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I'm Telling: Employer-Tattling and the Decline of Agency (decomplecting.org)
53 points by canweriotnow on June 9, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 65 comments

I think the core problem here is we have someone (Shanley) who is allowed to attack people on the basis of their gender, class, profession, etc. [e.g. https://twitter.com/ryan/status/474791621100199936 ]

An example relevant to HN is:


"HN is fucking obsessed with me lol. what is wrong with you little boys? mad cuz i'm cute and would NEVER talk to you or know you exist?"

Yet, this person is still able to get an employer to fire one of their employees for engaging in the same behavior she does.

Is it just me that feels people who attack people on the basis of their gender shouldn't be able to get people fired for doing the same thing?

Edit: I was trying to say the consequences should be equal. I probably should have said the reverse in my question at the end there since it seemed to lead to confusion. [e.g. Both should be fired since consequences should be equal for equally bad behavior]

For that particular tweet: this is what we call trolling. Shanley's MVC (which is a very interesting site that everyone should read, its proprietor notwithstanding) has a "feature" where they highlight the worst and most clueless comment on HN of the month. This entire imbroglio has doubtlessly netted MVC a very rich upcoming "worst of HN" piece. Joy.

Substantively: why should the previous behavior of the reporter matter one bit? If someone does something bad, whether a person complaining about it is "good" or "bad" is sort of besides the point, and digging into how evil that person is amounts to an all-too-transparent attempt at deflection. Shanley, for better or for worse, takes advantage of that to generate news. That means that even if you get provoked, external observers won't and shouldn't care enough to get caught up in whether Shanley's a bad person or not. (Your takeaway, by the way, should be "do not engage" because she's communicating with an audience that's not-you when she engages with you. Also: all comments on this story amount to engagement, hence the heavy flagging.)

My sympathy for the fired guy is very limited. He clearly fucked up, and immediately knew it and took it down (before she even posted her screenshot, it seems), either because a friend told him he was out of line or he realized it himself. Which does elicit a bit of sympathy from me, and if I were in her shoes, I'd have let it slide--there's more than enough misogyny in tech than to need to scrape the bottom of the barrel here. Despite that, he did fuck up. Freedom of speech is not an issue: if he had posted a long stream of tweets calling for Jews to be slaughtered, no one would be upset that his company let him go. She has just as much freedom-to-report-speech as he has freedom-to-insult-speech, and freedom of association is an equally important right.

I think it's clear he realized soon after he posted that he did something wrong, either because a friend told him he was out of line or he realized it himself. Getting him fired doesn't help him realize more that he did something wrong.

I think the main point is the precedent that Jon Snoeder tweeted about. This isn't to just punish the fired guy. It's to set an example to everyone else about what would happen if you are out of line.

We saw his retweets and insults, for example retweeting someone calling her "animal". No, he didn't accidentally slip up with a single tweet.

That's straight-up whining. She doesn't deserve to be called a "ct" but insults because of her behavior are perfectly valid.

> Substantively: why should the previous behavior of the reporter matter one bit?

If someone is actively baiting people on the basis of gender, it should have equal consequences regardless of the speaker's gender.

> My sympathy for the fired guy is very limited.

I never said he shouldn't have been fired. I think the problem is trolls can provoke people to the point they get fired and the trolls suffer no repercussions which is a point I should have made clearer, my apologies.

She's an entrpreneur, and has a small but healthy Gittip stream. So, she can freely troll without major economic repercussions.

That also presumes the trolling is as bad as the offense, I don't think it is.

When a person consistently trolls on the basis of gender and race, like Shanley does, I'm uncertain why you think that is not "as bad" except because a woman is doing it?

The employer doesn't care because no one on the internet is going to look into the backstory.

It's realpolitik my friend, if you don't engage trolls you can't be bitten by them.

I thought it was all about the noopolitic these days.

I guess. I just don't like the idea of cowering in fear because trolls will be trolls.

No no, don't cower in fear, change tactics.

To what?

Pointing out a troll's hypocritical behavior seems to be the only one that is effective with both trolls and rational people.

This doesn't work. It gives the troll and their followers more fodder to troll about.

The only winning move is not to play. Completely ignoring them.

I have no idea because I have no idea what your objective is...

Which eludes to my original point of why one would engage with them... what did he hope to accomplish?

> I have no idea because I have no idea what your objective is...

I'd like to see equal, proportional response regardless of gender or the size of your soapbox.

> Which eludes to my original point of why one would engage with them... what did he hope to accomplish?

You'd have to ask him that :/

Not if the troll's entire audience doesn't care if (or won't accept that) their troll leader is hypocritical.

> Is it just me that feels people who attack people on the basis of their gender shouldn't be able to get people fired for doing the same thing?

I certainly don't agree with that logic in general. If the offense was valid (which I don't think it is in your specific example), I am fine with offenders reporting other offenders. For example, I am fine with a murderer turning in another murderer.

Did you miss the edit? I was trying to avoid changing it to avoid confusing what I was trying to say further :/

But that's basically saying "all employers should have exactly the same standards for when to fire someone" which is silly.

If you feel "insulting people on the basis of their gender" isn't something that should be universally vilified and cause for firing someone....I'm really not sure what to say beyond making sure that is what you mean?

I suggest you be careful with your jokes or they'll put you on their list: http://www.ashedryden.com/blog/weve-all-got-a-list

The people you've mentioned curate their own echo chamber. If you read their Twitter stream you can see that they block anybody who even tries to engage them from an ignorant-but-skeptical point of view. Then they crow to their followers about the ignorant "bros" they block to gain plaudits. It's a toxic atmosphere that is best avoided entirely.

This isn't the decline of agency, it's feminism and anti-racism creating agency for oppressed people.

Traditionally, if a woman or ethnic minority is being harassed in their workplace, they are unable to speak out against it for fear of being fired by their bosses. In this sense, capitalist hierarchies (as the author identifies) are used to enforce gender and race hierarchies.

Now that it's become unacceptable to be outwardly racist or sexist, capitalist hierarchies are occasionally used to stop oppressive behavior. This is still rare, and not at all at the level it should be, but this is a positive trend. Just as we as a society decided that public segregation was not acceptable in the 1960s, we as a society are currently in the process of deciding that private bigotry is not acceptable.

What the author is really calling for any conflict between privileged and oppressed people to be limited to exactly those people -- which of course means the privileged person wins.

The author misses exactly the point of liberatory social struggle: to reduce the agency of privileged people, in favor of expanding the agency of oppressed people.

(As an aside, to appeal to class when discussing software engineers is laughable. I'll take the author seriously on this when he starts organizing a union for developers in his workplace.)

This is arguing the ends justify the means. Allow me to quote a relevant section of the article as to why this is a bad idea.

> Appealing to capital to enforce one’s political agenda (no matter how noble that agenda might be) implicitly places that agenda as reliant upon and subject to capital itself. It’s just plain bad politics.

> ...it sets a terrible precedent. It expands the role of the employer to managing the totality of our lives, rather than limiting that influence to our professional lives. It changes us from professionals into frightened children.

This rings very hollow to me. When I was in school we were constantly reminded that employers would mine our social media and that we need always police ourselves to ensure we were maximally employable. This xkcd reflects that sentiment: http://xkcd.com/137/

I would also point out that virtually all liberal activism is an appeal to some authority to enforce political ends. All electoralism, even, conservative or liberal, is an attempt to appeal to an authority to enforce political ends.

The author doesn't seem like enough of a radical to be able to make the claim that political action should be entirely self-contained direct action; if he is he's misguided for thinking that tactical use of capital or electoral resources makes the political movement in any way subservient to those resources! Resources are resources and anyone with political (or indeed any) goals should use all those available to her.

There is a slight difference between name-calling and oppression. Oppression can only be done from a position of power, and it stabilizes the power of the oppressing. Namecalling can be done by any person who wants to do it, because it does not presuppose or enforce any kind of power relation.

Pure namecalling can be differentiated from libel/slander (saying things that are discreditable), abuse of employees (which presupposes and enforces an extant power relation) or ethnic or sexual discrimination (where the offender encourages the public to discredit a whole group of people).

Claiming that all men are potential rapists would be both slanderous and discriminatory. Calling someone a cunt or a dick on the internet is a public display of immaturity, whichever the sex of the calling and/or of the callee. Insinuating that such namecalling is slanderous is ridiculous, and the claim that it's sexual discrimination doesn't ring true to me. Obviously repeated and insistent immature behaviour towards someone would constitute harassment, but we're not talking of that either - we're talking of someone writing a tweet and then deleting it shortly after.

It's also outside of the sphere where working conditions within a company are affected - someone writing and then deleting a tweet is hardly having a lasting influence. Which means that it's not within the obvious interest of an employer to maintain good working conditions.

What role is the employer then fulfilling? It is an agent for the privilege of female outrage, a modern "lese majeste" that, through the construction of women as an oppressed minority (spoiler: they're not a minority and more of those that speak out are annoyed than oppressed), allows an ill-meaning person to terrorize people without fear of reprisal.

You're also using a different definition of agency: the author uses agency as a term for responsible action by the person (her|him)self, whereas you include people acting on your behalf. The idea of female hypoagency is exactly that women have less of the former and more of the latter than men do, and a widespread criticism of (a particular variety of) feminism is that it reinforces female hypoagency while outwardly claiming a goal of achieving equality. To which the proponents of that particular variety of feminism reply that females need to be more equal than the others, because they are an underprivileged group.

> There is a slight difference between name-calling and oppression. Oppression can only be done from a position of power, and it stabilizes the power of the oppressing. Namecalling can be done by any person who wants to do it, because it does not presuppose or enforce any kind of power relation.

A man using misogynist slurs against a woman seems to be oppressive by any reasonable metric.

Based on the rest of your comment, it seems you are confused as to what oppression is, if you think men are somehow oppressed by feminism. Awakening as a feminist is the most liberatory action I have experienced in my entire life as a man. It has made every aspect of my life better and if you are a man and continue to be a reactionary and an anti-feminist I genuinely pity you. I hope you have enough sense to stop holding the proverbial fire hose on the civil rights protest. I hope you can find it in your heart to let go of privilege, whatever the benefits to you personally might be, in favor of tolerance, love and respect for your fellow humans, and forward-thinkingness.

I think many bristle against feminism for exactly the reasons you give: they want tolerance and respect instead of blame. The blame-language is endemic to the feminist literature - e.g. men are 'privileged' when they exercise ordinary rights that women would like to share.

>The blame-language is endemic to the feminist literature - e.g. men are 'privileged' when they exercise ordinary rights that women would like to share.

I don't follow. Is the act of being able to exercise basic human rights not a privilege if others are denied those rights? Why the scare quotes?

If some baseline human right can be defined as a privilege, then there still needs to be terminology to distinguish it from undeserved privilege so that it can be properly addressed. Undeserved male privilege should be eradicated, but basic human rights and dignity should be extended to all. I have seen some people make this distinction and some not when using this term.

For most of feminism "privilege" was not a concept. There is only the concept of oppression and possibly of rights. The introduction of "privilege" came to try to explain oppression to men in ways they could more easily stomach, and is something I personally tend to avoid because I'm not shy about confronting men with the damages of masculinity.

You'll notice that framing many things in terms of privilege removes the concept of the oppressor. Men oppress women though rape and sexual harassment, but a privilege notion frames this in terms of "men have the privilege not to be raped or sexually harassed", is a passive-voice esque weasel.

So, if you're confused, just think in terms of oppression. Oppression needs to be eradicated. Any advantages stemming from oppression of women will be eradicated with the oppression that enforces them.

Of course, if what you really care about is not liberatory social justice, but playing language-lawyer to avoid confronting the ways in which you, personally, oppress women and benefit from the oppression of women, this will not help you; you will not become a wiser and better person; you will be left in the dustbin of history with the people who opposed integration of public schools and gay marriage.

Choose carefully.

I don't mean to play at anything, and I'm not confused. But its off-putting to begin a conversation by accusing those who are essentially as innocent as the oppressed. And to offend or annoy those who are meant to be recruited to the cause is perhaps not the best process to a desirable outcome. Especially as the premise is, these are the people holding all the cards.

I understand the point of it, and the injustice. But the attitude projected is one of "you are doing it wrong, and you need to be corrected". When I know dang well its right and correct to work hard. I have little control over who gives me 'privileges' which look pretty much like the goal I am working toward (getting the contract, the job, the promotion).

And it never occurred to me to consider not-rape as the right being foisted as a 'privilege'. That's not what it says in the brochure anyway.

All men that are not active feminists, that are not actively doing everything they can to undermine and destroy their privilege, are not "as innocent as the oppressed." You aren't going to get a cookie for not beating your wife recently. Feminism is not that easy; being a male ally to women isn't that easy. The point of the concept of privilege was to force men to reflect on how they benefit, usually without their active intervention, from patriarchy.

>And to offend or annoy those who are meant to be recruited to the cause is perhaps not the best process to a desirable outcome. Especially as the premise is, these are the people holding all the cards.

I know it can be hard to imagine, because it was once hard for me to imagine, but men are actually entirely tangential to feminism. There are enough women that all feminism needs to do to succeed is win a baseline amount of political power and then command vast numbers of women. This has already happened to the degree to which it has and it is responsible for all social change won by feminism.

Freedom can never be given. It can only be taken. Either by oppressors who take it away, or by the liberatory struggle that takes it back.

As in any political struggle, no individual person or even group of people hold "the cards", the cards are a socialogical construct that the ideology with the most memetic power has control over.

Also, you do indeed have control over whether you access privilege. This is more apparent in some situations than others; a good example is culture fit. If you are interviewing and the interviewer makes a misogynist joke, do you laugh (exploiting your privilege, as a man, both to laugh at the joke and to be told it in the first place) or do you call the interviewer out on his misogyny? When you start, do you join in objectifying women with your co-workers, do you meekly avoid the issue, or do you confront it?

The degree to which you have privilege is the degree to which you make yourself an ally of the patriarchy. You can be a good ally, you can try not to take positive action (in which case you cannot be called a good ally, but you cannot be said to be helping feminism either, siding as you are with the status quo), or you can sabotage patriarchy at every chance you encounter.

An awful lot of feminists take the concept of privilege seriously as its own concept, if you're such a great ally maybe you should consider the great wealth of academic literature on the subject written by them instead of just writing it off as a weaseley way to explain oppression.

That's the dirty word, used to explain that men aren't owed anything, its all unearned respect and undeserved rights.

If they aren't owed then I guess women don't need them either, right?

Would you say a woman using gender-based insults against a man to be considered oppressive when she has the power to have men fired?

Are we really achieving equality for women and ethnic minorities when we are using the old system's punishments on so-called privileged classes though? You do not achieve equality for oppressed people by oppressing the former oppressors. This is not a positive trend, this is still bullying.

New system, same as the old system.

The old system's punishments are not oppressive in a vacuum. Firing someone is obviously not always oppressive. Oppression is created by a hierarchical social context, not by any isolated act.

You'll note that this person wasn't fired because they spoke out against women objectifying him in his workplace, he was fired because he was using misogynist slurs on social media and generating negative publicity for his company.

It's often difficult for technical people to think of social justice correctly, because we're used to seeing things in terms of very reduced concepts. When we think of social justice we have to think in terms of social relationships, not of individual actions. Actions that are oppressive in one context can be liberatory in others.

Agency is not a zero sum game. We don't have to reduce the agency of 'privileged' people. We just have to resist oppressive behavior.

You're right that agency is not zero sum, but in this case we can see privilege as having enhanced agency in some areas (ability to call women names on social media with impunity, ability to command higher salaries, ability to get into better schools, etc.) and oppression as not having agency in those areas.

Resisting oppressive behavior is limiting the agency of privileged people to oppress others.

You can construct some notion of agency that doesn't say these words, but at the end of the day you're reducing the amount of available actions and that is reducing agency. Sometimes it is good to reduce agency.

You are conflating agency and privilege. In the case of resisting oppression, the available actions are unchanged, but the consequences are different.

This is a weak sort of agency. Indeed I'm able to resist capitalist oppression by not working, but if the consequences are that I starve to death than I hardly see that as a reasonable outcome.

I think this is an uninteresting definitional question at this point, though. If I'm misusing agency than so is the author of this piece; the important thing is that we be able to communicate, which I think is possible. If you want to further nitpick specific words to garner karma, do it with someone else.

There are lots of other things you can do to resist capitalist oppression - e.g. Unionize, or create other kinds of social support. A strawman isn't very useful.

I'm sorry you've chosen to be accusatory instead of reasonable.

Agency seems to be zero-sum to me. If I can command 100s of people who have to do whatever I please, then granting them freedom reduces my freedom.

Giving someone freedom necessarily reduces the freedom of those who previously took advantage of their lack of freedom.

Agency is not zero sum. That's why you couldn't use it to make your argument and had to switch to using the word 'freedom' to construct a straw man.

Plese educate me on the difference, as (at least in this context) they seem to be interchangable.


To clarify, consider a hypothetical total autocracy, where the autocrat makes a decision, and everyone's behavior is altered by various means. By my reasoning, the autocrat has collected everyone's agency to themself.

Maybe it's not a perfect zero-sum, as you have inefficiencies in the system, but it does seem that you reach a point at which increasing one person's agency happens only at the expense of reducing others'

Your example of the autocrat who has a magical means to alter everyone's behavior is totally artificial and has no corollary in the real world, and therefore isn't relevant to the real world concept of agency.

Given that it is possible to alter people's behavior via non-magical means, I disagree that it's "totally artificial"

Well then specify the means, and make it a real example.

Wow! Is this for real or a white dread, lesbian, earth first parady?

What a load of crap. Shanley spews rude, toxic, curse-laden streams of hatred at people in the tech industry with her every waking-hour.

When someone returns the favor she has them stripped of their livelihood, tries to ensure he can't ever return to the industry, and then tweets her delight over the situation.

You want to talk privilege? How about Shanley is the founder and owner of a successful media company vs. this guy was a lowly contracting programmer at a startup nobody's heard of? How is Shanley at all oppressed in comparison to this dude?

Is this 3rd grade? "I use put-downs on other people to build myself up!" How about you don't reduce _anyone's_ agency and instead work to lift everyone up to the same level. Your zero-sum approach to gender equality solves nothing while increasing resentment, mistrust, and hatred.

Right on brother man.

Has this guy not been around on the internet long?

Everyone knows not to feed the trolls. They have no real power so they will try to get you fired, order pizza to your house, etc.

Best to ignore them and do something productive.

Livestream firing an employee for off-work conduct is just as morally wrong as Shanley was for tattling. Calling someone a cunt is certainly not nice, but it's miles away from firing someone or getting someone fired. It's not even in the same ballpark.

That said, he should've known better and used an anonymous account if he really wanted to make comments that might be dangerous to his well-being.

If you follow the stream, not only does the tattler go after the person and get him fired, she stays at it trying to make him unemployable. Strange.

What I can never comprehend is how so many people have the time to argue with each other on twitter and such.

What people on twitter can never comprehend is how so many people have the time to argue with each other on HN and such.

It doesn't take any more time than it took you to make that comment.

I'm surprised you can get fired in the UK for this. Though, livestream seems to be a US company so maybe he was a contractor.

The person that was let go has a profile that says Contractor: https://twitter.com/zivcjs

So I'd assume contractor.

Honest question, how does a comment like this get you fired? I mean, beyond the person calling for your head.

Since when do personal statements translate into firing offenses at your place of work?

I'm from the "I May Not Agree With What You Say, But I’ll Fight For Your Right to Say It" camp and things like this honestly confuse me.

To clarify, I think what he said was morally wrong.

The article omits a lot which might cause people to disagree with it.

For instance, @zivcjs aggressively harassed her, retweeting attackers calling her "animal" and I believe "psychob---h". He also deleted many of his tweets.

Furthermore, such harassment campaigns generally cause an increase in the violent threats they already normally receive. It contributes to an environment where women are terrorized and chased out of the industry. And imagine a woman having to work with this harasser.

As for economic oppression, he crows about "Non-stop phone calls" with so many job offers that he's "struggling to remember who sent what." (https://twitter.com/zivcjs)

But that still leave my original question.

Assuming his job is not PR (I don't know or care to know him), how would his behaviour during non-company time translate into being fired?

Mind you, it sounds like he's a real pleasant person that I'd totally get along with. /s

Appealing to emotions!

Because other people think like him, he is harassing her. Nice logic.

The bonus point is: because other people think I'm an asshole, they're harassing me. That totally made my day.

At least he got a job with an employer that can defend employees against pogroms. Good for him.

Please. If his tweet with a naughty word constitutes a "harassment campaign" that contributes to an environment where someone is terrorized then what are we calling the streams of hatred Shanley and her group spew towards Ryan Block, Marc Andreesen, Paul Graham, etc.?

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