Naming and Shaming

Have you heard the name Amanda Todd?  Hers is a heartbreaking story of a young teenager who was relentlessly bullied by an anonymous online man, and then in person by her classmates because of a youthful indiscretion.  Specifically, she was encouraged to lift her shirt and flash someone on a cam-chatting site, and the man who encouraged her then shared a screenshot with others, including her classmates.  The man has been identified by Anonymous, they of the “we are legion” variety, and his personal information is now available for any person who has the desire for vigilante justice.   I admit, I felt a little thrill of joy when I saw the video on the Anonymous YouTube account, stating the name of Todd’s harasser, but I immediately felt guilty about it.

How about the name Violentacrez, also known as Michael Brutsch?  He’s been outed from his anonymous screen name as a chief moderator and expert troll on several unsavory subreddits.  He’s also been targeted, and he has subsequently lost his job, and his wife has become a target as well.

I have shared my opinion on “naming and shaming” publicly before, and I am going to do it again.  Right now.  I find it all incredibly distasteful.

Amanda Todd and her parents should have gone to the police with the information she had regarding her harasser.  He was ACTUALLY distributing child pornography, and blackmailing her in the process.  When her classmates were harassing her in person, she and her parents should have gone to the principal, or called the police.  The Gawker writer who outed Brutsch should also have turned over his information to the police, as he was also distributing child pornography.  Yet no one is talking about the things that could have been done to stop these people from hurting others.  There is no discussion of how the legal system is the proper venue for reporting harassment, or turning in evidence that someone is committing illegal acts.

Instead, there are Facebook pages about how the man who was accused of harassing Amanda Todd is going to die; two men are being held up as the worst that society has to offer, but that’s okay because now they’ve been caught and aren’t we glad that now we know their names?

Knowing their names does nothing but allow other assholes on the internet to use the same tactics of bullying and harassment, which sinks these would-be white knights down to the same level as those they purport to abhor.  It allows those who are innocent in these dealings, like Brutsch’s wife and children, to be caught in the crossfire as the internet burns and pillages real names in a virtual world.  It creates a mob mentality that makes scapegoats out of the unsavory in their thirst for blood, and we are better than that.

Use experiences to educate about the bad situations and behaviors you want to see changed, but don’t give the internet the names of those who are guilty of perpetuating the bad situations and behaviors.  Allowing a particular person to become a scapegoat for broader problems only allows the group who accepted or encouraged the behavior to disavow that person, and then claim that they have changed.  It is the best form of misdirection, and allows the group to continue, essentially unchanged.

Using the heartbreaking story of Amanda Todd as a tool to educate other young women about how to deal with coercion, blackmail, mental illness, harassment, and bullying would be a much better way to make sure that this happens less frequently.  Turning in Brutsch privately would have given the US justice system a much better chance at a fair jury trial, and would have prevented his family from being vilified along with him.

Don’t get caught up in the sensationalism of the story, learn and teach the lessons that the story has to offer.

Posted on October 23, 2012, in Feminism, Media and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Brilliantly articulated! I couldn’t agree more; the danger of online naming & shaming is these turn into ‘internet’ stories and not what they should be – criminal acts which need to be prosecuted offline, in the world we all share. While I’m confident there are positives to social media, there are also big downsides. The relative anonymity, even on sites like Facebook where people use their own name, strips some people of their moral compass… But I think there’s a bigger question about where that compass is in the first place and what is missing offline in terms of sense of belonging, connection to the world, empathy and so on. A key challenge as we stride further into the 21st Century!

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