You might recall that popular social media site Reddit doesn't like doxxing — that is, the public identification of online speakers and revelation of their personal information. Gawker's public identification of vile Reddit creeper and troll Violentacrez was controversial to many Redditors, condemned by Reddit administrators, and has led to some Reddit mods engaging in a long-term ban of links to Gawker media sites.
So — Reddit's culture is strongly against doxxing. Right?
Well — sort of.
Last week, the online community briefly thrilled to the outing of a bad actor — a St. Louis pastor named Alois Bell who wrote a snide and obnoxious message on a receipt to a server at Applebee's. Another server posted the rude receipt — including Bell's legible signature — to Reddit, and the game was afoot — Redditors promptly identified Bell, her tiny storefront church, and her congregation. When Bell doubled down and successfully demanded that Applebee's terminate the waitress, she made herself more famous; Reddit was flooded with threads about her.
So, I have a question for the Reddit community:
Why is identifying Bell acceptable to your community, but identifying Violentacrez unacceptable to your community?
Both engaged in vile behavior. Bell was entitled and nasty to a server (remember what Dave Barry says — someone who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person), and later vengeful to someone less powerful when called publicly on her behavior. Violentacrez was a purveyor of creepshots, racism, and gleeful trolling. Why is it right for Reddit users to identify Bell by name — inflicting real-world consequences on her — but wrong for Gawker to identify Violentacrez, inflicting real-world consequences on him?
Is the idea that Violentacrez' behavior was "only online," and thus somehow qualitatively different? That strikes me as an archaic viewpoint. A startling percentage of modern life is conducted "online," and the view that things that happen "online" are somehow consequence-free or morally neutral strikes me as difficult to defend.
Is the idea that Bell — who acted in public and signed her receipt — had no expectation of privacy, but Violentacres did? Again, I find this unconvincing. Bell probably didn't expect that her credit card receipt would be published — but she acted in a way that allowed it to be. Violentacrez might have hoped that nobody would identify him — but he left the clues and crumbs that led Gawker to him. Both must contend with the truism that people have an urge to identify and shame bad actors.
Is this a mere crass "one of us, one of us" thing? Do Redditors merely feel that members of their community deserve protection, but outsiders do not? Is there an element of contempt for the religious in the mix?
I don't know that there are any easy answers. I don't know that Reddit admins, or the diverse Reddit community, could justify the difference. I've been writing for a long time about how the internet makes a big world like a small town — how the internet can counteract the anonymizing tendencies of a vast, complex society by subjecting the occasional notable miscreant to village-square shaming. It's like getting struck by lightning — there are too many miscreants and too few hours in the day — and we're still grappling with whether it is "fair" or "proportional" or "right." Colorable arguments can be made for or against the phenomenon. But I'm skeptical that Reddit can make colorable arguments that "it's cool when we do this to outsiders, but not cool when outsiders do this to us."
Last 5 posts by Ken White
- Free Speech Triumphant Or Free Speech In Retreat? - June 21st, 2017
- The Power To Generate Crimes Rather Than Merely Investigate Them - June 19th, 2017
- Free Speech, The Goose, And The Gander - June 17th, 2017
- Free Speech Tropes In The LA Times - June 8th, 2017
- I write letters - June 1st, 2017