John Menese, creator of The Fappening, told Wired that the showcase of leaked nude celebrity photos gave the subreddit a quarter-million pageviews and earned social media site Reddit enough in six days to pay for at least 27 days worth of site-server time. His claims – which are not verified – come a day after the New York Times reported that Reddit is seeking to raise more than $50 million in venture capital. This could value the company, according to technology site Re/Code, at more than half a billion dollars.
The images of naked female celebrities hacked from iCloud first made their appearance on the subreddit on Aug. 31; under intense outside pressure, Reddit took the subreddit down on Sept. 6, an unusual move for a platform that's zealously committed to free speech and open dissemination of information.
Menese told Wired that he calculated the revenue by tracking how many times the subreddit members paid for Reddit “Gold,” a premium account that costs $3.99 that users often give to each other, conferring a few extra features and prestige.
“Reddit is a kleptocracy that speaks to lofty virtues while profiting from vice,” said TC Sottek from the Verge. He compared The Fappening to “sexual assault, condoned by a state that earns revenue from it.”
On a blog post titled “Every Man Is Responsible For His Own Soul,” Reddit CEO Yishan issued a standard nonapology for the photo dissemination: “We understand the harm that misusing our site does to the victims of this theft, and we deeply sympathize,” he wrote. “Having said that, we are unlikely to make changes to our existing site content policies in response to this specific event.” One administrator, however, noted that there was ambivalence from Reddit staff about the scandal, saying that yes, it had “hit new traffic milestones, ones which I’d be ashamed to share publicly.”
Menese said he doesn’t feel responsible for the women whose naked pictures he hosted on the subreddit. The Fappening, he claims, only linked to the images, he didn’t steal the photos, and, anyway, other parts of Reddit host more egregiously pornographic (or worse) images. “There are lots of other subreddits that have questionable content,” he says. “But they’re still up right now because people whose photos are on them don’t have lawyers.” And indicating that his moral quandary was rooted in maintaining Reddit’s “anything goes” ethos rather than any concern about the violation of women’s privacy, he lamented Reddit’s decision to shut down The Fappening: “It’s sad that Reddit already made their money and then made a show of banning the site,” says Menese.
It remains to be seen whether Reddit can attract advertisers while retaining its character and its appeal to its far-reaching community. It will have to find some way to reconcile users' needs with the aims of advertisers: Reddit users want, and expect, to be anonymous – that’s a large part of the appeal of the platform (and a big reason why so much objectionable content gets shared so freely). Reddit users can participate and post on threads without having to provide an email address or any personal data. “People on Reddit want to be anonymous, and at some point these brands want to have a real relationship with their customers,” said Brian Blau, an Internet analyst with Gartner Research, to the New York Times. “Can Reddit deliver that over time?”
And although Reddit content can include advertiser-friendly subjects such as makeup and cute animal forums, a single thread can veer from innocuous to ghastly (images of dead and decaying bodies) without warning.
Kevin Rose, now a general partner at the venture capital firm Google Ventures whose similar link-sharing site Digg crashed after trying to monetize too quickly, told the New York Times that "one of the things you have to be careful of when you have a site that’s 100 percent community-driven is how best to support that community and not make them feel like you’ve sold out. You just don’t want that community to blow up on you.”