Thursday, December 20, 2012

Was a Gawker writer fired for posting child porn?

On Friday, October 12th, Gawker published a story which revealed the identity of an internet troll known as Violentacrez.

Violentacrez, whose real name is Michael Brutsch, was a moderator on the website Reddit.  He was associated with several NSFW forums, two of which--Jailbait and Creepshots--seemingly catered to would-be pedophiles and would-be sexual predators.

A lot of fellow moderators felt this article broke community rules that were meant to protect Redditors' online anonymity.  (For a detailed summary of the drama between Gawker and Reddit, I recommend this Quora answer.)  News sites quickly cast the battle as one between anonymous internet creeps and the people who wished to expose them.  Many sites used headlines to mark a clear stance, such as when The Atlantic Wire baldly declared, "Redditors Stand Up to Gawker to Protect Child Pornography."

Something else occurred during that week, however, which received very little notice.  On October 11th, Louis Peitzman, an evenings and weekend editor who had worked for Gawker since January, wrote on his Twitter:  "I'm out at Gawker, effective immediately.  Thank you to those of you who have read and supported my work there.  It's been stressful but fun."  No reason was given and no official announcement was made on the website.  Usually when a writer leaves amicably there will be a farewell post.  I began looking for a possible reason why Louis had left, and soon found one.

One day earlier, on October 10th, Louis had written this post about an unverified photo that allegedly showed Justin Bieber posing nude in a full-frontal position.  As of this writing, the post has received over 216,000 pageviews.  Louis spent the post comparing the body in the picture with what was publicly known about the 18-year-old Bieber.  In the comments section, several readers expressed concern over the material:

GregSamsa:
"I hope Gawker confirmed that whomever posed for this pic is not underage."

Cherith Cutestory:
"Is posting a naked photo of someone who seems to be quite young without confirming age really such a good idea?  And if it is Justin and it is even just a year old that is child porn."

heatherisonfire:
"The shaven pubes add more to the pre-pubescent body "child porn"y aspect of this.  I know he's 18 but other than his junk, it doesn't seem like the kid has hit puberty fully yet."

coochifritos:
"I feel like a pedophile just for clicking on this article."

Jane, you ignorant slut. (Adah):
"He's 18 now, right?  I'm not going to jail for even clicking on this article?"

Sol_Invictus:
"Not concerned that it might be him and that it might have been taken before he was 18?"

Kimber Bakke:
"Ahhh yes, this purported photo brings the hebophile out in the best of us!"

meshugganner:
"CP on Gawker?  Wait until reddit finds out about this."

Later, Louis had to issue an update:
As many commenters have pointed out, the bellybuttons do not match, so we can say conclusively that the naked guy is not Justin Bieber.  Because some people were concerned about the age of the person in the nude photo, it has been removed.  
The next day Louis was gone from Gawker.  Was the Justin Bieber post the reason, or am I just being susceptible to the old 'post hoc' fallacy?

Normally I wouldn't think that posting an X-rated image could get somebody fired from Gawker; they've produced much worse content in the past.  [See the links below.]  But I keep thinking about the timing of that week.  The Violentacrez expos√© which was posted on Friday afternoon didn't just appear out of the blue.  In fact, there had been plenty of hype and anticipation about the article building for days prior to its publication, thanks mostly to the preemptive boycott of Gawker links made by several Reddit moderators.  In other words, the people in charge at Gawker and Reddit knew that a shitstorm was brewing.  Gawker was getting ready to present themselves as the heroes in the battle against internet pedophiles.  Maybe the higher-ups feared what could happen if one of their writers faced scrutiny for posting anonymous teenage porn.  (Of course, I don't know that last part for certain.)

On Monday, October 15th, I sent Louis this e-mail:
Hi Louis,
I'm writing a post on Reddit in which I enumerate [some of] Gawker's past transgressions.  (e.g, The iPhone incident.)
As part of that, I'll mention Gawker has been a little lax about putting child pornography on their own site, such as when they posted a photo of 17-year-old rapper Chief Keef receiving a blowjob, and when you recently linked to the photo of, and spent a post describing the naked body of a Bieber-lookalike.   
Based on your sudden departure, and you referencing a "storm cloud" on Twitter, I hope you don't find it ridiculous speculation that you may have been let go for accidentally linking to child pornography on Gawker.  
If you say that that wasn't the case, then I'll leave your name out of it.  And if you feel you can't comment, I can still leave your name out of it.    
Furthermore, if you want to offer your take on the Justin Bieber post, you may.  (It is not the type of controversy which I followed past the post itself.)  
I appreciate any clarification

He replied:
Hi there,  
All I'm going to say is that my Twitter (including the "storm cloud" tweet) is a combination of jokes and navel-gazing. That particular tweet was about being moody, and the fact that it started pouring while I was on a walk. But I have not tweeted anything about my departure from Gawker aside from the post announcing that I would no longer be writing there.  
No comment on anything else. I'd prefer to be left out of it entirely, but whatever you choose to include is your prerogative.  
Louis

At no point either in our exchange or on his Twitter feed did Louis expressly state that he was fired from Gawker.  Possibly he may have quit due to some behind-the-scenes argument.  But, at the same time, he didn't dispute my guess that he was fired, or that the reason had to do with his Justin Bieber post.

There was one tweet which Louis sent to Max Read on the afternoon of the 11th, and which he later deleted.  It simply said, "Am I fired?"  Louis sent it a minute after Max had made a joke about layoffs in the wake of the Reddit boycott.  So on the surface it doesn't seem very significant.  Louis's only other Gawker-related remarks since then have been a joke(?) about having Gawker PTSD, and a farewell message to MauryCompson, a frequent commenter.

Louis seems like a stand-up guy, and I don't want what's posted here to be interpreted as a slight against him.  Even if he was careless about disseminating porn, I wouldn't pin the blame for that on him.  Rather, I would blame the bosses who encourages their staff to post more and more salacious material under the trappings of news:  In this case, Nick Denton and Gawker's current editor-in-chief, A.J. Daulerio.

There's an old saying which explains the distinction between an opera and a musical.  Simply put, an opera is any show that gets presented inside of an opera house.  Gawker is considered a news site, and so they can print whatever gossip or smut they want and claim that it's news.  After all, if it weren't news, then how did it get presented on a news site?

This is a site that makes its name by publishing nude photos of British royalty, sex footage of celebrities, sex footage of strangers, dick photos of adults and dick photos of minors. Gawker doesn't want to clean up the internet or make it a better place.  They want to pull the strings.  And as long as they're considered journalists, they can get away with publishing smut because they can justify it as being "newsworthy" or "of interest to the public."  When your ethical standards are based on hazy and undefined terms, you can do whatever you want.
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Postscript:

A general rule of the internet is that any time a scandalous headline is posed as a question, the answer will be "No."  This situation is no different.  A day after Louis Peitzman and Gawker parted ways, a one-off commenter named ausdemschoenenlaendle gave the URL for a man's profile page on XTube. And that man is the source for the supposed Bieber picture.  The original photo was uploaded on April 27th, 2010.  The man's profile lists his age at 21, meaning (if he's telling the truth) that the photo was definitely showing an adult.

Of the 100,000+ unique visitors who have clicked on the Bieber post, perhaps just a tiny, tiny fraction know where the mysterious photo actually came from.  To date, ausdemschoenenlaendle's comment has zero replies, and it's not among the first wave of comments that would be visible to readers.

4 comments:

  1. I read to the end. wanted that noted.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I did not make it that far. Are you some kind of masochist?

      Delete
  2. Replies
    1. Thanks for that, Never knew about even the Chief Keef incident.

      Delete