Anderson Cooper, CNN’s resident silver fox, set an interesting target in his sights last week: the internet. More specifically, Cooper attacked the popular social site Reddit for its controversial hosting of child pornography and a not-pornographic-but-still-morally-disgusting section of the website titled “Jailbait,” which is pictures of children in suggestive poses – clothed, but still sexual.
For those not in the know, Reddit is a website akin to a message board fused with 4chan. It was the birthplace – or at least the great enabler – of those irritating rage comics.
Users have carte blanche to create whatever categories, or “subreddits,” they want. The creators then become the moderators of their own content, meaning they have free reign to add or delete whatever content they see fit. It’s like owning your own tiny forum.
There are administrators on the site, of course, but they rarely intervene in the actions of the subreddits.
How could they? As of yesterday afternoon, there were 58,758 subreddits. Besides, even if the administrators take action, the seething masses fight back. Admins shut down the “Jailbait” section of the website shortly after Cooper exposed them on CNN, but it’s now back by “popular demand.”
According to Alexa, an internet traffic monitoring site, Reddit is the 43rd most visited site in the United States, with more views than Walmart, the NFL, and even Hulu. For the curious, Google was number one, and the first porn site comes in at number 48.
Alexa also shows Reddit’s top searches. Four of the top five are, unsurprisingly, “reddit nsfw,” “jailbait,” “ass” and “upskirt.” Fantastic.
This website is clearly a depraved and disgusting trashheap, so why can’t we shut it down completely?
There are a few problems with that. For every gross pornographic subreddit, there are a few legitimate, useful ones, including pages that offer advice on car troubles, art, philosophy and just about anything else you can think of. It seems a shame to throw the meme-spouting baby out with the bathwater. Well, actually, it doesn’t, but I guess I can’t justify shutting those parts down anyway.
The other problem is a legal one. The child pornography section, mentioned earlier, was shut down as soon as attention was called to it.
Child pornography is illegal to host anywhere on the internet, though. “Jailbait,” on the other hand, is not technically illegal. Since there’s nothing overtly pornographic about it, Redditors are free to post pictures of 14-year-olds in skimpy bikinis with no legal repercussions.
Reddit itself, as of a few weeks ago, is its own company.
They can do whatever they want. Just as a restaurant can refuse service to anyone for no reason, so too can a private website allow or disallow any type of speech. This is a double-edged sword, metaphorically speaking. The Redditors raging about “ARE FREEDOMS” being taken away and their first amendment rights to jerk it to preteens are ignorant of the fact that the website does indeed have the right to pull any content for any reason. On the other hand, the Reddit administrators have the right to leave any disgusting content around as well, even if everyone else sees it as subversive and perverted.
I’m aware that, by writing this, I may be encouraging some readers of this column to investigate the website for themselves.
I can only request that said readers keep their attentions turned away from the morally wrong, borderline-pornographic segments of the site.
I also encourage those who agree with me to close their accounts if they have them, or not to sign up if they don’t.
An even more extreme suggestion would be to boycott the advertisers who are sponsoring Reddit’s depravity.
I know that I get worked up about these things; after all, those who know me well know that my favorite thing is to get Mad About the Internet.
I can only hope that my arm-flailing, spittle-flinging rant has encouraged at least one person to think twice before using a site that so flagrantly flies in the face of reason.
[editor's note: the "jailbait" subreddit has now been shut down by the Reddit administrators after confirmation that child pornography was indeed being distributed via private messages. 10/10/11]