Reddit, the aggregating site that allows pretty much anything posted on its pages, has banned users from posting links to Gawker after the news site threatened to – and eventually did – identify a contributor known for posting sexually suggestive photos of women on the streets, including some of underage girls.
The Redditor, known as Violentacrez, ended up deleting his account out of fear of being exposed.
And Reddit ended up claiming that Gawker reporter Adrian Chen was violating its right to privacy by investigating one of its members.
But as long as Chen didn’t break any laws in obtaining his information, Violentacruz has as much right to privacy as the women in the photos he posts.
Chen posted the story less than an hour ago as I was writing this piece, so forgive me if it comes across a little convoluted because it forced me to do a rewrite and I want to get this story posted as soon as possible.
Here is the gist straight from Chen’s Gawker piece:
Last Wednesday afternoon I called Michael Brutsch. He was at the office of the Texas financial services company where he works as a programmer and he was having a bad day. I had just told him, on Gchat, that I had uncovered his identity as the notorious internet troll Violentacrez (pronounced Violent-Acres).
“It’s amazing how much you can sweat in a 60 degree office,” he said with a nervous laugh.
Judging from his internet footprint, Brutsch, 49, has a lot to sweat over. If you are capable of being offended, Brutsch has almost certainly done something that would offend you, then did his best to rub your face in it. His speciality is distributing images of scantily-clad underage girls, but as Violentacrez he also issued an unending fountain of racism, porn, gore, misogyny, incest, and exotic abominations yet unnamed, all on the sprawling online community Reddit. At the time I called Brutsch, his latest project was moderating a new section of Reddit where users posted covert photos they had taken of women in public, usually close-ups of their asses or breasts, for a voyeuristic sexual thrill. It was called “Creepshots.” Now Brutsch was the one feeling exposed and it didn’t suit him very well.
But Michael Brutsch is more than a monster. Online, Violentacrez has been one of Reddit’s most reviled characters but also one of its most beloved users. The self-described “creepy uncle of Reddit” has played a little-known but crucial role in Reddit’s development into the online juggernaut it is today. In real life, Brutsch is a military father and cat-lover. He lives with his wife in the Dallas suburb of Arlington, Texas. There are many sides to Violentacrez, and now that I had Michael Brutsch on the phone I hoped to find out where the troll ended and the real person began.
Reddit has since removed the forums or subreddits where these photos have popped up, but Redditors have created new ones, which is where the above photo was snagged.
The bottom line is that the First Amendment protects them both, even if they do unsettle one another in exercising those rights.
The irony rich saga is the latest chapter in the long-running debate over whether people have the right to remain anonymous on the internet.
They do. That is, until they are outted.
And we shouldn’t have it any other way. The beauty of the internet is its lawlessness and its lack of regulations, the exact formula that turned Reddit into the most popular aggregating site on the internet.
But like in any libertarian utopia, certain actions will result in certain consequences, which is why you shouldn’t say anything online you wouldn’t say in person. That’s my motto anyway.
Despite both sites being less than a decade old, they yield tremendous influence; the type of influence newspapers used to yield.
However, Reddit dwarfs Gawker as far as readers go, according to Alexa, and boasts a higher readership than the Los Angeles Times, which is ranked fourth in print circulation behind the New York Times.
In fact, it appears on pace to surpass the New York Times, the Godfather of newspapers, founded in 1851 and launching its site in 1996, expanding “All the News That’s Fit to Print” to a global audience.
But Reddit didn’t become the “Front Page of the Internet” by playing by institutional rules. In fact, when it was launched in 2005, its founders created fake profiles to give the impression that it was more popular than it really was.
According to Venture Beat:
The team submitted a ridiculous amount of content under fake user accounts to give the appearance of popularity. Yes, you read that right. Reddit — a site that values a fair and open democratic process to determine worthy content and police itself — sleeps soundly on a bed of lies.
But there is no lying that Reddit contributed to the early success of Photography is Not a Crime after I launched it in 2007, a time when the mainstream media still refused to acknowledge the burgeoning blogosphere.
And there is no lying that banning Gawker links from being posted on its pages can have a dwindling effect on Gawker’s readership.
However, the internet has taught us that an aggregating site can easily lose influence and popularity overnight.
For example, Digg, once the reigning king of aggregating sites, was worth $200 million in 2006 before it was sold for a mere $500,000 earlier this year.
And the controversy has already caused divisions within Reddit, which should be expected in a site of such magnitude.
So it will be interesting to see what type of fallout, if any, results from Chen’s article, which is already making the front page of the internet without any help from Reddit.
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