A well-known science blogger writing for Slate Star Codex has reluctantly shuttered his blog because a reporter for the New York Times insisted on publishing his last name. Psychiatrist Scott Alexander (his first and middle name) was interviewed by New York Times tech reporter Cade Metz for a nice article on his eclectic blog and the community of writers who feed it. When Alexander realized that Metz was going to publish his last name, he begged him not to do it. The psychiatrist had a thriving practice and doxxing him would put his livelihood in danger. He had also received several death threats from his writings from some who disagree with his politics.
In short, the New York Times was about to ruin his life, so Alexander felt he had no other option than to delete his blog.
When I expressed these fears to the reporter, he said that it was New York Times policy to include real names, and he couldn’t change that. After considering my options, I decided on the one you see now. If there’s no blog, there’s no story. Or at least the story will have to include some discussion of NYT’s strategy of doxxing random bloggers for clicks.
It may be the Times policy to include real names when it comes to people they want to doxx, but they somehow lose sight of that policy when quoting numerous anonymous sources when trying to destroy conservatives.
The Washington Free Beacon questions whether that policy even exists.
Alexander and others interviewed by Metz told the Free Beacon that they do not believe Metz wanted to write a “hit piece.” But Metz did insist that Times guidelines compelled him to disclose Alexander’s real name, derailing an interview with the blogger.
There is little evidence that such a policy exists at the Times, which has granted anonymity or pseudonymity to an Apple news executive, a left-wing podcaster, and even other subjects of Metz’s story. This confusion, Alexander’s fear of national news attention, and the resultant backlash on social media—and even among the Times‘s own alumni—raise uncomfortable questions about the power that the media have to ruin lives—and the cavalierness with which that power has recently been exercised.
It’s understandable that Alexander would want to remain anonymous when you consider the rabid fanaticism of his enemies.
SSC has also developed a reputation for free and open discussion, which has sometimes caused Alexander to butt heads with others, particularly the Internet’s large and vocal progressive feminist contingent. He strongly criticized a perceived tendency in modern feminism to demonize “nerd entitlement” in one particularly controversial 2015 post, and has also argued that imbalanced gender outcomes are not driven exclusively by prejudice.
Alexander’s public views are broadly liberal with some libertarian influence, but his controversial arguments have attracted the ill will of what Aaronson called “social media mobs who despised Scott and wanted to end his blog because of political disagreements”—part of what made Alexander wary of the article.
We live in an age where destroying people’s lives has become an organized spectator sport. The techniques used to destroy people date to the early modern age with Mussolini using his job as a radio commentator to reach mass audiences, denouncing those who disagreed with him.
Joseph Goebbels used newspapers and magazines to accomplish the same thing. Today, it’s the same way with the internet — just different tools. But the kinds of people attracted to the sport of doxxing haven’t changed at all. They are fascists all. And they’re tearing this country apart with no thought to the consequences except the exercise of raw power.
The Times, which has become one of the participants in the destruction, thinks that the ends they seek are so noble, the means are unimportant. It may be to reporters at the Times. But for many, it’s jobs, their homes, their families, their hard-won reputations, and in some cases — their lives.