Troll is the name given to people who anonymously post malicious or provocative messages on the Internet with the sole purpose of upsetting or harming others and inciting emotional reactions.

One of the key things about Trolls is that they hide behind their anonymity to bully and hurt others. Greg Walsh who is a lawyer representing families affected by cyber-bullying and trolling will be a speaker at our RMRC 2012 inaugural conference and no doubt discuss this issue further.

Violentacrez was a famous US troll who wrote extensively on Reddit a “social news” website. Anonymous Reddit users submit content online and other viewers vote their submissions up or down. The submissions are organised into areas of interest called subreddits. Reddit has 43 million users and 3 billion monthly page views.

Violentacrez had a HUGE following on Reddit, was a major creator of multiple subreddits and responsible for bringing massive traffic to the site. To this end he was awarded with a trophy from Reddit which he was very proud of.

The names of the 182 subreddits he either created or “moderated” give you an idea of the kind of postings he did (and was awarded for). These included: Creepshots, Rapebait, Incestbait, Picsofdeadkids, Chokeabitch, Rapejokes, Misogyny, Hitler, Niggerjailbait, Jewmerica and Jailbait.

Creepshots was super popular. The crucial thing about any creepshot is that it must be taken without the consent of the starring girl. The photos are largely of disembodied and identity-less bottoms or breasts of unsuspecting girls with tags attached to the photos such as “upskirt in my class” or “creeping bikini thong” or “quality legs in supermarket”.

Jailbait consisted of stolen images of underage girls. The names of the other sites make their intentions quite clear. Violentacrez was also known to have bragged about having oral sex with his 19 year old stepdaughter.

Sites like Reddit owned by Condé Nast (publisher of Vogue, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Wired, GQ and many other glamorous magazines) and Google do financially better the more traffic they generate to their sites. People say vile things under anonymity that they would never put their real name to. This kind of anonymous hate speech attracts a huge amount of web traffic and money so there is a financial incentive for these corporations to covertly support it.

In October 2012, Adrian Chen a journalist on the website Gawker unmasked the true identity of Violentacrez as being that of Michael Brutsch a husband, father and computer programmer. Revealing someone’s identity is known as doxing and to have your id revealed is being doxed.

As a consequence of Brutsch being doxed he lost his job and ceased the Violentacrez account. There is a lot more to this story and many, many comments that could be made – but this article will limit itself to two particularly interesting and revealing observations.

The first observation is that Violentacrez’s fans and he has a LOT, were absolutely incensed that his identity had been revealed. Trolls of this kind are outraged at being doxed. They write about this prolifically on the internet complaining that they have been unfairly treated or harmed. However, they never seem to consider the huge amount of harm that they themselves intentionally cause with their hate trolling.

The second observation is that Michael Brutsch (Violentacrez) fans within the Reddit community rallied to defend him and announced that they were banning all links to Gawker sites “until action is taken to correct this serious lack of ethics and integrity.”

How interesting that they lecture on free speech and then ban a site that says something they don’t like.

How interesting that they use words like ethics and integrity.

The explains the ban like this: “At Web communities like Reddit, which thrive because users are free to say and do anything they want, doxing is a severe crime, both to users and the site’s staff. It’s far worse than offensive speech like racism and homophobia or, yes, even posting surreptitiously snapped photos of innocent women for creeps to perv over. Why? Because doxing undermines the community’s structural integrity: Reddit simply would not exist as we know it if users weren’t operating under the freedom of a flexible identity. So redditors aren’t banning Gawker to protect violentacrez, they’re doing it to protect themselves.”

Chen who outed Brutsch wrote on Gawker: “Under Reddit logic, outing Violentacrez is worse than anonymously posting creepshots of innocent women, because doing so would undermine Reddit’s role as a safe place for people to anonymously post creepshots of innocent women.”

In this story (as in many others) once again the right of “free speech” and anonymity is profusely bandied around as an excuse to deliberately harm.

There are certainly many cases when anonymity is warranted. However, anonymity and free speech should never be used as an excuse to harm.

The Australian Government website states: “Free speech comes from facts, not rumours, and the intention must be constructive, not to do harm. There are laws to protect a person’s good name and integrity against false information. There are laws against saying or writing things to incite hatred against others because of their culture, ethnicity or background. Freedom of speech is not an excuse to harm others.”  The US also has limitation on so called free speech.

Imagine if the free speech without accountability argument was applied to knives. The argument would be “I need to slice my bread and I have the freedom to use a knife if I want to”. Well yes, you can use a knife to slice bread but not to slice, slash, stab and murder an innocent women in a supermarket.

The word freedom should always be accompanied by the words responsibility and accountability.