If you haven’t already, check out the story on Gawker from Adrian Chen, who grappled with and ultimately outed one of the most notorious figures on Reddit, if not all of the internet:
I read the article and the subsequent reaction and involvement from Reddit with a combination of horror and rage. I won’t even get into the details of the material Violentacrez and others are responsible for posting, except to say that it’s the first time I can remember deleting an account on any site in reaction to something the company did. Seriously.
I don’t know whether to praise Chen on a good piece and admire the fact that he grappled with whether or not to go forth with outing the identity of one of the most reviled people in internet culture or call shenanigans on it.
Why shenanigans? Because to me, any and all moral quandaries about outing a person like Violentacrez is a construct. That puts me at odds with a lot of people online, and in particular some who are reading this. Yet I maintain that while we do have freedom of speech, that speech like anything else in life ultimately comes with consequences. If you are to argue that Michael Brutsch somehow has the right to do what he did anonymously, how does it follow that Chen then doesn’t have that right to out him for who he is in another forum?
The problem, I believe, is that many of those defending Brutsch and chastising Chen are children, either literally or mentally/emotionally. If they are not pre-teens or teenagers, they are adults who have never made the effort to get out of their own head and step out of their own circles; grown men and women for whom their world view is the only world view. To them, freedom of speech just means say whatever, whenever, with no consequences or affect on others. Which isn’t quite right. The bigger thing is that they don’t seem to have a grasp of the impact of words. To them, Anonymous is fighting for the right for them to pirate games, and that is somehow equitable to the right to petition your government with grievances or speak out against a sitting administration. It’s all slippery slopes and other fallacies.
It doesn’t help their cause any that a lot of the outcry over Chen outing Brutsch reads like the sort of tunnel vision you usually only seem from religious fanatics. It’s not an unfair comparison, because really, the logic and defense is equitable in terms of absurdity, execution, and misdirection; the only difference being the topic at hand. They say that Reddit did the right thing, Violetacrez was wrong, but that Gawker was more wrong and is more wrong in other stuff it does. It’s sort of like when you read a passionate defense of a church, where the system that not only allowed a horrible act to occur but perpetuated abuse with their actions and/or inaction is praised and defended while the author vehemently states ad nauseum that they do NOT approve of the abhorrent figure in question; then they try to deflect any criticism of the church because Penn Gillette is kind of a dick as an Atheist.
To me, this whole story and the reaction to it illuminates two things: the hypocrisy inherent in those who cry “freedom of speech!” when called out on abhorrent and abusive speech and behavior and the folly inherent in a libertarian approach to…well, anything. Because when it comes to content the Reddit philosophy, or at least the philosophy of those defending it, tends to be very libertarian.
The problem I have with anyone who cries foul about Brutsch being outed and libertarian philosophy as a whole is that it only works in a fictional universe that resides in a firm, impermeable bubble. In real life, nothing – not money, morality, sexuality, decency, not a goddamn thing – is ever as simple as black and white. Almost everything exists on a spectrum. Libertarian philosophy isn’t just at odds with just other social or political philosophies, but with how the world has always and will continue to operate. When dealing with morals, we as human beings we should not put ourselves in the business of trying to make things simpler than they are. Nor should we combat the existence of the spectrum itself. Rather, we should determine where best a given issue fits on that line and adjust our behavior and responses accordingly. We cannot set the conditions, but we can set the degrees. Not with any specificity, but with at least some semblance of accuracy through compromise.
Some take this world view as a cop out, but I think the real cop-out is when someone rests on a predetermined view to best determine their stance and reactions to unforeseen circumstances.
In short, fuck that guy. What a scumbag.
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