Finally: Reddit bans page with hacked nude celebrity photos
A Reddit poster who goes by the handle “johnsmcjohn” wrote on Sunday that the forum he created to share the images, TheFappening, was banned by the site’s moderators after pulling in more than a quarter of a billion page views in only a week.
The user behind the johnsmcjohn account — described by the Washington Post last week as 33-year-old Nevada man — wrote that the message board where the images first appeared, /r/TheFappening, “was banned” this weekend after becoming the fastest growing forum of its kind on Reddit. The main site itself boasted around 114.5 million total unique visitors per month as of July.
Johnsmcjohn created “TheFappening” one week before the ban and immediately earned the forum worldwide headlines by giving so-called redditors a place to share a trove of sexually-charged photos of celebrities including Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence and star Kate Hudson, among others. Federal authorities in the United States have since said that they are investigating the leak, which is believed to have been brought on by hackers who took advantage of a weak security mechanism that failed to protect images uploaded to Apple’s iCloud storage system.
On Sunday, Reddit stated in an official announcement that moderators were forced to exercise their “best judgment” during a week of international media coverage before deciding over the weekend to remove TheFappening forum, largely due to a barrage of take-down requests filed under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA — US legislation which outlines in part how administrators must act if they’re caught hosting content without permission.
“These subreddits were of course the focal point for the sharing of these stolen photos. The images which were DMCAd were continually being reposted constantly on the subreddit. We would takedown images (thumbnails) in response to those DMCAs, but it quickly devolved into a game of whack-a-mole. We'd execute a takedown, someone would adjust, reupload, and then repeat. This same practice was occurring with the underage photos, requiring our constant intervention. The mods were doing their best to keep things under control and in line with the site rules, but problems were still constantly overflowing back to us,” a portion of the statement reads.
“Additionally, many nefarious parties recognized the popularity of these images, and started spamming them in various ways and attempting to infect or scam users viewing them. It became obvious that we were either going to have to watch these subreddits constantly, or shut them down. We chose the latter. It's obviously not going to solve the problem entirely, but it will at least mitigate the constant issues we were facing. This was an extreme circumstance, and we used the best judgement [sic] we could in response."
According to the Reddit staffer who authored the statement, “The answer is probably not satisfying, but it's the truth, and the only answer we've got.”
Indeed, the person behind the Johnsmcjohn account was quick to condemn Reddit for their response. Responding to the office statement, the Redditor acknowledged that TheFappening was banned “Not because it violated site rules, because it got too many DMCA takedowns.”
“Reddit is all for free speech until it is inconvenient for them,” he wrote. “My only regret is that the admins folded to legal pressure.”
Another user, “ImNotJesus,” echoed the subreddit creator’s complaint. “They're doing the exact same thing they do every time there's bad press. Deal with it at the last possible moment there's bad press forcing them to do so. Then they play it off like some moral revelation and use free speech as the reason why it doesn't set a precedent. It is identical to what always happens,” the user wrote.
In Reddit’s official explanation, the website acknowledged that their actions were not motivated by moral issues.
“While current US law does not prohibit linking to stolen materials, we deplore the theft of these images and we do not condone their widespread distribution,” the statement reads. “Nevertheless, Reddit platform is structurally based on the ability for people to distribute, promote and highlight textual materials as well as links to images and other media. We understand the harm that misusing our site does to the victims of this theft, and we deeply sympathize.”
Meanwhile, the introduction of the images in question to the web will likely see to it that the photographs will remain in circulation indefinitely, with or without the help of Reddit. It is largely believed that the images included in the trove uploaded to TheFappening subreddit were first made public by users of an image board on 4chan.org, where content — legal or otherwise — usually lasts only a moment before disappearing into the ether.
“The average lifespan of an image on 4chan is five minutes,” Dell Cameron wrote for the Daily Dot last week. Nevertheless, he added, “Due to the popularity of 4chan, not to mention the celebrity of the women in the photos, the stolen pictures quickly spread to thousands of other websites.”
“4chan has taken steps to prevent the stolen photographs from being uploaded again,” Cameron continued, noting that administrators of the image board have implemented a code which warns users who attempt to post the images that their IP addresses are now being recorded.
“This has done very little to prevent the pictures from being posted, however,” he added. “There are plenty of ways to avoid the censors and dozens of threads pop up every hour featuring the stolen photos.”