Afternoon InquisitionSkepticism

AI: Outing Trolls

By now you probably know who Michael Brutsch is. You know he’s one of the worst trolls on the internet. You know his handle: Violentacrez. You know he’s from Arlington, Tx. You know you didn’t know his name when you went to work on Thursday… but you probably knew his work. In fact, Rebecca posted almost exactly one year ago about Reddit’s /r/jailbait, a subReddit that existed for posting sexy pictures of underage girls. You probably (hopefully) know less about some of his other sub-Reddits like /r/Picsofdeadjailbait which contained pictures of dead underage girls. 

Some other excerpts from his magnum opus include:

  • Chokeabitch
  • Niggerjailbait
  • Rapebait
  • Hitler
  • Jewmerica
  • Misogyny
  • Incest

You know who he is because Friday night he was outed by Gawker’s Adrian Chen (some ledes cannot be buried). And the internet did whatever the internet equivalent is of running through the streets, flipping over burning cars. Some flipped in solidarity. Some in anger. Some just because they wanted the parking spot.

A lot of people were angry that this man was being publicly outed. How dare Chen reveal his identity knowing that this information going public would, almost certainly, ruin his life. Others are quick to point out that he ruined plenty of people’s lives, and how fucked up it is to expect your privacy be held sacred for the purpose violating others’. And the whole thing about the internet not REALLY being anonymous and anything you say can come back to haunt you, and those chances increase as the value of that information increases. If you’re anonymously posting pictures of baby sloths on the internet, there is little value in uncovering your identity. If you are posing nude and inappropriately with baby sloths, the value goes up. If you are posting dead teenage girls for lulz? Come. On.

But some people think this is a threat to anonymity online. For those who rely on it. Like our own Bug Girl, who is actually required to remain anonymous.

So, gentle reader, what do you think of the outing of Violentacrez? Is the internet a better or worse place because of it? Do you believe that anonymity is valuable? Is anonymity at risk? Do trolls deserve to be outed?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3pm ET.

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Elyse

Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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50 Comments

  1. As much crap as Scott McNealy got for saying it, “You have no privacy, get over it.” is largely true. There is no reasonable expectation of privacy online if anyone wants to know who you are. Which isn’t to say you can’t stay anonymous, just that odds are against you.

    In this instance I’m entirely unsurprised at people defending his right to privacy when he quite eagerly had zero respect for the right to privacy of his victims. People who sympathize with him are intellectually dishonest and frankly bad people. I’ve no qualms about stating that.

    I think the net effect on the internet of this specific incident is zero. The aggregate effect of demonstrating to trolls that there can be consequences to their actions is a net positive.

    For those (like Bug Girl) the need for anonymity requires a very high level of vigilance and secrecy that most people aren’t going to pursue.

    1. For those (like Bug Girl) the need for anonymity requires a very high level of vigilance and secrecy that most people aren’t going to pursue.

      This sounds very much like you’re putting the burden of self-protection on the marginalized person, which has the inevitable flipside of victim-blaming if it goes wrong.

      We NEED privacy, including the option for anonymity, online. We, both legally and socially, need to establish norms that people deserve to be safe online, unless they are demonstrably hurting someone. This cavalier attitude toward privacy that you’re showing is dangerous. Moreover, it’s framed so as to make an “is” an “ought”–“There is no reasonable expectation of privacy online”? Oh really? Well if that is the case that’s very unjust and we need to change that!

      Look, we don’t need to throw the baby out with the bathwater in order to get Brutsch. It’s very easy to define a moral norm that “Your right to privacy may be revoked if you harass or abuse others, or violate their privacy.” It’s very simple to understand, and a standard that everyone can live with. You don’t need to phrase your values so as to sell out everyone’s privacy to justify accountability that could be enforced much, much more precisely.

      1. ”There is no reasonable expectation of privacy online”? Oh really? Well if that is the case that’s very unjust and we need to change that!

        But there is no realistic expectation of privacy if you share your data online. And what that means is that basically, if you share details, understand the risks associated with sharing. Rage against that if you want, but it’s very much the truth these days, and to change that would take major changes at the level of federal law.

        You’re right though about victim blaming. Just because for instance, a girl/woman had her sexy pictures swiped (as is the case for Angie Verona), doesn’t mean it’s her fault or that it’s okay to shame her and perv over her.

        1. Which is why we as a society need to make it clear that there IS a reasonable expectation of privacy online, in a moral sense. We need to stand up and show that we expect behavior that respects others’ privacy, and will punish those that don’t, legally if possible.

          Again, you’re making an is/ought fallacy. It makes just as much sense to say “There is no reasonable expectation of privacy in the mail system” because someone can easily open a letter if they want to–they’re not magically protected, but because we as a culture TREAT material in the mail as deserving of privacy and generally react with outrage at the thought of opening others’ mail, it generally is. I know there are risks to posting online, but there are also risks to crossing the street. I’m saying that we need to take it upon ourselves to defend each others’ online identities better.

          1. Which is why we as a society need to make it clear that there IS a reasonable expectation of privacy online, in a moral sense. We need to stand up and show that we expect behavior that respects others’ privacy, and will punish those that don’t, legally if possible.

            I agree with you in terms of that there should be an expectation of privacy. Though we’d just have to be careful to write the legal language carefully so that it doesn’t infringe on online freedom or protect abusers.

            For instance, what’s to stop the man cited in this article to use such legal means against Rebecca if such legislation is passed?

            Again, you’re making an is/ought fallacy.

            Oh the skeptic community and fallacies. Screaming “FALLACY!” is a bit like screaming “Heresy” among 14th century catholics.

            No it’s not a fallacy, it’s just logic, if you post things online you simply risk exposure of your details. What would help in addition to what you mentioned above is education people on how to safely encapsulate their details from the web.

  2. My take on this: if you need to remain anonymous because of conflict of interest, etc., I can understand that. (The example that springs to mind: Drew McWeeney, who wrote for Aint It Cool as Moriarty for years, because his real name being tied to his script/movie reviews could have adversely affected his professional life as a screen writer, etc.)

    HOWEVER, if you are relying on anonymity to post awful/illegal pictures that violate other people’s rights (i.e., right to privacy), you forfeit your right to anonymity.

    That’s how I see it.

  3. You just knew he was from Texas.

    I have a hard time with this issue because…Oh, no wait, this is easy. It’s one thing to use pseudonyms primarily because of personal safety. And then there’s this asshole.

    I am totally fine, however, with protecting skeptical trolls and mods:

    /r/bigfootcreepshot
    /r/deadchupacabraphotos
    /r/slothsfucking
    /r/Burzynskitoiletcam (the camera faces into the bowl)

    RJB

  4. I was SO PLEASED that this transpired the way it did, I just wish it had happened sooner. I really cannot understand the handwringing over the bullshit description of it as “doxxing”. No, people this is called JOURNALISM. That’s what it looks like. Comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable, all that.

    A person’s view of this entire incident is a great litmus test for whether I want to continue to associate with them.

  5. I’m with revmatty on this. Most of us have quite unreasonable beliefs in the confidentiality of online transactions and the trustworthiness of people we’ve never met.

    Complete anonymity can be attained by careful use of anonymizing software, but most of us lack the skills and dedication to pull this off.

  6. Being anonymous on the internet has no guarantee of staying so. There are no legals rights to anonymity (that I know of) – if someone can figure out who you are based on publicly available information. If you are a “high-value” target, it increases the risk (and incentive to others) to “out” you. You choose to take that risk if you have a high-profile presence on the internet and still choose to be anon.
    In general I think this was a positive. He used his anonymity to basically be an ass in a way that would be too embarrassing to do publicly in just about any in-person forum. He saw it as free speech. It’s also free speech for Gawker to use public info to out him because he’s a high profile ass and to generate views.
    I don’t think ALL trolls should necessarily be outed, most are fairly harmless. It’s a case by case thing.
    In the end, it comes down to why you’re choosing to remain anonymous as to whether it’s a net + or – to be outed. That, and any time someone chooses to be anon, it should be with the understanding that they can be outed – so being vigilant should be part of the choice. If you’re doing it to do what VA did, you have little room to complain if it comes back to bite you.

  7. An asshole of my acquaintance said “It’s not illegal to take pictures of children in public places”. Well then, it’s not illegal to publicly shame an asshole who takes non-consensual pictures of people in public places for the internet to use as wank material.

    I hope this guy gets fired, disowned and socially shunned for the rest of his life. Those are called “consequences” and it’s time these jerks learned the meaning of the word.

    @Robert Westbrook – I totally agree, anyone who decides this guy’s “good name” is more important that the hundreds of people he’s hurt and shamed, isn’t worth my time.

  8. Speaking of which. Yesterday anonymous supposedly outed Amanda Todd’s bully. But everyone got to be careful, because if you dig through the anonymous youtube account that made this revelation, you will find that it is the same one that posted a reaction saying that Todd’s story was a Media Scheme to promote censorship of child pornography. So, in fact it is probably the least reliable source possible.

    Which brings me to a question . If we decide that it is ok to out monsters’ identities (and I am undecided honestly). What stops parties from leaking wrong identities to the public and possibly ruin innocents’ lives by bringing revenge upon them unfairly?

    1. Libel and slander laws will do a bit to protect innocent people from being falsely outed. If, for instead, Brutsch were not violentacres but an innocent man confused with him, he would be able to sue Adrien Chen for libel (and quite likely win). This won’t undo all the damage that might already have been done to him, or which might be done to him in the future, but it does provide a strong incentive not to falsely out someone.

  9. Yes, there are legal rights to anonymity, and they are considered a vital part of our First Amendment rights. As the Supreme Court said in McIntyre vs. Ohio Elections Commission:

    Protections for anonymous speech are vital to democratic discourse. Allowing dissenters to shield their identities frees them to express critical minority views . . . Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. . . . It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation . . . at the hand of an intolerant society.

    Here are some other resources on the value of anonymity:

    https://www.eff.org/issues/anonymity

    http://www.citmedialaw.org/legal-guide/legal-protections-anonymous-speech

    As I said on Pharyngula, I think we need clear guidelines both legally and socially as netizens for when it is acceptable (or necessary) to out someone:

    I would say the limits on free speech (i.e., such that they deserve legal intervention and likely outing of the speaker) may more accurately be described with:
    1) No incitements of violence (posting home addresses, etc., count for this)
    2) No harassment (I think this would cover most of what you [PZ] mean by “responsibility,” but I think this is a more precise angle to approach it)
    3) No promulgating illegally-obtained material, which includes (or damn well should include) non-consensual photography, material obtained through hacks of personal data, especially of minors (this needs to be defined so as not to include journalistic coverage of illegal instances–a news site or accountability group can post videos of police brutality, for instance [depending on context, the subject/victim’s consent may need to be obtained even for this purpose], but the site beatingn###ers.com should be considered to be profiting off of illegal activity or exploiting the victims of crime)

    I also think its fair to sacrifice anonymity when the subject is engaged in illegal acts related to their use of anonymity (posting underage creepshots of girls falls into this category) or is of imminent harm to others/inciting violence, but sheer vileness in the absence of actual illegality is probably not a fair cause to out someone. Now, in practical terms, most people who get extremely vile will likely stumble into doing something illegal or will be considered a credible threat to others, so this “pure horribleness” that would go unchecked is very, very unlikely.

    With respect to both taking photos without the subject’s consent, and posting them in fora unauthorized by the subject, I actually do think that is a matter worthy of legal concern and one that needs to be taken much more seriously than it is. People do deserve legal protection from exploitation (especially sexual, and especially if they’re minors) and I think it’s a matter of our cultural willingness to treat (particularly) women’s bodies as public property and a certain hostility to consent that we’ve allowed our legal protections of victims of this sort of behavior to lag so far behind the times.

  10. This isn’t directly in response to the question, but something which I thought when I first read about this. Among the favored arguments in defense of internet trolls are “but they’re really nice in real life” and “this is just an act.” Many people even said that about Brutsch when he was only known as Violentacrez.

    It’s an argument I never put much stock in, and Chen’s article makes clear Brutsch is anything but a “nice guy in real life.” Sure, it’s just one data point, but given the fact that a lot of the usual suspects continue to defend him in these terms despite his disturbing abuse coming to light suggests they have a very different idea what constitutes a “nice guy” than I have.

    I’m less inclined than before to believe “but he’s a nice guy in real life.” No, he isn’t. Decent people don’t do these things, online or off. Period.

  11. I’d like to be able to filter based on how long people have had an id, how much they post and how they are mod’d. There are examples of some of this already. Stability and reputation can be established without an identity. I have no idea who the people I do business with on eBay really are. They ship my stuff on time and pay for my stuff promptly. That establishes a relationship.

  12. What do I think? Good.

    Internet better? Yes.

    Anonymity valuable? If you aren’t abusing it, yes, but it is a privilege, not a right.

    Anonymity at risk? Nope. Sloth posters are safe.

    Do trolls deserve to be outed? We’ll see how tough those trolls are who so casually try to destroy other people when they have to face real consequences for what they have done on the Internet.

  13. I don’t think this is that hard a question. Chen, by the way, explicated it quite well.

    If you harm other people, then anonymity is a privilege that can be revoked. You don’t get to remain anonymous if you go in the street and smack someone. The trolling would fall into a similar category.

  14. I’m a redditor, and I’ve been around most of the noteworthy (positive and negative) parts of reddit. Also, I was on the Beta team for the new search. I’ve seen violentacrez around the community for years, and while I disagreed with some of his positions, I will defend his presence and worth.

    The old admins had his phone number and contact information, and he was made admin of subreddits that had problems with illegal (read as: child porn, mostly) content. This is what happened with /r/creepshots. Some stupid, pervy substitute teacher posted a (clothed, but still repugnant due to his position) picture of one of his students to /r/creepshots. A student who was in the class recognized the subject of the photo and viewing angle and outed the teacher to the school’s administration. (This is a way of handling the situation that I view as positive- no internet-wide witch hunting, main coverage of such reported after the report was given to the school) Another user and a moderator of /r/creepshots made violentacrez a moderator of /r/creepshots to help prevent problems like this and worse from happening.

    Adrian Chen, who has demonstrated his dislike for reddit before (see his role in the LucidEnding debacle, for one), saw this and went after violentacrez, stating his intent to ruin his life. He posted where he lived, pictures of him, called him *at his job*, talked about his son and disabled wife. If Chen was trying to talk about reddit culture or /r/creepshots or ANYTHING other than ruining a guy’s life, the article would have been written differently.

    Additionally, violentacrez did not do anything illegal. He took pictures found on 4chan (and other similar places, but not facebook and the like) and posted them in various subreddits. He got in a bit of a war with /r/ShitRedditSays, which does have a bit of a hive mind mentality (and I want to agree with them on some of these things!) about subreddit topics- they’d try to get one banned, he’d create one worse. However, he did not harass anyone, he was friends with Saydrah who was very involved with SRS, and I believe made laurelai a mod of a few subreddits, when she is known for her lack of tolerance of harassment. He also helped turn (iirc, I can’t check right now because I’m at work) /r/rape and another subreddit into resources for people who may have been raped instead of smut dumps. He liked fighting for content freedom, and went to extremes to do it that most people wouldn’t dream of- but he didn’t stalk, didn’t abuse, and helped reddit keep CP out. I’ve had creepier friends than that.

    Also- I wouldn’t support having similar information given out to the public about anyone online- not the Stormfront racists, not the /r/MensRights misogynists, nobody. I was pissed about Jessi Slaughter and her “dun goofed” family in the video who were being harassed awfully by 4chan. I was sad when her dad died and the internet mocked it. Just because we can find out enough information about someone we disagree with online to publicize their deeds to the world and raise a mob against them (because on the internet, there’s always a mob) doesn’t mean we should. A parallel- Justin Vacula’s actions regarding Surly Amy, as well as the people who came to the con with her jewelry, made me sick, but I also wouldn’t want anyone to make him lose his job and insurance, get black faxed, or pizza trolled either. I’ve posted things people won’t agree with online, I’m sure. Nothing like /r/creepshots material, but still, I’m a bit of a hardheaded loudmouth. Do I deserve to be stalked down?

    I don’t think so, and I don’t think VA did either.

    1. The thing that strikes me about all of this is the accepted belief that one can act (with intent) to piss off and offend huge groups of people and expect none of those people to retaliate.

      I also don’t accept the idea that you need to test the limits of free speech to defend it. You may have a right to post those things but other have a right to judge you for it.

      1. “I also don’t accept the idea that you need to test the limits of free speech to defend it.”

        But I thought it was my patriotic duty to say vile things on the internet! (sarcasm)

        I’m wondering if this is basically a death knoll for all of the particularly toxic, trollish subreddits…or will the trolls simply guard their online identities more closely? Outing trolls is a tactic that only works if you can uncover the trolls’ identities.

    2. He didn’t harass anyone? You mean except for all the people he was trolling. The teens, the black people, the jews, the dead girls, the domestic violence victims. Except those people, right? Which makes him still a mostly good guy who is a true champion of women’s rights?

      1. I have run into problems discussing this issue with friends because the victims whose images are being exploited are consistently glossed over. I have (male, white) friends who insist with a straight face that these creeper and jailbait sites do absolutely no harm and I should just get over it because I don’t have the right to not be someone else’s fap material. I don’t even know how to keep talking to them after that.

    3. “This is a way of handling the situation that I view as positive- no internet-wide witch hunting, main coverage of such reported after the report was given to the school” – in other words, you’re OK with somebody outing the teacher because he wasn’t somebody you liked and you thought what he did was creepy. Whether the student reported it to the school before or after the media got the story has nothing at all to do with whether an “Internet witch hunt” happened.

      All you’re saying is that you don’t like Gawker or Chen and you do like violentacrez and so outing HIM was not okay. That’s not a principled stance.

      I also wonder why his defenders are keeping so quiet about his offer to Chen to be a “mole” and spy out/on people at Reddit if Chen would promise not to publish his name. He was ready to dox you all to save his skin. Still think he’s a great guy?

  15. I have two conflicting thoughts on this and other free-speech/anon issues.

    The first is that I think anonymity is a critical aspect of being able to speak out against power. To be able to speak on unpopular issues and take unpopular but principled stances.

    The second issue is that people should be able to own what they say, and being able to speak doesn’t mean that other can’t speak back in response.

    I’ve tried to figure out where the line between those are. The issue is complicated in the same way that trying to prevent people from lying is complicated. Ultimately, you have to give the authority to judge truthfulness to someone or some organization, and what happens if it gets corrupted? It can so easily become a tool of suppression.

    I think a recent discussion about rape jokes actually provided some illumination to my thinking. Someone mentioned that good jokes about rape punch up, not down. They make fun of the abuser/attacker, not the victim.

    To that end, I think that when the Anon speaker is speaking a minority position to a more powerful position, that anonymity should be protected. When the anonymity is being used to exploit victims or those in a weaker position, then it should not be protected.

    Additionally, I think the dynamic changes when there are people on both ends of the equation and not just ideas. Like most rights, the rights of one individual frequently clash with the rights of another. In those cases, I think we should morally side with the person in the minority/weaker position.

    In this specific case, I think the person was using his anonymity to punch ‘down’ and avoid the expected negative repercussions of that speech. On the other end of his speech were real people suffering real consequences. His anonymity should not be protected. He should own his actions publically.

    1. The first is that I think anonymity is a critical aspect of being able to speak out against power.

      The second issue is that people should be able to own what they say, and being able to speak doesn’t mean that other can’t speak back in response.

      That’s pretty much where I sit. Ideally I’d be able to decide what my ethical position is, and live that way. But when people quite overtly disagree with my position and act accordingly the limits to what I think become obvious. Here we’re dealing with someone who views privacy as a problem that can be solved by the internet, and believes quite strongly that no-one should have any right not to have their life invaded.

      I’m reluctantly forced to agree that for people who believe that, putting everything you can find out about them on the net is a reasonable response. Even if the purpose is purely hostile – you’re trying to punish them to dissuade others from similar behaviour.

      So yes, I think this is a good thing.

  16. i don’t have a problem with it in this case, however the burden of proof has to be fairly high because of the nature of the accusation, and the nature of on-line vigilantism. presumably gawker has a legal department that vetted the story, so it’s just routine journalism. in other cases authors might get sued or an innocent person accused of similar actions will go through hell. i wonder if the photographed women can sue him?

  17. Does freedom of speech mean freedom of anonymous speech? This goes farther than a dickhead on reddit. In my area, Target was hit with a massive backlash after they were found to have donated money to an anti-gay, right-wing political organization. New laws have been pushed through to hide such donors in the future. Is this fair to the public? Don’t we have a right to know who is behind such speech?

    Also, I would be skeptical of any claims “outing” someone. It would be so easy to just make up a name and throw it out there.

  18. In a lot of cases, anonymity is valuable. Parents finding out about sexual orientation or atheism, people putting your address on a hate site, things like that make anonymity important.

    However, in the case of someone posting photos of underage girls (illegal), dead underage girls (possibly illegal and definitely disgusting), and “Jewmerica” (distasteful) probably should be held accountable for AT LEAST the illegal stuff.

    I don’t necessarily think that because this troll was outed, it ruins anonymity for the rest of us on the internet. Nor do I think that *all* or even *most* trolls should be outed. If something illegal is being done, or if someone else’s privacy is being breached, they should definitely be held accountable.

    1. Felt the same. As the article points out, the current Reddit outrage at Gawker is hilariously ironic given it’s complete lack of outrage when posting thousands of non consenting pictures on it’s threads. How is that not a huge privacy violation? You lose privileges of anonymity when you violate others anonymity and privacy. I have no problems with this.

  19. I think that if you do something despicable, your right to anonymity is void.

    Despicable defined as something the vast majority of people would recognize as terrible, not disagreeing with someone, not holding unpopular opinions or wearing white after Labor Day.

    I have absolutely no problem with it in this particular case.

  20. I wish every possible evil to befall Brutch.

    BUT.

    How safe are anonymous women bloggers in Pakistan? Or atheists in Saudi Arabia? Or Queers in Jamaica or Uganda?

    I suppoert Gawker’s outing, and I find reddit’s response cheesey and cheap. Defending ‘privacy’ usually means justifying inaction inf the face of criminal activity.

    My privacy was violated when a false website was created in my name. I could never pry loose any identification of the criminal who did this. Why? ‘Privacy.’

  21. Posting pictures of dead underage girls!!?? And why exactly should I feel sorry for this piece of scum? I have no problem with his outing and any consequences that result from his outing.

    Couldn’t happen to a nicer racist, anti-semitic misogynist.

    Perhaps Reddit needs to censor some of its forums.

  22. The way I see this is Brutsch thought he was too clever to be bound by the rules of society. Unfortunately for him, Brutsch wasn’t as clever as he thought or as clever as Adrian Chen.

    You live by the sword, you die by the sword. And, while you may cry about it, I don’t have to feel sorry for you.

  23. Didn’t know the name, but did know the work that you mentioned. Didn’t Rebecca write about him other times as well? Know she did write stuff about Reddit.

    What is the reason that Bug Girl must remain anonymous, if I may ask?

    Definately think the Internet is better off with this creep outed.

    I believe there are limits to anonymity.
    If what you do is harmful and promotes henious activity (as what is mentioned in the article), then you forfiet that right.

    For trolls, that also depends on what they do.
    If they simply spew out hateful messages, then I say block and ignore them.
    If they’re like this Brutsch person, then out them.

  24. What I find lost in the noise is that the relationship between free speech and anonymity has always proved a bit tenuous. Although anonymity has obvious public interest benefits it’s important to remember that even those anonymous persons we most admire often committed an illegal act – part of why we admire them. Bradley Manning did break violate national security law but we admire him because of the public interest value of information that many of us consider wrongly shielded from public view by a mis-use of national security law. But like it or not, he has no *right* to anonymity. Nor did Mark Hatfield (a.k.a.: “Deep Throat” of Watergate). Both cases were an act of civil disobedience with anonymity an attempt to promote a public good in opposition to tyrants in power.

    Now, If VA even *thought* in some deluded manner or questionable logic that he was striking a blow for freedom or bringing to public attention the mis-deeds of someone powerful enough to harm him in retaliation, although the he would still not enjoy an “anonymity defense,” he would likely have many supporters and admirers. Firing him might even blowback on his employer.

    The practical absurdity of playing the martyr here comes from the fact that one does not heroically “stick to the man” by posting creepy pictures of underage girls, or racist bullshit.

    One more thought: Mark Hatfield didn’t spend years bragging to people at meetups that he was “Deep Throat” in order to bask in the notoriety. He *did* out himself for money as he was terminally ill and wanted some revenue from a book deal to tide him over for the remaining short time he had left. Conversely, VA wanted to bask in the notoriety of being Mr. Badass who liked to rile people up for fun but wanted to stay anonymous to the rest of the world at the same time. Remember, folks, that’s *how* he got discovered in the first place: it’s hard to be an attention-whore and stay anonymous at the same time.

    What I called an “anonymity defense” above has always proven a public opinion and public interest matter we evaluate on a case-by-case basis.

  25. I’ve never really been in favor of anonymity online because I can’t seem to find much benefit in it other than the protection of pieces of shit. I’m told it makes people more honest or willing to talk. Meh. I understand when it’s used to help someone who would otherwise be compromised have a voice online. I view it as a good but not something valuable in and of itself.

    I think outing people like him is generally a good thing. I don’t think it changes much about the internet. What can I say, eternal pessimist.

    Anonymity is always at risk and it’s getting harder to maintain and like I said I understand the positive need for it in certain circumstances. But I gave up on it a long time ago and I no longer care that much about having it.

  26. I can’t speak to this case, not being a reader of reddit this is the first I have heard of this person. First let me say that if he did what is alleged I have no empathy for him, but I want to address some the posts I’ve seen here.

    It is being suggested that because this man did something despicable it is then okay that he was outed. Some are saying we can decided whether people deserve to keep their anonymity.

    Who gets to decide whether an act is egregious enough to warrant outing? Is it you? What if someone decides that something you think or say is enough for them to out you?

    As an atheist I am often told that I will burn in hell for my disbelief, and as an atheist this does not bother me because it’s like being threatened with being sent to Azkaban, an imaginary place. I don’t doubt that if I were more strident there would be some who might want me outed if I were actually anonymous.

    Homosexuality is thought to be a choice by some, and not just a choice but an immoral choice. Do these bigots have the right to out homosexuals?

    Anti-vaxxers have attacked Elyse and her family, should they be allowed to do that, after all they really believe that she is trying to harm children?

    The reason I’m asking is, this idea that we can decide who is worthy of punishment reminded me of something. It sounded an awful lot like the add-ons to the bullying bills that allows for bullying if you really believe it.

    We can out this person (bully this person) as long as their transgression is bad enough (I really believe it).

    Also I have seen the freedom of speech issue brought up. This is a misconception that always comes about in these cases but it is a red herring. The first amendment only keeps the government from abridging your speech it does not keep your fellow citizens from telling you to sit down and shut up when you are spouting shit in a public place.

    I have no empathy for this man but the reporter should have had a channel to contact the local police in Texas and have them actually be able to act against what I believe was clearly illegal activity. The current laws don’t allow for that, the laws need to be changed.

    1. What do you think of the standards listed in my previous comment? Do those seem objective and broadly applicable?

      Personally, I’m in the out someone AND seek legal repercussion for situations like this, because for such an aggressively toxic person who is actively doing harm to others, we need that additional named social pressure and can’t wait for the legal system to take its sweet time. Ideally, I’d love a responsive police force that dealt with these invasions of privacy with focus and adequate funding, of course. But I also think victims need a voice and too often now they have to choose between not speaking up and waiting for a crapshoot legal system, versus getting the social support they need and raising awareness.

      1. Your proposals would be a start in addressing the jurisdiction fights that these cases seem to turn into.

        The answer isn’t easy and the problem is not black and white, I just had the bullying bill add-ons jump to mind when reading the comments. I don’t think they are entirely equal, and I know this amounts to a slippery slope argument, but I wanted to add a word of caution.

    2. This outing is not a bullying tactic to silence views that are distasteful to the majority, this is exposing a bully who is using anonymity to attack and harass others, and often to silence them. This type of troll represents a greater danger to free speech than the exposing of him does. So while we should always worry about censorship and bullying tactics, and you make some good points, this is neither.

  27. I have no problem with the outing of this jerk given what kinds of behaviors he engaged in. With regard to general privacy it seems that there are many things I want but I also know I’m not likely to get just for wanting or asking; like privacy on the internet. Even if the loss of privacy is in direct opposition of my desires, the fact that I choose to participate makes me vulnerable. There are no guarantee’s or promises that can be kept in public discourse and if you choose to swim in the ocean you also choose to swim in a pool contaminated with tons and tons of fish, marine mammal and human shit. If you want to enjoy the ocean while standing on the shore with binoculars in hand I’m pretty sure you’ll stay shit free; otherwise there’s always going to be some risk.

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