Reddit has created an online storm after being accused of censorship of their users. A number of the website’s most popular Subreddits including r/Music, r/iphone and r/pokemongo have set their status to private due to a concern that Reddit is censoring users from posting about a former minor political figure, Aimee Challenor (also known by her married name Aimee Knight), who is alleged to now work for the website. Such is the outcry that the Streisand effect is in full flow and any hopes Reddit had of suppressing information have firmly disappeared.
Background to the Reddit censorship row
So what is the outrage all about? On Tuesday 22nd March Reddit banned one of their moderators for “doxxing” on the r/ukpolitics forum by posting an article from The Spectator that referenced Aimee Challenor. Doxxing is the act of searching for and publishing private or identifying information about a particular individual on the internet, however, the article posted is freely available online from a mainstream news website so it is disputed whether this is indeed doxxing.
Other moderators from r/ukpolitics contacted Reddit to firstly query why this had happened but also to cite their concerns that Reddit was engaging in censorship. The moderator was reinstated but in response to the situation, they posted a statement explaining that they had temporarily made the forum private to protect themselves from further bans by Reddit admins but also recommending people not post about Aimee Challenor.
Reddit confirmed in a statement of their own that “a Reddit employee”, which was likely but not specifically referencing Aimee Challenor, was the ‘target of harassment and doxxing’ and had to activate their ‘standard processes’ but admitted banning the moderator was a mistake. Reddit users responded with fury accusing them of censorship and several forums “went dark” to protest this explaining their reasoning with a post and displaying a message when attempting to access the forum as shown below. Some even accused Aimee Challenor of abusing her position as an administrator to delete posts about herself.
Late on 24th March CEO of Reddit, Steve Huffman released a further statement under his username of u/spez claiming that the employee (Aimee Challenor) is no longer employed by Reddit admitting that they did not properly vet her before making the hire. The post garnered further backlash with many wanting to know why the vetting process wasn’t more thorough and why Reddit engaged in the censorship of the story. The Subreddits that went private are now mostly back available to the public but continue to express their concerns.
Censorship by Reddit causes the Streisand effect to go into full flow
The protesting Subreddits also encouraged their users to make as many people aware of the issue as possible and so the original actions have had the complete opposite effect of what Reddit intended. This is known as the Streisand effect, named after singer and actress Barbara Streisand who attempted to suppress images of her property in a cease-and-desist letter. This received extensive publicity with the photo being viewing 420,000 times in the space of a month and much coverage online. From that, the term for this modern phenomenon was born.
Aimee Challenor suffered the same fate from Reddit’s attempt at censorship. Though only a minor local politician she has become embroiled in several controversies. In 2018, she was forced to quit the Green Party after failing to alert the party that her election agent and father had been charged (and later convicted) of raping and torturing a 10-year-old girl. Her father was later sentenced to 22 years in prison and an independent investigation found that he was a “major safeguarding risk”. Aimee Challenor then resigned citing transphobia in the party having previously been a rising star, even running for deputy leader of the party.
Further to this, by 2019, she was now a member of a local Liberal Democrat party but was subsequently suspended by them after tweets on her fiancé’s account stated ‘I fantasise about children having sex, sometimes with adults, sometimes with other children, sometimes kidnapped and forced into bad situations.’ Aimee Challenor claimed that the account was hacked and they both condemned the messages.
Both the incident with the Green Party and the one with the Liberal Democrats were available in the public domain however this was the information that Reddit tried to censor. Understandably this raised several eyebrows as publicly available and accepted information would not be described as ‘doxxing’ nor defamation. The Streisand effect caused a huge spike in website traffic which could bring some anxiety to the owners of Reddit ahead of going public.
How suppressing information through injunctions and other means can cause the Streisand effect
Those seeking to bring injunctions or other action should be wary of the Streisand effect and learn the lessons of Reddit’s attempted censorship. Indeed the unwanted attention is certainly nothing new and we’ve documented a few examples to have hit the headlines.
In 2011, former Manchester United and Wales footballer, Ryan Giggs, attempted to sue Twitter after taking out a super injunction to cover up the story of his affair with Big Brother contestant Imogen Thomas. English media was banned from talking about the story but those restrictions did not apply beyond the jurisdiction of the court meaning the news was free to spread on the internet. However, once news broke of the story there was a clamour for information with Twitter searches for Giggs far exceeding the usual amount. Indeed overall traffic for Twitter in the UK was 22% higher than normal as the Streisand effect exposed Giggs.
In the case of PJS v News Group Newspapers Ltd  UKSC 26 an anonymised injunction was obtained under the initials ‘PJS’ which restrained details of a sexual affair. Once again the effectiveness of the injunction was brought into question as the foreign media and social media accounts covered the story beyond the reaches of the English courts. The ruling was upheld by the Supreme Court but the efforts were futile everywhere but England. Whilst the details are still restrained, information can widely be found online.
Our final example is more international. In the run-up to the US election last year the New York Post published a story about Hunter Biden, the son of the then candidate Joe Biden. The story pertained to details of an alleged corruption scheme that Twitter tried to suppress by blocking the story and banning users including the New York Post. Twitter reasoned that the sources for the article were questionable however this then caused the Streisand effect with Twitter eventually relenting and allowing the article to be shared.
Are you considering an injunction but are concerned about a similar reaction to Reddit’s censorship? Alston Asquith has offices in London and Hertfordshire and can arrange a call to provide some initial advice on the steps to take.
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