I can see you...can you see me?
The internet is now awash in news of the feud between Gawker and Reddit. Basically, while researching an article on “creepshot” pornography and other obscenity on Reddit, Adrian Chen, a journalist with Gawker, threatened to expose the identity of one of the r/creepshots moderators (previously famous for moderating “r/jailbait”). Reddit, who had so far refused to take down such pictures (they have now), with moderators of ‘subreddits’ like r/politics blocking links to Gawker, calling it an attack on all Reddit users. This story has now (of course) gone viral, bringing the issue of creepshots out of dark corners of the internet and into the public view.

For those who don’t now (I didn’t, and am no stranger to filth), “creepshots” are pictures taken of “hot” women in public places without their knowledge or consent, then posted to mildly pornographic bulletin boards. The images aren’t nudes and don’t often show underwear, though frequently are underage. The practice has already evoked controversy, but those involved had replied that it was a freedom of speech issue and there was nothing illegal about it.

What I find infuriating is the double standard. Creepshots may not be illegal, but laws don’t equal morals or social acceptability. Leering at women on the street isn’t illegal, but don’t expect it to gain you any friends. Denying journalists the ability to publish details they’ve gained from their own research also sounds a lot like censorship, and there’s nothing illegal about publishing these details, either. While I ordinarily don’t approve of using people’s identities as a weapon online in most cases, there are certainly cases in which it’s called for (Nazis, stalkers, Vic Toews etc). If people have no problem taking pictures of women without their consent and posting those to dirty message boards, then don’t expect me to care much about their privacy.

Why is it that those who cry “freedom of speech” the loudest are so often the ones least tolerant of criticism? Freedoms apply to everybody, and while you might have the “right” to say hurtful and insensitive things, you still have to put up with other people who don’t agree, and may be every bit as nasty in return. “Speech” (especially publishing) has consequences, and there’s no reason you’ll be sheltered from those.

So far a number of feminist web vigilantes have answered the call to track down and the details of those posting these pictures and passing them on to authorities. Best known is the Tumblr site “Predditors”. So far, they’ve already uncovered at least one “creeper” who turned out to be involved in worse, a supply teacher named Christopher Bailey who’d post pictures of his underage students, who’s now facing charges for lewd and pornographic texts sent to a 16-year-old girl. Many have raised fears, of course, of “innocent” guys being targeted, but again, why should that require the uncontested publishing of pictures of hundreds of totally innocent women?

Women already have enough problems walking down public streets without having to worry about suddenly becoming pornography. They must already deal with being leered at, cat-called, sexually harassed, groped and sometimes attacked. Given the enormous number of women with histories of sexual violence, and the many more who fear it every day, is it really that hard to imagine that they might have legitimate reasons to not want their pictures on creepy web forums? Has it occurred to these guys that women are people, and not just images for them to get off to?

Cameras have consequences, especially when those pictures end up published online. This can happen at a protest, a party, or simply walking down the street, and it can put people at risk in a thousand different ways. Generally, those publishing pictures have little to do with these risks, and might never learn that somebody’s been stalked, attacked or worse as a result of their actions. If you have a camera and publish things online, it is your responsibility, not the subject’s, to make sure things are safe, kosher and consensual. It’s not their job to explain to you why they don’t want to be in your picture, and they are under no obligation to explain why. Feel like disregarding this advice? Go ahead, but don’t expect anybody to care much about your safety or privacy when they respond.