Just A Couple Of Questions About Lynch Mobs

If you're somebody who supports privacy and freedom of conscience, do you think it's healthy for a republic to have a political media that digs up wrongthink statements by random nobodies, then amplifies the statements to expose the random nobodies to ridicule or financial ruin by thousands of angry strangers?

And if you've participated in such ridicule, do you feel better, months later, knowing that you helped cost that random nobody a job, all over a poorly expressed statement on the internet?

Last 5 posts by Patrick Non-White


  1. bazzar says

    yes, but only when that nobody is one of those who digs up wrongthink statements by random nobodies.
    Fuck you Gawker.

  2. Chris says

    I'm not a fan in general of public shaming, but I'm also not going to pretend that statements that people voluntarily make public are somehow transmuted into part of their right to privacy by virtue of being unpopular.

  3. says

    We're going to have to rethink privacy, and responsibility, as people now that we have an internet.

    I participated in Justine Sacco's lynch mob, regretted it after a couple of hours, and have been ashamed of that ever since.

  4. Irrelevant says

    It seems to me that the major adjustment to the internet that needs to (and crucially, can) be done here is on the corporate side: companies need to learn to resist the impulse to "DO SOMETHING NAO" and how to distinguish between accidentally setting off the Twitter flash mob of the hour and sustained misconduct.

  5. Chris says

    1. I think that people have an absolute right to be as stupid as they would like to be in their speech.

    2. I think that it's problematic that the public, through the internet, extrapolates from individual bad acts or unpopular statements that the actors/speakers are Bad People.

    3. I think that, in general, people have a right to decline to associate with people or firms that espouse viewpoints that they find abhorrent.

    4. I think that in the face of public, intemperate statements by prominent employees, firms are justified in taking action to quell public relations issues by firing those employees.

  6. Castaigne says

    If you're somebody who supports privacy and freedom of conscience

    Privacy: I do not believe privacy exists on the Internet. There is no difference between the Internet and the public square; the only computational privacy is a computer that is not connected to the Internet at all. Everything you do here is as if you shouted it out in public, in regards to social media.

    Freedom of Conscience: If by this you mean "the right to follow one’s own beliefs in matters of religion and morality", then certainly – so long as it does not violate the law. However, you are subject to the full consequences of practicing your freedom of conscience in the public/Internet; be mindful of your public audience.

    do you think it's healthy for a republic to have a political media that digs up wrongthink statements by random nobodies, then amplifies the statements to expose the random nobodies to ridicule or financial ruin by thousands of angry strangers?

    The same consequences happen if you blair stupid shit in the public square. Those who hear you will ridicule you for your stupid shit. Some will not serve you. Some will fire you. This is, however, limited to those who can hear you.

    On the internet, EVERYONE can hear you and thus the magnitude of the consequences are exponentially increased. This this "financial ruin" is merely the magnified version of doing the same thing on a loudspeaker in Times Square.

    And if you've participated in such ridicule, do you feel better, months later, knowing that you helped cost that random nobody a job, all over a poorly expressed statement on the internet?

    I didn't participate – I'm not on Twitter – but no, I feel no sympathy for Sacco. She was stupid enough to be public with her distasteful jokes; she deserves exactly what she gets for doing it in public.

    We're going to have to rethink privacy, and responsibility, as people now that we have an internet.

    Yes. And the rethink that needs to be promoted is "There is no privacy on the internet. Your responsibility for your actions on the internet is the same as that of the public square."

  7. Castaigne says


    #2: I would counter with, "You are what you say." No one can tell what you believe, who you are, what type of person you are, except by your actions and statements. If you make statements or commit actions that people perceive to be transgressive, then that is what you are.

    #4: I agree entirely.

  8. says

    I think we can probably all agree that (1) it's reasonable for there to be consequences for somebody saying something stupid and offensive but (2) oftentimes Internet outrage campaigns lead to consequences that are vastly disproportionate to the crimethink.

    Sacco's in PR and should have known better than to publicly make jokes about AIDS, Africa, and race. Given her role as a public face of her company, the company had every right (and incentive) to discipline her, even if she was not speaking in her capacity as an employee.

    Firing her was excessive. Doing it while they knew she was on an international flight is just rude and unprofessional.

    And that's just the firing, nevermind the verbal abuse and harassment.

    Like a lot of things, I think the issue here boils down to "Be a fucking grownup." It's okay to criticize people who say dumb shit on the Internet — but if dozens, hundreds, or thousands of people are already doing that, maybe you don't need to join in, and if you do, you can be polite and respectful in your criticism even if they weren't polite or respectful in their original remarks.

    Contacting employers and asking them to discipline their employees for stuff they said on the Internet is almost always a hit below the belt. There are cases where it may be warranted, but they're few and far between.

    I think Patrick's comment about "rethinking privacy" is a biggie. We're in a moment of major upheaval right now, and people are still figuring this shit out. I wonder what it's going to look like ten, twenty, thirty years from now, with a generation of people who grew up with social media and who ALL have something stupid and permanent in their online history that they'd rather people not talk about. Does that mean they won't be so quick to jump on other people's stupid remarks? Eh, probably not. But they may be less likely to criticize people for shit they said years ago.

  9. Jon Marcus says

    @Castaigne, she made the same kind of joke that Stephen Colbert and Trey Parker make all the time. Her sin was lousy delivery.

    For most of us, that doesn't matter. You say you don't use Twitter (neither do I) so maybe you're not aware that the audience for most tweets is perhaps a dozen people. So the analogy is less "blair*"-ing a message in a public square. It's much more like when one loudly says something stupid at a party during a conversational lull. There is much greater but similarly knowable consequence.

    *Hah, you misspelled "blare"…in public! Now you must be shamed!!!

  10. JohnMcG says


    Here's what the comany's calculation

    (Publicity hit of retaining employee) >?< (Publicity hit of firing employee) + (value of the employee)

    By firing the employee, the company gets the mob (sorry) off its back, and maybe some positive attention.

    The downsides are more diffuse — maybe it will be seen as a less desirable employer, maybe current employees will be scared away.

    There are cases (Chick-Fil-A, Memories Pizza) where companies have been rewarded for not backing down, but that's probably not a sustainable model.

    We could press for the firing of the managers who approved the firings, but that's a two wrongs make a right type of thinking.

    I'm not sure how the balance of incentives will be changed.

  11. Jacob H says

    I try not to participate in the shaming of random nobodies, but of course when it come to public figures, all bets are off.

    The problem we are starting to have in the internet age is: Who's a public figure? Obviously any elected official fits the bill, but what about someone elected to student government at a college? What about the head of PR for some random tech company (remember the Mozilla CEO and the Ocean Marketing guy?)? What about someone who just has 1000x the normal # of Twitter followers? What about 100x?

    It used to be that a public figure was basically just somebody who had been on TV, including C-SPAN and ESPN. Now, who knows…

  12. David C says

    This this "financial ruin" is merely the magnified version of doing the same thing on a loudspeaker in Times Square.

    Not quite, because these people don't have millions of followers – they even don't own a metaphorical loudspeaker. It's more like they're talking in Times Square and someone else who does have a loudpeaker records what they say and broadcasts it. Sure, they're talking in the public square where anyone could hear them, and they know this, but ordinarily the vast majority of people *don't* hear them and they have no reason to think that this particular statement is any different.

    If you're a spectator sitting in section 499 at a sports event and you say something dumb to the guy next to you, you expect him and the people around you to hear it – you don't expect it to be shown on the Jumbo-tron.

  13. JohnMcG says


    Well, that's sort of true.

    If I'm having an affair, I may expect some anonymity taking my paramour to ballgame with 30,000 other people.

    If the "Kiss Cam" catches us, and my affair is thus exposed, have I been done wrong?

    Probably not, because it was likely not maliciously intended. More than likely, the camera was just pointing at random couples. Even if the camera person recognized be, and focused on me specifically to expose my affair, I don't think most people would be sympathetic.

    The problem with Twitter is that it's a collection of communities with different standards of behavior and formality. What the Twitter storms do is like recording something said at a happy hour table, and then playing it at church.

    People will probably get more savvy about joking with their friends using more private media, and maybe that will be all. But know that what we are punishing isn't racism, sexism, etc., but lack of technical sophistication.

  14. Chris says

    Considering how often this type of thing occurs, if your expectation is that your tweets will be private or semi-private then you need to revise your expectations. It's not like you're required to use Twitter rather than a more private messaging system.

  15. David C says

    Considering how often this type of thing occurs

    For the average person it never happens. How many people do you think have made inappropriate tweets, and how many have faced major consequences?

  16. Chris says

    For the average person it never happens.

    I'm not talking about the likelihood that it will happen to a given Twitter user. I'm talking about the frequency of the phenomenon itself. Couple that with the heavy publicity that examples of the phenomenon receive, I think it's fair to say that Twitter users are on notice that what they're tweeting is, in fact, not actually private or semi-private.

  17. neal says

    Bare teeth. Throw feces. Beat your chest, and bang heads. Very post modern.

    Maybe should have stayed in the trees, and howled at and with the starry stuff.

    I do not see how frontal lobes and opposable thumbs can improve on the old game.

    Lost your wings. Maybe should have held out for a better deal.

  18. Jackson Marten says

    Ironically I just left a comment on this exact topic in the previous thread.

    No, this kind of thing is not acceptable, no, it should not be participated in, and yes, it should be a source of shame.

    I do think we need to have a long, hard think about privacy in the digital age, and if news media should be able to essentially launch nigh-unprovoked assaults on random persons who are, actually, the powerless ones being abused.

    I also think people should stop fucking talking to the media period, but that's a different story. Remember, if you ever speak to a reporter, you are not their friend, or their ally. You are their story, to be held up like a freak, until they put you down and move on to the next chump.

  19. Grock says

    Yes the internet amplifies what is said in public because it is everywhere and it therefore requires a bit more forethought before commenting. It’s generally prudent to pause and reflect if you want to publish a comment associated with your real life identity or under the cloak of anonymity. Primarily because the internet is also inhabited by a number of mentally unbalanced narcissistic trolls who often get their jollies by outing (also known as doxing) someone who they do not agree with. Often times this “dox” includes publishing information that most people would consider private. Said trolls then usually promote the dox and then incite and encourage others to attack the individual they have doxed including calling employers to try to get someone fired.

    Unfortunately, most people do not realize how incredibly easy it is to locate them and uncover pretty much everything about them including their address, address history, unlisted phone #’s, IP address, car and VIN #, arrest records, pictures, property information, voter information, date of birth, relatives, emails, employer, SSN, and social media IDs and comment history.

    Most people usually set up an online identity, even when attempting to be anonymous, that is still loosely linked to their in real life identity. Typically a bit of research on a users handle or email address can easily lead right back to the individual as most people select user names that are connected to some piece of information from their real lives and then use the same identity to comment in multiple forums.

    If anyone wants to experiment, just research yourself on Google and some of the most widely used data aggregator websites such as:


    There are generally speaking about 50 or so such online databases that collect and sell information on people such as address, phone, email, IPs, etc. for a nominal fee. The number of these data aggregators who sell and share information on you grows each year. And, while it’s always prudent to opt out or remove yourself from these data aggregators, the more important step is understanding how the data ends up in those systems to begin with.

    In addition to Acxiom, there are 3 key industry systems used by lawyers, debt collectors, law enforcement, etc. that collect information and then share it outwards. They are LexisNexis, TLO, and ThomsonReuters CLEAR. After opting out of Acxiom’s marketing database, it’s always a useful exercise to request your consumer file from these three main data aggregators. They obtain information on you from the following sources, so if you wish to prevent this, you need to remove or obfuscate your identity from the original data sources as follows:

    1. Address. Establish a separate mailing address using a store front mail service & mailbox. Make sure to send all bills, credit card statements, etc. to this address.
    2. Driver’s license & vehicle registration. Obfuscate by using a storefront mail service mailbox for your address.
    3. Property records/deeds. Obfuscate by placing your real property in a trust or under an LLC.
    4. Phone & utilities. Pay a deposit so you are not required to provide a SSN or real name.
    5. Voter registration. Have this suppressed at the county level, use a separate mailing address, or don’t vote.
    6. Insuring real estate. Obfuscate by naming a trust or using an LLC as the recipient.
    7. Social media. On FaceBook change settings to Friends Only. Bear in mind that use of ANY social media be it FaceBook, Ancestry, Classmates/Reunion, LinkedIn, etc. is a data-point of information collected about you.
    8. Using an LLC for the purchase of any real estate, cars, etc. is always best but not always possible for everyone. If you do establish an LLC make sure to do it in the State of Wyoming or Nevada as they allow a registered agent to act in your stead so that your name is not publicly listed on the LLC.
    9. Use Abine aka Blur for all online purchases. Use this service to obfuscate your email, phone #, and credit card information.
    10. Use some sort of VPN. Not only does this obfuscate your IP but it provides an added layer of security.
    11. Court records. File a motion to have them sealed if possible.
    12. Email. It goes without saying do not use an email that contains your real name or any part of your address or other identifying information.

    After obtaining your consumer file from LexisNexis and looking at the above steps, most people (1) grab a stiff drink (2) sigh and give up on attempting to truly be anonymous on the internet. It CAN be done but it’s not easy and takes a great deal of time to remove information and serious discipline to keep it from reappearing. And, unfortunately what I’ve included above is only a portion of what is out there. Obtaining your consumer file from LexisNexis is usually an eye opening jaw dropping moment for most people when they begin to realize just exactly how much information is being collected about them and how much is available to any determined troll who knows where to look for it.

    If I’ve opened your eyes a bit with this post then . . . mission accomplished.

    Ultimately the most prudent course of action is to never post anything that you’ll later regret and if you feel you absolutely have to let one rip, make sure to do it using a fake username that will not come back to you.

  20. albert says

    I don't see how Saccos firing was overkill. She was "…the senior director of corporate communications at IAC,…". Is this the kind of person I want representing my freakin' INTERNET company? One who doesn't understand that there's no privacy on the internet? One who can't edit her own thoughts. What was she thinking? She wasn't.
    I wouldn't make jokes like that in 'private' emails.
    Folks DO represent the companies they work for, like it or not. Raising firestorms is not acceptable. Do good things (Captain Sullenberger) and you're hailed and rewarded, but ef-up, and you're suddenly the Pariah du jour, unemployed, the person everyone loves to hate.
    The pen is, indeed, mightier than the sword. The keyboard is even worse.

  21. Grock says

    @JohnMcG Yes, most employers are absolutely going to make a calculated move on terminating an employee but most don't even bother to investigate if the claims against their employee are true. It's just easier to fire the employee in most cases. It's not terribly difficult for someone to organize a campaign with a few others to promote such falsehoods hoping the volume of complaints also pushes the employer towards termination as a solution. If they swarm company executives, investors, or customers with complaints, true or false, the company is far more likely to just fix the problem by firing the employee. And, it's very difficult for said employee to seek recourse from whoever made the false allegations, particularly if made anonymously, or to take action against the employer. That costs money and once you've sued a former employer, future employers are far less likely to even entertain hiring you.

  22. Michael Heaney says

    Someone be sure to invite Charles Carreon! He has a good deal to say on the subject!

  23. Jackson Marten says

    @albert – I do not necessarily object purely to Sacco's firing; I object to her firing being instigated by a massive online hit squad, that it occurred without her real knowledge while she was in the air, and that by having her name publicly dragged through the mud in a manner more dramatic than Donald Trump's hair, it permanently damaged all prospects of future employment for her. Have you read the NY Times follow-up on her? Is essentially destroying a woman's life and sending her into a downward spiral of depression (something one of the authors of this blog has also dealt with) a just punishment for a single dumb tweet? Was that not enough, and she should have been literally tarred and feathered on national television for daring to make a dumb joke to a small audience (based on her followers at the time of the joke) on twitter?

    To me, that seems excessive in the death penalty for jaywalking kind of quantum. If you are okay with that, that's fine, but I also expect you to go quit your job immediately and publicly out yourself if you've ever said anything dumb and tasteless on the internet and want to be intellectually consistent.

    Edit: you post on Popehat, which alone is probably enough for some people.

    @JohnMcG – this is the unfortunate truth. Volume is more of a deterrent than actual validity of the complaint. Companies don't lose business for objectively verified reasoning; they lose it because people heard bad things about them (true or false). Another reason that I again advise anyone with a job to, essentially, never post anything on the internet.

  24. Kenny St. John-Smythe says

    It seems there is a large difference between being offended by someone and 1) choosing not to interact or support them and 2) trying to get as many people as possible angry with them and otherwise concretely harming them. One is your own business, the other is an act of aggression.

  25. says

    Don't see where anything useful was accomplished in Sacco's case. Yes, she did stupid things; nothing new under the sun there. Every time this happens – a "flash mob" attempting to shame someone for something they did – it feels like we're getting farther and farther away from being able to have a reasonable discussion about it.

    Public shaming is not combating speech with speech.

  26. jdgalt says

    I'm pretty much with Thad. Public shaming is righteous but getting someone fired is not, unless they did something so bad that the punishment fits the crime (and Curt Schilling's action was excessive).

    Since privacy *has* pretty much gone away whether we like it or not, we need a law setting a short list of OK reasons to fire someone and banning all other reasons. (And similarly for landlords to evict someone from their home.)

  27. Kittens R. Horrid says

    1. Jon Ronson is an asshole. His books make money from exactly this sort of thing. The linked article by Megan McArdle in Bloomberg View is just pushing his most recent book. Don't buy the book.

    2. When people say US-style free speech is a good idea, speech with negative effects on random people (like the Borat movie and the early Daily Show) leads me to the opposite conclusion.

    3. Social media is a bad idea, like public drinking, or open-mic poetry nights. Have you ever developed a positive impression of a non-public figure from their Twitter stream?

  28. En Passant says

    Patrick Non-White:

    … do you think it's healthy for a republic to have a political media that digs up wrongthink statements by random nobodies, then amplifies the statements to expose the random nobodies to ridicule or financial ruin by thousands of angry strangers?

    Healthy? Not particularly. Corrosive? Yes. Fatal to the republic? Probably not. But the phenomenon is not new. Only the medium is new.

    The intarwebz have made it possible for sociopathic random nobodies to somewhat anonymously attract and encourage more angry strangers than ever before to do their personal dirty work against the random nobodies whom they target.

    That's very different from the era when you had to own a printing press and distribute paper, or rouse a mob by public speeches (and broadly disclose your identity) to accomplish similar results. Fewer sociopathic random nobodies were willing to take the risks of exposure inherent in those methods.

    So, today the sociopathic random nobodies appear to have an edge in their quest to wreak havoc in their targets' lives. But the intarwebz offer a countervailing power, if those who don't take kindly to sociopaths wish to fight back on behalf of injured innocent random nobodies.

    Doxxers can be doxxed. Anonymous sociopaths (or even just anonymous fools) can be exposed. One big reason that doesn't happen often is what could be called the "Kitty Genovese effect" or "Genovese syndrome". Bystanders just say "I don't want to get involved."

    Or, as Phil Ochs observed, "I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody outside of a small circle of friends."

  29. mominem says

    I think eventually everyone will become more or less vaccinated to the various internet zelot communities. A real issue is the self reinforcing echo chambers actually come to believe their own myths. Some people actively latch on to certain narratives and demonize anyone who doesn't agree.

  30. Dan Weber says

    (BTW, popehat.com's front page isn't updating when new posts show up; I didn't see this until I got referred from Twitter, which I'm cutting back on)

    One of the big improvements in modern democracy over the past few centuries is that people's punishment can be tied to the severity of the crime.

    With social shaming, there is absolutely no control at all. There are people out there who are just bored and looking for someone to kick in the ribs for a few minutes to give them something fun to do until the next distraction comes along.

    I think there are some people who are targets of the Internet mob who deserved to suffer some kind of repercussions; however, once the internet mob starts, it starts, and you can't turn it off or control it.

    It's essentially extreme punishment entirely at random. If the Internet lottery decided tomorrow to destroy you, kiss your life good-bye. There is no trial, there is no appeal. If you think this is a good sequence of events, I can only call you monstrous.

    The defense is that we need to build into the substrate the concept against online mobs. Not "no online mobs unless the other guy really seems to deserve it," because the other guy always seems to deserve it in the heat of the moment.

  31. Saurs says

    I have a question about hyperbole: do you feel comfortable comparing public embarrassment at being caught out saying racist things with being beaten by a crowd and hung on a branch until your neck is snapped or you die of slow asphyxiation?

  32. says

    I have a question about hyperbole: do you feel comfortable comparing public embarrassment at being caught out saying racist things with being beaten by a crowd and hung on a branch until your neck is snapped or you die of slow asphyxiation?

    We have these technologies, in the 21st century, called analogy and metaphor. I believe that they may even predate the internet, which was invented in the 20th century.

  33. King Squirrel says

    As a random nobody giving my answer to this loaded question from a political media thereby exposing myself to ridicule…. yes.

  34. barry says

    From the title, I thought this was going to be about public support for bringing back 'Twin Peaks'.

  35. nk says

    The internet is a giant garbage can. Ms. Sacco's sin was being in a position to have it dumped on her. Vulnerable. Most people could get away with saying "White people in Africa don't get AIDS because they don't behave like monkeys on Viagra", and anybody who doesn't like it can lump it. They don't depend on the goodwill of the hemorrhoidally-sensitive for anything. On the other hand, if your livelihood depends on the kindness of strangers … watch what you say, watch what you think.

    PS. And I vote for Barry for Best Comment.

  36. Shiver says

    I have no issue with anything that happened with her at the moment. My issue is with the conditioning that leads people to believe that punitive measures should last forever and that a crime in the past should be something everyone has to carry around and wear for all eternity even in the face of change and rehabilitation.

    As for the line of thought around our tech moving faster than our societal notions of privacy and responsibility – absolutely agreed. It's definitely struck me as a collective 'mouth moving faster than the brain can think' kind of thing.

  37. Irrelevant says


    Oh, I realize what the calculations on the company's side are. But which is easier? Convincing people not to form angry Twitter mobs, or to Twitter mob anyone who fires people over a Twitter mobbing until the companies realize their calculations were short-sighted, and that sacrificing employees doesn't help them?

  38. TM says

    We have these technologies, in the 21st century, called analogy and metaphor. I believe that they may even predate the internet, which was invented in the 20th century.

    I am incensed that you would say that words are used in analogy and metaphor or that words drift from their literal meanings or expand to include more meanings and behavior.

    Er, that is to say I'm not actually burning or being set aflame. Also you're not actually speaking at all, you're writing. Well not really writing, you're typing. Not to say you're actually using a typewriter but … well damn it now I'm all sorts of mixed up.

  39. albert says

    @Jackson Marten
    I agree that the blowback was severe and unwarranted, but Sacco pressed the race button. In the US, you don't do that. Comics, rightist political douchebags, and other assorted asshats do it all the time. The mob doesn't know from satire, sarcasm, and hyperbole. They want blood. That's it.
    A corporations success is based on 'perceptions'. Were that not the case, the trillion dollar advertising business would be much smaller than it is. This is why monkeys and astrologers have more success in the stock market than 'experts'. Perceptions are far more important than justice. Modern corporations seldom defend employees actions, even when such actions should be defended.
    There is no justice. All we can give is 'mercy'. Unfortunately, this can't help Sacco now. Here's hoping some super-successful iconoclast hires her.
    The internet _is_ a giant garbage can, but there are some gems in there. It's just that the signal-to-noise ratio is so low that they are hard to find. For some strange reason, folks tend to believe anything they see online, on TV, in the MSM, when should be _questioning_ everything.
    Experience is a very dear teacher indeed.

  40. melK says

    > …she deserves exactly what she gets for doing it in public.

    … you realize that this is the same rationale used when blaming a woman for being raped? "she deserved it because she was wearing slutty clothes." "She deserved it because she wasn't wearing a burka."

    Or "she deserved it" (for a different it) "for daring to use the word 'abortion' in a sentence". … because no matter what your opinion on the subject, someone will rabidly denounce you.

  41. Edward Gemmer says

    A separate but somewhat related question:

    If you participate in the not-a-lynch-mob against, say Ray Rice or the Steubenville rapists, and you hear the victim say she wishes you would not participate in said group, how should you react?

  42. Andrew says

    @jackson I agree with your comments on the way that Justine Sacco was fired. I also read the article in NYTimes. It felt as though her employer was throwing her under the bus to avoid bad publicity being attached to them. I don't think I would want to appoint that firm to any project if they don't have enough decency to wait to interview her about what happened and to give her a chance to express herself as an employee as well as a chance to "resign".

    The linked article shows that shame has its role, and I think that the problem here is the lack of a "responsible adult". Justine's employer failed to take that role, and it is not clear who that entity would be in many situations.

  43. Chris says

    … you realize that this is the same rationale used when blaming a woman for being raped? "she deserved it because she was wearing slutty clothes." "She deserved it because she wasn't wearing a burka."

    People sometimes deserve what happens to them. Conversely, other people don't deserve what happens to them.

  44. babaganusz says

    This needs to be a subject of debate for one of our first podcasts.

    oh, you best not just be teasing us.

  45. Joe says

    Funny. The description should also apply to the Streisand effect …. but, but, but, …. the Streisand effect is our friend!!!

  46. says


    The Streisand effect – when discussed by folks such as Ken – isn't really portrayed in a way that I would describe as "positive" in that sense. Rather, inevitable.

  47. Bartleby the Scrivener says

    Our society was quite socially free for a while, but I am noticing a disturbing trend in the opposite direction, where the idea that speech is free so long as it does not offend the sensibilities of the most sensitive people that might end up hearing (or hearing of) it being the new rule of the day.

    The politest term I can think of for that is 'balderdash', but I am more inclined to use words that refer to the leavings of a cow.

  48. Dan Weber says

    The Streisand effect says that trying to suppress information can often make it more visible. By itself, it has no positive or negative connotations.

    If someone is spreading vicious libel about you, the Streisand Effect warns that, while you are certainly morally and legally allowed to seek legal remedy, it may end up being counterproductive to your goal of removing the vicious libel from view.

  49. says

    According to the Backfire Effect™, that thing where contrary evidence tends to make people dig in their heels more deeply and insist they are correct no matter what you say, the _only_ way to make someone reexamine their point(s) of view is to make them back their position with their ego, then attack their ego.
    So really, we know, deep in our souls, that "shaming someone" is the only way to effect change. This is why the internet is full of trolls and ad hominim lives on.
    The problem is, of course, that the internet lets this truth out of the town square and into the international market. What might be a funny and ironic commentary amongst your peers all to easily becomes a national debacle, not because of what _you_ meant by what you said or did, but because someone else is sure what _they_ _would_ _have_ _meant_ if _they_ did it.
    This is actually just a symptom of the death of "community standards" as brought about by dissolution information in a vast sea of assumption. Everyone assumes that everyone else is just oh so exactly predictable.
    And for that we go directly to "The Illusion of Asymmetric Insight" where humans assume the motives and behaviors of others are completely transparent despite the fact that they know, from their own inner dialog, that they themselves are far more complex than others think.
    So this whole thing is a case of each person believing "I am complex but all of them are simpletons everyone can see right through if they only look".
    Pathological reasoning is pathological, and it can't be fixed by getting all upset about it. 8-)

  50. sinij says

    I grew up in a Soviet block, so assuming that people are after me for having opinions comes naturally. This approach served me well so far.

    My personal concern is that with societal norms constantly shifting, and people willing to dig through your dirty digital laundry, even if you 'behave' at all times, there is no way you can ensure to remain non-target.

  51. sinij says

    "So really, we know, deep in our souls, that "shaming someone" is the only way to effect change."

    You have not met, or have not realized that you have met, good trolls. I would hazard to guess this is because of the white male privilege afforded to you by entrenched patriarchy. The rest of us have to deal with this on a daily basis or risk that our children would go hungry.

  52. JB says

    I think Justine Sacco is a bad example for this. Her tweet was not just "wrongthink" or "dumb," but (a) reflective of a supremely lazy way of thinking, and (b) job-related insofar as she was a PR rep and really should have known better.

    In other words, I can't imagine the mental processes required to think her tweet was funny, or that posting it publicly wouldn't offend people, or that purposely offending random internet people wouldn't result in unpleasant blowback. The only thing surprising about the whole thing to me is the scale.

  53. Robert says

    Adria Richards is Pure Evil. And yes, I participated in "shaming" her.

    My focus was on her original tweeted photo complaint of 4 people where she didn't even identify who it was who told the private comment that she overheard. She was willing to implicate her "attacker" along with three other innocent people. Because "women."

    She deserves to be held up for ridicule. (But not threats, etc.)

  54. Mies says

    What? So now we repudiate The Streisand Effect, the light of day that serves as our best disinfectant?

  55. C. S. P. Schofield says

    What really needs to happen is for the world to start reacting to the cry of "This person is bad because they said 'X'" with a yawn. For this to happen, it would help a good deal for th people accused of badthink to react to the hullabaloo with "So what? Fuck off!". Or at least "I don't believe I was talking to YOU." And for companies to start treating demands that people be fired for bad think with the contempt they deserve.

    I think this will happen, given time. The self-appointed Guardians of rightthink are more tiresome than titillating. And the punch of over-used accusations like Homophobe, Racist, and so forth is evaporating.

    There is a large segment of society that devoutly believes that it has a right to feel comfortable at all times, but I think that they've peaked. At least, I hope so. They have,, after all, committed the cardinal sin of public movements; they have been tiresome.

  56. Robert What? says

    Most modern public "shaming" comes not because someone has crossed over into immoral, unethical or even illegal behavior, but because they hold ideas that go against the current cultural Leftist goodthink.

  57. Careless says

    Her tweet was not just "wrongthink" or "dumb," but (a) reflective of a supremely lazy way of thinking


  58. says

    @Robert White I couldn't tell if you were being sincere with this comment. . .

    So really, we know, deep in our souls, that "shaming someone" is the only way to effect change

    I don't think "we" know that on any level.

  59. Aquillion says

    In other words, I can't imagine the mental processes required to think her tweet was funny, or that posting it publicly wouldn't offend people, or that purposely offending random internet people wouldn't result in unpleasant blowback. The only thing surprising about the whole thing to me is the scale.

    The scale is the core of the issue, though.

    We (and our society) is evolved to deal with people who we find bad or annoying or who we just don't want to deal with them by shaming them. When we were living in small communities — well, a lot of shaming was still dumb, but the basic idea behind it made sense. If your entire community finds you loathsome, you're going to find it unpleasant there, and will probably end up moving somewhere where you fit in better. There's problems with that (eg. traditionally the reason they find you loathsome would often be because of your race, religion, cultural background, politics and so on), but it at least serves to establish stable, cohesive communities, even if the mechanism was sometimes terrible. The Internet made it much much worse, though, because now you can be shamed everywhere at once.

    If Sacco had said something stupid aloud at the airport bar, well, maybe she might not find herself as welcome in that bar anymore, but it wouldn't have been catastrophic for her. Because she said it on the internet, though, it put her out of a job.

    Most modern public "shaming" comes not because someone has crossed over into immoral, unethical or even illegal behavior, but because they hold ideas that go against the current cultural Leftist goodthink.

    Don't be ridiculous. People on all parts of the political spectrum use it; there are plenty of obvious instances of people trying to shame others out for eg. violating MRA groupthink or saying something dumb about whites.

    I think that there is more of an impact when it comes to shaming people for an obviously racist comment — which is part of the reason 'racist against whites' is one of the few situations where cultural-conservatives can get a good shaming going on the internet — but that's because the ideas that you're classifying as 'cultural Leftist goodthink' are widely accepted, especially on the internet, ie. while most people wouldn't have wanted it to go beyond "hey, that was dumb" comments, just about everyone regardless of politics agrees that Sacco's comments were dumb. But you don't have to look very far to see angry people who claim they oppose that "liberal groupthink" trying to start angry shame-mobs over violations of their own cultural norms, they just tend to… not have as much impact.

    (I also think that part of the issue is that there are a lot of people who say "the other side" is doing it, too, so we can do it to them!" eg. the sorts of people you see on Reddit, 4chan, 8chan and the like who loudly identify as supporting free speech and freedom of conscience, while aggressively trying to shame the people who have violated what they feel are their cultural norms.)

  60. Aquillion says

    To add to what I said above, though:

    I think it's hazardous, intellectually, to say "I oppose this vile shaming which my political opponents use so often." Or to say "I support free speech against the vile efforts of my political enemies to censor the truth."

    I mean, they're true if supporting free speech is your only political and cultural ideal! But that is rarely the case. And if you fixate solely on the fact that eg. vile liberals or conservatives or feminists or fundimentalists or social-justice witches or whoever are threats to free speech and that you are therefore going to defend free speech from them… are you actually standing up for free speech? Or are you just using the concept as a bludgeon in your culture wars? Because it's easy to stand up in defense of speech you agree with, or speech that you perceive as culturally "on your side" even if you think it goes too far, or to defend speech you don't personally feel is a big deal — that's a decent thing to do, don't get me wrong. But that alone doesn't really make anyone a free speech advocate in my book.

    The hard part is standing up for speech you disagree with, or standing against attempts to censor people that come from people you otherwise agree with. I don't think that censorship or shaming are things that any major school of political thought in the first world actually supports — but I think that there are a lot of people, regardless of politics, who say that they're all for liberty and justice and freedom while defining censorship and shaming and anything that infringes on those liberties as something the other side does, in a way that lets them avoid having to think about their own actions and methods.

    (For example: When the ACLU defends Nazis, you will see very few people defending them. Some people even use that fact to attack the ACLU.)

  61. Pete says

    Thanks for that, Patrick.
    Not a participant in on-line shaming, but way too often cruelly gleeful.
    Ironic or otherwise nuanced intent is way too easily lost. Even if it's straight-up intentionally cruel speech, perspective is even more easily lost.
    And so the list of areas in which to be less of an asshole gets one more item…

  62. Grifter says

    I don't think it's the shaming or the firings that are so bad to me; I've yet to see a case where it wasn't warranted (though my failure to see one doesn't mean there isn't one–still, Sacco deserved being fired for incompetence, and the woman who got fired for the Arlington picture was there on a work trip, so her poor behavior was behavior at work and shown to the world). What's so bad to me is how the subject of one of these things gets threatened or harassed, and the semi-permanent nature of the consequences (Since the Internet is forever).

  63. babaganusz says

    Everyone assumes that everyone else is just oh so exactly predictable.

    and that every instance of disagreeable behavior is clearly consciously, willfully and left-handedly undertaken.

    the Internet is forever

    my post-apocalypse simulator is in 64.4% disagreement with this.

  64. sinij says

    @babaganusz I am certain starving survivors living in the ruins of our civilization will be really glad that all Nightriders out there won't be able to just Google your misogyny incident and blacklist you from applying to a berserker motorcycle gang.

  65. jb says

    "supremely lazy way of thinking" = She honestly thought that "I won't get aids, I'm white" is funny, and was so unconcerned for context that she blurted it out in a public sphere.

    This is not a person making one isolated mistake, her actions revealed a whole line of thinking such that if she had somehow been prevented from making that one tweet, she would certainly have made an equally awful one some other time. The underlying idiocy is what makes her deserve her shaming, not the specific instance.

    Again, the fact that she was a PR rep makes her firing ok–her mistake was job-related. To analogize, I think that Greg Hardy is a hyperbolic number of times as despicable as Pete Rose, but I think Rose's crimes are more deserving of a ban from his sport than Hardy's are, because their nature relates directly to his ability to do his job. In no way do I excuse death threats, etc in any of these cases, but Rose and Sacco's firings are definitely totally legit.

  66. says

    Notice that most of our communication online – including both Facebook and Twitter – is usually not intended for the world to see. People who are so angry over dissenting opinions are willing to broadcast and attempt public shaming. Perhaps we forget someone real is behind the keyboard, but no one cares about the the scorched earth of someone's life until it actually happens to them.

    It's almost like every private conversation you have drinking and joking around with your friends is being recorded, but no one has ever published one of those recordings.

  67. Jackson Marten says

    @jb – the problem is not the firing (realistically, people get fired all the time, often for BS reasons); the problem is the permanent impairment to reputation and future job prospects.

    Should you be fired, given that you are a PR person, for an out-of-context dumb comment on twitter? I think a decent number of media people would say yes.

    Should you then be tormented by the entire world, have an overly dramatic record of your thoughtcrime preserved for all eternity and attached to your name, be virtually unhire-able going forward for the majority of firms, and face scorn from people you have never met for the same?

    That seems… excessive.

    This is the core issue. What happened to Sacco is the modern equivalent of the "lynch mob" (in quotes to make clear I am deliberately referencing another source, to avoid running afoul of Ken's ongoing crusade against figurative speech): she was violently and forcibly removed from her community, and instead of death, she now faces eternal shame. More than one literary figure would argue that is a worse punishment.

    In truth, neither is proportional to the crime (if any occurred).

  68. Careless says

    @jb, what's "supremely lazy" about telling a joke a lot of people thought wasn't funny and/or was offensive?

  69. Jacques Cuze says

    I do encourage you to debate this.

    It frustrates me that in Speech and Consequences, http://popehat.com/2013/09/10/speech-and-consequences/, Ken White seems to say (IIRC) that basically the Justine Saccos et. al. are the price we pay for free speech, and the only remediation is that not only can we criticize the Saccos but we can criticize people for their disproportionate condemnation of the Saccos.

    I certainly do understand that point of view, and can defend that point of view, but it is indeed frustrating that we cannot do any better than that.

    At the least, I think we can

    a) teach people not to participate in lynch mobs and
    b) teach people that speech should be met mostly with speech, not with demands to employers, threats to courts, etc. (all of which I have been threatened with when commenting at feminist blogs about my situation re: child custody)
    c) teach people not to promulgate lynch mobs when there are perfectly viable other channels they have not taken advantage of (Adria Richards)

    And I think we can also encourage journalists to upgrade their ethical standards, ie.,
    a) Gawker's RT of Sacco in Real Time was not newsworthy and mostly unethical abuse
    b) It's time that journalists were called out for the lazy shitbags they are where often, most often do not perform their own research and just reprint the unchecked claims of others.

  70. TimothyAWiseman says

    I do not think there is a clear answer to the first question. As this blog as has pointed out in the past speech has consequences, and ought to. When someone says something offensive, it is proper to call them out on it, so long as it is done appropriately for the circumstances. When someone says something political you disagree with, you have a right to reasonably express your disagreement.

    The problem, as the articles linked in this postshow and as @Thad eloquently pointed out, is that even just calling someone out or disagreeing with them can become disproportionate when the masses are doing it to an otherwise private citizen, especially one that thought they were speaking to a small audience. While I think Thad's comment was eloquent and I largely agree, I do not agree with his statement that if others are already calling something stupid out that you should refrain from joining in. Sometimes it does matter to show the number of people that disagree with a statement, as the situation with Charles Carreon seemed to demonstrate. And sometimes it matters to show to your own audience that you in particular disagree with it. And sometimes it serves as a trigger for a more in depth discussion / posting. Sometimes joining in makes sense even if there is already a crowd involved. However, I will agree with That that you should be polite and respectful in your criticism. I will also agree with death threats are never appropriate and calling for someone to lose their job very rarely is.

  71. hippo says

    @Ken White:

    'Internet justice' is terrifying; harassing and ruining people — financially or otherwise — because they said things you don't like (even if those things are reprehensible) — is disgusting. Activities like doxxing are loathsome, and people should be ashamed of themselves when they engage in it.

    That being said: How is this any different than organizing internet throngs to harass and ruin people when they threaten you over the internet? I get that real threats are *also* loathsome, and one way in which we silence people; fighting those threats by deploying the very same tools of harassment to silence doesn't work for me, though. I mention this because in at least one previous article, you mention 'natural consequences' (here: http://popehat.com/2014/11/17/shirts-and-shirtiness/ ) as a reasonable response to anonymous threats.

    That statement has long bugged the crap out of me because it's very close to 'We should silence the silencers' — which doesn't strike me as being in line with your previous articles.

    (Sorry if this post comes off as antagonistic; it's just that this has been bugging me for a long time)

  72. rmr says

    Sacco? Random? Wasn't her job directly related to her views on the specific topics she distastefully joked about? Ejecting racists from international work that gives them power over the people they ridiculed, is far beyond justifiable- easily into 'necessary but not sufficient' territory. As long as people don't stalk her or try to directly harm her, it seems to me like they're doing their civic duty.

    As for 'stupid', though – at this point I almost want to see one of these sociopathic "they-deserve-it" commentators put your money where your mouth is: which specific learning disabilities and intellectual disorders strip those who have it of all rights to be free from harassment, abuse or (in other cases where the exact same line is trotted out) assault? How would you have that law go, exactly – in your vision of utopia, do we get to kill Downs Syndrome people at whim, or just humiliate them? What do we do with all the people we so myopically convicted and put behind bars for victimizing 'stupid' people? Surely this Act would vindicate them. Do we release them or give them medals?

  73. hippo says

    @Ken White:

    Oh, wow! I apologize; I think I got the authorship confused as a result of the previous post ('Just An Idle Question About Safe Spaces'). I read both posts, saw 'Ken White' under one of them, and somehow my brain decided 'Ken White' was under both of them. Sorry about that!

  74. Erwin says

    Well, if I understand the rationale for amplification, it is that people who make public racist statements are likely to be racists and therefore likely to discriminate in hiring decisions in ways that are not effectively legally actionable and therefore unsuitable for leadership positions. And that the expected harm from a racist manager is sufficiently large that the societal costs of disproportionatr actions are dwarfed by the benefits of removing them. This reasoning might be similar to removing a kindergarten teacher who was also an outspoken member of nambla.

    Having worked for guys who felt that the end of apartheid was terrible for South Africa, that the Japanese were untrustworthy thieves, and that African Americans were uneducable, I did notice that less than 1% of our company was African american or Japanese. And, having some insight into the hiring process, am certain that the Japanese outcome was racially driven.

    My discomfort with this phenomena is not the consequences faced by particular individuals. My guess is that the world.is better off without them in positions of authority. That is the wrong question.

    The right question is whether the overall chilling effect on speech is worth affecting only a few individuals. To determine that, I would need to know if that chilling effect on speech was a good thing or a bad thing. This effect seems to enforce the current societal consensus. It arguably slows change by penalizing new ideas, but also improves efficiency by penalizing old, discredited ideas. The effect seems more like a filter than anything else – with positives and negatives being driven more by implementation than anything else.

    Um. So, overall, I care, but dont have a strong opinion. I would be neither proud nor ashamed of retweeting something that caused a probable racist to lose their job if they were in a managerial position. I think the analysis moves towards shame for a line worker.

    Of course, there is the problem of presumed guilt based on attitudes rather than action. Because, eg, the guy who felt African Americans were ineducable – probably actually didn't discriminate in hiring. I kind of prefer a consensus wherein releasing proof of actual actions is highly rewarded but where stupid statements are not punished. Problem is that competent people rarely leave proof. Eg. The 'dont hire the highly qualified Japanese guy' was a verbal communication to one person.

  75. ThirteenthLetter says

    "The corporations we work for should have absolute control over what we say even in semi-private situations outside of work."

    Huh, doesn't sound as good phrased that way.

  76. says

    I wonder what would have happened if she hadn't been on an international flight and thus in a position to immediately respond to the reaction with a retraction and apology…

  77. GuestPoster says

    For my part, I hate those lynch mobs, and when I notice a hashtag like that going around, I tune out the story – whatever that person said, to me, can't justify the backlash.

    But from a less emotional, more logical point of view: what we're seeing, frankly, is a point in time where 'the only cure for terrible speech is more speech' finally actually has some bite to it. Now, when someone says something terrible or disgusting or awful, speech alone is capable of utterly ruining their lives, and very much motivating them to never say it again.

    If we're going to keep suggesting absolutism for free speech, because speech can be cured by more speech, then… shouldn't we SUPPORT efforts like this, to use words, and just words, to make other words go away?

  78. rmr says

    There's a lot of talk about whether noticing, say, an international aid worker's casual racism is justifiable. Treat it like a quiet fart, is the implication. But what's the justification for allowing an outspoken racist to continue holding decision-making power that affects people of color? It's not about identifying people who wear white robes to weekend marches, it's about noticing and doing something when it becomes clear that someone with power over other people's lives is willing to make their world a little more hostile. Such a person has proven they're a bull in a china shop at best. Hand-wringing over their fate would be more justifiable in a society without the stark brutality of racism that, you know, they contributed to. As @wolfpupy once said, sometimes it's the people shouting at you while swinging big sharp knives who you need to worry about.

    "But from a less emotional, more logical point of view: what we're seeing, frankly, is a point in time where 'the only cure for terrible speech is more speech' finally actually has some bite to it."

    What's more, the era is revealing that this old chestnut was never more than a tactic to drown out the demand for just consequences to harmful public speech acts. Calling for 'more speech' in the old consequence-free way is akin to flooding the prosecution with tangential documents in the hope that they never get to the damning ones.

    "I would be neither proud nor ashamed of retweeting something that caused a probable racist to lose their job if they were in a managerial position. I think the analysis moves towards shame for a line worker."

    Right on the money, Erwin, if you ask me. I think you're also right when you get the nagging sense that the people who need to be flushed out of positions of power for the good of society at large are exactly the people who know how to cover their tracks at work. If they had left definitive evidence of legally actionable discrimination – short of a hiring manager I remember who proudly tweeted that he threw resumes with black-sounding names directly in the trash – there wouldn't be a need to expose their attitudinal statements.

    Oh, who will think of the poor, trod-upon systemic racists? Give me a break, people! Racists have as much right to deliver packages or stamp processors as anyone (assuming they're not making the workplace hostile), but there's no room in a peaceful society for racist teachers, managers, HR directors, casting directors, etc. Some of you sound downright surreal, making the predictable social consequences of public racist statements out like a police state.
    Racist managers don't go to jail, get beaten down in the street, or, probably, go homeless or hungry. They're barely even disliked by the people whose opinions matter to them. I've yet to see anyone make the case that even one of these people has been lowered to the slightest indignity beyond a couple days of appropriately unpleasant twitter notifications. I wish I could say the same for their victims.

    I think you have to be white and fairly uninterested in reflecting on your social context to come up with the notion that proudly, publicly, overtly contributing to racism from a position of power doesn't impact the freedom of speech, but expressing disapproval does. 'Out of touch' is barely even in the right ballpark.