Internet's biggest troll says sorry... 'to some degree'

Blogger behind 'jailbait' forum claims Reddit staff 'encouraged' him

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The Independent US

A man recently dubbed the "biggest troll" in the history of the internet has offered a cautious apology, saying he is "to some degree" sorry for his online behaviour, but blaming it on an addiction that was cruelly exploited by his favourite social networking website.

Michael Brutsch, a 49-year-old computer programmer from Arlington in Texas, says he spent years posting controversial and often questionably-legal photographs, as well as writing offensive messages, because he "wanted to unwind" after a long day at work.

The admission came almost a week after Mr Brutsch was exposed as the man behind "Violentacrez," a prolific user of the website Reddit who created about 600 notorious but popular photo-sharing forums with names like "rapebait," "misogyny," and "chokeabitch."

Among his most controversial creations were the Reddit pages "jailbait" and "creepshots," on which users would share suggestive images of teenage girls. Many of the photos appeared to have been taken without consent, and the exact age of their subjects remains unclear.

"With the rape and incest Reddits, I have come around over the last few months to understand that some of these things can be harmful to some people" said Mr Brutsch, a married father-of-two. "All I can say is that... I'm sorry. I have made mistakes. I am to some degree apologising for what I did."

Mr Brutsch was speaking to CNN almost a week after his real identity was unmasked by the website Gawker. Since then, he has faced widespread vilification and been fired by his employer, a local financial services company. "I've lost my job, I'm going to lose my home, my health insurance is gone, my wife is disabled," he complained. Mr Brutsch told how he got "the biggest thrill" setting up offensive web forums and then reading comments from people who were upset by them. One of the most notorious threads managed by his alter ego "Violentacrez" contained photographs taken by a man claiming to be a high-school teacher, who appeared to have used a smart-phone to surreptitiously take photos of unsuspecting female students. Despite the questionable legality of such images, Mr Brutsch claims he was "encouraged and enabled" in his on-line activities by Reddit, who profited from the huge traffic that his most controversial photo forums would generate.

He claimed to have built a close relationship with the site's senior staff. "I had been tasked [by] admins with making certain that there was no overt or real child porn: no naked children, no naked teenagers, no children in swimsuits," he revealed.

Reddit has not publicly discussed its relationship with Mr Brutsch. But in an email to moderators shortly after he was unmasked, the firm's CEO, Yishan Wong, said: "We stand for free speech. This means we are not going to ban distasteful subreddits (forums on Reddit). We will not ban legal content even if we find it odious or if we personally condemn it."

Somewhat surprisingly, given his newfound notoriety, Mr Brutsch said his wife, Dani and their two children are standing by him. And he promised that his career as a "troll" was now over. "Violentacrez is what I did in my spare time to unwind from my 10-hour-a-day job. That's how I relaxed in the evening. I no longer need to relax, because I no longer have a job."