## How can we fight online shaming campaigns?

Longtime friend and colleague Boaz Barak sent me a fascinating New York Times Magazine article that profiles people who lost their jobs or otherwise had their lives ruined, because of a single remark that then got amplified a trillionfold in importance by social media.  (The author, Jon Ronson, also has a forthcoming book on the topic.)  The article opens with Justine Sacco: a woman who, about to board a flight to Cape Town, tweeted “Going to Africa.  Hope I don’t get AIDS.  Just kidding.  I’m white!”

To the few friends who read Sacco’s Twitter feed, it would’ve been obvious that she was trying to mock the belief of many well-off white people that they live in a bubble, insulated from the problems of the Third World; she wasn’t actually mocking black Africans who suffer from AIDS.  In a just world, maybe Sacco deserved someone to take her aside and quietly explain that her tweet might be read the wrong way, that she should be more careful next time.  Instead, by the time she landed in Cape Town, she learned that she’d become the #1 worldwide Twitter trend and a global symbol of racism.  She lost her career, she lost her entire previous life, and tens of thousands of people expressed glee about it.  The article rather heartbreakingly describes Sacco’s attempts to start over.

There are many more stories like the above.  Some I’d already heard about: the father of three who lost his job after he whispered a silly joke involving “dongles” to the person next to him at a conference, whereupon Adria Richards, a woman in front of him, snapped his photo and posted it to social media, to make an example of him as a sexist pig.  (Afterwards, a counter-reaction formed, which successfully got Richards fired from her job: justice??)  Other stories I hadn’t heard.

Reading this article made it clear to me just how easily I got off, in my own recent brush with the online shaming-mobs.  Yes, I made the ‘mistake’ of writing too openly about my experiences as a nerdy male teenager, and the impact that one specific aspect of feminist thought (not all of feminism!) had had on me.  Within the context of the conversation that a few nerdy men and women were having on this blog, my opening up led to exactly the results I was hoping for: readers thoughtfully sharing their own experiences, a meaningful exchange of ideas, even (dare I say it?) glimmers of understanding and empathy.

Alas, once the comment was wrested from its original setting into the clickbait bazaar, the story became “MIT professor explains: the real oppression is having to learn to talk to women” (the title of Amanda Marcotte’s hit-piece, something even some in Marcotte’s ideological camp called sickeningly cruel).  My photo was on the front page of Salon, next to the headline “The plight of the bitter nerd.”  I was subjected to hostile psychoanalysis not once but twice on ‘Dr. Nerdlove,’ a nerd-bashing site whose very name drips with irony, rather like the ‘Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.’  There were tweets and blog comments that urged MIT to fire me, that compared me to a mass-murderer, and that “deduced” (from first principles!) all the ways in which my parents screwed up in raising me and my female students cower in fear of me.   And yes, when you Google me, this affair now more-or-less overshadows everything else I’ve done in my life.

But then … there were also hundreds of men and women who rose to my defense, and they were heavily concentrated among the people I most admire and respect.  My supporters ranged from the actual female students who took my classes or worked with me or who I encouraged in their careers, from whom there was only kindness, not a single negative word; to the shy nerds who thanked me for being one of the only people to acknowledge their reality; to the lesbians and bisexual women who told me my experience also resonated with them; to the female friends and colleagues who sent me notes urging me to ignore the nonsense.  In the end, not only have I not lost any friends over this, I’ve gained new ones, and I’ve learned new sides of the friends I had.

Oh, and I didn’t get any death threats: I guess that’s good!  (Once in my life I did get death threats—graphic, explicit threats, about which I had to contact the police—but it was because I refused to publicize someone’s P=NP proof.)

Since I was away from campus when this blew up, I did feel some fear about the professional backlash that would await me on my return.  Would my office be vandalized?  Would activist groups be protesting my classes?  Would MIT police be there to escort me from campus?

Well, you want to know what happened instead?  Students and colleagues have stopped me in the hall, or come by my office, just to say they support me.  My class has record enrollment this term.  I was invited to participate in MIT’s Diversity Summit, since the organizers felt it would mean a lot to the students to see someone there who had opened up about diversity issues in STEM in such a powerful way.  (I regretfully had to decline, since the summit conflicted with a trip to Stanford.)  And an MIT graduate women’s reading group invited me for a dinner discussion (at my suggestion, Laurie Penny participated as well).  Imagine that: not only are MIT’s women’s groups not picketing me, they’re inviting me over for dinner!  Is there any better answer to the claim, urged on me by some of my overzealous supporters, that the bile of Amanda Marcotte represents all of feminism these days?

Speaking of which, I met Laurie Penny for coffee last month, and she and I quickly hit it off.  We’ve even agreed to write a joint blog post about our advice for shy nerds.  (In my What I Believe post, I had promised a post of advice for shy female nerds—but at Laurie’s urging, we’re broadening the focus to shy nerds of both sexes.)  Even though Laurie’s essay is the thing that brought me to the attention of the Twitter-mobs (which wasn’t Laurie’s intent!), and even though I disagreed with several points in her essay, I knew on reading it that Laurie was someone I’d enjoy talking to.  Unlike so much writing by online social justice activists, which tends to be encrusted with the specialized technical terms of that field—you know, terms like “asshat,” “shitlord,” “douchecanoe,” and “precious feefees of entitled white dudes”—Laurie’s prose shone with humanity and vulnerability: her own, which she freely shared, and mine, which she generously acknowledged.

Overall, the response to my comment has never made me happier or more grateful to be part of the STEM community (I never liked the bureaucratic acronym “STEM,” but fine, I’ll own it).  To many outsiders, we STEM nerds are a sorry lot: we’re “sperglords” (yes, slurs are fine, as long as they’re directed against the right targets!) who might be competent in certain narrow domains, but who lack empathy and emotional depth, and are basically narcissistic children.  Yet somehow when the chips were down, it’s my fellow STEM nerds, and people who hang out with STEM nerds a lot, who showed me far more empathy and compassion than many of the “normals” did.  So if STEM nerds are psychologically broken, then I say: may I surround myself, for the rest of my life, with men and women who are psychologically broken like I am.  May I raise Lily, and any future children I have, to be as psychologically broken as they can be.  And may I stay as far as possible from anyone who’s too well-adjusted.

I reserve my ultimate gratitude for the many women in STEM, friends and strangers alike, who sent me messages of support these past two months.  I’m not ashamed to say it: witnessing how so many STEM women stood up for me has made me want to stand up for them, even more than I did before.  If they’re not called on often enough in class, I’ll call on them more.  If they’re subtly discouraged from careers in science, I’ll blatantly encourage them back.  If they’re sexually harassed, I’ll confront their harassers myself (well, if asked to).  I will listen to them, and I will try to improve.

Is it selfish that I want to help female STEM nerds partly because they helped me?  Here’s the thing: one of my deepest moral beliefs is in the obligation to fight for those among the disadvantaged who don’t despise you, and who wouldn’t gladly rid the planet of everyone like you if they could.  (As I’ve written before, on issue after issue, this belief makes me a left-winger by American standards, and a right-winger by academic ones.)  In the present context, I’d say I have a massive moral obligation toward female STEM nerds and toward Laurie Penny’s version of feminism, and none at all toward Marcotte’s version.

All this is just to say that I’m unbelievably lucky—privileged (!)—to have had so many at MIT and elsewhere willing to stand up for me, and to have reached in a stage in life where I’m strong enough to say what I think and to weather anything the Internet says back.  What worries me is that others, more vulnerable, didn’t and won’t have it as easy when the Twitter hate-machine turns its barrel on them.  So in the rest of this post, I’d like to discuss the problem of what to do about social-media shaming campaigns that aim to, and do, destroy the lives of individuals.  I’m convinced that this is a phenomenon that’s only going to get more and more common: something sprung on us faster than our social norms have evolved to deal with it.  And it would be nice if we could solve it without having to wait for a few high-profile suicides.

But first, let me address a few obvious questions about why this problem is even a problem at all.

Isn’t social shaming as old as society itself—and permanent records of the shaming as old as print media?

Yes, but there’s also something fundamentally new about the problem of the Twitter-mobs.  Before, it would take someone—say, a newspaper editor—to make a conscious decision to the effect, “this comment is worth destroying someone’s life over.”  Today, there might be such an individual, but it’s also possible for lives to be destroyed in a decentralized, distributed fashion, with thousands of Twitterers collaborating to push a non-story past the point of no return.  And among the people who “break” the story, not one has to intend to ruin the victim’s life, or accept responsibility for it afterward: after all, each one made the story only ε bigger than it already was.  (Incidentally, this is one reason why I haven’t gotten a Twitter account: while it has many worthwhile uses, it’s also a medium that might as well have been designed for mobs, for ganging up, for status-seeking among allies stripped of rational arguments.  It’s like the world’s biggest high school.)

Don’t some targets of online shaming campaigns, y’know, deserve it?

Of course!  Some are genuine racists or misogynists or homophobes, who once would’ve been able to inflict hatred their entire lives without consequence, and were only brought down thanks to social media.  The trouble is, the participants in online shaming campaigns will always think they’re meting out righteous justice, whether they are or aren’t.  But there’s an excellent reason why we’ve learned in modern societies not to avenge even the worst crimes via lynch mobs.  There’s a reason why we have trials and lawyers and the opportunity for the accused to show their innocence.

Some might say that no safeguards are possible or necessary here, since we’re not talking about state violence, just individuals exercising their free speech right to vilify someone, demand their firing, that sort of thing.  Yet in today’s world, trial-by-Internet can be more consequential than the old kind of trial: would you rather spend a year in jail, but then be free to move to another town where no one knew about it, or have your Google search results tarnished with lurid accusations (let’s say, that you molested children) for the rest of your life—to have that forever prevent you from getting a job or a relationship, and have no way to correct the record?  With trial by Twitter, there’s no presumption of innocence, no requirement to prove that any other party was harmed, just the law of the schoolyard.

Whether shaming is justified in a particular case is a complicated question, but for whatever it’s worth, here are a few of the questions I would ask:

• Did the person express a wish for anyone (or any group of people) to come to harm, or for anyone’s rights to be infringed?
• Did the person express glee or mockery about anyone else’s suffering?
• Did the person perpetrate a grievous factual falsehood—like, something one could prove was a falsehood in a court of law?
• Did the person violate anyone else’s confidence?
• How much does the speaker’s identity matter?  If it had been a man rather than a woman (or vice versa) saying parallel things, would we have taken equal offense?
• Does the comment have what obscenity law calls “redeeming social value”?  E.g., does it express an unusual viewpoint, or lead to an interesting discussion?

Of course, even in those cases where shaming campaigns are justified, they’ll sometimes be unproductive and ill-advised.

Aren’t society’s most powerful fair targets for public criticism, even mocking or vicious criticism?

Of course.  Few would claim, for example, that we have an ethical obligation to ease up on Todd Akin over his “legitimate rape” remarks, since all the rage might give Akin an anxiety attack.  Completely apart from the (de)merits of the remarks, we accept that, when you become (let’s say) an elected official, a CEO, or a university president, part of the bargain is that you no longer get to complain if people organize to express their hatred of you.

But what’s striking about the cases in the NYT article is that it’s not public figures being gleefully destroyed: just ordinary people who in most cases, made one ill-advised joke or tweet, no worse than countless things you or I have probably said in private among friends.  The social justice warriors try to justify what would otherwise look like bullying by shifting attention away from individuals: sure, Justine Sacco might be a decent person, but she stands for the entire category of upper-middle-class, entitled white women, a powerful structural force against whom the underclass is engaged in a righteous struggle.  Like in a war, the enemy must be fought by any means necessary, even if it means picking off one hapless enemy foot-soldier to make an example to the rest.  And anyway, why do you care more about this one professional white woman, than about the millions of victims of racism?  Is it because you’re a racist yourself?

I find this line of thinking repugnant.  For it perverts worthy struggles for social equality into something callous and inhuman, and thereby undermines the struggles themselves.  It seems to me to have roughly the same relation to real human rights activism as the Inquisition did to the ethical teachings of Jesus.  It’s also repugnant because of its massive chilling effect: watching a few shaming campaigns is enough to make even the most well-intentioned writer want to hide behind a pseudonym, or only offer those ideas and experiences that are sure to win approval.  And the chilling effect is not some accidental byproduct; it’s the goal.  This negates what, for me, is a large part of the promise of the Internet: that if people from all walks of life can just communicate openly, everything made common knowledge, nothing whispered or secondhand, then all the well-intentioned people will eventually come to understand each other.

If I’m right that online shaming of decent people is a real problem that’s only going to get worse, what’s the solution?  Let’s examine five possibilities.

(1) Libel law.  For generations, libel has been recognized as one of the rare types of speech that even a liberal, democratic society can legitimately censor (along with fraud, incitement to imminent violence, national secrets, child porn, and a few others).  That libel is illegal reflects a realistic understanding of the importance of reputation: if, for example, CNN falsely reports that you raped your children, then it doesn’t really matter if MSNBC later corrects the record; your life as you knew it is done.

The trouble is, it’s not clear how to apply libel law in the age of social media.  In the cases we’re talking about, an innocent person’s life gets ruined because of the collective effect of thousands of people piling on to make nasty comments, and it’s neither possible nor desirable to prosecute all of them.  Furthermore, in many cases the problem is not that the shamers said anything untrue: rather, it’s that they “merely” took something true and spitefully misunderstood it, or blew it wildly, viciously, astronomically out of proportion.  I don’t see any legal remedies here.

(2) “Shame the shamers.”  Some people will say the only answer is to hit the shamers with their own weapons.  If an overzealous activist gets an innocent jokester fired from his job, shame the activist until she’s fired from her job.  If vigilantes post the jokester’s home address on the Internet with crosshairs overlaid, find the vigilantes’ home addresses and post those.  It probably won’t surprise many people that I’m not a fan of this solution.  For it only exacerbates the real problem: that of mob justice overwhelming reasoned debate.  The most I can say in favor of vigilantism is this: you probably don’t get to complain about online shaming, if what you’re being shamed for is itself a shaming campaign that you prosecuted against a specific person.

(In a decade writing this blog, I can think of exactly one case where I engaged in what might be called a shaming campaign: namely, against the Bell’s inequality denier Joy Christian.  Christian had provoked me over six years, not merely by being forehead-bangingly wrong about Bell’s theorem, but by insulting me and others when we tried to reason with him, and by demanding prize money from me because he had ‘proved’ that quantum computing was a fraud.  Despite that, I still regret the shaming aspects of my Joy Christian posts, and will strive not to repeat them.)

(3) Technological solutions.  We could try to change the functioning of the Internet, to make it harder to use it to ruin people’s lives.  This, more-or-less, is what the European Court of Justice was going for, with its much-discussed recent ruling upholding a “right to be forgotten” (more precisely, a right for individuals to petition for embarrassing information about them to be de-listed from search engines).  Alas, I fear that the Streisand effect, the Internet’s eternal memory, and the existence of different countries with different legal systems will forever make a mockery of all such technological solutions.  But, OK, given that Google is constantly tweaking its ranking algorithms anyway, maybe it could give less weight to cruel attacks against non-public-figures?  Or more weight (or even special placement) to sites explaining how the individual was cleared of the accusations?  There might be scope for such things, but I have the strong feeling that they should be done, if at all, on a voluntary basis.

(4) Self-censorship.  We could simply train people not to express any views online that might jeopardize their lives or careers, or at any rate, not to express those views under their real names.  Many people I’ve talked to seem to favor this solution, but I can’t get behind it.  For it effectively cedes to the most militant activists the right to decide what is or isn’t acceptable online discourse.  It tells them that they can use social shame as a weapon to get what they want.  When women are ridiculed for sharing stories of anorexia or being sexually assaulted or being discouraged from careers in science, it’s reprehensible to say that the solution is to teach those women to shut up about it.  I not only agree with that but go further: privacy is sometimes important, but is also an overrated value.  The respect that one rational person affords another for openly sharing the truth (or his or her understanding of the truth), in a spirit of sympathy and goodwill, is a higher value than privacy.  And the Internet’s ability to foster that respect (sometimes!) is worth defending.

(5) Standing up.  And so we come to the only solution that I can wholeheartedly stand behind.  This is for people who abhor shaming campaigns to speak out, loudly, for those who are unfairly shamed.

At the nadir of my own Twitter episode, when it felt like my life was now finished, throw in the towel, the psychiatrist Scott Alexander wrote a 10,000-word essay in my defense, which also ranged controversially into numerous other issues.  In a comment on his girlfriend Ozy’s blog, Alexander now says that he regrets aspects of Untitled (then again, it was already tagged “Things I Will Regret Writing” when he posted it!).  In particular, he now feels that the piece was too broad in its critique of feminism.  However, he then explains as follows what motivated him to write it:

Scott Aaronson is one of the nicest and most decent people in the world, who does nothing but try to expand human knowledge and support and mentor other people working on the same in a bunch of incredible ways. After a lot of prompting he exposed his deepest personal insecurities, something I as a psychiatrist have to really respect. Amanda Marcotte tried to use that to make mincemeat of him, casually, as if destroying him was barely worth her time. She did it on a site where she gets more pageviews than he ever will, among people who don’t know him, and probably stained his reputation among nonphysicists permanently. I know I have weird moral intuitions, but this is about as close to pure evil punching pure good in the face just because it can as I’ve ever seen in my life. It made me physically ill, and I mentioned the comments of the post that I lost a couple pounds pacing back and forth and shaking and not sleeping after I read it. That was the place I was writing from. And it was part of what seemed to me to be an obvious trend, and although “feminists vs. nerds” is a really crude way of framing it, I couldn’t think of a better one in that mental state and I couldn’t let it pass.

I had three reactions on reading this.  First, if there is a Scott in this discussion who’s “pure good,” then it’s not I.  Second, maybe the ultimate solution to the problem of online shaming mobs is to make a thousand copies of Alexander, and give each one a laptop with an Internet connection.  But third, as long as we have only one of him, the rest of us have a lot of work cut out for us.  I know, without having to ask, that the only real way I can thank Alexander for coming to my defense, is to use this blog to defend other people (anywhere on the ideological spectrum) who are attacked online for sharing in a spirit of honesty and goodwill.  So if you encounter such a person, let me know—I’d much prefer that to letting me know about the latest attempt to solve NP-complete problems in polynomial time with some analog contraption.

Unrelated Update: Since I started this post with Boaz Barak, let me also point to his recent blog post on why theoretical computer scientists care so much about asymptotics, despite understanding full well that the constants can overwhelm them in practice.  Boaz articulates something that I’ve tried to say many times, but he’s crisper and more eloquent.

Update (Feb. 27): Since a couple people asked, I explain here what I see as the basic problems with the “Dr. Nerdlove” site.

### 249 Responses to “How can we fight online shaming campaigns?”

1. keith Says:

2. keith Says:

Oh, you were linking to Jon Ronson’s article. Ha, nvm.

3. Scott Says:

keith: Thanks very much—I added a link to the book, and look forward to reading it when it comes out! It’s gratifying that, at least, people whose surnames match the regular expression “*ronson” are starting to worry about this problem.

4. Tommy Says:

Hi Scott,

I have to admit that, as an European, I might not speak with cognition of cause on the matter. I mean, I have the feeling that the phenomenon of online shaming is something mostly felt in today’s US (but, again, I might be wrong here as well, and surely we have had important recent episodes, see #shirtstorm ).

For personal reasons, I have no profiles on social networks whatsoever, except Linkedin – and I regret that too. Yes, I know, sounds quite Luddite but I can assure you that I live perfectly happy with that. So, again, I might have an incomplete view on the matter.

Regardless, I wonder how we reached this point of social warfare. I might not follow social media but I don’t live under a rock, and I have the feeling that participating in internet discussions today looks more and more like a trench war. Geez, it’s even worse than discussing in some nerdy Linux developer’s mailing list! Fun fact is, it’s incredibly more likely to be involved in a SEVERE argument online than in real life. Maybe if we all made an effort to improve our communication without an LCD screen things would be better. I know that’s the future of humankind, but maybe we are not ready yet, and the current situation is just a side effect of this period of adaptation.

The other, more pertinent observation I have is the following. Is it really worth the effort to fight a crusade, on whichever side, on the topic of online shaming/harassment/doxxing? I mean, as everybody knows, NO argument on the internet can be won by being right 🙂 arguments online are simply won by the party who has more time to spend commenting and writing. And I’m not 100% joking here.

Now, those examples you mentioned, of people responsible of famous cases of online shaming, those people do it like… as a business model! For some of them it’s even a full-time job, they get revenue by igniting the ferocious reactions of other users and by escalating any minuscule misunderstanding they can find. It’s really a business model today. So, what I mean is, clearly, by definition, one cannot win against these people by argumenting. I think the best strategy here is not to play. Plus, I like to think that I have better things to do than fighting back angry comments online.

Sure, this doesn’t help you when you lose your job because you made a bad joke. But I think that most of these cases can be avoided if one just ignores those people whose only reason of living is being angry against everyone and everything.

To those people I say: make (real) love, not (online) war!!! 🙂

Peace,
Tommy

5. Jay Gischer Says:

Shaming is a human impulse, and one I have. Nevertheless, following the work of Brene Brown, which is well worth engaging with (she has a TED talk) I make a distinction between guilt and shame.

Shame is about “who you are”. It isn’t recoverable. It states that the object of shame isn’t worthy of human company, and this is cast in stone, and will never change.

Guilt is about “what you did”. It offers a way back. It points out the harm done.

So for instance the remarks of Todd Akin in which he referenced “real rape” demeans and belittles the suffering of thousands, perhaps millions of women who have been raped and sexually abused, but suffered from “combat freeze” and didn’t actively resist or say no. It also propagates some wild myths about how human bodies work and sets up future generations for many more rapes and feelings of shame.

That’s about what he did, and what the consequences were. Some people will feel shame reading that, but that’s on them, not me.

I think that we would be much better off if the people shaming you, who were clearly triggered by something, talked about what that something was, and how it affected them. But that’s the topic that is avoided, that nobody talks about, since it makes them vulnerable. This too, is understandably human.

I’m glad to hear you are doing well.

6. Ben Says:

“…maybe the ultimate solution to the problem of online shaming mobs is to make a thousand copies of Alexander, and give each one a laptop with an Internet connection.”

I’ve always thought this would solve many problems in the world. 🙂

I think you may wish to try to formulate some more practical plans for enforcing plan 5. Perhaps you could privately contact people with blogs (whom you know, and then later ones whom you don’t) and ask with great politeness if they would consider posting their support for this collective action on their blogs, and attempt to make some sort of social internet movement. Or do something else highly public that makes shaming low-status.

7. rrtucci Says:

Tommy said,
“I have to admit that, as an European, I might not speak with cognition of cause on the matter.”

It’s a shame that Europeans like Tommy (what is your surname again?) think that Europeans never do anything wrong, it’s only the ugly Americans like me that do it.

8. James Miller Says:

To give everyone plausible deniability, unleash a computer virus that takes over your social media accounts to make offensive statements.

9. Scott Says:

James #8: LOL! Maybe it takes an economist to come up with that solution.

10. luca turin Says:

Wonderful post. I think there is a “thermodynamic” point of view on this, which is that when people eventually get fully used to social media (my two older kids, 14 and 16, are well on the way) the unfair shaming will be seen for what it is, i.e. the work of cowards. The “kinetic” argument is that I, for one, can’t wait for that to happen, because the time constant is longer than what I have left to live [I am 61 and in good health, btw]. That is why I deleted my twitter feed when it began to look like a hostage to fortune and I some people let me know they were scraping it for damaging quotes. For the moment, the global village is more village than global.

11. fred Says:

It’s all really just a consequence of the current way news media and social networks function and compete for 24/7 attention:

– context has become irrelevant.

– the internet has created a gigantic ecosystem of entitled bottom feeders on the lookout to turn *anything* into manufactured “outrage”. Creating clickbaits is how they make a living. Context, honesty, and truth are getting in their way.

12. fred Says:

There is another solution which is the use of an online persona, more likely anonymous.

One can then argue that the opinions expressed by the persona are “disconnected” (ala Stephen Colbert, or any stand up comedian).

Adding a level of indirection is a solution to many CS problems!

13. Female Professor Says:

No one should be publicly shamed. As for people who say thoughtless things let those who never say stupid things throw stones. It will not be me.

It seemed to me your original post revealing your teenage issues was ill-timed. You conflated your teenage difficulties with the real problems women face in our field.

You are a privileged white male in big and small ways. For example, you post pictures of your kids on your blog. There is no way I can do that. I am stronger, smarter and all together better than my male counterparts and that’s what I have to be to stay in the field. It is not a level playing field by any means.

I cannot argue for or against American feminism as I did not grow up in this country and studied it subsequently with an anthropologist’s interest. I’ve come to the conclusion that it is an essential by-product of American male chauvinism. You won’t find that in other countries where women are treated quite well, even in countries where it may seem that a woman always walks three steps behind a man.

14. Scott Says:

fred #12: If anonymity or pseudonymity work for others, that’s great! But I’ve never found them solutions I could adopt, and for reasons that probably go to the heart of why I had the problems that I described in comment 171 in the first place. Namely, I’m simply not able to adopt different personas in different settings: I wouldn’t even remember which persona I was supposed to be at a given time. 🙂

So for example, some guys seem able to morph, chameleon-like, from “check your privilege” ultra-feminists by day, to “check out the ass on that one” players by night. And I’m sure they sleep soundly, and the contradiction doesn’t trouble them at all. Furthermore, it seems to me that many other people, even if they see those guys’ split personalities, aren’t bothered by it: to them, the guys are simply proving that they’re socially skilled enough to know the right platitudes to mouth in professional settings, but then also socially skilled enough to know better than to take those platitudes seriously. So much the better for them!

But that’s not who I am. I can’t long maintain a “lower self” that does anything that the “higher self” won’t openly defend. And if the “lower self” ever felt the need to justify its thoughts or actions under a pseudonym—well then, whatever arguments it offered ought to be equally persuasive to the higher self (why aren’t they?), which should then be happy to offer precisely the same arguments under its own name.

15. Douglas Knight Says:

Scott, do you really believe that people misunderstood Sacco’s post? Do you really believe that they are a different social class engaging in class warfare?

16. Scott Says:

Female Professor #13:

For example, you post pictures of your kids on your blog. There is no way I can do that.

Why? Is it because you fear someone would harm your kids? Or because you fear people would think less of you as an academic?

I know many superb female academics who are also mothers. And the thought wouldn’t cross my mind to think less of them if they kvell about their kids (as many do)—not because it’s some prejudice that I have to consciously overcome, but because the prejudice makes no sense to me in the first place. I’m incredibly sorry if you work in a field where people would think less of you for such a petty reason. On the other hand, if you can train yourself not to care what petty people think—well, that’s something I’ve been (intensively!) working on myself for the past two months, and while it’s not easy, so far I strongly recommend it. 🙂

17. Rahul Says:

Isn’t the ultimate problem with the “firers”. No matter how much public shaming you were subject to, if your employer had the guts to say “No. I don’t think he did wrong & I won’t fire him” how could you ever lose your job?

Isn’t that where we ought to focus? People ought to let their own deep feelings decide whom they employ. Not some whim by an online lynch mob.

I feel it might be more productive to focus on educating the employers or choosing the right employer than to focus on mitigating the effects of the online shamers.

If an overzealous activist gets an innocent jokester fired from his job, I’d rather focus on the stupid employer doing the firing than the activist.

18. Rahul Says:

With all the discussion in this post about libel, technological solutions, right-to-forget etc. I think we ultimately come to the only reasonable option: The Marketplace of ideas.

We let people shame freely. But then we let other conscientious people stand up for those doing the shaming. So long as the discourse is open & transparent some good hopefully emerges.

There’s no guarantee of a pleasant outcome (e.g. some victim might kill himself out of the shaming) but yet, I think the relatively unrestrained freedom of speech option is better than any of the other alternatives.

19. Rahul Says:

Regarding Boaz Barak’s post about why theoretical computer scientists care so much about asymptotics:

His key point seems to be that “it has happened again and again that once a problem has been shown to be in polynomial time, people managed to come up with algorithms with small exponents and reasonable leading constants.”

That by itself seems a great, valid point. i.e. The mere demonstration that a polynomial time algorithm exists, no matter how high the exponent or constant, is a good motivator for figuring out faster, more practical algorithms.

But my question is, how much is the utility of having a whole, mega-intricate zoo of complexity classes to this goal? Yes, knowing an O(10) algorithm exists instead of 2^n-time brute force algorithm motivates people to search for improvements.

But how motivational is the analogous change from one esoteric complexity class to another that’s just a wee bit better asymptotically?

20. Scott Says:

Douglas #15: Did you read Jon Ronson’s article? It seems pretty clear that, yes, she did mean the tweet ironically and she was misunderstood. And yes, I admit, I reflexively sympathize with what she went through—having had the experience, over and over, of using an innocuous phrase that was then egregiously misinterpreted by people determined to project a certain paranoid narrative onto me. (Were I so inclined, I might even say these people were negating my voice, privileging their preferred discourse, or using silencing tactics.)

I got an early taste of this in 2001, when I took a short-fiction seminar at Berkeley, and wrote a story involving a female character named Arienne, as well as a brilliant, highly-sympathetic black African character. As the other students were going around the table critiquing my story, one girl, well-trained in postmodern techniques, decided to expose my story’s hidden racism: Arienne, it turns out, was just a code-name for “Aryan” (!), and the sympathetic nature of the black character also revealed my “white man’s burden.” What got me the most was how proud of herself she was: her deconstruction of my Aryan supremacy was the work of righteousness itself; the idea that there might be anything bad about leveling wild accusations against someone sitting across from her wasn’t even part of her moral landscape. Afterward, the professor, who was very leftist himself, apologized to me for having to undergo something so farcical in his class. It was one of many experiences that convinced me that there are two kinds of leftism in the world, and that my sympathies are only with the human kind.

21. Douglas Knight Says:

Of course Sacco meant the tweet ironically. Do you really believe that more than 10% of the people who attacked her really were honestly mistaken? I don’t. I think that vast majority of them were intentionally and maliciously misreading it.

Perhaps it would be better to say that they didn’t read it at all. They just knew that there was a big enough mob attacking it that no one would blame them for piling on and they didn’t care what it said, just that they had a chance to attack someone.

22. Scott Says:

Rahul #19: As it happens, there are lots of examples of “ordinary” computational phenomena that we don’t know how to explain except by making reference to “higher-up, esoteric” complexity classes. To take some examples: why aren’t factoring and graph isomorphism NP-complete? Why haven’t we been able to base cryptography on an NP-complete problem? Well, the best answer we have is that most “normal” ways for these things to happen would cause the polynomial hierarchy to collapse, to the first, second, or third level. Likewise for why BosonSampling (and other non-universal quantum models) seem hard to simulate using classical computers. Also, the PCP theorem, with its implications for NP-complete problems being hard to approximate, grew directly out of interactive proof theorems like MIP=NEXP (again with the esoteric complexity classes). Also, why is density functional theory hard to simulate? According to a striking Nature paper by Schuch and Verstraete, part of the answer is that NP≠QMA. The type of argument they employ wouldn’t even get off the ground if we’d just crudely divided all computational problems into “easy” and “hard,” and didn’t try to make structural distinctions among the hard problems.

And one of the most basic ground rules of research is that, when people actually make progress at understanding something interesting, we don’t get to dismiss the progress because of an aesthetic dislike for the “esoteric” concepts they had to invoke to achieve that understanding. Or rather, if we do, we’ll get left in the dust, as concepts that were once considered “esoteric” become more and more commonplace.

23. Sandro Says:

Scott: “Afterwards, a counter-reaction formed, which successfully got Richards fired from her job: justice??”

I think the shaming jihads going on these days are reprehensible, even if they are allegedly pursuing a noble goal. Whosever incites mob justice, reaps mob justice, for mobs are fickle and quick to anger. I can’t say I feel much sympathy for Richards.

However, I disagree with your statement that shaming some individuals is sometimes ok. It’s one thing to shame an entrenched power structure that disenfranchises people, but targetting individuals is never ok. Ridiculing a homophobe will see his moderate and liberal friends abandon him, and radicals rally behind him as a cause. That’s precisely the opposite of a constructive outcome.

An attempt to publicly shame should itself be seen as shameful. I think Benjamin Rush’s quote from Ron’s article is brilliant, and exemplifies precisely why, “It would seem strange that ignominy should ever have been adopted as a milder punishment than death, did we not know that the human mind seldom arrives at truth upon any subject till it has first reached the extremity of error.”

I also think another of Scott’s posts is relevant here: IN FAVOR OF NICENESS, COMMUNITY, AND CIVILIZATION.

24. Darryl Williams Says:

I had this argument out with a friend on Facebook already, so I’d want to hear how you’d respond to Rahul #17. For every story ending with a life destroyed in the upcoming book, there are many, such as yourself, who don’t get fired at all. In the end, isn’t it the person who fires for these reasons we should find fault with? It also seems like a far more solvable problem; we have a precedent for ‘wrongful dismissal’ as a concept, could it potentially right this wrong more effectively?
~
I think it’s an interesting point that you distinguish based on the power of the target (i.e., excepting politicians, CEO’s and the like from concern) [I think there’s definitely a point/query to be made about the relative likelihood of Justine being fired were she ‘Justin’, and had the advantage of ‘boys will be boys’ or a better connection to the office power structure…].

25. anon Says:

Fo me, the idea of public shaming campaigns is extremely terrifying, and I think most other people who have also been severely anxious, depressed, prone to panic attacks, etc., feel the same way. (It frustrates me that some leftists pay lip service to mental health, but have a horrifying track record of trivializing or even celebrating the pain they’ve inflicted upon other people.)

Anyway, in general, and especially in the last two months (given recent events on your blog), I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how leftists/liberals can respond to the particular toxic strain of leftism that gives rise to these shaming campaigns, as well as other types of in-group status games that cause a lot of collateral damage. I like what Freddie deBoer has to say about this, so I’ll just paste a blog post of his, almost in its entirety:

“[…] But the project for social justice has been captured by an elite strata of post-collegiate, digitally-enabled children of privilege, who do not pursue that project as an end, but rather use it as a means with which to compete, socially and professionally, with each other. In that use, they value not speech or actions that actually result in a better world, but rather those that result in greater social reward, which in the digital world is obvious and explicit. That means that they prefer engagement that creates a) outrage and b) jokes, rather than engagement that leads to positive change. In this disregard for actual political success, they reveal their own privilege, as it’s only the privileged who could ever have so little regard for actual, material progress. As long as they are allowed to co-opt the movement for social justice for their own personal aggrandizement, the world will not improve, not for women, people of color, gay and transgender people, or the poor.” (http://fredrikdeboer.com/2014/11/19/its-pretty-simple-really/)

I think the last point deserves more emphasis: In addition to being harmful to a free society and harmful to individuals who need to be “called out,” this form of leftism is *harmful to oppressed people* because it diverts attention to things that don’t matter and causes a lot of pointless left/right culture-war conflicts, while the real problems are too complex to be described in a clickbait article and thus go ignored. (To state the obvious, ruining Justine Sacco’s life did not alleviate institutional racism in any way.)

Returning to the original question, I think reasonable leftists should actually go on the offensive every time something like this happens: They should point out repeatedly and loudly that these public smear campaigns and viral outrage-fueling articles are harming the leftist cause. (This is in addition to standing up for civil discourse and basic human decency, which in an ideal world would be sufficient to convince everyone….)

26. Scott Says:

Sandro #23: Yeah, that’s why I put the two question marks after “justice”! I feel that what Richards did was reprehensible, but I would’ve strongly preferred a more civilized way to deter it.

27. James Gallagher Says:

Don’t waste intellectual resources during your prime academic years on this stuff, there are quite a few people who don’t have anything else to do apart from write and debate on these issues who will grind you down if you are not careful.

28. Scott Says:

Rahul #17 and Darryl Williams #24: You raise an excellent point. This was my omission; I should’ve added a sixth potential solution, of training employers to be more sensitive about this. (This might be a US-centric issue: in the US, as I understand it, it’s legal to fire someone for pretty much any reason at all other than race, sex, or age discrimination, or sexual orientation depending on the state. Whereas in France, let’s say, firing someone even for gross negligence might require a 20-year legal proceedings. 🙂 )

The fact that I have tenure gives me a special ability to speak freely, but also, one might argue, a special obligation to speak freely.

Of course, losing one’s job seems to me like only one of the many possible bad consequences of being shamed—there’s also the damage to one’s social relationships, which can’t be remedied in any analogous way.

29. Braithwaite Prendergast Says:

In re Comment 27: according to Spinoza, “…everything in nature proceeds from a sort of necessity….” (Ethics, Part I, Prop. 36, Appendix) There are reasons why a writer would “…waste intellectual resources during your prime academic years on this stuff….” For example, the writer (1.) strongly needs to react to an attack; (2.) is bored or tired of writing about some other topics; (3.) as a result of aging, has a gradual change of interests; and numerous other possible motives. Comments on these issues must be as they are, unless Comment 27 itself provides a strong enough counter-motive, thereby changing the course of the blog and its comments.

30. Darrell Burgan Says:

A great article. The big problem with the Internet, in my view, is that it opened the spigots on free speech (always good) but without a proportional increase in the responsibilities that come with being able to broadcast such freedom across the globe. People can say anything harmful with impunity, and so, they do, and the pile-on effect can be horrifying at times.

One extremely minor quibble with the article:

“It’s like the world’s biggest high school.”

As a parent of multiple kids, I would update this to say the world’s biggest middle school. My experience thus far is that middle schoolers can be utterly vicious nowadays, and the explosion of social media has put napalm on the fire. By high school, a tiny degree of maturity has emerged and it is actually somewhat better. Different from my school experience, but seems to be consistent with everyone I’m talking to. Maybe times are different now.

31. Peter Says:

Amanda Marcotte is a shnood.

32. Job Says:

Scott #16, let me mediate this before a debate ensues. 🙂

I think Female Professor’s point is that in having to work up the non-level playing field, she has less of an opportunity for certain aspects of her personal life, such as raising a family.

This is the key point in the discussion where it’s important to acknowledge that she may have a point.

In my opinion this is where things went wrong in your last debate – my impression is that you were implicitly arguing for some sort of feminist immunity because of your personal struggles.

No one is totally immune to other people’s problems.

On the other hand i can certainly understand that, having struggled with the issue, it would take a massive amount of self-restraint to just shut up and take it – in fact, i doubt i or most people would have. That’s why the discussion will degrade into a continuous oh, so you think you have it bad…, which are really popular and can easily spin out of control.

Maybe understanding can help avert the recurrence of shame campaigns? (I know that sounds really lame)

33. Scott Says:

Job #32: I was genuinely uncertain what her point was—that’s why I asked her for clarification.

34. Rahul Says:

@anon#25:

“I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how leftists/liberals can respond to the particular toxic strain of leftism that gives rise to these shaming campaigns”

Your comment seems to imply that shaming campaigns are some tool unique to the left. Is it? Are left leaning people more likely to resort to these shaming campaigns.

I think not. I think shaming has been an ideologically agnostic strategy.

35. Rahul Says:

Scott #22:

“there are lots of examples of “ordinary” computational phenomena that we don’t know how to explain except by making reference to “higher-up, esoteric” complexity classes.”

Sure. But I was more specifically discussing along the lines of Boaz Barak’s blog post which ascribes a particular *utility* to studying asymptotics. i.e. in Boaz’s words “….once a problem has been shown to be in polynomial time, people managed to come up with algorithms with small exponents and reasonable leading constants. “

I totally agree that if “how to explain a phenomena” is your yardstick all the minutiae you could get into are absolutely justifiable.

In fact, the quest to “understanding something interesting” is such a noble goal that makes it very difficult to exclude almost any kind of research enterprise.

So I wasn’t trying to think that broadly here. I was only wondering that if you have in mind the specific sort of utility Boaz Barak describes as the “party line” (i.e. motivation for people to improve algorithms by lowering constants & exponents) then whether having all the complex hierarchy & its many many esoteric classes is essential to that objective.

36. Jason Says:

Another solution would be to move away from the uniquely American at will employment model and toward more European style labor rights against arbitrary firings. If you’d chosen to pursue your quantum computing career at Microsoft or IBM who knows whether some executive would have kept you in the wake of SJW complaints.

While I share your hesitancy about counter shaming the shamers, I like the idea of shaming companies that are willing to let an employee lose everything to expediently appease SJWs. Maybe create a name for them, and have a centralized list documenting who has chosen to stand with virtual lynch mobs.

37. Jason Says:

Scott, do you think the minimum circuit size problem is NP-hard or intermediate? (I’m assuming you don’t think it’s in P.)

38. John Says:

Great article. All of the internet shaming sucks, which is why I tend never to talk politics, religion, or anything remotely controversial online… or to post under my full name unless it’s pure science.

But refusing to publicize a P=NP proof? For shame. The world needs to know! 😉

Hey, I don’t know if you have special permission or something, but Scott Alexander did post a disclaimer on “Untitled” asking people not to link it.

40. Jerry Says:

Scott, I will take you at your word that Laurie Penny represents a different feminism than Amanda Marcotte. You have met her, you know better than I. But When I read Penny’s article about the culture war laurie-penny.com/why-were-winning-social-justice-warriors-and-the-new-culture-war/ well, I’m not so sure.

I would like to offer a 6th solution, and that is actively teaching people about the ethics and dangers of shaming campaigns.

Kids seem to pick up why they shouldn’t eat their boogers in public, on why bullying is bad, and even to look away when they see people in public being affectionate. I bet we can teach them a lot about the bad ethics of shaming campaigns.

Why an Internet viral campaign is a nightmare.
Why Internet campaigns often miss the real target.
How almost nothing on the Internet is forgotten.

and

Why a counter argument is productive, a condemnation reasonable, but a call for a firing is unreasonable and violent threats are beyond the pale.

In other words, counter ugly speech with more speech, not with Internet and Real World vendettas.

(And of course, teach them the Vulcan IDIC.)

41. DHW Says:

I’ve found a useful rule of thumb here: Any argument that maps to “X, so shut up” is a bad argument.

42. quax Says:

So P=NP extremists are worse than “feminazis” – in a sense this is oddly comforting.

rrtucci #7, don’t think Tommy was out to bash the US (I am sure he could do better if he tried). In the parts of Europe that I am familiar with social media hasn’t caught on to the extend that it has in the US. Mostly due to a combination of older demographics and being more fearful of loss of privacy. On the other hand libel laws are much stricter in most EU countries. In those jurisdiction Scott could probably quite successfully sue the detractors who completely twisted his words.

On the other hand the absence of public shaming also curtails its limited upside in terms of being a corrective for certain behavior. I.e. after attending school in the US and having absorbed the proper guidelines for non-discriminatory workplace behavior, I was shocked by occasionally quite inappropriate, openly sexist behavior of some mangers in Germany. What made these incidents especially infuriating is that these guys thought themselves witty and charming. Some of these dudes would have really deserved a public shaming, despite of all the cogent points raised by Sandro #23.

The closest we got in Germany to a public shaming campaign was when a politician was taken to task by a female reporter about his “flirting” attempts. It caused a huge Twitter outpur at #Aufschrei where German women related stories documenting the everyday sexism in Germany. As for the success of that public shaming, the politician in question, Rainer Brüderle, portrait himself as the true victim, and rode the whole thing out. (He even found sympathetic support from beyond the border).

43. David R. MacIver Says:

I like your post and generally agree with a bunch of your points and feel sympathy towards the rest. But…

The Jon Ronson article is really not good. As well as the questionable ethics of centering a piece on someone who has explicitly said she doesn’t want more public attention in order to talk about the evils of public attention, his characterization of the PyCon incident is wildly off. Melissa McEwan has written a much longer and better piece than this comment about the problems with it.

44. DoxxThis Says:

A few other suggestions:

1) Make social media businesses legally accountable (preferably criminally) for facilitating lynch mobs against private individuals. Both Twitter and Tumblr have architectural features and TOS policies which are very generous to intersectional feminists (SJWs) who want to start mobs. Providers who allow intersectional feminists to smear their enemies should be held strictly liable for all damages, including lost wages. There’s no reason social media platforms cannot ban intersectional feminists who participate in shaming campaigns and since the platforms won’t do the right thing voluntarily, they should be forced to do it by law.

2) Drain the swamp. People aren’t born believing they have a right to destroy lives for little more than their amusement. It’s a learned–and in many cases, taught–behavior. Some of the people who launch or join lynch mobs became bullies in K-12 and just took bullying into the adult world. Others got involved with womens’ studies courses and were indoctrinated into bullying in the name of intersectional feminism. Society needs better intervention techniques to manage bullying by girls in K-12. Left alone, these girls grow into the participants of Twitter mobs. As for the contribution of womens’ studies, most of these programs should be overhauled so they serve some function other than indoctrinating young people into an ideology of hatred.

3) No-platform intersectional feminist leaders who launch or condone social media lynch mobs. Several high profile new media intersectional feminists have either waged in, or have endorsed, lynch mob tactics such as posting personal information of critics. These people do not belong in polite company and should be denied all opportunities to speak or raise money.

4) Strengthen employment protections for all workers. Employment should not be so tenuous that saying anything politically controversial can result in homelessness. People need the right to a life outside of work not subject to an employer’s need for beige, uncontroversial, drone employees. What intersectional feminists say on Twitter should not be cause for firing.

45. Rahul Says:

In my opinion, some of the solutions proposed are worse than the problem itself:

e.g.

Jason Comment #36

“…..to move away from the uniquely American at will employment model and toward more European style labor rights against arbitrary firings.”

DoxxThis #44

“…..Strengthen employment protections for all workers…..”

“……Make social media businesses legally accountable (preferably criminally) for facilitating lynch mobs……since the platforms won’t do the right thing [ban intersectional feminists who participate in shaming campaigns] voluntarily, they should be forced to do it by law….”

Some sense of perspective is needed here. Although public shaming is indeed a problem I do not think it is of such proportions that it merits a huge change in American labor law. Think of the unintended side effects.

About the bans, there’s big issues of freedom of speech involved. I’m pretty sure that most of the things that got said in these shaming sagas, no matter how much in bad taste, are things that no court in the US is going to rule are forbidden speech.

46. Scott Says:

Jason #37:

Scott, do you think the minimum circuit size problem is NP-hard or intermediate? (I’m assuming you don’t think it’s in P.)

That’s a wonderful question, and a big one! Indeed I don’t think that MCSP is in P, because it’s known to be at least as hard as the problem of inverting arbitrary one-way functions. But whether it’s NP-complete is much harder to say. The truth might even turn out to be, “it depends what you mean by NP-complete” (for example, Eric Allender has speculated that MCSP might be NP-complete under nonuniform reductions, which can hardwire complicated Boolean functions into the circuit doing the reduction, but not under uniform reductions).

Unlike with (say) factoring or graph isomorphism, we don’t have any results saying that if MCSP is NP-complete, then the polynomial hierarchy collapses or something terrible like that happens. And “morally,” the problem seems like it could be NP-complete.

On the other hand, what we do have is a bunch of results explaining why MCSP is going to be incredibly difficult to prove NP-complete, certainly using any of the techniques that exist today. In particular, have you seen this very recent paper by Cody Murray and Ryan Williams? (Following earlier related work by Kabanets and Cai.) Basically, they show that if you proved MCSP is NP-complete, via a reduction that looked anything like most NP-completeness reductions do, then you would also prove strong circuit lower bounds. Now, we do think the strong circuit lower bounds are true, so that’s not exactly an argument against MCSP being NP-complete, even under the types of reduction they’re talking about! But it’s certainly an argument for why, if it’s NP-complete, then we have little hope of proving that anytime soon.

47. Scott Says:

Hey, I don’t know if you have special permission or something, but Scott Alexander did post a disclaimer on “Untitled” asking people not to link it.

Alexander’s request—which, in any case, has already been ignored enough that the horse is out of the barn and somewhere in interstellar space!—was, “Keep this off Reddit and widely-read social media, please?” And I didn’t think my blog counted as “widely-read social media” (and he didn’t complain the last time I linked to Untitled). But if he tells me I’m mistaken, of course I’ll gladly remove the link.

48. Hunt Says:

It was one of many experiences that convinced me that there are two kinds of leftism in the world, and that my sympathies are only with the human kind.

This can’t be emphasized enough. It’s high time that people on the left who peddle abuse realize that asserting left-wing politics isn’t a shield of immunity from criticism. It’s up to others on the left to property implement that safeguard. Leftism can suffer from adulterations of authoritarianism, and other pernicious influences, almost as readily as right-wing politics.

49. Scott Says:

David MacIver #43: Sorry, but having now read Melissa McEwan’s article as well as Ronson’s, I found Ronson’s to be far more reasonable—and that judgment doesn’t depend on details I can’t know, like the precise decibel level at which the poor guy said or whispered his dongle joke. Ronson at least tries to explain the incident from Richards’ perspective and also from dongle guy’s, whereas McEwan is almost comically oblivious to the latter. She writes indignantly and at length about the backlash Richards suffered after her vigilante action, but also offers the following remarkable passage:

Everything was seemingly resolved, and there was no public reaction on Twitter. It was only once the man “posted about losing his job on Hacker News” that the pushback started, and then escalated exponentially, with even ostensible allies abetting the abuse by tone and choice policing.

The fact that the guy actually did lose his job because of Richards’ action—i.e., because of her decision to photograph, shame, and humiliate him over an overheard pun—doesn’t even break the surface of consciousness. The problem, for McEwan, only starts once he talks about it.

50. Scott Says:

DoxxThis #44: While some shaming of individuals—including what I underwent—is clearly perpetrated by Amanda-Marcotte-style feminists, for whatever it’s worth, I don’t see this issue as specific to feminism at all. Indeed, feminists have also been the victims of reprehensible shaming campaigns by misogynists. For me, this is simply an issue of relating to each other as human beings, rather than as hardened privilege warriors.

51. Eli Says:

This topic is actually of immense interest to me, because in the past year or so I’ve set out to do what few do in my field of design, be an outspoken critic. This often involves quoting and making reference to what can be somewhat absurd positions held by anyone ranging from somewhat moderately known practitioners, up to CEOs and most often companies in a broad sense.

In my understanding, in order to adequately critique a position that is broadly held, one must provide examples that validate or give credibility to the idea that this position holds sway. This often involves discussing the work and arguments made by both prominent figures and colleagues. The aim is not to shame them in any sense that would cause harm, other than to refute harmful ideas that they espouse.

I’ve written up a framework on public criticism. I know it’s incomplete, but I’m curious what this community thinks about it. The guidelines are somewhat specific to design, but I think there may be some overlap between journalism, criticism and apologetics in this regard. Here’s the framework.

52. JollyJoker Says:

I was wondering if you ever took up Penny’s offer to meet; it will be interesting to read your joint post.

Throughout this story I’ve bumped into small things that make me feel you still have some hangups with expressing sexuality and what’s ok in that regard. I consider myself a fairly shy nerd with some issues with communicating well with the opposite sex, so I tend to analyze stuff like this as some sort of “What would be a healthy and useful way for me to think about these things”.

In particular, Scott #14; “So for example, some guys seem able to morph, chameleon-like, from “check your privilege” ultra-feminists by day, to “check out the ass on that one” players by night. And I’m sure they sleep soundly, and the contradiction doesn’t trouble them at all.”

Apologies in advance if I misunderstand what you meant, but this doesn’t seem like a contradiction to me. “Check out the ass on that one” is imo completely fine unless the woman in question overhears or, more generally, someone is made uncomfortable by the comment. It’s completely ok to like someones tits or ass and the limits for how openly one should express that depend on what would make who uncomfortable.

What a bystander might see as a “playa” hitting on a woman may well be a polite, comfortable and enjoyable interaction for both, with the guy very much still an ultra-feminist while getting to know a potentially interesting woman.

Not sure how well I understand these things even now. I can’t help but feel a bit jealous of those for whom this is just instinctive and there’s no need to analyze and learn.

53. John Sidles Says:

Scott remarks  “One of my deepest moral beliefs is in the obligation to fight for those among the disadvantaged who don’t despise you, and who wouldn’t gladly rid the planet of everyone like you if they could.

Shtel Optimized readers will find in Matthew McNaught’s reporting Yarmouk Miniatures: Saadallah Wannous and the War on Stories (n+1 on-line, February 18, 2015) abundant material for further reflections upon the theme “fight for the disadvantaged.”

“The serious playwright cannot write if he discovers his theater is useless.”

Summary  Mathematics, science, engineering, and medicine can be appreciated as theatrical disciplines (among other things) and it follows that we can effectively “fight for the disadvantaged” first by listening, and second by speaking-up ourselves, in particular by incorporating into our STEM narratives the voices of this world’s Babel, who are shouting Enona mahkoomiin bil’amal!

54. Ampersand Says:

A friend of mine, a woman who is a professional cartoonist (she’s well-known within the field), used to write in public about her political opinions. A far-right-wing comics fan with a popular blog has included harsh comments about her and her work in a couple of his posts.

After seeing what’s happened to women like Brianna Wu and Anita Sarkeesian, as well as a bunch of lesser-known cases, my friend – who has social anxiety problems – has ceased speaking or writing about politics in public. She’s frightened about what could happen if the right-wing comics blogger’s fans started going after her on social media.

I’m sure this sort of “prior restraint” has happened to many more people than my friend. People are shutting up because they don’t want to take the chance of being targeted. This isn’t what a healthy free speech culture should be.

* * *

I was really bothered by Ronson publishing a lengthy account in the New York Times about a woman who explicitly said she didn’t want to be in the public spotlight. There is no bigger spotlight than the Times (other than Network TV). I’m sure he did have the legal right to publish the article – she agreed to be interviewed at first, and only later changed her mind, it seems – but the end result still feels unethical and exploitative to me.

That said, I largely agree with you, and with Ronson. Because every individual on social media is only a tiny part of a larger puzzle, there is no mechanism for keeping responses to any alleged offense proportionate. I don’t think it’s inherently wrong for any one individual to criticize the shirtgate dude; but multiply that by a thousand and you have a wildly disproportionate and unfair response.

The one thing I can suggest is that those of us who write for social media (be it Twitter, a blog, or whatever) push back against any calls for people to be fired for things that don’t relate directly and unambiguously to their job performance. And we should all make sure we push back against such calls from both the right and the left, rather than pushing back only on one side.

But that won’t help people like my friend, who are afraid of being firehosed with hate and abuse. I’m honestly not sure what can help with that.

55. Darryl Says:

Scott 49, wait, judge the article’s perspective as you will, but there seem to be some very salient claims here; that the man fired was a) reported through the means appropriate to the event, rather than as an attempt to internet-shame b) that he was fired for the incident itself, and that there-wasn’t, in fact, a noticeable twitter shame-campaign? The way Ronson tells the story ” She tweeted the picture to her 9,209 followers…Ten minutes later, he and his friend were taken into a quiet room at the conference and asked to explain themselves. Two days later, his boss called him into his office, and he was fired.” But, the ten minutes later was clearly by the conference organizers, and the two days later (which actually wasn’t? she notes the timeline discrepancy in the article) doesn’t seem to be preceded by the level of vitriolic campaigning we’ve been discussing.
***
I understand you’re taking more of a ‘the important thing is understanding each other/sharing perspectives’ view right now, (instead of the who-is-right-who-is-wrong/goodguy-badguy) but at the very least, consider a) that Ronson may have more to sell here, and b) that Adria makes a much better example of the problem here, having been fired for the reaction to a tweet in perhaps arguable bad taste, rather than say, unprofessional conduct in a professional setting (as sympathetic as ‘father of three’ may be).

56. Scott Says:

Darryl #55: My understanding was that (a) Richards did publicly shame the guy, posting his picture on Twitter as well as a blog post about it, and that (b) if not for the public shaming, his employer wouldn’t have even known about the incident in order to fire him. (After all, the incident took place at a conference, not at his workplace.) But if I’ve misunderstood the sequence of events, then others should feel free to correct me.

57. Rahul Says:

If Adria Richards wanted to report a Code of Conduct violation there seem better ways to do it than a photo tweeted publicly.

58. Scott Says:

JollyJoker #52: If you spent 5% as much time reading Internet feminism as I have, I’m sure you would’ve encountered people who’d strongly disagree with you, and consider “check out the ass on that one”-type comments to be the epitome of what’s wrong with the world. (At least in theory: in practice, a socially-skilled person who made such comments might get a pass for being, y’know, cool and ironic about it.)

More fundamentally, I completely reject the notion that words can become morally wrong because someone accidentally overhears them or takes offense at them—for both of those things are outside the speaker’s control! If your words are morally OK, then they’re still OK regardless of who accidentally overhears them or what they think. And conversely, if the words are morally problematic, then they’re still problematic even if no one overhears them.

59. Darryl Says:

I guess it’s not so much the difference in events, but the difference in context. It seemed that the issue was shame campaigns, where one innocuous event gets magnified out of all proportion by thousands demanding that someone suffer for it. But is it simply anything which leads a guy to be fired is the problem, even if that’s one tweet which says what happened and makes no such demands?

60. Rahul Says:

Scott #58:

Morally wrong is strong. But I think there’s a distinction between those scenarios.

“check out the ass on that one” said by A to B, completely privately about C doesn’t in any way harm C or have any potential to make her upset, disturbed, demeaned etc.

Saying it where C can hear it adds all those potential side effects which may have a strong adverse impact on C’s environment to function well.

In general, I don’t think we, as a society, should get into the business of policing whatever opinions A expresses to B in private.

So, I guess context does matter.

61. Scott Says:

Darryl #59: No, it’s crucial to the argument that I’d consider publicly shaming a guy and reporting him to authorities because of an overheard ‘dongle’ pun to be morally wrong, even if he hadn’t gotten fired for it. The fact that he did get fired aggravates the harm, but it doesn’t create the wrongness of the act.

62. GASARCH Says:

(I see this post just after a day and I still have 50 or so posts ahead of me.)
(Odd set of comments- a mix of math and shaming-stuff)

1) Does anyone deserve to be shamed? I would say no.
Lets take your Lynching analog (which is excellent). I once
read an article whose title was a Lynching in Alabama in 1890′
and was all ready to be outraged at a black guy lynched by white mob for looking at a white girl’ story. Instead it was a white guy lynched by white mob for being a child molester, which he really was guilty of’ Did he deserve to be lynched? I would still say no.

2) How to combat it? Let take Todd Aiken. I have a fantasy that intelligent well informed rebuttals would have been a better way to handle that. Alas, this is the same fantasy that Jon Stewart accused Obama of having when Obama gave an intelligent argument about why we don’t want to call the terrorists religious leaders (it raises their status and plays into their hands).

So in your case, had the responses all been well informed comments (some might still have been wrong) phrased in a way that you could clarify and respond, there would have been far less of them (ignored issue- global warming- how much energy to shaming consume?) and the incident would have been inconsequential.

63. Rahul Says:

Ampersand #54:

“I was really bothered by Ronson publishing a lengthy account in the New York Times about a woman who explicitly said she didn’t want to be in the public spotlight.”

I don’t know. Is it the norm that a person must consent to become a subject of a media article / op ed?

There are tons of people in the newspapers every day who’d give a lot to be not in there.

64. JollyJoker Says:

Scott #58: Of course there are those who would disagree, but I’d say we both disagree with those people.

Accidental overhearing happens, but it’s not completely outside your control if someone takes offense. Making an effort not to offend people is completely par for the course and I do choose my words depending on the audience, if only simply because I know different people will interpret them differently.

In the “check out that ass” example, a friend, male or female, would likely just realize I’ve seen someone I find attractive without any objectification, stereotyping, misogyny etc implied, while a random bystander could well take offense.

I wouldn’t disagree with a statement that some words are always morally wrong, but I think it’s very important to acknowledge that any expression of sexual interest can be offensive or not depending on the situation, mood and people involved. It can never be reduced to the words alone, and you can never understand a situation so completely you can be certain what you say is morally OK.

65. Rahul Says:

GASARCH Comment #62:

I still think that to equate public shaming to a lynch mob is not accurate.

We have a problem with lynch mobs because they take it upon themselves to deliver justice & we do not approve of that as a legitimate way to decide on the guilt nor the appropriate punishment. Hence lynching an alleged child molester in Alabama is considered wrong.

OTOH, were someone to form a non-violent crowd of demonstrators that march or picket or distribute flyers or go door to door campaigning or engage in public disobedience to protest against the police’s lack of action against an alleged child molester, would we still categorize that as wrong?

Why is a public shaming campaign not the equivalent of a non-violent protest? Why do we think of it as a lynch mob?

The unjust act in this case is most often a firing. Someone losing their jobs undeservedly. That’s the act having actual repercussions & an irreversible finality where due process may have been denied the victim.

Let us focus on that act of firing & whoever did it. The true injustice lies there. e.g. In all these public shaming examples discussed in this blog post & the NYT article why aren’t the employers receiving as much flak? Aren’t the employers the ones who took the easy path out?

66. Darryl Says:

60. Hm. It seems like a small point for such grand schemes to hang on, especially when accepting what ‘dongle puns’ can do to make people uncomfortable in a collegial environment. But I suppose we structure our moral philosophies differently. In the end, Rahul 64 has it. Even looking at this from a moral perspective, the wrong of her tweet pales in comparison to that of an unjust firing, and we’re seeing complete radio silence on the subject of the employers. That said, I have to say to Rahul 45, frankly, America needs those labor law changes entirely independent of this. If it also helps to prevent employers from firing people because of tweets, it’s only icing on a delicious cake.

67. Greg Kuperberg Says:

This posting makes a lot of great points. Public shaming campaigns have led to all kinds of abuse, and I agree that Scott had his own undeserved brush with it.

It’s also interesting that Scott and Laurie Penny made peace and hit it off over coffee. If it had happened to me, the I’m not that I would have been prepared to make peace. Even so, making peace is the right thing to do, if possible, and I gather that Penny can be completely reasonable.

68. Scott Says:

JollyJoker #63: I completely agree that we can and should control how we speak in order to cause less offense, and to take into account how our intended audience is likely to react. I’m trying to do that all the time—not always successfully! 😀

All I claim is that, once you have done whatever was within your control, there aren’t further factors beyond your control that are relevant to deciding whether you did something morally wrong. At most, the uncontrollable consequences of your act can sometimes be relevant to the magnitude of the wrongness. E.g., if you unjustly shame someone who then commits suicide, most people would say that makes it worse, but the shaming would still have been wrong even if the person hadn’t committed suicide.

In this case, we could say: the moral wrongness of saying something is a function of the actual words you say, of your intended audience, and of your beliefs about how your words would be received (and the reasonableness of those beliefs). But it’s not also a function of who hears your words that you didn’t intend to hear them, or of how people react to your words in ways you couldn’t reasonably have anticipated. If you tell me someone committed a moral wrong because someone accidentally overheard her words, or interpreted them in an unintended way, I’ll reply that the moral wrong (if any) was already there before those things happened.

69. Rahul Says:

Scott writes:

“……we accept that, when you become (let’s say) an elected official, a CEO, or a university president, part of the bargain is that you no longer get to complain if people organize to express their hatred of you.

But what’s striking about the cases in the NYT article is that it’s not public figures being gleefully destroyed: just ordinary people….”

But that’s a slippery slope. Where exactly do you draw the line?

A university president is a legitimate target for shaming? Ok. What about a dean? A Professor? A really famous Professor? A Professor with a really wide reaching blog?

My point is that it is going to be incredibly difficult to decide who’s public enough that he is a legitimate target for organized opposition & who isn’t.

As an aside, all the discussion of D-Wave we did on here (both blog posts & comments too), wasn’t that a Public Shaming? Or was that a legitimate public shaming. Or does this discussion of public shaming only apply to persons & not entities? But what if an (undeserved) public shaming of a Company caused it to fold & hence people lost jobs?

Too bad though, D-Wave doesn’t seem to have lost any jobs…I mean funding. In some cases, all publicity seems good publicity, eh?

70. John Sidles Says:

GASARCH wonders ( #61) “Does anyone deserve to be shamed? I would say no.”

During the 1960s a number of lawsuits against the NAACP were brought by southern sheriffs, asserting defamation by the NAACP’s newspaper advertisements “shaming” the racially discriminatory practices of the police.

The courts ruled, however, that the NAACP’s shaming practices were legally protected, upon grounds articulated by Judge Learned Hand:

“The First Amendment […] presupposes that right conclusions are more likely to be gathered out of a multitude of tongues, than through any kind of authoritative selection. To many this is, and always will be, folly; but we have staked upon it our all.”
— Judge Learned Hand

Question  When shaming is unfair, must it still be tolerated?

Answer  Judge Hand’s opinion reminds us that open discourse affords a better protection against unfair shaming, than any conceivable “authoritative selection” ever could.

Needless to say, the same principle applies in scientific peer review:

GASARCH asked [last Feb. 14, here on Shtetl Optimized … however no one answered] “Do you know of any paper which made a claim like P=NP which ended up not showing P=NP but did have some good idea that made some problems solvable faster in some cases?”

Please accept my apology, GASARCH, for my laziness in not posting a response when this question was asked. The history of the notion of entropy provides abundant examples of false-but-fruitful complexity-theoretic claims.

For details, see for example Andrei Kolmogorov’s early mistaken claims and faulty definitions as described in Anatole Katok’s survey “Fifty years of entropy in dynamics: 1958–2007” (2007), in particular the section “Kolmogorov’s contribution to dynamics: 1953–1959” (p. 546-8).

Nowadays we don’t think of Kolomogorov’s imperfect complexity-theoretic ideas, back in the 1950s, as deserving of any kind of “shaming” — quite the contrary! Even today the notion of entropy (in all its diverse manifestations) remains very far from fully understood, and it is entirely plausible that our present 21st century understanding will someday be appreciated as being comparably imperfect to Kolomogorov’s.

Conclusion  In science and public discourse alike, it is better to tolerate mistaken opinions and public shaming — trusting in the efficacy of open discourse to eventually remediate their ill effects — than to ill-advisably subordinate our collective opinions to “any kind of authoritative selection” (as Judge Hand called it).

 @article{Katok2007545, Author = {Anatole Katok}, Journal = {Journal of Modern Dynamics}, Number = {4}, Pages = {545-596}, Title = {Fifty years of entropy in dynamics: 1958--2007}, Volume = {1}, Year = {2007}} 

71. Punished Gamer Says:

(5) Standing up. And so we come to the only solution that I can wholeheartedly stand behind. This is for people who abhor shaming campaigns to speak out, loudly, for those who are unfairly shamed.

Welcome to nerdom’s pushback against corrupt journalists, bullying bloggers, and shaming sjws.

The OP: (It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this:)
https://gitgud.net/gamergate/gamergateop/tree/master

Current Happenings:
https://gitgud.net/gamergate/gamergateop/tree/master/Current-Happenings

Pressroom: http://www.reddit.com/r/KotakuInAction/

Keep it all net-based and don’t let e-drama into real-life. In case you get too tired or stressed, remember to get yourself a Steam account/WiiU and find some good games to recharge on.

72. houkoten Says:

I admit, I’m not quite on the level required for the discourse being put forward here, but I’d like to share my thoughts being put forward.

There is one thing that stands out to me when reflecting on the problem of the online mob and what to do about it. This is mainly in the regard to personal identity that is being put forward. I think that there is too much of the wrong kind of emphasis being placed on the need or requirement for a person’s actual identity to be used and why that would matter in the context of how it is being used. This is mainly coming from the concept of addressing the idea being put forward rather than who is putting forward the idea. There are limits to this of course, of which I feel are strictly limited to the professional environment. For example, in making an official press release or in releasing evidence to be used and cited as fact elsewhere, it does matter in the sense of attempting to establish what and how the information came into being. For everything else, I don’t see it as a requirement for discussing or interacting in anything and having it being relevant and even leads to the potential appeals to authority http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_authority problem.

Take this in a different context like a game for example. No one should care where you work, your background, or other factors other than the general compotenence displayed within the contextual environment. Only after that is achieved generally does the issue of who you actually are end up mattering in the sense of continued interaction with the same group of people.

As for the solution of averting the consequences of backlash like described through the article. I feel that is more of a labor discrimination issue potentially like what has been observered with various cases trying to address the issue of if your workplace should be entitled to the information within your own social network usage. There are various arguments that could be had on a case by case basis, but I’m not really well versed enough to go into that. The underlying concept that I’m trying to get at is, if that style of information could not be used against an employee which does not directly incriminate the company or the security of information of said company, then it wouldn’t it simply just be a clear cut case of discrimination by those who share similar views as the harrassers?

73. Scott Says:

Rahul #69:

Where exactly do you draw the line?

A university president is a legitimate target for shaming? Ok. What about a dean? A Professor? A really famous Professor? A Professor with a really wide reaching blog?

I don’t see any need to draw a line here. Shaming (when it’s unjust) is simply something that becomes progressively worse, when the person shamed is less and less of a public figure, or has fewer and fewer people under their authority.

When it comes to academics who aren’t presidents or deans, I think we also need to remember that a central part of their job—i.e., a central reason why a liberal society tolerates and supports them in the first place—is because there’s a huge value in having a few people who will ask questions others won’t ask and explore ideas others won’t explore. (In that respect, academics are a lot like standup comedians.) So there’s a particular injustice, one might say, in shaming academics precisely for trying to fulfill their role in society.

As an aside, all the discussion of D-Wave we did on here (both blog posts & comments too), wasn’t that a Public Shaming?

No, it wasn’t. If a company claims that its products do such-and-such, then it seems completely, 100% legitimate for interested skeptics to say “show us.” In all my blogging about this, I never once called the people at D-Wave charlatans or frauds, or attacked them as human beings … well, OK, maybe I directed a bit of snark Geordie’s way, but certainly no more than he directed my way.

Likewise, notice that in this post, I didn’t have a single bad word to say against Laurie Penny, or anyone else who simply tried to offer reasoned arguments against this-or-that aspect of what I wrote, or counterpose my experiences with their own. (Quite the contrary.) It was only the vilification and bile that I reacted against.

74. John Sidles Says:

Shtetl Optimized readers may enjoy balancing the arguments of “Punished Gamer’s” anti-shaming links (of #71) against Alisha Grauso’s pro-shaming essay The war for the soul of geek culture.”

With the passage of time, history provides grounds to hope that vigorous public discourse will illuminate the best arguments of the Grauso-versus-“Punished” dialog. One of history’s most celebrated shaming essays comes to mind: Émile Zola’s “J’accuse” (1898). The social and individual circumstances associated to Zola’s shaming essay have been admirably illuminated (as it seems to me) by Robert Harris’ recent, historically accurate novelization An Officer and a Spy (2014).

Personal opinion  In regard to the origins and consequences of shaming generally considered, Alisha Grauso’s pro-shaming arguments (and Zola’s too) are definitely superior to “Punished Gamer’s”.

 @book{harris2014officer, Title = {An Officer and a Spy}, Author = {Harris, R.}, Publisher = {Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group}, Annote = {Thoroughly-researched novelization of process and "shaming" in regard to the Dreyfus Affair, told in the first-person voice of Georges Picquart (the intelligence officer whose uncompromising efforts freed Dreyfus)}, Year = {2014}} `

75. Callum Hackett Says:

I would want to reframe your take on self-censorship. Self-censorship is definitely something that worries me and I believe it is already intrinsic to online communication, but I don’t believe that scenarios like these qualify, and I think it’s because people fundamentally mis-conceive what a medium like twitter is like.

Twitter is free. Twitter is public. Twitter is global. Now, I think that Sacco and others like her should be absolutely free to make whatever comments they want. But what would our reaction be if Sacco walked into a large public square and shouted her AIDS joke (ironic or not) at the top of her voice? I don’t think anyone would start scrambling to say that all the offended people should shut up or we’re going to end up censoring ourselves in public fora. Self-censorship must not be confused with simple decorum and sensibility. If you’re in a vast public online space, don’t say anything that you wouldn’t say in a public offline space that anyone can overhear. It’s not difficult and yet people speak publicly on these sites as if only their friends will see. We have to rethink how we use these technologies and not be so petulant as to expect that we can say whatever we like with an audience of a billion people and not face any repercussions.

76. Scott Says:

Callum #75: But saying something in a tweet or a blog comment is not analogous to shouting it in a town square, because it doesn’t make the same sort of demand on everyone else’s attention. A better (still imperfect) analogy would be: saying something in a normal voice to a few friends while you’re standing in the town square, and also to any strangers who happen to be passing by and want to join your conversation. Then having one of the strangers record the conversation, and re-broadcast it through huge speakers over and over to the whole square. It will feel to many listeners like you’re the one making an importunate demand on their attention—it’s your voice, after all, blaring something they didn’t want to hear!—but the feeling is entirely illusory.

77. Jerry Says:

@David R. MacIver #43

> The Jon Ronson article is really not good. As well as the questionable ethics of centering a piece on someone who has explicitly said she doesn’t want more public attention in order to talk about the evils of public attention, his characterization of the PyCon incident is wildly off.

Adria Richards on Twitter (@adriarichards) and elsewhere discusses the pycon incident and her experiences weekly if not almost daily.

For a person who does not want more public attention to it, she has a very odd twitter behavior.

78. Scott Says:

John Sidles #70: For the record, I never publicly shame anyone just for making mathematical mistakes—never mind mistakes of the caliber of Kolmogorov’s mistakes (!). I’ve even been known to make mathematical mistakes myself from time to time, and at many other times in between those two times. 🙂 And even when the mistaken individual keeps coming back, and back, and back—and refuses to admit the mistake, and publicly calls me an idiot for pointing the mistake out, and speaks of an evil conspiracy to suppress them, etc. etc.—well, in a decade of interacting with many dozens of such people, there was approximately one who succeeded in pushing me over the edge into publicly shaming them. And I regret it, and will strive to go over the edge zero times in the next decade.

79. Pecking Chicken Says:

I find internet shaming to being a particularly toxic offshoot of general internet slacktivism. For most participants, instead of “forward this email and Bill Gates will donate $5 to charity!”, they’re going for “strike a blow against the Patriarchy by retweeting this hit piece!” for their feel good effect. The problem is that while forwarding chain emails barely costs anyone anything, the aggregated effect of the retweeting can ruin lives. While standing up to the writers and suppliers is necessary, I think we should think about it from the demand side as well, otherwise one side will recreate the other. Getting retweeters to think about what they’re doing and analyze will be an up-hill battle. Merely standing up against isolated incidents isn’t going to work. Otherwise, it’s easy to say “alright, you convinced me. Scott Aaronson is a really cool person who isn’t going to go off and creep on women.” Then when the next “John Doe says the worst thing is talking with women about their problems!” article is written, it’s forwarded without a second thought because you know John Doe likely is a misogynist sperglord. You’ll need to send the message that it isn’t just some bad apples that need to be removed and things will be fine, there is a systemic issue that will continue to grow bad apples since that’s what’s encouraged to grow. The first hurdle is convincing people about what should be done about the guilty. Let’s say there’s an anti-Scott Aaronson that’s the same as Scott Aaronson, right down to running a computer science blog, but who really is everything the Twitter-mob says he is. What should be done if anything? If I write an article pointing out that anti-Scott Aaronson really is a bitter misogynist and thousands join in agreeing with me, is that shaming? Regardless, is what I did fine especially if what I say is true? If it’s fine since anti-Scott Aaronson is guilty, how certain must we be till we release the dogs of shame? How many guilty should we allow to go free so as to not risk an innocent? You’ll have to answer the questions especially to people who find themselves stuck with anti-Scott Aaronsons of all stripes who are looking for solutions to their problem even if it’s forwarding a link. This is also complicated by the fact that the Twitter-mobs are on a war footing against the Gamergate mob. It’s easy to think that pointing out the Twitter-mob are also an unruly mob that can and do grind up innocent bystanders is only just giving the enemy support as they point to your criticisms. Even if there are demagogues involved and targeting the innocent is common on our side, at the end of the day who do you really want to win? That type of thinking is really hard to change since any change can be seen as opening for the opponent. While one can be both against the Tsar and the Bolsheviks, it’s really hard to get either of them to see you as worth listening to as a third party and not a copperhead sapping their dearly needed strength. 80. Jerry Says: Oh, and as part of that discussion she has misread (or misrepresented) what Jon Ronson wrote about Pycon. At Shakesville, > Adria took their picture and tweeted it, also notifying the listed contacts in the Code of Conduct via text message and asking the conference organizers to handle it. She tweeted it out to 10K followers. If she wanted Pycon to handle it she would have a) DM’d them b) emailed them c) walked over to them > Everything was seemingly resolved, and there was no public reaction on Twitter. It was only once the man “posted about losing his job on Hacker News” that the pushback started, and then escalated exponentially, with even ostensible allies abetting the abuse by tone and choice policing. Mother Jones reports it http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/03/pycon-2013-sexism-dongle-richards > Whatever was said in the hallway discussions, less than half an hour after Richards tweeted her complaints, the official PyCon twitter account had a followup … In the meantime, lots of people had seen and shared Richards’s tweeted picture bearing the faces of developers alongside accusations of dirty jokes. Even so, what stands out is that Richards/McEwan think it somehow unfair, unethical, patriarchal for the fired developer to respond about his public shaming in public. 81. Jerry Says: Okay, one last, sorry for the multiple comments. The Shakesville piece is a defense of public shaming of certain people while marking off other kinds of people as verboten. The world was right to shame Sacco. Richards was right to shame Hank. Ronson was wrong to tell Hank’s story. Ronson would have been right to tell Richards’ story. 82. Callum Hackett Says: Re: Scott @ #76 Perhaps shouting was a poor analogy but I disagree that we should think of it in terms of making demands on others’ attention. The imperfection of your analogy is that, in the real world, there is a clearly-defined boundary to the normal-volume conversation: it may not be a physical boundary intrinsic to the public space, but it is understood by participants and non-participants alike who is intended to be included in the conversation and who would be considered an eavesdropper. On social media – at least on Twitter; Facebook is somewhat different – there is no such thing as an eavesdropper. You may not be demanding the attention of everyone on the network but, by using it, you are de facto including everyone in your conversation and asking them to make a choice about whether or not they want to listen. Now, you and others might respond that if someone doesn’t like something, they don’t have to look at it or reply. I agree with that to a very large extent and, incidentally, I have no time for public-shaming and I think it is equally ridiculous and damnable. However, this conception of the network treats it like a cluster of mutual interest groups where people join in if they feel at home. I think the reality is much more narcissistic than that. Everyone has a soapbox and they’re all competing for the traffic of the rest of the network. If you don’t want to risk the downside of that traffic, then the sensible thing is to publish somewhere where you can actually select your audience. Yes, everyone on these sites should have the freedom not to be harassed, bullied, or fired for comments they make; but they cannot ask on a completely open network for an illusion of privacy as though they’re not really making public statements. It’s having and eating the cake. You cannot reap the rewards of broadcasting your thoughts to the world with the intention of getting a maximal audience and then, when you misstep, ask for people to pretend that they weren’t even intended recipients of the message. In that sense, it’s much more like television: when programmes are put out, they’re obviously meant to get as large an audience as they possibly can, and that’s understood by the fact that anyone can tune in. If it happens that the programme is offensive (and I mean egregiously offensive to the majority of people), then – within sensible limits – people have a right to critique and condemn the content, and that condemnation should be open to every person with access to the television network. What emphatically shouldn’t (and doesn’t) happen is for the television company to say that people have no right to get all upset about it because the company wasn’t even broadcasting for everyone to see; they were just targeting their friends and made the mistake of doing it on a public network. Of course, at the same time, it is equally true that the level-headed thing to do is just not watch the offending programmes if you don’t like them – I am completely on board with that – but I believe there is a flip-side where people have to reconsider their understanding of what a public network. It is not a private group with an open membership policy, it is a public broadcast. 83. skycardboard Says: I’d be interested to know what Nerdlove has done to merit the label of a ‘nerd-bashing’ site. Its author appears to identify as a nerd. I don’t like the site, but from their perspective, they’re trying to help nerds, just taking a ‘tough love’ approach. 84. Darryl Says: Jerry 77/80, you’re looking for faults more than you’re reading carefully. The person not wanting attention is Sacco, not Richards. She took the picture, tweeted it, and texted the organizers, asking them to handle it. you can actually read her texts, they have been provided in a linked slideshow. What part of that passage do you feel is in error? Are you simply assuming you’ve gleaned what her -real motive- was? And I think this is not a point about ‘kinds of people’ or what is or is not ‘verboten’ anymore than Scott’s post here is, where he declares the shaming of politicians and CEOs okay but not people lower on the scale. So is it just that you agree with Scott’s choices and disagree with those of McEwan’s, or do you also have similar objections to this post that I missed reading? ~ As is tradition, people see the best of the side they like, and the other side is given the worst possible interpretation. * Meanwhile, Scott 75, I think the analogy is rather apt, if you’ve ever been in a busy market, when everyone is shouting, only occasionally is anyone heard, but it’s still a demand to the attention of many. But beyond that point, if a tweet is just a private, personal, if slightly too loud conversation, which Sacco was not shouting to the public, remind me why Adria’s actions are more the wrong, rather than her garnering your support? It seems like you’re driving much more towards solution two instead of five, where you’ve identified Richards as ‘someone who shames’ more than you’re treating her as someone you would speak up for. To be clear, is it because you see her as intending to shame, that you think the result was not-quite-so-unfair, in her case? While the man, even if his actions were inappropriate, was at least not -shaming- anyone? 85. Scott Says: Callum #82: Well, no pre-Internet analogy is going to be perfect, but I find TV broadcasting to be an especially bad one. A major TV broadcaster is monopolizing an extremely scarce resource (namely, airtime on a major TV station), to reach an audience of millions. So no wonder people feel no qualms about shaming the broadcaster, if they see that coveted resource used for what they perceive to be offensive ends! By contrast, the normal “lived experience” of a blogger or a Twitterer is of using an essentially infinite resource, one that millions of others are also using, to communicate back-and-forth with dozens or at most hundreds who are drawn by what that particular person has to say. Local public-access TV might be a better analogy. Unfortunately, this local public-access TV station has the property that, the instant you say something that triggers someone’s outrage (often because it was misheard or misinterpreted), then, and only then, your audience suddenly expands to millions. It’s like a dull butter knife that you’ve used for years and gotten extremely familiar with, until the one day when you gently poke yourself by accident, and then the knife suddenly morphs into a flesh-liquefying chainsaw. Of course, one response to the now maimed, limbless victim would be: “well, that’s whatcha get for wanting to use a knife! should’ve known better.” To me, though, the better response is to wonder what we can do to stop our butter knives from morphing into chainsaws in the first place, or to mitigate the effects when it does happen. 86. DoxxThis Says: Rahul #45: America has the weakest employment protections in the developed world. Given that the rest of the developed OECD has stronger employment protections without any strongly negative impacts it’s highly unlikely that bringing US employment law into line with the rest of the developed OECD would be catastrophic for the US economy or society. At-will employment is so corrosive to employee welfare that it should be abolished for many reasons beyond protecting private persons from attacks by intersectional feminist mobs. Protecting private people from these attacks is mostly a bonus. As for freedom of speech: the right to free speech does not extend to malicious fabrications (which is the best description of how intersectional feminists start lynch mobs), incitement, the well-known ‘yelling “fire” in a crowded theater,’ or joking about weapons in airports. Social media lynch mobs skirt or violate most of these limits but the sheer number of people involved make the usual remedies (i.e. libel suits) ineffective. This is why criminal and/or regulatory law needs to step up: to prosecute the individuals and punish the venues that give them a platform. Inciting an online mob to attack a private person based on fabricated claims is little different from inciting a meatspace mob to attack a private person. Calling a random man a pedophile in the hopes of causing a mob to burn down his business isn’t protected speech in meatspace; smearing a man as a misogynist in the hopes of inciting a mob to burn down his reputation/career/life on social media ought not to be protected speech, either. Further, social media platforms are not public places. They’re private businesses which already censor content for political reasons. Twitter hosts Daesh propaganda accounts, but high-follower accounts that dare criticize Anita Sarkeesian are at high risk of being permanently banned faster than you can say ‘Twitter-WAM agreement.’ Organizations that engage in political censorship have no business objecting to being obligated to prevent socially damaging speech. Twitter lynch mobs happen because Twitter turns a blind eye to them. Sarkeesian still has her Twitter account even after posting the name and email of a critic to her followers, after all. Since Twitter won’t do the right thing voluntarily, they ought to be forced to do it legally. Scott #50: Point taken but intersectional feminists (I use this term to differentiate them from older 1st/2nd/3rd wave feminists) deserve special attention with regard to public shaming because they instigated the tactic, are the main perpetrators of shaming campaigns, and have the organizational infrastructure to launch the most damaging campaigns. There’s no non-IF equivalent to the BlockBot or non-IF advocates of shaming with platforms the size of the Guardian. Discussing social media shaming without shining a spotlight on intersectional feminism is a bit like talking about computer crimes without talking about malicious software: it’s ignoring the single largest part of the problem that is most likely to impact the average person. 87. Scott Says: Darryl #84: Yes, I explained the relevant principle in the OP: The most I can say in favor of vigilantism is this: you probably don’t get to complain about online shaming, if what you’re being shamed for is itself a shaming campaign that you prosecuted against a specific person. Thinking it over, it occurs to me that there’s one very-relevant question that I don’t know the answer to: did Adria Richards ever express remorse about her tweet getting the dongle guy fired? or did she express satisfaction about his firing? If the former, than I’d say that she, too, was a victim: she intended to punish, and did punish, the dongle guy way out of proportion to his ‘crime,’ but then she was also punished way out of proportion to her crime. If the latter, though, then I find it hard to feel sympathy for anything she endured. 88. John Sidles Says: Scott says “It [social media] is like a dull butter knife that you’ve used for years and gotten extremely familiar with, until the one day when you gently poke yourself by accident, and then the knife suddenly morphs into a flesh-liquefying chainsaw.” Social media convey both words *and* social position … in your case, Scott, your words are read as being authored by a high-profile senior employee of one of North America’s largest, oldest, best-connected, and most elite corporations, namely the MIT corporation … a corporation whose recent narratives involving Walter Lewin and Aaron Swartz have been viewed by many (whether rightly or wrongly) as inappropriately indifferent to the interests of low-status citizens. Ouch. A well-regarded meditation upon knives-versus-chainsaws, and upon elite corporations versus hardscrabble laborers, that Shtetl Optimized readers may enjoy reading, is Nebula/Hugo/Locus/Sturgeon (etc) winner Ted Chiang’s celebrated novella Seventy-two Letters (2000, available on-line). Chiang’s novella — which is explicitly complexity-theoretic — reads naturally as a well-considered meditation upon capabilities that high-status citizens experience as “butter knives” and low-status citizens experience as “flesh-liquefying chainsaws”. Conclusion The concluding passages of Chiang’s novella (as I read them) are a well-crafted argument in favor of vigorous, open, public discourse whose capabilities most definitely extend to shaming. Confection It will be mighty fun to see, in coming weeks, whether the conclusion of Eliezer Yudkowsky’s epic fan-fic Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (2015) — which presently is being released chapter-by-chapter — echoes the social, moral, and complexity-theoretic themes of Tex Chiang’s Seventy-two Letters. 89. Lorne Carmichael Says: “America has the weakest employment protections in the developed world. Given that the rest of the developed OECD has stronger employment protections without any strongly negative impacts it’s highly unlikely that bringing US employment law into line with the rest of the developed OECD would be catastrophic for the US economy or society.” Most economists, even in Europe, will argue the opposite. Labour markets in Europe should be more like those in the US. In any steady state, when the flow of workers out of employment is slow then the flow in will be equally slow. Job finding rates in Europe are glacial. The average length of time a worker spends unemployed in Europe can be greater than that in the US by a factor of ten. In addition, when it is impossible to fire someone, employers become much more careful about whom they hire. Many Europeans with lesser qualifications or the wrong skin colour correctly anticipate they will never hold a meaningful job in their entire lives. 90. Scott Says: skycardboard #83: I haven’t, by any means, made a comprehensive survey of the ‘Nerdlove’ site—I find it exhausting to read, with many words (and distracting illustrations) for few ideas. But everything I did read seemed like a variation on the following schtick: “Look my friends, I love nerds. In fact I used to be, and perhaps still am, a nerd myself. I even throw out anime and video game and Star Wars references! But let’s be honest: when it comes to the actual substance of what they think and feel, the nerds who my website is meant to help are miserable dregs of humanity in pretty much every respect. No wonder no one wants to date them: they’re not just socially awkward, they’re morally reprehensible! They differ from the surrounding culture in their values and social norms—and in every case, without exception, that’s because the surrounding culture is right and the nerds are wrong. So you want advice? Fine, my advice to nerds is: first and most importantly, stop harming other people with your nerdy, NiceGuy behavior. After that, try to stop being the horrible, bitter, misogynistic, entitled losers who you fundamentally are. (Again, I say this because I love you!) Renounce all your firsthand experience of human nature as illusory, and all your moral feelings as unsound. Accept that the people who’ve treated you with disdain your entire life are not merely your social superiors, but your ethical superiors as well. Then, out of the charred remains of your former self, maybe you can begin to aspire to become 1% as awesome as I now am.” Then, a thousand social-justice types eagerly link to this stuff, saying: “aha! you’re wrong that there’s no socially-acceptable guidance for shy nerds! You forgot about Dr. Nerdlove! And three or four other sites with similar messages!” The comment sections on Nerdlove are particularly revealing: as far as I could tell, every commenter who expresses an “anti-nerd” viewpoint (even a cruel, shaming one) gets a large number of upvotes, while everyone who tries to explain how the nerds themselves see things (even in measured and respectful ways) gets a corresponding number of downvotes. And while I’m sure it’s there somewhere and I missed it, after reading several thousand comments, I couldn’t find a single example of a nerd saying that he (or she) was helped in any way by Nerdlove’s advice. The only praise for this “advice” seemed to come from people who were never in the market for the advice to begin with. Certainly this advice would never have helped me. What would have helped? I guess that’s what Laurie and I will try to figure out in our joint post! But for a preview: I would never, ever imply to nerds that they’re selling a fundamentally tainted product, so no wonder nobody wants to buy it, and the only positive thing to say is that if they recreate their product from the ground up, maybe someday it could become worthy of a buyer. Instead, I’d try telling the truth: that they’re selling a fine specialty product, one that not everyone wants, but that for those who do want it, is far beyond what most of the world can provide. So really, they don’t need to fundamentally change anything: just continue developing the product in ways that are intrinsic to it, but in the meantime, add a pinch of marketing to identify the potential customers, and to let them know that the product is now for sale. 91. One Says: Scott #87 You can read more about Richards’ reaction to donglegate in Ronson’s companion piece in the Guardian here. IMO she comes off as almost completely lacking in empathy. I also found her claim that the dongle joke made her fear for her physical safety at the conference to be rather remarkable. 92. Jerry Says: Darryl #84 Yes, upon rereading I realize David earlier was referring to Sacco, although I don’t believe he made that clear in his paragraph: > The Jon Ronson article is really not good. As well as the questionable ethics of centering a piece on someone who has explicitly said she doesn’t want more public attention in order to talk about the evils of public attention, his characterization of the PyCon incident is wildly off. Melissa McEwan has written a much longer and better piece than this comment about the problems with it. I read her tweet, this tweet https://twitter.com/adriarichards/status/313417655879102464 is NOT a DM. It was a tweet sent to her 10,000 followers (IIRC her follower count at the time.) Her defense is the claim that no one replied to that tweet, and yet, A) It’s clear because it was posted at the Hacker News link that Hank then responded to that people DID see that tweet B) Hank was fired PRIOR to the Hacker News link and so somehow that tweet was seen or heard about by Hank’s employer. It is unlikely that a private complaint made to Pycon resulting in a private talking to with Hank where he was not kicked out of the conference could have made it back to his employer or be considered a firing offense. So Richards is misrepresenting what happened in response to her tweet. I agree with Scott to the extent that politicians and CEOs are public figures and public figures engaged in public activities are fair game. McEwan doesn’t care about that distinction. She draws her distinctions based on race and gender and cultural baggage she loads people up with she that she uses to differentiate punching up from punching down. If you or I were to shame Sheryl Sandberg or Patricia Arquette, McEwan would determine we were punching down. Unfair. You can’t punch up at Hillary Clinton though Hillary could punch down at me (white male >> white female) >> (powerful rick female politician > powerless middle class male schmuck) Scott > Thinking it over, it occurs to me that there’s one very-relevant question that I don’t know the answer to: did Adria Richards ever express remorse about her tweet getting the dongle guy fired? or did she express satisfaction about his firing? >If the former, than I’d say that she, too, was a victim: she intended to punish, and did punish, the dongle guy way out of proportion to his ‘crime,’ but then she was also punished way out of proportion to her crime. If the latter, though, then I find it hard to feel sympathy for anything she endured. From reading her tweets for months she never has expressed any remorse or second thoughts that I have seen. She has gone with the narrative that she is the victim of Hank and the Net and she told Ronson that that any regrets she has are very minor: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/feb/21/internet-shaming-lindsey-stone-jon-ronson > “Somebody getting fired is pretty bad,” I said. “I know you didn’t call for him to be fired, but you must have felt pretty bad.” “Not too bad,” she said. She thought more and shook her head decisively. “He’s a white male. I’m a black Jewish female. He was saying things that could be inferred as offensive to me, sitting in front of him. I do have empathy for him, but it only goes so far. If he had Down’s syndrome and he accidently pushed someone off a subway, that would be different… I’ve seen things where people are like, ‘Adria didn’t know what she was doing by tweeting it.’ Yes, I did.” 93. Alexander Bludgeford Says: One source of Internet pile-on is the economic incentives behind writing blog posts and articles. If your primary means of supporting yourself and paying your rent is through ad-supported blogging, you have a powerfully urgent incentive to do whatever you can to get more page views. Further, folks who write for ad-supported sites are subject to a selection process: if they can’t get pageviews, they’ll have to get jobs doing something else. Inflammatory social-Justice clickbait is one way to get pageviews. Another way is to take one narrative (male nerd entitlement) and keep applying it to situations whether it really applies to any given situation or not. This is especially useful for making it easier to overcome the terror of the blank page that writers face. Both of these will get re-shared and earn the ad revenue the writer needs to eat. An amateur blogger faces no such pressure. They are rewarded psychologically by having people think their posts are insightful or useful. But a software engineer who blogs on the side has the economic privilege of not posting for a month because they think an issue is too complex or uncertain. I recognize that this sounds very similar to praising the virtues of the privileged amateur over someone who must work for their bread. 94. Scott Says: Alexander #93: That’s an extremely interesting insight that hadn’t occurred to me at all! 95. Curious Wavefunction Says: Thanks very much for writing this post: it’s a breath of fresh air. Although my experience was not a hundredth as traumatic as yours, I experienced my own share of something approaching public shaming when I was let go from Scientific American’s blog network for writing a few posts which a few vocal people on Twitter did not like. These posts were about 1.5% of the total number which I wrote over two years, the vast majority of which were well-received and publicized by the network. Some of the reaction was hysterical and virtually xenophobic: one person called me a “cholera-infested blanket” for instance. The network buckled even under this vocal minority’s onslaught, presumably under pressure from their legal and PR team. I was the first drop from the trickle; they have recently let about half of their bloggers go. Since then I have returned to my own blog and thoroughly enjoyed the pleasure of writing about whatever I want with freedom. I can sincerely say that I am happier blogging today than I ever was because I don’t have to wonder about someone looking over my shoulder and telling me what to write. And just like you I was extremely gratified by overwhelming notes of support from people who are card-carrying feminists. But the relief does not obliterate the anguish since I continue to see the shaming that you talk about proceed with abandon and glee. There remain groups of people who see themselves as moral police in possession of absolute moral truths which can be enforced only through mob justice. For them it’s very much an “us vs them”, zero-sum game. The greatest tragedy, as you hint at, is that the people who do this shaming defeat the very cause they claim to be committed to – to build a more inclusive community and have everyone, even people who they disagree with, on board. And Twitter makes it very easy to discard those who they disagree with, even as they pat each others’ backs in an echo chamber and move on to the next outrage. Instead of trying to understand and persuade they proscribe and abandon. They do not want to calmly and rationally confront their opponents – for instance not a single one of my detractors actually wrote me an email or even commented on my post – instead they want to collude among themselves and dole out judgment. All they succeed in doing is in dividing the community into more black and white factions. Thus they essentially wall themselves off from dissenting opinions, and the very diversity which they profess to hold dear takes a huge hit. This is censorship all right, not censorship by state fiat but censorship by shutting off people by overwhelming vocal opposition. I don’t know what the solution to this problem is except the one that you propose: for people such as ourselves to talk about our experiences and discuss them with empathy and rationality with the entire community, including those among our detractors who are willing to listen. The best way to defeat bad ideas is for both perpetrators and victims to air them out in the open. So thanks again. 96. Rahul Says: Re. Scotts comment about the tweets being meant only for a select group: If the comments were indeed meant for only friends why not use something like a private tweet. ( I’m not a twitter user myself but I assume this is possible?) One of your friends could still retweet your thoughts I guess but it’d take active effort not just an evesdrop. My impression is that a lot of people are actively courting this attention (perhaps without realizing the rare but immensely damaging side effects). I’m speculating but my guess is that Sacco would be happy to be the top trending twitter feed of the day for most other reasons. The fact that Sacco works in PR & the content of her other tweets ( not malicious yet attention seeking) further shapes my priors. So it seems to me a case of seeking publicity but getting upset when it becomes of the wrong kind. 97. Douglas Knight Says: Scott, it is perfectly possible for Richards to be both a psychopath and a victim punished out of proportion for her crime. 98. Darryl Says: Whooo, okay. 87: Let’s go to the source, since the internet is, one way or another, public and forever: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5398681 His post-termination post, she makes the second top-level comment, begins: “Hey, Thanks for speaking up, contributing your viewpoint on HN and not attacking me. I’m sorry to hear your employer deciding to not to work with you on this and I hope they reconsider, bring you back on and dealing with it constructively. For context, I’m a developer evangelist….” Whether it’s sufficiently contrite/too diplomatic for you, I cannot say, but those are the words. it continues on to link to her blog and her account of events, I’ve read too many ronson novelizations already. * 92: It is clear if you read the article and see who it is centered on, rather than as a jumping off point to criticize richards, but I digress, point made. It was a tweet. she tweeted it. she tweeted the tweet. You called out the passage in Mcewan’s piece as though there was an error? I think you’re generalizing mcewan’s point out of it’s context. Does she say ‘all woman are off limits’? ‘you can’t shame black people?’ No. She, specifically, and I know this because she says these words, calls out the -false equivalence- made between a black woman, one of few if any, at a tech conference being fired for calling out inappropriate remarks at this conference, indeed, the very kind of thing which woman after woman have, even to me personally, explained to me and to everyone are the reason why so few women are comfortably included in these spaces…. TO a man, being fired for expressly and clearly violating the code of conduct at an otherwise professional event. Independent of twitter reactions or intent to shame, those are the individual actions taken which these people reaped the eventual consequences of. These are the distinctions Mcewan draws. this is why she is individualizing richards, and not declaring ‘women of color are immune no matter the circumstances!’ ~ You are hearing that. it is not being said. Step back, and -try- mcEwan again without the feeling of ‘she’s against me’. I’m not saying her article is the best interpretation, but it’s making a clear and specific point about how Ronson frames the story which is not what you’re getting from it. ~~ So, again, who here raises their hand to say Richards deserved punishment -more- than the man did? 99. Scott Says: Curious Wavefunction #95: Thanks so much for your kind words, and for sharing your incredible story. I just read the post about Richard Feynman that got you fired from Scientific American, and was blown away—it seemed to me about as inoffensive and unobjectionable as a blog post about “Feynman and sexism” could possibly be. For crying out loud, you condemned, over and over, the 1950s sexism that some people say Feynman exemplified! What more could anyone want? They wanted you to blame Feynman himself, rather than “excusing” him by talking about how he was a product of his times? Well, suppose you had done that—then wouldn’t the very same people be blaming you for pretending sexism was confined to this one man, while ignoring the far more important structural and societal forces? And yes, your former bosses’ reaction seems strangely incoherent and muddled, inviting the question of whether they were motivated by any editorial principle, or just by pure, possibly-justified fear of the Twitter-mobs. Thanks again for sharing, and I wish you the best. 100. Ampersand Says: Scott: Thinking it over, it occurs to me that there’s one very-relevant question that I don’t know the answer to: did Adria Richards ever express remorse about her tweet getting the dongle guy fired? At the time – March 18, 2013 – Richards posted a direct response to the person who was fired, on Hacker News, saying that she was sorry he got fired and hoped he’d be rehired. “Thanks for speaking up, contributing your viewpoint on HN and not attacking me. I’m sorry to hear your employer deciding to not to work with you on this and I hope they reconsider, bring you back on and dealing with it constructively.” Jerry @92: IIRC, there were multiple employees of Playhaven at that conference, including one co-worker who was pulled out of the presentation along with the fired man and witnessed everything that happened. So although it’s plausible that Playhaven somehow saw Adria’s tweets, it’s also plausible that Playhaven heard about it from the Playhaven employees who attended the conference. The truth is, we just don’t know. According to Ronson’s Guardian article, “Anxious, Hank quickly scanned her replies, but there was nothing much – just the odd congratulation from a few of her 9,209 followers for the way she’d “educated” the men behind her.” So (contrary to what I had thought) she doesn’t seem to have started a twitter mob. Nor is there anything in what she wrote at the time indicating that she wanted the guys fired. I agree that it’s inappropriate to publicly criticize ordinary folks with a photo-tweet – just as it’s inappropriate for people at a business conference, in a crowded auditorium, tell dirty jokes loudly enough that people in the next row have to hear. But the real venal acts weren’t committed by the guys telling jokes, or by the woman who overreacted. Is there anyone here who has never told a joke that might be offensive, or who has never taken offense when they could have been more understanding? Both of these are minor infractions, and we’re all better off in a world in which minor infractions are quickly forgiven and forgotten, rather than held against people for years. The big wrongs were committed by the two companies that fired their employees, and by the twitter mob that went after Adria with thousands of threats, rape jokes and vulgar comments. And it seems wrong that, years later, most of the blame and vitriol seems to be pointed at Adria Richards. Rahul @96: Basically, it’s not possible to limit a tweet to just your own followers, if you’ve got more than 5 or 10 followers. As I understand it, you can send a private tweet to named individuals, but since each person you address a tweet to cuts into your 139 character limit (so if I address a tweet to someone with ten characters in her name, I only have 129 characters for my message), there’s a severe practical limit on how many people you can directly address in a tweet. 101. Curious Wavefunction Says: Scott, thank you for your kind support. You are quite right. I think that I was supposed to condemn Feynman much more forcefully than I did, although if I had I probably would have gotten pummeled by both camps (including the one you refer to). Basically somehow I need to be able to write an article that superposes itself in multiple states, but conveniently collapses into the state that one group of people prefers when they read it. 102. Jerry Says: Ampersand @100 > The big wrongs were committed by the two companies that fired their employees, and by the twitter mob that went after Adria with thousands of threats, rape jokes and vulgar comments. And it seems wrong that, years later, most of the blame and vitriol seems to be pointed at Adria Richards. The big wrongs WERE committed by the two companies that fired their employees, BUT the biggerer wrongs still were committed by the feminists, social justice warriors, and media that demand companies take actions just like that, as you can see by the terribly wrongly reported press that this event created AND by the Ada Initiative and by all of the moral panic sexism in tech, sexism in gaming, sexism on campus nonsense we see. Regardless of all those huge wrongs, Adria Richards did something I think we all should know better than doing, that she knew better than doing, and that we can teach people not to do. Don’t name call. Don’t drink and drive. Don’t bully people. Don’t call out Internet minions to deal with your personal issues. Don’t dox people for minor things. Don’t place photographs of miscreants on the net for minor things. Treat people online how you would like to be treated. Golden Rule stuff. The rest is commentary. And be an adult. Take responsibility. Had Richards + turned around and shushed the men, all would be over + sent a private message to pycon, all would be over But she intended to make an example of them, she knew what she was doing, and she still feels no regret over it. 103. Jerry Says: The companies were cowardly and took the worst actions possible. And they did this because that is what the feminist mob and press demanded. What the company CEOs should have done was to tell those busybodies to mind their own business. That they had work to do and they weren’t about to fire anyone over the minor gaffes of Pycon. That said, Adria’s ability to do her job, as “developer evangelist”, welcoming developers of all stripes to her companies offerings was seriously damaged by her lack of tact and her calling down an Internet mob. 104. Raoul Ohio Says: I intend to put in my$0.02 worth on this issue when I get some time, but meanwhile, an alternate dimension of internet explosion, check out Gold&White vs. Black&Blue:

http://www.eonline.com/news/630254/this-dress-debate-is-causing-a-serious-divide-in-our-nation-is-it-white-and-gold-or-blue-and-black

I am in the center, and will not vote either way.

Scott,

If the incidence has bothered you to the extent you say it did, and if a comment reply means anything, I would say: Don’t worry; the matter will get sorted out. Just focus on the things you want to do. …

I am not saying that this post wasn’t necessary and the solutions you think aloud wouldn’t be helpful. But I honestly doubt if just a post and a discussion on it, will lead to any big change any time *soon*. It’s the Age of Envy (check out Ayn Rand), and cultural changes—even those on the positive side—happen far too slowly. So, in the meanwhile, the effective ways to deal with the unpleasantness, at a personal level, are quite different.

As to the reason I say it will get sorted out (and there already are indications that it is getting sorted out). Two reasons, in fact: (i) you are transparent about it, and (ii) you are smart.

One of the reasons I didn’t participate in the discussion of that “other” post was that I honestly didn’t think that it was/would be affecting you personally as much as it evidently has. Another reason was that there was just too much of context-dropping going on. It was in fact impossible to even plain read through all those comments.

As to the shaming and lynching and all, it might sound cynical, but still, there *is* a grain of shining truth in George Bernard Shaw witty remark: “Never wrestle with pigs. You both get dirty and the pig enjoys it.” … And I doubt (though I don’t care to investigate) whether the pig really does that—*enjoy* it.

So, just focus on the better things, e.g., use the fact that you have got a tenure, to expand and diversify your research horizons—the topic of the PhD research doesn’t always work out to be the exclusive or even the primary concern in an entire academic research career, and the choices to diversify usually get only narrowed down as you progress further in your tenured career—if for no other reason than the fact that your reputation grows along, too!

And, as difficult-to-implement as it might sound: Don’t be a slave to your blog-browsers; blog less frequently! [Your blog-browsers also includes me!]

Best,

–Ajit
[E&OE]

106. Observer Says:

You are seeing a disease of the Left, where politically correct language is required. Another problem is that people do not really believe in Innocent Until Proven Guilty. They will jump to negative conclusions from hearsay, or interpret words in the worst way.

107. Peter Says:

Ah, I now see the reason for the scare quotes in ‘the “safe, uncontroversial” territory of arguing with people who think they can solve NP-complete problems in polynomial time’.

108. Darryl Says:

Ah, Jerry, now we’re down to it. ‘It’s The Feminists!’ Afraid of the skeletons? Suffice to say, I’m glad Scott has, through some direct experience, learned better. I leave you with Scott 50:
“While some shaming of individuals—including what I underwent—is clearly perpetrated by Amanda-Marcotte-style feminists, for whatever it’s worth, I don’t see this issue as specific to feminism at all. Indeed, feminists have also been the victims of reprehensible shaming campaigns by misogynists. For me, this is simply an issue of relating to each other as human beings, rather than as hardened privilege warriors.”

109. nobody Says:

I have said this many times recently but i think the solution lies in anonymity online. the web gives us all the ability to become “public figures” in that people who are not naturally in our lives become aware of us as individuals. this is NOT a good idea. ask any celebrity about the amount of batshit insane communiques they receive. but unlike well paid celebs, most netizens don’t have “people” and staff (and even corporations) to protect them. not to mention the p. r. people that carefully from them and sand of rough edges that will bite them if expressed through careless lips or fingers.

imo, it’s not reasonable to expect people to behave. it’s why we have locks on our doors. sure, a tiny town where everyone knows each other may not need locks. in the big city you need locks. on the Internet, you need the biggest damn locks you can find. and the very first step is to obfuscate your non Internet identity.

unless you want to be a public figure (and you shouldn’t), there’s few things about putting yourself out there that will result in good and a great deal of it that will result in bad.

on the Internet, we dive into topics like politics and religion that we are warned not to broach in polite company. it’s because the company is not polite and that’s it’s value. imo, it’s the nature of the internet at its best to be ugly.

but the medium is about the discourse between disembodied ideas. i don’t care who you are and i don’t want you to care who i am. my ideas and my ability to express them stand and fall in their own merits. imo, that is how it should be.

facebook is a misguided idea imo. and younger kids are starting to grasp that. that it opens you up to not just harassment but career killing evidence that can haunt you for the rest of your life.

most of us have been living in the web like people who don’t lock their doors and become outraged or cluck their tongues when people behave badly. we can insist that people change and create a safe world that we’d like… or, as in the material world, we can accept that it’s not a safe world and lock our doors and not put gigantic targets on our backs.

and the only things we say that have our names attached to it are bland and safe and as polished and bereft of semantic content as a politician’s.

imo, that is the solution. and there is nothing to be mourned as a result. we lose nothing of any significance and gain the open forum that the internet is great for.

as a sci fi and fantasy fan, i see it like a wizard guarding his true name… because if powers and principalities know your true name, they have power over you.

you don’t want them to have power over you.

110. wolfgang Says:

Scott,

currently the twitter community is fighting over the color of a dress.
see e.g. http://www.wired.com/2015/02/science-one-agrees-color-dress/

Do you conclude
1) twitter is a place to learn interesting facts about the world
2) stay away from this kindergarten
3) I have to jump in and set people straight about color
4) people are nuts
5) we have to discuss how to use twitter properly ?

You seem to advocate 5) and I, leaning towards 2) and 4), think you are wasting your time.

111. Scott Says:

wolfgang #110: You can try to stay away from the kindergarten, but sometimes the kindergarten comes for you.

112. Yuval L. Says:

You seemed to have good luck with women in STEM. For me, I actually had worse luck for some reason or another.

Most people in STEM, at least where I attended, had typical college student interests. As you know, there aren’t that many women in STEM. And like I mentioned, even compared to most nerds in STEM, people said I was strange.

An even bigger problem for me was the classes. I liked learning and could understand the material, but the way some teachers taught completely threw me off track. I have trouble learning “from the board” (I really need printed notes), I was told to change my major once by another professor for some reason, despite the fact that I was doing above average. He said I didn’t seem interested, but I have difficulty expressing emotions publicly. A third got angry at me twice for bringing in a small breakfast before the test, which was strange.

The worst was this guy that was far more conceptual than the rest, which was hard for everyone, but I like to think in formulas, and he was very smug and condescending about it. I complained a lot about it, and people were naturally mocking me down for it.

So just about with ANYONE in STEM I had issues. I wish that my parents knew the difference between a hobby and a career, because for me, it would have been much better as a hobby.

113. Yuval L. Says:

Another thing to add: I’ve been treated much better in France than here. It’s easier to hang out with people there for me. Even better, one of my teachers suggested a program for me for the situation I am in (which I explained about in my first email to you, about how I act), which was far more helpful than almost anything I received in comparison back in America.

114. Jerry Says:

“Afraid of the skeletons?”
“I’m glad Scott has, through some direct experience, learned better”

Darryl

Why don’t you tell me more about me, about the skeletons I am afraid of, about how you find it necessary to dismiss my opinions with assumptions I have no direct experience.

Why what I could learn from you about myself on the basis of a few short comments would fill volumes!

Have you learned nothing on this blog in the past few weeks?

115. Scott Says:

Darryl and Jerry: Cool it. 🙂 You’ve both made very interesting points for which I’m grateful—but since this post was largely about online civility, I’d like to try, as a small experiment, putting my foot down and saying no more posts from either of you attacking the other.

116. Greg Kuperberg Says:

Also, Scott has pegged “Dr. Nerdlove”.

Modest proposal for an advice web site: Dr. Jewlove. “Yes, my friends, I used to be Jewish. I still like to eat bagels and lox. I’ve even been in a synagogue. Some of my best friends are Jews. And by golly, I was sexually frustrated for many years. That’s why I started this site, to give fellow Jews dating advice. You don’t have to wallow in self-pity forever.”

117. Doug K Says:

Curious Wavefunction,
“somehow I need to be able to write an article that superposes itself in multiple states, but conveniently collapses into the state that one group of people prefers when they read it.”
made me smile, thank you – partly because I think that’s just what happens – but some people just prefer to be outraged. Your article on Feynman recapitulated my own changing attitudes to him so of course I found it perfectly reasonable and unobjectionable. I’m glad I never wrote about it 😉

“we are constantly negotiating the contexts in which we are speaking, and the relationships through which those contexts are construed. Words don’t mean what you want them to mean; they mean lots of things, simultaneously.”

I had not encountered Dr Nerdlove until someone posted it as ‘helpful information for shy nerds’ on the Crooked Timber thread. So here’s what I saw:

http://www.doctornerdlove.com/2014/03/how-to-not-be-creepy/
“If you’re having problems with reading emotions, then it’s on you to learn how to correct the problem.”

http://jezebel.com/5981581/how-to-talk-to-a-woman-without-being-a-creep
“If women keep responding to you like you’re some weirdo creeper, then chances are that you’re acting like a weirdo creeper. “

says the best way to talk to girls you don’t know on Twitter is, “don’t. Just don’t.” (I had come to this conclusion independently).

Scott @213 in that CT comment thread observed,
“Everyone knows how not to be a creep: you just need to read the subtle nonverbal or subverbal signals that we’re all instinctively born with, and which tell you when to attempt something.”

All this good advice, but it is all the same – straighten up and be normal, why can’t you ?
Only one of those bits of advice is ironic, the rest are meant to be helpful presumably: but I can’t tell the difference between Dr Nerdlove and Jezebel myself.

118. Jerry Says:

Scott, when you write

> While some shaming of individuals—including what I underwent—is clearly perpetrated by Amanda-Marcotte-style feminists, for whatever it’s worth, I don’t see this issue as specific to feminism at all.

It’s not specific to feminism, but it is certainly part and parcel and has a long history within feminism certainly long before the web came about.

That feminism eats its own (much less everyone else) is a long acknowledged issue in Feminism.

It’s how they treated each other in the 70s during the Feminist sex wars.

It’s what they did to Betty Friedan for going off script and being supportive of men (she wrote about in The Second Stage (1981))

It’s what the third wavers did to the second wavers.

It’s how the modern feminists have treated rad fems who question transgender women. (The slur TERF)

It’s what Modern 4th Wave Feminists have done to Slate Feminists Emily Yoffe, and Hanna Rosin for speaking to the myths and lies of the wage gap, false accusations of rape, and the moral panic around rape culture.

It’s what they’ve done to libertarian feminists like Christina Hoff Sommers and Cathy Young.

This has been by many feminists themselves and recently at even The Nation by liberal feminist Michelle Goldberg:

> Empowered by social media, feminists are calling one another out for ideological offenses. Is it good for the movement? And whose movement is it?

> Yet even as online feminism has proved itself a real force for change, many of the most avid digital feminists will tell you that it’s become toxic. Indeed, there’s a nascent genre of essays by people who feel emotionally savaged by their involvement in it—not because of sexist trolls, but because of the slashing righteousness of other feminists. On January 3, for example, Katherine Cross, a Puerto Rican trans woman working on a PhD at the CUNY Graduate Center, wrote about how often she hesitates to publish articles or blog posts out of fear of inadvertently stepping on an ideological land mine and bringing down the wrath of the online enforcers. “I fear being cast suddenly as one of the ‘bad guys’ for being insufficiently radical, too nuanced or too forgiving, or for simply writing something whose offensive dimensions would be unknown to me at the time of publication,” she wrote.

> Further, as Cross says, “this goes to the heart of the efficacy of radical movements.” After all, this is hardly the first time that feminism—to say nothing of other left-wing movements—has been racked by furious contentions over ideological purity. Many second-wave feminist groups tore themselves apart by denouncing and ostracizing members who demonstrated too much ambition or presumed to act as leaders. As the radical second-waver Ti-Grace Atkinson famously put it: “Sisterhood is powerful. It kills. Mostly sisters.”

> In “Trashing: The Dark Side of Sisterhood,” a 1976 Ms. magazine article, Jo Freeman described how feminists of her generation destroyed one another. Trashing, she wrote, is “accomplished by making you feel that your very existence is inimical to the Movement and that nothing can change this short of ceasing to exist. These feelings are reinforced when you are isolated from your friends as they become convinced that their association with you is similarly inimical to the Movement and to themselves. Any support of you will taint them…. You are reduced to a mere parody of your previous self.”

And we can even see Feminist Shaming as the backbone of Emma Watson’s #HeForShe

Is it specific to feminism?

No, but it is certainly in Feminism’s DNA and lifeblood. It’s the snake wrapped around the Feminist Cross.

119. Scott P (Not NP) Says:

-Many of the “memes” are short, pack an emotional punch and are “easily digested;” rebuttals would take more time and effort.
-Maybe there is just a lack of critical thinking? I suspect most people would agree that it’s dangerous to take comments or article at face value, but…
-One of the commentators talked about the self- serving nature of some of the blogs– manufacturing controversy in effect– why would those bloggers be interested in a rebuttal?

It seems to me that problem at least entails making the communication efficient in both directions- not shaming perhaps but ensuring that any aggrieved party can tell the whole story and be heard. I’m open to suggestions on how to do this! Thanks for the chance to comment.

120. Lucas Says:

Jason #37 and Scott #46, the circuit minimization problem is almost certainly NP-intermediate. The whole reason for interest in geometric complexity theory (stay with me) is that it changes the seemingly insurmountable non-existence problem of proving circuit lower bounds into an existence problem of just needing to creatively find an efficient algorithm. If circuit minimization is NP-complete we would have the same phenomenon of being able to separate major complexity classes by finding a moderately efficient hardness reduction. This would be an existence problem of algorithm finding, but in a much less ethereal mathematical realm than GCT. There is no way the math gods would be this kind. Sorry, but separating NP or EXP from P/Poly is probably going to entail some very complicated higher level math.

121. Scott Says:

Lucas #120: Maybe I misunderstood your argument, but … suppose circuit minimization was NP-complete, but suppose proving that fact was unbelievably hard—as hard as proving major circuit lower bounds. (As, indeed, the Kabanets-Cai and Murray-Williams results suggest.) Wouldn’t the math gods then be satisfied, even by your lights?

122. Yuval L. Says:

I definitely agree with your hilarious analysis of the NerdHate (HAHA) site. He says that the problems of nerdy men don’t matter and should be mocked because rape is far more important (which its prevalence tends to be grossly overinflated by the media). He never gives actual statistics that compare the dangers faced by men and women.

123. Shmi Nux Says:

Scott, another, somewhat more famous Scott A has recently labeled the click-selling strategy you discuss as “outragism”:
http://blog.dilbert.com/post/109482303301/outragists-are-the-new-awful

A quote:

> Here’s a story about a rich guy who pledged to give away 80% of his wealth. He is concerned about job loss and he is spending lots of time and money hosting a conference to discuss ways to improve the economic situation for people who are not him. Is that how the story got spun? Nope. The outragists waded in, modified the context by reengineering the order in which the information is presented, and turned a wealthy philanthropist into a rich asshole who is boarding his private jet while complaining that poor people buy too many things.

This is probably the second (after the Buzzfeed-style “watch this one weird trick”) most successful click bait approach. The classic “sex sells” is at best a supporting player. So maybe Amanda what’s-her-name is just good as selling clicks.

124. Jerry Says:

Rock, Paper, Scissors of PC Victimology
Muslim > gay, black > female, and everybody > the Jews

http://tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/189030/victimhood-olympics

> What today’s enforcers of the politically correct status quo most resemble is a paranoid circular firing squad, in which one’s sheer anger and the degree of “marginalized” status you claim earns you correspondingly greater cred, in a creepily inverted hierarchy of virtue. Nor is there any logical end-point to this process: First, they came for easy targets like Paul Berman and Christopher Hitchens, white men whose leftist pretensions were easily questioned thanks to their support for the Iraq War and bold warnings about “Islamofascism.” After dispensing with the likes of these “warmongers,” they then moved onto The New Republic, which, in the wake of its recent destruction by the world’s luckiest roommate and subsequent staff exodus, was derided by The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates and his “creep-show commenters” as a promulgator of “erudite Dixiecratism,” seemingly second in its bigoted vitriol only to Mankind Quarterly. With TNR—once a heterodox interrogator of progressive orthodoxies—now turned into a reliable purveyor of them, Twitter’s progressive soldiers can move on to erstwhile allies like Dan Savage, Michelle Goldberg, Peter Tatchell, Jonathan Chait, and Patricia Arquette.

> The problem with these little purges, these forced incantations of the latest auto-da-fés, however, is that they never quite end, for the tumbrils always need replenishing. Like all good left-wing revolutionaries, these latter-day cultural warriors are eating their own. There is an unholy synergy existing between the notions of identity politics and the mechanisms of social media, which fused together form a concatenation that is debasing political debate. The mob-like mentality fostered by Twitter, the easy, often anonymous (and, even if a name is attached to the account, de-personalized) insulting, fosters a social pressure that aims to close discussion, not open it. “It felt as if hierarchies were being dismantled, as if justice were being democratized,” Jon Ronson writes of the initial sense of self-righteousness he felt as a Twitter gang participant, in his new book, So You’ve Been Publically Shamed. “As time passed, though, I watched these shame campaigns multiply, to the point that they targeted not just powerful institutions and public figures but really anyone perceived to have done something offensive.”

> What makes this current cultural moment so depressing is that both identity politics and the preferred tool of enforcing its precepts—social media—are so easy and widely available to use, and are being used in regressive ways by people who claim to be promoting social justice. What they are actually doing—quite deliberately—is making themselves social despots by driving out everyone who lacks the taste or the ability to shout angry slogans and personal accusations through the social media megaphone. It’s actually difficult to write an essay saying simply that someone is a racist or sexist or homophobe without making easily refutable mistakes—unless they are in fact guilty of that crime. Twitter, however, puts the burden of proof on the defendant, making it very hard to defend oneself against the 8-word tweet that uses a hot-button word to slime whoever becomes the target of the mob’s ire. It’s Salem, with 21st-century technology. And sooner or later, we will all become witches.

125. Greg Kuperberg Says:

In honor of the late Leonard Nimoy, I propose that “rock paper scissors” be changed to “paper scissors rock lizard spock”.

http://www.samkass.com/theories/RPSSL.html

(I saw this when our kids played “Kingdom of Loathing”.)

126. BBA Says:

If you defend people accused of misogyny, you’re giving cover to actual misogynists to attack feminists.

If you dismiss criticism of feminists as misogyny, you’re giving cover to self-proclaimed “feminists” to act in bad faith.

Procedural solutions to moral problems don’t work. I don’t know what does.

127. Shehab Says:

So, far my favorite post on this blog.

128. Rahul Says:

Scott #90:

“I would never, ever imply to nerds that they’re selling a fundamentally tainted product,…… Instead, I’d try telling the truth: that they’re selling a fine specialty product, one that not everyone wants, but that for those who do want it, is far beyond what most of the world can provide.”

So, would you imply / tell any other similar group that they are selling a tainted product? Or no one at all.

I mean, in this sense, isn’t everyone of us is selling a specialty product that someone must really really like?

What I mean to ask is isn’t that a bit nihilistic. We shouldn’t ask anyone to ever change their core personality?

e.g. What is someone it too shy, or too aloof, or too loud, or too much into video games or too un-enthusiastic about sports, or too vain about looks, or too much into drinking et cetra. Should we never try to change someone?

Is every personality trait a niche trait to be preserved and to be proud about?

129. anon Says:

Rahul #34:

You’re right, and I also don’t think that public shaming is limited to the left.

I think the left does have a monopoly on a particular kind of public shaming (and more generally, internet outrage). There’s a certain “righteous underdogs speaking truth to power” attitude that I don’t think is present in other kinds of shaming/outrage campaigns, and I’m more interested in how that sort of self-deceptive thinking can be rooted out from the left in the first place. So I guess my preoccupations (at least as stated in my earlier comment) are somewhat different from shaming campaigns per se (which are often bipartisan and sometimes not even overtly political).

Maybe that sort of attitude also occurs on the right, but I would also argue that some of it is because the right has coopted some of the left’s strategies. For instance, it’s not hard to find someone saying that Christians and social conservatives form the true oppressed class, and liberal elites form the true privileged class in the United States.

(I also find the doxxing and online harassment of feminists to be reprehensible, but I get the sense that some of the people involved are doing it mostly for apolitical entertainment and a vague sense of anti-authoritarianism, so the motivations are different and not really “right-wing.”)

Anyway, I think the Slate outrage tracker has some interesting data (and decent analysis) on this topic:

130. Scott Says:

Rahul #128: Obviously, there are people with destructive personalities of various kinds, who ought to change for their own sakes or the sakes of those around them. I wasn’t suggesting for a microsecond that we abandon moral judgment. On the contrary, I was stating a moral judgment: namely, that the people we call nerds make a massive contribution to the progress of the human race; that their ability to do so is directly related to the classic nerd personality traits that some people despise (literal-mindedness, valuing truth over social niceties, obsession with mastering a craft, etc.); that what’s right about the stereotypical nerd personality easily outweighs what’s wrong about it; and that it’s not merely nerds who ought to adapt themselves to the world, but the world that ought to adapt itself to nerds.

131. John Sidles Says:

Rahul wonders “Is every personality trait a niche trait to be preserved and to be proud about?”

Rahul, your exceedingly difficult question is intimately entangled with language-and-shaming issues.

This issues confront us directly in the youtube interview “Interview With John Nash’s Schizophrenic Son” (2012)

How many Shtetl Optimized readers revere the accomplishments of STEM luminaries like Albert Einstein, David Hilbert, and Paul Ehrenfest? How many Shtetl Optimized readers know that Einstein, Hilbert, and Ehrenfest too had mentally disabled offspring? How many Shtetl Optimized readers are aware that difficult issues associated to language-and-shaming drove Ehrenfest to the murder-suicide of his son and himself?

What the medical literature calls “anti-racism/anti-oppression practices” (commonly abbreviated “ARAO”) — which include but are not limited to the linguistic norms that are ridiculed by many here on Shtetl Optimized — originated in and are evolving in concert with committed efforts to mitigate the sorrows and tragedies that afflicted the lives of Nash, Einstein, Hilbert, Ehrenfest (and literally billions of other people too).

Google Scholar searches for “anti-racism/anti-oppression practices” finds dozens of scholarly articles relating to this topic. A search for “hearing voices” also leads to a vast literature that severely challenges both our scientific and our moral understanding.

Recommendation  Literature searches can be an effective remedy for the ideology-driven cherry-picking and astroturfing that is so grotesquely evident in all-too-many online forums. Students, especially, should appreciate that these cherry-picking practices — which in effect celebrate willful ignorance — are both anti-scientific and anti-humanitarian.

Summary  The historical origins and humanitarian objectives associated to ARAO language and practice are well-deserving — scientifically, medically, and morally — of deeper appreciation and greater respect (as it seems to me) that they have received in the comments here on Shtetl Optimized.

132. Michael Bacon Says:

BBA@126,

“If you defend people accused of misogyny, you’re giving cover to actual misogynists to attack feminists.”

No. Anyone can be “accused” of anything. If you defend actual misogynistic acts, then you are giving cover to misogyny.

“If you dismiss criticism of feminists as misogyny, you’re giving cover to self-proclaimed “feminists” to act in bad faith.”

No. It depends on the criticism. If it was valid, in that case your dismissal gives cover to bad behavior.

133. anonymous Says:

@ Female Professor, Comment #13
———————————————-
“You are a privileged white male in big and small ways.”
———————————————-
The ease with which you dismiss the plight of others is troubling. And that you would ask, in return, for empathy regarding your own situation comes across as arrogant.

Your quote captures exactly what I find so offensive about the whole social justice and modern feminist movements.

Your follow-up declaration is also telling:

———————————————-
“I am stronger, smarter and all together better than my male counterparts and that’s what I have to be to stay in the field.”
———————————————-

I can only imagine what a pleasant colleague you must be.

134. Google planerar använda automatisk faktakoll när de listar sökresultat | DN Debatt-betyg Says:

[…] Hur det här kommer att fungera i praktiken återstår att se, men om det visar sig vara så bra som det låter är det fantastiskt. Det är verkligen bra att de stora internetjättarna tycks börja satsa mer på att se till att den information som förmedlas via dem verkligen är tillförlitlig (jag skrev tidigare om ett annat sådant initiativ från Facebooks sida), eftersom spridandet av falsk information sannolikt leder till stora samhällskostnader. Man borde också göra mer för att se till att hatisk information inte sprids, ett ämne som diskuterats ganska mycket på sistone. […]

135. Rahul Says:

Scott #130:

“….that the people we call nerds make a massive contribution to the progress of the human race; that their ability to do so is directly related to the classic nerd personality traits that some people despise…”

Indeed I agree about nerd contributions. But my point is whether that ability is due to *all* nerd traits or some?

e.g. Is it not possible to be an excellent programmer who is also relatively fit & socially adjusted? Perhaps likes physical sports but not obsesses about video games all day.

I mean lots of traits might correlate with the ability to make a big technological contribution but are they all causally related? Truth does not have to be antithetical to social niceties.

So I guess the place where my moral judgement differs from yours is that rather than convince a nerd that he / she is a fine specialty product, period, I’d focus on individual traits. e.g. Someone might decide to leave alone the technical obsessions & grade focus but maybe work on reducing shyness or social awkwardness.

My point is, let’s acknowledge that the “product”, although niche, does have some stereotypical flaws, that need not be there to make it a fine product, and we can at least attempt to make an even more polished product that retains the traits essential to performance but smooths out the rough edges.

What I worry about is a flavor of nerd pride that glorifies the whole product. Blurring our ability to distinguish the good traits from the bad. ( Unless of course, we are saying that it is fundamentally difficult or impossible to get (say) a socially well adjusted programmer for deeper personality reasons. Are we?)

136. What I’ve Been Reading: March 1, 2015 | Refrigerator Rants Says:

[…] professor Scott Aaronson explores strategies for mitigating online shaming mobs. Having recently been subject to the dark side of call-out culture himself, he is intimately […]

137. Scott Says:

Rahul #135: One doesn’t need to remind nerds that they need to adjust their personalities to fit in better with the world! In some sense, that’s the central problem of their lives, the thing they wrestle with every day. While some people might have trouble believing this, I’ve become far better able to “simulate a normal person” than I was 15 or 20 years ago; the fact that I’m now able to discuss these issues openly is not a sign of how little I’ve changed since then, but of how much.

Having said that, I’m afraid I don’t fully share your confidence that the “bad” parts of nerdiness can be cleanly separated from the “good” parts—or, crucially, that many of the “bad” parts are objectively bad at all, independent of social context. For example, I’d like to see all of civilization—not only the nerds—move in the direction of openness, honesty, and truth, even at the cost (which, to me, is hardly a cost) of becoming “ruder” and more “abrasive.”

You write that “truth does not have to be antithetical to social niceties.” Alas, often it is, and always has been—all the way back to the trial of Socrates and continuing through the Enlightenment to the present. It’s easy to be for truth when it doesn’t conflict with anything society values. And what about when it does? Your answer to that largely defines whether you’re a nerd or a normal person.

Of course, some “negative” nerd qualities might be completely separable from the “positive” qualities, just as you say. But even there, we ought to examine whether the negative qualities are more the nerds’ fault or the surrounding culture’s. For example, if many nerds suffer a “persecution complex”—well, might that have anything to do with the fact that their actual experience of life, from the ages of roughly 5 to 16, was one of literal persecution? If we became more accommodating of the ways nerds are different, might that not have the ironic effect of lessening many of the differences that bother people the most?

138. Raoul Ohio Says:

All of the issues discussed in this thread have been around forever, but have become vastly worse due to the nature of the internet. There are plenty of other things getting worse due to BSOI (bad side of internet, and related stuff).

We are bombarded with reports of all the great stuff the internet (and related stuff) is bringing. Not much research appears to be going into getting a handle on BSOI. It could well be a worse threat to civilization than CC (climate change). It is hard to imagine any way to improve the situation.

139. Amy Says:

Gee, and I thought all was quiet.

I’ll echo, tangentially, some things Ampersand’s said. I think we’re very far away from discussing enforcement of civility when we haven’t even got reliable mechanisms stopping people from making violent threats against others online. I’ve been following Brianna’s tweets for several months now, and even filtering for drama and the terror of actually being in her situation, the woman’s getting bomb, rape, and murder threats on the regular. Some of them viewed as credible by law enforcement. She’s a regular in police stations, the FBI’s talked to her, and she does what there is to do legally. She has a security detail. And I’ve yet to hear of a single person being charged.

If we don’t yet have systems in place to handle these problems, then I really, really doubt we’re at a point yet where we can talk about what to do with hundreds of thousands of “you’re a terrible person” messages. I’m reminded actually of the weary but accurate trope about online dating: women fear the guy will kill her, guys fear the woman will be fat (in other words, that he’ll be embarrassed by association).

As someone who’s spent the last several years of online life fielding pretty vile insults for being (a) female; (b) a single mom; (c ) feminist; (d) any combination of above plus willing to argue, I wonder where y’all have been, and why, in your world, legal answers to violent and openly misogynist threats against women online haven’t rated much comment or planning-to-fix over the past few years, but this new fear of public embarrassment scores libel discussion.

As far as online shame goes: Maybe I’ve been desensitized by the brutality of so many of the threats and insults over the last few years. But if 10,000 strangers say nasty, ill-informed things, and are in fact not reacting to you, but to some out-of-context reading of something you said, and have no influence whatsoever on your life, and furthermore will forget about you in three days…well, I suppose I’ll have to echo Feynman. If on the other hand these people are actually threatening to hurt you, or inciting others to hurt you, that’s another story.

Of course, if 10,000 strangers are saying nasty, well-informed things, then maybe you should pay attention.

The dongle story’s an interesting one. Richards knew about a career full of sexism and discrimination and somewhat sexually hostile environs, and she was fed up, and tweeted out an example. The guy involved was doing exactly what was normal in the context, even though it was in fact contributing to a hostile industry environment. And he was shocked when the wrecking ball came for him. The thing is, though, that if he’d bothered to give much thought to what he was doing, he’d have noticed (partly because women haven’t been silent about this) that actually having to live in a steady stream of dick jokes and innuendo isn’t a brilliant thing for women trying to make careers in tech, and he’d have knocked it off. But he didn’t give much thought to what he was doing.

So what it turned into was “but everyone else does it too, why pick on me.” Which is, if you’ll recall, the same argument that went on in the Lewin threads — what makes STEM specially awful to women, harassment goes on everywhere, you’re picking on nerds, etc. Problem is it’s a crap argument unless you can show that (a) it does actually go on everywhere at similar rates *and* (b) you are a disadvantaged group being selectively targeted for enforcement. Otherwise, it’s what your mom said: two wrongs don’t make a right.

I’m reminded actually of Dick Fuld’s fury and pathos when the Fed declined to save Lehman — Lehman hadn’t done anything the other banks hadn’t, but Lehman took the hit. And yet nowhere in any of Fuld’s testimony was there any seeming awareness that he’d actually fucked up really hard and done damage, and — unlucky boy — his timing was bad for a save. The only thing he could see was that it wasn’t fair to him, as though Lehman was owed the save. I bet it’s true to this day.

We could come back to the question of why the dongle guy’s employer freaked and canned him, rather than recognizing that yes, there was a problem they needed to deal with, but that the storm would blow over and they could do this in a rational manner.

140. Rahul Says:

Amy says:

“Richards knew about a career full of sexism and discrimination and somewhat sexually hostile environs, and she was fed up, and tweeted out an example.”

So why couldn’t she have simply complained to the organizers?

I think the backlash against Richards is totally justified. Perhaps in future we will have women complaining rather than impulsively, publicly tweeting these things. Some good may have resulted.

141. Scott Says:

Amy #139: Welcome back.

I hope everyone here agrees that sending someone rape or murder threats is not only disgusting but criminal. And in the cases you write about, it sounds like law enforcement is involved, as it should be. Maybe they could be doing a better job, or maybe it’s just hard as a practical matter to track down the sources of the threats—I don’t know, and would be grateful if anyone wanted to give details. As someone who’s received death threats himself, I can testify to how frightening it is, and speak from experience when I condemn such behavior in the strongest imaginable terms (as everyone should). But it’s not obvious what moral debate we need to have: is there anyone within the “community of the reasonable” who isn’t already on our side?

The reason I wrote this post is that, when it comes to online shaming—the “nonviolent” kind, which “only” tries to destroy jobs and reputations over minor verbal offenses—there doesn’t seem to be any similar consensus within the community of the reasonable, and I’d like create one. Ironically, it seems like some of the activists who eloquently speak out against online rape threats and death threats, themselves gleefully participate in life-crushing public shaming campaigns, against victims who never threatened anyone but merely used the wrong word or told the wrong joke.

If pressed to explain the tension, the activists might fall back on some variant of the famous formula you alluded to: “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.” (Or taking inspiration from Arthur Chu: “I’m concerned about crimes that could happen in the external world. You’re only concerned about people getting called nasty names, which is purely a mental issue.”)

If so, then this is a central point where I’d part ways from the activists. Throughout recorded history, human beings often defended their reputations with their lives, and it’s perfectly understandable why they did. A death threat can create immense fear (I know this!), but in the cases we’re talking about, at least you know that the whole moral and legal might of your community stands behind your physical safety. A public shaming, by contrast, inevitably raises the question of suicide, because it purposefully creates the impression (whether true or not) that your entire community is against you, and will be forever. I don’t know which of the two carries the greater risk of actual death.

One other point where I disagree with you: in certain circumstances, I’d say that people absolutely have the right to complain if they’re singled out for punishment for crimes lots of other people are committing. (And if we changed the example, I’m sure you’d agree: e.g., a poor black kid thrown in jail for marijuana possession while a rich white kid goes free.) Indeed, one of the main tactics of despotic regimes is to make some nearly-universal behavior illegal, then selectively enforce the law against the regime’s enemies.

In such cases, it seems to me like we should be asking the following two questions:
(1) Is the behavior actually that widespread?
(2) If it is, then should its widespread nature cause us to question whether anyone deserves to be punished for it?

In the case of marijuana, I’d say the answers are (1) yes and (2) yes. Marijuana laws shouldn’t be selectively enforced, they shouldn’t be enforced against anyone.

In the case of serious financial crimes by CEOs, I’d say the answer to (1) is already no. If the only people you can point to, who committed the same crime and got away with it, are a few other corrupt CEOs—well, sorry you got caught, dude. Get in the back of the squad car.

In the case of the Holocaust, I’d say the answers are (1) yes and (2) no. Yes, almost everyone around you was doing the same thing. And yes, all of you deserve to be punished. And if we caught you, and failed to catch 10 other perpetrators—well, you should still be punished.

Finally, in the case of puns about genitalia, made to amused listeners and accidentally overheard by non-amused ones, I’d say that just like for marijuana, the answers are (1) yes and (2) yes. No one, male or female, is consistently above ribald humor: incredibly, Adria Richards herself tweeted penis jokes (!) prior to this affair. And yes, the ubiquity of the behavior, the lack of any intention to harm or offend, and the lack of any actual harm (to anyone except a few hardened privilege warriors), should together make it clear that destroying someone over this alleged “crime” is a much greater crime than the crime itself.

142. Amy Says:

Rahul #140 – you’re assuming that women haven’t tried complaining to organizers and bosses about these kinds of things? Because…the obvious eludes them? Of course women complain about these things — until it becomes apparent that by complaining they not only mark themselves as troublemakers, but nothing happens. There are actual studies. The vast majority of the time, when a woman brings up a harassment issue with a supervisor, she’s been fired or moved along within a couple of years and there’s been no disciplinary action against the harasser. (Which was part of the shock in the Lewin incident.)

When people go through channels for years and get punished for doing it, and there’s a real problem, they’re going to find another way of doing something about the problem. And what she did was, in the end, valuable. She let the rest of the world know, right there, what goes on. People in that world were very quick to say “it’s nothing, it happens everywhere,” but those of us outside that world know that isn’t true. Dick jokes are not a part of my ambient work environment. In other industries I’ve worked in, that’s the kind of thing that, if overheard, would make people decide on the spot that you’re not suitable for promotion and maybe don’t belong in the company at all.

So – end of the day, I’d say she did the right thing. Otherwise people can’t know what goes on.

143. Amy Says:

Scott #141, more in a bit, but law enforcement has been, as far as I can make out, useless in not only Brianna’s case but in several other well-publicized harassment campaigns involving credible threats of harm. It’s not that they could be “doing a better job”, it’s that they aren’t doing the job. The women call the police, the go to the police, they get shuffled around…and there are no arrests. There is a case sitting with SCOTUS right now about a guy who’d made hideous and (given the guy) credible threats online against his ex-wife, then claimed it was just rap lyrics and should be ignored. I don’t have a good feeling about how it’ll go.

I just want to clarify, though: you’re saying that “I am going to come over and rape you with a pickaxe and strangle you and fuck your dead face, this is your address and here’s where your car is and here’s what you ate for dinner, that’s what you get for talking about our games you bitchslut” (or some such) is something on the same level as a crowd of people you’ve never heard of saying you’re an awful person?

144. Scott Says:

Amy #143:

you’re saying that “I am going to come over and rape you with a pickaxe and strangle you and fuck your dead face, this is your address and here’s where your car is and here’s what you ate for dinner, that’s what you get for talking about our games you bitchslut” (or some such) is something on the same level as a crowd of people you’ve never heard of saying you’re an awful person?

Yes. I’m someone who personally experienced both of these (well, not a rape threat, but graphic death threats that continued for weeks), and given the choice, I’d pick five more death-threat episodes over one more public vilification episode.

145. J Says:

Just a quick note that various anti-gamergate people (I’m not sure whether this is true for Brianna Wu, but it’s certainly true for Anita Sarkeesian) have gotten simultaneous massive hate/shaming campaigns and numerous death threats. This is different than a singular death threat.

146. Amy Says:

Scott #144 – ack, gotta run, but I think this is probably key:

A death threat can create immense fear (I know this!), but in the cases we’re talking about, at least you know that the whole moral and legal might of your community stands behind your physical safety.

I think women, particularly women who’ve had cause to call on police or community support, are far less certain of that support. It has actually not occurred to me in the last few decades that, if attacked, anyone would do anything but blame me for having been attacked. If interested in the first place. In fact the one time I did go to the police after an attack — the incident with the gym parking-lot rando who broke my nose — the cop refused to believe I didn’t know the guy, and threatened to arrest me when I objected to his focusing on what I was wearing.

I can’t speak to the nonwhite experience, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that assurance was rare there, too.

147. Erin Says:

@Scott: “But I also feel that, if a public figure is going to be publicly brought down like this (yes, even by a private university), then the detailed findings of the investigation should likewise be made public, regardless of how embarrassing they are. I know others differ, but I think the need of the world to see that justice was done overrides MIT’s internal administrative needs, and even Prof. Lewin’s privacy (the names of any victims could, of course, be kept secret).”

In light of your experiences, do you still feel this way? Or would you rather protect Prof. Lewin’s privacy? I took Walter Lewin’s course on EdX, and while I would love to be able to view more of his lectures, I can sympathize with an institution’s (MIT) need to maintain it’s integrity for it’s own sake. Given the popularity of the professor, and perhaps some of the comments from women in the STEM community after your post, could you take on faith that MIT would conduct a fair and open, albeit private, investigation that comes to a conclusion you trust to be the best of anyones knowledge?

148. Scott Says:

Erin #147: Yes. I still feel that the detailed findings of the investigation should have been, and should be, made public. As I see it, the issue isn’t whether I, personally think justice was done: rather, it’s whether every interested person knows that justice was done, and everyone knows everyone knows, and so on, and can give an accounting of why justice was done if asked. Paranoid conspiracies might be wrong and irrational, but we can’t claim surprise if we see them festering in darkness.

Incidentally, while you write “In light of your experiences…,” I’m not sure what analogy you had in mind between my case and his. I’ve committed no wrongdoing whose details I wanted to hide for the sake of privacy. Instead, I was pilloried for a choice I made to relinquish my privacy, even though the story I told didn’t involve my doing anything wrong (or wanting to do anything wrong) to anyone!

149. Erin Says:

Scott #148: I guess the analogy would be, if you can be pilloried for doing no wrong, then an even more sensitive issue in Prof. Lewin’s case could result in him being pilloried, even if he is in fact innocent, or the females claiming to be sexually harassed could be pilloried, or both. Does it really serve the public interest to deny him or others involved the right to choose to disclose or not to disclose? If you feel wrongfully judged in your position, doesn’t it also follow that they could suffer similar treatment?

150. Scott Says:

Erin #149: I already affirmed that the names of the women shouldn’t be released. As for Lewin himself, he was already pilloried anyway, as much as it’s possible for a person to be. Everything he did for the past half-century is in tatters now. So what difference would it make to him if MIT released the details? And even if he were embarrassed further by the details—so what? And if you’re worried about the accusations against him being false, then why shouldn’t that already be a grave concern for you, even without the details being released?

151. Zoyd Wheeler Says:

“Don’t some targets of online shaming campaigns, y’know, deserve it?

“Of course!”

So people who disagree with YOU deserve to have their lives destroyed — after all, what kind of a monstrously unjust world would allow somebody with a wrong opinion to feed his children? — but, you know, you’re totally against destroying people’s lives over lesser offenses like, uh, disagreeing with, say, Amanda Marcotte.

But right there, you *are* Amanda Marcotte. You want to destroy people’s lives for saying something you disagree with. You are incapable of feeling any empathy for somebody who *said something you don’t like*. One wrong sentence, and to you, they are no longer fellow human beings.

Do you think normal people are perfectly 100% pure? Never had a single bad thought in their lives? Justine Sacco, for example: It’s almost a shame she was joking, I guess, or else her punishment would have been richly deserved, and there wouldn’t be any injustice to feel bad about. Is that close to what you’re saying, or not?

Because if some victims deserve it, then it must be that saying one bad thing (or, God forbid, TWO bad things!) changes you from a pure, innocent sinless being who isn’t Asking For It to a completely different creature: A Racist! Or A Homophobe! And they, by God, they’re Asking For It! From 100% good to 100% bad, in the click of a mouse.

It’s easy to pick them out: You can tell by their pointed tails. The ones that are joking don’t have long red pointed tails with a little arrowhead on the end.

Right. Your parents, for example. Or grandparents. No pointed tails there, I certainly hope. Or do they deserve worldwide public vilification?

I don’t care HOW crazy of a thing somebody says or how much they meant it. This is not a reasonable way to treat other human beings. There isn’t a single assumption in there that maps in any sane way onto actual lived human experience. If somebody’s obnoxious enough I’ll avoid the dumb bastard, but I’m damned if I’ll exile him from the human race before he starts cutting people’s heads off or something.

Of course, neither you nor I can do a damn thing about any of this. Nothing we say matters in the slightest, any more than it matters if my mother harbors the loathsome, incomprehensible delusion that people born with testicles are male.

152. Tito Says:

1) Sacco now says that her tweet was ironic, i.e., as you explained above, a way to mock “privilege”. Please tell me you don’t believe that. Clearly, she was simply making a joke.

Yet, even if she wasn’t making a statement about being conscious about privilege, it’s still *just a joke*. That’s okay. It doesn’t make her the Worst Person Ever. *Most* jokes are offensive to someone; most jokes are tasteless to some people. Making a joke, no matter how tasteless or offensive, should not destroy someone’s life.

For all we know, Sacco is a selfless human being who helps her neighbors, stands by her family, and supports her community. One joke, no matter how tasteless, should not be the highest indicator of her moral worth.

2) Sooner or later, if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll realize that at the heart of leftist thought is hate. Stop aligning yourself with leftists and feminists. You’ll eventually find yourself their victim, as you were a month ago. That doesn’t mean you have to embrace the right, or any group of people. Just detach yourself to the world of ideas rather than groups.

153. Rahul Says:

Amy #142:

Do you have specific examples of cases where women complained to Conference Organizers that did not act? Have *you* had occasion to complain to a conference organizer that did not act? Do you know that PyCon has a history of being insensitive to harassment complaints? If not PyCon can you say this about a specific similar conference in this sector?

I’d love to see one of these studies you cite, especially if it fits the context & is recent. I can believe things were the way you described at some point in the past or in some sectors even today. But personally knowing at least some of the guys involved in PyCon I say it is totally unfair of you to assume that they would ignore sexual harassment & by implication their official policy on it was some token statement.

Now, I’ll speculate something different. Some people have a proclivity for overreaction & drama. They see insult and offense where none exist. Given a choice between an effective, low-key route and the sensationalist one they will take the later. Do you know that Adria Richards did not fit the bill?

154. Rahul Says:

Amy #143:

“….law enforcement has been, as far as I can make out, useless in not only Brianna’s case but in several other well-publicized harassment campaigns involving credible threats of harm. It’s not that they could be “doing a better job”, it’s that they aren’t doing the job. The women call the police, the go to the police, they get shuffled around…and there are no arrests….”

What is your definition of a “credible” threat? Can you elaborate?

I can sympathize with law enforcement here. It’d be a Herculean task to track down every instance on an online moron spewing out hate in one of the hundreds of online forums that are chock full of such people. Especially in the midst of a shaming campaign or an internet meme.

Just check out the comment list of even a fairly innocuous YouTube video & count the number of people calling for violent reactions.

It is just not practical to expect LE to track every such guy down.

As an aside, does someone know of any lists of online shaming campaigns that resulted in actual physical harm being inflicted (assault, rape, etc. ). How often does that happen. I’m truly curious.

155. DHW Says:

Amy #142: “Dick jokes are not a part of my ambient work environment. In other industries I’ve worked in, that’s the kind of thing that, if overheard, would make people decide on the spot that you’re not suitable for promotion and maybe don’t belong in the company at all.”

Do Adria Richards’s own penis jokes also mean that she doesn’t deserve employment either? If not, why not?

156. quax Says:

“check your privilege” ultra-feminists by day, to “check out the ass on that one” players by night.

Reminds me of this huge scandal that rocked Canada, when a beloved radio host who played feminist by day (and back in college) turned out to be a serial abuser.

http://msmagazine.com/blog/2014/11/10/how-jian-ghomeshi-pulled-the-feminist-wool-over-everyones-eyes/

157. Scott Says:

Zoyd #151: It’s ironic that I’m now also being criticized for not taking a hard enough line against online shaming! But I have this tic of always wanting to confront my opponents’ strongest arguments.

And I know my opponents would say: surely you agree that there are genuinely toxic people in the world, who gleefully inflict harm on others their entire lives and get away with it? And that our only chance to nail such a person might be a single revealing remark caught on tape? In which case, no, it’s not the remark itself that’s the problem, it’s just that the remark is the smoking gun, the thing we can prove. Like getting Al Capone for tax evasion.

And I know it’s no good for me to deny such things can happen. I can only reply: in the old days, no doubt there were many lynching victims who were ACTUALLY guilty of rape or murder. Including ones who otherwise would’ve escaped justice. That still doesn’t mean lynching was a good system.

158. Anonymous85 Says:

Amy, when you say

>I wonder where y’all have been, and why, in your world, legal answers to violent and openly misogynist threats against women online haven’t rated much comment or planning-to-fix over the past few years, but this new fear of public embarrassment scores libel discussion.

Do you mean to accuse us all of sexism?

The answer to your question is really simple, if you pause to think about it. We all oppose threats against women (or anyone else), but those are usually done anonymously and are impossible to trace. These threats haven’t rated much “planning-to-fix” because we can’t think of any way to fix them: we would like to arrest the perpetrators of these threats, but we don’t know how.

This is in contrast to, say, Arthur Chu, who is not anonymous and whose writing on Aaronson may or may not be libel. (Recall that Chu’s headline was “…Why so many shy, awkward guys end up hating feminism”, with a picture of Aaronson and a subtitle saying “this is what [Aaronson] meant”. Any reasonable person would conclude Scott hates feminism. Except Scott’s actual post said he is 97% on board with modern feminism, a fact Chu doesn’t mention).

159. Peter Says:

I think the comment about Salon demonstrates a partial answer to your question. With violence and threats of violence, all it takes is one person. With shaming, the people attempting the shaming need some social capital in order to succeed. As you say, an individual can’t always rationally ignore social capital out of existence – if people can get you fired or worse, it may pay to pay attention to them. However, if you can deplete their social capital, then they look – and are – more and more like obvious paper tigers that can be safely ignored. This is where things like pointing out how clickbaity Salon is come in. Also the standing up for people bit.

Hopefully, we can get to the point where people learn that if they lend their social capital to twitter mobs, then they stand to lose much of it. Thus the mobs have nothing to back them up, become easy to ignore, and are rendered relatively harmless – well, incapable of shaming at any rate.

Back in 2009 I remember a pattern where I’d read something containing what we’d now call social justice memes, dismiss it as vexatious nonsense, then get distressed when a blogger I respected linked positively to it. Thankfully none of it was directed at _me_…

(Remember that thing about eigenmorality? You could think about eigensocialcapital – you get eigencapital for being connected to people with lots of eigencapital.)

160. Mike Says:

“Do you mean to accuse us all of sexism?”

Yes she does! Y’all 😉 should recall that this is the same person who knowingly distorts crime statistics to incorrectly imply that a sizable fraction of the male population is guilty of sex crimes, and who casually conflates offensive tee shirts with rape, and who never, even when pushed by clear facts and honest criticism, finds it in her character to admit that her position may be in error. For a person with this little intellectual integrity, accusing men generally of sexism is only the first, easy blow in a long and tiresome struggle. She is a professional warrior, which is not wholly uncommendable, but which should be understood for what it is.

161. Gil Kalai Says:

It is hard to understand how a libelous comment like Mike’s #160 can be tolerated in this “fighting shaming” thread.

162. Mike Bacon Says:

Truth is a complete defense in libel Gil. Which of my comments is untrue?

She did explicitly say that a sizable fraction of the male population was guilty of sex crimes (actually I think she said ‘rape’ — although defined very broadly as she tends to do). She did conflate the tee shirt ‘scandal’ and rape (again defined broadly). And if she ever did backtrack on any substantial charge or claim, without carefully crafted qualifiers, please point it out.

How ironic that forcefully pointing this out is framed as “shaming” — the ‘pot calling’ the kettle and all of that.

Perhaps I did go too far in concluding that behavior such as this constitutes a lack of intellectual integrity per se. I apologize for that.

I still, however, view her as a warrior for her cause, which is not all bad in important conflicts.

163. Rahul Says:

@Gil Kalai:

In addition to truth I think opinion was another defense of libel.

164. Greg Kuperberg Says:

Gil – “It is hard to understand how a libelous comment like Mike’s #160 can be tolerated in this ‘fighting shaming’ thread.”

I’d like to point out that I don’t know actually know anything about “Mike” or “Amy”. They could be the same person; or each one could be some set of people with some intersection. It might hard to argue libel between anonymous entities.

If I had a blog, I wouldn’t want anonymous comments. I don’t know how Scott feels about that, and I also don’t know whether WordPress (or some other blogging software?) lets you require a mostly reliable identity standard such as Facebook.

165. John Sidles Says:

Gil Kalai remarks “It is hard to understand how [intolerant comments] can be tolerated in this “fighting shaming” thread.

To the degree that humans (myself included) commonly behave as ‘rationalizing’ rather than ‘rational’ animals, the race-to-the-bottom cognition that is all-too-prevalent here on Shtetl Optimized has evolutionary foundations that are much-studied primatologists (like Frans de Waal).

Question  Does anyone doubt that (for example) faculty meetings — even (especially?) faculty meetings at elite universities — demonstrate rationalizing cognition grounded in behaviors that primatologists have studied extensively?

Answer  Only people who have never participated in faculty meetings have any substantial doubt in regard to the ubiquity of human rationalizing cognition.

Conclusion  Humility and humor alike are valuable capabilities — perhaps they are uniquely human capabilities? — in mitigating the effects of rationalizing cognition.

166. anonymous Says:

@ Gil Kalai, comment #161

“Amy, over 80+ thoughtful comments, responded in detail, and her (moderate) feminist attitude (as well as Amy herself) stood out as realistic, humane, and terribly smart.”
— from “Amy Triumphs at the Shtetl” on Gil Kalai’s blog

Yeah, you’re not biased at all…

You invoke the terminology of “fighting shaming” while simultaneously trying to shut Mike (#160) down by labeling his comment libelous. Give me a break.

167. anonymous Says:

@ Mike, comment #162

“Perhaps I did go too far in concluding that behavior such as this constitutes a lack of intellectual integrity per se.”

Your original claim seems accurate. In the face of contradictory evidence, Amy claims in comment 281, Dec 17, 2014:

————

“Oh, and the business about the “small group of predators” — you know, I bet that’s going to turn out not to be true.”

there exists “… a large number of men who’ve raped one or two women.”

————

and when asked to elaborate, ultimately responds with:

————

“Anon with the long-tail evidence insistence: Dude, it’s conjecture.” — Amy, comment #606, Jan 8, 2015

————

Dude, it’s a conjecture about half of humanity. That you label it a “conjecture” does not lessen its offensiveness.

And without responding to the studies cited, the accusation that you lack intellectual integrity seems appropriate.

168. anonymous Says:

Flip this situation and imagine the response to a *hypothetical* commenter writing:

“Oh, and the business about only a small number of rape claims being false – you know, I bet that’s going to turn out not to be true… there exists a large number of women who’ve falsely claimed rape once or twice.”

Two questions:

Wouldn’t it be disingenuous of the commenter to refuse to account for empirical results that speak to this topic?

Would the situation be resolved if the commenter later dismissed any objections by saying “Dude, it’s a conjecture”?

169. Gil Kalai Says:

Mike (#162)

“Which of my comments is untrue? ”

Among other examples,

“accusing men generally of sexism”

Anyway, it is nice that you retracted and apologized (even if with carefully crafted qualifiers).

Strangely, I dis not realize that “Mike Bacon” and “mike” represent the same commentator. Somehow I had warm and friendly feelings toward Mike Bacon, but as far as I remember, did not like so much mike’s comments 🙂 .

170. Distribution Says:

Scott,

I think we are seeing a classic game of good-cop, bad-cop here. Amanda Marcotte is the bad cop. Laurie Penny is the good cop. But they are both cops, in the sense that they are policing our behavior from a position of authority (moral authority enforced by media, rather than state authority).

They also share certain values which are counter to our experience, like the notion of “male privilege” primarily measured in economic terms, disregarding other aspects of quality of life (like mental health and relationships). They also generally believe that women have it harder than men.

They have a view of power and morality that is justified by their experience, but which may be at odds with our experience, and it may not be possible for them to meet us in the middle without feeling like they are letting women down. It’s tempting to believe that with the right phrasing and conciliatory attitude you can convince them, but the ideological divide is hard to cross.

There is a very low bar for how feminists treat us. Penny’s article arguing “you had it bad, but I had it worse” is better than Amanda Marcotte’s “you are an entitled, misogynistic shitlord.” But in nearly any conversation, one-upmanship like “I experienced the same stuff as you, but worse” would be considered both presumptuous and insulting.

If Penny (and other feminists with a similar perspective) look moderate and empathetic, then that’s a sign of a highly asymmetric power differential in this discussion.

I’m glad that you’ve been able to tell your story while maintaining your reputation. I think there is benefit in male nerds talking about their experiences to other male nerds, and to a general audience, but I think there is a limit on how much understanding can be reached with feminists.

A lot of the ground you are exploring with feminism is well-tread. For years, or even decades, male nerds, pro-feminists, anti-feminists, and fence-sitters have been raising some of the concerns and experiences as you. Yet while a few feminists are sympathetic, the public face of feminism has just gotten more toxic.

171. Rahul Says:

Greg Kuperberg #164:

“If I had a blog, I wouldn’t want anonymous comments. I don’t know how Scott feels about that”

Almost all of my favorite blogs (Marginal Revolution, Becker Posner, Andrew Gelman, Scott Sumner, etc.) & also most other non-blog platforms of stimulating discussion / information on the internet (e.g. USENET, Stackexchange, PhysicsForums, Wikipedia et cetra ) subscribe to the model allowing anonymity.

IMO, requiring credible identification will bleed away a huge chunk of interesting & knowledgeable commentators.

Empirically, which are your favorite blogs / forums? And how many of them refuse anonymous comments?

I’d go as far as saying that anonymity is like one of the core features of the internet from its very early days. The quantity, quality & utility of internet discussions would have been substantially worse off had anonymity been proscribed everywhere.

172. Greg Kuperberg Says:

It’s true that a lot of Usenet survived pretty well with anonymity, largely under the honor system. As long as not too many posters were anonymous in a particular newsgroup, or as long as they behaved well enough, the group could still work. However, in some newsgroups that did not happen, and generally those newsgroup went to seed and people hardly even counted them as part of Usenet.

It bugs me when anonymous commenters go to lengths to create a persona: “This happened to me”, “I’ve said the same thing in many other places”, “It’s devastating that you reject my personal experiences”, etc. You’re under pressure to believe this human portrait. Eventually you forget that actually, it’s taken to be none of your business to confirm any such information.

I used to post anonymously in certain forums, but these days I’ve all but sworn it off. It feels immature; in some cases I learned the hard way that I just was being immature. Yes, anonymity has its place, but it is vastly overused. And certainly, if I were to post anonymously somewhere, I would not provide an extended persona. I would not tell people that I served in Vietnam, that I was raped at gunpoint, etc. I guess I might relate some confidential experiences (if I actually trusted that I would stay anonymous), but it’s a thin line between being candid and being manipulative.

173. Mark van Hoeij Says:

Scott,

One way to take some of the sting out of online shaming is that there should be some legal protection to those that make a reckless post online. There be a law that says that you can’t be fired over a reckless tweet. I’m sure almost everyone has said or done things that would be embarrassing when posted all over the internet. “One strike and you’re out” is not good in baseball or in real life.

174. Ross M. Smith Says:

Greg Kuperberg,

I understand what you mean and totally empathise when you write

> I used to post anonymously in certain forums, but these days I’ve all but sworn it off. It feels immature; in some cases I learned the hard way that I just was being immature. Yes, anonymity has its place, but it is vastly overused.

I agree completely!

Nevertheless, I tend to write pseudonymously at many forums, and in those venues, over a period of time, facets of my RL being will issue forth. I am divorced. Two daughters. Write software (or try to.)

Other people will just recognize me by the name I use at the site and recognize what they feel is the quality, or nonsensical remarks I consistently make, and so overtime, though I use that pseudonym I have developed a reputation, and want to protect that reputation, and so will keep to pretty much the same boundaries I would use if I were using my real name.

On the other hand, there have definitely been times when I commented with about the same tone I am using now, at feminist sites (the old standards from TBT, Pandagon, Feministing, Feministe) where I had the bloggers and their commenters threaten to dox me, threaten to call up employers, even call up courts to inform them what a horrible person I was. Basically my crime was supporting shared custody of children, civil rights of the accused, discussing false accusations of rape or domestic violence in the context of divorce cases and the like.

We have all seen of course cases like Hanks and Richards where idiot employers do what they must do, which is to quell public outcries by being weasels and firing employees who have done little wrong.

It’s very rare these days that outside of academics with tenure that people’s jobs are not imperiled by any statement they make on social media. And even with academic tenure that is being threatened.

And while you think Facebook is working out well, there is a never ending list of just enormous Facebook fights, all while people presumably use their real names and hence have that moderating effect.

Not to mention how being anonymous or pseudonymous does encourage experts to discuss things they would otherwise be barred from discussing, and allow alternative voices to be added without fear of internet shaming, and allow people with rational fear of real world outcomes if their names were to be presented to add their voices to a conversation.

The EFF has two good essays regarding online anonymity as well as looking back historically on the importance of anonymity in US history:

Sadly in the current social justice regime, I do expect the EFF, as the ACLU has done, to rollback their defenses of speech.

Anyway, to verify all I have to say, I am using my name here.

Other details you may wish to know about me can be found by clicking my name above this comment.

In the meantime, I need to get back to my exercise routine today. In my dotage, I apparently grew quite a weight problem.

175. Ross M. Smith Says:

Oh! I forgot, here’s my Facebook page.

176. Jerry Says:

Via Will Shetterly at “Social Justice Warriors: Do Not Engage”

http://sjwar.blogspot.com/2015/03/another-leftist-critique-of-call-out.html

> Another leftist critique of call-out culture

> A Note on Call-Out Culture – Briarpatch Magazine asks a brilliant question: “How do we hold people to account who are experts at using anti-oppressive language to justify oppressive behaviour?”

http://briarpatchmagazine.com/articles/view/a-note-on-call-out-culture

> A Note on Call-Out Culture
> BY ASAM AHMAD • MAR 2, 2015 • POLITICS, SOCIETY

> What makes call-out culture so toxic is not necessarily its frequency so much as the nature and performance of the call-out itself. Especially in online venues like Twitter and Facebook, calling someone out isn’t just a private interaction between two individuals: it’s a public performance where people can demonstrate their wit or how pure their politics are. Indeed, sometimes it can feel like the performance itself is more significant than the content of the call-out. This is why “calling in” has been proposed as an alternative to calling out: calling in means speaking privately with an individual who has done some wrong, in order to address the behaviour without making a spectacle of the address itself.

Sigh. If only Ms. Richards had heard of call-in culture.

177. Bruce McNeill Says:

Hi Scott
With freedom comes responsbility and consequences. In general a person should never put anything in writing if there is any chance it will come back on that person and do them harm. Electronic media can be a dangerous place and people can turn nasty.

178. rudy shepherd Says:

Shaming someone is evil. You can win by not feeling it. No one can own you and make you feel bad. You choose to feel it. You will never combat this because most of the people involved are not thinking people. You must get a dog like me. I will let you hug me and I will shower you with kisses. I will love you and never talk behind your back or purposely break your heart. I have many words and even more expressions. I will fear you when you are in a rage, and I will hide if you scream at the cat or someone else. I am too big to sit in your lap, but I will rest at the foot of your bed in order to guard you from the night. When I leave you forever, it is because my body wore out. If you are strong enough to love another you will find my friend at the dogrun to love and take my place. Always remember that you are loved. Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never hurt us.
Whoof,
Rudy.

179. Stephen V Says:

Much of sexism and feminism seem fraught with translation problems: many of the experiences of each “side” are alien to the other, and even some of the terms come with issues.
Worse, there are, I think, recent studies indicating that half of Americans simply don’t read past the headlines (and there’s no indication that this effect would be limited to Americans, either!)… which bodes ill for comprehension when it comes to etymologically-active terms like “feminism”, “patriarchy”, and “bro”: suddenly you get a thousand people who are attacking strawmen, another thousand people who are defending other strawmen from the first thousand, and the whole thing devolves into a confusing mess.

The trickiest bit of the puzzle, I think, is determining how much of the burden of translation falls to each “side” – particularly when it seems that each vociferously complains that the other isn’t doing enough in that regard. It’s not like we’ve got an impartial third gender to handle the judging, after all, and having everyone memorize everyone else’s jargon strikes me as an O(brain size^2) solution.

180. Raoul Ohio Says:

Another related item from the news:

181. Scott Says:

Bruce McNeill #177:

In general a person should never put anything in writing if there is any chance it will come back on that person and do them harm.

But that’s a prescription for never putting anything in writing, ever (including what you just put in writing!)

182. Huck Bennett Says:

Bruce McNeill #177: On the contrary, it’s absolutely essential to allow people to explore ideas online and elsewhere without fear of retribution. Imagine if we had to do science without saying silly things and trying out ideas that don’t work.

183. Alexander Bludgeford Says:

Amy’s comment #143 mentioned “There is a case sitting with SCOTUS right now about a guy who’d made hideous and (given the guy) credible threats online against his ex-wife”. For the curious, that case is Elonis v. United States:
http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/elonis-v-united-states/
and the question before the court is essentially around what the meaning of a “true threat” is in the law. Does a statute require that the speaker *intended* to induce fear in the subject or simply that a “Reasonable Person” (read: jury member) would be made to feel fear as a result of the statement?

184. Observer Says:

Current Slashdot story about Curt Schilling responding to nasty comments about his daughter: Former MLB Pitcher Doxes Internet Trolls, Delivers Real-World Consequences.

185. Jerry Says:

So in realtime, as we speak, Brianna Wu is starting to suffer the beginnings of another social justice warrior shaming campaign.

This one is from her “former” compadres, anti-gamergates who had supported her but today are offended that Wu sat down for coffee with evil Stardock CEO Brad Wardell (who had previously been a victim of social justice warriors.)

Not only did Wu sit down with him, she made a bit of piece with him as well.

Again, this is a social justice warrior, anti-gamergate shaming campaign of Brianna Wu. In realtime on twitter everywhere.

186. Jerry Says:

This one may be short lived, Wu has already come to her senses and made apologies and retracted her statement and come out once more four square and against Brad.

187. Anonymous85 Says:

This old post by the Other Scott seems relevant to the discussion on why online shaming campaigns are harmful:

http://slatestarcodex.com/2013/12/29/the-spirit-of-the-first-amendment/

188. Gil Kalai Says:

Anonymous #167.

” Dude, it’s a conjecture about half of humanity. That you label it a “conjecture” does not lessen its offensiveness.

And without responding to the studies cited, the accusation that you lack intellectual integrity seems appropriate. ”

On the intellectual side, it is reasonable to infer from the fact that a sizable fraction of female population are subject to sex crimes by men, that a sizable (while somewhat smaller) fraction of the male population is guilty of sex crimes. (It is estimated that 15-20 million american women experienced rape or an attempted rape and the numbers may be higher.)

But I see a bigger problem with your moral integrity (or emotional integrity) . The really offensive thing here is the large number of women who are victims of rape and other sexual assaults. And you take offence by claims regarding how many men are involved? This is what really worries you?

Greg (#164), Rahul(#163) I used “libelous comment” in the English, not legal, meaning maybe “shaming comment” is a better term.

189. Alexander Bludgeford Says:

Scott, one answer to the original question in your title is this piece: http://briarpatchmagazine.com/articles/view/a-note-on-call-out-culture

190. Amy Says:

Much water under the bridge. Greg, I don’t actually remember much anonymity on USENET, because people used their university email accounts to post. But it was a completely different animal than the current internet is — hardly anybody online in those days, by comparison, and those who were tended to be academics. I remember a clubbish environment governed by university manners. And nobody knew enough to be afraid of doxxing or deucing or any such thing.

The people who complain most about pseuds, I notice, are very well-protected guys. Little to fear. Often with only themselves to worry about. In a world where people can and do get fired for comments they’ve made online, and can be and are stalked, I’ve got no problem with pseudonyms. I do think it’s a little silly though either to pass judgment on whether or not strangers are vulnerable enough to need the protection or to wander out naked while well-protected and declare that others should do the same.

Rahul many comments ago, I’m emphatically not a con-goer. I’ve read many accounts, though, from women going to various cons, SFF and tech, where they were groped or harassed and complained about it, and were basically told to avoid the guy *who had come up to them and groped or harassed them*. No actual action taken to remove the guy. And I believe there was something in those stories to do with PyCon, but no, I’m not going to spend the next hour hunting down unindexed comments for you. If you want to know whether or not this stuff goes on and you’re anxious for Accounts Of the Con-Groped, I’d suggest going to places where such stories get told and asking. (I think there was also something about an elevator.)

The dumb thing, though, Rahul, is the suggestion that, really, women have not thought of and tried going to management. Because sure, we’re prone to just launching shame campaigns online rather than trying the obvious thing first. It’s also why we launch DDOS attacks on the Marriott chain when the maid forgets to leave fresh bottles of water in the room. I mean think about what you’re suggesting.

The question of whether the non-alarm at routine death/rape threats online against women v. sudden “we must mount a campaign and fix this” re public shaming – yes, sure I’m saying the reaction is sexist. And I’m really very uninterested in this “well, of course nobody could do anything about anonymous death threats, they’re anonymous!” Anonymous threats against public officials don’t stay anonymous long; these threats against women just aren’t priorities. You cannot seriously suggest that when you post from your twitter account as @oscarmayerbullets you’re simply *unfindable*.

“Credible”, of course, means credible. As in it’s reasonable to believe that this person might in fact show up and do whatever horrible thing he’s threatening to do, and you ought to take it seriously. The cops, afaik, are the ones who make that determination.

Someone else asked about Adria’s dick-joke tweet. There’s this weird thing that happens, I notice, when women bring up the problem of sexism at work: a certain subgroup of men will suddenly demand absolute puritanicalism of the women in all aspects of life, or call them hypocrites. The same guys insist the women are trying to fit them with metal helmets and control their thoughts. It’s all an irritating and juvenile way of sidestepping the actual issue: at work, nobody should have to put up with racist, sexist, or otherwise discriminatory behavior that generates that famous hostile work environment. Translation: When at work, your thoughts are your business, but what comes out of your mouth is workplace business.

I don’t know whether Adria’s tweet was at a business associate. If so, she shouldna oughta done it. If it was at a friend, then…I believe that’s what we call her social life, and her own business.

I will point out again with some sadness and exasperation that the general tenor here is remarkably unfriendly to women, which is where I came in a few threads ago. If I were to read this thread and take it for a representative CS environment, I’d see absolutely no mystery in the low F/M ratio in the field. (We can skip the usual “it’s just as bad everywhere else” defense; it isn’t.)

191. Scott Says:

Amy #190: So the general principle is, making ribald jokes is fine if it’s done on Twitter (even if many of your professional colleagues read your Twitter feed, as you’d better assume they’re doing since you can’t stop them), but is not fine if you’re attending a professional conference (even if the joke is said or whispered to a friend who doesn’t mind the joke, and is inadvertently overheard by someone else)? (Or maybe jokes are OK if you’re out in the corridor, but not if you’re sitting in a conference session?)

If so, then can we expect this principle to be applied consistently? I.e., when, in the future, some male is fired or reprimanded for making dirty jokes on a Twitter feed with a mixed personal/professional audience, SJWs in general (and you in particular) will staunchly support him, holding that what he says on his Twitter feed is his own damn business?

192. quax Says:

The people who complain most about pseuds, I notice, are very well-protected guys.

Ouch, have to admit I kind of thought the same.

Fortunately my professional situation for somebody outside academia is such that I don’t have to fret too much about being monitored on social media, but this is not the case for the majority of people. And there is huge money being made with big data software for exactly that kind of social media scrutiny.

Personally, I prefer to maintain some level of control about what search engines spit out when somebody googles my name. And I don’t want political or snarky posts to come out on top. Hence the use of a pseudonym. Yet, I usually link back to my blog so that anybody can verify my identity with a couple of mouse clicks if they actually care. For me this kind of “half-anonymity” works best.

Also it should be noted that not everybody has a F***book account. I am a bit old school in this regard as I consider it to be just one huge data sucking machine to monetize your private life. (That I’d be expected to constantly respond to my mother-in-law’s post who now lives on Facebook 24/7 doesn’t endear it to me either).

193. Anonymous85 Says:

Amy, I don’t see the “general tenor” here to be unfriendly to women, just unfriendly to you. My hypothesis is that were you a man, people would be just as hostile towards you. The reason for hostility is not your gender, but the fact that you accuse us all of sexism all the time.

That’s not to say that I approve of the hostility; we should all tone it down and try to have a civil discussion. But if you want to engage nerds or the CS community, perhaps you shouldn’t start out with unfounded accusations of sexism (you might as well start with “you are all terrible people”).

For what it’s worth, the actual women in CS that I have asked have told me that they did not encounter sexism in CS. Nerds are actually probably *less* sexist than the general population. From slatestarcodex:

“The research (1, 2, 3, 4) shows that sexist attitudes are best predicted by low levels of education, high levels of religious belief, and (whites only) low neuroticism. Once again, I don’t feel it should be controversial to say that ‘very religious people who drop out of school early and are psychologically completely healthy’ is not how most people would describe nerds. Besides, in a survey I did of 1500 people on an incredibly nerdy forum last year, the average was extremely feminist, so much so that the average nerdy man was more feminist than the average non-nerdy woman.”

194. anonymous Says:

@ Gil Kalai, comment #188

————————-

“… it is reasonable to infer from the fact that a sizable fraction of female population are subject to sex crimes by men, that a sizable (while somewhat smaller) fraction of the male population is guilty of sex crimes.”

————————-

It is exactly this claim that these studies refute.

————————-

“The really offensive thing here is the large number of women who are victims of rape and other sexual assaults. And you take offence by claims regarding how many men are involved? This is what really worries you?”

————————-

Straw man alert: nobody is saying rape is inoffensive. Full stop.

Yes, I do take offense when someone levels an unsubstantiated accusation against an entire sex. The more so when data exists that disproves said claim.

And, yes, it worries me. People shouldn’t simply ignore contradictory evidence in order to justify a cause.

195. Kim Says:

Amy said in comment 190:

“I will point out again with some sadness and exasperation that the general tenor here is remarkably unfriendly to women, which is where I came in a few threads ago.”

*********************************************************
I’m honestly interested in seeing examples. Would you mind listing some comment indices here that contribute to this general tenor of being remarkably unfriendly to women?

196. Gil Kalai Says:

Anonymous #194 Let’s try an easier case: It is commonly accepted that one third of women encounter violence by a husband or a long-term (man) partner in their life. (So this is more than 30%.)

Based on this information, do you agree that a sizable fraction of men applied violence to a wife or a long term (woman) partner in their lifetime?

Of course, the percentage need not be 33%. It is probably smaller but not very much smaller but as much as I looked I couldn’t find data.

Regarding rape and attempted rape. It is estimated that 15-20 million American women experienced rape or an attempted rape in their life time. (The numbers may be higher.) Based on all the studies you read and the best of your judgment and common sense what would be *your* estimate on the number of men that raped or attempted to rape a woman in their lifetime?

197. Stephen V Says:

Anonymous85 #193, Amy #190:
I wonder how much of these vastly different perspectives are a matter of, well, perspective: it seems reasonable to think that academia is not a monoculture, and therefore that there exist both sexist subsets and non-sexist subsets. There are, what, three thousand universities in the US? If the best thousand are perfectly equal, one could wander through them for years and never encounter a sexist one, and if the worst thousand are as unfriendly as Amy describes or worse, one could wander just as often and justifiably claim pervasive sexism.
The rhetoric I’ve seen does little to consider this possibility, possibly for clickbait reasons, possibly because it hasn’t actually been considered, possibly for some more charitable reason I haven’t thought of.
I also predict that over time the sexist and non-sexist cultures, academic or otherwise, will tend to segregate themselves along this axis; a similar effect I think happens for racist and non-racist cultures. The result ends up being that you either see your triggering -ism everywhere or nowhere… except online.
More problematic for activists, though, is that this insulates x-ists from non-x-ist sentiment – echo chambers for everyone.

198. Greg Kuperberg Says:

Gil – “Regarding rape and attempted rape. It is estimated that 15-20 million American women experienced rape or an attempted rape in their life time.”

So, here is a question. If the United States has a colossal epidemic of rape, then are men punished too much for it, or too little? There are currently about 160,000 men in prison in the United States for rape and sexual assault. (See Table 13 in the link below.) Should imprison even more men for rape because they generally go unpunished, at least in the short term until the evil is conquered? To put this number in (admittedly selective) context, this rate of imprisonment for sex crimes alone is a little higher than the post-trial imprisonment rate in the Netherlands for all crimes. Or, less selectively, the US probably has a higher rate of imprisonment for sex crimes than any other wealthy democracy. Probably much higher, in most cases.

http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/p13.pdf

199. rrtucci Says:

Scott, This might have something to do with complexity theo.

http://arxiv.org/abs/1503.01409

200. anonymous Says:

@ Gil Kalai, comment #196
_________________________________

“Anonymous #194 Let’s try an easier case: It is commonly accepted that one third of women…”

_________________________________

No. The focus of this discussion has always been attempted and completed rape (ACR), and whether this is perpetrated by a small group of predators. That is exactly the scope of the 2 studies cited.

_________________________________

“…what would be *your* estimate on the number of men that raped or attempted to rape a woman in their lifetime?”

__________________________________

My estimate is irrelevant. Yet again, you are attempting to change the scope.

You (and Amy) clearly have time to comment at length on this blog. But you cannot spare 10 minutes to scan the papers?

201. anonymous Says:

Gil, recounting a previous posting that sums of issues. Amy’s claims are:

————

(1) “Oh, and the business about the “small group of predators” — you know, I bet that’s going to turn out not to be true.”

(2) there exists “a large number of men who’ve raped one or two women.”

————

The main finding of the studies is that there *is* a small group of men who perpetrate the vast, vast majority of sexual violence against women. And there is no evidence to suggest that “a large number of men” rape.

Lisak & Miller find that, out of 1,882 men, 120 (or 6.4%) committed a total of 483 rapes. There is the small group of repeat rapists/predators.

Later in the study this is reinforced. 76 of the rapists actually accounted for 439 of the rapes! So 4% are responsible for ~91% of the rapes in this study. Again, a small group of predators which contradicts claim (1).

And roughly 2.3% committed 1 rape. There are somewhat undermines claim (2). I did not see numbers for exactly 2 ACR incidents, but maybe a more careful reader will.

————

The McWhorter et al. study restricts the scope to males in the navy. They find that 13% perpetrate at least 1 ACR.

But of the 865 total lifetime ACR incidents reported by these men, reperpetrators committed 95% of ACR incidents. Again, a small group of predators, and a contradiction to claim (1).

40 out of the 1146 individuals, or 3.5% perpetrated exactly a single incident. Again, I did not see numbers for exactly 2 ACR incidents, but this undermines (2).

202. Gil Kalai Says:

Greg, I don’t think there is anything special about the US. You can look at Wikipedia about similar estimates from other countries. For example, the number of women who experienced serious sexual assault by a man in their youth is estimated as more than 1 in 10. (Some give even higher numbers.)

I don’t have answers to your other questions (in fact, I don’t even understand what you mean by “imprison even more men”).

I also don’t understand the tone of your question and what you mean by “epidemic”. Are you skeptic about it? I don’t have any reason to think that things are now worse than they were decades ago. Perhaps greater awareness and some improvement in the status of women reduced violent and sexual assaults against women but I don’t know.

203. Rahul Says:

Gil Kalai says:

“It is commonly accepted that one third of women encounter violence by a husband or a long-term (man) partner in their life.”

@Gil Kalai:

Do you know what the corresponding, “commonly accepted” figure is for the chance that a man encounters violence by his partner?

I’m wondering if whoever estimated this used a pretty flexible measure of “encountered violence”.

204. Scott Says:

Rahul #203: I’m leery of wading into this discussion, but FWIW, in Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature, he reviews the huge statistical literature on domestic partner violence, and comes to the conclusion that we should really think of it as two separate phenomena that are often conflated. Firstly, there are what he calls “arguments with pots and pans flying,” which are extremely common, but in which women perpetrate exactly as much violence against men as men do against women—the data show no gender difference whatsoever. Secondly, there’s terrifying, controlling, abusing violence, which is overwhelmingly perpetrated by men against women, but “only” by a small minority of men (too many, of course).

205. Greg Kuperberg Says:

Scott – “Firstly, there are what he calls ‘arguments with pots and pans flying,’ which are extremely common, but in which women perpetrate exactly as much violence against men as men do against women—the data show no gender difference whatsoever.”

There may be exactly as much perpetration, but the risk to women might still be greater just because men are stronger and more aggressive. And, common or not, the risk can be serious.

It also possible that what Pinker sees as two phenomena lie on a common curve of phenomena. In fact, in some but not all cases of spousal murder (and murder-suicide), there clearly was a syndrome of mutual quarrelling that helped fuel the confrontation.

Other than that, Pinker’s model is fairly believable.

206. quax Says:

Greg #205

There may be exactly as much perpetration, …

As testosterone is clearly linked to aggression in all mammals I doubt that very much. Ironically in the rare specie where the females have more testerone they turn out to be more aggressive.

This whole BS discussion really comes down to equal but different. It is one thing to have all human equal before the law, but on average physical attributes and cultural biases are so obviously stacked against women that I am simply flabbergasted that educated academics here even argue the point.

207. Rahul Says:

Amy#190 says:

“Credible”, of course, means credible. As in it’s reasonable to believe that this person might in fact show up and do whatever horrible thing he’s threatening to do, and you ought to take it seriously. The cops, afaik, are the ones who make that determination.

Indeed. Let the cops decide what is credible.

Yet, a few comments earlier (Comment #143) that did not stop Amy from labeling law enforcement as “useless” and accusing them of not “doing their job.”

What I’m saying is let us not paint with an overly broad brush and just because law enforcement makes a considered assessment that a lot of these online rants are credible threats, we start wantonly vilifying LE.

208. Scott Says:

quax #206: I just looked; the pages of Better Angels where Pinker summarizes the evidence that “low-level” domestic violence is committed at the same rate by men and women are 409-410.

Maybe I should explain—since it’s relevant to many things we’ve been discussing on these threads—that my whole intuition about social science was reshaped by reading Pinker’s books, in which he goes through assertion after assertion that right-thinking people are “flabbergasted” (as you were) that educated academics could even question, and then shows beyond any serious doubt that those assertions are false.

(Another classic example: that your personality is shaped by what values your parents teach you. Obvious, right? Nope. As far as social science can determine, your personality is shaped by some combination of your genes and your experiences on the schoolyard and elsewhere. The only major personality traits that seem to be affected by interaction with your family, are those related to how you interact with your family. 🙂 )

On reflection, I wonder if a lot of the disconnect between me and other people on these questions, is that I tend to assume that everyone must have already undergone the experience of having their intuitions about the social world “Pinkerized” (if not by Pinker himself then by someone else), and that that’s the starting point for these conversations.

209. Stephen V Says:

Scott #208:

Probably best to assume the opposite – I certainly haven’t read him! (Though, judging from the insight he seems to have provided you, I may have to track that book down for myself)
This, I think, is an inevitable consequence of O(1) personal reading time and O(n) good books.

quax #206:
We might well agree on the averages and how they skew, if perhaps not how far they skew, but the point here is that the standard deviations exceed the difference between the averages, and it’s entirely plausible that nerds tend to cluster on the “wrong” side of those averages.

210. quax Says:

Scott #208 Far be it for me to question the research that Pinker scrutinized. Humans are humans and both genders are capable of abuse and cruelty. Yet, the fact of the matter remains, that women on average are physically weaker, and biologically burdened with being the child bearing ones, and they also happen to be the ones receiving cat calls on the street.

I’ve witnessed plenty of sexism explicit and implicit in my life, and it was always directed at women. Ironically it is often also perpetuated by women, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise either. After all genital mutilation is often performed by women as well, and I am sure we could find some well meaning social study folks to explain to us, how this is perfectly acceptable as part of the specific culture.

To tie this back to the original topic of this post, I think a constructive dialog should be about how to change our culture for the better. Starting by spreading the word that any form of shaming, offline or online, whether its ‘nerd shaming’ or ‘slut shaming’ is never OK would be a good start.

211. Scott Says:

quax #210:

Starting by spreading the word that any form of shaming, offline or online, whether its ‘nerd shaming’ or ‘slut shaming’ is never OK would be a good start.

Agreed! I did try to do my small part, by writing the 4200-word general anti-shaming post on which you’re now commenting… 😉

212. quax Says:

Stephen V #208, I like your choice of word, humans tend to cluster, they follow more a boson statistics. The more prominent female SETM role models you have the more likely you will attract girls to the field. Same goes for visible minorities. I guarantee you that for nerdy black kids (talk about clustering on the wrong side of the distribution) Neil deGrasse Tyson is a god send, and that he will leave a statistical mark in STEM admission rates for black kids.

213. quax Says:

Scott #211 for which I commend you 🙂

The fact that you and Penny were invited to the MIT graduate women’s reading group also bodes very well. Most people only tend to appreciate their own pains and struggles (typical example would be ‘family value’ types coming around on gay issues once they are confronted with it in their own family). Yet, the true growth is in opening up and appreciating the struggles of others.

College is the place where the future culture of America is formed and that you step out of your comfort zone, lay your self bare, and participate in this process, proves to me more than anything, that MIT made the right call when they gave you tenure.

214. Amy Says:

Scott, I don’t know who reads Adria’s tweets. The people I work with don’t read mine, and in any case would have to seek them out. In a work environment (and you should know this), if someone’s making dick jokes and turning the place into a locker room, not only haven’t you sought it out, you can’t really leave, not without leaving your job.

You can go read up on hostile work environments if you like, also why the construction exists.

Various others: No, actually this comment thread isn’t just unfriendly to me; it’s unfriendly to women generally. Again, if this is representative of CS environments, it’s no mystery at all why so few women want to work in CS. You can invent whatever reasons you like about women having evolutionarily-different priorities, or shrivelled brains, or social pressures to study literature, or what have you, but a mar parsimonious explanation’s that it’s just not too nice here — something women mention, incidentally, repeatedly, but there seems to be a tremendous volume of cotton in the ears, not to mention a good deal of “na na na we can’t hear you”. And we don’t have to stick around. There are other job-offering fields that are really much more pleasant than this.

Kim, just read Rahul’s messages one after the next; that’s representative of part of the problem. If you can’t see the problems there, I’d suggest hanging around some feminist sites for a while and then coming back to Rahul. This adolescent business of discussing women’s behavior in terms of statistics and deeply flawed “rational” inventions of our (invariably biological) motives is also a real problem, as is the rudeness when women won’t go and do free library work in response to demands for citations and “education”. I don’t know that some of these guys understand how this stuff reads from outside this little group, but it’s not great, and it’s not great for good reasons.

Stephen V – as women reach parity in upper levels of organizations the workplace cultures change pretty dramatically. Frankly it’s the same thing I’ve seen since dorm days: the healthiest groups have roughly equal numbers of men and women at equal status levels. I lived in a dorm with three wings; the center was co-ed, the outer wings single-sex. On every floor, the co-ed halls were by far the sanest and most adult. Not shriekfests, not demolition centers. The dorm as a whole was a universe of sanity away from the single-sex dorms, which were unspeakable, reaching their nadir in the fraternities. So I don’t think it’s so much a matter of clustering as it is whether women have incentive to dynamite their way in, which appears to be necessary before enough women can show up to put a stop to the most obvious sexist practices, which in turn lets women rise up the ranks, however slowly. The HR and admin rules regarding harassment and workplace civility tend to change very quickly once women are in senior positions, as does the general environment.

Anyway, returning to the question of shaming campaigns. If we remove threats of violence, and frothing rabid rudeness, and various vile bigotries, we’re still left with perfectly civil expressions of “I think you did a bad thing, for shame.” Now unless you’re going to say that no one should be allowed to say such things (in which case you’ve got an interesting case to make in front of any court discussing abortion-clinic protests), you are in fact going to be susceptible, if you speak in public where billions of people can hear you, to having a few thousand people say, “a bad thing, for shame” and leave you feeling ostracized.

It seems to me the issue there is how several thousand civil messages in this vein are received and dealt with, and Scott, we’ve already discussed this. But it seems to me they are:

2. Reading the messages and despairing/panicking.
3. Reading the messages and listening to where these people are coming from, and determining whether they’re saying, en masse, anything you probably oughta listen to, out of prudence, integrity, or both.
4. Any of the above, plus remembering all along that the vast majority of all these people will have forgotten who you are within three days.

In the Adria and Sacco cases, the employers all went for (2). I think we will learn not to do this.

As for the threats, bigotry, and general vileness: I think these things will have to be dealt with because at this point they’re criminal or doing real damage to the internet as a communications medium or both. The sites hosting the attacking accounts are much of the problem, I think. But irl we don’t allow frothing vile people to hang around on the sidewalk spewing at people, and I think we’ll learn to police that and enforce civility better online — but that there’ll be a fight because in the end it’ll be down to the hosting sites to enforce some reasonable standard of civility, which will require meaningful penalties for sites that don’t, right down to being shut down. And that fight, in the end, will be between a tech culture which views its own behavior as normal, and a rest-of-world which finds it ghastly.

The death/violence threats are another kind of problem, though, because they’re so often aimed at women in explicitly misogynist contexts. And we already have real problems in domestic-violence cases with getting police to act on behalf of women in a way that actually protects them. It’s not as bad as it was before VAWA, but it’s still bad. So in that area I think there are really two problems to deal with, not one, and I’m not terribly optimistic. It’d certainly be easier to focus on it, though, if the general (and fairly recent) awfulness of online discussion were moderated.

215. Rahul Says:

On a tangential topic:

Why is it that dongle jokes make females feel uncomfortable but not vice versa with other jokes. I mean, are there situations where females make a sexual joke / comment that might make a guy in the company feel harassed?

Note, I’m not defending any such harassment just pondering at a deeper level about the asymmetricity of sexual harassment. Is this sort of one way harassment genetic or conditioned / contextual. With mere words how is it so much easier for one gender to trouble the other but not conversely?

Alternatively, is it a majority-minority effect? i.e. In tech as well as many other sectors guys dominate by numbers conventionally & hence they can more easily harass women than the other way around? If so, are there counter examples, say, in Nursing or English Lit departments etc? Where women crack jokes that make guys feel harassed?

Or are women just more saintlier?

216. Gil Kalai Says:

Anonymous #200 #201 Thanks. I will read the paper next week (I don’t have access now).

The abstract reads: “Pooling data from four samples in which 1,882 men were assessed for acts of interpersonal violence, we report on 120 men whose self-reported acts met legal definitions of rape or attempted rape, but who were never prosecuted by criminal justice authorities. A majority of these undetected rapists were repeat rapists, and a majority also committed other acts of interpersonal violence. The repeat rapists averaged 5.8 rapes each. The 120 rapists were responsible for 1,225 separate acts of interpersonal violence, including rape, battery, and child physical and sexual abuse.”

Let me just mention that

(1) I regard more than 6% of men a sizable fraction. (It is not clear to me what was the population these men were originally taken from).

(2) The notion of “repeated rapist” relevant to our discussion refer not to the number of incidents but to the number of different women who were victimized by the same man.

(3) It is likely that people involved in very few incidents will be more reluctant to inform about them.

217. fred Says:

How to fight online shaming campaigns?
By sticking to topics those morons don’t care about, like quantum computers and complexity theory…

218. Scott Says:

Amy #214: When you say that my comment section is “unfriendly to women,” I take it extremely personally and seriously—it’s as if a guest in my own home had lodged a similar complaint. Indeed, I take this so seriously that the last time you complained about it, I responded in a way that brought me to the brink of destroying my life (!).

Yet I’m genuinely at a loss for what remedy you propose. For unlike with most house parties, I don’t choose who to invite here. I simply try to engage in discussion and argument with whoever shows up, and I let my guests engage each other.

The only real authority I have is to kick people out, or threaten to kick them out. But as long as they’re discussing more-or-less civilly, I’m reluctant to exercise that authority. I’ve used it only rarely, for trolls, rabid attacks on me and others, and in the two very special cases of Lubos Motl and John Sidles. (Motl earned himself a three-year ban, to be reevaluated in 2017. As for Sidles, I’ve banned him many times, relented equally often, and finally settled on an informal policy of letting his long, reference-ridden manifestos through only if they make some attempt to engage the actual substance of what other people said, rather than just the keywords they used, and if they keep the patronizing tone under control.)

There have been comments submitted to this thread, and to the earlier threads, that I felt were just pure spiteful misogyny (or veered too close to it), and therefore didn’t let through. Are there comments I did let through for which you believe that I made the wrong call? Which ones? (You can tell me in private if you want.)

One issue is that if, e.g., 80% of commenters civilly expressed a “male” perspective on some issue, and 20% civilly expressed a “female” perspective, I’d simply let all the comments through, even if it led to what I considered a “lopsided” discussion. I’m not really sure what to do about this: surely you don’t advocate that I ban reasonable comments for the sole purpose of achieving “balance”? If there were some absolute upper bound on the number of comments, then affirmative action could be justified, but there isn’t.

And if the only way to make this a “female-friendly space,” by your lights, was for me or other commenters to agree with you about the substantive points under discussion—well, I respect you too much as a conversation partner to think you’re making such a request! But if you were, then giving in would seem to me like a much worse form of misogyny than pushing back.

219. Anonymous85 Says:

Amy, if you think the lack of women in CS is due to a hostile environment, would you also agree that the lack of men in psychology is due to a hostile environment against men?

“something women mention, incidentally, repeatedly, but there seems to be a tremendous volume of cotton in the ears”

No. No, they don’t. Perhaps you have cotton in your ears. Again, there are specific women studying CS right now that have specifically told me they have not encountered sexism in CS. I don’t know of any women who have encountered it.

CS departments have affirmative action, they have female-only scholarships, the have “women in CS” clubs and “women in CS” days, etc. I could probably make a decent case that this constitutes discrimination *against men*. (Imagine the outrage if there were male-only scholarships).

220. DHW Says:

Amy, apologies if I missed it amongst all your lengthy filibustering, but: are you in agreement with Scott that what people say on Twitter should not be held against them professionally?

221. Rahul Says:

Amy #214:

You make an unsubstantiated assertion / accusation against a fairly large group of people (usually guys, or tech-guys or something similar) & then when someone object and asks you to support your statements with some citation or evidence you like to claim that those facts are common knowledge & the guys asking you to back up your claims with facts are being lazy & misogynist.

You are apparently too busy to offer supporting facts but not busy enough to write long comments based entirely on opinion and no factual backing.

I think I am not the only one on here to notice this pattern (e.g. see Comment #167) nor to call you out for it.

Also, I’ve seen other most other commentators when asked similarly to back up their assertions will usually offer a lot of interesting cites /articles and that’s a constructive way to move forward. I’m not sure why you are so defensive about this.

222. Stephen V Says:

Amy #214, anonymous85 #219: like I said – patchy. The specific institutions probably make a difference here… but asking people to provide place names with their examples seems like a recipe for doxxing and other unintended fallout.

Amy, the distribution in behavior you describe is useful data, thanks!
That said, I do wonder if there’s self-segregation in there turning cause and effect into a feedback loop.
My own experience with single-sex education is secondhand at best, but they don’t seem to have come out of it with any particular horror stories or therapy requirements.

DHW #220: I believe that was implied in her bullet-point 1-4 list, yes. Can we not make that a shibboleth, though?

This does sort of obliquely bring up the point, though, that option (3) on that list is itself problematic for the same reason spam is: understanding requires attention, and attention requires time, and several thousand messages in one’s inbox (even if only, say, a hundred of them are saying anything new) requires a lot of understanding if you don’t want to resort to option (1) or (2).
I suspect this is what bureaucracy is supposed to be useful for. I also suspect that the current stereotypical knee-jerk institutional response is itself a learned survival mechanism due to lawsuits: after a complaint occurs, a company or individual that doesn’t react nigh-instantaneously with (2) is then accused of (1); the possibility that it might be either (1) or (3) is not yet widely considered… and those companies that fail to respond with (2) are thus preferentially sued out of existence (or out of budget-for-new-hires, which is a difference of degree).

223. Rahul Says:

Greg Kuperberg #172 says:

“It bugs me when anonymous commenters go to lengths to create a persona: “This happened to me”, “I’ve said the same thing in many other places”, “It’s devastating that you reject my personal experiences”, etc.”

Greg, I think I agree halfway with you: i.e. Anonymous comments are fine (perhaps essential) to having a good, free debate but I too get annoyed when an anonymous commentator tries to invoke some unique personal experience or privilege that I’ve no way to verify.

e.g. “I was raped”, “I had an abusive bf who was also a nerd”, “All my female friends in CS experience harassment at Conferences” etc.

If you want to argue on the basis of such a personal event or experience I’d rather you identified yourself otherwise I’ve no way of distinguishing you from a troll. That’s why I applaud Scott’s revealing the very personal details from his past. That takes guts.

OTOH, many anonymous comments argue strictly on the basis of facts or logic or perhaps just state an opinion or a conjecture. That to me sounds perfectly fine.

e.g. “the pages of Better Angels where Pinker summarizes the evidence that “low-level” domestic violence is committed at the same rate by men and women are 409-410.”

I don’t need to know any damn thing about who wrote this to derive utility out of this statement. It doesn’t matter if Scott wrote it or “quax” or Mickey Mouse.

224. Amy Says:

DHW: I meant what I said, no more and no less; I expressed it clearly above.

Anonymous85: …I hardly know what to say. I think perhaps you’re listening only to people who tell you what you want to hear. If you’re listening only to women who have stayed in CS and are happy there, then…well, yes, you’re unlikely to be hearing from the many women who’ve complained or simply poked their noses in and decided “nope, no thank you” because of the atmosphere. I’d suggest going out yourself and having a look-see. Incidentally, one thing women intolerant of sexism are unlikely to do is bring you incident after incident so that you can decide why they aren’t really incidents. We’re just deeply uninterested in this. Instead we stay away and find other things to do with our lives. You can sit there and head-scratch about why the gender ratio in CS is so weird if you like. But I think actually Laurie Penny spoke pretty clearly about this.

Rahul: I am not your volunteer librarian, nor am I here to play mock trial, and the internet and journals have all the information you’re looking for. If you’re really that interested, go look, and do so non-dogmatically. If you’re not that interested, don’t waste people’s time.

Anon85: I would actually put the dearth of men in mental-health fields down to the way medical practices disrespect them. Psychiatrists are much too often regarded as people who couldn’t hack it in med school. Social workers are hardly paid, much less respected. As for psychology I don’t know — I don’t know anything about the ratios there. Around here male psychologists certainly aren’t rare, but I don’t know what the trends are nationally. It could be that the environment’s unfriendly to men — again, don’t know.

Scott, a bunch of guys discussing women as though we are a sort of livestock, discussed almost entirely in terms of sociobiological woo, is frankly offensive. There’s a profound deafness in the conversation to the experience of women, not to mention disinterest in and/or rejection of women’s actual descriptions of their experiences (certainly there’s plenty to be had out there). I’ll note, for instance, that the conversation about these issues here hovers compulsively around rape and how many men aren’t rapists, even though there’s an awful lot of women, including me on other threads, who’ve been jumping up and down saying, “Hello, it’s not just about rape.” Similarly, the profound mystification as to why women would be insulted/demoralized/undermined etc. by this or that is something I’ve got minimal patience for when, again, there’s reams of conversation and study on these subjects. The only reason I continue to turn up here is that now and then someone asks what appears to be a genuine and earnest question.

You could of course invite more women to actually talk about why we do what we do, but in order for more women to show up (you’ll notice there are, once again, hardly any of us here), I think the environment would need to change significantly.

And you’re right, I participate in several fora where issues in women’s lives are approached from a very wide range of views, and some sit well with me and others don’t. But women have far more reality as people in those fora, the fine grain of our lives is taken far more seriously, and there’s much less bristling at what are essentially theories and notions of people lining up in armies of “radfems” and “third-wavers” and counterattackers and such.

This thread started down this (worn) path when I mentioned that women have been dealing with attacks online more dangerous than “you’re awful” for quite a long time, and that this somehow hadn’t rung any alarms, but “you’re awful” did. And Scott, you explained that you actually don’t fear death threats because of this confidence that the world will back and protect you, and what you actually fear is the loss of that backing. Tbh, I think you’re probably overconfident there, but once again we return to the question of privilege. Women take these threats seriously because no, we aren’t well-protected, haven’t got that social backing in the first place, and often we aren’t taken seriously at all when we say, “There is a guy threatening me.” On the contrary, we have to worry about whether the *police* are going to attack us. Regardless — after I brought up this issue of violent threats against women, the conversation very rapidly drifted back to perennial ruminations: a woman is calling us sexist, nobody can do anything about online death threats so there’s no point in talking about them, maybe they weren’t even real threats, How Many Men Are Rapists and should we even take this question seriously, What Punishment Should There Be For Rape and if lots of men are actually rapists and the (unbelievable) rape numbers are (hypothetically) real, then maybe we shouldn’t even jail them; public shaming is the worst and must stop.

That’s not a “male view”, that’s a profoundly sexist and oblivious, and at times misogynist, view. I have conversations with men pretty much daily, and I can tell you that when we get to social issues, they tend not to go like this.

225. Amy Says:

Stephen, good point and good question about single-sex education. I don’t have firsthand experience either. A close friend did go to a girls’ school, where she learned to — you know — be a whole person, rather than play her designated sexual-politics role, and came out believing sexism and misogyny were dead. The entire rest of her life has been a profound and outraging disappointment. But I have no idea what it’s like to live in that environment.

About the 1-4 — hm. Well, the tweets are only 140 char, and you can grind through a lot of those pretty fast, but they’re going to be pretty repetitive anyway so after a while you’ll get the general drift. Actual emails, once you sift the frothing ones…you might pay more attention to that. But I guess I’d say that yeah, if you hit a nerve that generates that kind of response, maybe thought is actually called for.

Lawsuits…I suspect actually the issue is less often lawsuits than it is PR and prospective loss of rep and business. Which again comes down to “how seriously do we have to take this, how seriously should we take it, and is there a way to deal with this credibly without flipping out.”

226. fred Says:

Amy #214
“Various others: No, actually this comment thread isn’t just unfriendly to me; it’s unfriendly to women generally. Again, if this is representative of CS environments, it’s no mystery at all why so few women want to work in CS.”

This is in odd contrast with my personal experience.
I’ve been working 20+ year in software in 5 different companies (banking software and internet software).
Women who were my manager: Bella, Wen, San, Giovanna, Lisa, Lina, Emma, Nadine.
Men who were my manager: Jean-Marie, Rene, Mike, Aurel.

I won’t argue that there aren’t more men in technology in general, but the vast majority of my colleges have always preferred a mixed gender environment once they experienced it.
But because society is in general organized as a pyramidal hierarchy, the biases of the leaders tend to trickle down – they hire ppl just like them who then do the same.

Shockingly, in all my years in the US, I’ve only come across 3 African-American developers.

227. fred Says:

fred #223
“Shockingly, in all my years in the US, I’ve only come across 3 African-American developers.”

well, correction: actually just 1. (the other 2 were actually French and Canadian).

228. Rahul Says:

Amy #224 says:

“You could of course invite more women to actually talk about why we do what we do, but in order for more women to show up (you’ll notice there are, once again, hardly any of us here),…..”

Yes, there’s few women on here but your reasons are all wrong. Occam’s razor. It isn’t because Scott’s blog is in any way uninviting to women or unfriendly to them; but simply because the sort of topics that constitute his core posts ( TCS, QC, Physics, Maths etc.) are from sectors that have a higher representation / activity of men than women.

Even more to the point, even when we have Scott posting about D-Wave or Boson Sampling, or Multiverses it’s hardly as if we have more women posting than now.

So no, the “bunch of guys discussing women as though we are a sort of livestock” is not a legitimate reason but more a vivid product of your paranoid imagination.

And, please don’t single out Scott. I know other blogs that focus on Statistics, Machine Learning, & Econ, as well & even there there’s grossly more men than women. I invite you to show us blogs from these areas where there’s significantly more women posters than men or even an even ratio. So unless you want to claim that every blogger out there who posts on these topics is misogynist I’m not sure what you want to say.

If there’s an explanation for the M-F disparity in commentator numbers it’s a lot deeper & contextual than your undeserved accusation that Scott is somehow making his blog “unfriendly to women”. No, I don’t think so. It is a pretty fine blog that he runs.

229. John Says:

Just a comment on the STEM acronym – it was coined at NSF by Judith Ramaley (Head of the Education Directorate) in 2001. The previous term was SMET which she deemed, correctly, to sound ugly.

230. Scott Says:

Rahul #228: Thank you for the kind words. There’s also an interesting irony: of all the threads on this blog that I can remember, the ones that had the highest participation of women were the recent ones about gender issues—in other words, precisely the threads, if Amy’s theory were correct, that should be creating a hostile environment that drives women away! I don’t know the explanation, but I’d be delighted to have as diverse participation in the QC and complexity threads as we had in the “What I Believe” thread.

231. quax Says:

Fred #226, the underestimation of African Americans in STEM is indeed a testament for how the public schooling (among many other aspects) has failed this minority.

It’s why I mentioned Neil Degrasse Tyson earlier, black kids who have the potential for STEM greatness will need all the motivational support they can get, the obstacles to preserver are massive (and black women in CS as rare as unicorns).

Up here in Canada it tends to be the African immigrants who I encounter in CS (due to Canada point based admission, immigrants overall earn more, and a better qualified than the average Canadian). But a case could be made that we fail our domestic Canadian black population on a similar scale as down South. There is still plenty of racism to go around, it’s just much better hidden and guarded.

232. quax Says:

Amy #224, kudos for staying with this crowd.

As to why there are so few girls in CS and STEM, I’ve been wondering this ever since I found myself in a boys only advanced physics program in high school. In Math the mix was much more healthy. And it stayed like this through-out university. Interestingly you get much more girls into physics in girls-only high schools.

Boys tend to be, aggressively, all over technology. Just witness what happens if you bring a Mindstorm robot into a classroom full of ten-year-olds. Girls will tend to hang back more, even if they are interested. Girls will also tend to play with technology in a different fashion, one that is less catered to. For instance my girls love to build dragons or other animals out of lego. Building a robot dragon will appeal to them much more than a Power Ranger looking robot dude, but it is of course the latter that Lego opts to put on the front of the box.

Anyhow, my oldest girl Vala at age six totally holds her own when it comes to Minecraft lore, and already learned to never accept her brother to just take over her keyboard unless she told him so and invited him to help her.

But to give her the confidence to speak up in a classroom, and not let her limelight be stolen by ever rambunctious boys is another matter.

233. Ian Says:

Amy 224: “Scott, a bunch of guys discussing women as though we are a sort of livestock, discussed almost entirely in terms of sociobiological woo, is frankly offensive.”

Can we please now dispense with the idea that discourse with Amy is in any sense productive or worthwhile, given that she has demonstrated, with that one sentence, a somewhat astonishing ability to interpret recent comment history almost as loosely as Ms. Marcotte?

234. fred Says:

quax #231

The Canadian I know actually migrated from Ethiopia.

235. Scott Says:

OK, everyone: I’ve decided to stop participating in this thread, and to close it down within a day or so. The experience of feeling “trapped” by Amy’s broad-brush accusations against my entire blog and the people who comment on it; feeling like I’ve been offered no way out, no way to fix whatever was causing offense that wouldn’t simply amount to a total capitulation to her way of seeing the world; feeling like I nevertheless must be able to find common ground with someone who writes as well as she does, so that if I just opened up, wrote with complete honesty from my perspective, then she’d have to acknowledge my perspective as having the same legitimacy as hers—and then, solely because I cared so much what this one woman thought of my blog that I couldn’t just brush off what she said, having half the world denounce me for my trouble, having my Google search results permanently tarnished, having my basic situation in life change forever—all that is an experience that I probably only need to have once, not twice. 😀

236. quax Says:

Ian, #224 clearly hyperbole is something totally unsuitable for blog forums. Decorum must be observed!

Interestingly she didn’t single anybody out, yet clearly you are taking offense.

Honi soit qui mal y pense.

237. Temporarily Anonymous Says:

Scott #230 – I had another look through the “What I believe” thread and the atmosphere there looks different from the atmosphere in the last hundred or so comments here. As in, a lot better there. I’m just an occasional here, and temporarily anonymous (do you get to read my email address?) but the situation in your metaphorical living room doesn’t look good to me and several of your guests are lodging bitter complaints against each other.

I think I have a tension here between standing up for you, standing up for us and standing up for what you believe in. I’ve had similar issues to some of the ones that sparked your fateful comment last year, I’ve had a complicated relationship with feminism and the internet whose main tangible consequence in the real world has been lots of expensive conversations with my psychologist, on the one hand I have empathy and sympathy for you, on the other hand there’s some self-interest in there too.

I think there have been a lot of heated discussions where one side has used the “how can you talk about X when Y is going on?” and the other side gets very frustrated because their issues won’t get addressed. My instinct is to try to get things back to the topic, to say, “of course the topic is totally legitimate”, and to fight back against anyone who tries to illegitimise it.

On the other hand, you have your duty to the STEM women who helped you out. I have to ask whether allowing this conversation to continue to get heated is the best way to discharge that duty. It’s worth looking again at Scott Alexander’s (another “here’s a guy who really knows how I feel” guy for me) regrets about his Untitled post, about how the heat of the moment can lead to various mean-spirited things being said. I can feel another layer of mutual bitterness growing and I don’t think it helps the cause of mutual peace and reconcilation.

I’m just an occasional, it’s your blog, this could just be me having stupid anxiety issues, but might I suggest letting this cool off for a bit until people have had a bit more time for reflection?

238. Temporarily Anonymous Says:

…and as I wrote that, #235 comes in. How’s that for timing?

239. Anonymous85 Says:

Stephen V: Your theory about inconsistency among institutions might be correct to some extent – I have no idea. My guess is that it’s not enough to explain the discrepancy between the stories Amy hears and the ones I hear. (I don’t really have a better theory, though).

We can probably check a little bit: my data all comes from a small number of universities and firms, all of which are considered very good places in the field of CS (not necessarily MIT-level, though). Amy, do your data points come from similar places?

Amy: Over 75% of psychology majors are female. If your stance is “gender imbalance is probably caused by a hostile environment”, then you should believe that there’s a hostile environment against male psychology majors.

You say

>I think perhaps you’re listening only to people who tell you what you want to hear. If you’re listening only to women who have stayed in CS and are happy there, then…well, yes, you’re unlikely to be hearing from the many women who’ve complained or simply poked their noses in and decided “nope, no thank you” because of the atmosphere. I’d suggest going out yourself and having a look-see.

I agree that this is a real concern. I tried to eliminate it by asking someone who has switched from a non-CS field to a CS field; she did not report any increase in sexism. On the one hand, my sample might still be biased somehow (and it’s a small sample); on the other hand, your sample may be biased as well (perhaps people only tell you what you want to hear).

Anyway, here’s an example of a woman in computer science getting mad when feminists portray the field of CS as sexist:

240. Rahul Says:

Scott #230 says:

“There’s also an interesting irony: of all the threads on this blog that I can remember, the ones that had the highest participation of women were the recent ones about gender issues”

Perhaps between Gender issues & (say) Multiverse issues, women (on average) are more interested in the former?

241. jn Says:

The public record goes both ways: Bullying is credible signal of socially undesirable traits, even when the bully is “on our side”.
It’s absolutely inevitable that we should furtively distinguish between normal jabs at an enemy, and those attacks that betray a more unstable personality. Once you’ve seen a friend take it too far, it’s impossible to feel the same warmth or trust afterwards.
And so it’s incredibly naive to think that, just because you’re on the right side of an argument, calling perfect strangers “shitlord” or “sperglord” or whatever, isn’t slowly putting distance between you and your own friends and allies, not to mention all the future contacts who are going to google your name and see that you deemed it worthy, way back in 2015, that so-and-so should be called a “shitlord” (which is not an insult that will age well). Forget dongle-jokes, who wants that on their record?
(I’m optimistic that this will become more recognized. Perhaps someone will build a “show me all the insults this person has used on twitter” search engine.)

242. quax Says:

To end this comment thread on constructive note why don’t y’all head over to sign this petition.

Really would like to get my girls that Lego set.

243. anonymous Says:

Dear Scott,

Thank you for your efforts in moderating this thread; without it, the conversation surely would have been derailed. Instead, the debate here has been cordial, and not just by internet standards.

Among the many people I meet at conferences and at invited talks, your blog is well known and highly regarded as an inviting place to discuss a wide range of interesting topics.

I think the dialogue collected here is remarkable for illustrating how dispassionate reasoning is a powerful tool for analyzing ideas that others would prefer be accepted without question or supporting evidence. Open or closed, this thread provides a valuable record.

Thanks for providing a safe and fair venue to have this discussion. I suspect that almost all of the commenters here appreciate that this has not been easy for you.

244. Rahul Says:

“Thanks for providing a safe and fair venue to have this discussion. I suspect that almost all of the commenters
here appreciate that this has not been easy for you.”

+1 for that. You are doing a great job running this blog. 🙂

(And this is coming from someone quite skeptical of practical QC itself :p )

245. quax Says:

Just learned that I duplicate an existing petition that already garnered over 2000 signatures (yeah!).

246. fred Says:

It’s pointless to make gender focused claims in a vaccum.
It’s important to consider generational and cultural factors.
Especially looking at what the middle class culture was like when each generation grew up, when they were kids.

I grew up in Europe during the 70s and 80s.
During that time two massive “entertainment revolutions” happened, both targeted at kids.

– The anime revolution.
======================
Cable TV was already widespread and a couple of French programs for kids were watched by everyone every Wednesday, Saturday and every day during summer breaks.
The people producing those programs realized in the late 70s that they could license japanese animation for cheap and it was a huge hit.
People of the previous generation and the next ones probably don’t understand the impact this had on us.
Keep in mind that at the time (late 70s) the rest of TV was boring as hell, there was no internet, no personal computer yet.
The two main things for kids were either “play outside” or this sensory overload of imagery.

Those japanese animations fell into several categories:

a) Focus on scifi/violence/death/technology/good-vs-evil. Definitely aimed at boys, girls would not watch this.
Those shows had sometimes empowered female characters.
This stuff was full of pseudo-science and created a long lasting obsession with machines, robots, lasers, radars, buttons, computers (way before we had access to any of this).

b) Focus on romance/friendship/fashion, definitely aimed at girls

c) Adaptations of classics of literature, aimed at everyone

d) educational (actually often collaborations between European and Japanese TV)
Il etait une fois l’homme (1978), chronicle of human history https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8BrjvOs-eA

e) the unclassifiable:

– The Video Game revolution
===========================
Video games predated the personal computer revolution, with the arcades.
Most of it came from the US.
But unlike the anime revolution of the 80s, this revolution was almost exclusively focused on boys, fulfilling fantasies of sci-fi, violence, machines and technologies (category (a) of animes).
Then micro-computers in the early 80s were also sold as an extension of this, a boy toy.
The first thing I did when I got a ZX Spectrum was trying to recreate the video games of the arcades on my own.
That’s how many boys got into computing in the 80s.
Then for the next 30 years the video game industry barely evolved in terms of themes (there were exceptions, like “The Sims”, etc).
Only very recently, with the rise of indy video games, the horizon of video games is expending, but not without considerable friction and resistance (see the “Gamergate controversy”).

247. Jay Says:

Dear Scott,

I’m sorry your invaluable blog led you to be bullied. I hope you recover from this stress, and hope this won’t prevent your future efforts to promote a society as friendly as we’d like for both our daughters and our fellow nerds.

248. Shtetl-Optimized » Blog Archive » May reason trump the Trump in all of us Says:

[…] of messages of support from friends, slight acquaintances, and strangers of every background.  I vowed then to return the favor, by standing up when I saw decent people unfairly shamed.  Today I have […]

249. Is The Media A Force-For Good? – Upon the Hearth Says:

[…]                 Another related case of shaming is Justine Sacco. (Another Justine […]