The 10-Year Anniversary of Reddit’s Cumbox

At the time of the interview, lynfect had stopped using the box, since it was beyond repair. Instead, he said he’d been ejaculating on the floor and cleaning it up immediately afterward.

Other questions revealed a portrait of, well, the kind of guy you might expect to post about having a cumbox on Reddit. He had never been in a relationship and said he wasn’t interested in one; he wasn’t particularly close with his family; he claimed to have once masturbated while on the phone with his senile grandmother.

Redditors also noticed that in his user activity, he had posted to a subreddit r/picsofdeadkids. Lynfect’s explanation of why he participated there was simply, “It is interesting, can’t really explain why, but I like it, almost as if you are seeing something that you aren’t meant to.” Commenters were alarmed but not totally fazed by this. The fact that such a subreddit existed at all situates the cumbox and its discourse at a time when an untamed Reddit was a very different platform and culture than would be acceptable today.

Cumbox was a watershed moment for Reddit, a high-water mark — that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back. In August, then-president Barack Obama did an AMA during his reelection campaign where he famously answered if he’d rather fight 100 duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck. “Internet culture” at the time was something that existed off to the side of mainstream culture, with viral cats, image macro memes, “epic bacon” type stuff — and Reddit was the premier destination for it.

Simultaneously, it was also a widely acknowledged cesspool of misogyny, racism, and horror. While today we might think of controversial content on Reddit being COVID deniers, political extremism, or misinformation, it’s almost shocking to remember how much worse it actually was in 2012. The controversy over the worst elements came to a head that fall. A Gawker investigation in October revealed the identity of the moderator of notorious subreddits such as r/jailbait, r/incest, r/misogny, r/hitler, r/picsofdeadjailbait, and several others with slurs in the name that I don’t care to repeat here. There had been pressure in the media and on Reddit to ban r/Creepshots, home to surreptitiously taken photos of women, and although Reddit leaders initially said that they wouldn’t ban it, they eventually did. It would take several more years for Reddit to start banning other toxic subreddits like r/gamergate, r/pizzagate, and ultimately r/the_donald.

Ten years later, the debate over “free speech” on social platforms is the hot topic again. But Elon Musk et. al might want to consider that when Reddit offered nearly unfettered free speech, it didn’t lead to a discourse of unpopular political opinions or anti-wokeism or a salon for the intellectual dark web types; it meant thousands of people subscribed to see photos of dead babies or proudly racist memes.

But the tide was shifting. Only weeks before the cumbox, Facebook bought Instagram. Snapchat would take off that fall. The internet was about to transform from a variety of message boards and blogs to a few social platforms ruled by algorithms.

The actual cumbox may have merely been a shoebox full of semen, but it represents the last gasps of an old internet. It’s not that the box couldn’t exist today — in fact, I’m certain that somewhere out there in the world, someone is ejaculating into a shoebox at this very moment — but the forces that lifted this one into virality and internet history no longer exist in that way. Like lynfect’s shoebox, that version of the internet was shameful and hard to destroy, but eventually fell apart. Now we’re all just jizzing on our floors. ●