Consequences

The history of writers using pseudonyms is long and filled with the famous and infamous.   Scribes regardless of the tools they employ whether print, broadcast or internet have found safety and comfort in expressing their views anonymously.

Samuel Clemens, more familiar to us as Mark Twain, used a pen name that honored his culture. “To ‘mark twain’ is to sound the depths and deem them safe for passage, the term adopted by Clemens as his pen name in 1863.”

Women writers such as the Bronte sisters and Louisa May Alcott adopted male pen names in an effort to get published. As recently as the 1990s, Joanne Rowley, aka J.K. Rowling, was told her Harry Potter books would sell better if she were thought to be a man.

One of our founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, at the young age of 16, found it necessary to conceal his identity as he expressed his views about colonial America. He used the pen name of Silence Dogood. When Franklin’s real name was revealed, he was force to flee to Philadelphia. According to one biography, “Franklin used this convention extensively throughout his life, sometimes to express an idea that might have been considered slanderous or even illegal by the authorities.”

Here in the 21st century, the internet is teeming with authors seeking to conceal their identities as they present their views. One of the more infamous is Michael Brutsch, aka violentacrez. This influential Reddit contributor is well known for his provocative scandalous postings and has been quoted as saying: “I just like riling people up in my spare time.”

And that he did. His quasi-pornographic subreddit called Jailbait featured under-dressed, under-aged girls and was one of his most popular forums. According to Gawker.com others included chokeabitch, niggerjailbait, and rapebait.  These offensive bulletin boards earned Brutsch the moniker of most important Redditor of the year.

When a fellow internet scribe, Adrian Chen, uncovered Brutsch’s identity, the voyeur in teenage pornography pleaded with the author to maintain his anonymity, saying he would lose his job. His supporters claim he was simply exercising freedom of speech.

Others have used this argument to their benefit. United States Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote that freedom of speech does not protect “free thought for those who agree with us, but freedom for the thought that we hate.”

Brutsch pushed the envelope, citing freedom of speech as his justification as he spewed his deliberately offensive material.

Freedom of speech protects the writer from government interference. There are no bans or prohibitions on speech from the government. This does not extend to society. If one chooses to exercise their right of free speech, it does not protect that person from the consequences of their speech. If a majority or even minorities of other members of society object, the person must take the consequences of their actions. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom of consequences.

Michael Brutsch discovered the consequences of posting his vitriolic diatribes against prevailing cultural norms. His subreddits have been taken down. He lost his job. Unfortunately, the vast underbelly of the internet, where human discourse is at its lowest levels and the vulgarities and vagaries of the human soul are exposed, poked and prodded in ways that were not possible before, is here to stay.

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