Reddit and Free Speech

I personally am not a user of Reddit. When the recent controversy hit my social media circles, I had to think if I have ever been to the site in my life. If I have been, it wasn’t on purpose. When it was announced that President Obama was going to do a “Reddit AMA” I didn’t even know what that was. I’m slightly shocked to find out it is considered to be “the internet’s front page” because if the site disappeared tomorrow it would have zero effect on me. However, I am old and out of touch.

With all that said, obviously I had never heard of Violentacrez prior to his outing, and if not for the articles all over my social media I still wouldn’t have heard of him. I read the original article about the identity of Violentacrez on Gawker and didn’t think much more about it. Later, I saw two completely disparate takes on it by science fiction writers – John Scalzi’s take (a writer with whom I’ve had exactly one interaction and found him a dick) and Will Shetterly’s take (a writer with whom I’ve had more interactions over a longer period and found him a pleasant guy). Even though I personally don’t care for Scalzi, his take is much closer to what I felt on reading this story.

In the vast smear of commentary on this subject spread across 1.7 zillion posts on various social media sites and blog posts, I have seen many of the form “great that this scumbag lost his job, he deserves punished.” I don’t agree with that on the face of it. People seems to be drunk on schadenfreude to see a troll get comeuppance in the real world. Maybe I’d feel differently if I were more connected to the trolling, but I don’t see any joy to take in Brutsch’s subsequent real world problems.

Will Shetterly seems predominantly concerned with the principle of anonymity on the internet, and with who has the right to draw the line between legitimate and illegitimate reasons to conceal ones identity. I don’t disagree with him out of hand, but I’m less inclined for the benefit of the doubt of the anonymous.

Yes, there are legitimate reasons for anonymity on the internet. Political dissidents under oppressive regimes and survivors of abuse are the two I see most often brought up. I look at this this way: if you are posting anonymously on the internet and have something to lose should your identity be revealed, your risk and reward should be in line. A political dissident may be risking imprisonment or execution should they be discovered, so whatever it is they are posting anonymously should be important to them. Michael Brutsch was risking his livelihood for the ability to abuse and anger other people. Asking for sympathy on the backend of that after the consequences are realized rings pretty hollow to me. I think him getting fired for what he did on Reddit away from work is not right, but it was a risk he bore willingly and as a grownup should own that.

The other part of the whole thing this brings out to me is the argument Scalzi uses that none of these websites are a public common. They are all owned by someone who has the right to allow or disallow anyone they choose. I know that I myself have been hamstrung by my own desire for free speech at times in the history of the blog, which allowed me to be played by commentors of bad faith. Somewhere along the line I got over that, which is why I posted my comment policy. Just because I want to be fair doesn’t mean you get to use my own desire for fairness as a weapon against me. This blog is my party, and if you shit in the punch bowl I will toss you out. Reddit chose to allow turds in the punch bowl because the defactor was useful to them. Everyone makes their own choices. You just need to pay attention before you pour yourself another glass of that delicious delicious punch.

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Dave Slusher is a blogger, podcaster, computer programmer, author, science fiction fan and father. Member of the Podcast Hall of Fame class of 2022.