On Ruining Violentacrez’ Life

[This is part of a comment I wrote in response to Eric on my previous post on l'affaire Violentacrez. Reposting here because the concern over Chen "ruining lives" requires some curious erasures. UPDATED to include Michael Brutsch (Violentacrez) admitting that women have found their photographs under r/creepshots and asked for them to be taken down.]

One point many Violentacrez defenders emphasize is that his life will be ruined by Chen’s decision to expose him. By this they mean chiefly that he will likely be fired and become unemployable thanks to Google searches like the ones you describe. But it’s telling, isn’t it, that these are the terms in which they understand a life to be ruined? People whose photographs are posted online–particularly in the contexts Violentacrez encouraged–stand to have their lives ruined too. Many girls and women have undergone extraordinary suffering (with some, like Amanda Todd, committing suicide) because of these “free speech acts.” But this particular kind of ruination doesn’t count; according to the terms these defenders use, only employability is relevant.

I’d suggest that while of course men and women both value their employability (and the ways in which their names appear in Internet searches), only women stand to have their lives ruined in this other manner, which goes unnamed and unrecognized because a) it happens offline (while bad Google results are visible, it’s much more difficult to point to or describe the dissemination of your body and the consequences, b) it involves “social” as opposed to economic ruin to which men are less vulnerable (unless they’re sex offenders) and c) it only involves female “victims” who are quite easy to blame. If your uncle stumbles on a nude photo you sent an ex-lover on one of the sites he visits and forwards it to family and friends, oh well–you were the agent of your own ruination.

This kind of humiliation doesn’t count according to defenders of internet anonymity; an event only counts as damage if you get fired. Only by discounting this other sort of exposure and denying that it constitutes damage can Violentacrez’s defenders claim that he is a victim and people photographed against their will aren’t. What they don’t know can’t hurt them, and if they find out, BFD.

But this logic is worth chasing too: the reason your life is ruined if your boss fired you over something you did online is that you can’t make money. Your ability to pay for room and board might be compromised, and so you won’t eat, you might not have a place to sleep, etc. Your quality of life goes down in measurable, material terms. Someone psychologically devastated by having their body displayed to thousands of perverts is also quite likely (should they become depressed) to be unable to work, to eat, to sleep. If the criteria for “life ruination” is the inability to support oneself, the endpoints for both hypothetical situations are quite similar.

Two other things: Eric made the point that people in tech are likely to consider Google results more damaging than images, as likenesses can’t be easily Googled. It seems to me that tech folks are the ones most likely to know that facial recognition software is already a reality, and will become more mainstream soon. The distance between a photo and a name was never as great as it seemed, and it’s diminishing daily.

The last point concerns how the different genders are socialized to understand identity and privacy, and it occurred to me as another reason why men might invest more heavily in their name compared to their image than women. Men are socialized to see a name as unchangeable. Women aren’t, as it’s still widely expected that they will change their names when they marry. Their names were never supposed to attach to them as people; the name was a sliding marker intended to index one’s affiliation with a masculine unit. I don’t know if this is still the case, but seven years ago it was much more difficult for men to legally change their names than it was for women to do so. Women have not historically  been socialized to wed their identities to their names; quite the contrary.

UPDATE: Another argument advanced by VA defenders on Reddit—with more and more frequency—is that no one has been harmed by the posted photographs. “NAME ONE INSTANCE OF HIS ACTIONS HARMING ANYONE!” they demand, as if any woman (or girl) featured on the site would take the insane step of publicly facing the community that was violating her. (As if, in such a circumstance, the conversation wouldn’t take place behind the scenes, handled by the mods.) They proceed to insist that the lack of any such evidence means that it has never happened.

Unfortunately for them, Brutsch himself, posting under mbrutsch, his clean handle, admits that it has, and admits further that there’s a standard protocol for dealing with such an eventuality because it has happened often enough that a protocol is required. His admission appears in the course of a post today in which he attempts to defend himself against Chen’s allegations. Oops.

The blue line at left highlights the section of Chen’s article Violentacrez is quoting; below that is his response:

How gently the criteria for what violates have drifted: what constitutes a violation is not that the women discovered that their images were being circulated and used in the most disgusting and dehumanizing contexts—no, that’s not violating to someone’s privacy at all. “None of these innocent women were publicly identified,” Brutsch says, in what he obviously thinks is a compelling defense.

There’s that strange divide I described in my last post: for these people, only that which involves your name counts. A bunch of misogynistic, abusive trolls masturbating to 15-year-old you? Doesn’t count as damage, even if you know about it. The point is this: Brutsch admits that women discovered that their images were being used on Reddit. Take a minute to imagine what that discovery was like. Then imagine what it must be like to write to someone named Violentacrez to ask for them to be taken down.

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20 thoughts on “On Ruining Violentacrez’ Life

  1. To rephrase your point, Lili: we have never left nineteenth-century novel territory, where “ruin” is thoroughly gendered. When Silas Lapham is “ruined,” we know exactly what that means. When Crane’s Maggie is “ruined,” we know exactly what that means too.

    1. You say it much better than I did–and sympathy is quite forthcoming as a response to the first case and rather grudgingly elicited by the latter.

  2. The thing is that even if powerful men are creepy and exposed for their creepiness, oftentimes, their lives are not ruined and their employability is not threatened. At a firm that I used to work for, the IT department found disturbing images of children on a partner’s computer and instead of reporting him to the police, they gave him a few months to take his book of business to another firm. I’ve relayed this story to friends and they had similar stories. Look at Eliot Spitzer; he was temporarily humiliated, but he got a TV show or two out of it.

    1. Yes. I’d only add that the horrifying case you’re describing is more disturbing than Spitzer’s by several orders of magnitude. (Spitzer’s activities, while illegal and awful for his wife, were at least consensual.)

      1. I also think that it is telling that even though I’m normally pretty vocal, I only leave comments about these types of horrifying work events anonymously and make very general statements so that my old company can’t be identified. I’m concerned that talking about bad things that men did at my old firm could make me unemployable. I’d hate to be a woman (or man) who works at Reddit, who disagrees with Reddit’s policies.

  3. Violentacrez should be unemployable. That was his risk to take and in a capitalist society he should have as much expectation of privacy as any of the “jailbait” he gladly objectified and degraded. The subreddit mod community is so steeped in cloaking the dehumanization of others in “freedom of speech” they fail to see the iron-clad ironic bind that Chen’s outing of one their own has created for them.

    And while I agree employers are more than happy to move a problem on rather than involve the legal department, it is to be hoped his outing has been so high profile that almost no employer is going to feel comfortable turning a blind eye — he is not one of the 1% untouchables (they are the few who can maintain employment status in these circumstances).

    I am tired of “creepy uncles” telling me that their right to anonymity is sacrosanct when they reduce women and children to objects not worthy of empathy or consideration. You wanna tell me that “she had it coming” because she was walking along a public street, then I will tell you right back Michael Brutsch had it coming because he was the mod for creepshots, and jailbait before that.

    Maybe the internet isn’t quite done being the great equalizer after all.

    1. Yes. You’re completely right. I actually thought about including those categories among the exceptions to male social invulnerability, but then felt uneasy about grouping them with sexual offenders. In retrospect, I should obviously have taken the sexual offenders out and put queer people, people of color, and the disabled in.

  4. Honestly it’s not even that the people who support Violentacrez are so blinded by privilege etc. that they can’t see the violation that occurs to these women and girls whose pictures they are posting—the violation is the whole point. They seek to violate them by posting the pictures, and the names “creepshots” and “jailbait” are testament to that. It’s simply that they can’t imagine any violation of women (particularly violations of their sexuality and specifically their PRIVACY) to be a negative. Their reassurances that women weren’t “publicly identified” and that “those who asked for their pictures to be removed had them removed” are an absolutely laughable, beyond unconvincing, paper-thin smokescreen. I honestly have no belief whatsoever that they themselves actually subscribe to their own arguments about why these women aren’t being hurt. These “arguments” are purely self-serving lies. They don’t lack understanding of the damage they’re doing, they lack empathy. Brutsch’s various attempts at defending himself are meant to give the impression that he/his community have some kind of process that takes into account the humanity and dignity of those whose pictures get posted, as if the entire appeal of the project didn’t lie in attacking their dignity and in violating their privacy. Their claim that these pictures are somehow “public” rather than “private” is similarly transparent—obviously they themselves do not believe this claim, because the entire appeal of the subreddit is that the opposite is true, that the pictures are a form of sublimated rape whose appeal lies in robbing the photographed of privacy & consent. That’s why taking down pictures after the fact is a smokescreen: they fund their massive project of nonconsensual sexual satisfaction with the fake moral credit they get from acceding to the non-consent of a handful of those victimized. Throwing a few fish back into the river is the cost of doing business for them. Likewise, all of their defenses of their own activities are utterly baseless and only intended to justify the continuation of those activities. Saying that “they fail to see the iron-clad ironic bind” they are in is, in my opinion, giving them too much credit; they see the irony, but they could care less. Their defenses were from the start hypocritical, and that they are even more glaringly hypocritical now doesn’t matter, because they are unconcerned with the intellectual/moral validity of their position—they just want to keep doing what they’ve been doing, and lack of accountability is a pretty much essential tool for them.

  5. Consider that in order to get the picture removed you almost certainly have to identify yourself to Reddit or its so-called moderators, thus, Reddit almost certainly does not allow all people (women) to interact with Reddity on anonymous terms. Thus, a woman whose picture has been misused is put in a position of having to trust that Reddit or its creepy moderators will not seek to further harm them by connecting their name with their picture. Consider how degrading it must be to have to beseech these people for pity.

    If, in fact, I am wrong, and no one has to dentify herself, I hereby put furth a motion that women everywhere write to Reddit anytime they see a picture and claim that it is a picture of themselves and that they object to it being publicly displayed. That should keep Mr. Brutsch busy.

    Furthermore, while it is possible for Mr. Brutsch and his disgusting followers to claim that they are not using the pictures for commercial advantage, is the same true for Reddit? Many states draw the line at allowing pictures taken in public to be used for the commercial gain of third parties. Thus, one thing that is clearly in the cards here is to bring an action against Reddit for allowing the misuse of private pictures for its own commercial gain. Surely no one is arguing that Reddit is not a commercial enterprise?

  6. What ever happened to “your rights end where my rights begin?” “Free speech” is somewhat of a misnomer, speech – even in an open society like ours – is never really free. You can’t just say whatever you want free from any responsibility. That is why libel and slander laws exist, which goes back to “your rights end where my rights begin.” If VA had a right to anonymity, so did the women/girls whose pictures he posted without their consent and by violating their rights, he forfeited his own.

    To me, this is a no-brainer. VA purposefully pushed the envelope and got no more than he bargained for.

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