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Violentacrez controversy: Reddit CEO upholds free speech

In the wake of a controversy over offensive content posted across his network, Reddit CEO Yishan Wong this week defended his site's policies, but acknowledged that a ban on Gawker links was misguided.

"We stand for free speech," Wong wrote in a private note to moderators that was published on Gawker. "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."

Wong's comments were sparked by piece from Gawker's Adrian Chen, which exposed the real identity of a prolific Reddit poster known as Violentacrez, who was known for overseeing a number of offensive subreddits. As Chen described it, "his speciality is distributing images of scantily clad underage girls, but as Violentacrez he also issued an unending fountain of racism, porn, gore, misogyny, incest, and exotic abominations yet unnamed."

Violentacrez was unmasked as Michael Brutsch, a 49-year-old man from Texas. After Chen's exposé hit the Web, Brutsch was reportedly fired from his job and, in retaliation, many Reddit moderators banned Gawker links from the network.

In his memo, Wong said "this ban on links from the gawker network is not making reddit look so good." He acknowledged, however, that Reddit did consider a "site-level ban on the entire gawker network" but decided that the move would be ineffective, would look like a defence of vile activity and wouldn't particularly hurt Gawker in the end.

At issue is something known as doxxing, or posting the personal information of people online. Reddit's free speech policy makes exemptions for illegal content and doxxing "because it incites violence and harassment against specific individuals." As a result, doxxing on Reddit as well as the posting of links to sites that engage in the practice are banned, Wong said.

"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," Wong wrote. "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."

As Chen noted, "Wong doesn't address ... the close relationship Violentacrez had with administrators and staff while he was spreading his Jailbait pics and virulent racism."

This follows the news that Twitter has, for the first time, enforced one of its censorship policies, banning German access to a neo-Nazi account.