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Gawker’s ViolentAcrez Expose Controversy refers to an online dispute between Gawker’s staff writer Adrian Chen and community members of Reddit that erupted in October 2012, after the former wrote and ran a feature story exposing the identity of Reddit’s prominent moderator ViolentAcrez and his role as the curator of several controversial subreddit forums including /r/Jailbait.
On October 10th, 2012, Redditor violentacrez, a veteran member of the community known for moderating more than 400 subreddits including the banned /r/Jailbait, deleted his account after posting a now-removed goodbye thread in his personal subreddit. Soon after, the link to his farewell message was shared in /r/SubredditDrama, where it received 620 points and nearly 500 comments. Around the same time, /r/violentacrez was taken over by several new users apparently affiliated with the Something Awful forums and /r/ShitRedditSays, reclaiming it as a place to smoke out users who post pedophilia-related commentary.
Later that same day, Redditor POTATO_IN_MY_ANUS submitted a self post to /r/SubredditDrama alleging that violentacrez had been doxxed by Gawker writer Adrian Chen, who planned to reveal the user’s personal information in an upcoming story after he had been added as a moderator to /r/CreepShots, a subreddit where users shared scandalous photos of women they had taken without the subject’s knowledge or consent. In chat logs posted by POTATO_IN_MY_ANUS, violentacrez stated that he was concerned a Reddit administrator provided Chen with his real name and a personal photo. On October 5th, violentacrez offered to delete his account in exchange for Gawker to not publicly release his personal details, but it was declined.
The same day, Redditor CreeperComforts reportedly received a private message (shown below) from a user named HelloJK stating that they knew the users’ identity and he had 48 hours to shut down /r/CreepShots. This message came around the same time Jezebel published an article about the Predditors Tumblr which launched in September 2012 to seek out public personal information about /r/CreepShots posters. Though the doxxing of violentacres and CreeperComforts were not explicitly related, the timing led many commenters to believe these events were tied together. However, a /r/ShitRedditSays post titled "The Admins Sure Doxxed The Ball On This One alludes to the subreddit being involved in finding CreeperComforts’ identity.
Linking Embargo on Gawker
In response to these two stories, Redditor karmanaut suggested to the private DefaultMods subreddit that all moderators temporarily ban links from Gawker network sites to persuade them away from personal attacks on moderators. Multiple subreddits cooperated including /r/Politics, /r/MensRights, /r/WoW (World of Warcraft), /r/Borderlands and /r/Cinemagraphs, among others. On the other hand, /r/CircleJerk banned any link that was not from the Gawker network. Adrian Chen responded by tweeting that Reddit is banned from linking to his blog posts, threatening Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedowns. On October 11th, several news media sites picked up on the story including the Daily Dot, Politico, BetaBeat, the Atlantic Wire, the New Statesman and New York Magazine.
Violentacrez Identity Revealed
On October 12th, Gawker published an article titled “Unmasking Reddit’s Violentacrez, The Biggest Troll on the Web” by staff writer Adrien Chen. The piece identified Violentacrez as Michael Brutsch (pictured below), a programmer for a financial services company in Texas. The article contained several quotes taken during a phone interview conducted by Chen, in which Brutsch revealed that he was living with a disabled wife with very little savings and that he was fearful of losing his job over the controversy.
On the following day, the viral content site BuzzFeed published a post which included screen captures of Reddit admins and moderators conversing about banning Gawker and Jezebel articles revealing Violentacrez real name. After admins enacted a site-wide ban against the offending articles, Reddit manager Eric Martin sent BuzzFeed an email saying the ban was a mistake and had been removed. On October 15th, The Daily Dot published an article reporting that Brutsch had been fired over the weekend from his programming position and was left with little savings and no health insurance for him and his disabled wife.
PayPal Donations for VIolentacrez
On October 12th, the Reddit account mbrutsch, later outed as violentacrez’ “clean” account, shared a link to a game called Tea Break Escape to the Point and Click gaming subreddit. In the comments, people began to derail the thread by discussing the controversy instead of the actual game.
In comments, Brutsch stated that he only had three weeks of pay left in the bank and could not afford health insurance to care for him and his disabled wife. In response, members of /r/C1rclejerkers started a campaign titled “His Name Was Michael Brutsch,” in reference to a line from the 1999 film Fight Club used to honor a fallen hero. Brutsch provided his PayPal email address to receive donations from Redditors.
That day, he received at least $110 in donations. A second donation thread with Brutsch’s personal information redacted was created in /r/C1rclejerkers so the link would not be removed if it was linked to in other places on Reddit. On the 16th, mbrutsch posted in /r/C1rclejerkers to thank everyone who had donated to him, but did not disclose how much he had received.
News Media Coverage
Given the reputation of the two websites as influencers in the world of the Internet culture, the feud between Gawker’s staff writers and the Reddit community was promptly picked up by major U.S. news outlets like the New York Times, The Guardian and The Atlantic, as well as internet news and tech blogs The Huffington Post, BoingBoing and Slate. The news media coverage of the controversy also led to a wide range of varying opinions regarding key issues on digital rights, such as freedom of speech versus privacy and anonymity versus accountability. Slate’s columnist Amanda Hess defended Chen’s expose for "bringing the Internet’s worst offenders back to reality; BoingBoing’s Rob Beschizza responded to criticisms against Gawker by questioning other bloggers’ preference of “honest depravity over depravity masked as righteousness”; and The Atlantic’s Rebecca Rosen similarly challenged the criticisms by asserting that Brutsch had given no thought to his actions behind the veil of anonymity.
Atlantic Wire – Redditors Stand Up to Gawker to Protect Child Pornography
New York Magazine – Reddit Blacklists Gawker in Defense of Creepy Pictures
The Daily Dot – Reddit’s Most Notorious Troll Loses Job After Gawker Profile