“Learn to code.”
It seems like a good piece of career advice, doesn’t it? After all, we live in the Information Age, and just about every facet of daily life has been automated. A computer wakes you up, a computer has your coffee ready, a computer gives you the best route to the office, a computer tells you which song is on the radio, you go to work and stare at a computer all day, you go home and a computer gives you movies and TV shows to watch, social media shows you stupid people from all over the world 24 hours a day, you’re reading this right now on a computer, a computer delivered all of the above to your door, etc. All this stuff has become commonplace, but it doesn’t just happen by magic. Somebody had to code all that software. People who know how to code are crucial to our society, and learning to code is a valuable skill.
Or… is it? Could it be that “learn to code” isn’t good advice, but actually hate speech? A Russian plot? The work of alt-right white nationalist Nazis? If you have to ask, then the answer is obvious!
The Fetid, Right-Wing Origins of “Learn to Code”
Last Thursday, I received the news that the HuffPost Opinion section—where I’d been opining on a weekly basis for a few months—had been axed in its entirety… “This business sucks,” I tweeted…
Then the responses started rolling in—some sympathy from fellow journalists and readers, then an irritating gush of near-identical responses: “Learn to code.” “Maybe learn to code?” “BETTER LEARN TO CODE THEN.” “Learn to code you useless bitch…”
On its own, telling a laid-off journalist to “learn to code” is a profoundly annoying bit of “advice,” a nugget of condescension and antipathy… But it was clear from the outset that this “advice” was larded through with real hostility—and the timing and ubiquity of the same phrase made me immediately suspect a brigade attack. My suspicions were confirmed when conservative figures like Tucker Carlson and Donald Trump Jr. joined the pile-on, revealing the ways in which right-wing hordes have harnessed social media to discredit and harass their opponents.
If the name Talia Lavin sounds familiar, she’s the journalist who was fired from her fact-checking job at the New Yorker last year because she accused an ICE agent and disabled veteran of being a Nazi. She mistook one of his tattoos, the symbol of his platoon in Afghanistan, for an Iron Cross. She called it a “small mistake.”
Justin Gaertner is a combat wounded U.S. Marine who continues to serve his country as an ICE computer forensics analyst, helping solve criminal cases & rescue abused children. The tattoo shown here is the symbol for his platoon while he fought in Afghanistan. pic.twitter.com/BaOBxaAMHS
— ICE (@ICEgov) June 18, 2018
Anyway, Talia the Nazi Hunter has now decided that tweeting “Learn to code” at a laid-off journalist is part of a coordinated attack, because she went to 4chan and people were talking about it. Also, something something Gamergate. The details aren’t important, people. If Tucker Carlson and Donald Trump Jr. say something, then the thing that they said is bad because they’re bad. “Learn to code” is hate speech, because important and virtuous people hate hearing it.
But there’s good news, unemployed journos. If a mean person or some other sort of Nazi maliciously harms you by telling you to “Learn to code,” you can fight back:
“Learn to code” was tweeted at me by a sketchy account. I reported it as abusive behavior as part of targeted harassment. Twitter suspended the account within 20 minutes.
Journalists if they tweet “learn to code” at you don’t stay silent, take a moment to report it. https://t.co/RXgqqV2ptw
— Ben Popken (@bpopken) February 1, 2019
I can’t even imagine what these poor journalists are going through. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that Twitter suspensions are always just.
But what if you genuinely need to tell somebody that they should learn how to code? What if you’re not being mean or Nazi-ish about it? Here are a few ways you can, er, code your advice:
- Cearn to lode
- l34rn 70 c0d3
- Earnlay ootay oadkay
- .-.. . .- .-. -. / – — / -.-. — -.. .
- ngoq ghoj
- Gūrēñagon naejot code
- Ace nerd loot
- Lernu kodon
Of course, you’ll only be able to communicate in code until somebody learns to code a way to filter out all the different ways to say “learn to code.”
I know I speak for all of us when I say that our thoughts and prayers are with our very important journalists in this difficult time. They could’ve chosen easy careers, like coal mining or law enforcement or firefighting. But instead they chose to become literal firefighters, fighting fires in the form of mean tweets that hurt their feelings.
Stay strong, journo friends. And please, please, do not learn to code. You simply can’t meet that industry’s higher standards of accuracy.
After they sent me this, mere hours before:
“You broke the rules, and also you did not break the rules.”
I absolutely did not participate in “targeted abuse,” and I didn’t harass, intimidate, or use fear to silence anyone’s voice. I don’t appreciate being accused of it, especially by an algorithm. It’s automated libel. And this same thing is happening to a lot of other people every day. Twitter is a private platform and can enforce its own rules, but sending people a form letter that bears no relation to reality seems like a bad idea. If they want to kick us off because they don’t like us, they should just say so. Stop lying about us, Twitter. Stop accusing us of things we didn’t do.
And now I’ll go back to being addicted to Twitter, until the next time I get suspended for some BS reason. I never claimed to be smart, you guys. If I was, I’d just shut up and learn to code.