Personal isn’t always private, part 2
For a long time there was a forum on Reddit called “jailbait” whose purpose was for people to post pictures of underage girls they thought were hot, sexy, what have you. Most of the pictures posted there had been stolen from Facebook accounts or similar online forums, where the picture had originally been posted by the girl herself. The guys who frequented the jailbait forum and posted there rationalized their theft because “if the girls didn’t want people looking at those pictures, they shouldn’t have posted them.”
None put forward the argument more loudly or prolifically than the moderator, a guy who called himself Violentacrez (pronounced “violent acres”).
Violentacrez went to great pains to police his forum and remove any pictures which crossed the line into indisputable child pornography. But he also freely admitted, in his own forum, in other forums, in online chats and interviews, that his interest was in the eroticization of teenage girls. He had told the story many times of why his second wife had divorced him when she found out he had begun an affair with her 19-year-old daughter, his stepdaughter.
He moderated a lot of other forums, such as one where people were asked to post pictures of woman being violently choked, which were either offensive, invasive, or downright creepy. The jailbait one attracted enough negative attention last year that the Reddit administrators removed it. But Violentacrez and his fans kept posting to “creepshots”– a place where people could post pictures taken of women in public, including things like upskirt photos and the like.
All of this came to an end over the weekend when one writer at the often equally unclassy gossip site Gawker contacted the real man behind the Violentacrez pseudonym, informed him his identity has been discovered, interviewed him for over an hour, and published a surprisingly professional and, as far as is possible with a scumbag like him, a balanced article about him and his many forums.
He remained unapologetic throughout the interview and in online discussions immediately afterward.
A bunch of people are up in arms because his “private identity” has been revealed. Let’s be clear: no one hacked his account. No one violated any terms of service to find him. The blogger pieced together his identity solely from public information that Violentacrez himself had published over the years, including tagging himself in photos at some Reddit get-togethers.
Even the folks who admit that he is somewhat to blame for leaving so much information out there still try to make the argument that his forums never did anything technically illegal. That latter argument is simply not true: copying other people’s pictures without their permission is copyright violation, at the least. Taking upskirt pictures and downblouse pictures without the person’s permission is illegal in many jurisdictions. And by his own admission, he had to remove child porn pictures that others posted to his original forum on a regular basis–but he never reported the uploaders to the FBI, a violation of U.S. and Texas law*.
Even if there wasn’t illegal activity, the moment he began exploiting people, violating their expectation of privacy (or at least discretion and respect), he lost any moral or ethical right he might have had to any expectation of privacy of his own.
The Gawker reporter did nothing more than apply Violentacrez’s own philosophy against him: if he didn’t want people to know he was the creep “moderating”, enabling, and encouraging a lot of creepy, nasty, unethical, and borderline illegal behavior, he shouldn’t have left all those details where someone could find them.
Sometimes justice is poetic.
* Violentacrez proudly proclaimed his Texas residency several times.
1. There are times when anonymity is a good thing. I understand why some jurisdictions don’t publish the names of victims of child sex abuse, for instance. And given how many gay and bi teens are literally thrown out of their homes by their parents, such kids need safe places they can get information and emotional support without risking their parents finding them out. Sometimes, in order to protect the rights of innocent people, we have to let bad stuff slip by. But there have to be limits, where someone’s irresponsibility reaps consequences.
2. Violentacrez and his fans defend some of the creepy sites by saying the people whose images were being posted aren’t harmed because the vast majority of those pictured never know about it. That’s analogous to saying that sneaking into a neighbor’s house and using their toothbrush is all right so long as the neighbor never finds out. Not getting caught doesn’t absolve you of wrongdoing. But on another level, those sites perpetuate a culture of exploitation which excuses and enables a lot of behavior that causes real harm to real girls and real women, among others.
3. Violentacrez has since lost his job at a financial services firm. His fans, at least, have tried to play for sympathy by pointing out that this leaves his disabled wife without health coverage. If she suffers health issues because of her husband’s behavior, she deserves some sympathy. However, this argument has more to do with the screwed up way the “greatest nation on earth” provides health care to its citizens, rather than being some sort of mitigating factor regarding her husband’s behavior. And while what someone does on their own time shouldn’t be the business of one’s employer, I have a very hard time believing, as actively and often he posted and moderated the thousands of postings on his many forums that he never did it on company time, and never did it on company equipment. Also, she knew what he was up to, had a user name on the same services which included his name and linked to his profile, and actively defended his bahavior on line.
4. In partial defense of the Reddit moderators and administrators who have banned discussions about and links to stories about this, having promised a certain level of anonymity to all of their users, they have an ethical obligation to take reasonable measures to protect those users’ anonymity. However, Violentacrez identity was not obtained by hacking. He was found because he left his own information out there. He admitted his identity when confronted, and actively participated in the interview. Their ethical obligation isn’t involved, now. I personally think they would have more of an ethical leg to stand on if they had shutdown or restricted jailbait, creepshots, and a few of the other forums much, much sooner, but that’s a secondary consideration, now.
5. The right of free speech does not include the guarantee of freedom from any and all consequences of your speech. Violentacrez is not going to jail or being fined. No force of law or threat of violence is preventing him from finding a new place to post his creepy pictures. He’s being shunned by some people, and hailed as a hero by others. That’s what happens when free speech is exercised by everyone.
6. You can read my earlier take on another aspect of personal vs private here.