NYT plan to doxx Scott Alexander for no real reason

UPDATE 2020-06-25: Please sign the petition at DontDoxScottAlexander.com!

The New York Times is planning on publishing an article about Scott Alexander, one of the most important thinkers of our time. Unfortunately, they plan to include his legal name. In response, Scott has shut down his blog, a huge loss to the world.

This will do enormous harm to him personally; some people hate Scott and this will encourage them to go after his livelihood and his home. Not all of them are above even SWATing, ie attempted murder by police. If he does lose his job, it will also “leave hundreds of patients in a dangerous situation as we tried to transition their care.”

However, the greatest harm is to the public discourse as a whole. Shutting people down in real life is an increasingly popular response to all forms of disagreement. Pseudonymity plays an essential role in keeping the marketplace of ideas healthy, making it possible for a wider spectrum of ideas to be heard. If the NYT policy is that anyone whose profile becomes prominent enough will be doxxed in the most important newspaper in the world, it has a chilling effect.

All this might be OK if there was some countervailing public interest defence,  if there was a connection between his blogging and his real world activity that needed to be exposed. But as I understand it, no-one is asserting this. The defence of this incredibly harmful act is simply “sorry, this is our policy”. It’s not even a consistently applied policy: a profile of the Chapo Trap House hosts published in February rightly omitted host Virgil Texas’s real name, though they must surely have been aware of it.

I urge you to spread the word on this everywhere you have reach, and to politely contact the New York Times through the means Scott outlines in his post to urge them to do the right thing.

UPDATE 2020-06-25: Please sign the petition at DontDoxScottAlexander.com!

Here’s the letter I wrote:

I am a subscriber, and I am dismayed to learn that the Times plans to doxx blogger Scott Alexander. In an age where people so often respond to disagreement by attacking someone in the real world, whether by getting them fired or by SWATing, pseudonymity plays an essential role in the marketplace of ideas, helping to ensure that a wide spectrum of voices can be heard. 

Obviously if there was a public interest defence of publishing this information – if there was a connection between his blogging and his real world activity that needed to be exposed – that would be different, but as I understand it no-one is asserting that. If you plan to do something so tremendously harmful to the public discourse as a whole, please have a reason other than “this is what we do”. You were right not to doxx Chapo Trap House host Virgil Texas; please apply that policy here.

Published by Paul Crowley

I'm Paul Crowley aka "ciphergoth", a cryptographer and programmer living in Mountain View, California. See also my Twitter feed, my webpages, my blogs on Dreamwidth and Livejournal, and my previous proper blog. Or mail me: paul at ciphergoth.org.

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