Outing a troll, free speech, and being anonymous on the Internet
Mean, disgusting, vile, self-appointed Reddit community manager troll Violentacrez has been outed by gossip website Gawker. Allegedly “Violentacrez” (the nym is pronounced “violent acres”, like a furious land measurement) was a trolling identity created and maintained by a one Mr. Michael Brutsch of Texas, USA.
The revelation threw old school Internetters, nym proponents, new school bullies, and www compatriots into dizzying circular arguments over what constitutes free speech, whether trolls serve a purpose, and whether we have a right to put forth an anonymous face (or use pseudonyms) on-line.
Free speech arguments are moot in this case. One-off comments can be “free” (i.e., without consequence) but consistent speech is not free. Consistent speech from one individual or group will be scrutinized by the society in which it occurs. This is OK. It’s how human and some animal societies work.
Violentacrez was going to be outed no matter what. Even if all of the pushy pundits on Facebook or Twitter could settle all those “free speech” arguments, Mr. Brutsch’s trolling adventures would have come to a close anyway because he wanted to have his cake and eat it, too. Violentacrez wanted to sport an identity but still remain anonymous.
Identity and anonymity are mutually exclusive human conditions
Let’s take a look at how Merriam-Webster defines “identity”:
unity and persistence of personality : unity or individual comprehensiveness of a life or character <lost consciousness of his own identity>
According to reports from Gawker and other Reddit users, Violentacrez definitely put forth a very consistent image. He built up a predictable, reliable, trolling-cum-power-user-support persona. He built up a following. He was a head honcho user that commanded respect and/or disgust. Even the Reddit founders allotted Violentacrez privileges and never curbed his comments or message boards supporting child pornography, Naziism, and other not-socially-acceptable views. Reddit users with any experience with the site could sense Violentacrez’s place at Reddit (i.e., how his actions were tolerated and at times encouraged), and made decisions on interacting with him based on their knowledge of his personality.
Let’s take a look at how Merriam-Webster defines the state of being “anonymous”:
not having or not imparting a sense of clearly marked individuality or personality : producing an effect of being without name or identity <a sea of anonymous faces>
Violentacrez wanted to gain respect of other trolls and users. He wanted an online space within which to exist over time. He wanted to gain authority and trust from users (even if that trust was that Violentacrez would troll). [Merriam-Websters defines “pseudonym” as a time-sensitive state: “: a fictitious name assumed (as by an author) for the time“]
Off-line social rules and mores (“the vast body of community beliefs which shape private action”) dictate that bullies and trolls be outed and stopped from behaving in offensive ways. We have not only social guidelines but in some cases legal ones; there are laws against libel, stalking, threatening violence, etc.
Free speech is not unlimited. It is a right to be used within these social and legal guidelines. If you violate those guidelines, people will come for you. They will try to expose, ban, punish, arrest, cite, sue and stop your offensive actions. That’s how societies work. That’s how the animal kingdom works. You must generally obey the group’s rules to be defined as a group member. Errant behavior will be corrected because that’s what makes animals feel secure.
Group membership is necessary for identity to work
Violentacrez was operating on his own. He may have had Reddit troll fans, but he did not have a group of anonymous trolls working to protect his identity. Violentacrez was stepping outside the rules of even the most foul-sewage-tolerating extremist Internet users (this is how awful Violentacrez was, apparently), and he perhaps expected to build and keep that identity forever. It just wasn’t going to happen.
A group of like-minded supporters is necessary if an individual wants to rewrite society’s rules. The gay community is a great example. This community is still working hard to break stereotypes, but think back to 30 years ago and ask yourself whether a show like Glee would be on television then. The gay community banded together and made progress. I grew up in a conservative roman catholic environment and was taught that “gayness” was a scary threat to our society, but now I am not only fully accepting of gay people but encourage others to live full lives, whether those lives be gay or straight. My transformation of my ideals would have never occurred if the gay community didn’t band together and get active like they did over the course of my lifetime. (Thanks ladies and gents!)
For Violentacrez to escape societal push-back on his errant behavior, he would’ve needed vocal and active protection. Other ANONYMOUS trolls (who are also breaking society’s rules) aren’t taking to the streets for Violentacrez’s cause.
Now, Mr. Brutsch could have made numerous logins with various usernames and left the same kinds of vomitous comments, but he would’ve been more likely dismissed by readers than he would have been with his well-known ID. He would not have been able to construct a consistent identity with which to reap the rewards of his behavior (fan base, Reddit-bestowed legitimacy, etc.). Think anonymous comments on blogs or on sites like YouTube: Those comments are ignored or deleted because there is nothing to anchor the comments to a consistent opinion, a predictable personality or to a group membership.
Everything’s got a price
Take it or leave it, this is how the Internet works, despite being made up of many different societies. Those societies are still made up of animals (humans… though no one knows you’re a dog on the Internet). Trolls can troll, and the Internet can hold them accountable for their behavior. Although the system is not quick or efficient, the checks-and-balances will happen over time. Take the lesson: be anonymous online, have a pen name, grab a nym, but don’t skirt the boundaries of acceptable behavior and do not keep the same ID too long. For you, my secretive friend, must lead a nomad’s life, lest be folded into the fabric of society. That is the price you pay for long-term anonymity.
*The links in the photo captions are affiliate links to Amazon
and I just found this Cole Stryker interview, along the same lines (but not exactly the same take)
Anyone want to sum up how Violentacrez came in the US Presidential debates? Did Obama or Romney bring it up? Did Obama or Romney spread this stupid vitriol about how we have to “protect” free speech? (free speech will be protected here because as a society we value it, this is my main point). Anyway, I missed it. Hit me up in the comments. Thanks.