In project #WhoRunsTheBots I take a closer look at social media companies and how they are dealing with online violence and cults.
There are many small communities on Reddit, dedicated to rating women. Butterface however, stands out, because in this subreddit (a small community about a certain topic), a woman is rated based on two things: both her ‘attractiveness’ and ‘ugliness’.
If according to the Butterface subreddit you have a ‘hot body’ with ‘an ugly face’, you are a butterface.
There are over 44.000 Reddit accounts subscribed to Butterface, a subreddit where images of women are shared. The subreddit is marked Not Safe For Work, but you can access it without creating a Reddit account.
In fact, when you visit the subreddit without a Reddit account, Reddit suggests you to “Join the 44.9k people in the r/butterface community”.
When you visit a specific post, Reddit changes the messages on the post:
Below, an example of a Butterface post. This post specifically is called “incest butter” and is a picture of a woman with a Snapchat comment on it:
Obviously all these posts can be fabricated by trolls, but what if one is not? What if a brother actually took a picture of his sister while talking about his erection, and shared it with the world? In that case, redditors inside the Butterface subreddit would be condoning (ideas about) incest, voyeurism, leaking pictures of innocent people, and even sexual assault.
Below, a redditor says the ‘sister’ is asking for sex, based on the way she dresses. The redditor encourages the OP to “go for it and send nudes”.
The comment above and the subreddit in general touches different steps in the Rape Culture pyramid that has gone viral and has been used by activists worldwide, to address sexual assault.
The Rape Culture pyramid describes how the tolerance of the behaviours at the bottom of the pyramid, such as locker room banter and rape jokes, supports or excuses the behaviour higher up in the pyramid. The idea behind the pyramid is that rape culture is kept alive through apathy, negligence and complicity.
Rape is a real problem, and still not taken serious enough by many people. Below, some examples of rape conviction statistics in different countries.
823 REPORTED RAPES IN NORTHERN IRELAND (UK) IN 1 YEAR WITH JUST 15 PEOPLE CONVICTED. (1.82%).
1745 REPORTED RAPES IN THE WEST MIDLANDS (UK) IN 1 YEAR WITH JUST 174 PEOPLE CONVICTED. (9.97%)
1205 REPORTED RAPES IN AVON AND SOMERSET (UK) IN 1 YEAR WITH JUST 86 PEOPLE CONVICTED. (7.14%)
131 REPORTED RAPES IN LIMBURG (THE NETHERLANDS) IN 1 YEAR WITH JUST 3 PEOPLE CONVICTED. (2.29%)
A criminological theory called ‘the broken windows theory’ describes how signs of disorder or crime, such as a broken window in an alley, encourages further crime and disorder. This is why cities often try to mask graffiti as quickly as possible, to prevent further destruction of a neighbourhood.
By allowing misogynistic behaviour on subreddits, Reddit is looking away from the broken windows within their community, and could be considered complicit in causing further destruction.
Inside Butterface, there appear to be redditors with ‘some morals’ however. Redditor DT00 in the incest-post asked for example why “everyone is suddenly into incest”. Another redditor replied by saying that people may get desensitised to regular porn, and that “Humans are creatures of unchecked escalation”.
If you do a quick Google search on the keywords desensitized to porn, chances are you will find Google is linking to Reddit on the first page. One of the threads they are linking to, is a subreddit called NoFap, which encourages people not to masturbate for a certain time. It’s mostly used by men.
The post in subreddit NoFap in Google search results links to a post where men discuss how not masturbating has improved their lives, and general view on women.
Reddit shows a broad variety of subreddits about different topics, and new subs are started every day. It has proven Reddit rarely censors content on Reddit, even though they have community guidelines many of these subreddits are violating.
By allowing posts and comments like the ones above to be upvoted, Reddit essentially ‘awards’ users with fake internet points known as karma on Reddit. The more upvotes, the more karma you get.
Reddit karma appears useless outside Reddit
On Reddit, it only comes with a few perks. In some subreddits you need a certain amount of karma points to be able to post, so it helps you to actively participate on Reddit. Most importantly is that much karma makes your account look like a trusted contributor on Reddit.
The more karma you have on Reddit however, the more your account is worth, in case you want to sell it.
When you want to promote something or influence an election for example, buying Reddit accounts that look trusted, is fairly easy. Building an account on your own to later ‘flip’ it into an account to cause harm, isn’t difficult either. Reddit allows users to sign up to Reddit with throwaway email addresses, so really, there’s very little the company is doing to prevent online abuse.
It’s difficult to find out how many women on the Butterface subreddit have had their pictures submitted without their consent.
I cannot believe the majority of women featured in the subreddit consented to being featured here. Yet they are. And while you watch their images, Reddit encourages you to ‘join the discussion’. It begs for the question whether Reddit should do this, and, can be held responsible for unconsciously promoting content like this, as a way to bring new people to the community.
Reddit cannot control Reddit; or rather, they won’t. It’s not in their best interest to ban call-for-action texts such as ‘join Reddit’ inside Butterface, in order to show disapproval of the content residing in the community. First of all, Reddit has based their community around ‘free speech’. Secondly, communities like Butterface have so many subscribers, because people are interested in content like this. So placing call-for-action texts to join the community, helps Reddit grow. More users means more advertisement money. More advertisement money for Reddit, means more power. Where power rises, morals sink.
Reddit is known for scandalous subreddits and users who show misogynistic behaviour.
In August 2014, a subreddit was used to share and discuss the hacked and released images of a number of celebrities. The hacking scandal was referred to as ‘The Fappening’ on Reddit. Reddit banned the community in September 2014 after outrage.
After the leak of the private images of women in the public eye, according to The Washington Post, a group of redditors started to fundraise money for the Prostate Cancer Foundation website. Instead of finding a cause relating to victims of revenge porn or something else focusing on female issues, the redditors decided that raising money for men, was more important. Specifically, money to save dicks.
Redditors encouraged each other to donate money “in honour of” actress Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence was one of the victims of the hackers and subreddit. The Prostate Cancer Foundation refused the money that was raised (over 5000 dollar).
It looks like the Prostate Cancer Foundation has more balls than Reddit.