Racialicious

Racialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations. If you've been on the blog, you know how this Tumblr works, too. Including the moderation policy.
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Instead of trying to mine information that simply wasn’t available to me, I decided to focus on the information that was. My primary line of inquiry thus shifted from “what do trolls feel about what they do” to the much simpler “what do trolls do.” And what trolls do is engage in behaviors that are gendered male, raced as white, and marked by privilege. This demographic might not be literal, but it is symbolic—and more importantly, it is verifiable. Also verifiable are the ways in which trolls’ behaviors gesture towards, and in some cases directly parrot, ostensibly “normal” mainstream attitudes and behaviors. For example, trolls’ rhetorical and behavioral tactics—particularly in response to mass-mediated tragedy—echo precisely the sensationalism, spectacle, and emotional exploitation routinely deployed by corporate media outlets. Furthermore, their grotesque pantomime of masculine domination and white privilege call direct attention to remaining strongholds of institutionalized sexism and racism. This I could see, this I could confirm, and so this is what I chose to focus on — from which emerged my theory of cultural digestion, which is comparable to the process by which a scientist might infer an animal’s diet based on its –shall we say– “output” (just let the metaphor sink in; you’re welcome). In the process of grappling with what I couldn’t know, in other words, I stumbled upon a thesis.

**TRIGGER WARNING: sexual violence against women and girls, racism, misogyny**

Everyone is buzzing about Adrian Chen’s article for Gawker unmasking the identity of Michael Brutsch, better known as Violentacrez, a superuser who contributed to and moderated several of the creepiest, racist, and misogynist forums on Reddit. With reason: it’s a well-written and impressive piece of investigative journalism, and does important work unmasking someone who’s done a huge amount of harm–and the broader user and company culture at Reddit that allowed him to get away with it for so long.

That said, I have some reservations about the piece and how it’s been received. While the behavior of Brutsch and other Redditors is particularly disgusting, it’s worth noting Chen writes for an outlet that’s far from innocent when it comes to racism and misogyny (for starters).

For example: In a piece Chen wrote last year about the”Jailbait” section of Reddit, Gawker included the very images of a 14-year-old girl (stolen from her hacked Photobucket account) that Chen rightly criticized Redditors as “pervs” for posting. Is disseminating these images, without any real journalistic rationale for them, somehow better or more justified when a media outlet does it?

This isn’t an exception with Gawker and other Gawker Media properties. This is the same outlet that gave Cord Jefferson the greenlight to write an article that sexualized the rape of a 7-year-old girl and was extremely insensitive and harmful to survivors of sexual violence. Earlier this year, Jezebel posted screenshots and detailed descriptions of a Libyan woman being raped. They refused take the images down in response to backlash, on the grounds that it would be impossible for them to report the story without those images…

The reporting on Brutsch’s actions and identity is welcome. But I can’t help but note that Gawker Media profits from the very culture Chen calls out of viewing girls and women’s bodies as public property to be exploited. Of course, Gawker is hardly alone in this respect.

So, I was really glad to see a fantastic article by Whitney Phillips, a scholar whose dissertation was on internet trolling culture, unpacking how Violentacrez’s behavior has implications beyond the harm he’s done individually. She points out that 1) troll culture is built on the assumptions of white male privilege, 2) individual trolls like Violentacrez are supported by a “host culture” whose values they reflect–in VA’s case, he was wholeheartedly embraced by fellow Redditors and tolerated by the highest levels of Reddit staff, and 3) there’s not that much difference between VA’s racist and misogynist trolling and the sensationalism of “corporate media culture.”

This is why I stay on Team T.F. Charlton, y’all: her latest, on the complicity of Reddit trolls and corporate media on the R today. Check it out!