Journalism is not doxxing
“Doxxing” is the practice of piecing together personal information culled from someone’s publicly available online profiles and comments in order to figure out their real life identity. Many people are careless about maintaining their anonymity and will use the same screennames and email addresses everywhere. That makes it easy to cross-reference details they leave on one website with their Facebook or Twitter accounts and find names, phone numbers and even addresses. Many times, the determined doxxer doesn’t even have to trace your IP address or hack into your accounts. You might inadvertently be leaving traces of your real life identity all over the place.
The intention behind doxxing is generally malicious. It’s to connect people’s online activities to their offline lives and expose them to harassment. Doxxing is also problematic because it’s easy to make a mistake and identify the wrong person.
Doxxing is a particularly big problem for already vulnerable groups, like women and girls, closeted gender/sexual minorities, and people with persecuted religious or political beliefs. Doxxing can get those people stalked, harassed, injured, imprisoned, or even killed. Being able to use your real name online without worrying about negative repercussions is a privilege many people don’t have.
Don’t want to get doxxed?
- Use a unique screenname for every website you regularly use.
- Don’t link your main email address to any of them.
- Don’t link your Facebook profile to any of them.
- Make sure your passwords are all strong and that your FB privacy settings are set up the way you want them.
- There are some creeps out there who steal pictures from Facebook and Photobucket. Think hard about any pictures you put online.
- If you’re really paranoid, you can salt your blog entries, Twitter feed, or comment history with false personal information. “Man, I sure do love being a 6’2 Canadian tutu manufacturer”….(um, less obviously fake than that.)
That said, what Adrian Chen did was journalism. He did not “doxx” Violentacrez—he wrote an article about him and a pretty even-handed one at that. He interviewed the subject and the subjects’ acquaintances. He gathered information from publicly available sources.
The intention was not to intimidate or harass Michael Brutsch, but to inform the public about the shady side of a very popular website. The article also raised important questions about free speech, privacy, anonymity, and personal responsibility online. Chen also attached his name and reputation to the article—another reason why it is journalism, not doxxing.
So describing the Chen piece on Michael Brutsch as “doxxing” (as many seem to be doing) is inaccurate. The term subtly suggests that Chen was setting Brutsch up to be attacked by a mob with pitchforks. Will Brutsch face negative social consequences for his online activities? Probably. Will he be jailed or lynched? Given that he’s a white man living in a country where the rule of law is strong, I strongly doubt it.
Brutsch is not the victim here. He willingly posted disgusting and inflammatory things online for kicks. He’s not entitled to any pity or sympathy. He was a shitty person for years and it’s finally coming back to bite him in the ass. I find it more pathetic than sad that Brutsch is figuring out at the age of 49 that there are limits even to white/straight/male/cis privilege.
You want to know who the real victims are? All those girls whose Facebook pictures he stole and posted on Reddit for pedophiles to download (including this 14-year-old). All those girls and women who were forced to become porn stars without their knowledge or consent. The families of the dead children (r/deadjailbait) whose pictures he posted online to shock and titillate. The minorities (r/n*ggerjailbait, r/Jewmerica), rape victims (r/rapebait), and violence victims (r/chokeabitch) whose pain he exploited for lulz. Michael Brutsch didn’t give a shit about them, so why should we give a shit about him?
Do you know what upvotes are called on Reddit?
Violentacrez apparently had tens of thousands of karma points by the time he deleted his profile. But Michael Brutsch didn’t understand what karma truly is until now.
“The site can rally around many things, but collective introspection isn't one of them.”—
Reddit’s Victim Complex (recap of “Living in Reddit’s world” panel at SxSW)
Yes, Reddit needs more introspection. But don’t ignore the work that the SRS Fempire is doing in calling out bigots and creating safe spaces for progressive viewpoints.
There are thousands of Reddit users unhappy with the dominant tone of the userbase, and since there’s no viable alternative to Reddit for us to flee to, we will civilize most of Reddit if given the chance.
To speak of Reddit as a hivemind always necessarily means ignoring a large portion of its culture. And much as I’m embarrassed that people like the men’s rights activists can earn sympathy for hateful ideas in many large subreddits, I’m still very proud of more thoughtful places like /r/FoodforThought and /r/TwoXChromosomes and /r/occupywallstreet, and of sillier ones like /r/shittyadviceanimals and /r/YouTubehaiku.
Between the controversial poles of Reddit are thousands of subreddits that generally promote goodwill and share good content. It’s easy to ignore them as “boring” because they’re not made of clickbait drama for Adrian Chen to go all Chris Hansen on. They’re more the kind of subreddit that trickles stuff to BuzzFeed, Gawker, Tumblr, and everyone else. “Living in Reddit’s world” means enjoying a relatively democratic powerhouse that helps us all find the best things on the internet.
All the drama wouldn’t really matter if Reddit were an inconsequential backwater of no value. But it’s not. It’s a bustling city that exports information and entertainment, a city that needs urban renewal. The criticisms are valid. But they must be followed by active participation. If you refuse to help clean it up, your criticisms are only cries for attention.
why I roll my eyes at anyone who defends Reddit
Disturbing content at the link and in the quote… [child pornography, sexual abuse by a step-father]
Reddit has blocked Gawker from several of its threads in order to protect “a prominent member of Reddit’s community, Violentacrez,” who started the /r/picsofdeadchildren and /r/jailbait sections. Yesterday Violentacrez deleted his account because Gawker’s resident Reddit reporter Adrian Chen is intending to run an expose with his “real name and picture,” according to a post on Reddit announcing the ban. Chen had mentioned Violentacrez in his post “Reddit’s Child Porn Scandal,” where describes the user as a “50-something Texas software engineer who openly brags about having oral sex with his 19-year-old step-daughter.” Because of that “pursuit to harrass and, allegedly, blackmail reddit moderators with public release of photos and personal information,” some subsections have punished the entire Gawker network disallowing any of their links.
It’s interesting that women and girls get lectured about not sexting/posting sexy-sexual photos of themselves anywhere, divulging too much personal information on the Internet, etc., and that Redditors will use these misguided social narratives to justify punishing women for existing publicly and/or expressing themselves sexually… because while many dudes (and especially the average Redditor) laugh at women and girls who think they should be able to go outside without worrying about a grown man - or an authority figure - taking an upskirt photo of them, or attack women and girls who are upset about being doxxed (usually with naked pictures attached) for being stupid enough to let it happen in the first place, they sure care a lot about a man’s right to privacy. Even when that man admits to sexually abusing his step-daughter.
Anyway, good for Adrian Chen. I’m glad he’s doing this.
The fight between Reddit and Gawker is taking place within the sphere of free speech, not "about" it.
There are a million angles to this very fascinating event: about gender, social power, anonymity, the gaze, the culture and political economy of the internet, trolling, play-acting (or claims of, in self-defense), and on and on. At internet speed these have already been well hashed out.
What I don’t think it is “about”, however is “freedom of speech.” There’s always a lot of talk in these cases about chilling effects and vigilantism and “first they came for the pedos” and the like, but I think in this case it’s a shallow reading.
“violentacrez” was free to post what and however he liked. I mean, he still is! He could just say fuck it and keep on creepin’ on (somewhere other than Reddit) now that he’s jobless and hated, right? He’s suffered some consequences of Adrian Chen putting two and two together and the world reacting, but his freedom remains exactly what it was. Gawker is free. I’m free. Consequence is not the same thing as lack of freedom. Consequence is a necessary part of freedom. You speak, you get judged, others speak their judgment, and around it goes.
I say this in light of this reaction from Freddie DeBoer, which I disagree with strenuously. If I can summarize his points fairly, they are: 1. a moral standing argument: the Reddit creep scene is disgusting but Gawker is only marginally better and in some respects worse. 2. A slippery-slope/PATRIOT Act kind of argument: that applauding any “chilling effect” on speech acts such as these will probably harm leftists and dissidents more than it will hobbyist misogynist trolls. And 3. an “honesty” argument, that Brutsch’s/violenacrez’ “open depravity” is better than Nick Denton’s tabloid sensibility. I think all of these are flat wrong but I encourage you to give it a read. (Again we’re on internet time here so these have all been argued by others elsewhere). Deboer’s general take is that “this is what it looks like when internet liberals get self-righteous.” I think it’s more “this is what it looks like when people talk.”
Two things in DeBoer’s post stick out that I wanted to call out specifically.
Change won’t come from a few high profile outings but from a general change in the tenor of a culture that continues to view women as repositories of sexual pleasure.
This makes no sense, or rather, it contradicts itself. In a culture of free discourse, how else would a “change in tenor” be effected but by, not a few, but by hundreds of “outings” like this, and other constant social pressure besides? DeBoer has just said, you laid one brick here, but fuck that, we need a house.
And this, where DeBoer goes after one of his constant targets: the incestuous and clubby nature of our internet/media culture:
If you’d like to depress yourself, you can find photos on Facebook of, say, arch media critic Alex Pareene at industry parties where people like Jacob Weisberg are mere feet away.
Mere feet! What’s Pareene supposed to do, deck him?
“Links from the Gawker network of sites have been banned from the Reddit US Politics sub-forum, r/politics. The ban was instigated by a moderator after a Gawker.com journalist, Adrian Chen, apparently threatened to expose the real-life identity of redditor violentacrez, the creator of r/jailbait and r/creepshots. These two sub-forums, or "subreddits" were dedicated to, respectively, sexualised pictures of under-18s and sexualised pictures of women – frequently also under-age – taken in public without their knowledge or consent. [...] The whole affair has an extra level of irony, because in hoping to post online publicly available information against violentacrez wishes, Chen was doing exactly the same thing which violentacrez and other moderators of r/creepshots claimed was legal and ethical.”—Reddit blocks Gawker in defence of its right to be really, really creepy
I'm feeling incendiary. Who wants to play?
I want to talk about the Violentacrez thing. If you have managed to avoid the whole unsavory kerfuffle, basically what happened is that a writer, Adrian Chen, wrote a piece for Gawker that exposed the real identity of a Reddit user named Violentacrez. No matter how you feel about the morality of its content, it’s a well-written piece and interesting as hell: http://gawker.com/5950981/unmasking-reddits-violentacrez-the-biggest-troll-on-the-web?post=53482009
This dude Violentacrez is basically the worst. Nobody’s really arguing that he’s a good guy. According to the article, he mods a bunch of subreddits with charming names like “Hitler”, “Niggerjailbait”, and “Incest”, just to get a shocked reaction from other Redditors that brings him attention and results in his posts being voted up to the top. He also posts pictures of underage girls in a section called “Jailbait” (which are not technically illegal porn because they are clothed). He’s posted “creepshots”, photos surreptitiously taken of unsuspecting women’s breasts and behinds; photos that glorify violence against women; and photos of dead teenage girls, intended as fetish objects
So he’s super delightful. But what’s going on now is that people are accusing Chen of ruining this guys life and violating a social agreement that Reddit users’ anonymity is sacrosanct.
Except THAT’S NOT A REAL THING. There is no rule anywhere in the history of the world that says you have the right for the things that you post on the internet to be anonymous. It would be one thing if Reddit had violated a privacy agreement and released Violentacrez’s identity to Chen, but that isn’t what happened. Violentacrez gave his real name to a fellow user, who later felt like Violentacrez went too far and gave his name to Chen. No laws, agreements, or rules were violated. Yet Chen is getting a huge amount of backlash for crossing some kind of social line or invisible bro code.
Let’s say I (Violentacrez) email something disgusting but not illegal (post gross things on Reddit, and tell another Reddit user my true identity) to a work friend (the other Reddit user), and the friend forwards it to someone else (Chen) who tells HR, and I get reprimanded, so consequently everyone knows what happened (Chen posts the information on Gawker). My reputation at the office is ruined. I would be upset with my work friend for violating the privacy of our correspondence. However, although I can be annoyed that I got caught because of the person who the work friend told, that person made no agreement with me, and he or she is following the rules of the office - the office being a public space, like the internet. If I wanted to keep my disgusting thing a secret, I should have not done this business at the office. The internet is not your house. The internet is public.
When Chen confronts Violentacrez, his subject pleads with him not to out him, because he says that people will judge him and the comfort of his real-world life will be compromised. To this I say: If you don’t want people to think you are a dude who posts pictures of dead teenage girls on the internet, then don’t post pictures of dead teenage girls on the internet. Posting weird things on the internet is like putting on a ski mask and posting them around your neighborhood. If you take off your mask for a second and say hi to your neighbor and your neighbor tells the local news what you’ve been up to, you can’t say to the reporter, “but I put on a ski mask. I thought we had an agreement that everyone’s allowed to do what they want without anyone else knowing, if they’re wearing a ski mask most of the time.” You went outside to put up your weird pictures everywhere. If you’re looking at pictures in your house, nobody can or should stop you. But you went outside with your ski mask. You went on the internet.
I think everything this guy has posted (that I know of) is vile, but I will defend forever his right to post what he wants. In my book, if he wants to devote his perverted energy to starting cannibalismsoundsfantastic.com or HitlerIsDelightful.com, he is protected by the First Amendment, just as I would be if I posted a pro-choice screed that pro-life people might consider morally wrong. Hurray for free speech! However, the First Amendment does not say that everyone is entitled to free speech with zero social consequences. He slipped. He let his name leak, and Chen pounced on the opportunity to let the public know who the guy behind the ski mask is. On the internet, being unmasked is par for the course, so you’d better make sure that your face is something that you want people to see.
Also, Reddit? You know, the site that values free speech so much that it allowed Violentacrez to post “creeper photos”, hate speech, and dead girls? It’s banned links to Chen’s Gawker expose. Hurray for free speech.
“TechCrunch's history since AOL bought it in 2010 has been as turbulent as the private roller coasters many Facebook employees will likely install in their Silicon Valley mansions post-IPO.”—Gawker’s Adrian Chen • Commenting on AOL’s reported plans to sell TechCrunch, Engadget and most of its other tech-related properties in a single package. One amazing line really says it all.
“Alexey lives in the Russian city of Tula (Population: 500,000), an industrial hub about 100 miles south of Moscow. The quality of Tula Cartridge Works' Wolf Ammunition is renowned among gun nuts, but the city's main claim to fame is that, in the 18th century, it was the site of Russia's first factory manufacturing the traditional Russian tea urns called samovars. Tolstoy, Russia's greatest contribution to literature (pre-Horse_ebooks, of course) is buried just a few miles outside of town.”—How I Found the Human Being Behind Horse_ebooks, The Internet’s Favorite Spambot by Adrian Chen
“This is all further proof that Seattle is not a real city but the fleeting dream of a stoned Orca Whale floating somewhere in the Puget Sound.”—
Adrian Chen writes the best sentence of the day yesterday.