It appears a user of the popular message board Reddit has been caught distributing child pornography on a section of the site dedicated to sharing sexualized images of underaged girls. What a shock.
Two former moderators of Reddit's popular Jailbait section say that a Reddit staff member admitted to them child porn had been transmitted thanks to a post on the site Sunday night. Now Jailbait—which had been fiercely defended by Reddit's staff as a matter of "free speech" even as it attracted criticism from the likes of Anderson Cooper—has been closed down for good.
The scandal started late Sunday night, when a user named TheContortionist posted a picture of what he claimed was his then-14-year-old girlfriend to Jailbait. Until its abrupt closure yesterday after the scandal, Jailbait was the home of more than 20,000 subscribers who posted pictures of scantily-clad—but clothed—teens—many stolen from their Facebook profiles. Jailbait's founder has boasted that it was in the top 15 sections of the site, and it has long been a hallmark of Reddit's extreme tolerance of controversial and abusive content. (Reddit is owned by Advanced Publications, the same parent company as magazine giant Conde Nast, of which it was a division until recently.)
The picture TheContortionist posted on Sunday was of his 14-year-old supposed ex-girlfriend's underwear-clad butt. Nothing out of the ordinary for Jailbait. But users quickly began clamoring for more, "voting up" his post more than 200 times. TheContortionist admitted to having child pornography, telling users "this is the only non nude photo I have of her." Still, more than 70 Redditors begged TheContortionist to send them the underage nude pictures via Reddit's private message system.
After a few hours, TheContortionist relented somewhat and posted another picture. "Fine, here!" he wrote. "Note: I had to edit the photo for obvious reasons. Enjoy your fap."
According to Matthew Sharkey, a Reddit user who was monitoring the thread at the time, the picture was of a child's face with blond hair. The top and bottom of the image was censored with images of the Power Puff Girls, but Sharkey says that, based on unobscured parts of the image and comments made by TheContortionist, the girl in the picture was engaged in oral sex. (Sharkey notified the FBI about the thread soon after.)
The new picture set off another spate of users asking for a "pm"—presumably of the uncensored image.
Ildeon: For the love of god, PM!
megagreentea: It is your duty to hook us all up
Omgnoway111: Huh so is he actually pm ing us?? If so PM!
Drummerboyz95: "PM me with the others please? I'm 15 btw."
Outraged Reddit users exposed TheContortionist post, voting it up to the front page of the site. TheContortionist's was eventually deleted by Reddit staff, more than six hours after it went up. But by then some of the users apparently got the kiddie porn they were drooling after. According to a post by Jailbait moderator I_RAPE_PEOPLE (really), Reddit staffer Jason Harvey emailed the half-dozen moderators of Jailbait and told them that "Child pornography was actually transmitted through private messages, the admins are dealing with it." (I_RAPE_PEOPLE later edited his post to say pornography had "most likely" been transmitted.)
Deleting the post wasn't enough for Reddit administrators, however. They shut down Jailbait yesterday, saying it was closed "due to threatening the structural integrity of the greater reddit community." (Jailbait was briefly shuttered in August, but this time it's apparently gone forever.) Nerd rage has predictably ensued.
"Today, with the shutdown of /r/jailbait, Reddit has entered a new age," wrote one mournful user.
The closing of Jailbait is an embarrassing backtrack for Reddit, which has repeatedly said that shuttering the controversial section would be an act of oppressive censorship. Many Reddit users agree that the key issue of Jailbait was their freedom of speech, not underage girls' freedom to not be masturbated at and verbally harassed by tens of thousands of users on a website that boasts more than a billion pageviews a month.
Just last week, Reddit general manager Erik Martin was asked by tech blogger David Weinberger about Jailbait. He replied:
"There's stuff on there that's extremely offensive and reprehensible. but we're not an editorial site. If something's legal we don't touch it."
Until yesterday, Martin and Reddit's staff were apparently comfortable that Jailbait's community moderators, users like I_RAPE_PEOPLE and Violentacrez—a 50-something Texas software engineer who openly brags about having oral sex with his 19-year-old step-daughter—could keep Jailbait just this side of the law. But, whether they eventually admit it or not, Jailbait turned into a hub for fans of outright child pornography. It's good that they shut it down. But what about the dozens of Jailbait knock-offs that Redditors point out still exist on the site? Shut them down too.
Reddit's list of 56 guidelines governing its supposed unfettered free speech includes things such as "please don't write titles in ALL CAPS" and "please don't submit an image that's just text." It's not that hard to add "No underaged sexy pictures."
Reddit administrators did not respond to our requests for comment.