For the past few years, an anonymous Internet ghoul calling himself "Violentacrez" lived the life of which most trolls only dare to dream.
He posted racist, pornographic and misogynistic comments and pictures on social networking site Reddit, created forums such as "jailbait" for pictures of underage girls and moderated a forum called "creepshots" in which people post pictures they've taken of women without their consent.
It was, for a while, as if Violentacrez were the Jesse James of Internet pervs: shameless, arrogant and untouchable.
Several days ago, though, the troll paradise he built went up in a blaze of infamy after a writer for news site Gawker unmasked Violentacrez as Michael Brutsch, a Texas financial services employee and father. Brutsch's employer reportedly responded to finding out about his online life, as employers will do, by firing him.
Most of us would be like, "Well, duh."
But not Reddit, the place where Violentacrez had built his home. There, the idea that someone might reveal the name of an anonymous user on their site is more offensive than any picture on the "picsofdeadjailbait" forum (and, yes, those were pictures Violentacrez posted of dead underage girls). Dozens of forums called "subreddits" started banning links to the story and to Gawker itself and deleting any reference to the controversy.
On Reddit, you see, the privacy of an infamously over-the-top troll counts for more than the privacy of the thousands of women who made unwilling appearances on their site, resulting in them being mocked, drooled over and harassed.
"Free speech!" "He's not breaking the law!" "You're ruining this guy's life!" they cried in almost surreal-sounding defenses on the site.
Um, I'm pretty sure he ruined his life. Pretty sure he's the one who engaged in borderline-legal but certainly-not-borderline-disgusting activity. Pretty sure the "you can't expect any privacy" argument that they used against the women who were furious that close-up pictures of their butts in yoga pants got posted all over the Internet also can be used against a dude who told his real-life and Reddit names to plenty of people.
I'm also so, so tired of the idea that somehow "freedom of speech" means "freedom from all negative consequences."
Yes, you certainly do have the right to grab a picture of a 13-year-old girl from her Facebook page and disseminate it to a bunch of gross guys. At the same time, the First Amendment is not some magical talisman that protects you from judgment, either from society or your employer or anyone who happens to feel like judging you, frankly. Things like threats of death and violence (which Brutsch says he's gotten since his name came out) are wrong, obviously, and illegal, and anyone making those threats should be prosecuted.
At the same time, not everything that's bad is illegal. Those who skirt the line between illegal and legal—flirting with racism, pedophilia, necrophilia and stalking—they should know that they might be fired from their jobs, outed to their family or insulted on the Internet. If you want to walk that line, you risk those consequences.
Being a troll shouldn't be risk-free behavior. Sometimes, thankfully, as in this case, it isn't.
Want more? Discuss this article and others on RedEye's Facebook page.