Tech | August 22, 2022 12:06 pm

Women Are Being Harassed by the Users of a Disturbing Reddit Forum

Users are trading explicit photos (posted without consent) and exposing personal info in forums that seem difficult to shut down

In this photo illustration, a woman's silhouette holds a smartphone with the Reddit logo in the background. A recently shutdown part of subreddit allowed users to trade and sell explicit photos of women without their consent
Abuse and harassment continue on Reddit.
Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty

Until recently, there was an incredibly disturbing area of Reddit where users could anonymously buy, sell and trade nude and explicit photos — without the permission of the women in the pictures.

As reported by the BBC, these photos were open to commentary by the site’s users, who were also sharing personal info (addresses, names, social media handles) and the identities of the women in the photos, which led to blackmail threats and harassment.

Even after years of public efforts by Reddit to ban abuse, BBC reporter Monika Plaha and her co-researchers recently discovered dozens of subreddit forums where thousands of images and hundreds of nude photos were being exchanged and commented upon. Even non-explicit photos were “accompanied by degrading comments and sometimes requests to hack victims’ phones and computers for nudes.”

Plaha was able to track down one subreddit’s moderator, who goes under the moniker Zippomad. While his subreddits have been shut down multiple times, they were quickly revived by the same moderator using slightly different names. As well, images can sometimes take months to be taken down by Reddit, only to show up again when someone else reposts.

“We know we have more work to do to prevent, detect, and action this content even more quickly and accurately, and we are investing now in our teams, tools, and processes to achieve this goal,” a spokesperson for Reddit told the BBC. The company also noted that detecting and removing these images involves both automated tools and a team of workers. Meanwhile, laws devoted to revenge porn seem inadequate to prevent these types of posts — in the U.K., for example, posting these images is only a problem if the poster intends to cause harm, a ridiculously vague legal loophole.

While the thousands of users in these subreddits remain largely anonymous, the BBC was able to track down Zippomad, who turns out to be a man named Himesh Shingadia, described as “university-educated” and who “works as a manager at a large company.” (In a terrible response, Shingadia claims to have never posted any explicit images himself and suggests he took down pictures when asked.)

The subreddit in question has been shut down since the BBC article appeared, but it seems like it can just as easily pop up again under a slightly different name. At the very least, Reddit needs to fulfill the promises it made years ago to make the site a safer place.