There's a very deep and special irony involved in the recent, high-profile outing of Reddit troll king ViolentAcrez by Adrian Chen of Gawker. While ViolentAcrez was responsible for a lot of heinous-but-legal content on Reddit and elsewhere, it was certainly his participation in the CreepShots sub-Reddit that invited Gawker's scrutiny-- scrutiny that has cost him his job. CreepShots was a repository of photos of women (mostly young women, often under the age of consent) in public places, photos that the Redditors found attractive or alluring. The defense from ViolentAcrez was that, as a matter of long-established legal precedent, there is no assumption of privacy in a public place; if you are in public, the assumption is that you have waived your right to not be photographed. The irony lies in the fact that Gawker Media has endlessly invoked this precedent (this very same precedent) in defense of its own controversial invasions of privacy, such as its Gawker Stalker feature, which led to this infamous demonstration in how little power Internet celebrity actually confers, at least compared to the real thing.
Additionally, while these photos were certainly being used in a provocative context (and while I certainly find the whole phenomenon creepy), they were not nude or pornographic, and their publication was thus protected by the First Amendment. That should not imply approval on my part; I very much do not approve of this behavior, anymore than I approve of someone invoking their constitutionally-protected right to free speech by shouting racial slurs on a crowded street. But those are the consequences of living in a free society. What the commenters on the Gawker post seem not to understand or care about is that freedom really does involve massive tradeoffs, and that those tradeoffs ensure that despicable behavior will occur. And, again, it is exactly that protection of free speech that underlies the entire project of Gawker Media, which has caused an endless amount of human suffering for the enjoyment of the self-same commentariat (protected by anonymity, natch) that deplores ViolentAcrez and those like him.
I confess that I don't feel a great deal of sympathy for ViolentAcrez, though I do feel very bad for his wife and the other people whose lives have been negatively impacted by his outing. The same right to free speech that protects him from legal repercussions for his postings on Reddit, though, protect his outing by Adrian Chen. He is living with the consequences of operating in a free society, just like the young women who have had the discomfort and unhappiness of having their photos splashed all over the Internet.
No, it's not sympathy for ViolentAcrez that moves me, but rather contempt for the deep hypocrisy of Gawker, along with its always-hilarious sanctimony of convenience. I would argue that, in fact, Gawker's writers and audience partake in essentially the same thing that many Redditors who frequent the uglier sub-Reddits do: being titillated, in various ways, by content that they simultaneously disclaim and enjoy. Gawker, after all, comments on any and all sex scandals and questionable behavior, most certainly including those involving underaged women. Perhaps Gawker doesn't host, say, the latest photos of a scantily-clad Miley Cyrus, but it has certainly linked to them, and its readers certainly click those links.... And when they do, they have the all-encompassing excuse that permits essentially all Internet behavior undertaken by the chattering class: when they look at the latest Nickelodeon star to be exposed in her bra and panties, well, there's something very meta about it. They aren't like the serial masturbators on those dirty Internet forums, no. When they get their rocks off by looking at questionable content online, they're doing it the classy, socially approved way.
Then there's this, or more, the attitude it encompasses: the orgy of self-congratulation and mutual admiration that attended Chen's post in the trendy New York media scene.
I confess to not really having a clue as to what Sunkara is saying here; by Chen's account, ViolentAcrez didn't "fuck with" Adrian Chen at all. Chen found him, in fact, to be a remarkably engaged and informative interview, whose only really pushback was repeated attempts to get Chen not to publish his name. Of course, that question is less important than Sunkara's not-at-all-compatible-with-his-Marxism celebration of the loss of health insurance for a disabled woman. I don't mean to be too hard on Sunkara; the post generally invited a kind of reverie of self-importance among the connected New York media. I imagine that Sunkara was just engaging in the kind of limp influence peddling that is the constant obsession of seemingly all people who write their opinions for a living.
Sunkara and the new left that he represents-- your Jacobin, your New Inquiry, sundry other publications arranged by Marxian youngsters into something resembling a Livejournal on class oppression-- have got to understand that corruption will come in the form of social capture and the quid pro quo of "follow for a follow." The long-term, subtle (but vital, important) work of a new Marxist left is not going to be defeated by riot cops-- nothing so aesthetically pleasing to the fashionistas-- but by the New York cocktail party circuit. Ideological death for the left wing comes with an arm thrown over your shoulder, a friendly chat with the guy who maybe someday might write you checks that will pay your rent. If you'd like to depress yourself, you can find photos on Facebook of, say, arch media critic Alex Pareene at industry parties where people like Jacob Weisberg are mere feet away. Sunkara and all of them will have to decide if they want left-wing practice or if they want to participate in all of that. I'm hopeful, though recent evidence is not encouraging.
Worth saying, too, is that many people within the new Cool Kids (Cool Kids: The Next Generation, Cool Kids: The New Class) most certainly don't believe in the free speech protections that prevent us from prosecuting the ugly CreepShots set. Aaron Bady, who not so long ago got a lot of shine for his work on Occupying the streets and that jazzy jazz, is well-known for not being so hot on the whole free speech deal, and say so in regards to ViolentAcrez explicitly. Well, he's right about legal culture, but wrong on the merits. I happen to be a free speech extremist. Bady trots out the old "shouting fire in a crowded theater" workhorse; personally, I would legalize even that. More to the point, for a guy who spends a lot of time talking about his connections to the activists in the streets, he sure is naive about the consequences of his own ideas in the streets. Does Bady imagine that new restrictions on free speech are actually going to result in a blow against rape culture, rather than, say, further erosions of the right for protesters to take the streets? Does he imagine that this is the world he lives in? I'll tell you: I find it far more likely that Bady's antipathy towards free speech will support more clubs in the face of nonviolent protesters before it supports the end of misogyny and rape culture. Bady insists that my support for the execrable but legal nature of CreepShots is support for the practice itself. I will spare him the insult of suggesting the same, that his skepticism towards free speech is tacit support for more protesters with boots on their neck.
Ultimately, I doubt anyone thinks that the world is a markedly safer or less misogynistic place for the downfall of ViolentAcrez. Perhaps some people will witness the outing and change their behavior in fear. I'm willing to bet that in fact it will simply provoke more from those who were already likely to engage in it; this kind of behavior, after all, thrives off of the perceived oppression of those who undertake it. And those who are so inclined will likely just be more careful and more circumspect. I'm sad to say that this is the kind of issue where you aren't likely to beat the Internet. This kind of behavior, ultimately, is the purest expression of web culture. Change won't come from a few high profile outings but from a general change in the tenor of a culture that continues to view women as repositories of sexual pleasure. But perhaps that ultimately is the reason for all the celebration of this. It is the ultimate in the kind of empty social progressivism practiced at Gawker Media: it does nothing to materially improve the human condition but rather establishes the relative social value of the people expressing anger. It is a conduit not for change but for actor sorting.
ViolentAcrez is a deplorable guy. But he is honest in his ugly behavior. Nick Denton, in contrast, is a deeply unprincipled person who has meticulously crafted a veneer of respectability and outlaw journalism. (I find this hilarious and depressing.) I am, frankly, terrified of Reddit and the whole dark side of Internet practice that exists on forums and message boards. But it is a culture of open depravity. Gawker, and the larger scene of elite New York media it exemplifies, are something more devious, something more dangerous.
Update: Sunkara complains... and then gets an attaboy from Matt Yglesias! Big Media Matt Yglesias himself! It writes itself! It fucking writes itself! So, so classic. We'll see if Sunkara thinks that one over. (I doubt it.)
Update II: On the Gawker hypocrisy front-- here's a post about Miley Cyrus's "sexualized new video;" here's a post titled "Ten Days After Turning 18, Miley Cyrus Has a Naked Picture Scandal;" here's a post containing pictures from her notorious Vanity Fair pictorial; here's a post titled "Disney Princess Demi Lovato Shares Her Bikini Pics with the World;" "Demi Lovato Boob Pictures Complete Disney's Worst Week Ever;" and I could go on with the links to sites hosting titillating pictures of teenagers, to say nothing of the dozens or hundreds of pictures of naked celebrities hosted or linked to, such as the pictures of Kate Middleton, taken when she was very much in private and totally without her consent.