Adrian Chen is fucking awesome. And I have very little sympathy for cries about “privacy” from people who make it their primary hobby to violate the privacy of others. Sorry, but the internet is not, in fact, 100% anonymous. Just because you are online doesn’t mean you’re not interacting in the world. And “free speech” does not actually mean “the freedom to say whatever I want, no matter how awful, with zero pushback.” Content note on that link and the rest of this post: Violence, misogyny, sexual assault, racism, and just about anything else foul you can think of.
The background: Reddit, one of the largest online communities in the world, has a series of sub-Reddits on topics ranging from Apples to Zombies. A frequent Reddit user is Violentacrez, who posts some of the most disturbing and obnoxious shit on the internet. Boards he created or moderated include:
Violentacrez also told Redditors about the time he had oral sex with his 19-year-old step daughter (he claims it was “consensual,” but I suspect we’re dealing with someone who doesn’t understand what that word means). He has a penchant for underage girls, and many of the boards he creates, moderates and frequents have to do with “jailbait,” with users posting photos of underage girls for wank material. The photos aren’t technically child porn, but they’re posted without the knowledge/permission of the “jailbait.” After some bad press, the Jailbait board was shut down.
Still up, though, was the “Creepshots” board, where dudes would take photos of unsuspecting women and post them for masturbatory fodder. Think things like ass shots, up-skirt shots, etc etc — all taken of women in public, without their consent. One of the creepshots photographers was a substitute teacher photographing his students. Finally, a female Redditor was fed up, and she started posting the identities of the dudes who were posting the creepshots.
Outrage ensued. How DARE this woman out these men online? How DARE she post their real identities when they are just posting (easily identifiable) photos of women? After all, those women were out in public looking like women — they couldn’t have any reasonable expectation of privacy! And posting the photos was LEGAL, said legions of angry dudes.
Well. Outing someone’s identity is legal too, says an angry feminist blogger.
But you’re infringing on my FREE SPEECH!, say legions of angry dudes.
You don’t understand what free speech means, says an angry feminist blogger.
Here’s what free speech means: It means you get to say pretty much whatever you want without the government coming in, shutting you down, and/or arresting you. There are a few exceptions, but for the most part, you can say something offensive or vile and the police aren’t going to drag you away in handcuffs. However, the thing with free speech is that other people have it too. So if you say something vile that other people don’t like, those other people can in turn criticize you and say vile things back that you don’t like. And if we’re arguing that “free speech” extends into the right to take photos of random women on the street and post them on Reddit, then certainly “free speech” extends into the right to say “Hey FYI guys, the person posting under the name Violentacrez is actually a gross dude named Michael Brutsch.”
And yes, the person posting under the name Violentacrez is actually a gross dude named Michael Brutsch.
And he and his supporters are whining right now because he was outed and that’s so unfair, and he has a family, and his wife is sick and he needs to not get fired from his job. And that is all very sad, and I am sorry that his wife is ill. But (a) I’m unclear on how Michael Brutsch was even able to do his job given the amount of time he spent on Reddit, and (b) the content that he put on Reddit sounds like it would make him a serious liability to his company. This is a man who brags about his boner for under-age girls. Who created an entire board dedicated to the glorification of beating women (posting images of women being beaten up), then created another board dedicated to pictures of dead underage girls.
Excuse me if I feel zero sympathy for this particular person.
Now, if the government were coming in and arresting Michael Brutsch for his distaste for “Jewmerica,” I would be the first person standing up for his right to speak freely without government censure. But “free speech” is not the same as “speech with zero consequences.” If you walk up to your boss and tell her she’s a motherfucker, free speech is not a defense when you get fired. If you fantasize about killing your boss on your facebook page and she finds out, neither “free speech” nor “privacy” are defenses when you get fired.
Violentacrez and a bunch of other creeps put a bunch of disgusting stuff on the internet — stuff that actually harmed other people, that was intended to humiliate and violate women. That was the draw — the humiliation and the exploitation. And now they’re bent out of shape that their own assumption of anonymity isn’t quite so, and there are other people on the internet who would very much like to humiliate and shame them.
Online anonymity has its place — there are reasons why we don’t require that comment accounts here are tied to Facebook and a real identity. We have had, over the years, full-time anonymous bloggers in this space. Anonymity, or pseudonymity, gives people a space to speak more honestly than they would be able to if they were writing under their own names. By virtue of this being a feminist space, we talk about issues (abortion, same-sex marriage, religion) that are highly controversial in certain places; we want readers who may live and work in very conservative areas to be able to engage freely here without worrying about their boss or future employer or parent googling their name and finding them. We also talk about highly personal issues here (sexual assault, abortion, mental health, gender identity, sexual orientation), and we want our readers to be able to share anecdotes and tidbits of information without feeling like they’re outing their personal history to the world. I write under my real, very unusual full name; there are a great many things I don’t write about and don’t discuss because of that fact, and many things, especially about my personal life, that I obscure. For me, that’s an obvious and necessary choice, and I think there’s more value, personally, in writing under my real name — things like accountability and trust. But for a lot of other people, there’s more value and more honesty in telling their stories under a pseudonym. So this isn’t a screed against anonymous internet postings.
It is a screed against using the cover of anonymity for the sole purpose of doing harm. There was no greater moral purpose to Violentacrez’s postings; there was no purpose at all other than to make people angry and to violate women and girls. He said he posted explicitly to “rile people up.” Well, he riled them up enough to out him, and now he’s crying foul.
There are real victims to this culture of anonymity and the humiliation of women. But they aren’t the creeps posting the photos.