Scott and the New York Times

Many of my blog readers are probably also readers of Slate Star Codex- or, perhaps, were readers, as the blog has been taken down. A NYT journalist wanted to do a story on the blog- fair enough- but they insisted on printing Scott’s True Name, a very dangerous thing for a practising psychiatrist with a very public blog like Scott. Scott hence took down his blog on the theory that without a blog, they would have no story to publish, and his name would be safe. To take down his blog was a very grave thing. Doubtless he will do more in the future but, to date his blog represents the bulk of his life’s work at least as far as the general public is concerned. I wanted to say something supportive about this as a fellow pseudonymous author, and longtime reader of Scott’s blog.

At the moment there is an ambiguous but perhaps emerging idea of a right to online anonymity. I believe this is a worker’s rights issue. Very few of us have media-friendly images unless we are celebrities with PR managers. Very many of us depend upon an employer for our livelihood or are otherwise exposed to the market- for example as an independent trader like Scott. Anonymity allows us who aren’t secure in indepndent wealth  and don’t have access to PR savvy to publish safely. It’s a matter of equity. We should demand, without compromise, that the New York Times and similar outlets recognise this right.

I think it’s pretty ironic that the New York Times is undermining the very health and vitality of the online culture which gave them the story. There’s surely a Kantian moral in there somewhere about acts which undermine their own possibility being a violation of practical reason. Obviously, this wouldn’t apply if the piece was deliberately a hatchet job that aimed at this very end, but this doesn’t seem to be the case- the article is just undermining the very possibility of a Nice Thing which they wanted to tell us about.

Now someone will probably try to argue that this or that thing Scott said means he deserves to be doxxed, never mind that this has nothing to do with why he is actually being doxxed. There are surely some conditions in which doxxing is permissible. I go back and forth on where the line is, but I think it’s out there somewhere. To take an extreme case, if a preschool teacher wrote: “kill all f****** and refugees now” I’d probably be comfortable with outing them, for safety if nothing else.  However, I would strongly urge that if the “no doxxing” rule is to be meaningful, any exceptions have to be an extremely restricted class, and I would suggest that “people with political views at least vaguely similar to mine” is not such a restricted class.

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