Exhibitionists Are Flocking to Reddit's Gonewild Section to Show off Their Bodies -- Is It Kosher?
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Karen believes that Gonewild also gives its users a self-esteem boost. Popular posts receive hundreds of flattering comments, some polite (“this is one of the most physically attractive women on Reddit”); some poetic (“Alot of people are talking about your eyes and they are beautiful, but your titties are from the gods!”); some hyperbolic (“WOW these pictures are what I think I have been searching for my whole life”); and others juvenile (“those pics give me a pants pyramid”).
Not all comments are complimentary, though. “As a whole, the community is very supportive,” Karen says, “but there’s always some bitter person who tries to rain on someone’s parade.” Negative comments are very rare, and are almost always “downvoted,” which results in the comment being hidden by default. However, posters can also be sent private messages, over which the site’s users and moderators have less control.
“In a few of the pictures you can see my boyfriend’s penis,” says user WhyYouNoWorkCaptcha, or Courtney. “He is Hispanic and his skin is darker than mine but because of my paleness and the camera’s own problems adjusting to light, his penis looked like he was black. I got a few private messages saying I was disgusting for being with a black person and that they hoped that me and my N-word were euthanized.”
Courtney received this and a number of other such messages since she first posted to the site. “There is a whole ecosystem that goes on behind the scenes in private messages. Guys who have pictures and walls of text ready to be cut and pasted to message girls as soon as they make a new post. Same text, same photo. Guys who I imagine achieve some sort of success with some girls who can’t really tell a person’s intentions. If you think for a second that some of the comments are creepy, let me tell you: they aren’t. They might seem cheesy, sordid, obscene, cringeworthy, whatever you want to call them, but they are normal I think. The creepy stuff happens in private messages.”
Courtney continues to post to the site, and believes such negativity is outweighed by the site’s positives. The majority of the messages she has received have been “interesting” and have proven that “maybe I am as pretty as I’ve been told by people who care about me and are emotionally invested with me.”
But users who post pictures of their faces may be especially vulnerable to harassment. Reddit’s guidelines recommend avoiding face-shots, but many post them all the same, including Courtney. Other users have sent her messages threatening to expose her real identity: “I haven’t been posting for that long and I already have had someone [who claimed to know me] trying to reach out to me through fear. I said: ‘Just tell me who you are, or keep being creepy; that’s your call. Either way it’s not a big deal.’ Their response was to stay anonymous and keep pressuring me. That’s the creepy part behind the messages; the malice, the deceit to get something fast and forcefully, all wrapped in sexual motivation and trying to make someone vulnerable by holding stuff over their heads, taking advantage of their fear of scrutiny and public humiliation. Who does that? Someone who tried it all already and had no success?”
The implication is that there may be malicious people on the site, spamming posters with threatening messages or trying to expose their real identities. “I don’t know for sure if there are women being taken advantage of,” Courtney says. “I must assume there are and there are many stories often posted in different subreddits about people identifying some of the girls in the pictures.”