From Adrian Chen’s excellent reporting on Gawker:
“My wife is disabled. I got a home and a mortgage, and if this hits the fan, I believe this will affect negatively on my employment,” he said. “I do my job, go home watch TV, and go on the internet. I just like riling people up in my spare time.”
I asked if he regretted anything he had posted, now that he’d be found out. No, he said. “I would stand by exactly what I’ve done.” The problem was, he explained, that if his identity got out, his many enemies would start attaching lies to his name because they simply don’t like his views. They would say he was a child pornographer, when all he had done was spearhead the distribution of thousands of legal photos of underage girls. They would say the fact that he created a subreddit dedicated to Hitler meant he was anti-Semitic, when really it was just trolling. (Brutsch says he’s got Jewish blood himself: “If you see a picture of me, I’m about as Jewish looking as they get.”) They would Google-bomb his name and the word “pedophile” along with his publicly-traded company’s name.
What Michael “Violentacrez” Brutsch is admitting here is this: Free speech of the kind he’s practiced on Reddit since 2007 has consequences. It is immune from government suppression but not from the censure of observers, coworkers, employers, friends, family, fellow townsfolk … society at large, in short.
Yet in the same breath that he lists the work sanctions he’s likely to face once Chen exposes his identity, he also says nothing he’s done is a big deal. (“I just like riling people up in my spare time.”) This split personality disorder afflicts aggressive Internet users (trolls) like Brutsch to such a degree I’m convinced it should go in the DSM-V. I’m not saying this out loud, I’m just saying this on the Internet. I’m not turning this picture of a dead girl into a postcard and mailing it to her parents, I’m just posting it on the Internet for everyone to see. I’m crafting a subreddit called Niggerjailbait, but I’m not saying “nigger” out loud in the town library, no fucking way, do I look stupid to you?
The passion of Michael Brutsch is proof — because so, so many people appear to still need proof — that speech on the Internet is speech, period, that it is not shorn of real-world context because it takes place in a chatroom or comment board or WoW environment. Government has no teeth when it denounces hateful speech, but the society under that government — social institutions, community constructs, mores — certainly does. You cannot advocate rape and squirm at being called a rape advocate. You cannot victimize and then recoil in horror when the victims point at you. And your words, tapped into a browser, are not just words but deeds.
The Internet is the world, now. It’s the way we interface with that world, as Joel Johnson cogently states, that is a measure of our maturity. Anti-speech moralists — the kind who put parental advisory stickers on our records; the kind Michael Brutsch thinks are out to get him — are also the kind of folks who like to say that new technology (the web, videogames) dehumanize people to the point that they become Violentacrez and his minions. But technology is just paint and canvas, which we can use to make gorgeous art or hateful graffiti; it’s really up to us.