I have to say, one of the most deeply satisfying web posts I have ever read has got to be this one, posted yesterday, in which Gawker’s Adrian Chen unmasks one of the internet’s most infamous trolls, Reddit’s Violentacrez, aka Michael Brutsch. Brutsch, who is a Texas-based 49-year old programmer, is a truly revolting character; he is a hard-core misogynist, racist, and anti-Semite who, under the auspicious of the Violentacrez moniker, specialized in posting sexually suggestive images of underaged girls, most of them photos taken in public, but secretly and without the subject’s permission. This charming section of Reddit was called “Creepshots;” it was (finally!) banned from Reddit this week, following news reports of a Georgia teacher who was fired after posting pictures of his students to the site. Other Reddit sections moderated by Violentacrez included Chokeabitch; Beatingwomen; Jailbait; N—erjailbait; Rapebait; Hitler; Jewmerica; Misogyny; and Incest.
What is perhaps the creepiest thing about Brutsch is not that he exists; as we all know, there are countless disturbed, hate-filled, and morally depraved individuals out there. But even more upsetting that Brutsch himself is the way he was not just tolerated, not even merely enabled, but actively valorized. And it’s not just that he gained many followers and became a hero to his fellow trolls on the Reddit site, though that of course is nauseating in itself. It’s the way Reddit’s management welcomed the dude with open arms, awarding him the coveted, and (in internet terms, at least) powerful position as volunteer monitor for a number of Reddit threads.
Predictably enough, when Brutsch was told by Chen about Chen’s plans to out him, Brutsch whined: but what about my job? What about my family? Part of what is so fascinating about this post is what Chen reveals about Brutsch the man, and indeed, those details help to humanize him a bit. Brutsch has a job with a financial services company; he also has a disabled wife and a son who is about to go into the military.
I’ve often wondered about what internet trolls are like in real life, so tales of trolls unmasked always fascinate me (you can find another, similarly disturbing and fascinating tale of a troll here). While I imagine trolls to be extremely sketchy, socially marginal characters, Brutsch turns out to be a much more mainstream and functional person than I ever would have dreamed. But though that is part of what humanizes him, it’s part of what is terrifying, as well. It makes me wonder: how many people do I know, who are all smiles and sunny normality on the outside, are actually dark, simmering cauldrons of violent, misogynist, racist, sexually twisted hatred on the inside?
As to the fears Brutsch expresses in the piece about the impact his unmasking will have on his employment — welI do have some degree of sympathy of people who don’t use their real names on the internet, because they hold political views that are considered extremist and could get them fired. Heck, I worry about that myself; I am well-aware that, due to some of the things I have written on the web under my own name, I would not be considered employable by huge swathes of corporate America. And America is a nasty, brutish country for people who can’t find steady unemployment, particularly in this economy; for most of us the only alternative to a steady job is destitution and homelessness.
But sorry — my sympathy for political extremists does not extend to a person like MIchael Brutsch, who openly applauds wife-beating and rape, and who, on Reddit, specialized in sexually harassing underaged girls via the internet. That form of internet harassment and stalking may not be illegal, but it damned well ought to be. Violentacrez got what was coming to him. If he was so worried about how his trolling might affect his employment status, he should have thought about that before his started posting such vile, hate-filled material. On the internet, it’s very difficult to hide your true identity for very long, if someone is determined enough to out you. And clearly, Brutsch was sophisticated enough to have been able to figure that out. Dude, you live by the sword, you die by the sword.
Brutsch/Violentacrez was a monster, and he was certainly old enough to understand that actions have consequences. He got exactly what he deserved. Justice, and the entire internet, has been well-served by the unmasking of this thoroughly noxious individual, and Adrian Chen is a hero in my book. Huzzah and kudos to him and to Gawker, both!
Update: the always sharp and insightful Amanda Marcotte has more.