Thanks to Gawker's story on the man behind Reddit's legendary troll "Violentacrez" and Anonymous' outing of the alleged sexual predator who bullied 15-year-old Amanda Todd to death, October 2012 might go down in history as National "Out A Creep" Month. Some argue that publicly outing a selective number of horrible people is pointless. We think it's crucial.
Writing for the Guardian, Sady Doyle argues that public outings rely more on "the public's taste for juicy details" than "a hardline stance against any particular issue." She quotes writer and online anonymity expert Cole Stryker, who thinks that Michael Brutsch's outing is not a victory for feminism because he's not the only creep out there:
"The outing of Brutsch should not be seen as a victory for feminism. Even if Reddit's admins finally decide to crack down on this practice, creeps will scatter to other places. Chen's story needed to put a face to the movement for dramatic narrative purposes, but one wonders what is accomplished by hanging him out to dry."
"Unless we're planning to set up individual protest Facebook groups for each and every teenager who bullied Amanda Todd, and until Gawker outs everyone who has ever posted a 'creepshot', they're essentially scapegoats, individuals being punished for collective crimes," Doyle argues. I understand her concerns and I think she expresses them eloquently, but I completely disagree that this type of outing "keeps us stuck in a dynamic where structural change is neglected in favour of sensationalism." On the contrary, I think it's necessary to out people like Brutsch in order to get that "structural change" moving at a less glacial pace.
These men aren't just "scapegoats." They're identifiable figures that we can now use to educate others about issues that women are and have been historically conditioned to internalize. Women are taught to keep silent about public and private sexual objectification. One of the reasons street harassment is such a pervasive issue is because women are programmed to walk quickly and silently past catcalling men, often due to safety concerns but often also due to the idea that it's going to happen anyway, so why fight it? I think the only way to actually combat street harassment is to try and engage with catcallers when it is safe to do so — to "out" them for propagating misogynistic behavior that has taken place for centuries.
I feel the same way about the outing of Brutsch and Todd's alleged bully. If Brutsch had been allowed to stay anonymous, he wouldn't experience any repercussions for leading the way for tens of thousands of Redditors to upload, share, and delight in photos of non-consenting girls and women. If we never confirm the identity of Amanda Todd's bully, she'll go down in history as just another girl — and there are so, so many — bullied by a sexual predator.
I agree with Doyle that "Knowing Michael Brutsch's name is less important than knowing that we will challenge attitudes like his the next time we meet someone who expresses them." But if people aren't held accountable for their actions, men will continue to grope women on the subways, post creepshots, and bully teenage girls into flashing them — or worse. So let's name names instead of continuing to accept this type of objectification as depressingly commonplace. Sure, the two stories are sensational. But is that such a bad thing? They've brought issues like gendered web privacy privilege and sexualized bullying into the public eye.
Doyle is, of course, correct in arguing that "Ending bigotry and sexual harassment is not as simple as selectively unmasking one or two perpetrators." But, to me, that's like saying that charging someone with sexual assault doesn't end sexual assault. Of course it doesn't — but it's a necessary step in the right direction.
Today, Reddit CEO Yishan Wong said he instructed the site's moderators that legal content should never be removed, even if "we find it odious or if we personally condemn it," and that Reddit would continue to "ban the posting of personal information, because it incites violence and harassment against specific individuals." Apparently women's bodies don't count as "personal information," even if they have absolutely no agency in the decision to appear on the site. How will we end bigotry and sexual harassment without putting names to the faces of the people controlling the status quo?
Outing online sexual predators is a sensationalist stopgap [The Guardian]