Last night, the now-notorious Reddit troll Violentacrez, whom Gawker recently exposed as a 49-year-old Texas-based programmer named Michael Brutsch, appeared on Anderson Cooper 360 for God knows what reason. In the painfully awkward two-part interview, during which Mr. Cooper thankfully gave us a commercial break to collect ourselves and tweet our thoughts, Mr. Brutsch invoked every possible excuse to justify his poor behavior, which includes creating controversial subreddits like PicsofDeadKids and Jailbait.
Throughout the interview, Mr. Brutsch referred to his Reddit username Violentacrez in the third person, echoing other statements he’s made about Violentacrez being a character he played and attempting to distance himself from taking personal responsibility for his actions. He also admitted that his sole purpose for creating racist and misogynistic subreddits was to get a rise out of people (he bragged he has a “gift” for it) in order to accumulate “meaningless internet points.”
Shortly after the interview aired, Mr. Brutsch again took to Reddit under his clean handle “mbrutsch” and admitted that appearing on CNN was a “huge mistake, which I will not repeat.” He also agreed with users who alleged that Reddit’s statement given to CNN is actually riddled with factual inaccuracies. “It was suprising that the admins straight up lied about banning VA multiple times,” one user wrote. “Didn’t surprise me at all,” replied Mr. Brutsch.
Still, it was rather shocking to witness Mr. Brutsch’s willingness to completely throw Reddit, a platform he has essentially dedicated his life to for the past five years, under the bus in order to save his own neck. Though he was once a Reddit power user, tapped by administrators to wrangle the darkest subreddits and keep illegal content from cropping up on them, he has continually called Reddit admins out for lying and for not having his back.
“Reddit encouraged and enabled this kind of behavior,” he said last night on CNN. Even Redditors whose inconsistent “free speech” logic (keep Jailbait, but block Gawker links) put them in allegiance with Mr. Brutsch probably won’t appreciate hearing him blame his trolling on Reddit, both as a platform and community.
We’ve reached out to Reddit general manager Erik Martin to ask for comment on Mr. Brutsch’s accusation and will update when we hear back. But it’s true that Reddit administrators have been supportive of Mr. Brutsch’s behavior in the past. Mr. Brutsch also brought along to the interview a gold-plated bobblehead that Reddit administrators gave to him for creating Jailbait, a subreddit where users posted sexualized photos of minors. The Atlantic Wire points out that the statue was given to Mr. Brutsch as a token for creating “Worst Reddit,” which still seems like a knowing nod and thumbs up to his behavior on the site.
This reporter is a frequent user of Reddit, in both her personal and professional life, and a fan of the platform as a fount of information. At its best, it can be an open forum for thoughtful conversation, hilarious asides and friendly knowledge sharing. But this incident has shed new light on the dark underbelly of a platform that just recently hosted a Q&A with the President of the United States.
It may seem like cognitive dissonance for Reddit to host forums like RapingWomen alongside TwoXChromosomes, but the site is also a microcosm of the Internet at large: full of some of the most wonderful people, but also some of the worst. Still, the laissez-faire attitude of Reddit admins towards the sexist and misogynistic content is concerning at best and borderline-disgusting at worst. As Anil Dash put it, “Reddit does many good things, but is also a horrendously sexist culture.”
Of course, this realization is nothing new–the MensRights subreddit has been around for ages, and the internet as a whole has long been a complicated place for women to exist. But the Violentacrez scandal, coupled with that of Creepshots and Predditors, has put the conversation about Reddit’s attitudes towards its female users at the forefront.
At least one woman we know, an active Redditor who has attended meetups and accrued a fair amount of “meaningless Internet points,” has shut down her account in response to the recent news. “[Violentacrez] is the catalyst, yes, but the general culture of casual racism and misogyny as well,” she tweeted.
Through its handling of the Violentacrez crisis, as well as last year’s Jailbait scandal, Reddit has emphasized time and time again that it wants to be a platform that embraces free speech, right up to the line of illegality (but never crossing it). This will turn off some users, and perhaps cultivate a culture rife with racism and misogyny, under the banner of free speech. It is not, however, somehow immune to the criticism these types of decisions will evoke from Redditors and the media alike.
As Ken at Popehat wrote in his excellent piece on Reddit, Gawker and anonymity:
Creepers and pedophiles and bigots make up only a tiny minority of Redditors; people angry that they are being criticized make up only a slightly larger minority. Comments from Reddit administrators in the wake of the child pornography outcry has made clear that Reddit wants to be a free speech site that permits everything that the law does not prohibit. That’s fine. I’d defend Reddit’s freedom to publish what the law allows. But Redditors need not be taken seriously to the extent they believe they have a protected right to be free of criticism and ridicule and inquiry. You can argue all you want that forums like — oh, say, the /r/BeatingWomen subreddit — should be free to thrive without criticism. Moderators can indulge your feelings by banning critics. Moderators can decide to ban links to Gawker on the theory that if you take pictures of children in public and post them for the sexual pleasure of misfit neckbeards, you have a right to privacy that should prevent anyone from identifying you. But Reddit administrators and moderators and Redditors can’t stop everyone else from calling out their conduct and their oddly inconsistent philosophy. Private individuals decrying, ridiculing, and even using their skills to identify Redditors are using a classic “more speech” remedy to speech they don’t like. It’s a feature, not a bug, of free speech.
Of course, individuals on Reddit are also responsible for their own actions. No matter how much Mr. Brutsch claims Reddit “encouraged and enabled his behavior,” it was still just a platform full of–as he says–“college kids,” and it was ultimately his decision to dutifully play into their twisted tastes. Now, he’s paying the price for that: he’s lost his job and his health insurance and has ultimately become the face of Internet trolldom. Reddit’s reputation will recover from this poor publicity fiasco, but the rep of its most notorious troll probably won’t.