Reddit bans groups behind sharing of leaked celebrity photos

Reddit Stickers

The social news platform Reddit has banned pages which allowed users to view, post and share stolen images of celebrities.

The noticeboard late Saturday took down the r/TheFappening page, and related groups, which had become major outlets for last week’s hack of hundreds of private images, many of them explicit.

The banning followed six days of huge traffic – reportedly more than 250m views – and mounting criticism that Reddit was facilitating the humiliation of Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton and Kirsten Dunst, among other celebrities.

The leak began on 4chan but online traffic swiftly funnelled to r/TheFappening page, which a user named Johnsmcjohn set up in response to the leak.

Reddit said it shut down the pages, sub-forums known as subreddits, to comply with requests made under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Initially moderators removed individual photos, based on each request, but users swiftly reposted images in an impossible “game of whack-a-mole”, obliging Reddit to ban the pages, it said in a statement.

“We’d execute a takedown, someone would adjust, reupload, and then repeat. This same practice was occurring with the underage photos, requiring our constant intervention … it became obvious that we were either going to have to watch these subreddits constantly, or shut them down. We chose the latter.”

Some of the leaked images, obtained when hackers broke into the cloud-based storage systems of more than 100 celebrities, include the Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney, which would be classified as child pornography.

“Many nefarious parties recognized the popularity of these images, and started spamming them in various ways and attempting to infect or scam users viewing them,” the statement said.

It said a ban would not not solve the problem entirely but mitigate the crisis. “This was an extreme circumstance, and we used the best judgement we could in response.”

Johnsmcjohn, the user who claims to have created r/TheFappening – fap is a slang term for masturbation – lamented the halting of what he called the fastest growing subreddit in history, saying it had recorded more than 250m page views.

His team of moderators “worked their asses off” to remove images which broke Reddit’s rules, he said. “I know we aren’t going to be considered the good guys, but we worked hard to ensure reddit’s rules were followed.”

He said he believed lawyers representing Reddit’s owner, Advance Publications, which also owns Vogue publisher Condé Nast, pushed the decision.

The ban drew mixed responses. Some users questioned why the platform left other pages with offensive content, such as sex with dogs, or racist rants against African Americans in Ferguson, or calls for the massacre of Palestinians. Others accused the noticeboard of waiting until it reaped huge traffic before taking action.

Around the time the celebrity-leak pages were taken down Reddit’s CEO, Yishan Wong, fuelled confusion by posting a blog explaining why the platform would not, in fact, ban questionable subreddits.

Wong said he sympathised with the victims of the stolen images but that Reddit would not change existing site content policies.

“The reason is because we consider ourselves not just a company running a website where one can post links and discuss them, but the government of a new type of community. The role and responsibility of a government differs from that of a private corporation, in that it exercises restraint in the usage of its powers.”

Individuals, he added, were responsible for their own moral actions. “You choose what to post. You choose what to read. You choose what kind of subreddit to create and what kind of rules you will enforce. We will try not to interfere - not because we don’t care, but because we care that you make your choices between right and wrong.”

Because of the timing and vagueness Wong’s statement, many initially considered it to be a defence of the ban.

In a subsequent clarification, Reddit said circumstances changed around the time it posted the blog. “At approximately the same time, activity in that subreddit starting violating other rules we have which do trigger a ban, so we banned it.”

It apologised for the disarray. “The confusion which was generated in the community was obvious, immediate, and massive, and we even had internal team members surprised by the combination.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles, for theguardian.com on Sunday 7th September 2014 21.13 Europe/London

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010