Is it Open Season on Troll Hunting?

First, Adrian Chen identified Reddit’s notorious Violentacrez, the man behind the infamous Jailbait Reddit and a bunch more misogynist ones.  And then Anonymous released the name and information of the man allegedly responsible for the harassment that pushed Amanda Todd to commit suicide.

If you haven’t seen Amanda’s Youtube video, it’s heartbreaking, especially since Amanda recently committed suicide.  After flashing on a webcam when she was in middle school, a man harassed, harassed and blackmailed her – including sending naked photos to her friends and family and put them on Facebook.

I feel sick over what happened to Amanda, and all the other women and girls who have had something similar happen to them.  Reading the comments of all the coverage these two stories, I am relieved to see the vast majority of the people damning this type of predatory behavior.  But even on Jezebel, there are still some victim blaming comments.  And that makes me want to throw-up.

My stalker ex-boyfriend did something similar to me, although thankfully there were never any pictures.  The sense of violation I felt knowing that my friends and family had been sent repeated communications about me of a sexual nature and smearing my character was almost unbearable.  Having lived through that, I can’t imagine how much worse it would have been if he had taped or photographed me without my knowledge.

People have made the usual complaints about the need to protect internet anonymity and vigilante justice and argued that what Chen and Anonymous did isn’t right.  However, as so many others have pointed out, it’s hard to feel sorry for someone like Michael Brutsch losing their privacy when they made a habit from taking it away from others and using it to humiliate them.

I don’t believe that  Brutsch’s situation is comparable to the hypothetical outing of a small town closeted gay couple or a random employee getting fired for politics that are contrary to those of their employer who have their identities exposed.  Violentacrez was a well-known, infamous, and controversial moderator on one of the most popular internet sites, and I think what Chen did falls along the lines of investigative journalism on someone newsworthy. To me, the bullying accusations against Chen aren’t accurate.

I also don’t feel sorry for Brutsch losing his job.  When an employer Googles your name and naked pictures or a website designed to smear you shows up – you’re not going to get hired, and that’s what happens to women who wind up on any number of creep-ass sites. It’s nearly impossible to get any recourse.  Victims often face more exposure taking someone to court.  I took my stalker to court and won, but the process was so grueling, expensive and at times humiliating… that I completely understand why people choose not to.

I am hoping that the outing of some of the notorious trolls like Brutsch serves as a kind of class-action lawsuit for the internet masses.  It’s not going to stop every jerk from taking creep shots or posting revenge pictures of an ex, but I do think it causes at least a reasonable amount of fear of repercussions that some people aren’t going to do it.  And at the very least, a small barrier is better than none.

The internet is real life – I’m really tired of seeing “IRL” everywhere.  This idea that there is a big wall of separation between online and non-online life isn’t true anymore.  The consequences of people’s behavior online happen in real life.  People generally are who they are. The man accused of harassing Amanda was just in court for a sexual crime against a minor.  Haven’t we seen enough examples of predatory behavior online leading to someone getting hurt later on?

There have been some comments about how we need to address sexual shaming, and that if there wasn’t the degree of shame around bodies and sexuality people would not be committing suicide over things like this.  But I don’t buy that it’s all about shame – it’s also about privacy, the ability to control your own image, and the vulnerability that comes with constantly being attacked in a public forum.  Having embarrassing photos show up online could be taken of anyone in the course of their every day life – taking a shower at the gym, riding unconscious in an ambulance, wearing a skirt, or using a public bathroom.

I don’t believe that allowing victims of stalking, intimidation or harassment some level of recourse will affect all other internet users to the point no one will have any privacy.  I just don’t.  After the Rutgers sentencing, I hope that legislation gets passed that makes it easier for victims to get information about their attackers for obvious cases of stalking, blackmail and intimidation or making it easier to sue or for the police to press charges. It should not be so easy for someone to ruin someone else’s life.

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