrained. However, if a friend tells you "Hey, bud, I have the clap", and you decide to be a dickwad and tell the world (perhaps he gave it you via sleeping with your girlfriend, there's a good motive for dickwaddery), he has no legal recourse. You've got a legal right to tell the world the truth; how much of a MORAL right you have depends on ludicrously complex mixes of circumstances and local cultural values.

    I submit it's nigh impossible to create a universal, or near universal, code that determines when it's ethical to release personal information. As with so many things, we rely on often-unstated but generally understood sets of guidelines, boundaries, and conditionals which are rarely consciosuly examined, must less qualified. I tend to "think about thinking" a lot, so I try to break down my emotional and instinctive reactions into the chains of subconscious logic that produce them. It's a useful exercise.

  27. KronWeld  •  Oct 17, 2012 @12:45 pm

    Ken, I get a "not found, The page you were looking for could not be found" for the Jennifer Petkov link in your post. While I Googled her, I'd love to read what you had to say about her.

  28. Bill C  •  Oct 17, 2012 @12:55 pm

    If I can set the doxxing issue aside for a moment, I'm curious about their pledge to "ban illegal content". Illegal where? I think if you look hard enough virtually everything is illegal somewhere (or something like that).

  29. Matt  •  Oct 17, 2012 @12:59 pm

    "However, if a friend tells you 'Hey, bud, I have the clap', and you decide to be a dickwad and tell the world (perhaps he gave it you via sleeping with your girlfriend, there's a good motive for dickwaddery), he has no legal recourse."

    Except that, despite this being a blog operated by lawyers, we're not talking about legal recourse. We're talking about Reddit, and Reddit's internal policy. Which is more akin to saying "if you do that, I have a right to call you a dickwad, and a realistic expectation that just about everyone who hears about it will agree with me" than "if you do that, I have a right to sue/imprison you".

    As far as I know, Reddit is not agitating for their anti-doxxing policy to be accorded the force of law. They're just saying "this is what the rule is HERE". And Ken apparently had (and may still have) some concerns about whether the policy is hypocritical. One can agree with them (as I do), or disagree with them (as others do) about whether that policy is a good choice, but let's all stay gentlemen about this, and not be the first ones to drag the legal system into the mess.

  30. Pierre  •  Oct 17, 2012 @1:48 pm

    @Shane, the police, in this case the RCMP, have flat out said Anonymous' accusation was "unfounded." Anonymous, furthermore, doubled down on their error by posting the address of someone with the same name, and not the address of the person they meant to, incorrectly, wrongly accuse.

    It's pretty clear that someone tormented Amanda Todd. It's also pretty clear that the person Anonymous fingered was not that person.

  31. Kevin Kirkpatrick  •  Oct 17, 2012 @1:57 pm

    I think this has nothing to do with internet/free-speech/censorship/whatever, but can be understood in simple terms of the most basic of moral principles: Do not harm others, except to prevent them from harming others. The corollary: if you are not harming others, then you ought not be harmed. More, if you are being harmed, you should expect to
    1) be allowed to harm back (ie. self-defense)
    2) be able to appeal to others to assist you in #1.

    Obviously, if a teenage girl, "Julie", wishes to share a candid/private/nude/near-nude/whatever picture of herself with friends, but not to others, her doing so does not harm anybody. However, it can do her great harm for somebody to publish her picture to a wider audience (what harm? Google "Amanda Todd"). It may be *naive* for her to use a forum such as Facebook to share her pictures (or to do so without proper privacy setting). But being naive is not doing harm, ergo it is not justification for anybody to do harm to Julie. Analogously, it may be naive for Julie to ride a bicycle without a helmet. If she chooses to do so, while it'd be okay to warn her of the dangers of doing such, it is not okay to demonstrate the dangers to her by shoving her off her bike.

    By this rationale, it is self-evident that the reddit "creepers" are doing real harm to people who do not deserve it. Yes, "doxxing" these creepers is a form of harm, but it's entirely justified if it is the minimum amount of harm one can do to them to prevent them from "creeping" innocent victims.

    OTOH, "doxxing" a gay man who is "in the closet" in real life and thus posts anonymously online, is clearly doing unjustified harm, and is therefore entirely unacceptable.

    It does seem bizzare that Reddit would establish policies not based on cornerstone principles, but rather on tactics (which, as Ken points out, are completely orthogonal to the principles and utterly impossible to evaluate without wider context).

  32. Shane  •  Oct 17, 2012 @2:07 pm

    @Pierre
    This is the absolute confirmation of his innocence … really?

    Proof of innocence?

  33. Grifter  •  Oct 17, 2012 @2:34 pm

    @Dan Weber:

    So is Gawker, but they've blocked links there.

  34. Piper  •  Oct 17, 2012 @2:56 pm

    I think a large part of the conundrum here is "What is the penalty for lying, and in particular, lying on the internet?"

    In general, civilized society has social norms that attempt to bring some kind of appropriate justice to the practice, whether they are little white lies, liar-liar-pants-on-fire lies, or if they rise to the level of criminal behavior.

    These norms can vary from place to place, and are frequently softened by human knowledge of the person/lie/etc. – but the internet doesn't heed those boundaries, and usually doesn't have the social backstory/norms in order to soften rough edges of both the lies and the appropriate punishment.

  35. bvierra  •  Oct 17, 2012 @2:58 pm

    While I understand the confusion I think the anti-doxxing rules are placed due to the hive mind attitude of reddit overall.

    From what I have seen in the past, and with the changes I agree they need to be clarified further, there is a few types of what you are viewing as doxxing and I do not believe both fit the definition of doxxing. Your belief is that posting personal identifying information about a person then it is doxxing, where I believe that doxxing is posting personal identifying information with the intent of being malicious.

    For example, someone threatens to shoot up their school the next day. Discussion happens and they believe they have located the person, they then call the police department and let them know what they found. I feel this is not doxxing, nor has it been looked at that way in the past.

    But it will be interesting to see where they go with this, at least they are now stating a position.

    Also if you are ever interested in finding someone who has remained completely anonymous while having tons of people trying to find him (I think he has been doxxed over 50 times, all wrong) take a look at th3j35t3r.

  36. Lago  •  Oct 17, 2012 @3:30 pm

    Ken, I like what you have to say about the marketplace of ideas, but this balancing act doesn't necessarily apply here. You can do something universally distasteful and condemning and have no shame about it, but that doesn't make it right to be outed for it. In the case of Amanda Todd, what the guy did to her was terrible. VA might have been a creep, but I wouldn't say he deserved to be outed for it.

    Measuring how horrible somebody is and whether they deserve a certain treatment or not is entirely subjective of course, and I would never advocate a legal solution for maintaining anonymity, that would introduce a whole slew of other, worse issues. I would just like to point out that you can't justify something like this happening by saying "why should someone who devotes himself to upsetting people, and who promotes creeper forums, not be treated like someone who devotes himself to upsetting people and promotes creeper forums?"

    Richard explained this a bit already in the other thread, but to extrapolate, I've worked on visual effects for a porn before. I do NOT want my name anywhere associated with that porn, not just because it would isolate me from extended friends and family, but because I would be blacklisted at several big animation studios for it. I should reasonably be able to expect to have it both ways, shouldn't I? This idea that being publicly identified for doing something distasteful automatically justifies itself is a crock of shit.

  37. Kevin Kirkpatrick  •  Oct 17, 2012 @3:46 pm

    Lago – if you harmed nobody, then you're absolutely right – nobody would be entitled to "out you" (and I think anyone who did would face massive negative repercussions as a result). However, if this was a "voyeur porn" where the actress wasn't aware she was being filmed – do you still think you'd be entitled to your privacy? Again, I come back to this being a simple ethical equation – if you harm innocents,you deserve to be harmed. If you don't, then you don't.

  38. Lago  •  Oct 17, 2012 @4:27 pm

    "I think anyone who did would face massive negative repercussions as a result"

    I don't think so. I think I'd get less sympathy than you think. People are unfortunately bigoted with these things, thus my need for anonymity.

    Did VA harm innocents? Where do you draw the line exactly? There are even grey areas with "harming innocents." But the shades of grey are really not what I take issue with. You can't just write off outing VA by saying he should be treated in real life like what he is on the internet, regardless of whether you think he should have been outed or not. I strongly disagree with that sentiment.

  39. BNT  •  Oct 17, 2012 @4:32 pm

    It does seem bizzare that Reddit would establish policies not based on cornerstone principles, but rather on tactics (which, as Ken points out, are completely orthogonal to the principles and utterly impossible to evaluate without wider context).

    From what I can tell, their rulemaking process has been reactionary. "Okay, that was a terrible thing; what do we need to do to prevent this from happening again?" An advantage of this approach is they end up with the absolute minimum of rules, aimed only at preventing the most egregious behavior. A disadvantage is that the policies can make such perfect sense to insiders that they don't see how little sense they make from any other viewpoint.

    Additionally, they may not care whether their policies seem poorly thought-out, nebulous, inconsistent, or hypocritical to outsiders. They're internal policies for their community.

  40. G Thompson  •  Oct 17, 2012 @6:24 pm

    In the 90's there was a website formed that some may remember (I was a part of the place) called Bianca which in it's day was infamous for its absolute free speech policy.

    One of the founders, Chris Miller (also called freeform) wrote a Thesis about the sociological effects of the place not only on it's members but on the internet itself, which is still being felt today. [ http://freeform.org/thesis/toc.html ]

    As part of the thesis's conclusion Miller states something that is highly relevant to all social websites especially Reddit still.

    As much as virtual communities should be supported and allowed to grow they should also be carefully monitored. Virtual communities may allow users to more easily explore their own identity and lower their social inhibitions and communicate without the social tensions of real life, but they also enable users to explore their hatreds and malicious intentions. In order to avoid the problems of the 'consequences of freedom of expression', virtual communities should carefully limit the freedoms of users through social sanctions and system constraints.

    As more people join cyberspace and the virtual communities there within, we must remember what we have learned so far and take example from our real world communities. At this moment we are still very much in control of The Virtual Community's destiny. Will virtual communities be the next 'Great Good Place' exploring new social ground between people, or will they follow in the footsteps of their real world counterparts and form governments which create excessively paternalistic laws with police to enforce them. Whatever path is taken, the Internet, cyberspace, and virtual communities will be an extremely interesting development to watch over the coming years.[emphasis added]

    To me Reddit is what Bianca aimed to be, and no matter how much people scream and complain and whine about how "it's got some really bad places within it that well are not illegal persay but I just don't like them cause of reasons" they need to understand that that happens EVERYWHERE. Policies are great and questioning them like Ken is is always good but it's still the community itself who sets the rules no matter what the owners of Reddit say publicly. Thats the value of the place and why it's worked so well and will for hopefully decades to come… constantly evolving its rules and mores dependant upon what it's own community want and expect and not to what the outside "cause of reasons" people say.

    Oh and the Trolls at Bianca were actually the admins! ;)

  41. G Thompson  •  Oct 17, 2012 @6:26 pm

    damn.. double blockquote of weirdness! Sorry

    see this is what happens when you don't use HTML codes all the times like we had to at Bianca's.. especially for the chat.

    YES!! HTML chatting for the win!

  42. Bill  •  Oct 17, 2012 @7:15 pm

    @GThompson – Bianca and Drudge (I actually remembered getting his *blast* emails before he had a website) are two of the first sites I remember frequenting 'back in the day. Compuserve & prodigy over really really slow 2600 baud modems were the main internet I had for a while until I got my first real internet connection and got lynx. Bianca was a really awesome place. That's the first time in my life though – when browsing the Chat shack, that I came across child porn. It was a link to a sight in Sweden and there were these two guys with their faces obscured with this little boy who was wearing a teenage mutant ninja turtles t-shirt and had a stuffed teddy bear in his arms. I was so naive back then I didn't realize what it was for the first two pics, then as I scrolled down I had this horrible sinking feeling in my stomach and they proceeded to molest the kids. They even had a url in the bottom of the pictures. I freaked out, took screen shots of a few (which was how utterly naive I was then) and went to the FBI websight to report these creeps – I actually sent an email to the FBI with attachments of the screen shots which was stupid beyond belief. Before that incident, I was a complete never censor everything goes absolutist. But seeing those things (I guess i knew kiddy porn existed prior to that , but I guess I thought it was mostly fake or hardly ever real, like snuff films – finding out how real that stuff was really took away naive innocence on my part) really changed my mind. And seeing that there wasn't anything that could be done (the site was offshore and the peds would put stuff up, leave it up for a few hours and take it down) convinced me of how right Miller was- The other users at the time pretty much had the same reaction i did (even though there was a lot of pr0n back then, it was all pretty mild) although a few people were encouraging and asking for more. a small war ensued and all the threats about getting law enforcement involved ended that episode- but at the end of the day, your point and Miller's is spot on. Law and policy will always be a day late and a dollar short- real-time outrage and community standard enforcement gets the job done immediately and well. Yes, that can go overboard, but that's when it's time to have a new community. Bianca was a pioneering website in many ways – and it's definitely missed.

  43. Bill  •  Oct 17, 2012 @7:18 pm

    @GThompson – and on the hacked HTML front, do you remember how every time a new HTML hack was discovered, the chat rooms would get hit with it – like opening tags and not closing them so that everything after that tag would be distorted or disappear? Then on the other side , many would show off when they learned some cool new way to do something – I can still visualize scrolling text after the Marquee tag was introduced. Man things brings back memories

  44. Lago  •  Oct 17, 2012 @7:23 pm

    Shoot. I wish I could edit my comments. I wrote "this balancing act doesn't necessarily apply here" and I really don't mean that. What I mean is that the backlash of publicly exposing someone who operates anonymously who doesn't really deserve it is the exception, not the rule of the marketplace of ideas. Usually, something like this happens to somebody who's unpopular without any real warrant, and there's very little backlash, or none at all. Doxxing of VA is probably going to be a case in point, even though there's a lot of people on his side.

  45. G Thompson  •  Oct 17, 2012 @7:50 pm

    @Bill: If you want a brief trip down memory lane – http://www.nethideaway.com/cgi-bin/pubchat/pubchat.cgi?jukebox

    The NetHideaway is basically a clone of what was programmed at B's and was created from members from TheReef which succeeded B's. (Disclaimer: I was one of the two programmers and also a main admin at TheReef)

    Hacking of the HTML chat code was a never ending thing which kept everyone on their toes. And also helped create new and better code too ;)

    And Yes B's, all of it, is sorely missed and still there is nothing on the net that does what it did. You OWNED your own forum, chatroom, space and weren't just a a part of the community you were your own community.

  46. Liokae  •  Oct 17, 2012 @8:44 pm

    The thing that I found most telling about their policy is that they noted their anti-doxing is because they feel that doxxing is a form of violence, so they ban it.

    Think about that, and then all the stuff they don't ban.

    To them, threats of rape and murder are not violence. Encouraging people to sexually harass underage girls is not violence. Deliberately triggering victims of PTSD is not violence. Facilitating the trade of child pornography is not violence. Encouraging domestic abuse is not violence. Encouraging the vicious assault of homosexuals, women, anyone who isn't white, anyone who isn't Christian, and anyone outside the gender binary isn't violence. All of these things are perfectly fine and not to be interfered with.

    But posting personal details, or a link to where personal details are posted? Oh, now THAT'S a heinous act of violence, and must be strictly prohibited.

    I'm scared of a mind that can operate like that.

  47. G Thompson  •  Oct 17, 2012 @10:40 pm

    @Lokae I'm gathering you don't understand that all of the alleged things that you state they don't ban are just that allegations. Unproven statements of maybe unlawful things and quite subjective.

    In the case of trading of Indecent Images (CP) though, that is absolutely taken seriously by Reddit, as long as they are made aware of the practice and it is provable (in fact it is then placed into the hands of the appropriate authorities who handle it).

    Doxxing on the other hand.. and I personally loathe the terminology, is prima facie a reasonable threat to the identified individual and therefore is considered and classified as an imminent threat ie: violence.

    It's not a hard concept to understand. This doesn't mean people should be told and encouraged by the community as a whole NOT to do the other acts you allude to but then it can lead into a slippery slope of who decides what a threat is, who decides when someone is actually being critical, hyperbolic, or just passing on their personal opinion. Or do we go down the slope of not allowing anyone to do anything that might result in someone's feelings being hurt?

    Let the community decide… IF your a part of the Reddit community speak up.. form your own group. Be heard. If your not JOIN! if instead your one of the "I don't like it cause of reasons" persons, then unless you can specifically see a relevant law being broken … in the acronym of the net.. STFU

  48. Adrian Ratnapala  •  Oct 17, 2012 @11:17 pm

    This is off-topic to Ken's post, but it there is something very interesting in Wong's post:

    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 – because as many people have pointed out, privately-owned forums are under no obligation to uphold it – but because we believe in that ideal independently, and that's what we want to promote on our platform.

    Good! If the internet conversation is going to happen of a platform of a just dozen or so giant platforms, then we need those platforms uphold state-like free-speech norms even though they are not state.

    But will that really happen. Wong continues: We are clarifying that now because in the past it wasn't clear, and (to be honest) in the past we were not completely independent and there were other pressures acting on reddit.

    I assume he is talking about past business partners that Reddit is now claiming to be independent of. But is it really possible for a giant corporation to be independent? If they p*** off an administration, then they have to fear regulatory retaliation, they can also be intimidated by laws like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act which makes it much safer for platform owners to just take down content, than try to uphold the rights of the poster.

  49. mythago  •  Oct 18, 2012 @12:45 am

    @Adrian: personal information is legal content, yet reddit bans it.

    And certainly photographs can be identifying information. That's how the substitute teacher got doxxed – something, curiously, that does not seem to have enraged reddit; a friend of the girl in the photo recognized her.

  50. JdL  •  Oct 18, 2012 @3:50 am

    @Liokae

    Encouraging people to sexually harass underage girls…

    Do you call taking photographs of girls "sexual harassment"?

    …threats of rape and murder…

    Is Reddit actually posting such things? If so, I agree that's over the top. I don't think that capturing photons in a public place, with no deceptive practices (up-skirt, etc.), then posting those photos, qualifies as a crime OR a sin.

    A lot of what I read on this thread gives off the odor of a patronizing attitude toward women, thinking that they must be protected against any discomfort at all times by strong, capable men.

  51. Elliott  •  Oct 18, 2012 @5:12 am

    @JdL
    [i]I don't think that capturing photons in a public place, with no deceptive practices (up-skirt, etc.), then posting those photos, qualifies as a crime OR a sin.[/i]

    That's exactly what /creepshot was. It came about after /jailbait was shut down after outside websites brought attention to it.

    I think the hidden (unless you dig for them) nature of sub-reddits causes sub-cultures to form that don't get divergent opinions or challenges. Are the people posting to /creepshot going to listen to the poster that says "Hey, this is morally, and possibly legally wrong?" or are they going to downvote that person so they can continue to enjoy their porn?

  52. Lizard  •  Oct 18, 2012 @6:00 am

    @Matt: Not so much on this thread, but on the prior thread, we had a lot of people writing to the effect of "There ought to be a law!" or "Why don't they arrest those people?". Hence my comment here. The boundary between "You shouldn't do this" and "You mustn't do this" tends to be thin and blurry, especially when our innate monkey sense of justice ("He ate too many bananas! Throw poo at him!") runs into our intellectual knowledge of what kinds of laws make for a livable society ("The Banana Allocation Act of 1954 was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court due to 'unacceptable vagueness' as regards 'too many' bananas. Congress is looking at rewriting the legislation to overcome the objections.")

    The other topics are pretty cut and dried: Reddit can have whatever policies they like, hypocritical or not. Don't like it, don't post at Reddit. I just got 3 day ban from RPG.net for saying (effectively) "I'm likely to post something that will break the rules in response to this, so, I'm not posting and will unsub this thread to avoid being tempted." Apparently, deliberately choosing to not break the rules is breaking the rules. Go figure. I'm still deciding whether the time I spend censoring myself there is worth bothering to go back when my ban is lifted. They can run their forums as they wish; I can choose that the drawbacks of being an active poster there outweigh the benefits.

  53. Liokae  •  Oct 18, 2012 @6:32 am

    @G Thompson

    I'm not alleging that Violentacrez did all those things- but all have been done in Reddit-at-large, in various different section. Every single one, I've personally witnessed multiple times; frequently they're deleted soon after by the user, or the moderator of the specific subreddit will ban them, but none of them are banned at a site level.

  54. Lizard  •  Oct 18, 2012 @7:16 am

    @GThompson — maybe there's some other factors I'm not aware of, but I'm fairly certain posting people's name and address is not considered an "imminent threat" in terms of current law (IANAL). Here's one such case: http://www.firstamendmentcoalition.org/2010/06/posting-police-officers-name-on-internet-found-legal-but-repercussions-troubling-for-florida-man-2/

    There are countless ways to find someone's name, address, phone, etc, on the Internet, beginning with very trivial amounts of information. I'm not talking mad 133t haxx0r 5killz, I'm talking "Google" and similar services (phone number lookup, yellow pages/white pages online, a ton of other things that do nothing but aggregate public information). Is it "incitement to imminent violence" if, instead of posting someone's name/address, I instead just post "type the following into iStalk.com"? (Site name is fictitious. I hope.)

    The "posting my publicly available personal info is incitement to violence!" concept was tried by a certain Charles Carreon. It didn't end well for him, except in his deluded imagination.

    Since IANAL, perhaps you're referring to particular contexts, limitations, exclusions, etc, I'm unaware of. I'd prefer not to be ignorant, so, if you can point me to some relevant cases that support the concept that identifying someone using a 'nym is considered incitement to violence against that person, I'd like to read them and see if I agree with their logic. (I'm assuming we're also excluding postings that explicitly urge violence against the person, placed in a context where the poster could reasonably believe they'd be acted upon. I figure that's a different case than what we're discussing here.)

  55. Jared  •  Oct 18, 2012 @9:11 am
  56. Dan Weber  •  Oct 18, 2012 @9:33 am

    So is Gawker [a journalism site], but they've blocked links there.

    They've recanted on that, before or simultaneous to the time they announced the policy I was talking about. Not in so many words, they said "the cat is already out of the bag, and it was giving opponents a narrative of 'reddit strikes back to defend pedophiles' that we say isn't true but let's still take that weapon out of their hands."

    "What is the penalty for lying, and in particular, lying on the internet?"

    You really think someone would do that?

    A disadvantage is that the policies can make such perfect sense to insiders that they don't see how little sense they make from any other viewpoint.

    Yes. (Did I talk with you about this over on HN?) Once you know how reddit makes policy, you can see why their policies are the result of naivite, not malfeasance. By only making rules when the shit hits the fan, they think they are doing good by having the minimal number of rules. The direct side effect is that the only way for community members to change the rules is by throwing shit at the fan.

  57. makomk  •  Oct 18, 2012 @12:16 pm

    I think you're missing something important. Their policy doesn't just distinguish between doxxing Redditors and doxxing non-Redditors, it also treats doxxing by outsiders differently to doxxing by other Redditors. Read the policy: "We will ban links to pages elsewhere which are trivially or primarily intended for the purposes of doxxing (e.g. wikis or blogs primarily including dox)." That's a fairly obvious attempt at stopping members of Reddit just doing an end-run around the anti-doxxing policy by setting up a site elsewhere and then linking to it whilst still allowing links to news articles that contain personal information of Redditors.

    Now, the reason why they want to ban this is basically that Reddit has a witch-hunt problem. It's really easy to get parts of the Reddit community riled up against another Redditor and when they're given RL details things get nasty fairly quickly, even if the RL person being harassed has been misidentified and has no idea what Reddit is. The same generally isn't true of non-Redditors because not enough other users actually care about them to get riled up and go on a rampage – Reddit still isn't quite 4chan.

    It's less an attempt to give members of Reddit special protection and more a way of trying to stop them from causing problems.

    Liokae: well, the main group trying to get those things banned from Reddit has the exact same views except with the genders switched around. (Yes, including gender-switched versions of the statements there which ostensibly don't include a gender. Probably even the bit about "anyone outside the gender binary" – some genders are more acceptably outside the gender binary than others, and (ironically) the divide tends to happen along lines that look remarkably like the gender binary.)

  58. BNT  •  Oct 18, 2012 @12:26 pm

    The direct side effect is that the only way for community members to change the rules is by throwing shit at the fan.

    Well put.

    So, what I'm gathering is that there were incidents in reddit's past where personal information was posted and used to actually harass/threaten people. Info posted -> mob inflamed -> harassment.

    Banning doxxing is certainly the most practical and enforceable way of preventing that sequence. But it's as if it didn't occur to anybody that, if you're going to claim free speech as a principle, banning information is… the opposite.

    And treating that entire sequence as a single event disturbingly suggests that posting someone's identity in the reddit community is virtually guaranteed to lead to death threats.

  59. makomk  •  Oct 18, 2012 @5:07 pm

    Most of the time, there's no reason to post someone's personal information except to harass or threaten them, though. I'm not sure whether Reddit actually enforces their policy when the information being posted is genuinely relevant; I know they didn't do anything about people revealing that Saydrah (a prominent user and moderator in many popular subreddits) worked as a social media marketeer and was using her position on Reddit to market her clients.

  60. Dan Weber  •  Oct 19, 2012 @10:23 am

    I think the Sardrah incident was before the doxxing rule was put in place. That incident may have even led to the rule, because people started to think they could get back at people by doxxing.

  61. Kelly  •  Oct 20, 2012 @9:24 am

    I don't honestly know if I agree with his doxxing or not. He is a creep and seems to enjoy being one. I think the question is… if he was your neighbour and you discovered the extent of his creepiness, would you share the intel?

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