A video of a man drowning in his own blood. A gif of a civilian cargo plane crashing near Kabul, Afghanistan. Headlines detailing accusations of rape, arrests over beatings, and criminal cases of abuse.
Welcome to MorbidReality, one of the darkest recesses of humanity featuring some of the most disturbing content on the Internet.
A subreddit (which is the name for a user-maintained forum where anyone can submit posts) on the popular social news website reddit.com, MorbidReality aims to display the most difficult and indigestible content from the human experience, oftentimes going where traditional media outlets would rarely consider treading.
Posts on the community-moderated page range from the recent earth-shattering Dylan Farrow New York Times op-ed to video footage of graphic deaths from around the world, and are followed by over 136,000 subscribers. The posts are always labelled NSFL (aka “not safe for life”—meaning it’s not really safe to view anywhere, a play on the standard “not safe for work” tag given to illicit content on the web.).
While the existence and popularity of the page itself is a testament to the latent Internet curiosity with death, MorbidReality does not intend on fetishizing its horrific content, rather hoping to present death as a visceral, unvarnished element of existence, according to the Reddit users who manage the page.
“Just before I created the subreddit, I became interested in death-related material,” moderator lilstumpz tells the Daily Beast. He answered questions by email on the condition we maintain his anonymity.
“I wanted to see what wars were like overseas, or what happens when two cars collide,” lilstumpz (who we’ll just call “Jason” for the sake of this piece) says of his motivation in creating the forum. “Occasionally I would visit websites that hosted this disturbing content. All of these websites I visited fetishized death and promoted violence. I found them to be disgusting, and it also made me ashamed of myself. I wondered if viewing these things made me as vile as them. Eventually, I decided to make my own community. A place where those curious of the morbid don’t have to be involved in the numerous vicious communities out there,” he says.
Jason created the page on April 24, 2012, and now moderates the content with a nine-person team. He says their role is to ensure that death is not made into a mockery, and to make sure users refrain from spouting bigoted and racist comments—which often results in a ban from the subreddit.
Nearing its one-year anniversary on Reddit, Jason is surprised at the success of the page.
“I remember when I first created it, I would refresh the page to see how many subscribers had joined,” he says. “I would be ecstatic at the site of seeing a new person had joined. Now, we get several hundred subscribers every day.”
To be sure, MorbidReality gets far less comments and submissions than the more popular subreddits like “News” or “Pics.” Still, it has managed to garner the attention of Erik Martin, the general manager at reddit, who says, “It’s certainly not for everyone.”
“I think for people who are curious or looking for that dose of raw, disturbing reality, it’s very important and even meaningful and powerful for them,” Martin said in an interview with The Daily Besat.
While Martin, unlike Jason, is in the employ of Reddit, his role, he says, is similar to any other moderator of the thousands of subreddit pages that exist on the site. He, and the rest of the managerial team, reserves the right to suspend users if they break the law, violate somebody’s privacy, or infringe on somebody’s intellectual property (or any other proprietary rights), according to the user agreement. But the reddit staff takes no responsibility for the content users post—nor do they endorse it. That said, Martin says he finds value in subreddits like MorbidReality and another, smaller subreddit called CombatFootage, which hosts user-submitted war footage.
“We have such a sterile and sensitized view of war in the sort of mainstream media; especially wars that our country is involved in,” Martin says of CombatFootage, which, on a recent Sunday afternoon, featured a video of Syrian rebels blowing up a building said to contain government troops, a video of Syrian fighters getting “blown away” by mortar rounds, and a Taliban ambush on U.S. soldiers. “I think it’s meaningful,” he says, “or maybe even important to see what some of these conflict zones and situations look like and even get a glimpse of what they might feel like.”
Of the moderators, who aren’t paid by Reddit but manage the site 24/7 on their own volition, Martin says “it seems like they’re just here to let people share and discuss some of the darkest things that humans have been responsible for or created.” He adds: “They do a good job of removing jokes and anything that would distract from a serious discussion.”
MorbidReality, and similar subreddits where shocking and unsettling footage rules supreme, is a testament to the Internet’s free rein, which is largely unrestricted and unburdened by the corporate and societal caution tape that gets plastered around major media outlets. It exists, its moderators say, to allow for direct interaction with death. Jason believes that interaction is an important part of the human condition.
“Every person has their own reasons for visiting our community,” he says. “Some are simply curious about the nature and philosophies surrounding death, and they want a mature community that helps them learn about it.”
“Many others say browsing here is therapeutic to them; that seeing how delicate our lives are puts their troubles into perspective.”