Reddit, the popular social-sharing website, depends on the content and conduct of its many mostly-anonymous users. The site sometimes draws more than 3 billion page views each month to its cache of photos, news items, crowd-sourcing questions, and policy discussions. Sometimes, something interesting transpires: Last month, a man posted a photo of a Sikh woman with a mocking caption, the woman wrote back warmheartedly, and her tormenter apologized. But sometimes, Reddit is just a cesspool — as in the case of a user who called himself Violentacrez, and specialized in posting racist, misogynistic, borderline-pornographic content, including a forum devoted to photos of barely clad underage girls. When a reporter from Gawker revealed the man’s real identity — as Michael Brutsch, a 49-year-old computer programmer from Texas — the Reddit community quickly responded by banning Gawker stories from the site. Reddit’s CEO, Yishan Wong, eventually spoke out against the censorship, on the grounds that it doesn’t make Reddit look very good. Still, Wong stood by the Reddit line that anonymity is a core value of the site; in a memo, he wrote that “doxxing,” or revealing a user’s true identity, is “a form of violence, rather unique to the Internet.”
As Wong points out, this isn’t a First Amendment issue; Reddit is a privately run forum that can impose any standards it wants. Yet the rest of the world is free to hold Reddit’s users to higher standards than the website itself does. Besides, whether you choose to hide behind a handle or not, publishing your ideas — in a magazine, a personal website, or a popular online forum — comes with risks and responsibilities. Brutsch, who has since lost his real-life job, has no one to blame but himself. And Gawker has nothing to apologize for; Reddit might hate “doxxing,” but that's no one else’s problem.