The Internet is going through one of its cyclical soul-searching periods, prompted by a spat between popular websites Reddit and Gawker. A journalist for Gawker published an article in which the identity of a notorious troll on Reddit was doxxed, that is, his real identity was revealed. In real life, the troll was one Michael Brutsch, a middle-aged programmer for an insurance company; in Reddit he was Violentacrez, a fearsome character who started and administered some of the seedier sections of Reddit’s underbelly, including sub-redits such rapebait, creepshots (for taking pictures of women without their consent), chokeabitch, Hitler, Jewmerica, and other racist, misogynist, and borderline child pornographic folders. Mr Brutsch has since then been fired from his job, sparking an interesting debate about online privacy and freedom of speech.
It would be fair to say that it is difficult to garner any sort of sympathy for Mr Brutsch. His ilk are callous, vindictive, abusive loud-mouths who hide behind a shroud of anonymity to spout any form of objectionable speech imaginable. There is a good reason why these people tend to hide, it is because in the mainstream their racist, misogynist and homophobic invective is no longer tolerated. It is no surprise they cherish online privacy so much, as whenever a nasty troll is unearthed they tend to be pathetic in real life. From shy teenagers to frustrated middle-aged men, trolls tend to fall into the stereotype of troubled male psyche.
But the question is, is such a person worthy of privacy protection? I have been struck by the virulence of the reaction in some Reddit conversations, in that community doxxing is the worst type of offence possible. It is interesting that privacy trumps all other forms of social norm, including the rights of the victims of the potentially illegal abuse undertaken by Mr Brutsch and his fellow redditors. It is almost as if one has walked into a parallel dimension where the freedom to say anything and the freedom from external scrutiny are the ultimate goals.
This debate so far is ethical, and not legal. Apparently, Violentacrez did not cross any legal line. His posts, while objectionable from a moral standpoint, were at least legal in the US. So the question is ethical, and in that case, I strongly believe that Mr Brutsch has no moral authority to ask for privacy. If one is prepared to spout such abuse, one should be willing to face the consequences.
On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a troll… until you’re doxxed.