For my money, the most interesting story this week wasn’t Obama’s unsurprising comeback in the second debate—I’ve always said he plays a street-savvy long game, to laudable effect—but the outing by Gawker of the internet’s most notorious troll, Michael Brutsch, a.k.a. Violentacrez on Reddit. This brought into the spotlight an issue I have long had with trolling, or making any sort of controversial attack or negative comment online: If you wouldn’t have the balls to say it to my face (or anyone else you are vilifying or degrading) as who you are in real life, you shouldn’t do it online.
Anonymous slander, stalking, offense, intimidation, humiliation et al. is cowardice, pure and simple. When it becomes harassment and bullying of weaker people, it is downright dangerous—we’ve all heard stories of suicides resulting from the lethal psychological effects of the egregious behavior of what Anderson Cooper calls “little people,” which is the term he used in reference to Brutsch for a special segment on the Reddit scandal. Anderson is someone I have made fun of myself a few times in these pages, but (almost) always as myself, the notable exception being when I posed as Tom Cruise to offer Anderson advice in The Tom Cruise Guide to Gay Sex in Your 50s. When I am spoofing a celebrity, which I’ve done twice as Cruise and Lady Gaga, it’s pretty clear to readers that it’s me, and if it isn’t then I will cheerfully own up to it.