Exposed Reddit Troll Fired

As he himself predicted, Michael Brutsch, the 49-year-old financial services professional who spent hours each day posting vile content to Reddit, was fired mere hours after being exposed on Reddit.

As he himself predicted, Michael Brutsch, the 49-year-old financial services professional who spent hours each day posting vile content to Reddit, was fired mere hours after being exposed by Gawker.

The former moderator—known in real life as Michael Brutsch, of Arlington, Texas—said on Saturday that he was fired from from his position at a financial services company, leaving him and his disabled wife with little savings and no health insurance.

The firing came less than 24 hours after Chen ran his highly-anticipated story featuring a lengthy interview with Brutsch. In it, Brutsch admitted to being violentacrez, a purveyor of pornographic and violent images across subreddits like r/picsofdeadkids, r/nazi, and at one time, r/jailbait, a subreddit which featured sexually charged but non-nude images of underage girls. Brutsch was cordial with Reddit administrators and other influential moderators who looked to him for sage advice on dealing with NSFW (not safe for work) content.

[…]

“I’m eligible [for insurance], but COBRA is very expensive. Who can afford to pay 5 times as much for insurance at the very moment they lose their income? Only rich folks can afford COBRA. I have maybe 3 weeks pay in the bank,” Brutsch wrote on Reddit, using the accountmbrutsch.

“I just hope I can hold out a month. My wife hasn’t been able to work for over a year, and our savings will last about 3 weeks, not considering the current lack of health insurance.”

As I noted yesterday morning, it’s hard to feel sorry for this low-life given the  trauma he’s caused countless others. Yet, at the same time, it’s a little hard not to.

FILED UNDER: Quick Takes, Science & Technology
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    I got the full briefing on this whole thing from my son who is a Redditor. It’s quite a soap opera involving not just this guy but a sub-reddit called “Shit Reddit Says” and someone called PIMA (Potato In My Anus) and a long-running feud with Gawker. It’s like Renaissance Florence but with fewer pointy shoes and much worse art.

  2. legion says:

    As I noted yesterday morning, it’s hard to feel sorry for this low-life given the trauma he’s caused countless others. Yet, at the same time, it’s a little hard not to.

    I’d approach it more like this, James:
    It’s hard not to feel sorry for this low-life’s wife, who has to depend on his sorry ass for care & support. But Brutsch himself? Screw him. Heck, if nothing else – even if he wasn’t posting vile, possibly illegal content – considering the sheer volume of crap he was posting, it seems highly likely he was doing a lot of this on company time.

  3. James Joyner says:

    @legion: Oh, not much doubt that the company was in its rights to fire this scumbag. But he’s now essentially un-hireable and, well, needs to feed himself and pay the bills. I suspect he’ll soon become a ward of the state. And, naturally, have even more time on his hands for posting vile crap on Reddit.

  4. Ron Beasley says:

    If he was doing some or all of the posting while it work the firing was appropriate no matter what he was posting.

  5. Ebenezer_Arvigenius says:

    a purveyor of pornographic and violent images across subreddits like r/picsofdeadkids, r/nazi, and at one time, r/jailbait

    You mean he scarred the innocent souls visiting r/picsofdeadkids for life? Am I missing something here?

  6. James Joyner says:

    @Ebenezer_Arvigenius: Um,. you realize those pictures are of actual kids, right? Kids with grieving parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, friends, and such? And that the jailbait pictures are of actual living kids?

  7. bk says:

    @James Joyner: I believe that what Ebenezer was trying to say was that those “innocent souls” didn’t exactly stumble upon those websites by mistake.

  8. ernieyeball says:

    …but COBRA is very expensive. Who can afford to pay 5 times as much for insurance at the very moment they lose their income?

    Yes…it is very expensive. It always has been.
    I remember as far back as the 80’s not being able to afford the premiums as my income was limited to Unemployment Insurance Benefits after lay off.
    When I lost a very good job with very good benefits in the fall of 2009 I just figured I was screwed as far as health insurance was concerned.
    Not long after the job ended I recieved a mailing informing me that per the recently passed American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 I was eligible for a discount of 65% off the COBRA monthly premium. This discount lasted for well over a year (14-15 mo.?) The discount reduced payments from a totally unaffordable $600+/mo (for me alone) to a very manageble amount under $200/mo.
    Another benefit of the ARRA Stimulus act was an extra $25/wk added to my UE Benefit.
    I suspect some of you will get your knickers in a twist about how I was leaching off the taxpayers. Well I have been a taxpayer for the better part of 45 years and it was nice to get a return on those payments when I needed it.
    Thank You President Obama!

  9. Mikey says:

    The question is really “does even a guy as slimy as this deserve to have his life ruined for posting this stuff?”

    It’s not just that he got fired–people get fired all the time and (although it’s more difficult today) usually end up finding work.

    It’s that he is, as James says, essentially unemployable now. Because pretty much wherever he applies, they’re going to Google his name, and the top hit will be Chen’s Gawker piece. Application, meet trash can.

    And so Brutsch and his wife are hosed, while the thousands of Redditors who frequented /r/jailbait and /r/creepshots just go somewhere else to find what they’re looking for. And the trolls at /r/ShitRedditSays do a mutual back-slap routine because they’re happy Brutsch has to live in a cardboard box.

  10. legion says:

    @Ebenezer_Arvigenius: It’s not the souls of the admittedly not-so-innocent folk surfing through Reddit – it’s his potentially illegal * use of those images.

    * – The legal issues here are pretty convoluted & probably span numerous jurisdictions.

  11. EddieInCA says:

    I like to think that I’m a good person, so I do feel a touch of sympathy for Mr. Brutsch. However, if I were assigning a number to it, it would only be in the 5% range.

    The other 95% says, “WTF did you expect, Dude?”

    Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it should be done. He CHOSE to involve himself in things that normal society considers sick and depraved. And now he’s paying the price.

    I have a semi-public job, and choose to post anonymously. However, I also know that anything I write or post – via email, IM, blog post, or Twitter – can be exposed to the world. So I watch what I write – often self-censoring so that I don’t ever cross that line that could affect me in my private life.

    Mr. Brutsch has/had an obligation to not get fired due to his wife’s disability. His lack of discretion will cost him (and his wife) dearly.

  12. ernieyeball says:

    So much for Gravatar’s you can’t read. It says “Khe Sanh Bridge”.
    I was going to give free advice to anyone who could guess where it is.

  13. Tillman says:

    Free speech has consequences. Brutsch’s problem was thinking those consequences wouldn’t ever hit.

    I have sympathy for anyone who finds themselves in the situation he and his family are in now, but my sympathy is always a little less whenever I learn it’s mostly poor choices that led to destitution. Plenty of people lose work because of variables beyond their control; he is not one of those.

  14. michael reynolds says:

    The guy’s a dick and at least according to him, his wife was fully aware-of and onboard with, his dickishness. So I have some pity but I wouldn’t say I’m brimming over with it.

  15. Michael,

    The attitude of his defenders on Reddit seems to come down to the “what he was doing wasn’t illegal” argument. Technically, this is probably correct. However, it occurs to me that someone who sets up an Internet forum that encourages people to post pictures of teenagers for people to perv over, while not necessarily a criminal, is certainly not someone whose fate I really care much about.

  16. Steve H says:

    So the scumbag Adrian Chen, who himself is a desperate troll with nothing valuable to offer the world, managed to condemn someone to a life of not being able to find a job. When you tell someone they will never be allowed to support themselves again, it shouldn’t be because he did something LEGAL that you DIDN’T LIKE. It should be done by a jury, and as a consequence of an ILLEGAL act.

    If it’s ok to do what Chen did, then it should be fine for everyone to expose Chen’s address, personal information, get him fired, and permanently banned from working. That’s how justice works online right? Screw laws or the constutition, lets just turn into a mob and abuse anyone who says something we don’t like. It’s the tyranny of the majority great? Lets beat up the unpopular kids and ruin their lives! Neat. I’m glad we have a loser and troll like Adrian Chen to lead us into this world of abuse and adult high school!

  17. michael reynolds says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    People often are confused on this. The set of all things which are illegal is not identical to the set of all things that are contemptible. We have things we have to outlaw, and then we have a somewhat different set of things we rightly condemn.

    It’s not against the law to tell a little kid she’s fat or that her mother doesn’t love her, for example, but if you do that you’re a creep and people might not want you stinking up their workplace. I don’t know why this is so hard for some folks to grasp: 1) Don’t break the law, and 2) Don’t be a creep.

    Oh, and 3) Don’t keep me waiting while you take ten minutes deciding what kind of coffee to order. That’s possibly of a different order, but still, know what you want before you get to the cashier.

  18. @michael reynolds:

    Depending on the type of morning I’m having, I might consider violation of No. 3 a Capital Offense.

    Otherwise, I totally agree

  19. @Steve H:

    Adrian Chen isn’t the one who created a sub-Reddit called “Jailbait.”

  20. michael reynolds says:

    @Steve H:

    Screw laws or the constutition, lets just turn into a mob and abuse anyone who says something we don’t like. It’s the tyranny of the majority great? Lets beat up the unpopular kids and ruin their lives!

    Mr. Brutsch was presumably fired for being the kind of creep who puts pictures of dead children online. If you’re a creep then people are going to treat you like you’re a creep. Your compassion is evidently reserved for this guy who had no compassion for parents and siblings who could stumble upon pictures of their dead children accompanied by crude comments.

    To ignore the fact that there is such a thing as unacceptable but legal behavior is to argue that we need still more laws. On the contrary, what we need is what we saw here: a non-judicial response to contemptible behavior.

    I’m a big fan of Reddit, but quite obviously they are going through some complicated times as they come to grips with the issues involved in their community model. That’s okay because, as I am arguing in another thread, we can’t require people to get everything right, every time, first time. The Reddit community has to walk through this and come to a solution. I can guarantee you that a solution that involves posting pictures of 14 year old girls in their underwear, or dead children, is not going to work long-term.

    I am as tolerant as any other first-amendment-lover, post all the fringe politics and porn you want, but don’t drag children into it. That’s the line.

  21. Steve H says:

    @michael reynolds: “Be a creep” is totally subjective. Yea, most of us may agree that Brutsch was a creep, but that definition is based off what we determine is normal changes over time. Using something non-judicial and subjective as justification for destroying someones life PERMANENTLY opens the door for justifying every kind of ABUSE AND EVIL. That’s why we have laws remember? So people can’t do exactly what the scumbag, low-life, loser, Chen did on some kind of whim.

    I get that these days, most people are too stupid to understand the importance of objective standards, and the protection of rights even in situations where allowing them is unpopular; because they don’t have the education in history or adult reasoning skills to put aside wild emotions to protect rights and standards for everyone, even the “unpopular kids”.

  22. michael reynolds says:

    @Steve H:

    What Chen did is to reveal the true identity of violentacrez. Is there some part of the Constitution you believe protects internet anonymity?

    I know Redditors despise Chen, I realize there’s history there. But all he did was put “violentacrez” together with “Brutsch.” You may not like it, you may think that in itself is creepy, (and I tend to agree) but it’s absurd to pretend that it exceeds in creepiness what Brutsch was doing.

    I think the best case you can make is that one creep outed another. I don’t think anyone is casting Adrian Chen as a hero here.

    As for objective standards, no there cannot be hard and fast objective standards for all behavior, otherwise paradoxically perhaps, we can’t evolve. We need gray areas, areas that are beyond the purview of law, precisely so that we can feel our way forward as conditions change. Society tries out new ideas, new beliefs. Laws are chiseled in stone and enforced, inflexible. We don’t want to go to law for everything.

    Again, I’d offer the example of verbal abuse. It’s not illegal, but it is wrong. I’m sure you agree. In any event, Chen broke no law that I’m aware of, and neither did Reddit – a private company – when it shut down /r/jailbait.

    I’m actually fascinated to see how Reddit works through this. It’s really kind of cool sociology of a new type. It’s like real-time evolution.

  23. LCaution says:

    It’s also possible that he is lying.

  24. Brett says:

    Brutsch is frankly lucky that he’s not looking at criminal charges for creeping dangerously close to child pornography and promoting unauthorized voyeurism.

    @Steve H

    “Be a creep” is totally subjective. Yea, most of us may agree that Brutsch was a creep, but that definition is based off what we determine is normal changes over time.

    Really? Can you find a time period when sharing pictures of dead children and sexually charged photographs of underage girls was not considered creepy?

    Screw him. Free speech in no way goes with the right to avoid legal public condemnation and contempt, which is what this is. Perhaps if he had been more thoughtful about what he was doing, he wouldn’t be facing this situation – but then, if he had been more thoughtful and considerate, he wouldn’t have been an asshole troll.

    @LCaution

    It’s also possible that he is lying.

    Brutsch isn’t rushing to deny the accusation that he’s Violentacrez, so Chen must have had something good on him to prove it.

  25. David M says:

    @Steve H:

    Did Adrian Chen do anything illegal by revealing the identity of “violentacrez”? Did he hide behind an anonymous identity? Unless there is something I’m not aware of, Adrian Chen is also subject to the public consequences of his actions regarding Michael Brutsch. If people think what Chen did was wrong, they are just as free to not hire him as they are to not hire Brutsch.

    (Not saying the outing was right or wrong, just pointing out the “but it’s not illegal” argument protects Chen outing “violentacrez” as well.)

  26. mattb says:

    @Steve H:

    Using something non-judicial and subjective as justification for destroying someones life PERMANENTLY opens the door for justifying every kind of ABUSE AND EVIL.

    No offense, but where is the evidence that Brutsch’s life is PERMANENTLY destroyed.

    He may no longer be able to find employment in his current line of work. However given the number of well known creeps and criminals who continue to find work in our world (in particular in the entertainment. media, and online businesses) I suspect that he will have other gigs (and probably has had some people beat a path to his door).

    The fact is — like it or not — he was good at what he did on reddit and that has cache.