Submitted by Micah Smith on Mon, 01/15/2018 - 12:19
The Controversy of Online Free Speech
The Controversy of Online Free Speech

Whenever we delve into any issues of cyber security and news, the questions of 'online anonymity', 'freedom of speech' and 'online privacy' crop up, time and time again. The extent to which we, as a society, online or otherwise, allow users to say and do as they please is incredibly important, and is a fluctuating legal boundary we must always take into account.

We may feel that the internet is a 'free' space, yet ethically and morally, most of us would prefer if it wasn't completely 'free'. There are more obvious anti-social cyber 'faux pas', such as 'child pornography' and 'incitement to terrorism' and then the more debatable, such as 'hate speech', depending on who we define as hate-able.

However as in offline existence, policing of these agreed upon norms is difficult and complicated. More importantly, who has been appointed (or self-appointed) to police users and under whose authority, draws light and yet more questions on the issue.

Internet Policing

The police of Internet thought fall into two categories 'moderators' and 'editors'. Both of these categories of individuals have huge amounts of control over publishing website content. They also hold the keys of anonymity tightly within their grasp.

Reddit

Take the example of Reddit, the "The Front Page of the Internet," Reddit is a discussion and content rating website, providing a platform to for social news aggression, web content rating and discussion platform.

Reddit is basically a message board where users submit links. Reddit is made up of 700000 subreddits. Users can post text, links, or images in any subreddit.   Each subreddit has a “new” page where all the new posts are held. Similar to Twitter, Reddit is a real time information publishing site, and dissimilar to Twitter, content is curtailed by the community and Information threads are upvoted or downvoted, determining positioning on the site.

Yishan Wong, former Reddit CEO, stated that Reddit stands for free speech and should not ban any content that is legal.  Distasteful subreddits (threads) are merely the price to pay for freedom of speech. 

So far, it sounds pretty liberally democratic and hugely successful.

 From the very beginning, the project of Reddit was financed with only $100000 and moreover this was funded by an American Startup company – Y Combinator.  Just a year later, Reddit.com had 500 000 impressions daily. At that time, “Conde Nast” purchased the site for $20million, making the original two founders instant millionaires.

At present, Reddit has approximately 543 million monthly visitors and this site is amongst top 4 most visited websites in the United States and one of the top 9 in the world. Reddit is as strong as its millions of users.

However, from 2012, this maintenance of objective 'free' crowd moderation has been put under the microscope.  Starting with the Reddit 'Jailbait' and the subreddits 'teen-girls and Picsofdeadjailbait' these ugly concerns of online privacy just keep on popping up, most of them with community creator 'Violentacrez' at the center of the storm.

Anderson Cooper of CNN devoted a segment of his program to having the above-mentioned controversial groups shut down as they broke both legal and ethical boundaries, 'Violentacrez' defended their existence, in the end Reddit shut them all down.

 This moderation which Reddit users felt was due to media pressure filters over into many legal boundaries when it came to both privacy and child protection.

This was followed shortly by controversy of 'Creepshots' yet again involving 'Violentacrez', where 'Gawper' reporter Andrew Chen threatened to 'out' the identity of 'Violentacrez' as this Reddit thread was argued to exploit and ignored privacy laws. 'Violentacrez' begged for forgiveness, Andrew Chen exposed him anyway.

Along with other controversial Reddit threads such as 'Beating women' and 'Fatpeoplehate" Steve Huffman, the CEO at Reddit admitted to editing and manipulating posts on Reddit thread 'The Donald' undermining the so-called self-moderation of users. The fact that this thread was political looks even more suspicious.

Forgetting motives and suspicions, it is obvious that before any of these groups had the chance to cross clear legal boundaries, moderators and editors at Reddit took pre-emptive and less 'free-speech' devoted steps to close the issues. This begs many questions on where and how less publicized decisions on our privacy are being taken online and for who's' interests.

If you have any thoughts on Online privacy please comment below.