On October 12, 2012 Gawker identified notorious Reddit troll "Violentacrez" as a Texas computer programmer named Michael Brutsch. As Adrian Chen said:
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.Brutsch lost his job soon after being outed. (Given EEOC regulations about hostile work environments this is hardly surprising. How many women or people of color are going to feel safe with the moderator of subreddits like /creepshots/, /chokeabitch/ and /niggerjailbait/ in the next cubicle?) Outraged at this Threat To Free Speech, many Redditors responded by banning all links to Gawker. Meanwhile other Redditors have begun naming and shaming creepshot posters and other "sexual predators." This has caused one writer at Manolith (which describes itself as "the ultimate portal for all men and best place to get your testosterone on!") to complain:
Predditors is a Tumblr site that is currently posting names, addresses and photos of men that it says are active in the Reddit creeps community. The site doesn’t really offer much in the way of proof and seems destined to falsely implicate at least one innocent person, but this is the Internet and people don’t really think about the potential ramifications of their actions.I presume it is clear that "Don't be THAT White Person" includes "Don't be THAT White Person who takes upskirt photos of strange women and posts them on the Internet" and "Don't be THAT White Person who moderates forums like /beatingwomen/." But for those who missed that - and even for those who didn't - there are many lessons to be gleaned from the strange sad saga of Violentacrez. Let us consider the objections raised on Brutsch's behalf.
He wasn't doing anything illegal!
The 1986 case United States v. Dost established a six-point "Dost Test" to determine whether pictures of a minor could be considered child pornography. The sixth point, "Whether the visual depiction is intended or designed to elicit a sexual response in the viewer," would be pertinent here. One could easily make a case that photographs of bikini-clad fourteen year-olds in a subreddit entitled /jailbait/ would fail that tast, and that the posters to and editor of that subreddit could be liable for prosecution.
In a 2009 Virginia case, Earl Dupree Wilson was convicted of a misdemeanor for "attempting to unlawfully photograph a non-consenting twenty-year-old female’s “intimate parts or undergarments covering those intimate parts” not visible to the general public." His conviction was affirmed on appeal, with Judge Elizabeth A. McClanahan noting:
Guided by these principles, we reject Wilson’s argument that Code § 18.2-386.1 does not criminalize acts committed against a person in a public place because such a person cannot possess a reasonable expectation of privacy. Under our construction of the statute, a person may, in fact, possess a reasonable expectation of privacy when being victimized in public.Brutsch is in Texas: here's what the Texas Penal Code has to say on the subject:
Sec. 21.15. IMPROPER PHOTOGRAPHY OR VISUAL RECORDING.
(a) In this section, "promote" has the meaning assigned by Section 43.21.Brutsch's conduct falls in a legal grey area at best. There is absolutely no question that Chen had the right to out Violentacrez. The identity of the person behind /creepshots/ and /jewmerica/ is certainly a newsworthy concern. What's more, Brutsch is a public figure who even sells merchandise connected to his Violentacrez persona. Brutsch has no recourse in any civil court, nor can he claim that Chen was "stalking him." And while Reddit culture treasures anonymity and holds strong taboos against people who "out" other redditors, those taboos do not have the force of law behind them.
(b) A person commits an offense if the person:
(1) photographs or by videotape or other electronic means records, broadcasts, or transmits a visual image of another at a location that is not a bathroom or private dressing room:
(A) without the other person's consent; and
(B) with intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person;
(2) photographs or by videotape or other electronic means records, broadcasts, or transmits a visual image of another at a location that is a bathroom or private dressing room:
(A) without the other person's consent; and
(B) with intent to:
(i) invade the privacy of the other person; or
(ii) arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person; or
(3) knowing the character and content of the photograph, recording, broadcast, or transmission, promotes a photograph, recording, broadcast, or transmission described by Subdivision (1) or (2). [emphasis added]
(c) An offense under this section is a state jail felony.
Which brings us to a warning which I'm going to be repeating several times in this series: don't assume the rules and morés of your culture apply everywhere you go. What is acceptable (or at least tolerable) on your favorite forum may still get you in trouble with your spouse, your family, your community, your employer or even your local law enforcement officials. And while you may think your secret identity as HeManWomanHater or PoliticallyIncorrectAngryCaucasian is safe, you could well be in for an unpleasant surprise if you push the envelope too far.
Of course, there's also a silver lining to this cloud. Some will point to Brutsch as an example of "political correctness" at its worst: an innocent man with unpopular hobbies crucified by an army of self-righteous feminist harpies. But while Brutsch is suffering some temporary inconvenience, it is only after years of posting ever more offensive material for his rabid fan club. If you're worried about getting called on the carpet for your political views, ask yourself if they involve pictures of dead babies, creepshots, jailbait, domestic abuse, and stories (now deleted) about the time you performed oral sex on your 19 year-old stepdaughter. If not, chances are you've got nothing to fear.