Over the years, I get regular calls from newspaper reporters for comments on issues of the moment. Sometimes I’ll talk to them, if it’s a subject that interests me or a reporter I know and respect. Much of the time, I won’t. They don’t really care about informing people anymore, but about getting a blurb to fill in the space between their editorializing. I’m not a fan of being the lunchmeat in their “truth” sandwich. I’m decades past caring about seeing my name in the funny pages.
But then, no mainstream media personality has ever called me to do a profile on SJ. Fair enough. It’s pretty niche, and hasn’t been particularly kind to newspapers or reporters in that tribal sort of way they adore.
I’ve had many private disagreements with reporters, and more likely, members of a certain rag’s editorial board whose reply to facts and logic tends to be, “BUT IT’S WRONG AND MAKES ME FEEL SO BAD!!!” They don’t tend to be my biggest fans, though they’re more than happy to use me when it suits their purposes.
Another guy, however, got a call from the paper of record to do a profile. And, likely being nicer than me, engaged. Here’s what he got for his efforts.
Last week I talked to a New York Times technology reporter who was planning to write a story on Slate Star Codex. He told me it would be a mostly positive piece about how we were an interesting gathering place for people in tech, and how we were ahead of the curve on some aspects of the coronavirus situation. It probably would have been a very nice article.
Unfortunately, he told me he had discovered my real name and would reveal it in the article, ie doxx me. “Scott Alexander” is my real first and middle name, but I’ve tried to keep my last name secret. I haven’t always done great at this, but I’ve done better than “have it get printed in the New York Times“.
Slate Star Codex has been a smart, interesting blog. In some ways, there are similarities in approach, as it defies fashion and focuses instead on facts and reason. The subject matter is often very different, and it tends to be a bit prolix for my taste, but since it’s Scott Alexander’s blog, and he’s enormously well-respected and appreciated, my taste means nothing.
And now it’s gone because the New York Times couldn’t just be satisfied with his nom de guerre, but felt compelled to doxx him.
The second reason is more prosaic: some people want to kill me or ruin my life, and I would prefer not to make it too easy. I’ve received various death threats. I had someone on an anti-psychiatry subreddit put out a bounty for any information that could take me down (the mods deleted the post quickly, which I am grateful for). I’ve had dissatisfied blog readers call my work pretending to be dissatisfied patients in order to get me fired. And I recently learned that someone on SSC got SWATted in a way that they link to using their real name on the blog. I live with ten housemates including a three-year-old and an infant, and I would prefer this not happen to me or to them. Although I realize I accept some risk of this just by writing a blog with imperfect anonymity, getting doxxed on national news would take it to another level.
What people on the outside looking in don’t always realize is that there are a lot of crazies out there. A lot. Not just you. It’s not that they’re all violent, or would do anything more than yell mean names and the occasional threat to rape your wimminfolk, but you only need one seriously violent crazy to take you out. Writing is fun, but not so much fun that it’s worth your life. Scott had a few reasons to keep his name off the front page, and whether you agree with him or not, it’s his name and his reasons, and that’s good enough. As someone who, to some extent, understands what it’s like to be a target to the unduly passionate, intellectually challenged, and violent psychopaths, I understand.
But not the New York Times.
When I expressed these fears to the reporter, he said that it was New York Times policy to include real names, and he couldn’t change that. After considering my options, I decided on the one you see now. If there’s no blog, there’s no story. Or at least the story will have to include some discussion of NYT’s strategy of doxxing random bloggers for clicks.
Well, it’s their policy. Unnamed sources abound at the Times, and yet doxxing Scott Alexander is their policy. Seems legit. But it doesn’t have to stay that way.
I’m not sure what happens next. In my ideal world, the New York Times realizes they screwed up, promises not to use my real name in the article, and promises to rethink their strategy of doxxing random bloggers for clicks. Then I put the blog back up (of course I backed it up! I’m not a monster!) and we forget this ever happened.
This is one of those rare times when I kinda wish I knew the name of the reporter who blithely informed Scott Alexander of the policy, because I have a policy too, and it’s to rip reporters like this a new asshole.
Not that I would expect him to take me up on the offer, although others have and do on occasion, but if he ends up shuttering SSC and, for whatever reason, feels the desire to write, he’s welcome at SJ. It’s not as big a deal as SSC, but it’s all I’ve got.
Oh, and New York Times? Fuck you.
Reporter’s name is Cade Metz, says Balaji Srinivasan.
I won’t publish Metz’s home address, phone number, family’s names and info, social security number or any other personal information, because I am not Cade Metz.
a little tune for the “policy-makers”…
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
I discovered SSC through Simple Justice…and my exact thought was “Finally! Something to replace The Last Psychiatrist.”
2020 is bullshit. I expect that next month Simple Justice will go under because you’ve been kidnapped by aliens, and then the blog gods will give me a paper cut and pour lemon juice on it.
I fully expect to be canceled any day now, but I won’t go quite so easily.
Just remember not to cave to mob pressure and fire yourself.
I may put myself on paid leave.
Blogs and comment boards are not safe spaces. On a site where I formerly commented (pre-ban), I was targeted by death threats on several occasions, and the flawed doxxing attempts were a constant. On two different occasions, bands of the crazy fucks fingered other B. McLeod by mistake, for targeted harassment campaigns. All these people appeared to be rabidly fanatical “progressives,” devoting countless hours to purging the Internet of expression with which they disagreed. I don’t see how the staff of the NYT could be unaware of this aspect of the Internet environment, and accordingly, I see this instance as a staffer purposely using the NYT doxxing threat to close down the expression of competing ideas.
I would have called such an accusation of nefarious motive absurd a year ago. I still don’t think it’s the case, but it’s not at all absurd anymore.
I think what’s clear is the inconsistency in the application of the “we use people’s real names” policy. Imagine an NYT journalist doing a piece on a blogger who chronicles sexism and racism in Silicon Valley and who wants to remain anonymous due to online threats received from white supremacists. Does anyone think the journalist would respond with “Meh. Them’s the rules, I’m afraid.”?
If this is the end of SSC it is indeed a very sad day. I’ve learned more in my adult life from reading Scott Alexander’s work than anyone else aside from our humble host of course. Still, as my mother would say, expect the worst, hope for the best, and always look for the silver lining. Admittedly an SSC post at SJ is a very intriguing silver lining.
There has been an outpouring of support SSC, likely far more than SJ would receive under the same circumstances. Maybe it’s not over yet? Although if they can tear down statues of GW, USG, TJ, CC and Cervantes, no one is safe.
Just what SJ needs, a psychiatrist.
Contrary to what some might assume, I wasn’t a big fan of SSC. Nothing wrong with it, just not my cup of tea. That said, the fact that he felt the need to shut down his blog, even if only temporary, sucks, big time!
While my situation is markedly different from his, I fully appreciate his cautiousness. You only need to be followed home by an armed ex-patient *once*, to grasp with maximum clarity the potential consequences of failing to maintain a high degree of stealth and anonymity outside of work.
For that reason, much to the consternation of others, I quite deliberately do not maintain social media accounts or have an external, public blog. (We have several internal boards for students and residents, and a few for studies and research projects, but none are publicly accessible).
As to Cade Metz, who I know of from his time as senior writer for PC Magazine, until November of 2017, I doubt the final call was his. Regardless, this was a totally shit thing to do.
Note that while I still read the NYT (although, far less than in the past), as of late last year, I dropped my sub’.* At the time, I weighed the pros and cons, and concluded it had outlived any value it had as a trusted source of information. If I had not already made that decision, this would have been the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
Even though it was easier to slip the subs’ annual expense past the family CFO (who thinks she still runs a Fortune 500 company), I’ve managed to redirect those funds, elsewhere. Anyone care to guess where that might be? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?
*I found that with a combination of Raymond Hill’s uBlock Origin, and the Ghostery plug-ins for Firefox, the NYT is far more readable than with a still ad-cluttered sub’. (The same plug-ins for Chrome are far less effective, as Google has severely limited the API).
But the NYT publishes comments from sources with “name withheld because ” all the time.
I kinda mentioned that in the most, you know.
I have been reading SSC for many years. I don’t remember if I found SJ from there or vice versa, but it is one of the few sites I check daily. The posts are sometimes over my head or uninteresting, but the good posts are great and the link posts would be worth it by themselves.
I will be contacting the NYT directly to express my displeasure. Scott didn’t hesitate to try to help Stephen Hsu, I hope people will not hesitate to help him.
The sad demise of a truly unusual and erudite blog, and a fitting epitaph for a once great newspaper that is lately no linger fit to line the bottom of a birdcage. (Except for Sam Sifton, but you can get just him without the rest of the NYT fake news and drivel.)
Drat. I love SSC. Here’s hoping the NYT will back down, though I’m not holding my breath.
Good call featuring it on SJ, hopefully that will help.
Meanwhile, in a Washington Post exclusive, the real name of the author of the influential Simple Justice blog is revealed to be Armin Tamzarian. Believed to be a member of the Armenian Mafia, he has numerous convictions for impersonating senior naval officers.
From the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics, https://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp .
Seek Truth and Report It
– Consider sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Reserve anonymity for sources who may face danger, retribution or other harm, and have information that cannot be obtained elsewhere. Explain why anonymity was granted.
– Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrusiveness.
– Recognize that legal access to information differs from an ethical justification to publish or broadcast.
Since I’ve used that link before, I’ll leave it in even though it’s against the rules. It seems to come up a lot lately, both with the NYT and activist journalism in general.
The other super frustrating thing about all of this (as someone in the cypherpunks community who deals with the distinction) is that it wasn’t even actual *anonymity*, but rather pseudonymity.
The ‘character’ of “Scott Alexander” is a *specific* entity. Referring to “Scott Alexander” describes a known public interlocutor. Talking about “Scott Alexander of Slate Star Codex” locks that identity down even further. It is *utterly irrelevant* to the story that it happens to be “Scott Alexander Jehosphatson” (hopefully it is obvious that I made that surname up 😉 ) of SSC. It adds no meaningful information to the article since there is no relevant data which can be ascertained from the inclusion of his surname.