NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Reddit has taken down “TheFappening,” a subreddit that was the go-to place for hacked, nude celebrity photos.
The website called the photos “deplorable.” In a gross invasion of privacy, the photos were stolen from celebrities’ Apple iCloud accounts.
But taking down the subreddit was not without controversy.
Reddit has a longstanding policy of allowing users to post pretty much whatever they want — so long as what they post abides by U.S. law. Since the United States does not prohibit online links to stolen material, Reddit says it was not obligated to taking the photos down.
“Our general stance on this stuff is that reddit is a platform, and there are times when platforms get used for very deplorable things,” said Jason Harvey, Reddit’s senior system administrator, in a blog post. “Still, in the moment … it was hard to see much merit to that viewpoint.”
Harvey said that Reddit’s staff had a lengthy internal debate about what to do with TheFappening. Many Reddit employees were morally opposed to keeping the subreddit up, particularly because it was so immensely popular.
The subreddit generated 250 million page views in the week or so that it hosted the nude celebrity photos, according to “Johnsmcjohn,” the redditor who created TheFappening.
Reddit acknowledged that it hit a new traffic milestone, as a result of TheFappening, adding the company was “ashamed” to share the numbers publicly.
As a result of the photos’ popularity, Reddit said it was being overloaded with so-called DMCA takedown requests, in which copyright holders can demand that certain content be taken off of a website. The celebrities’ representatives overwhelmed Reddit’s legal team. The company also noted that some of the photos were of minors, violating Reddit’s terms and conditions (and U.S. law).
That was the final straw, according to the company.
“It quickly devolved into a game of whack-a-mole,” Harvey said. “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. It became obvious that we were either going to have to watch these subreddits constantly, or shut them down. We chose the latter.”
Still, Reddit called this “an extreme circumstance,” and it is unlikely to make changes to its content policies as a result of the incident.
“We should continue to be as open as a platform as we can be, and while we in no way condone or agree with this activity, we should not intervene beyond what the law requires,” Reddit’s Harvey said about how the company plans on treating most of the offensive content posted to the site in the future.
“The arguments for and against are numerous, and this is not a comfortable stance to take in this situation, but it is what we have decided on.”
That didn’t go unnoticed by Johnsmcjohn.
“I created /r/TheFappening on Sunday. A quarter billion page views and … later it got banned. Not because it violated site rules, because it got too many DMCA takedown,” Johnsmcjohn noted. “Reddit is all for free speech until it is inconvenient for them.”