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Blog Anonymously (uglyduck.ca)
210 points by bradley_taunt 10 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 460 comments



I have often considered blogging anonymously because I do not feel free to write my nuanced philosophical views about the world anymore, as nuance is mostly dead in the public discourse and anything I write could easily offend someone and cause me problems. But I decided that if I believed something and I was willing to say it aloud, I should be willing to write it down with my name attached. In the end, it has had the effect somewhat of self-censure, because I know some things I cannot write down, so I won't say them aloud either, even though they're perfectly reasonable and not prejudicial. The flip side has been that it's freed me in other ways to be radically honest about who I am in my writing and has helped me to more carefully identify people who are worth attempting a rational dialogue with.

To a large degree, I think a lot of the challenges around nuance and offense-taking online are just a consequence of how communications being mediated by the Internet dehumanizes people. My experience has been that having a deep conversation over a drink in person generally leads to more positive outcomes, even with irreconcilable disagreements, than writing something online which can be excoriated on social media.

This article seems more focused on situations in which you are concerned about government action, but I think here in the West we've found that "cancel culture" and the like is more insidious and far-reaching in its own way.


> To a large degree, I think a lot of the challenges around nuance and offense-taking online are just a consequence of how communications being mediated by the Internet dehumanizes people. My experience has been that having a deep conversation over a drink in person generally leads to more positive outcomes, even with irreconcilable disagreements, than writing something online which can be excoriated on social media.

Yes, exactly right. Unfortunately however even the meat space domain seem to be getting infected with this. I was recently in a hotel lobby waiting for an Uber and heard a conversation between two strangers. It started out fine but then one person said something mildly political. Almost immediately it seemed like a switch flipped in the other person and he began preaching and talking over. He clearly wasn't even hearing what the first person was saying, but was hearing what he thought that person would say (and was not accurate). It was demoralizing to say the least. We're getting so conditioned with outrage and hatred for people online that it's moving into "real life."


> even the meat space domain seem to be getting infected with this

Nicholas Carr argues in his book, The Shallows, how technology literally shapes our brains on a fundamental, cognitive level. To the degree that it is accurate, I would expect our "meat-space" interactions to reflect.

https://www.vox.com/podcasts/2020/7/1/21308153/the-ezra-klei...


Thanks for the link, that's very interesting (as unfortunate as the news it bears is).


There is a good video that underlines your second point[0], specifically mentioning that compassion is increasingly being replaced by moral superiority, that dialogue is often reactionary instead of responsive, and that the system we live in is often trying to group us based on these very differences, not unlike what happens in a high school cafeteria. She's primarily talking about online and big media discussions I think. She goes on to say that "a lot of us are seeing people who remind us of our former selves and we're attacking that", reminding me that "the biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand -- we listen to reply" (Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People author).

Your first point does remind me of an early xkcd though[1], ironic in that it was about radically being yourself, come what may, and clearly identifying with what was then the underdog. It could be interpreted differently today, especially without an understanding of what the early 00s Internet was like.

[0]https://www.filmsforaction.org/watch/the-problem-with-wokene..., also available on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-WimRb2jXs but ironically censored

[1]https://xkcd.com/137/


Thank you for your comment and those videos. They were extremely enriching.


You're very welcome. They really helped me. Ayishat Akanbi had a follow-up talk at Sydney's annual "All About Women" conference shortly after,[0] where she added that "intersectionality is seeing the importance of other people’s suffering. Being active on social media can simplify and minimize issues for the sake of being retweetable." The whole talk built well on top of the original video (though the Q&A was not as useful).

In addition, she used two more quotes that I wrote down: "If you understood everything I said, you’d be me," (Miles Davis) and "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." (F. Scott Fitzgerald). This is just the first half of what he said though, the rest being: "One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise." I think that's nice too.

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sni7ghqHBJw


> offense-taking online are just a consequence of how communications being mediated by the Internet dehumanizes people

Can you expand on that? What do you think are the factors that are causing this dehumanisation?

I am giving it a try: it has become easier to band togather, now groups often need an enemy - as a unifying tool and as a means of defining the group (us vs. them). If this is true then any improvements in communication will inevitably lead to greater polarization


There may be some more complex elements to this, but I don't think about this in a complex way. It's very simple for me. When you are face-to-face with a person, especially a person you know, there is a connection which forms through body language and other factors I can't identify which makes it very viscerally real that the person across from you is a human being who has their own unique experiences that have helped them to craft a particular worldview. It engenders at least some measure of respect, perhaps enough to give people the benefit of the doubt and to hear them out.

When you're online, you don't even know if you're talking to a person who is being sincere in their beliefs or a troll trying to get a rise out of you, or perhaps an advanced bot intended to drive discussion in a particular direction. There's no indication of the motivations, the sincerity, or even the reality of another human being when you interact online. I can't imagine how a conversation intended to be deep and nuanced couldn't be dehumanized by the Internet?


> This article seems more focused on situations in which you are concerned about government action, but I think here in the West we've found that "cancel culture" and the like is more insidious and far-reaching in its own way.

"While the torture and indoctrination in the secret prisons is bad, let us also have a moment of silence for my tweet that was unfairly ratioed. And yes, it's very sad that your aunt was publicly lashed for protesting in favor of letting women have driver's licenses. But is not also sad that MY uncle lost his job because he was a member of a few measly neo-Nazi facebook groups?"

Anyway I am sorry that I am CENSORING your views (by publicly disagreeing with them) and CANCELLING you (by being flippant). You can probably say that I am "not attempting a rational dialogue" with you.


Please don't do this here. The idea of HN is curious conversation, not flamewar. Yes, that's hard in the current climate. But the site guidelines cover this—see https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html, and in particular:

"Comments should get more thoughtful and substantive, not less, as a topic gets more divisive."

"Eschew flamebait."


As I understand the term "cancel culture", it mostly relates to celebrities who were already controversial or polarizing in some way, that were finally able to be organized against.

And in many cases, the same celebrities are still able to have a career that is sometimes even boosted by their ability to campaign against "cancel culture" generally.

Do you have any books/articles/resources for thinking about "cancel culture" as it would relate to an ordinary person writing an ordinary blog?


There you go, a truck driver didn't even write anything: https://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local/sdge-worker-fired-ove...

Also think about this: people who were not in the limelight and were "cancelled" would never appear on your radar simply because they were not in the limelight.


Wow. Thanks for posting that.


People will happily attack you without even reading what you have to say. People have done experiments with headlines which demonstrate as much: https://www.upworthy.com/comments-didnt-read-the-article

There have been a number of incidents where people have gone after individuals, only for it to be very clear later on they'd done nothing wrong.


I'd be curious to know what % of us here:

read an article fully, then

give it due consideration, then

read the entire HN comment thread, and then

add thoughtful comments in the HN thread


>As I understand the term "cancel culture", it mostly relates to celebrities who were already controversial or polarizing in some way, that were finally able to be organized against.

This massively understates the problem. One could easily put together a list of non-celebrities who have had their lives ruined after making some completely anodyne comment.


"so you've been publicly shamed" by jon ronson goes into this, I don't remember if there's specific stories about personal bloggers, but there's stories from normal, everyday people.


Ok, I understand now that people are taking "cancel culture" to mean online shaming generally. In that case, I think it is reasonable to take precautions like blogging anonymously.

I was specifically thinking of how "cancel" is used as a verb to mean "boycott a cultural product from an entertainer", "boycott a product from a company", or something like that.


It's not just "online shaming", it's also harassment such as trying to get someone fired from their job.


Regular folks who were "cancelled":

- David Shor

- Justine Sacco

- James Damore

- Adria Richards

A full list would be a mile long


Of those, the last three didn't suffer any long term consequences (all three were employed relatively soon after they were fired), and the first happened too recently to really analyze.


I never understand these kinds of arguments. Is the idea that "because there are still enough good and decent people resisting the mob in order to prevent long term consequences for their targets that we should not condemn this mobbing at all"? What point are you making?


> What point are you making?

Presumably something to the effect of "It can't [currently] be a especially horrible problem if all the listed consequences were quickly fixed.". On the other hand, see (https://www.explainxkcd.com/wiki/index.php/2278).


FWIR:

Justine Sacco still suffers from severe PTSD and has to attend regular counselling.

Adria Richards fell off the face of the planet, was chronically unemployed for a while, then finally ended up at a no name company, probably making peanuts compared to where she was.

James Damore was also similarly unemployed for a while, was in several lawsuits with Google, and claims to be working at a start-up, but he may also just be freelancing since he's effectively unemployable.

Those are all long term consequences, so, you're effectively wrong here.


James Damore threw away an engineering job at Google with a long, generalized, and internally-shared rant about women, listing off their "Qualities". He then tried to start a lawsuit making it about his politics, which never went anywhere.

Why is there sympathy for this man?


>He then tried to start a lawsuit making it about his politics, which never went anywhere.

Settled out of court for a non-disclosed amount. That's somewhere, so, you're wrong.

>Why is there sympathy for this man?

Data-driven adults place a high value on facts and truth. Virtue signalers don't.


It was scientifically sourced and he did not spread it himself, others did that on 'his behalf' whilst also stripping out the sources.


He sourced things from scientific journals, but he pieced them together to fit a narrative that he knows better about what women want. It wasn't a good argument.


Uhhh, no? He didn't say that. The comments you're giving are grasping at straws for a negative interpretation of his memo.


The facts of his case are he went on bizarre and unsupported rant against women. Are you going to support the thesis that women are inherently intellectually inferior and that hiring practices that encourage hiring people from diverse groups are enforcing intellectual idiocacy?


Adria Richards is actually an interesting case. She was "cancelled" for cancelling someone else. One of the major criticisms of the Harper's letter is that people speaking out about injustice have historically faced severe retribution, and that the recent concern about cancellation is only in response to this retributory cannon being pointed toward those "in power".

I can't see the people who are today concerned about Cancellation standing up for Adria Richards were that to happen again today. See the recent argument between Yann LeCun and Timnit Gebru for a somewhat analogous situation.

The backlash against the person perceived as trying to cancel someone else was much greater than the initial "lash", so to speak.

> James Damore was also similarly unemployed for a while

Not a very long time though. And the lawsuits were ones he chose to file.


>Not a very long time though.

It was for a long time. He may actually still be unemployed.

>And the lawsuits were ones he chose to file.

No one said otherwise.


Good that they didn't suffer any long term consequences, but that does not diminish the point made.


Yes and no. One of the concerns about cancel culture is that it results in people's lives being ruined/ended. This (usually) is not the case, even among the most egregious examples that people can come up with.


And how about the psychological effects on these people of being bullied by a large group of people online?

I don’t know what I’d do if it happened to me, but I know it would leave me in an even worse state mentally than I am in, because I know how it feels like to feel that other people don’t want you around.


I agree that online bullying of individuals is bad.


Because social protections haven't eroded enough to get to the point where lives are actually ruined. Why wait to speak out against cancel culture until it's actually ruining lives?


If your entire concern is based in a slippery slope, it's more difficult to take it seriously, especially when the concern conceals a disregard for actual harm happening now.

"Cancellation" is a democratization of power. It allows the little guy to push back effectively against the bigger guy. Saying "look there's the possibility that it might eventually have bad consequences" rings hollow when it's also actively having good consequences right now.


> If your entire concern is based in a slippery slope, it's more difficult to take it seriously

Of course the same argument could be applied to anything, such as covid back in March. "What's all the fuss about? Things are trending in a bad direction, but they're not that bad yet so naturally they will not get worse in the future." I hope the fallacy here is obvious.

> the concern conceals a disregard for actual harm happening now

I could hazard a guess as to what you're alluding to here, but it hardly matters--if you have some concern about some actual harm that's happening right now that you'd like to express, free-speech has your back with respect to your right to express it.

> "Cancellation" is a democratization of power. It allows the little guy to push back effectively against the bigger guy.

You have it completely backwards. You can't cancel someone without power over them, and many of the targets of cancellation have had little power and were cancelled by people with literal, explicit power over them (e.g., Lindsay Shepherd).

> Saying "look there's the possibility that it might eventually have bad consequences" rings hollow when it's also actively having good consequences right now.

"Good" is in the eye of the beholder, and you're observing the fleeting convenience of authoritarianism.


> Of course the same argument could be applied to anything, such as covid back in March. "What's all the fuss about? Things are trending in a bad direction, but they're not that bad yet so naturally they will not get worse in the future." I hope the fallacy here is obvious.

It is not. We know how viruses work. We also know how they don't do good things. Are you willing to provide specific falsifiable predictions on the harms that Cancel Culture will cause in 6 months or a year and how it will be so great?

Trying to explain away a slippery slope fallacy by comparing it to the well documented and well understood exponential growth of a communicable disease isn't good reasoning.

> if you have some concern about some actual harm that's happening right now that you'd like to express, free-speech has your back with respect to your right to express it.

Exactly! To allude to anther example: someone tweeting "@FSF, you should fire Richard Stallman because he is a bad man" is simply exercising their right to free expression. Why are you criticizing that?

> You can't cancel someone without power over them, and many of the targets of cancellation have had little power and were cancelled by people with literal, explicit power over them (e.g., Lindsay Shepherd).

Lindsay Shephard doesn't fit the definition of cancellation. There was no social media, there was an anonymous complaint to her university, who did something, and when the public was involved the university reversed course. "Cancel Culture" is characterized by a boycott or threat of boycott, or at least distributed criticism. Imagine that instead the members of her class had taken to twitter to urge the university to remove her from her position, and encouraged others to stop donating to the school if they didn't do so. That's cancellation.

What you described is a bad thing, but it's also a non sequitur.

And note the difference: her pupils (the non-authority) pulling in popular support to provide consequences to the authority figure when normal channels of feedback failed.

> "Good" is in the eye of the beholder, and you're observing the fleeting convenience of authoritarianism.

You're going to have to elaborate on how decentralized movements are authoritarian in nature, that's a relatively unique claim.


See my response to you here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23796317


I certainly don't favor mob rule. And I don't agree that cancellation and mob rule are in any way comparable. If you want to make claims like that, much like your claims that "cancellation is authoritarianism", you're going to need to support them.

Large groups of people taking action you dislike isn't mob rule. Mob rule is characterized by violence. Is large groups of people expressing their disagreement with you violence now?

The danger of "mob rule" is that it endangers minority groups. It's really, really difficult for me to square movements that are often minority lead and exist to hold the relatively powerful accountable as being dangerous mobs in the classic sense.

Again, you're welcome to actually support that assertion, but drawing the metaphor without backing it up appears to be more of a veiled attack at my morals than any attempt to discuss the merits (or lack thereof) of these movements.


If you had to, would you be able to enumerate similarities between the mob rule and the cancel culture rule?


Yes, I think one primary difference is that mob rule is classically considered to be the primary form of government. It's a direct democracy with no tools to prevent immediate populist sentiment from controlling things.

Cancel culture exists as an alternative tool that, in my opinion is generally only used when normal power structures break down. It's not really comparable to mob rule because it isn't "rule".


I was asking for similarities, not differences.


Ah I missed that.

Before I give a partial answer, I'd ask what you're trying to gain from this: I touched on this, but I don't think "cancel culture rule" is a thing. So I can't draw similarities between them in that vein. I can draw similarities between "cancel culture" and "mob rule", but because of the differences I don't know that those matter much. I'm suspicious of this question because mob rule is ultimately considered to be a bad thing, so much as I said to the parent, I can't see how this won't be used to, as I said before, attack my morals.

Like if I say that they're both ultimately democratic movements (which I believe to be true) whereas others might highlight that both involve aspects (though imo not the same aspects) of anarchism.

I'd turn this around: what are the aspects of mob rule that concern you, and what are the similarities to cancel culture that worry you. I doubt that you're concerned by the fact that both are at their core, democratic, so what does?


I think it’s a grotesque mistake to call them Democratic. These mobs (physical or virtual) are rarely more than 1% of the population, and are rarely supported by even 10% of a population (10% is about the ballpark for supporters of cancel culture as well, by my crude estimation). And yet they are able to push their agenda because they are (for the moment) uniquely willing to wield fear and intimidation. What about this is democratic?

To answer your questions about concerning similarities between physical and virtual mobs, they both use fear and intimidation to get their way. Neither are concerned about due process and they are happy to persecute innocent people (“scapegoats”)—of course legal courts are imperfect, but there imperfection is a big whereas with mobs (of any kind) it’s a feature. Both kinds of mobs are as happy to persecute the powerless and the powerful alike (or in the case of cancellers culture, they’ll pretend that the high schooler they’re targeting is “powerful” because of his race and that the mob speaks for minorities who the mob regarded as uniformly powerless—astute readers will note the racism here). Further, mobs have no sense of proportionality—the current cancel culture mob is notorious for its utter inability to distinguish between actual Nazis and progressives who fail to adequately toe the line (or anyone in between) and they are all punished as severely as the mob can muster. Since mobs are happy to target anyone who they decide they don’t like on a given day with the severest treatment they feel they can get away with, fear is imposed on everyone, not just those who have actually been targeted.

Note also that there are groups like antifa who openly profess a belief that violence is justified in order to “suppress fascists” (wherein their definition of “fascist” is so broad and arbitrary that it’s indistinguishable from “anyone they don’t like”) and they occasionally do perpetrate violence on these grounds. Note also that many (probably most) of the people who engage in cancellation also applaud Antifa’s violence or else they rationalize and justify it and very rarely condemn it (certainly they would never dream of cancelling people who engage in political violence which is apparently much less abhorrent than wrongthink). There is also a tiny minority of cancellers who are right-wing, and they also have their antifa-like physical violence groups who they applaud. So “cancel culture” and “physical mob” seem to be adjacent points on a continuum, and the only thing that keeps the majority of cancellers on the “cancellation-but-not-violence” side of the line is that as a society we have strong (but rapidly eroding) values of law-and-order and nonviolence and cancellers are usually rightly (though decreasingly) afraid of running afoul of those values. I take little consolation in the idea that our eroding social values are keeping most of the cancellers from using physical violence in their fear campaigns, and there’s nothing noble about cancelling someone because you’re afraid of the consequences of physical violence.

Lastly, if these mobs are allowed to continue, people will lose faith in the criminal justice system’s ability or will to keep their injustice in check, and counter-mobs will form (and to a degree already have formed). The mobs and the counter-mobs will go back and forth, continually escalating.

Cancel culture has no redeeming qualities.


The Libertarian party is, at least ostensibly, democratic in nature. A group doesn't need to be the majority of the population to itself be democratic. My point is that the groups cancelling people are, themselves, democratic.

As for mobs, I disagree with your opinion on mobs and due process and proportionality, and have explained that at length elsewhere.

> astute readers will note the racism here

This is only racism if you deny critical theory. You should be explicit about that.

Bringing antifa into this conversation is a non-sequitor. I've yet to see antifa hurt anyone outside of like actual neonazi rallies where two groups of armed people beat the shit out of each other. It has nothing to do with cancellation, and the fact that you feel the need to bring it up is because your fears are based entirely on a slippery slope, as I've stated already. That because someone will criticize you on twitter the "antifa thugs" will beat you up. It's not a fear based in reality. The idea that "law and order" values are eroding is a right wing talking point used to stoke racial fear. It's again, not grounded in reality.

> if these mobs are allowed to continue, people will lose faith in the criminal justice system’s ability or will to keep their injustice in check

No, that's why these mobs exist. Which is my point. You're ignoring the viewpoint of the groups who are forced to take this action because the existing systems systematically fail to provide them justice. That is, ultimately a "justice and safety for me but not for thee" argument and it is a tool to perpetuate injustice.

If you want the things that frighten you to stop, you need to have answers on how to fix the existing injustice, because as long as the systems we have fail large groups of people, they will feel the need to get justice extrajudicially. That need isn't going to disappear if you oppress them more.

Finally, I note that the "counter" mob thing has been happening since forever. "Right wing" mobs are known to harass significantly more than left wing ones. We don't see people who are "cancelled" having to leave their homes for personal safety. But the Sandy Hook parents did.

Even if I grant you that cancel culture has no redeeming qualities, you want to make it illegal to participate in. I claim that any way to do that will be more harmful to society and to open expression than cancel culture itself.

Anyway, we're quickly running into politically fraught territory, so I'm going to disengage.


The problem with mobs is distinctly not that they don't attack the "right" races (or whatever else you might've meant by 'minority'). Perhaps our disagreement is representative of a broader disagreement between (philosophical) liberals and progressives, in which case this might be enlightening. In any case, the reason societies for thousands of years have evolved away from mob rule and toward rule of law isn't that mobs endanger minorities, but rather that mobs are happy to extract their vengeance on anyone who is a suitable token irrespective of whether or not that individual or group has done anything wrong. Mobs also lack any sense of proportionality in their "sentencing"--it's always as severe as the mob can get away with. Further, mob rule always results in multiple mobs exacting ever-escalating vengeance on the other group or groups.

> Again, you're welcome to actually support that assertion, but drawing the metaphor without backing it up appears to be more of a veiled attack at my morals than any attempt to discuss the merits (or lack thereof) of these movements.

I mean, it really sounded like that's where you were going. Even now it sounds like you only disagree on the issue of violence, but that harm to one's livelihood and psychological well-being are all well and good. I'm happy that you draw the line somewhere before violence, but I would take more comfort knowing that you took issue with the "mobs are terrible at justice and always end up perpetrating more injustice" aspect.

Lastly, I invite you to have some empathy for the people who are being targeted, even if only for those who aren't powerful. Imagine if you felt as though the prevailing public debate was avoiding obvious questions or being framed in a very limited scope that disenfranchised you and people like you; imagine that you wanted to raise those questions, but were told your views had been determined in advance to be racist and hateful (and then being told to go read a book which purports to "take down" your views, but really only takes down a straw man). Imagine going so far out of your way to avoid offending anyone in a social media post, but a colleague gets whiff of it and begins a campaign to ruin your reputation in the company and the broader industry--you know you'll bounce back, but the sheer trauma of being targeted by strangers and acquaintances, to have work friends avoid you for their own personal preservation. You rationalize with yourself that you'll bounce back economically, but you're just so shaken to think that there are people out there who don't know you but have such an intense hatred that they'll spend their time and resources to ruin your reputation. Now imagine the same thing except you don't make a cushy 6-figure salary at an in-demand job and you have a family to feed and clothe.

Cancel culture isn't a theoretical debate for some people; it's a reality. Consider those people when you're tempted to tell yourself that it's just the rich and powerful who are affected.


By minorities, I mean in general minorities. The concerns about "mob rule" were that they were unfettered populism and that minority groups: racial, religious, whatever would be unable to defend themselves. That is, mob rule is majoritarianism, or a "tyranny of the majority".

As a result of that, I want to push back on your use of "mob rule" in this conversation entirely. There's nothing that related mob rule and cancel culture. You can argue that cancellations are mobs, but the existence of mobs doesn't "mob rule" make. So yes, the entire reason that we moved from mob rule was to protect minorities in a society. Otherwise the majority is able to repress the minority or minorities with no way for the minorities to defend themselves.

The liberal ideal of free speech is one such protection for the minority: the ability to speak out against injustice without fear of government silencing people. (https://twitter.com/Popehat/status/1280992197404491777, https://twitter.com/Popehat/status/1281002990002769920)

> Mobs also lack any sense of proportionality in their "sentencing"--it's always as severe as the mob can get away with.

I disagree with this: Look at the super smash bros and gaming community over the past week. Tons of people have been kicked out of the community, many of whom made their living by playing the game, but at the same time those who did bad, but not unforgivable, things have been offered the opportunity, or even apologized without prompt (https://twitter.com/dizzkidboogie/status/1280566816801124352) and faced no consequences. There's a sort of fatalistic argument that the outcome is always the most the mob could have gotten because it is ultimately a democratic movement, but I don't think that's the argument you're making, nor is it really useful (it's circular).

Or even the example of the truck driver, where the "mob" actually backpedaled and apologized, but the authority figure didn't. You can fault the "mob" for acting quickly, yes, but you can't fault it for aiming to sentence people unjustly. To the extent possible, the mob tried to fix the issue, it just couldn't.

> but that harm to one's livelihood and psychological well-being are all well and good.

To be clear, I think there should be more restrictions on free expression than exist today (or in other words, I don't support the level of 1A protection that exists today). However, if you do, you must apply that justly. Much as a KKK demonstration can (and have) caused harm to people's psychological well being, so too can cancellation. If you want to support free expression, you have to come to terms with the fact that some of that expression will harm people. It's unavoidable (https://twitter.com/Popehat/status/1280994817305018369, https://twitter.com/Popehat/status/1280995368738516992).

A common thread among classical liberals is the belief that speech can't harm people, it's just speech and it isn't real, or somesuch. More progressive groups have long realized this wasn't true. The conversation about cancel culture is forcing a reckoning about that among liberals, and instead of facing it head on and accepting that yeah, this is the cost of free speech, people are doing what you yourself have done elsewhere: try to slice the aspects of cancel culture that they dislike into a box of "not just speech". This is something that progressive groups have said for a while ("hate speech isn't free speech"), but have faced criticism for.

The idea that a threat or a boycott isn't just speech is an interesting thought. I personally am fully on board with there being no difference in theory between "a speech" and "an act", and that we should protect various acts on a gradient. But the liberal idea that speech is unique doesn't have that nuance. Speech is protected, whether it be hate speech or threats. Yet you yourself elsewhere expressed that the threat to boycott isn't protected speech, it's something else. That's decidedly illiberal.

Threatening to boycott something on moral grounds is absolutely speech. And trying to frame it as a threat that isn't protected speech is horribly problematic: how do we differentiate between the unprotected threat "I will not contract with you if you hire this individual" and what is presumably a completely reasonable threat: "I will not contract with you if you don't give me your product at below this price"? Or perhaps the even more ambiguous "I will not contract with you if you employ child laborers to help build your product".

> Lastly, I invite you to have some empathy for the people who are being targeted

I'm quite aware. I've been the target of online harassment (although not "cancellation" specifically) before. It's not, at all, fun. I didn't enjoy it.

> Imagine if you felt as though the prevailing public debate was avoiding obvious questions or being framed in a very limited scope that disenfranchised you and people like you

I often do. But I enter those conversations with curiosity and the intent to learn, not to fight.

> imagine that you wanted to raise those questions, but were told your views had been determined in advance to be racist and hateful (and then being told to go read a book which purports to "take down" your views, but really only takes down a straw man)

I've had exactly this happen to me. I read the book. I still do read books when people suggest them. Not every one, but some. I've yet to find one of these recommendations that I didn't come away from having learned something, both about empathy and about history or politics or society. But perhaps this is because I engage to learn, not to fight. So I read this more as a condemnation of the reader than the book.

> Imagine going so far out of your way to avoid offending anyone in a social media post, but a colleague gets whiff of it and begins a campaign to ruin your reputation in the company and the broader industry--you know you'll bounce back, but the sheer trauma of being targeted by strangers and acquaintances, to have work friends avoid you for their own personal preservation.

I don't think this happens, or at least not as often as you seem to think. It's not endemic. And to a large extend, I think many of the people who do this are overreacting: they're reacting to the perceived danger that's larger than the actual danger, and believe that it will be impossible to stop. If you have any sense of social capital with people, this usually is possible (https://twitter.com/le_roux_nicolas/status/12754857362597928..., and again the car driver) as long as you don't respond like an asshole.

> Consider those people when you're tempted to tell yourself that it's just the rich and powerful who are affected.

I don't believe I've made that argument. I've said it was a tool that could be applied to the powerful in cases where no tool existed before. Please don't construct strawmen, yeah ;)

There are specific cases of "cancellation" that I disagree with and think were bad. There are likely some that you also disagree with. But I can say that certain cases were bad while also believing that the net impact of the culture that did bad things is good, or is moving us forward.

Much the same way that someone might, for example, believe that the justice system in America is a net positive despite clear problems.

If you want to have the conversation about how we put "guardrails" on cancellation, I think that's an interesting conversation to have, and a valuable conversation to have, and it's in fact one that I have been having with others, and one that I know other progressives are having privately.

But that conversation can't be had publicly, and it cannot be had constructively with people who want to destroy cancel culture entirely. Interesting corollary, and I'll leave it to you to figure out why?

But those conversations have to come from one of two places: either you start from the liberal position that cancellation is just speech, and deserves exactly as much protection as any other speech. Then the question is how do we control and interact with these groups? How do we minimize the harms? If everyone has a stronger social safety net, does cancellation matter as much? What about the ideal of restorative, instead of punitive justice? Can we improve the existing power structures and justice systems so that we don't need to resort to cancellation?

Or you come from the progressive mindset: speech isn't holy, and stronger regulations on speech in general should be acceptable. But then if cancellation is unprotected, you should probably be willing to give on hate symbols or slurs and similar forms of harassment that are so often directed at the people who are forced to resort to cancelling to achieve justice today.

I don't see how any other starting point can be productive. It's ultimately a free speech for me but not for thee discussion at that point, and that's not interesting or helpful (https://twitter.com/Popehat/status/1281004327327240192).


In the most polite way possible: these comments are not well-considered.

There are such things as mobs that arise during or after sporting events, you know. (What's the majority/minority balance there?) So Twitter mobs, too, are very much a thing—no need for a stretch of the imagination. The threats both of these pose are squarely in the category of things to be concerned about wrt the dangers of mobs. And to argue about things like the "classical liberal [...] belief that speech can't harm people" (i.e. that the belief is wrong) while asserting that there is no threat of harm posed by clear-cut examples of mobs on Twitter is to talk out of both sides of the mouth.

> You can argue that cancellations are mobs, but the existence of mobs doesn't "mob rule" make.

With the ability to rationalize thoughts like this, is there even any point of trying to approach this with reason?

> Or even the example of the truck driver, where the "mob" actually backpedaled and apologized, but the authority figure didn't. You can fault the "mob" for acting quickly, yes, but you can't fault it for aiming to sentence people unjustly.

Sorry, the obvious attempt to sidestep here is too obvious. Reddit may have the best of intentions in trying to find the Boston bombers, but that doesn't make it any less exemplary of a mob in action.

The whole attempt to narrowly recognize mobs only when a minority is threatened is stultifying, and your entire line of reasoning is just begging the question. Tyranny of the majority is a thing, but they're definitions that overlap in their examples; they're not synonymous, even if the overlap is significant.

In a prison, the inmates outnumber the guards, but that doesn't preclude a mob mentality taking hold if the guards' behavior turned mob-like (or, say, police behavior e.g. during in a protest where outnumbered by prostestors). At the same time, mob rule remains a possibility in the scenario involving the reverse. The numbers stay the same, but in each there's a plausible picture of mobs and mob rule. Majority/minority is not only not the defining factor, it's a footnote.

The actual key to understanding mobs, mob rule, and the dangers they pose comes from recognizing the parallels between the bystander effect (where the undesirable outcome is most commonly inaction) to mob mentality (where the undesirable outcome is most commonly action)—it's diffusion of responsibility/accountability, mixed with other things, case-specific.

> But I can say that certain cases were bad while also believing that the net impact of the culture that did bad things is good, or is moving us forward.

This is just another attempt to make an illegal move, like the sidestepping above. This time, it's implicit false dichotomy. Keep the good while eliminating the bad—that's what's in the argument to handle this without the chilling effect that cancel culture has.

> either you start from the liberal position that cancellation is just speech, and deserves exactly as much protection as any other speech

All right, so you don't accurately characterize the totality of diversity on your opponents' side and now it's come to strawmanning, then (or at least a failure to steelman—opting to attack the weakest of ones' opponents positions instead). There's a (possibily majority [hah!]) position among those speaking against cancellation culture that doesn't involve removing these protections of the speech. Yascha Mounk can float the idea of various things that involve the law being used to enforce drastic changes to the permissibility of cancellation efforts, but it doesn't mean everyone with a like mind about the dangers of cancellation culture agrees with it. Present an argument against those who acknowledge that the speech/actions are protected but should voluntarily be avoided rather than wielded.

Popehat may be widely cited, but the arguments on this topic never fail to not be facile.


> There are such things as sports mobs, you know.

I agree. I never said mobs don't exist. I said mobs and mob rule are different things. That's true. You don't think that sports mobs are "mob rule" do you?

> but that doesn't make it any less exemplary of a mob in action.

I agree.

> The whole attempt to narrowly recognize mobs only when a minority is threatened is stultifying, and your entire line of reasoning is just begging the question.

I want to reiterate: I've never claimed twitter "mobs" aren't a thing. Nor have I claimed that mobs exist only when I minority is threatened.

I have claimed that twitter "mobs" aren't evidence of "mob rule". Mob rule is characterized by the failure of the government in the face of the mob. And mob rule is a concern because of it's inability to protect minorities. Please do not construct strawmen.

If you want to talk about the danger of a mob, let's talk about mobs, but don't talk about "mob rule" unless you really mean "mob rule", which you probably don't unless you're claiming that cancel culture represents an imminent threat to democracy in the united states.

> In a prison, the inmates outnumber the guards, but that doesn't preclude a mob mentality taking hold if the guards' behavior turned mob-like

Indeed, this would be due to power imbalances. But it doesn't mean that the guards running would constitute "mob rule". In fact, just the opposite. The guards in a prison are the people conventionally considered to have power in the situation. Them being in charge is expected. Them acting unjustly isn't mob rule, it's authoritarianism.

Please stop conflating the existence of a mob with the existence of "mob rule". They are not the same thing. Cancellation is not anything akin to mob rule. Once more: unless you believe that cancel culture is a literal threat to democracy, it is not comparable to mob rule.

> This is just another attempt to make an illegal move, like the sidestepping above. This time, it's implicit false dichotomy. Keep the good while eliminating the bad—that's what's in the argument to handle this without the chilling effect that cancel culture has.

I'm not clear on what you're saying. I'm saying that the value of cancel culture is greater than the flaws. So regressing is overall worse than reforming. There's no flaw or false dichotomy.

> Present an argument against those who acknowledge that the speech/actions are protected but should voluntarily be avoided rather than wielded.

Present an argument that acknowledges that they are protected but that they they should still be voluntarily avoided.


> Present an argument that acknowledges that they are protected but that they they should still be voluntarily avoided.

Sure, here: They are protected, but they should still be voluntarily avoided. I'm not sure what you're looking for here. (To walk into a grocery store and say something rude to the first person you see is protected. It's also to be avoided.)

> You don't think that sports mobs are "mob rule" do you?

Well, yeah. If this is something that we can't agree on, then that seems like a strong signal that we are going to be unable to agree on much of anything. (Maybe there's some confusion. I'm not talking about the mere existence of crowds at a sporting event. I'm referring to the instances of mob rule, resulting in violence, theft, sexual assault, etc.)

> Mob rule is characterized by the failure of the government in the face of the mob. And mob rule is a concern because of it's inability to protect minorities.

Sorry, this is just not an honest approach. I realize there's a little bit of "A implies B does not mean that A can't also imply C", but there's a rhetorical trick you're using to your benefit here whether you mean to or not. Mob rule is a concern for the reasons people find it concerning—e.g. instances of violence, theft, sexual assault, etc. Whether it's perpetrated on a minority or not isn't useful or interesting—it's the injustice that's of interest. To repeat: there's of course plenty of overlap between mob rule and the tyranny of the majority, but mob rule does not necessarily imply such a majority acting on a minority, and whether it does or not is the least remarkable thing about them, generally, because the observation about what it allows the majorities to do is trivial; it's well known.

And it looks like you're discounting instances of "mob rule" by simply defining "mob rule" to exclude the things you want excluded. That's where the begging the question comes in. Even if we grant that "mob rule" means what you want it to mean, and it excludes certain things, it's just not a very useful distinction to make wrt the context where the conversation began. (In any case, we're only talking about "mob rule" at this point because those are words you used in the comment I replied to.) Clearly the excluded referents are worth talking about, even if your definition of "mob rule" doesn't include them and they have no name. We can call them "glarck" for all it matters—and let's do if this conversation is going to continue, in order to avoid the pointless wordplay.


> Sure, here: They are protected, but they should still be voluntarily avoided. I'm not sure what you're looking for here

This is not a moral argument, it is a personal preference. We have moral arguments as for why you shouldn't insult people randomly (rule utilitarianism provides some good ones), but "hold people accountable when they do bad things" is usually considered to be laudable, so you're arguing from the other side: what is so unique about this form of speech that using it to hold people accountable when they do bad things should be voluntarily avoided?

> Well, yeah. If this is something that we can't agree on, then that seems like a strong signal that we are going to be unable to agree on much of anything. (Maybe there's some confusion. I'm not talking about the mere existence of crowds at a sporting event. I'm referring to the instances of mob rule, resulting in violence, theft, sexual assault, etc.)

No, you're talking about mobs, not https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ochlocracy, which is a form of government. For the 17th time, a mob is not the same as mob rule, they are distinct concepts. If you don't want to discuss mob rule, then you are free to just not mention it and talk about mobs but please stop trying to conflate a mob and mob rule, unless you actually mean mob rule. This is the point I was trying to get across to the prior person, and they didn't seem to understand. And the semantic distinction matters, because like I said, they aren't the same concept.


> what is so unique about this form of speech that using it to hold people accountable when they do bad things should be voluntarily avoided?

1. You're trying to bake bad things into the premise, without accounting for not-bad things that the mob considers (even temporarily) nonetheless to be something to speak up about

2. Even for bad things, proportionality matters. (I really, really think this is the disconnect, and is linked to your views on mob rule only being able to exist in certain configurations of majority/minority [i.e. set size], rather than it varying along imbalances of power, i.e. dealing with group strength.)

> No, you're talking about mobs, not https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ochlocracy

I don't consider this to be canonical, and even if we did consider it to be, my comments addressed this in depth. We're so far off into the weeds on a distraction in terminology at this point that I'm not going to say more about it. The subject here is supposed to be cancel culture and speech.


> 1. You're trying to bake bad things into the premise, without accounting for not-bad things that the mob considers (even temporarily) nonetheless to be something to speak up about

Not really, "insults" are something which, for the purposes of discussion, we agree are bad things. But for the purposes of cancel culture there's usually a disagreement about whether or not the thing was bad.

So some person does some act. I believe this act to be morally bad. You do not (or you do). Given this, you need to convince me that the danger of me speaking out is greater than the harm from the act going uncountered. This is fundamentally distinct from the question of whether or not insulting someone for no reason is moral. Relatively simple analysis would say that it's a net negative.

I'm not going to try to cancel someone over a thing that I don't think was bad, you don't need to try and convince me to not take part in that thing, so we can in fact bake a bad thing into the premise, because based on my moral frameworks, you can assume that I believe the thing someone has done to deserve cancellation is a bad thing.

> Even for bad things, proportionality matters.

I agree.


> you need to convince me that the danger of me speaking out is greater than the harm from the act going uncountered

The Cafferty example is a good one.

Also, agree or disagree regarding the "tone deaf" part of the comment from https://twitter.com/JeffDean/status/1268542647318261769?

(From your previous https://twitter.com/JeffDean/status/1268542647318261769 — sorry, no direct reference for where the "tone deaf" advice/lesson actually came from instead of the paraphrasing, but the conversation would be helped greatly if that stance could actually be nailed down on your end.)

> This is fundamentally distinct from the question of whether or not insulting someone for no reason is moral.

My grocery store quip was not about the morality of the insult. It was squarely on this topic. It was a statement about both the limits of protection and whole-picture pragmatism. An insult (or rebuke) that is not undeserved doesn't differ here wrt these two considerations.


> The Cafferty example is a good one.

Right, I'm not denying that there have been specific instances where cancellation has led to bad results. As far as I can tell, you're arguing that cancellation is never moral and should always be avoided but my prior comparison to policing is relevant.

To be consistent here, if you believe that the police sometimes act unjustly, you would necessarily support abolishing the police. Or even more broadly, if the US government ever acted unjustly that we should destroy the government.

So there's something more subtle at play than "it did a bad thing once", you seem to believe that the outcomes of cancellation are more often bad than good, and I disagree with that from what I've seen.

> Also, agree or disagree regarding the "tone deaf" part of the comment from https://twitter.com/JeffDean/status/1268542647318261769?

Yes, I broadly agree that Jeff originally retweeting that was a bad take, when I first saw that he retweeted it I cringed a little. His immediate defensiveness didn't help, but ultimately the outcome was fine. I think everyone is better off for him having gotten feedback.

(as an aside, even the apology didn't age super well, https://twitter.com/JeffDean/status/1268544712895614976 and the responses are amusing, Erika Shields has since stepped down due to her department's mishandling of the events in Atlanta, but I can't blame Jeff for that, I had the same reaction to the original videos of her, I've since learned a bit more).

> An insult (or rebuke) that is not undeserved doesn't differ here wrt these two considerations.

But (whether you agree or not) a large part of cancel culture is about forms of accountability. Either accountability to oneself (in the form of self reflection and learning, as in the case of Jeff above) or accountability to the larger community (as in the case of Cafferty, if we for the moment pretend it wasn't a mistake).

In the modern era, I'd argue that there are three broad categories for which people seek justice. There's punitive justice (or retributive justice), where you punish the bad person for the bad act (this also acts as a disincentive for future bad acts). There's restorative justice, where the goal is to repair the harm done by the bad act. Then there's "protective" justice, where the goal is to protect the good parts of society from the bad people.

Insulting someone when they deserve it is punitive, and maybe it disincentivizes future people, but it's a weak disincentive.

"Cancellation" can do all three: it clearly has punitive aspects (which are effective enough that people are concerned that it goes too far punitively), it has protective aspects, by which you can take a dangerous person and reduce their sphere of influence (removing them from positions of authority, publishing that they are a bad person so that people are aware, etc.), and it can even have restorative aspects (see Jeff Dean). Personally, I find punitive justice to be the least compelling.

So in terms of how justice may be reached, an insult and a "cancellation" are different.

But back to the police. So I think we both agree that cancelling someone can have false positives (Cafferty). So can other systems of justice in the US. And there are many. For some acts there's the police, for some acts there's civil cases, and in other cases there's other methods (for example in contexts like a job or a university there are formal and informal tribunals).

These systems have always existed. HR departments and such have been around for ages. They have flaws. The criminal justice system has a horrifying rate of false positives for certain crimes and demographics, and a horrifying rate of false negatives for others. I'd argue that these are systemic failures of the US criminal justice system.

You can't really address the false positives with cancellation. I mean maybe in some cases you get a situation where a bad judge is recalled (but is it cancellation if it's an elected representative, or is it just political engagement?) But systems do naturally develop to address the false negatives. They start as whisper networks and then grow once you have enough whispers.

And because of things that started as a "cancellation", Harvey Weinstein and arguably Bill Cosby are behind bars. And the #MeToo movement was born. I think those are undoubtedly good things. I'd prefer it if the justice system didn't need a patchwork of whisper networks and activism to achieve justice for people, but it's apparent to me that it does.

So do you take the tradeoff: Cafferty remains employed but so does Weinstein?

I mean, Blackstone's ratio would sort of say yes, although some research on that statement will reveal that the ratio was really only mentioned in the context of capital crimes. And I certainly agree that we should not kill innocent people (in fact I'm so against it that I don't support the death penalty). But while there are pragmatic issues with redefining our criminal justice system to ignore Blackstone's ratio, there are not as many to allowing us to do so extrajudicially (but legally!).

And without something like Blackstone's ratio guiding us, I think I would take the tradeoff. Cafferty's life won't be ruined, he'll be able to get a new job, and while it is, yes, undeniably shitty what happened to him his life isn't ruined. But Weinstein and Cosby's accusers were able to find justice for the same reason, and I don't see a system under which Hannibal Buress is able to say his joke about Cosby, or where the Shitty Media Men list could be published but that prevents the harm to Cafferty.

Ultimately I'm okay with that. Any way of achieving justice is going to have some harms. It will either let some people free, or harm people who were innocent. As long as our criminal justice system continues to hold the biases it does, there's a need for other systems to hold powerful people accountable when they commit crimes that go unpunished, and when they do bad things that aren't criminal.

The cost of any such system is that some people will be wrongly punished, but that's already the case with the justice systems today (both the criminal one, and the civil and ad-hoc ones I mentioned), its just that those systems favor the powerful far more than cancellation does, so I see cancellation as something that ultimately reduces the power differential.

Yeah, it's not fair. But it's fairer, and ultimately that's what I value.

If you want to minimize the harms against the weakest, let's talk about stuff like UBI and strong social protections. Or workers rights and unions.

Or if you want to get really radical, I can point you to people who want to completely reimagine the economy so that employment isn't necessary. Those people are crazy, but I get the sentiment: if comfort wasn't tied to employment, the "danger" of cancellation is far reduced, since it can only cause the powerful to fall. But don't tell me that I shouldn't seek justice, or worse that it is unethical for me to speak up when I see someone doing a bad thing. You need an incredibly compelling reason to make that argument stick, and 'one guy got hurt unfairly', while tragic, isn't compelling enough.


Was Damore a bigger guy?


Compared to the generic "woman at Google", I'd argue yes. But even if you disagree in that one case, that doesn't invalidate what I said. It allows upward facing action.


But it has a pretty bad record of targeting "upward" and those few 'upward' targets suffer much less than the many 'downward' targets. "Ineffective in the best case" is not a very compelling argument.


Does it? Consider the numerous celebrities, comedians, and even The New York Times.

If your argument is that powerful people land on their feet even when they face accountability, then yes that's true. But at least they're facing accountability and the value of powerful people actually having to face consequences when they do bad things can't be understated. It changes the culture of power.


Honestly you're making generic arguments in favor of mob rule. I get the appeal, but it's reprehensible and I can think of precious few things as boring as debating its merits. Let's just say we agree that cancellation is as good as mob rule and part ways.


I would describe having your name included in such a list and immediately recognizable by a huge percentage of the population as a seriously detrimental long term consequence.


Analyzing the consequences is only half the ethical story. Doing the right thing sometimes is different to what the consequences are. If you don't do the right thing in the first place regardless of the outcome, you let weaknesses in the system grow.

James damore's memo was created and went nowhere within google. It's some people fretting over the consequences who took it, spread it among the company and got a good engineer fired, sowing distrust in the community. Should have just left the memo to be forgotten in somebody's email account somewhere. A deontological ethic will come to bite back if you are determined to ignore the fact that sometimes you have to do the right thing regardless of the consequences.


> James damore's memo was created and went nowhere within google.

I'm not sure what your mean here, but this applies most readily to James himself. He posted the memo to larger and larger mailing lists until finally it spread.


No he discussed it with peers and it died in discussion

>"There was no outcry or charge of misogyny. I engaged in reasoned discussion with some of my peers on these issues, but mostly I was ignored," he wrote, of the initial response to his document.

It went viral later on.


This is incorrect. I worked at Google at the time and commented on the original document. He posted it in a few small groups related to diversity. Nothing happened. Then he posted it in a relatively large public group unrelated to diversity. There was discussion in that group, and as part of that discussion it went viral (being linked elsewhere and posted around).

It was specifically because of the "mostly ignored" that he chose to escalate to a larger group where he felt he'd get more feedback and response (and agreement).


>- James Damore

Regular as compared to a celebrity (well, I suppose he is a celebrity now on HN and tech places on Reddit), but being regular is no panacea agaianst criticism.


No one said that.


(I made this standalone comment somewhere else because of you so I might as well reply directly to you)

HN is filled with people who are hardly ever on the receiving end of abuse bemoaning "cancel culture". Yeah yeah, cry me a river.

People are really out here using Justine Sacco, who spoke about going to a country and getting AIDS and got rightfully attacked by the citizens of that country, as a poster child.

Lol it seems like a lot of you have lived lives without consequences for your actions and are suddenly surprised that this is how the real world works. I personally wouldn't cancel anyone but I hope cancel culture lives forever.


Please don't use HN for ideological warfare. It's not what this site is for and will eventually get your main account banned as well.


Can you explain what ideological warfare is according to the rules please? And how my comment is ideological warfare but not the people complaining about cancel culture?


I don't like definitions because every definition has loopholes and then people treat the loopholes as if they are sanctioned. Hacker News is supposed to be a spirit-of-the-law, not a letter-of-the-law place [1]

However, look at it this way: ideological battle is when people use HN to smite enemies rather than for curious exchange. Particularly, to smite enemies on hot topics. Those sorts of threads are predictable, tedious, and quickly turn nasty. They not only crowd out the quieter, more curious conversation this site is supposed to be for—they burn it to a crisp. For that reason we have no choice but to moderate it [2].

It always feels like the mods are against you; whoever your enemies are, I guarantee they feel just as strongly that we're against them [3]. This seems to be some sort of hard-wired bias. In reality people on both sides of the ideological divide get the same moderation messages. If someone was breaking the rules and we didn't moderate it, the likeliest explanation is that we didn't see it. We don't come close to seeing everything that gets posted here [4].

Accounts that have been created primarily for ideological battle are against the rules here and we ban them [5], so I banned this one. Please don't do that. As I said, it will eventually get your main account banned also.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

[1] https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=false&qu...

[2] https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=false&qu...

[3] https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=false&qu...

[4] https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=true&que...

[5] https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=false&qu...


Dan, you may be interested in Orwell's Notes on Nationalism, in which he attempts to tease out "smite enemies rather than for curious exchange." I certainly noticed some poor tendencies of mine[1] in his taxonomies!

http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks03/0300011h.html#part30

[1] notably, what I would call "picking on hegemons" looks incredibly biased because the last two have been the US and the UK, and so Orwell would file it under "anglophobia". I need to broaden my criticism to the dutch, the spaniards and portuguese, the romans, etc. Unfortunately all of my lifetime, and most of recent history, has been under those first two...


In James Damore's case, at least, he engaged in the "problematic behavior" at the workplace - it wasn't like he was participating in a group outside of the workplace which then led to him being fired.

Regardless of what your beliefs are, harassing your coworkers about them isn't going to make your coworkers, or bosses, happy.

For a second, forget about the content. "Hey coworkers, your decision to use a NoSQL database is stupid, you VPs should change the way you're doing things" when not asked for comment and when the decision is well outside of your role is always risky, and can quite often lead to conversations where the targets of your rant can say "I can't deal with this person anymore, I'm ready to quit over this."


If that's what you think happened, you need to go look at the facts. No harassment occurred. There was no emotional outburst. Only a solemnly worded paper that was written in response to a request for feedback and wasn't even meant to be spread around as much as it did.


I did not mention harassment, or an emotional outburst.

The most controversial part of cancel culture is the blurred lines - is something in your private life grounds for you losing your job, is a tweet outside of the context of your job grounds for losing your job, etc.

If someone wants to boycott sellers of JK Rowling's books for her tweets about transgendered people, that is reasonably called cancel culture.

If someone wants to boycott sellers of JK Rowling's books based on hypothetical comments about transgendered people within the books themselves, that is something quite different.


“Regardless of what your beliefs are, harassing your coworkers about them ”

You did mention harassment though?


It's mind boggling that someone who doesn't understand a term and asks for clarification of it be down-voted like this.


This goes into the how, but to me the more interesting question is the 'why'.

Why should someone interact with something that the author doesn't throw his/her/their name into?

I only have one example of why; I'm a genuinely curious and open person and I like having my beliefs tested, some of my beliefs are nuanced enough that I sometimes break down my current beliefs and my reasons into blog posts.

Things that I think are dangerous or damaging especially so, and those are usually the most controversial things so it's more difficult for people to engage with a nuanced opinion.

In one case in a job interview I had a person bring up a blog post (I believe it was "On the Merits of Meritocracy" where I actually gave good arguments pro and against) and he spent the entire time telling me why I was wrong and that meritocracy was bad, citing Caroline Ada Ehmke's piece(s).[0]

Which, ironically I had cited extensively and was the impetus for the discussion. Nonetheless the experience left me feeling icky, the interviewer had ascribed a set of beliefs to me which I did not hold because he disengaged completely with the article and read only the headline.

This is a good reason to blog anonymously in my limited opinion; you're free to engage openly.

[0]: https://postmeritocracy.org/


> why

Cancel culture.

People lose jobs for things said 30 years ago, and that were completely acceptable 30 years ago.

> Niel Golightly stepped down after an employee complained about an article he wrote in 1987 that said women should not serve in combat. He said those views do not reflect his opinion today.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/08/business/boeing-resignati...

You want to be insured against that.


Absolute insanity right here.


It is pure ridiculousness indeed. Imagine holding people accountable for their actions... that would be personal responsibility and is 100% unacceptable to the current powers that be.


That isn't "holding people accountable for their actions". It's applying today's societal standards on historic commentary. That isn't fair, that isn't 'woke', it's retribution and it's wrong.


So here's the thing: people can and do lose jobs all the time over accusations that they've done something wrong. Often this happens pre-employment when background checks are happening the company finds old posts, or old arrests or whatever. Sure they don't fire you, they just never offer you the job. Other times people are fired over stuff like getting arrested even if it's a case of mistaken identity and the person is cleared, or a case where there are no charges brought. Lives are ruined over it, and it isn't new - it's been going on my whole life at least (b. 1980). The new thing is that it's being applied to people in prominent positions.

I agree that the whole concept is unfair. I disagree that this instance is particularly unfair - in fact I like the "new" cancel culture, because its very fair in the sense that it applies the same standards to public figures that are applied to everyone else. As the old saw goes "the best way to get rid of a bad law is to enforce it strongly".


So you won't complain when you get fired for this comment in 20 years when I am president?

In what country were public figures ever above the law?

Pre-employment checks search for drug use and crimes, a facebook post should never be a firable or arrestable offence (outside of the 3.3k arrested in the UK).


> In what country were public figures ever above the law?

Is it considered to be “above the law” if victims never report violations, intimidated by abuser’s social capital?

All the issues with cancel culture, wokeness et al. considered, there are upsides to living in a culture where it is possible to call out a very public person who has used their publicity to cause harm to someone and not be ridiculed.


You cant call out anybody and not be ridiculed. Ridicule, criticism, opposition is the basis of western culture. The legal system, the government and respectful debate is built on disagreement.

You can make justice for victims more or less easy, more or less private if you so wish, but seeking retribution for percieved slights against victims that aren't even you, has personal power written all over it.

You don't describe the reasoning of someone who wants to help victims, you describe the reasoning of someone who wants retribution. What you like is social capital and punishment of disagreement. I dont want to live your way, it leads to horrific outcomes. Turn the other cheek to criticism.


If you happen to be horribly mistreated by someone with a lot of fame and power at some point, and you try to bring them to justice, I will support you and I hope you are treated seriously and not ridiculed by general public as well.

If it never happens to you (perhaps thanks to cancel culture serving as a sort of deterrent now?), all the better.

Do downsides of cancel culture outweigh the upsides? Up for a debate, but unless all participants are willing to acknowledge those upsides in the first place I don’t see how such a debate could have a point.


Did you just claim that cancel culture magically is responsible for lower all chances of victimhood? I can't even with this.

The point is I don't want your help, I expect ridicule and opposition, it's part of the west. I don't even argue the downsides and upsides of cancel culture because it's attacking an unassailable problem with the mask of compassion.


> I expect ridicule and opposition

This is exactly why victims would choose to conceal abuse, thus enabling more of it and making public figures sometimes effectively above the law.

As a result of recent developments, knowing that they will receive support and compassion helps people who suffered through this in silence come out, raise public awareness and prevent a powerful person from perpetuating abuse.

I agree with the poster upthread that society is probably fairer and playing field is more level this way.


Hopefully you don't get fired for this comment 30 years from now.


I'm curious, why do you use Sophocles as your name? He doesn't hold up well by modern moral standards.


Go-lightly indeed.


I think the two most common reasons for anonymity are:

* blogging from an oppressive regime

* to isolate yourself from online mobs

If you write something controversial these days, sometimes it catches a wider audience and you can find yourself under a lot of attention. A minority of those poeple will not be nice, and may send death threats or worse. Your experience is a tiny fraction of what this can be like. Being anonymous takes out some of the sting.

I can't think of a better illustration of the latter than https://metro.co.uk/2020/07/04/last-us-2-voice-actor-shares-....


Offline mobs too. As a Japanese I completely don’t understand why most English speakers so casually disclose their identity so publicly.

If you post something in your real name, your colleagues WILL find it out and your boss WILL read it and your neighbors WILL scrutinize it no matter how woke your post may read. There WILL be consequences from being pointed at to losing your job and pension.

People using real names for app reviews, online comments, those are completely insane to me. Including shorthands like “John D.” Unless you are paid to do so that is.


Because there is also professional benefits about writing with your real name. For example the famous patio11: https://www.kalzumeus.com/greatest-hits/

He also goes into detail in this podcast about the benefits of writing with your real name too: https://player.fm/series/north-star-podcast/patrick-mckenzie...

Funnily enough, he also lives in japan!


Also blogging from a regime that may become oppressive in 5-10 years (at which point your blogging history about how great democracy is will come back to bite you in the ass).


another factor is the desire to separate ideas from their author.

for example, double-blind peer review.


> [1:] blogging from an oppressive regime

> [2:] to isolate yourself from online mobs

If we're talking about common, I'll add:

3: to normalize anonymity so that people in groups 1 and 2 stand out less, have less peer pressure to compromise themselves, and so that attackers have to spend more resources than if they could focus their attacks on the few people they actually want to target (compare HTTPS Everywhere and other "Encrypt all the things!" efforts).


I think it's interesting to take a look at history. Many famous writers used or use a nom de plume or published anonymously because they didn't want their identities to draw the attention away from their writing.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pen_name https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_pseudonyms https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_pen_names

Few people know who Jean Baptiste Poquelin or François-Marie Arouet were. But Molière and Voltaire should ring a bell, right?

Ironically, here, we don't use our own name, but a digital handle when posting comments. This allows us to create this persona on HN which doesn't really have to converge with our real selves.


Or they didn't want their writing to draw attention to their identiies, which is key in the public-shaming debate.


A primary reason you might want to read something written anonymously is because it provides important, actionable information that is not available elsewhere. And the reason that information is only provided anonymously is because that information helps me but harms some other powerful group.

If, for example, someone posts a video of human body parts being ground up to make sausage at Mr. Fred's Delicious Sausage factory, I would really like to know that before I make my breakfast selection at the grocery store. But Mr. Fred probably does not want me to know that, which is why it's likely to be posted anonymously to pretect the author from retaliation.

In a world where some powerful groups are happy to have harm come to others, anonymity is a critical tool to fight back.


But then again, what if it's Mr. Fred's jaded ex-business partner who posted the blog and the video was faked?


Everything should have some form of skepticism. The more ridiculous thing being presented, the more skepticism you should apply. Skepticism does not mean disbelief, but rather that you shouldn't just take things at face value and put on your critical thinking and analyst hat. Or as someone much wiser than me put it

> extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

We're already in a society where it is easy to control narratives and manipulate viewpoints. You don't need CGI or ML to do that.

Unfortunately it feels like we're in the habit that we apply scrutiny when things are simple and take at face when things are absurd.


That valid concern applies equally to non-anonymous information too.

Certainly, knowing the author is a useful part of evaluating some information. But, of course, authorship can be faked too. There's no escape from the need to apply critical reasoning to the information you encounter.


It’s the same reason that many authors publish under a pseudonym.

A friend of mine is a teacher who has written a couple of books. He likes to publish them under a pseudonym because if a parent took exception with part of the story it could create an issue for him professionally.

In today’s climate, it’s hard to avoid offending somebody.


> In today’s climate, it’s hard to avoid offending somebody.

And importantly, offending someone today is much more likely to have serious consequences than it was 10 years ago (that's my perception, anyway). A decade ago if you wrote something innocuous (especially while having the wrong immutable characteristics) and someone wrote your employer demanding your termination on the grounds that your innocuous thing could be interpreted as 'hate' by virtue of some absurd mental gymnastics ("well if we change the definition of 'hate' in such a way as to encompass innocuous offenses, then voila, your employee is guilty of 'hate' and should be fired!"), your employer would likely have told that person to piss off.

Note also that a common use case for pen names was to establish credibility when one's identity (gender, race, etc) would be used against them. I don't know that many anonymous writers are trying to conceal their gender or race these days, but I certainly see many, many more rebuttals that are some variation of "the author is wrong because of their identity" or rather "the author is not only wrong but evil/hateful/racist/otherwise-deserving-of-cancelation because of their identity" than I did 10 or 20 years ago.


> "the author is wrong because of their identity" or rather "the author is not only wrong but evil/hateful/racist/otherwise-deserving-of-cancelation because of their identity"

Nitpick: this is not about the author's identity[1][2], but about incidental physical characteristics[0] or (charitably) aesthetic preferences[3].

0: ie, the person making the 'rebuttal' is themselves racist/sexist/etc.

1: http://paulgraham.com/identity.html

2: http://web.archive.org/web/20200623015648_/https://slatestar...

3: see [2] and search for "Tribe is most classically typified by" and "code word for the Red Tribe".


This is pretty analogous to the reasons why Scott Alexander from Slate Star Codex[1] used anonymity and the reasons he shut the blog down recently.

1: https://slatestarcodex.com/2020/06/22/nyt-is-threatening-my-...


> Why should someone interact with something that the author doesn't throw his/her/their name into?

> you're free to engage openly

This is what I was going to answer.

Sometimes I disagree with my own writing later. It's easier to distance from this writing when I have released it through a pseudonym so that when that old self dies because of a life event or transformation/initiation, I am able to more easily close that chapter of my life, instead of having this old self be connected to my new self.

I also don't think we've reached this stage of the awareness of 'evolving selves' yet in internet culture. That's why taking precautions, like using a pseudonym, go a long way for my personal peace of mind. I do treat most corporate services as compromised because of excessive surveillance/Snowden's NSA leaks, but I think individual data leaks will start happening (where these pseudonyms would be revealed through NSA [and thus Google, FB, Google] metadata) after the current power structures topple, and a Commons-based peer production paradigm emerges.

At the same time, my reluctance to embrace my old selves and their viewpoints also comes from a lifetime of having been told I was not 'smart' (i.e. in school). Now I am learning that my delayed development was actually due to insecure attachments to primary caregivers. Together with frequent moves around the world which disturbed the possibility of forming secure attachments to other adults, this hindered my cognitive development. This means I am behind in some areas, yet it also surprisingly drives my immense interest in adult education/lifelong learning, as well as Sudbury schools etc.


> Why should someone interact with something that the author doesn't throw his/her/their name into?

Once again: Who is harmed by a "Real Names" policy?

https://geekfeminism.wikia.org/wiki/Who_is_harmed_by_a_%22Re...


That is a very detailed list but I think it’s awkwardly missing “normal men”.

Cancels occurring to a normal, well paid, stable person into jobless of even into suicide aren’t negligible events. In fact isn’t it happening to university professors right now?

Identities without mob support is a universal weakness no matter your social protectedness/minority statuses.


"Cancelling" cis married (or intending-to-get-married) men hurts the women they marry, too.


This is really good and distills the point much better than I could have, thank you.


Interesting example from print media: The Economist doesn't have author names. Critique and appreciation have both been expressed over this, but I don't think there's an answer that will convince you.


It's often said that nobody would read the Economist if they saw the kind of pimply faced recent graduates who actually wrote it.

My cynical side says that this is a way of preventing journalists who work there from accumulating a fanbase which would give them leverage over the magazine (since they could then viably threaten to take to different publications). It fits in with their neoliberalish philosophy.


I actually prefer pseudonyms (or the Economist's anonymity/column name policy) in print media.

It could be simple selection bias - perhaps better quality outlets tend to operate under pseudonyms, rather than pseudonyms themselves improving the quality of the publication.

But I speculate that operating under one's real name might increase the propensity to craft and cling to an "identity". That horrible concept of a "personal brand", if you will. You want people to remember you - which means constant soundbites, hammering the same dumbed-down points from the same angles.

There's no respite - it's under your real name, after all - so you slowly subsume yourself into this talking head that you've created. One day, you wake up, and you've completely lost any capacity for impartiality or objectivity.

Pseudonyms also allow multiple people to write the same column. I've long wondered if the Economist engages in this practice (not that I would be critical if they did, it's out of sheer curiosity).


While mobs have existed since eternity, the internet amplifies mob voices and makes everything you ever said available to a determined adversary. Since it isn't possible to predict what will be acceptable in society 10 years later, it makes sense to blog anonymously, lest the mob comes for you and even your loved ones who may not even share your opinions.


Given recent incidents I’m sure we’re all familiar with, I would never consider writing on any controversial topic under my real identity. Why would I leave my family’s economic security at the mercy of malicious, ignorant mobs?


[flagged]


The sheer arrogance of thinking (some of) the people that agree with your controversial topic are not also "malicious, ignorant mobs".


That doesn’t sound familiar at all to me. Can you give an example of such an incident?


There are links sprinkled all throughout the comments of instances of people having views erroneously attributed to them and the public pressure causing them to lose their jobs. Here's one I just read.[1] How prevalent these are, and whether they outweigh any positive effects of the behavior (or if you even believe there are positive effects) is probably a more nuanced question.

1: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/06/stop-firin...


Even ignoring the erroneous attributions, I wan't the right to voice a controversial (or even wrong) opinion. Afterall, how else would I engage and learn that I am wrong.

It seems that the expectation is increasingly that the only evidence people should need to overturn their personal opinions is the fact that they are not in the majority.

Similarly, it seems that very little leeway is given to those who changed their minds, even before their controversial opinions came to light.


I thought that was a poorly-researched article. I'm most familiar with the Holy Land Deli situation, and actually talking to employees and customers results in articles like https://sahanjournal.com/news/as-holy-land-grocery-attempts-... It discusses some of the significant problems they had with pay disparity and treatment of Black customers; racism occurs in the Muslim community as in others.

Mounk indicates oh, American dream ruined because of spoiled daughter, while actual journalism exposes systematic pay disparities and unequal treatment of customers. Huh.

I hope that Holy Land can repair relationships with the community, change its ways, and do better going forward! If it can do that, then this was in fact a net positive for our community. Don't know whether that argues for or against blogging anonymously.


> Mounk indicates oh, American dream ruined because of spoiled daughter, while actual journalism exposes systematic pay disparities and unequal treatment of customers. Huh.

Not to defend the article too much, but does that really matter (I would say it depends on the timeline)? Whether the person persecuted is eventually found to have some reasons why some persecution may have been justified, that does not justify the original persecution. All it does is make people feel better about their past actions, even if those actions were not justified.

Punching a random person on the street is not justified because you later find out they are a horrible person. It may make you feel worse about punching the random person... but it really shouldn't.


Ugh. s/It may make you feel worse/It may make you feel better/


> Why should someone interact with something that the author doesn't throw his/her/their name into?

so interesting, for me "throwing one's name" into things is definitely a negative. It's the content which matters, not the person :-) and hopefully I'm able to judge whether the content is good or not (else does it really matter that I read it anyways if I'm not even able to do that / fact check / etc. ?).

But then I come from a culture where the word "individualist" is an insult so maybe that has some influence.


Interestingly, I have a hyper-individualist background, and I similarly think that the tendency to care about pedigree over content is likely to mislead and misinform you. In theory, this means reading The New York Times with the same level of skepticism as Breitbart; in practice, the correlation is strong enough that I end up avoiding Breitbart, but the principle helps me pick out bad reporting from the Times _constantly_).


> Why should someone interact with something that the author doesn't throw his/her/their name into?

There are still quite some monarchies around in which you go to prison for speaking up against the rulers (in most you will be convicted for unrelated, made up charges).


> Why should someone interact with something that the author doesn't throw his/her/their name into?

Are you talking about opinion pieces? Because, if something is well-cited objective+factual content that doesn't bother to express any opinions, I wouldn't care about (or even look for) authorship.


Many writers take on a pen name (pseudonym), for a variety of reasons, some of them related to issues you get at with your post.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_pen_names


What is your opinion on "The Meritocracy Trap:..." by Daniel Markovits? I was recently told this would be a good reading to question meritocracy, or at least to understand those who do.


You can listen to Sam Harris' podcast with Markovits for an introduction to the book [1], or Ezra Klein's [2]. I found his argument novel, thoughtful, and quite convincing and have put the book on my reading list.

The claim is that elites have instituted a caste system, more or less, with enormous inequality and very little social mobility, all under the guise of meritocracy which serves to legitimise it.

[1] https://samharris.org/podcasts/205-failure-meritocracy/

[2] link at the end here: https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2019/10/24/20919030/...

https://www.themeritocracytrap.com


So they brought you into the interview just to have an argument with you over your blog post? Did you get the job? xD


Haven’t you answered your own question?


I want to write about my opinions on software but I'm nowhere near experienced enough to have good opinions and I don't want my blog posts to get attached to my professional persona.


> I only have one example of why;

I think there are plenty of reasons why. But if someone's arguments are good, it does not matter who they are. If someone doesn't want the limelight, that is fine. I mean look here, my handle isn't my name. Though I wouldn't call it exactly anonymous/secret either.

> it's more difficult for people to engage with a nuanced opinion.

It is more difficult, but recognize that a common fallacy is "my opinion is nuanced, and yours is simple."

Which you experience here

> ascribed a set of beliefs to me which I did not hold

There's a tactic that I've found that has a decent success rate. The key comes down to that language is messy and that it is difficult to capture someone's nuanced position quickly. Your brain fills in missing information and does the best it can to figure out what the other person is trying to say. There's three parts to communication: what you mean, what you say, and what is heard. So if you don't know that these things are different and that your brain is filling in stuff (that this goes both ways) you're going to have a difficult time communicating, especially in a divided time with extra tribalism. This is essentially why divide and rule/conquer tactics work, because we are actually unable to communicate with one another.

So if you recognize this and when it is happening, stop the conversation. Divert and establish a foundation. "Hey, I think we're having some miscommunication. When you mean x do you mean f(x) or g(x)?" Then you listen carefully and don't interrupt (I bet they will develop nuance, if not they will add more later). At some point it is natural for you to speak again and address the misunderstanding and explain your nuanced point. If they start interrupting calmly explain "Hey, I have a nuanced point and I do not feel like I'm being able to finish an idea and thus we won't be on the same page and both be frustrated. I would like to finish the idea first." Because you listened to them carefully before and gave them time they now feel obliged to do this. The whole conversation has slowed down but everyone is now speaking the same language and hostility is gone. The pace will naturally pick back up.

As an example I was talking with my roommate the other night and we were getting heated. I had to apply this method and basically say "Hey, we're throwing in too many things at once. I don't feel like I can finish an idea before I address a specific issue. It is impossible to for me to talk about 30 different and nuanced subjects at once." He did slow down. Mind you he also said "Well that's how <insert nationality> people speak, I guess we can just handle that many topics." Don't let that kind of thing phase you, because if you want to have a real conversation you have the be the better person. This is probably the hardest part (let someone make themselves the asshole and let them realize it, you don't always have to point it out).

tldr: disengage, slow down, reestablish definitions, reengage.

But if you want to fight, win, or get one up on the other person, these techniques will not help you accomplish that.


When I taught, I blogged anonymously as did many of the other teachers who blogged at the same time as I did. It was a means of preserving our jobs and enabling us to speak candidly about the challenges we faced. Some of us knew each other's secret identities and I once had someone post a comment on the blog identifying me based on clues they were able to piece together from my posts (I immediately deleted the comment). I post this anonymously now because even though I no longer teach, the blog still exists and I'd still prefer not to have those posts connected with me.


> Feel free to use a VPN, though Tor is more than enough for your needs.

This is a misconception. Using a VPN with TOR makes you less anonymous, not more.

https://write.privacytools.io/my-thoughts-on-security/slicin...


ISP -> VPN -> Tor can be a good idea depending on your threat model, but if you're not completely sure that you need to do so, it's best to avoid it.

ISP -> Tor -> VPN is generally extremely stupid, as tor is doing absolutely nothing for you if your VPN subscription is tied to your true identity. If, on the other hand, your VPN subscription is completely isolated from your true identity, then this can be a good way to bypass restrictions imposed by sites that block Tor. I'm not aware of tor-friendly VPN services, but I am aware of at least one tor-friendly VPS provider, which should be just as good given that your VPS subscription would not be tied to your true identity. Would not recommend using this method more than absolutely necessary, because although you can keep your true identity secret if you're very careful, it does become substantially easier to track you and ultimately unveil you by studying correlations (for one example, if your VPN is only active on the network while your home internet is connected to a Tor relay, over time you could be singled out as the most like source of that traffic).


> If ... your VPN subscription is completely isolated from your true identity

One way to do this is to get a Mullvad subscription, and to pay for it with bitcoin.

They don't even require an email address.



Why though? How is there any benefit to using a VPN with TOR? Especially when it’s obvious that there’s a lot of risk involved.


Because it shields the fact you're going through Tor. Tor network traffic alone is a red flag that you're doing something shady, even if it isn't sufficient proof.

A comical example is when a Stanford student used Tor to call in a bomb threat to get out of an exam. Turns out he was one of two people on the entire campus network using Tor. The police talked to him and he admitted to it.

(Side note: if you're going to do crimes don't admit to them when asked.)


> The most common rationale behind this setup is to hide Tor usage from an ISP or circumvent censorship of the Tor network. This is unnecessary as you can hide Tor usage and circumvent censorship by using bridges. You can either use the bridges that are included in Tor Browser for this, or request other bridges from in any of the ways described here. A bonus of bridges is that they don’t leave a money trail, which VPNs often do. [...] Even if you were to end up on a watch list, it would be a uselessly large list as Tor has more then 2 million daily users. It strikes me as very naive to imagine that someone powerful enough to trace you over the Tor network will be stopped by a $5 a month VPN service.


MIT


I have not done much research, but I believe Mullvad allows you to pay for a VPN anonymously using cash.


A...few... additional notes on combining Tor with vpns/proxy/ssh/tunnels (some whonix specific, mostly not)

https://www.whonix.org/wiki/Tunnels/Introduction

TLDR tho is that you're right. Don't do it unless you have to, and you don't have to.


I ventured into this a while ago. After thinking about it, I decided that if Google or the Government decided they wanted to know who I was, they'd find me one way or another. I'd go insane trying to stop them. But they weren't really my threat model anyway - I just wanted to write political ideas without strangers tying their perceptions of those ideas to my real self.

I wasn't planning to write anything that could be perceived as illegal or close (eg, no inciting hate/violence/treason).

So I thought of a pen name, created a Gmail for it, then a Twitter with that, and a Medium account with that. I blogged on Medium.

I wasn't too worried about pissing off a rogue Medium/Twitter employee enough for them to try to doxx me, though it was the only thing to give me pause - and honestly, a run-of-the-mill VPN I only and always use for that probably would have been enough.

Ultimately, if an internet mob was going to get me, it'd be because of my writing style or facts of my life I allude to in my posts. But even there, plausible deniability is likely good enough unless I really piss a lot of people off and drop a lot of personally identifying hints - which would be my own damn fault.


For "casual bloggers who wish to keep their identities hidden from the general public", a good number of suggestions seem totally unnecessary, e.g. using a burner device, or avoid home/work networks (when you're already using Tor). What's the attack vector here? Someone hacking into wordpress.com servers and getting your OS/browser signatures (both pluggable)? Then what? And assuming they can hack into wordpress.com servers, your email alone would be a lot more valuable than aforementioned signatures.

Meanwhile, for people worried about nation state actors, using a free blogging service is probably not enough, since it's damn hard these days to sign up for popular services that don't eventually link back to you.


Yeah most of this feels like a howitzer for someone just trying to stay away from directly linking their identity to their personal blog.

I guess it depends on your threat model though.


This is very incomplete advice for the given threat scenario of "fearful of government persecution".

> Snagging a cheap or used device is a good option

Cheap devices may well phone home and a used device may be tampered with. I was surprised when reflashing a burner Xiaomi device to see the bootloader contained a nod to the CCP.

> Navigate to WordPress.com and setup a free account with that new email address.

Certainly Wordpress is not an ideal platform here from a security standpoint. You want a blogging platform that is overwhelmingly dumb - raw html files with minimal formatting would be perfect.

> Feel free to use a VPN

Don't use a VPN without knowing who it is owned by and seeing audit reports and even then be skeptical.


> This is very incomplete advice for the given threat scenario of "fearful of government persecution".

That is in the list of things the article is saying it is not for.


> I was surprised when reflashing a burner Xiaomi device to see the bootloader contained a nod to the CCP

Anyone is concerned about privacy should never use a Chinese made product, hardware or software.


This is good advice for people who are sufficiently safe to not face any repercussions, but sufficiently narcissistic to think anyone cares that much about what they have to write.


Does it really matter if you use Tor as the first hop, and pay for it anonymously with crypto?


My personal interests are too varied and too niche to have much overlap with anyone else. The number of people interested in compilers, cryptography, radio electronics, trad climbing, bouldering, bird watching (I post checklists to Cornell eBird), marlinespike seamanship, knots in general (I'm in the International Guild of Knot Tyers), who play the Great Highland bagpipes, Irish traditional music (tin whistle & bodhran), Scottish Country Dancing (in the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society), and live near where those birding checklists get posted is probably 1.

Yet I'm likely to write about all of those interests. De-anonymizing me from that is probably not terribly difficult. The intersection of the RSCDS, IGKT, and IEEE member directories probably doesn't contain many people, so even knowing that is likely enough to narrow it down to a handful, if not be outright unique.


I think you need to tone down your highly illegal and risky bird watching blog posts then.


Having gotten my start on the internet mid 90's it always amazes me the number of people that attached their offline identities to their online identies

This was just something that was unheard of back then. It was an extension of "Stranger Danger" that you did not reveal who you were to the wide internet, sure some of your close friends may have known your online name but it was not openly broadcasted

Fast forward to face book and their failed attempt to "Real names" under the assumption that it would make discourse less extreme we now know that was 100% wrong, and had the polar opposite effect

I dont know if everyone needs to go to the extreme of protecting their ID from State Actors, though maybe we do. Everyone however should at minimum end the concept of "Real names" policy


The issue with emerging and easily accessible technology is that in 2020, especially for the younger folks venturing into their first jobs - at least some kind of social media presence is a pre-requisite. Our school's career center gave a presentation where this issue was raised.

What if a student wants to not associate his/her political thoughts lest they create a hindrance for a future employer digging through the candidate's social media history. The solution offered was simple - never post anything remotely political on your 'real' profiles. But, we were asked to create them regardless and were told to be mildly active. A ghost profile seems a red flag, as such a non-existent one. Which to many people raises concerns about an individual.

We were simply asked to bifurcate our online personas into two - one that was professional and one that was like you mentioned - anonymous.


>>A ghost profile seems a red flag, as such a non-existent one

I guess my future is going to be limited then, because I have never, and will never have a "real" social media presence. Ever.

That is a hard, never going to happen, even if I have live under a bridge


I think the context was of soon to be college graduates trying to get their first job. Which somewhat makes sense given how little information employers have to go off for those hires to begin with. Once you have your first job I can’t imagine most employers caring too much unless you work in a field like marketing where public perception is part of the job. (And connections to others in the industry are generally a better way to get good jobs anyway if you can swing it)


It seems to be something field dependent. Having a social media presence is an "occupational hazard" for marketing related fields compared to others where it is a don't care.


> Having gotten my start on the internet mid 90's it always amazes me the number of people that attached their offline identities to their online identies

> This was just something that was unheard of back then.

This is not entirely true. I remember many people using their real names on Usenet, or on mailing lists.


Were they real name, or did they just look real.

Like I could post under the name JosephDotson, that could be a real name but it is not my real name


Often first name (linus), initials (rms, esr, jwz), first + last initial (marca, billg, dang), initial(s) + last (dmarti, cdibona), first @ last (bruce@perens.org), etc.


Somewhat similar timespan.

Real names, or a version of them, weren't unheard of, but were usually at least somewhat indirected. Of current HN users, I can think of two somewhat notable accounts using the same names now as in the 1990s. One is a nickname, the other first initial + last name. Neither is impenetrable.

I became distinctly uncomfortable with Real Name use by the late noughts, and have used a set of pseudonyms (some more than others) since.


Related : How to exit the matrix (old - 2006)

https://stalluminati.neocities.org/matrix/


This is an incredible tour de force of rhetoric/writing quality backed up with concrete, technical information. I've only read a few sections, but so much of it sounds like it could have been written this week, right down to the first sentences:

"Privacy and anonymity have been eroded to the point of non-existence in recent years. Our personal, private information is stockpiled and sold to the highest bidder like so much inventory at a warehouse."

The fact that such a trove of knowledge is published anonymously makes the work itself even more mysterious and compelling. This is the kind of WWW experience I want more of. Imagine all the countless other products of mad geniuses lurking out there beyond the meticulously maintained facades of social media and Medium-style blog platforms, styled with base HTML without a script, ad, or tracker in sight.


It feels a bit like instructions to operate an anonymous printing press in the Soviet Union.

Very sad that we have reached that stage.


Another way to blog anonymously (depending on how you connect to the service) is to use telegra.ph: telegram's minimal blogging tool that doesn't require an account.


When the author started with "this is not fool-proof by any means" the first thing that came to my mind was linguistic fingerprinting.


He does advise to use google translate to move the content from the original language to a different one and then back to alleviate this.


I think this is a great first stab at the problem, but for two reasons I think a robust solution needs more work:

- The first is that, as someone else pointed out, Google is almost certainly logging your translation queries.

- Secondly, even if you do it offline (as someone else suggested) the approach itself might not work. Success in linguistic forensics isn't based (as we might naively assume) on catching obscure words that a particular individual has a tendency to overuse. It's based on subtle shifts in the relative frequency of functional words. Depending on the proximity of the source and target language, round-trip machine translation might not change this.


In forensic linguistics you typically measure a lot of metrics, not just word frequencies, use of punctuation and whitespace, sentence lengths and structures etc. Attribution also isn't the only use of forensic linguistics. You can also look at influences, deas, people, publications etc. For instance in order to infer something about the reader, analyze influence networks etc.

I got interested in forensic linguistics many years ago when an article in a somewhat shady publication mentioned me. I got curious and started reading anything I could find on the topic. I was eventually able to identify the author, but mostly by tricking him to admit it after I had a ranked list of candidates. He was second on a list of about 4-5 people (out of a candidate set of perhaps 300). Not half bad for the rather crude methods I used. I was rather pleased with myself.

I've used similar techniques later to look at influence networks in companies.


Interestingly, at Google Translate now:

Upcoming changes to history

Translation history will soon only be available when you are signed in and will be centrally managed within My Activity. Past history will be cleared during this upgrade, so make sure to save translations you want to remember for ease of access later.


Ha, "Hey Google, NSA here, do you have the server logs of people translating this passage?"

Wait, why ask Google, they probably can just look in their own surveillance database.

Geez, if Google Translate queries are logged, that's... a lot of information.


I guess you could skirt around this by using something to tag the various parts of speech in your original text (using something like Python's NLTK) and replace them with randomly picked synonyms from a thesaurus?

Pretty sure it would obscure the original writer although possibly at the cost of obscuring the original meaning.


If you use wordpress.com from Tor and use Google Translate from Tor, what do they learn more about you than just using wordpress.com?

(I have no clue)


I think what we’re concluding here is that using Google to obscure the linguistic style is flawed, because a state actor could obtain the original linguistic style from Google records, or from their own records of snooped traffic.

In other words: the blog should find a way to obscure linguistic style offline.


They can see the original text, which can the be analyzed.


Wonderful. Then someone DEFINITELY won't want to read your blog.


Years ago I recall something with a name like anonyblog [Edit: invisiblog.com -- Thanks!] which accepted account creation and posts by--and only by--pseudonymous email. You remember--that crazy Mixmaster/PGP signed and forwarded stuff? Seemed really powerful for the 'publication' side, but still fragile regarding the hosting side. Admittedly 95% of the pages were various flavors of "OMG IT WORKED!" but that says more about pseudonymous email than anything.

ps. Regarding censorship resistant hosting, the rabbit hole regarding e.g. Freenet is very deep and frankly leads to a hive of villainy.



Is it even possible to create a Protonmail account with Tor? I thought it asks for your phone number if you do that? (And we all know hopefully by now, handing over your phone number is a big no-no if you want to be anonymous)


Somehow the instruction that "Don't connect to your home/work WiFi" is down 3 lines before the end (Point 8 of "Notes"). I'd expect it to be between points 1 and 2 of Instructions.

Just as a mental exercise, it seems going to a local coffee shop would make me easily spottable on CCTV, especially if they can correlate visits and posting times...


> it seems going to a local coffee shop would make me easily spottable on CCTV

Depends if Tor has done its job and concealed the IP address you're posting from.

Right now it's 10:30am in Iceland and 10:30pm in New Zealand so the fact you're posting at this time of day, and drinking coffee at this time of day, probably doesn't uniquely identify you.

Indeed, I'd say always post at the same time of day, rather than posting at random times when coffee shops are open, as the former does a better job of concealing your timezone.

(Obviously, if you're some Dread Pirate Roberts type and Tor doesn't do its job, it's game over.)


If you always blog from the same local coffee shop, or from places around your house, it also makes it easier to nail you down as the author


> especially if they can correlate visits and posting times...

You could schedule posts so times will not correlate. Tumblr has a queue which you can use to post at regular intervals throughout the day.


The paranoid would worry that the men in black would ask Tumblr for the server logs, "When did this blogger insert this post in the queue?".

I guess they could try using a blogging service hosted in a "non-cooperative" country. E.g. Russia, unless you want to blog about Putin.


VK would probably be your best bet for Russia.

We could keep playing this game forever. Really you'd want a self-hosted site running from an anonymous VPS paid using a cryptocurrency like Monero (these exist) and your domain would use a similar service (say Njalla) or be TOR-exclusive. Alternatively you could go a more classic route and host with SDF (à la http://voidnull.sdf.org/).

Or, if you're really paranoid, you'd give up on the whole thing. Maybe you'd still write but you'd keep it to yourself. As I see it, any interaction is a risk of exposure even if very small.


Never turn on the burner outside where you want to blog.


One thing this doesn't address is how to build an audience anonymously. I have occasionally considered creating a pseudonymous blog, but I don't know how to acquire readers without leaking information about my existing social network. I feel like anonymous submissions to stuff like reddit and HN rarely get traction.


Post reasonably intelligent (or what the hell: insipidly viral) content, engage with others. Traction builds, though it can be slow-going.


> Never use a custom domain name - these require some of your personal information when being registered. Even with whois privacy protection, certain law enforcement can demand for these credentials.

Not just law enforcement, shady companies like FB all try to get their greasy hands on that info. Panopticon is one closed circle.


> Run your articles through multiple translation converters. Edit minor mistakes afterwards. This avoids engines and tools picking up on your writing style.

Sounds like a good opportunity for a tool that will do this for you -- send it through a bunch of different converters in a feed pipeline. Would be fun to see the results.



Tangential to the content of the blog, I’m always weary of anything being labeled “anonymous” if it contains a lot of text that you personally wrote. Stylometry is a thing and it apparently works (I do need a citation, but on mobile and don’t have time - a quick Google search will return some results). I can see a future or even present where all it takes is a snippet of text that somebody knows is yours, and then a model to provide the probability that any given text off the internet (comments, blogs, etc) is written by you. People write and speak in very unique ways. As you increase the amount of your text, it becomes even more unique, like a blog.


Thanks to so many people in this thread for thoughtful discourse and helping me on my journey to understand the issues better.

I just watched The Outrage Machine, which is a short (12mins) documentary that can help us learn.

It talks about trolling, the yearning to judge, public shaming, cancel culture, mob mentality, moral superiority, harassment, abuse.

https://www.retroreport.org/video/the-outrage-machine/


Some time ago, for anonymous blogging there was a pretty good solution called freenet. Dunno if it is still around but it was really interesting technologically speaking


Translating back and forth will result in horrible text


Depends on which language pairs you try. Google does a very good job with several European languages. English to Norwegian and back often returns almost the same as the original.

For instance the text above became:

Avhenger av hvilke språkpar du prøver. Google gjør en veldig god jobb med flere europeiske språk. Engelsk til norsk og tilbake returnerer ofte nesten det samme som originalen.

Which returned this English text:

Depends on which language pair you are trying. Google does a very good job with several European languages. English to Norwegian and back often returns almost the same as the original.


How would one store the long, random passwords for these e-mail and blogging accounts, given TAILS is so reluctant to save anything to disk?


Use a book? You can probably remember "Page 32, Line 7" is the passphrase for site N and you've got oodles of data to work with for generating the passphrase. You can probably even mark the passphrase itself if you have a lot of other marked passages in the book as if you were doing research. Probably want to carry 2-3 other marked books as well to avoid highlighting any specific one as "valuable".

(Disclaimer: I am not a spy, take advice from real spies before me.)


Use a password manager and store it somewhere on the cloud, protected by one master password you memorize ?



Or one could post exclusively about one's interests and nothing even remotely political. That's what I have in my blog.

Of course, not the same applies to my twitter and facebook accounts. I've never posted anything really controversial, but there are some political posts. I remain optimistic, though, maybe I won't have to delete them. Hopefully.


So why not use pastebin with a burner phone ? Write your blogs air gapped at home and then upload them using tor or a proxy.


This is a terrible idea. Anonymity online encourages people to be highly inflammatory, and in the US, this has led to a massive cultural divide (not the only cause, though).

Human social pattens and behaviors have led humans to correct bad social behavior through a mechanism based on reputation. If you say/do terrible things (what the group disagrees with), your reputation suffers, which discourages saying/doing those things. However, with anonymity, we become victim to the dopamine feedback loops available in online patterns. In the case of anonymous blogs, the stronger signal will be traffic on the blog, regardless of why that traffic is there. Unfortunately, saying inflammatory (prejudiced) things will generate traffic. Othering will generate traffic. Being reasonable and nuanced with drive traffic away in an online environment that provides dopamine hits for much less effort than understanding a complex topic.

This means online anonymity for the masses is largely a bad thing for society as a whole, which is evident with a cursory glance at the anonymous parts of the internet (4chan, for example). It's also evident in less anonymous, but still anonymous places like Reddit, which sees nearly as much trolling as 4chan, but reputation is part of the Reddit system, and Hacker News system as well (just the reputation of your account instead of your real identity).

I should qualify my opinion here: I don't think anonymity is always bad, but in aggregate online, I think it's causing more damage to our society than good. People in a functional society need to be help accountable to the society for their actions, and anonymity removes that social accountability.


Anonymity is an important part of free speech. That which is unpopular can still be truthful. Just because an angry mob descends on you doesn't mean your words are incorrect.

Being inflammatory doesn't mean being prejudiced or wrong. There was a time when speaking for trans rights was "inflammatory".


I'm kinda unfamiliar with the real situation on the western internet. What are top-3 things that could happen if I start writing things that are uncomfortable to the loud minority?


I think Satoshi Nakamoto used double VPN. Haven't been found yet, in spite of EXTENSIVE search efforts.


tor AND avoiding posting on home network? thats a lot of FUD


> Why should someone interact with something that the author doesn't throw his/her/their name into?

We currently live in a "there is only one correct opinion, all others must be canceled" culture. They've already come for anyone who showed even the faintest trace of dissent from the mindlessly woke mob's narrative. Next they'll come for those who have stayed silent. Failure to project virtue signaling will soon be used to deny employment and participation in other aspects of society. Just you wait.

Anonymity is a risk mitigation technique that speaks to the very real desire to keep speech free. If speech has consequences that are administered outside the law, then it's not really free.


> We currently live in a "there is only one correct opinion, all others must be canceled" culture.

I fully blame twitter (and the medias obsession with it) for this.


This is a problem that probably existed before writing itself, never mind Twitter.


Just like every thing else, this too was amplified by the internet.

If you said something controversial 40 years ago at a grocery shop, shop owner might be mad and refuse to service you, and might even put a bad word for you across the town. In the worst and rarest case, you might have had to leave town.

Now, anyone can record the interaction, put it in front of more people on twitter than the front-page of a big newspaper. And this amplifies things. Not to mention that it remains there forever for the whole wide world.

At this point in many places, you will be more quickly forgiven for taking cash from a shop's register than saying something which is not the prevalent opinion.


Cf. The Scarlet Letter from 1850:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Scarlet_Letter


It's not new. It was huge when religion was more prevalent, for example, but it was becoming less of a problem as society became more educated and secular. Now there's a new wave riding on top of social media like Twitter, and as it gains more popularity it's becoming more about flaming vs virtue signalling than making actual progress.


> but it was becoming less of a problem as society became more educated and secular

The last generation of control freaks had figured out how to use religion as a medium for their desires. They were caught flat-footed by new internet media like everyone else.

The next generation have now learned how to use twitter. The basic tactics probably haven't changed that much but the details of the message are new. I doubt education was a driving issue as this is more an issue of personality types.


We all can get caught up in to some degree. Some of the change is great, but the snowballing effect of social media leads to some mistakes that get easily out of hand. Education hasn't been able to adapt fast enough to technology and has left people unprepared for this sort of thing. It's not that it's a driving issue but it hasn't been of help when ideally it would have.


> It was huge when religion was more prevalent, for example, but it was becoming less of a problem as society became more educated and secular.

Secularism vs religion is a red herring. Society became freer because people began to value (classically) liberal ideals--i.e., people came to value freedom as a principle. Liberalism is secular but secularism isn't liberal (nor is it inherently illiberal), and there have been many illiberal secular ideologies not only in theory, but in practice (e.g., practical communism of the 20th century wherein people were literally executed, imprisoned, exiled, etc for their free speech). And of course what we see today.

Secularism isn't a virtue, liberalism is.


Yeah, it's getting hard to tell what are real accounts. So many pose as a left/right wing person and spout a little too ridiculously.


Anonymity solves the issue for the individual, and for the most part I believe it works. The problem is, this current culture of irrational, non-engaging echo-chamber woke cancellations is further propelled to the forefront when those unwilling to partake in the culture are either shamed or silenced.

Platforms like Twitter and Facebook don't make for constructive debate, discussions. There is an option to shore up support through likes, but not much the other way around. I think this explains the diaspora from the latter to the former, and says a lot about the future of Twitter itself (hint: people will move on.)

I do believe one day people will be more rational in handling beliefs and opinions positioned against them, and there are a multitude of valid reasons for one to assume anonymity, but we'd all benefit if we confronted the deeper problem instead, I feel.


And you have very active extremists in both sides, so it is guaranteed you are always wrong and always in danger of being cancelled.


We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23789853.


Good grief. What happened to "Democrats are coming for your guns"? At least that one sorta made sense. Can you name three significant ideas whose debate has been suppressed online? Because I'll bet that for each of those I can find a 200+ comment flame war on this very site.

> They've already come for anyone who showed even the faintest trace of dissent from the mindlessly woke mob's narrative

They did? Who won?


It's an unhelpful exaggeration to suggest that speech is being suppressed in the conventional sense that the threat or use of coercion is being employed to restrict speech.

But we care not only about whether debate is suppressed. We also care about the quality of debate, the culture, values and practices through which we engage with one another in the public sphere.

The concern over 'cancel culture' would be, I think:

   (1) certain arguments are beyond the pale of legitimate debate

   (2) those arguments should not be engaged with, or their proponents persuaded, but should be met with opprobrium and abuse

   (3) we can safely infer that someone has a malignant character if they make an individual statement which is considered illegitimate

   (4) if someone makes an illegitimate statement then we should ostracise them, deplatform them, and agitate their employer to fire them
Obviously 'cancel culture' is internally varied, and this list presents some of its worst aspects, while ignoring what can be said in favour of it. But my point is that we can reasonably argue over several of its features. The problem as I see it is how to criticise unreflective and exclusionary discourses, while engaging in debate, persuading rather than abusing, avoiding heavy-handed retributivism, and thinking for ourselves.

It is also worth asking whether cancel culture is more of a problem online that it is offline because it is encouraged by the design of several platforms, most egregiously Twitter.


At the moment I can't see any of it's features when someone like David Shor is fired for publishing facts of a study looking at types of protest. https://twitter.com/lhfang/status/1271166899666079744?lang=e...


Not "someone like" David Shor. David Shor. He was fired. One guy. And that was wrong[1]. But one guy doesn't an epidemic make.

If you want to talk about individual instances of injustice, I'm there with you. If you want to paint a whole culture of internet progressives on the basis of a tiny handful of spiteful retributions, I think you aren't arguing in good faith.

[1] FWIW: it's been half reported and intimated that maybe he was really fired because the rest of the staff already hated him and this was an excuse. We don't know. But the public reason given for his termination was garbage.


Are those list items really that bad, though? Paraphrasing #4: you're saying that we need to welcome, broadcast and hire people who we genuinely think are vile and awful?

Where's the middle ground. If we can't fire, say, violent racists, and we can't escape their words, and we can't avoid them socially, what can we do?

I think the answer to that, if you look at it carefully, is going to be pretty much isomorphic to what we're already doing. There are excesses and mistakes (David Shor shouldn't have been fired), but that's true of all things.

What I don't see is a definition of "cancel culture" as a "problem" that isn't basically a defense of conservative opinions.


I think you're making a false dichotomy. You can avoid ostracising and deplatforming people without welcoming and broadcasting them.


Perhaps I can, but can twitter?


I agree that its implicit values are generally egalitarian, or at least aspire to be egalitarian, but I don't think there's a clear left-right split. My concern is not that we shouldn't be egalitarians. I'm a socialist; my avatar is named after a famous anarchist. It's that there is a culture of debate - 'cancel culture' - that betrays several flaws.

Should we value debate and engage with those we disagree with or ignore their arguments and ostracise them? Should we persuade those we disagree with or tell them they're horrible people? Should we address ourselves to the causes of prejudice and small-mindedness, or retributively punish those who misstep? Debate, persuasion, and opposition to retributive justice - those are scarcely values that are the monopoly of the right, and indeed, the last one runs counter to the right.

You are focusing on 'easy cases'. You write, 'you're saying that we need to welcome, broadcast and hire people who we genuinely think are vile and awful?' But that presupposes the precise crux of the debate: whether most people targeted by 'cancel culture' really are, as you say, 'vile and awful'.

You say we should encourage the firing of 'violent racists'. I think that's a reasonable option, depending on the context. But that's an easy case. The kind of problems I highlighted are found arrayed against people of all political stripes, often for minor offences or errors.

I was reading a large number of people abuse a Guardian journalist this morning for including the owner of a Pizzeria in a write-up of how working-class life has been affected by COVID - a mistake, for sure, even a humorous one, but not one that should be met by abuse. The owner in question was being doxxed, and his restaurant down-voted on review sites. To me, this kind of case is entirely typical of cancel culture, not anti-fascism.


Clearly we should value debate. Clearly we "should" persuade people we disagree with. The question is whether we should be forced to.

If I'm an employer, should I be forced to hire people who I personally find unpersuadably vile? That's the "anti-cancel" position, right? I can't fire you, even if you're an asshole.

If I run a forum (like HN, or Reddit), I can't ban people even if they're "debating" in a way that is disruptive and driving off users? That too, is the "anti-cancel" position as far as I can see.

How do you square this? Be specific. Tell me the rule you want to enforce so that no one gets "cancelled" but we aren't swamped by garbage in online forums.

> But that presupposes the precise crux of the debate: whether most people targeted by 'cancel culture' really are, as you say, 'vile and awful'.

It absolutely does. Because if you can't cite me[1] someone who got "cancelled" who isn't "vile and awful", then doesn't it mean the whole "problem" doesn't exist?

Your position is that all my woke buddies are wrong and need to change. So show me the evidence.

[1] And let's be real: you can't, except for a tiny handful of notable cases. No one gets "canceled" here on HN (good grief, just look at the downvotes I'm quite sucessfully enduring!). No one gets "canceled" for being a republican. And most importantly: being argued with is not the same thing as being "canceled" no matter how hard you try to make that case.



> 'Clearly we should value debate. Clearly we "should" persuade people we disagree with. The question is whether we should be forced to.'

So you agree with the criticisms I made of cancel culture?

> 'If I'm an employer, should I be forced to hire people who I personally find unpersuadably vile?'

I don't think this is a helpful example, for two reasons. First, it is generally accepted that employers should have more latitude in the grounds on which they hire, than the grounds on which they fire. This reflects the fact that we are generally more concerned with actions of commission (e.g. killing someone) than omission (e.g. failing to give someone life-saving drugs). If we ask instead, 'Should you fire someone because they believe transgender women shouldn't be admitted into female sports', or 'Should you fire someone because they believe in the aggressive extradition of illegal immigrants', or 'Should you fire someone because they watch Fox news', it's much less clear-cut.

Secondly, and more to the point, what is at issue is rarely cancel culture among employers, but the way in which cancel culture pressures employers to fire people.

> 'If I run a forum (like HN, or Reddit), I can't ban people even if they're "debating" in a way that is disruptive and driving off users? That too, is the "anti-cancel" position as far as I can see. How do you square this? Be specific. Tell me the rule you want to enforce so that no one gets "cancelled" but we aren't swamped by garbage in online forums.'

I haven't thought about it, but my initial answer: I think the rules on large community websites like Reddit and HN should be to sanction abuse, hate speech (understood roughly along the lines of current British law), and various activities which undermine the aim of the website - e.g. persistent trolling, systematic lying, spamming adverts.

> 'It absolutely does. Because if you can't cite me[1] someone who got "cancelled" who isn't "vile and awful", then doesn't it mean the whole "problem" doesn't exist?'

You seem to think that the only evidence of cancel culture is the complete destruction of the lives of individuals. But those only the most extreme of cases. I just gave you a less extreme but far more representative case: the Guardian journalist that I read being harassed this morning (her name is Helen Pidd). Every time I go on Twitter I see a constant stream of tribalism, abuse and retributivism - these are not rare occurrences, they are omnipresent.

Take a more prominent case: J.K. Rowling's post on transgenderism. I disagree with 90% of what she wrote in that post. But I think her arguments should be engaged with, people should try and persuade her and those like her, that we should not abuse and deplatform her, and I don't think she is evil or malignant because of what she wrote.


With all respect, you seem to be retreating here. I don't think I disagree with any of your remedies, they sound fine. They also sound like pretty much the way our society and internet culture already work.

So I can't tell what you're arguing against. If "cancel culture" isn't the giant problem you originally jumped into argue against, and our existing protections are already in place... what are you arguing against?

I'm not saying that people aren't jerks on the internet. I'm saying that (1) it does happen at anything like the scale people like to think of (i.e. there is not Great and Terrible Woke Conspiracy), and (2) the excesses that are happening, at the scale they're happening at, are just not something we can "fix" via any remedy.

And the Rowling thing seems like a complete misinterpretation on your part. HUGE quantities of ink have been spilled at this point (including on this very site) explaining why the trans-exclusionary position is hurtful and counterproductive to modern feminism. Don't tell me she wasn't engaged with productive discourse. Rowling herself did like half a dozen interviews on the subject! You're acting like no one was willing to listen to her, when that's absolutely not the case.

You're saying that because someone was an asshole that means the rest of us are too? J. K. Rowling wasn't "canceled" in any way that matters. She was just wrong.


> 'With all respect, you seem to be retreating here.'

Nothing I said in my last post with inconsistent with the letter or spirit of my foregoing posts.

I didn't set out any 'remedies'. You asked me about about two relatively narrow issues. As I have repeated, I take 'cancel culture' to be, in the first instance, a cultural problem. The fundamental remedy is, therefore, cultural. Abolishing Twitter would help, though I don't see that happening.

If you don't know what I'm arguing against, return to my first post.

> 'And the Rowling thing seems like a complete misinterpretation on your part.'

You seem to be implying someone can only be negatively affected by cancel culture when: (i) their lives are destroyed; (ii) everyone who engages with them is participating in cancel culture. Why?

Obviously not everyone who engaged with Rowling disagreed, and not everyone who disagreed exhibited the pathologies that I attributed to cancel culture. But there was a very large -certainly the majority of voices on Twitter - contingent of people who didn't engage with Rowling's arguments, had no interest in persuading Rowling or those who sympathised with her, castigated her as evil and hateful, and called for a boycott of her books, and on authors writing for her publishing house to terminate their contracts.

'In any way that matters'. Rowling's entire profile has been shaped by the debate. This will define her life and career, and how she is remembered for the rest of history. Of course, she is a billionaire, and lives comfortably. But the point is that this is merely one (prominent) case representative of the very tendencies you deny exist.

The consequences are the degradation of the conversation in the public sphere, and of the willingness and ability of people to debate and think for themselves. Given that I share many of the broad goals of 'cancel culture' - i.e. curbing prejudicial and exclusionary discourses - I also worry that this kind of toxic approach will preclude the coalition-building and persuasion necessary to long-term hegemonic change. It also creates an avoidable blowback, i.e. most people feel condescended to, others take up the same style of politics on the right.

Read the Atlantic piece linked to above - there are many less prominent cases of individuals have been 'cancelled', often with little cause. I see this happening every time I log on to Twitter, in all directions.


Again, you just seem slippery here. I'm not denying that people are mean on the internet. I'm not denying that people get harmed by it. I'm denying that it's a huge problem, thus my attempts to pin you down on What Exactly Is Wrong, and How Do You Propose to Fix It. And you keep moving the goalposts!

Basically, this is what I keep hearing: "OK, these people weren't harmed, exactly. But countless others were who I haven't named. And why do you demand evidence of "harm" anyway? Aren't there other ways of being harmed?"

I mean... people are jerks. We can't fix that. Twitter surely can't fix that. If employers are routinely firing people[1] based on what jerks say on Twitter, then that's a problem. But it's something employers are going to have to address on a case-by-case basis.

[1] They aren't. Seriously, they aren't. It's happened in the past. It's not "happening". Far more people get fired for far worse reasons and we don't freak out at HN over it.


You claim I am 'slippery' and 'moving the goalposts'. You said in your last post that I was 'retreating'. Yet you have not even tried to show how anything I have said in my later posts is inconsistent with my earlier posts. Absent that, those claims are not helpful.

You say 'I'm not denying people are mean on the internet. I'm denying people get harmed by it'.

There are two simple problems here. The first is that we are not talking about whether people are 'mean', we're talking about the attitudes, beliefs and behaviour of a specific subculture: 'cancel culture'. I have set out what I take to be the pathologies of that subculture. Why are you ignoring those pathologies, and talking as if 'cancel culture' didn't exist, and if this was just people being generically mean?

The second is that you protest that cancel culture is harmless. I just set out why I take it to be harmful: it degrades the public sphere, inhibits thought and debate, undermines hegemonic change, and threatens a blowback. Why have you not engaged with any of those arguments?

Finally, you raise the issue of 'employers' again. I have already said I take this to be peripheral to cancel culture. The main harm of cancel culture, as I see it, is on the public sphere. A few extreme cases end in firing - and that's significant for those people - but it's a relatively small harm compared to the effect it has on the public sphere.


> we're talking about the attitudes, beliefs and behaviour of a specific subculture: 'cancel culture'. I have set out what I take to be the pathologies of that subculture. Why are you ignoring those pathologies, and talking as if 'cancel culture' didn't exist

Yeah. This is the disconnect. You're asserting without evidence that "cancel culture" exists as "a thing" worth discussing. I assert it doesn't, it's just a bunch of jerks, and ask for evidence about its impact.

And you don't want to engage on that. Which tells me that maybe this isn't really "a thing" worth discussing, just something that you're personally upset about.


> 'You're asserting without evidence that "cancel culture" exists as "a thing" worth discussing. I assert it doesn't, it's just a bunch of jerks, and ask for evidence about its impact.'

Your original response was that the listed pathologies 'were not that bad', but that they were only found in response to people who were genuinely 'vile and awful'. Now you're saying those pathologies are invented. Which is it?

You say I haven't provided evidence of its impact. In three of the four responses since my original post, I've given examples: Helen Pidd, J.K. Rowling, and The Atlantic piece linked to upthread. I could go on citing endless individual cases, but as I have tried to emphasise, the problem as I see it is a collective one: a culture degrading the public sphere.

You write in another of your replies: 'If you want to talk about individual instances of injustice, I'm there with you. If you want to paint a whole culture of internet progressives on the basis of a tiny handful of spiteful retributions, I think you aren't arguing in good faith.'

If individual cases can't prove anything, what evidence will you accept?

> 'Just something that you're personally upset about'.

I have to tell you, I am not the only person to notice the existence of a new 'cancel' culture, or to object to it. There was a prominent Harper's letter circulated on exactly this subject just a few days ago:

https://harpers.org/a-letter-on-justice-and-open-debate/


The definition of vile is getting ridiculous. Today its seems anyone is a "violent racist" if they don't agree 100% with BLM's mission statement. I'm sorry, you have to live in a world where there are people who have different opinions.


And Right On Cue, here's a great counter example: https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/10/media/tucker-carlson-writer-b...

Read that, and you tell me: was Blake Neff canceled? Sure seems like it. Mainstream journalists found "vile" material in his online history, showed it to his employer, he's canned (well, resigned it seems like, technically).

So are you going to defend Neff? Please do. Or if you won't, please tell me why your carefully curated worries about "cancel culture" somehow don't apply to this case.

Because I can tell you why: because "vile".

So now tell me why your personal, entirely subjective definition of "vile" is more important that those of other people with different priorities. Because that's the only difference here.


This article from The Atlantic[1] does a much better job explaining the issue. It contains more than a handful of examples of people getting fired for really benign opinions, also this is just in the last few months.

[1]: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/07/perils-us-...


James Damore certainly lost.


No, he was fired because he very loudly and publicly contradicted his employers' stated policies[1]. His ideas didn't "lose", not in the free speech sense everyone is yelling about. There's not a poster here who doesn't know what he said (we spent A LOT more than 200 comments on that one!).

Nor was he suppressed: he's still speaking, on the same subject! Hell, he's surely making more now as a right wing martyr than he ever was as a low level hacker for Google.

[1] I mean, people get fired for this all the time, like those folks Amazon canned a few months back for union organizing with employer resources. You only care about this one guy because he happens to play for Your Team.


What he posted was on an internal message board specifically for employees to discuss controversial subjects. It was only public because another google employee got upset and made it public.


I probably should have said "broadly", I guess. But I still don't see how that differs from the union folks, who used an internal messaging system to notify other employees about their rights.

Again, I can't help but think what you people really want is the inalienable right, not to "free speech", but to be Offensive Without Consequence. And again, Damore is a genuine celebrity now, he's a very bad example of the kind of repressive woke hegemony you're invoking.


[flagged]


It doesn't matter if being offended is a protected class. Offending someone isn't. And I. Our society we give individuals and groups broad powers to associate with only the people they choose to.

You can offend whomever you want, your right is protected! But if people don't like you, they're under no obligation to deal with you.


the previous poster presented it as a binary set of options but i agree with what you're saying - i think its safe to say we have all, at some point and in some scenario, been both victims and perpetrators. for me the answer is to simply move along with my life and associate with those who seem to be well intentioned and have positive world views. but going up a few comments relating to the cancel culture issue, for some that is simply not enough. they must become the enforcer, alert the world of the offender, until the offender is ostracized from society (judge jury and executioner perhaps). its hard for me to understand the motive but alas here we are.


>its hard for me to understand the motive but alas here we are.

Some personality types probably just like having the feeling that they hold power over other people.


You raise an interesting question. Why not ignore people?

Let me start by pointing out that this applies in both directions. When I post on twitter saying, for example, that "@FSF, you should fire Richard Stallman because he is a bad man", I am simply exercising my ability to speak.

The FSF can choose to ignore me. Why doesn't the FSF just move on and ignore the tweet? Before we move on I really want you to consider that question. I'm curious what yours is. Here's mine:

The people speaking out have power. The FSF is influential because people trust it to act ethically. If people no longer trust the FSF to act ethically around women, can they it to act ethically around software freedom? What about when software freedom intersects with the issues of marginalized peoples (think, for example, ML ethics or signal's value to marginalized groups). If people stop listening to the FSF it loses its influence, which (from the FSF's perspective) is a bad thing for its mission. But from the perspective of me, a person tweeting, I'm not necessarily looking to "punish" Stallman, but to hold people to high ethical standard.

To be clear, I'm not saying that there's never a punitive aspect to cancellation. What I am saying is that it's wrong to believe that there must be.

So I hold other individuals accountable to my values (or actually in some cases their own values). I "vote with my feet" and part ways with organizations that don't uphold the values I feel are important. When enough people do that, collectively, the force behind it becomes powerful enough that even relatively entrenched organizations have to pay some attention. In other words, decentralized collective action has power and ignoring it carries some risk for organizations.

This represents a shift in power and influence in a few ways. Some random individual is able to start a movement that picks up lots of steam very quickly. There's danger to this (think Reddit and the Boston Bomber), but there's always been a danger from what power can do (think Donald Trump taking out a full page NYT advertisement to enforce the death penalty against the Central Park Five).

Similarly, "blacklists" and "old boys clubs" have existed since forever and are harmful to people. My claim is that those will never go away. So empowering the previously unempowered is probably a good thing.

There's questions about harm in individual cases, but those need to be balanced against harms prevented and existing systems, which also systematically fail certain peoples. The question shouldn't be "is cancel culture perfect", but "does it cause less harm than existing structures for handling criticism and accountability".


I’m not sure if you’re aware or not. But you just proved a point I made.


Because you started your comment with a question asking why, people thought you were genuinely asking a question rather than trying to make a point.


I read it as supporting your point.


Freedom of speech isn't freedom from consequences of that speech. What planet do you live on that you think everyone else should have to both listen to what you say, and then not "punish" you for it? If you tell your wife she looks fat, she's probably not having sex with you that evening. If you call someone a racial slur, they're probably both going to tell everyone they know about what you said, and refuse to interact with you unless forced to.

What you're talking about isn't freedom of speech, it's freedom FROM responsibility. I don't think you're going to find very many people that want to sign up for: HNThrowaway262 can do whatever he wants and you just have to take it. That's a dictatorship or a monarchy, you might want to live in that society but I don't.

Your words and actions have consequences and SHOULD.


And who shall be the judge of what is right and what is wrong? An internet mob? If an unknown woman issues a public twitter statement that she's been abused, is it OK to get the alleged offender cancelled before a court trial? What if they are innocent? How do you un-cancel somebody?

You don't. That's why the cancel culture is ridiculous and needs to end.


So do you have an example of someone being accused by one anonymous twitter user of sexual assault and subsequently had their career and life ruined?


How about a truck driver that was accused of racism by a Twitter rando and was quickly fired from his job?

https://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local/sdge-worker-fired-ove...


Would you like to judge how limited my speech should be?

For example, if someone feels me up, should I be allowed to post on Facebook detailing the encounter? Am I allowed to name them? Can I tag their employers?

If I read about someone claiming that they've been felt up, can I forward it to my friends? Can I notify my employer if they're working at the same company as me?

Essentially, can you determine a line where my freedom to speak ends?


Yeah it ends when you make a statement about someone that accuses them of a crime or otherwise libels them, in the UK at least. If someone has committed a crime, we have courts. We've been doing this for centuries.


> Yeah it ends when you make a statement about someone that accuses them of a crime

Why should I avoid talking about something because it pertains to a criminal proceeding? If I get sexually assaulted, should I avoid reaching out to anyone for support? If a person cheated me out of money during a business transaction, should I avoid calling them out on it? If someone punches me, and the police decide not to press charges, do I avoid warning anyone?


[flagged]


> Purpose of cancel culture is lynching

No, it's not, and saying it is is trivializing lynching. Which, given the political alignment of the people usually arguing the loudest against cancel culture, is unsurprising.


Can you be more precise by what you mean by lynching?

If I retweet a message that says "X assaulted Y" and X ends up fired later, have I participated in a lynching?


Falsely calling people you don't like evil to cause them harm or for you own economic gain should result in jail time and compensation for the victim.

As of now, we're so afraid of stopping people from coming forward that we've allowed those with evil intentions to weaponize our empathy.


> Falsely calling people you don't like evil to cause them harm or for you own economic gain should result in jail time and compensation for the victim.

False speech isn't protected. Also, the parent comment made no claim that the statements made were true or false, just that there were accusation. I don't think that "people shouldn't knowingly lie" is a particularly hard stance on free speech.


> False speech isn't protected.

It is to the extent that it isn't prosecuted as a matter of policy.

> Also, the parent comment made no claim that the statements made were true or false, just that there were accusation

And I'm saying "No, I think we ought to appropriately punish people who do make false claims" in response to the original question Would you like to judge how limited my speech should be?


If you want to have a separate conversation on whether false speech is prosecuted in the United States, we can do that. But this isn't really relevant to the discussion at hand, which is how is "cancel culture" at odds with "free speech."

> And I'm saying "No, I think we ought to appropriately punish people who do make false claims" in response to the original question "Would you like to judge how limited my speech should be?"

Okay, but then you aren't disagreeing with me; just posting a tangential point. In the example posted:

> If an unknown woman issues a public twitter statement that she's been abused, is it OK to get the alleged offender cancelled before a court trial?

There's no indication that the claims are false, and if they are false, that the people making the claims aren't punished. All it asks is "is it okay to share information about an accusation, even if you aren't certain it's true?"


> Okay, but then you aren't disagreeing with me

I wasn't trying to disagree with you. I just think the issue is oversimplified into forum sized bites and needs to be approached holistically.

> If you want to have a separate conversation on whether false speech is prosecuted in the United States, we can do that. But this isn't really relevant to the discussion at hand, which is how is "cancel culture" at odds with "free speech."

False speech being 'protected' in the sense that it doesn't result in any harm to person committing the act is, in my opinion, extremely relevant. Free speech isn't free if those who would cause you harm are free to do so at the slightest provocation, and without fear of punishment.

> All it asks is "is it okay to share information about an accusation, even if you aren't certain it's true?"

My answer is "Yes, if you're willing to accept an appropriate punishment for libel/slander/defamation in the event you were wrong." One added thought though, what if the person accused can no longer afford a decent lawyer because they got canceled? That could result in catastrophic harm to an innocent person, just like the [0]4% of death row inmates that are supposedly innocent.

[0] https://www.pnas.org/content/111/20/7230


> Free speech isn't free if those who would cause you harm are free to do so at the slightest provocation, and without fear of punishment.

It seems like what you're going for is that freedom of speech requires responsibility for consequences of speech, which I'm all for. I'm more worried about understanding how far those consequences stretch; if you share an article about race statistics that prompts a riot, are you responsible?

> My answer is "Yes, if you're willing to accept an appropriate punishment for libel/slander/defamation in the event you were wrong."

Do you believe that if someone unknowingly published something that turns out to be false, they should be held legally liable for it? For example, if I share a news article that turns out to be false, I should bear liability?

> One added thought though, what if the person accused can no longer afford a decent lawyer because they got canceled? That could result in catastrophic harm to an innocent person, just like the [0]4% of death row inmates that are supposedly innocent.

That would be a causality of free speech. At some point, some group of people are going to be hurt by speech or lack thereof, and it's more a matter of deciding what tradeoffs we'll make.


> if you share an article about race statistics that prompts a riot, are you responsible?

Entirely depends on if the statistics and any stated conclusions are true, and to what extent the article actually prompted the riot vs other factors.

> Do you believe that if someone unknowingly published something that turns out to be false, they should be held legally liable for it? For example, if I share a news article that turns out to be false, I should bear liability?

If you unknowingly repeat that someone is a pedophile just because it seems popular, it seems reasonable that you share some portion of the blame for whatever harm befalls that person.

In the news article example it is the publication and/or the author that is responsible. Of course this gets into a grey area regarding the content of the article and whether it's possible to know the content is false or defamatory.

> At some point, some group of people are going to be hurt by speech or lack thereof, and it's more a matter of deciding what tradeoffs we'll make.

In my (based on the downvotes I'm receiving) unpopular opinion, I don't think we should give up any speech whatsoever under any circumstances. If people say evil things that cause harm (go kill this person, this person is a nazi, let's get this guy fired, etc), go after them for the harm.


> If people say evil things that cause harm, go after them for the harm.

You'll need to define what an "evil thing" is. For example, in the race statistic example, you make it clear that depending on exactly what was said, you may or may not be responsible for the harm.

You'll also need to define "cause." In cancel culture, no one "forces" companies to fire people, they just put companies under economic pressure, much like boycotting.

I think the key issue is what you mentioned earlier:

> whether it's possible to know the content is false

Where there's some threshold of belief whether something is true or not; for example, it might be fair game to share a New York Times article, knowing that they're generally true. But someone on Twitter?

Also thanks for talking in good faith, it's refreshing to talk to someone who genuinely engages in discussion as opposed to trying to win.


> You'll need to define what an "evil thing" is.

If someone says something false with the intent of harming someone (getting them fired, ostracized in their community, harming their personal relationships, etc) I would say that's a reasonable definition of evil.

A good example is when some people try to call Joe Rogan, a liberal comedian who liked Bernie for president, a Nazi or alt-right. It's clearly untrue and it's intended to de-platform him because they don't like the politics or message of some of his guests.

> You'll also need to define "cause."

I look at this from a rather extreme perspective. If I put a gun to someone's head and tell them to do something, it's coerced. I didn't 'make them' do the thing. They did it willingly to avoid harm.

The same is true when a horde of people call someone's boss and say 'X is a Nazi so either fire him or we'll organize a boycott and you'll go out of business'

> Where there's some threshold of belief whether something is true or not

This is the hardest part to sort out. Hitting like or retweet on something isn't the same as publishing an article yourself. That said, intentionally signal boosting 'X is a nazi' or similar does cause harm. I think this requires a case-by-case review.

> Also thanks for talking in good faith, it's refreshing to talk to someone who genuinely engages in discussion as opposed to trying to win.

Likewise! Although it does seem that public opinion doesn't like my point of view much, I'm glad there's still folks willing try working through a topic together rather than jumping into a jousting match.


I think the issue arises due to the nature of the internet being such an amplification tool. In-person social networks are on the order of 100s or 1000s.

What I'm really afraid of is reaching an audience of hundreds of millions, and having them potentially inadvertently take my words out of context. Doxing is a hard problem to solve, but I'd really prefer a SWAT team not show up at my door. Statistically, you're much more likely to reach those few bad apples with an internet-sized megaphone.

I think disagreements are fantastic to work through and how we better ourselves, but some people react pretty horribly to them.


>Freedom of speech isn't freedom from consequences of that speech.

It is though, it's just that we as a society define which consequences you are free from as the speaker (ex. some legal consequences). The internet, and social media in particular, has profoundly changed how we think about the topic. In my opinion we'd be better off as a whole if we reevaluated our perspectives when presented with new information rather than avoiding discourse entirely in favour of dogma.

>and then not "punish" you for it? If you tell your wife she looks fat, she's probably not having sex with you that evening

This isn't a punitive action, it's a personal choice of your wife. AFAIK you are not entitled to sex with your wife whenever you so choose. A scenario in which a contract is terminated based on something said on social media (when there's no clause in the contract covering that particular thing) is fundamentally different, for example.


> What planet do you live on that you think everyone else should have to both listen to what you say, and then not "punish" you for it?

No one is forcing you to listen to anything. I'm sure you've never been forced to read r/TheDonald, or watch Alex Jones talk. If any friends on social media links you to a paper on psychological differences between the sexes being rooted in biology, you are free to ignore the link or block them all-together. If a coworker or employee starts talking about immigration restriction in a way that sounds vaguely xenophobic, you're free to ask them to keep that kind of political talk out of the workplace.

This is about the freedom that the rest of us have to choose to listen to others' speech, and to be free to engage with it and come to our own conclusion about it.

> If you tell your wife she looks fat, she's probably not having sex with you that evening. If you call someone a racial slur, they're probably both going to tell everyone they know about what you said, and refuse to interact with you unless forced to.

Those are not relevant examples.


"Freedom of speech isn't freedom from consequences of that speech"

That's not true, it doesn't even really make sense. Freedom of anything is freedom from consequences for it. If I say I believe in freedom to have an abortion, noone would reasonably be said to agree if they said they also believe in freedom to have an abortion, and then immediate execution by the state afterwards.

Freedom of speech in the constitution is freedom from reprisal by the government

Freedom of speech as used idiomatically in speech generally means a certain level of freedom of reprisals from employers and society.

Directed racial slurs is a straw man, almost noone believes in absolutist freedom of speech when it comes to directed harrassment, they normally believe in freedom to discuss topics in the abstract.

It's not a monarchy if someone has the freedom to speak, that doesn't make them a king just a citizen.

I've noticed a trend with the woke side of the debate to get into like high-school level semantics - redefining words or misinterpreting statements in a nakedly disingenuous way - does anyone understand why this seems to be a trend?


>Freedom of speech as used idiomatically in speech generally means a certain level of freedom of reprisals from employers and society.

"a certain level" implies the existence of an acceptable level of consequence, unless by that you mean "absolute." If so, why not simply state that?

>Directed racial slurs is a straw man, almost noone believes in absolutist freedom of speech when it comes to directed harrassment, they normally believe in freedom to discuss topics in the abstract.

You're just moving the goalposts around the definition of "speech" so that it conveniently doesn't include the contradictions to your premise. Racial slurs and directed harassment are obviously speech. If you believe there should be consequences for that, then you believe freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences.


It's not moving the goal posts, you seem to be creating a false dichotomy between: "support free speech" -> must support lack of reprisals for all free speech, including directed racial slurs "do not support free speech" -> must accept the current level and form of reprisals.

Where most people who say they support free speech are, is this statement: "support free speech without reprisals, excluding directed harrassment, with some level of acceptable reprisals in employment and socially, depending on the context, but at a much lower level than is currently the case, with less arbitrary application of mob justice and employer discrimination"

It's not catchy but nor is it inherently contradictory. It's what I imagine JK Rowling, Chomsky et al would say if you spoke to them about their letter.

I really think it would be useful if the anti-free-speech side of the debate stopped with this semantics and straw men about freedom from reprisals, monarchies, directed racism. I think that a person should be free to discuss eg. spaces for trans vs non-trans women and where to draw the line on sports etc, to what level the BLM is a useful movement, the relative weight of cultural vs economic vs discrimination in explaining different outcomes across ethicities and genders, positive discrimination, without being fired, cancelled or becoming unemployable. That's what most free speech people think, and all these semantic points, false definitions and straw men are kind of a waste of time


You seem to believe the phrase "freedom of speech doesn't mean freedom from consequences" implicitly justifies all possible consequences. It doesn't, it merely implies that speech doesn't exist in a vacuum, and that the consequences of speech often, themselves, are as much a manifestation of free expression as the original speech.

Your own counterclaim, however, that "freedom from anything means freedom from the consequences of that thing" does not even allow for the reasonable, non-arbitrary consequences you're supporting, here.

You, I and tw04 are actually in violent agreement, but it seems your politics doesn't allow you to concede the possibility that the "other side" can hold a reasonable opinion.


It's not clear that you and zimablue are in agreement unless you agree that the level consequences people are currently experiencing is excessive.

For a lot of us here, the phrase "free speech doesn't mean freedom from consequences" comes across (not unreasonably) as support for firing trump supporters or people who question system racism (etc.) which is both unjust and foolish for a number of reasons.

We also need to consider whether it is just to fire someone for something offensive (but not illegal) they did offline that was surreptitiously recorded and uploaded to the Internet to feed mob outrage.


> It's not clear that you and zimablue are in agreement unless you agree that the level consequences people are currently experiencing is excessive.

I actually would agree with that, but I disagree that any consequence is always excessive.

>For a lot of us here, the phrase "free speech doesn't mean freedom from consequences" comes across (not unreasonably) as support for firing trump supporters or people who question system racism (etc.) which is both unjust and foolish for a number of reasons.

I think it is unreasonable, or at least uncharitable, to assume the most extreme interpretation possible of a phrase simply because you disagree with the politics of the people using it.

That's exactly the sort of thing "a lot of us here" accuse progressives or "the left" of doing to them.


> I actually would agree with that, but I disagree that any consequence is always excessive.

Fair enough.

> I think it is unreasonable, or at least uncharitable, to assume the most extreme interpretation possible of a phrase simply because you disagree with the politics of the people using it.

I disagree that it was unreasonable or extreme. "Free speech doesn't mean freedom of consequences" is mutually exclusive of the statement "free speech does mean freedom from at least some consequences". You cannot logically support both statements.

It's also the slogan that is very commonly used to justify these cancellations. I think it's worth point out that the initial comment by wGeF7H8Z59y985y (not zimablue) was clearly framing things in the context of people losing their jobs over their political opinions.


The implication that "abstract" discussion is acceptable seems to condone dog whistling, especially given that protesting much of that speech could be considered "redefining words or misinterpreting statements in a nakedly disingenuous way", as that coded redefinition by the speaker is literally what dog whistles require, but seems disingenuous outside of that context.


That's true and the nature of language is such that there are constantly evolving dog whistles and methods of expression, but dog whistles aren't directed harrassment so I would basically allow them. Feel free not to vote for a dog whistling politician but I don't think one should not employ/fire/cancel someone for dog whistling that they believe some unfashionable or objectionable view.


> Feel free not to vote for a dog whistling politician but I don't think one should not employ/fire/cancel someone for dog whistling that they believe some unfashionable or objectionable view.

I mean, that's literally what not voting for someone is - choosing to not hire them. But that's semantics.

I'm not sure how you draw the lines on all this - if someone is spending all day tell their Jewish co-worker they need to stop the "international bankers", is that OK? Is speaking hatefully in the abstract about a group of people acceptable?


"Jew bankers" is a nasty slur. But is it a slur because It's unfair to Jews to call bankers Jews, or to call Jews bankers, or unfair to bankers to call bankers Jews, or to call Jews bankers?

If you attack a person or a race by accusing them of misbehaviors, that doesn't mean it's wrong to oppese misbehaviors!


But that's not the dog-whistle - that's too overt. There's apparently a line here when things switch, when things switch from "direct harassment" to simply "objectionable". I'm curious as to where that is.


I think that elected representatives are a special category in this, whilst technically you employ them they’re operating democracy not capitalism, so it’s different in many ways- it’s more reasonable to judge their character, the power imbalance is in their favor, positive discrimination for elected representatives seems more reasonable etc etc.

The lines will always be a little blurred, but international bankers isn’t a synonym for Jews, it might be a dog whistle but it would only be a problem for me if they know the colleague is Jewish and do this day in day out after being asked to stop.

I think so much of this discussion is wasted, and we’d be more productive just to pick a few examples and argue on them about whether we shift the line.

Eg. For me Damore shouldn’t have been fired and that’s when I realized that the woke thing wasn’t a right wing straw man, it really was running big Corp America


> Freedom of speech isn't freedom from consequences of that speech.

Yes, it does, actually. That is, in fact, the definition of freedom of speech.


The consequence of speech should be speech.


So no advocating for policies, laws or actions anymore?


There's a difference between advocating for political change, and ruining someone's life.


There are connections between the two though, annoyingly often. Advocating for a policy change that will ruin some people's lives. Advocating for a status quo that will ruin some people's lives. Advocating for some group of people to be fired. It doesn't make sense to see speech just as a consequence-less thing, in both directions.


You have to draw the line somewhere, right? Otherwise you get into slippery slope territory where eg. you can argue anyone who's not protesting for BLM are implicitly supporting the cops, and therefore are ruining black people's lives.


Sure. Not everything warrants a reaction, impact of speech highly depends on the speaker and context and reactions can be not proportionate. But I don't think a blanket "speech shouldn't have consequences" really works, because it will often have them, and often is intended to have them.


Ideally policies should be based on facts and reason, not just speech.


But speech and opinion-forming plays naturally a large role in it, especially in a democratic system. Lots of speech does have consequences (and lots of it is intended to have consequences that aren't just speech without further consequences). Speech shouldn't have consequences just doesn't work as an absolute position IMHO, and if it isn't then it's harder to explain that counter-speech isn't allowed to have consequences. (I'm explicitly not saying that every consequence is acceptable or justified)


Blatant opinion shaping is corruption of democratic system. Democracy should be driven by informed decision, not by stupid propaganda.


How about freedom of thought? Am I still allowed to have that?


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