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Toronto man targeted in online war against 'creepshots' Reddit forum

A photo of a woman’s buttocks clad in white shorts, with a dark thong showing through, is one of the “creepshots” that started an online war about privacy.

Online vigilantes are targeting a Toronto man they say moderated a Reddit subsection devoted to photos clandestinely taken of women in public places, many of them sexualized.

It was deleted Thursday by its moderator, CreeperComfort, after an apparent blackmail message asked him to delete everything on the forum or have his identity made public.

“Leave only one post up: A public apology from you to the women of Toronto and to women in general for what you’ve been doing. The apology should acknowledge that r/creepshots is a vile subreddit because it normalizes perverted behaviour…”

The Internet wasn’t without creepshots for long. Users created a new subreddit, r/creepsquad, to fill the void. They were moderating it more heavily to prevent contributor’s identities from becoming known, but it was banned as of press time Thursday.

Online vigilantes rose again. An anonymous Reddit user created a Predditors Tumblr blog with the identities — including photos, workplaces, full names and sometimes addresses — of the men who posted on r/creepshots. The Tumblr blog is unrelated to the message sent to CreeperComfort.

The creator of the Tumblr blog is anonymous, but told the feminist website Jezebel she was hoping the men responsible would be reported.

“These f**kers think they can get away with it scot free, which is one of the reasons why sexual violence is so prevalent around the world," she said.

Jezebel is part of the Gawker family of websites, whose links were banned from the hugely popular r/politics subreddit after Gawker writer Adrian Chen began work on a profile of Reddit user Violentacrenze, who has been linked to similarly controversial subreddits.

Tumblr temporarily took down the Predditors blog after receiving a complaint from a Reddit user who claimed it contained personal information about people it alleged were “sexual predators” without proof. The blog was later reinstated.

“This blog was mistakenly suspended under the impression that it was revealing private, rather than publicly-available, information. We are restoring the blog,” a Tumblr spokesperson said.

Other incidents of Internet vigilantism

In 2010, members of 4chan identified Mary Bale as the woman who was caught by a private security camera petting a cat, looking around and then dumping it into a garbage bin in Coventry, England. She received death threats and was charged and fined by animal welfare authorities.

In February 2009, a boy calling himself “Timmy” abused a cat named Dusty and posted the video to YouTube. 4chan and Anonymous members investigated and the Comanche County Sheriff's Department arrested two boys and charged them with animal cruelty. Websites with the accused boy’s name persist to this day, despite the fact that he is a minor.

In 2005, a commuter took a photo of woman who refused to clean up after her dog when it defecated on the floor of a subway car in South Korea.  She was later identified by Internet vigilantes and media reports say the resulting shaming led her to drop out of university.

After a video of upstate New York bus monitor Karen Klein being bullied went viral earlier this year, she and her grade school tormentors were identified. Internet users raised more than $700,000 for her, some of which used to set up the Karen Klein Anti-Bullying Foundation. The bullies were disciplined by their school and received death threats from the public.

Creepshots may be illegal voyeurism: Police

The redditors who created r/creepshots argue that photos of unsuspecting woman are legal because they’re in a public place.

“When you are in public, you do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy,” the site says. “We kindly ask women to respect our right to admire your bodies and stop complaining.”

But Toronto police say it's not so simple. Const. Tonyo Vella says there is a line between “admiration” and voyeurism.

“If you take a photograph of a person in a public forum for a sexual purpose, that is a criminal offence,” he said.

To charge someone with voyeurism, police need to know when and where it was taken, who the person in the photo is and if they consented to being photographed, as well as the intent of the photographer, said Vella.

“If someone files a complaint, we’ll definitely investigate,” he said.

Creepshots moderator condemns vigilante justice

One of the moderators of the Reddit forums devoted to creepshots claims she’s a woman who is disgusted by the photos, but cares more about freedom of speech.

A Reddit user with the handle POTATO_IN_MY_ANUS told Metro in an email interview that she values her privacy, so she won’t disclose her name. Her frequent posts on Reddit are often pornography.

“I do not agree with creepshots and think they are a gross invasion of privacy,” PIMA wrote. “However, there were even more disgusting attempts to mischaracterize creepshots photographers as potential rapists and sex offenders. I think that is trivializing sexual crimes.”

PIMA said one of the photographers was beaten up after his identity was made public, but can’t provide proof of the attack because it would expose the victim. She condemned the Tumblr blog and media who linked to it for encouraging vigilante justice.

Privacy advocate not feeling sorry for photographers

A professor who argues that the Internet needs better structures for protecting users’ privacy has little sympathy for the creepshot photographers whose identities were exposed on a blog.

“You can’t harm people on the one hand and cry me a river about your privacy invasion on the other,” said Avner Levin, a Ryerson University prof who specializes in Internet privacy.

People can feel their privacy was invaded when information they post to one site is used for a purpose that they didn’t expect, he said. “I think where we need to go as a society is to come down on when that kind of connection should be allowed.”

However, the women in creepshot photos have rights as well, he said.

“There is a big misconception that just because you’re out in public, you’re fair game,” he said. “People seeing you walking around is, in our day and age, different from having a fixed image of you -- or a body part of you -- that’s posted on a website and never deleted.”

The women who are photographed without their consent will continue to be hurt should their photos continue to be viewed on the internet, he said.

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