Monday, October 15, 2012

I'll take honest depravity over depravity masked as righteousness

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.

47 comments:

Bhaskar said...

See my response on twitter.

Freddie said...

I praised you, back then, because I thought you were worthy of praise. I'm criticizing you now, and cautioning you now, because I think you're worthy of criticism and in need of caution. That doesn't change my previous regard, which remains.

See, here's the deal: unlike 99% of the people you interact with online, I am not expressing any opinions as a means to engage in a particular social relationship with you. I express myself to voice whatever particular opinion I have of a particular thing you write at a particular time, with no discretion or forethought about how you might take it. Thems the rules.

Freddie said...

I mean, one day, you're talking shit about the Era of Ezra Klein. The next, you're getting Twitter head from Matt Yglesias. Life is funny.

Brendan said...

Freddie, you misunderstood Bhaskar to be saying the opposite of what he was actually saying. Whatever criticism you were making does not actually apply to him at all.

ovaut said...

'being titillated, in various ways, by content that they simultaneously disclaim and enjoy.'

Instances of the same phenomenon in Britain: (1) people *bought the papers* in which hacked stories appeared; indeed their popularity is what encouraged the practice; even now, Millie Dowler sells; (2) the Daily Mail's 'sidebar of shame', a lunchbreak favourite throughout the land, which people enjoy lamenting the existence of almost as much as they enjoy vindicating it by giving it traffic.

Freddie said...

So I've been told, Brendan!

quixote said...

As was pointed out on the Aaron Bady link, the only way you can extrapolate from creepshots of unconsenting women to suppression of protest is if you erase women and their rights from the equation.

You're seriously advocating that women become public property for the crime of being outside while female?

I doubt it.

It's actually fairly easy to draw a distinction between protest and creepshots. We're merely lacking an essential privacy right, given modern technology, to prevent publication of images without the subject's consent. (Public figure exceptions apply, etc., etc. And, yes, I know the GOOG would have a conniption fit.) That right applies equally to everyone, and doesn't touch anyone's right to protest or to express themselves.

How would you think about it if the unwilling pictures were of political activists in a dictatorship or of a closeted gay man going into a gay bar? If the latter is an anti-gay politician, then there are free speech issues involved. But for a private citizen, there are only privacy issues.

Brendan said...

Dude--Bhaskar's tweet makes no sense except ironically. You and he are on the same side! You can't built a whole indictment of a particular leftist milieu on a simple misunderstanding.

Gawker is suspect but it is worth noting that Adrian Chen and Nick Denton are different people, and I don't think any of us would like to be held morally responsible for the actions of our employers.

Freddie said...

I think, first of all, that your public figure/private figure distinction is broadly illusory, likely completely unenforceable in anything like a fair or equitable way, and ultimately irrelevant in the age in which we live, with the technology that's available now.

I hate the death of personal privacy. But I don't see how any normative considerations of same can stand up to the facts of the matter when it comes to technology. And I'm afraid that the extension of greater privacy rights will in fact lead not to greater personal privacy but to greater governmental and corporate secrecy.

Freddie said...

Oh, I get that I was wrong on Bhaskar's intent, yeah. The rest of what I said still stands, I think. But maybe I'm full of it.

The Bagman said...

Do you really see no meaningful distinction between titillating photos of celebrities like Miley Cyrus and "creepshots"? Forget about what's enforceable, given that none of the activity you describe in the post is illegal. The celebrity vs. non-celebrity distinction strikes me as a huge difference.

Freddie said...

On the one hand, yes, I can see a difference. On the other hand... how many people click those links out of a prurient interest? And if they're clicking the links, are we sure that the difference matters at all?

Pliny_theElder said...

How "honest" is one's depravity when it requires total anonymity or else they lose their job? Was Violentacrez ever concerned with the lack of anonymity of the subjects of the pictures he collected and posted?

Freddie said...

Now that's a good point. Put it this way then: it's direct depravity. Is that better?

HGL81 said...

Don't let anyone tell you differently, you're completely right on the Gawker stuff. I mean, these were two consecutive sentences in Denton's leaked memo:

"Gawker scored with royal breasts and (this month) Hulk sex. Jezebel turned the tables on Reddit’s misogynists."

The whiplash. And yes, people who think that we can actually craft a policy that will effectively punish people who take creepy photos in public are crazy. I found Aaron Bady's post weirdly unsettling. Crafting laws based on what good or bad things say about "society" is bizarre.

Britain shouldn't be arresting people for racist tweets even if that shows a good societal sensibility about racism being bad, for instance. Neo-fascists shouldn't be arrested for hate speech even if that shows a good societal sensibility about fascism being bad. And so on and so on. I dunno, that was a very strange blog post.

Rob said...

Gawker certainly isn't in a position to be pointing fingers, agreed, given the tawdry nature of much of their articles - but then, this goes for a lot of the media, frankly. Here is some more redd- um, I mean Gawker righteousness dressed up as depravity disguised as righteousness (found on Twitter):
http://gawker.com/upskirts

To say that ViolentAcrez was "honest" in his depravity, however, is pushing it in my opinion - he was, after all, posting and moderating under an anonymous screen name (which is everyone's right, and which should be protected). The nature of the reddit message board dedicated to these subjects seems to be of a more predatory and perverted nature.

Also, I'm not sure we should put media figures and assorted stars in the same category as random individuals, who should probably have a greater expectation of privacy, being that they have no reason to believe they'll be under the cameras.

Also, one should ask why Brutsch was fired - it seems to me that it's not an inevitable outcome, and that his employer bears prime responsibility for that.

Freddie said...

Can't find much to disagree with there, Rob.

The Bagman said...

I don't think the "prurient interest" element matters at all. I care about the people depicted in the photos and not so much about the people who view the photos and what their motivations are.

My feeling is that, generally, Miley Cyrus and other celebrities are going to be OK, and they've come to expect unseemly stuff from the media. The random victims of creepshots could suffer some pretty serious trauma from this.

Freddie said...

Aaron Bady should probably just Tweet "I've been gotten to" at this point. Jeebus.

Rob said...

Another discussion on this from Zeynep Tufekci, who generally is very smart (if anyone wants to read):
http://technosociology.org/?p=1135

Aaron said...

Oh no, I'm loving this. A friend made a meme for me:
http://twitter.yfrog.com/oce8dtmj

Troll me any time.

Freddie said...

Really? Because you seem hurt. Deeply hurt. Dozens-of-Tweets hurt.

ohtarzie said...

This is the best thing I have read about Gawker vs Violentacrez. However, your well-grounded antipathy to Denton and Co blurs your perspective on the actual outing of Violentacrez, at least for me. Would you be on 100% good terms with outing as a measure to constrain people like Violentacrez if the outing were done in better faith and by a less hypocritical enterprise than Gawker? After all, as you say, the same free speech protection immunizing Violentacrez from legal action also immunizes Gawker. Curious where you are on that.

ohtarzie said...

By the way, I had a chat with Aaron Bady less than an hour ago on Twitter where he kept citing legal prohibitions on speech while insisting that he didn't think additional prohibitions on speech were in order for this kind of Reddit speech. He then insisted that taking someone's picture isn't speech at all so why does free speech even enter in to it.

In other words, in many ways he telegraphs support for additional legal prohibitions (presumably for the consumption of those who agree) while disavowing those implications to those who would press him on it.

I don't know him very well, but this is very much like his writing around the time of the NATO assault on Libya. After going on for several paragraphs about what a wonderful thing the removal of Quaddafi would be for all of Africa and how ethnically insensitive it would be to ignore Libyan pleas for assistance, he insisted that he really wasn't advocating intervention, though he wasn't explicitly opposing it either.

Looks unmistakably to me like a rather conventional mind with conventional politics attempting to stake out his niche among the revolutionaries while we all wait and see how the world turns. If it doesn't turn very far, my money is on Bady as the Occupy 'personality' most likely to be George Packer or Michael Berube in 10 years, his grudging regard for the edifying effects of state intervention salaried into a frothy conviction.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Sunkara, a guy Freddie disapproves of responded to you on Twitter. THINK ABOUT IT.

ohtarzie said...

Furthermore, in light of Aaron Bady's self-protective doublespeak, I see Bhaskar Sunkara's original statement in different light than I did when I took his disclaimer at face value. Putting ambiguous statements out there and waiting to see how they get picked up seems like a fine strategy for navigating the bottom tier of left media at a moment where there is virtual consensus on what a fine thing Adrian Chen had done.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the criticism of Gawker is entirely off base, but you're conflating VA's right to anonymity with his right to free speech.

I find it puzzling that anyone expects VA's anonymity to be preserved and protected by others. I'm all for anonymity, but it's not a civic duty to respect it.

In other words, VA's anonymity wasn't violated because Adrien Chen had no obligation to maintain it. Sure, point out Gawker's hypocrisy. But generally I see no cause for concern here.

Sophia said...

I totally see your point about Gawker's hypocrisy. But what I don't understand in all this is why free speech is taken to be an absolute good when it comes to publishing *photos* of people without their consent, but not when it comes to publishing someone's *name* without their consent. The photo seems to me to be far more intrusive.

I mean, OK, so I now know VA's name. But I wouldn't know him from Adam if I bumped into him in the street. Whereas the women unwillingly featured in creepshots, now (and for the rest of their lives, probably) have to wonder, every time they walk into a room, how many guys there have wanked over a photo of them. Any time they are anywhere - waiting for a bus, shopping for groceries, picking their kids up from school - if they see anyone looking at them, they'll wonder if that person has recognised them from seeing their photo on the internet. And in the most unsettling and creepy way possible.

To me that seems like a far greater loss of anonymity.

I do think free speech is important. But lots of things are important and sometimes we have to balance things against each other - and how we balance them depends on the details. e.g. If we borrow someone else's property we should return it. But if you borrow your neighbour's gun, and then he comes round your house saying he wants it back because he's mad with his brother and wants to shoot him, then giving your neighbour the gun back, right then, is probably not the right thing to do.

I don't buy that free speech is some sort of absolute good that trumps every other consideration. I can't think of anything that is really.

Anonymous said...

Berube! ohtarzie really nailed it there.

Anonymous said...

Excellent piece making many points I've been dying to see someone with the participants' attention make. There is a class issue at the heart of this, a double-standard on who can be sleazy, who can be sexual, who can be outrageous.

Two points I don't see addressed:

1. Is it not absurd to call a man a "pedophile" for admitting to attraction to teenagers? Britney Spears peaked--a decade ago?

2. Fleshbot. Fleshbot, Fleshbot, Fleshbot.

Freddie said...

Am I crazy, or did I not say explicitly that I condemn the CreepShots business?

Also: Gawker has an upskirts section! gawker.com/upskirts

Glass houses.

Bill Hicks said...

Hypocrisy aside, free speech has consequences. All the whining in the world doesn't change that reality.

In short:

1. People have the right to engage in deplorable free speech (racism, misogyny, etc ...).

2. Other people have the right to take legal action against such people, including making their names and faces known if they are hiding.

It's interesting to note that VA sounded very scared when Chen told him he was being outed. Why? If he had no regrets (which apparently he didn't), why doesn't he have the guts to stand up for his views? Could it be he's a coward? Yeah. Could be.

If I see a KKK rally, I'm pulling off the hoods. Make these people own their statements. The time for anonymous cowards posting hate is over. The anonymous internet must end, and this is a good start.

Cole Porter said...

I cannot get over the "fire in a crowded theater" example. This is a hypothetical from the majority opinion of a WWI era supreme court case upholding the ten-year sentence of an anti-war activist. His crime was distributing pamphlets encouraging draft resistance.

Jargon said...

@Sophia

"Whereas the women unwillingly featured in creepshots, now (and for the rest of their lives, probably) have to wonder, every time they walk into a room, how many guys there have wanked over a photo of them."

I don't want to trivialize that feeling (and it's something I certainly haven't worried about myself), but isn't that a concern with or without Creepshots? First, if you post pictures at all on facebook, even if they're only viewable by friends, there's no guarantee that some of your friends aren't masturbating to those pictures. And even if you don't put any pictures up, there's always the chance someone is masturbating thinking about you, whether it be someone you know or a stranger who sees you walking down the street, without using pictures.

My point is, there's a chance that any person, and particularly attractive women, are the object of some sexual fantasies somewhere and there's a chance it will be a creepy situation. No law will prevent that and, unless you hope for a future where the thought police can punish you for who you think about while masturbating, no law should.

I understand that having lewd pictures posted of you online in a forum specifically designed for this makes that reality seem much more concrete and disturbing, but it's real force is as a reminder of the sordid truth of human (and particularly male) sexuality, more than a change in the likelihood that somewhere someone is thinking about you sexually against your wishes.

So I don't think you want to get into the difficult question of how to make that one act illegal. Even if the laws would actually deter the activity, which I doubt, it wouldn't really solve the underlying problem.

I wouldn't be surprised at all if people who had their pictures posted in that forum disagreed with me strongly though.

Brendan said...

It's unsettling how many people here are having trouble distinguishing between sexual content in general with pictures taken and distributed without subjects' consent. I'm not saying the latter should be illegal, but it should certainly be socially shamed, which requires revealing the identities of people who do it anonymously.

I don't see what Gawker's hypocrisy even has to do with any of this.

Nate W. said...

"I think, first of all, that your public figure/private figure distinction is broadly illusory, likely completely unenforceable in anything like a fair or equitable way, and ultimately irrelevant in the age in which we live, with the technology that's available now."

Funny, as that's one of the foundations of defamation and privacy law in the US. I'm sure that the courts would be very interested to hear your thoughts on the subject...

Anonymous said...

I have been blogging on this from another angle here: bit.ly/Qo92Sf

I think people like violentacrez should be stopped, but I am very, very leery of vigilante groups starting up on the internet, I give some reasons in my blog post but this is a tough issue to take on from any angle.

artesanato said...

Parabens pela estrutura e conteudo de seu blog, Forte abraço Renato Artesanato em MDF

Jon said...

More on the "fire in a crowded theater" argument... was not legal decision making... it was a dictum. And the case, was decided upon grounds of 'clear and present danger'. And, the actual law about speech is as stark, and as universally beneficial and dangerous, as we think it should be... people seem to lose their physical freedom through invocations of ancillary law.

Jon said...

Sorry... I meant to add this link to The Atlantic art. about "shouting fire"

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/11/its-time-to-stop-using-the-fire-in-a-crowded-theater-quote/264449/

Anonymous said...

BtdKem [url=http://chaneljponline.org/]シャネル iphoneケース[/url] OfwRuf http://chaneljponline.org/ GlwDwn [url=http://www.coachjpsales.net/]コーチ 財布[/url] HmpGby http://www.coachjpsales.net/ JjqFsg [url=http://pradasjapan.net/]プラダ 財布[/url] FyiYjd http://pradasjapan.net/ CuoIct [url=http://coachonsales.org/]コーチ バッグ[/url] ApkZvj http://coachonsales.org/

Textildruck in Elmshorn said...

Thanks for sharing this site, nice...said boxenschilder
Textildruck Elmshorn Shirts
Handy Flatrate
T-Shirt druck günstig

Anonymous said...

Wow, this post is pleasant, my younger sister is analyzing these things, therefore I
am going to convey her.
Also visit my page difficult

Mobil King said...

Thanks for sharing this useful Gratis Sim-Karte article. A great blog with inspiring DSL Angebote informations in a clear design, well done and greetings

Restposten said...

By giving these type of examples we can easily understand what the writter is saying in this article. Grosshandel Adressen Hi, visited your site before, but I can not say I've come across while surfing the internet, and now we get to see the information I needed.I liked visiting the Web site, so I can find a lot of unexpected things. I like you write something, I hope next time you can also see more information.Good article thanks for sharing.This is a really nice blog. This article is really useful and have been looking for some information on this topic. Great job and waiting for your next update. Grosshandel Sonderposten

Unknown said...

Breast aesthetics, there is a lot I do not know about. There are those from Turkey you recommend Dr. Ali mezdeği. Do you have that information?
Meme estetiği

Textildruckelmshorn Steinmüller said...

I called a great post, very nice and cool.I love the Ingredients till its making said led taschenlampen