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As Reddit Burns, It Powers The World

Jeremy Kauffman • Jun 11 2015

As part of a company, LBRY, that cares passionately about the freedom of information (in both the beer and information sense), I find myself incapable of keeping my mouth shut about what's going on at reddit.com.

Yesterday, reddit.com announced that they were banning five communities on the grounds of harassment.

Today, these are the top 10 posts on /r/all:

The top posts of /r/all

Perhaps my favorite internet moment ever has been given the indecently bland Wikipedia title of AACS encryption key controversy. For the kids, non-nerds, and amnesiac nerds, a synopsis: the movie industry subpoenaed Digg to remove any references to the number 09 F9 11 02 9D 74 E3 5B D8 41 56 C5 63 56 88 C0 on the grounds that the number could be used to decrypt DVDs. Digg complied. Users revolted. The front page of Digg looked a lot like /r/all, except full of hexadecimal digits instead of fat people and swastikas.

Watching the everyman rebel against censorship and control brought tears to my eyes. It was an absolute inspiration. Astute eyes can find a tiny free speech flag in our footer .

Calling Ellen Pao a Nazi and posting pictures of fat people has not made me cry.


Aaron Swartz and Alexis Ohanian are two of the three people given credit for creating Reddit.

I never met Aaron Swartz, but I've read most of his blog. He seems honest, brilliant, open-minded and thoughtful. He passes the Fitzgerald test for the first-rate intelligence with flying colors.

Even more important than his words, I've seen what he did. Attempting to share JSTOR with the world was a beautiful thing. It puts him in the ranks of Manning, Snowden, Ulbricht, and other modern martyrs. While reasonable people may disagree with some of their actions, no reasonable person can disagree that following your conscience at personal expense to yourself is tremendous. On balance, the world would be a far better place if everyone acted this way.

I have met Alexis Ohanian, briefly. I have read Without Their Permission. Alexis' words aren't bad. He encourages entrepreneurship, attacking problems, and improving the world. He also encourages going around those who would protect the entrenched, obstinate, and broken status quo.

When I met Alexis a few years ago, I had the chance to ask him a question. I asked him something like: if you believe in the idea of routing around the rotten, why not put more energy into projects like that? Why not put resources into projects like Tor, Bitcoin, BitTorrent, or other technology that does the things he describes?

Alexis, at first, faltered. Then he gave me an answer about how there are difficult choices to make, and it's important to work from within and from without. It wasn't a terrible answer, but it was a politician's answer. In those first few seconds, I saw the mask drop. I saw a man's mind spinning a way to justify his true motivations: status and power. Those motivations are not inherently objectionable, but hypocrisy is.

Alexis Ohanian is not Aaron Swartz. Swartz did what was right, regardless of consequence. Ohanian does what has good consequences for him, then comes up with a way for it to be right.


Reddit claims that the grounds for the bans is the violation of rules regarding the harassment of individuals. Like Alexis' words, this is commendable. However, we must always compare words and acts. When they contrast, we have found hypocrisy. We have found evil.

  • Reddit claims that it cares about transparency, but refuses to provide any details or guidelines on its rules. Nor will it provide specific examples of the grounds on which it banned the targeted communities.

  • Reddit claims it banned communities on the grounds of targeted harassment, but users that have cited numerous specific examples of harassment from communities more politically favorable to Reddit's founders go ignored.

  • Reddit claims that it banned the communities on the grounds of targeted harassment, but has banned new subs created by unrelated users that have done no harassing.

  • Reddit refuses to admit that advertising or public perception has anything to do with its actions. It insists that it is only about harassment.

  • Reddit claims that it is about "authentic conversations" and unrestricted speech, but has hired a CEO, Ellen Pao, who represents the antithesis of those values.

Reddit is truly an Ohanian company.


I've neglected to mention the second half of the title. It's an old joke, made by many. Let's go with the SMBC version:

SMBC 2011 November 12th

I hope someone has a generator hooked to Aaron Swartz right now.

Photo of Jeremy Kauffman
Jeremy Kauffman · · ·

Jeremy knows how to build and scale a startup starting from day one. He knows how to deliver usable products and get those products in front of the right people.

Jeremy created LBRY because he fell in love with the idea of shared, global content registry that is owned and controlled by no one. Unsurprisingly, he is a longtime supporter of decentralized technology and freedom of information.

Prior to LBRY, Jeremy founded TopScore, a startup that processes millions of dollars monthly in event and activity registrations. He attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he received degrees in physics and computer science.