The untimely death of Reddit co-owner and internet activist Aaron Swartz last week has cast a pall on the social media community. Before his suicide, Swartz was arrested and under investigation for allegedly systematically downloading about 4 million academic journal articles from JSTOR. If convicted, he would have faced a prison sentence of more than 35 years.
While the Aaron Swartz saga has dominated social media talk in the last few days, it’s not the only scandalous issue that’s surrounded Reddit. Here’s a look at Reddit’s 5 most controversial moments ever.
Child Porn Subreddits
Reddit has many rules that users must abide by, including not typing posts with all caps and no spamming. However, until recently, hosting child pornography wasn’t explicitly banned under the rules. After years of countless protests and an investigation by CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360,” Reddit said in a company blog post last February that they would ban all subreddits and posts “that focus on sexualization of children.” The child porn subreddit ban didn’t stop one major troll from wreaking havoc on the social media network, however.
One of Reddit’s most-influential users, Violentacrez, started and moderated some of the most controversial subreddits to have ever graced the site. The child porn subreddit ban didn’t stop Violentacrez from creating the “creepshots” and “jailbait” subreddits where users submitted voyeurstic shots of young women and earned a “Worst Subreddit” award by his peers. It turned out that Violentacrez was actually a 49-year-old Texas programmer named Michael Brutsch after Gawker publicly revealed his true identity in October. He was subsequently fired from his job, and the expose prompted a feud between the Reddit community and Gawker.
Reddit vs. Gawker Feud
Gawker’s coverage of Violentacrez’s true identity in October prompted much anger from within the Reddit community over the breach of privacy against one of their members despite his unsavory behavior. Some Reddit moderators banned Gawker links altogether from their subreddits in retaliation of the website’s revelation of Violentacrez’s identity.
We hear countless stories about how many women have struggled and overcame rape, but we rarely hear their assailants’ side of the story. Jezebel reported in June that one Redditor started a thread soliciting stories from rapists and asked them “What were your motivations? Do you regret it?” Many of the 11,000-plus people who commented on the thread went into detail about how they sexually assaulted their victims, with some regretting that it ever happened. The rapist thread faced a backlash from some feminists and rape victims. One commenter said: “”The thought that my rapist is PROBABLY a redditor and could very well be getting patted on the back RIGHT NOW by HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE for relating how rough raping me was for him is making me literally nauseous.”
Stop SOPA Movement
One of the most controversial pieces of legislation to affect the internet was the doomed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) that dominated the news in late 2011 and early 2012. The Reddit community, as well as late co-owner Aaron Swartz, fought against the bill, which would have given the power of the Federal government to shut down websites because of copyright infringement. Reddit general manager Erik Martin said in a post that SOPA would “mean the end of Reddit” and “would make running Reddit near impossible” despite the host of lawyers Reddit has. The site joined Wikipedia on January 18, 2012 in shutting down for 24 hours, and after continued protests throughout the internet community, the congressman who wrote the bill shelved it a couple of days later.