Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Doxing the Internet's Biggest Troll, "Violentacrez"...

If you have ten minutes to spare on your lunch break, I promise you won't be disappointed by reading Gawker's unmasking last week of "Violentacrez".

This notorious Reddit user has come under scrutiny in the past for creating a forum named "Jailbait" where people shared photos of underage tween and teenage girls, often in bikinis and skirts, with many of the snapshots being lifted from the girls' Facebook accounts.

Violentacrez and his fellow moderators worked hard to make sure every girl on jailbait was underage, diligently deleting any photos whose subjects seemed older than 16 or 17. Violentacrez himself posted hundreds of photos....   Eventually, Jailbait landed on CNN, where Anderson Cooper called out Reddit for hosting it, and Violentacrez for creating it. The ensuing outcry led Reddit administrators to reluctantly ban Jailbait, and all sexually suggestive content featuring minors.

More recently, he's been at the center of a firestorm regarding the forum named "Creepshots".  In this subreddit, users post covert photos they've taken of women in public, usually close-ups of their breasts or rear-ends.  Although Violentacrez didn't create this subreddit, he was brought in as a moderator earlier this year.  Creepshots was banned by Reddit's administrators last week, although the circumstances aren't clear.

But really, this only scratches the surface.  Violentacrez has created some truly horrific subreddit forums in the past including (just to name a few):
  • Chokeabitch
  • Niggerjailbait
  • Rapebait
  • Hitler
  • Jewmerica
  • Misogyny
  • Incest 
Last week, Violentacrez apparently closed his account once Gawker revealed his real-life identity to be Michael Brutsch - a military father, husband, and employee at a publicly traded corporation.  Since then, there has been something of a cyber-uproar over his "doxing" (slang for outing someone's identity).   The Gawker website has been blocked in dozens of Reddit forums.  The site's volunteer moderators have also apparently been banning users simply for submitting links that mention the controversy.  Meanwhile, Brutsch has been fired from his job and is now accepting PayPal donations from supporters. 

As of today, the BanGawker subreddit is filled with cries of "Free Speech!" and yet is simultaneously calling for banning, censoring, "lynch-mobbing", and intimidating users as forms of retaliation.

Violentacrez' actions speak for themselves; think of them what you will.  However, I want to bring attention to the response of his supporters.  What's really worthy of an uproar here?  This isn't a free speech issue.  The government isn't prohibiting certain content.  This is a case of a private commercial website deciding to shut down one of its own forums, which it has every right to do, and a notorious user of the site voluntarily closing his account.  He wasn't even asked to do so, but took the initiative of his own free will in order to protect his own personal private interests. 

No one can claim this is slander, either.  A journalist, (yes, an actual journalist), Adrian Chen, confirmed the facts with the subject himself before publication.  The uproar is clearly not over the content of what Chen wrote, it is over the doxing of Violentacrez' real identity.  Well, nowhere in the Reddit Terms of Service Agreement is anonymity guaranteed, and Violentacrez himself made no secret of his real identity - voluntarily revealing his personal information to Reddit's administrators years ago.  So how exactly did Chen cross the line?  What is to one person outing someone's identity and violating their privacy is, to another, responsibly holding them accountable for their actions.

There is clear hypocrisy in Violentacrez supporters' tactics of censorship and intimidation as a means of fighting (what they perceive to be) censorship and intimidation.  Also, why do they seemingly have no problem with Reddit itself?  After all, it's Reddit that ultimately made the authoritative decision to ban "Jailbait" and "Creepshots".  The buck stops with them.

If there is a constructive lesson that can be wrought out of all this muck it is that, whether we're talking about controversial discussion forums or controversial individual users, the bottom line remains that, on private commercial websites, the traditional news media drawing the attention of tens of millions of viewers to certain online behaviors, like CNN did with "Jailbait", can still exert very meaningful pressure and guide the decisionmaking of those websites to take action; however reluctant they may be.



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