Take it from me, I have written a lot of sharp emails that never made it to their intended recipient because of that question. In fact, many people tell me that they write the really nasty response with no intention of ever hitting “send.” For them, just getting it off your chest (but not into someone’s inbox) is therapy.
We frequently puzzle over the people who don’t apply this little rule. What is it about the digital space that invites some readers to unleash their worst selves for the world to see? Are they that personal and nasty face-to-face? Personal experience tells me they usually aren’t. It’s one thing to type vulgar, insulting, racist, sexist or hateful words and send them into the cyberworld. It’s another altogether to sit in front of the human being who is the target of your insults and speak various cruelties.
The digital space can be a mask, an easy way to type the worst things without ever having to look someone in the eyes or read his or her body language. Many of us believe hiding behind obscure usernames provides a cloak that protects our real identity from the consequences of online nastiness.
Here is where we introduce Michael Brutsch to the story.
Brutsch is a 49-year-old Air Force veteran who lives in Arlington, a big Texas city in the center of Dallas-Fort Worth. The computer programmer worked at a financial services company until a few weeks ago. He lost his job when his online alter-ego was revealed.
It turns out Brutsch the suburban family man was also Violentacrez, labeled by Gawker.com as the “Biggest Troll on the Web.”
Adrian Chen’s article on Brutsch/Violentacrez in Gawker summed up how he earned that title: “His specialty is distributing images of scantily-clad underage girls, but as Violentacrez he also issued an unending fountain of racism, porn, gore, misogyny, incest, and exotic abominations yet unnamed, all on the sprawling online community Reddit.”
It wouldn’t be fair to suggest that this sort of filth is the sum total of the social media site Reddit.com, which describes itself as “a type of online community where users vote on content.” As I type this early Friday, the Reddit homepage was filled with both serious news stories, odd bits of trivia and assorted silliness. (“What one ability could I develop if I practiced it every time I sat on the toilet for the next year?” read one post.) In other words, it’s not all that different from many social media sites.
Brutsch/Violentacrez’s work there stands out for its button-pushing vileness.
Chen writes that Violentacrez (pronounced violent-acres) exploited “Reddit's laissez-faire attitude towards offensive speech” in creating a section called Jailbait, which was “a safe space for people sexually attracted to underage girls to share their photo stashes.”
Brutsch/Violentacrez made similarly offensive sections dedicated to anti-semintism, wife-beating, racism and so on, all with names like “Chokeabitch,” “Rapebait” and “Jewmerica.” All, he claimed while still under the cloak of anonymity, in the name of free expression.
When Chen discovered the man behind the mask and confronted the Texan on the telephone earlier this month, Brutsch’s tone became softer. “My wife is disabled. I got a home and a mortgage, and if this hits the fan, I believe this will affect negatively on my employment,” he told Gawker. “I do my job, go home, watch TV, and go on the Internet. I just like riling people up in my spare time.”
Brutsch has suddenly found himself with more spare time. His employer confirmed to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that it had fired Brutsch in the aftermath of the controversy. “It was a combination of embarrassment to the company, discomfort of fellow workers who remain here,” First Cash Financial Services CEO Rick Wessel said, “and just what he was doing was so reprehensible that we had to severe the relationship.”
CHANGING THE TV LISTINGS CHANNEL
Good news for TV fans. We’ve heard from many of our loyal readers unhappy with the TV listings format introduced in August, and are making changes. Starting this Friday, our TV listings will appear in the Friday paper in a handy, 8-page tabloid-sized format.
Readers expressed their unhappiness with the two-page format that has been appearing in the Sunday Life and Arts section. Don’t lose heart, change is on the way, starting this Friday.
You complained. We heard you. We are making changes.
Bob Davis is associate publisher/editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at 256-235-3540 or bdavis@EditorBobDavis.