Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Ugliness of the Internet, Part II

Who is worse – the investigative journalist who outs an Internet creep, or a band of anonymous vigilantes outing an Internet creep?

Trick question. The answer all depends on whether the investigative journalist or the anonymous vigilantes got their stuff right and outed the right guy and with the right details.

Read earlier this week about Gawker journalist Andrew Chen outing Arlington, Texas resident Michael Brutcsh as Violentacrez, vile poster of lewd and nasty stuff at Reddit.

Then read today about Anonymous outing a fellow they believe coaxed a twelve-year-old girl into sending him photographs of her breasts. Ensuing bullying (and a host of other problems including drug and alcohol abuse, lest the bullies get all the credit) led the girl, now fifteen, to commit suicide earlier this month.

Maybe Anonymous got the right guy – right now there are so many fingers flying you’d think you were at a leper festival – but they outed him at the wrong address, sending a Vancouver, B.C.-area man into hysterics as he saw his address become attached to this ugliness.

They guy they outed is also denying everything, saying he’s gone as far as suggest to authorities another man in New York is responsible for the photographs that started this clusterfark to begin with. (Slate is right to say we shouldn’t feel too sorry for this guy, seeing as he was a regular at Violentacrez’ jailbait forum on Reddit and is in trouble with the law for sexual crimes unrelated to the girl who committed suicide.)

Again, I tread a fine line here. I have a brother in jail right now for looking at naughty pictures, some of them of underage girls. He, too, falls into the “not too sorry for this guy” category, because though I love him a great deal as a brother, I can’t condone what he has done.

Chen had the guts to contact Brutsch, hear him out, and present what he said to those screaming for his head. Anonymous did not allow their outed victim the same privilege. Thus the difference between trained and ethical journalists and trolls hunting trolls.

Basic journalism tells you the burden of proof is on the journalist. Go get ‘em, but make damn sure you know for a fact what you’re doing is correct. But that takes time and patience, and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope.

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