Reddit and Digital Embodiment.

reddit-alien

Since it was founded in November 2005, Reddit has often been the focus of negative media attention. One of the most infamous cases, which was brought to light by Anderson Cooper, involved the creation of sub-reddits where pictures of young teens were being distributed to an internet viewership without their knowledge. One of the website’s most popular users, violentacrez, was responsible for creating the most well known of these sub-reddits, r/jailbait. In addition to the pictures of underage girls, violentacrez was also responsible for creating sub-reddits where users would engage in and consume racism, porn, gore, misogyny and incest. Sub-reddits are interesting in that they create online spaces that are microcosms of larger parts of culture, which are specifically organized around certain themes. By creating this digital space, violentacrez’s sub-reddits became an online nexus for this sort of content. The existence of these sub-reddits was accepted largely uncritically by Reddit’s extended audience for years, all the while driving traffic and bringing more users to the website. Reddit even awarded violentacrez a gold plated trophy for his sub-reddit r/jailbait, rewarding him for his exploitative content. After Michael Brutsch, a Texas based financial services programmer, was exposed to be the person responsible for violentacrez, the story prompted outrage on the internet and social media. It was interesting to watch the 180 degree ideological shift in the attitude of Reddit users towards violentacrez during the period following the CNN news story. A pertinent question might be: what is it about this platform that allowed this practice to go on for so long without objection in the rest of the Reddit community and what does this tell us about how spaces are produced in digital mediums? Furthermore, why was there such a rapid ideological shift among redditors, whose accounts are largely anonymous, immediately following the CNN report?

Jason Farman’s research on embodiment shows us that online spaces have many of the features of material spaces; they contain ideologies, discourses and relations of power. Ultimately, however, all sub-reddits are populated by sensory inscribed bodies, which are interacting in digital space. These users should be held accountable for their actions in the same way that people interacting in material spaces are held accountable. It is well known that the majority of Reddit users are young male college students from the ages of 18-30. On a sub-reddit, however, it can be next to impossible to tell who is behind a username. While users if reddit can remain faceless produce and consume this content can remain faceless and anonymous, the subjects whose pictures were being shared cannot. Another pertinent question might be: why is this demographic group drawn to content such as that which was posted on violentacrez? It would seems that Reddit has provided a platform where misogeny, racism and bigotry are not only accepted but ideologically fundamental to the production of space in certain sub-reddits. The r/jailbait sub-reddit, in particular, brings up ethical issues around surveillance and the sexualisation of minors as well as questions about what is public and what is private. It is curious that it required a public relations crisis for Reddit to take any action in preventing this sort of exploitation. In a sense Reddit is complicit in this exploitation as it profited from the increase in site traffic perpetuated by users like violentacrez.

More Reading:

http://gawker.com/5950981/unmasking-reddits-violentacrez-the-biggest-troll-on-the-web

-Dan B

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