I can’t help but steal Ta-Nehisi Coates’ title for this post, since his blog is where I first caught wind of this story, and his title was a good one.
Over at Gawker, Adrien Chen has posted about the notorious Reddit troll (and also moderator, which is a key point) called “Violentacrez.” It unmasks VA’s real identity as Michael Brutsch, but for my money, that’s not the interesting part. Instead it’s the dissection of Reddit’s “free speech” culture, and the way that its paid employees decided it was easier and therefore preferable to make a deal with the devil, rather than attempt to enforce any sort of decency above the bare legal minimum.
What do I mean by that? You should go read the article, but here’s a sampler: VA was very good at hunting down and eliminating actual child pornography posted to Reddit, so they were totes okay with the fact that he was running a giant subreddit called “Jailbait” whose members trawled the web for pictures of adolescent girls in bikinis or short skirts and posted them for the prurient entertainment of their fellow Redditors. (Because, y’know, if they didn’t want creeps on the Internet drooling over their bodies, they shouldn’t have dressed like that, or posted their pictures online!) Oh, and he was really energetic about policing Jailbait not only for child pornography, but also for any girl who appeared to be older than 16 or 17. Good to know he was on the ball!
Of course, there’s been great outrage at Reddit. About Violentacrez? No, of course not. About Chen’s great crime in “doxxing” him — exposing his real identity. On this topic, let me just quote Chen:
Under Reddit logic, outing Violentacrez is worse than anonymously posting creepshots of innocent women, because doing so would undermine Reddit’s role as a safe place for people to anonymously post creepshots of innocent women.
I am OK with that.
And so am I.
As Scalzi points out, a lot of this is based in a skewed sense of what “free speech” means, plus an unhealthy dose of privileged entitlement. The notion that I am abridging somebody’s constitutional rights by getting in the way of their ability to be a goddamned asshole, is, to put it succinctly, bullshit. Am I glad that Brutsch has lost his job (with a payday lender, apparently, which Fred Clark at Slacktivist has commented on)? No, of course not. He has a family to feed. But I don’t blame Chen for that, either. Brutsch thrived because the culture of Reddit allowed him to get away with reprehensible behavior, and the cost of that to other people is real. His pigeons are now coming home to roost. I’m sure Redditors will take up a collection on his behalf, and they’ll inundate him with sympathy for the terrible and unjustified witch-hunt against a guy who only wanted to entertain himself with other people’s suffering.
But in the meantime, Chen has struck one little blow against Internet sociopathy. If I could donate to him, I would.