Recognize a bad-faith campaign to discredit a journalist when you see one

The latest target of Two Minutes Hate on the Internet is somebody unusual, in that it’s somebody I know. But the story here is manufactured outrage as usual.

Until Thursday, few people outside tech-journalism circles could have name-checked Sarah Jeong or described her Twitter presence. I’ve been following her since sometime in 2014, so I can: sarcastic and often bitterly so, expletive-laced, and grounded in a deep knowledge of how tech intersects culture and the law

That makes Jeong an essential read in my world, and also an amusing one–see her unpacking of the PETA’s monkey-selfie case. She’s also a student of how social networks fuel online harassment and wrote an excellent book about it, The Internet of Garbage, that led me to quote her in Yahoo Finance posts in 2015 and 2016.

Now Jeong is again experiencing the subject of her own research, thanks to a cut-and-paste screencap compilation quoting her saying such mean things about white people from 2013 to 2015 as “it’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men.”

Why 2014 tweets in 2018? The New York Times announced Wednesday that it had named Jeong to its editorial board. The creator of that image, who calls himself Garbage Human on Twitter, apparently saw a chance to bully the Times into hitting the Undo button on its hire–what’s happened to other young writers, some right-wing, hired by traditional media outlets.

So is Jeong a racist whom the NYT should dump? That argument is, as Jeong would put it, bullshit.

First: No, she isn’t racist. I have interacted with her, online and in person, more than enough to determine that, and I’ve yet to see any co-workers of her say otherwise. And yes, that insight trumps yours if you hadn’t heard of Jeong until yesterday. Seen in context–as you can, since she hasn’t deleted them–most of the tweets at stake are cranky jokes received as such by white friends. One’s a profane distillation of a multiple-tweet legal argument. Others look like her venting about the misogynistic, racist word vomit that can greet a woman or person of color on Twitter; I will not tone-police people in that position. 

Second, consider the sources. After Garbage Human, whose tweets show a fondness for InfoWars hoaxer Paul Joseph Watson, Jeong’s tweets got publicized by Gateway Pundit, a conspiracy-theory-spouting factory of lies. I first became acquainted with its dreck last January, when it wrongly named my friend Doris Truong as the Asian reporter taking pictures of Rex Tillerson’s notes at his confirmation hearing without bothering to ask her if she was even there.

These are not honest critics, and their arguments are no more founded in a belief in racial equality than GamerGate harassment was about ethics in gaming journalism. You don’t owe time to the talking points of a bad-faith actor, not when it’s based on a context-free sample of a handful of tweets out of 103,203 available.

I know this because I saw this strategy employed successfully against my then-Post co-worker Dave Weigel in 2010. That’s when the journalism-gossip site FishbowlDC and then the Daily Caller (both with a history of ginning up right-wing outrage, facts or context optional) published cranky e-mails about various politicians that Weigel had sent to a private mailing list. Post management did not have the spine to stand up for its new employee against this selective copy-and-paste hit job or the absurd theory behind it that reporters should never share opinions about the stuff they cover, and Weigel resigned.

Five years later, the Post hired Weigel back. He’s been kicking ass at the paper since.

I look forward to Jeong doing the same at the NYT, as it declined to take the bait. Its PR department defended their new hire while adding that it “does not condone” her earlier banter and including Jeong’s tweeted apology that “I deeply regret that I mimicked the language of my harassers.”

Jeong’s current employer until she starts at the Times, The Verge, took a stronger line in a post:

Online trolls and harassers want us, the Times, and other newsrooms to waste our time by debating their malicious agenda. They take tweets and other statements out of context because they want to disrupt us and harm individual reporters. The strategy is to divide and conquer by forcing newsrooms to disavow their colleagues one at a time. This is not a good-faith conversation; it’s intimidation.

Exactly.

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Twitter reminder: The block button’s there for a reason

The block button on Twitter can get a bad reputation when people in a position of power use to ensure they won’t hear a dissenting but informed voice–even when it might help them do their job or their work outright requires it.

Twitter block buttonThink of investor and Web pioneer Marc Andreessen blocking veteran tech journalist Dan Gillmor this morning, Cleveland Police Department spokeswoman Jennifer Ciaccia blocking  The Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery last week, or Donald Trump social-media director Dan Scavino, Jr., blocking my friend Robert Schlesinger, U.S. News and World Report’s managing editor for opinion, last month.

(Robert told me that getting blocked by one of Trump’s mouthpieces couldn’t quite match his dad Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., landing on Richard Nixon’s enemies list, but he still considered it a badge of honor.)

Seeing that kind of childish behavior makes me want to leave the block function–which stops a user from mentioning you or even seeing your tweets when logged in–to victims of GamerGate-level harassment.

But then I saw my notifications fill Wednesday with irate responses to my Yahoo Finance post about Twitter banning professional jerk Milo Yannopoulus. These tweets were marked by an absence of logic, facts and grammar–and, once I replied to some of them, a general unwillingness to consider that they might not have all of the answers to the universe in their possession.

I enjoy a good argument (you can see I waded into the comments on the post) but I also have a finite number of hours in the day. And being swarmed by trolling replies with no evident interest in an actual debate is properly read as a distributed denial-of-service attack on my attention span. There’s even a term for this kind of behavior: “sea-lioning.”

So I gave fair warning, blocked a handful of the worst offenders, and felt much better afterwards.

Then I politely answered an e-mail from an angry reader about the Milo post and got a more nuanced and understanding reply not long after. I wish that Twitter allowed for that sort of learning–for some testimony from people who have tried to engage with their Twitter trolls, see Ariel Bogle’s post at Mashable–but maybe some people just don’t want to admit in public that they were wrong. I will try not to fall into that habit myself.

Weekly output: Gogo 2Ku, online harassment, Twitter filtering, SXSW

I still haven’t caught up on the sleep deficit and food surplus accumulated at SXSW.

Yahoo Tech Gogo 2Ku post3/15/2016: Taking off soon: Gogo promises in-flight Wi-Fi that you won’t hate, Yahoo Tech

This was the most avgeek-ish post I’ve written since my recap of texting and calling from Gogo’s private jet at SXSW two years ago. For more details about this test of Gogo’s new “2Ku” satellite-based WiFi on that company’s Boeing 737-500, I’ll point you to the writers who sat one row behind me, Gary Leff and Zach Honig.

3/16/2016: At SXSW, talking about online harassment — but is anyone listening?, Yahoo Tech

I found SXSW’s Online Harassment Summit to be a little less depressing, slightly more hopeful and a lot less crowded than I expected.

3/18/2016: Hate it when social networks tinker with your timeline? You’d hate it more if they didn’t, Yahoo Tech

As I type this, the post on my Facebook page linking to this story has been seen by all of 29 people, or barely over 1 percent of the people following my page. So, yeah, I am fully aware that algorithmic filtering of social-media timelines has consequences. Or maybe I just wrote a boring post?

3/20/2016: SXSW 2016: A look back at the highlights, USA Today

After a lot of mental back and forth about how I could so some sort of SXSW recap that wouldn’t duplicate all of USAT’s earlier coverage out of Austin, I realized that I could contrast each highlight of the festival with whatever event I had to skip to attend that panel, Q&A or demo.

Weekly output: GamerGate, iPad backup

What a dull week this was: no radio, TV or podcast appearances, no articles at new freelance clients, no speaking appearances. Nothing wrong with some relative downtime like that, as long as I don’t make a habit out of it.

Yahoo Tech GamerGate column10/14/2014: Twitter Could Fix Gamergate. Why Doesn’t It?, Yahoo Tech

This week I learned that writing about “GamerGate” is a good way to boost reader engagement with your content (sorry for all the marketing buzzwords, folks!). Ensuring that the bulk of this reader feedback will be positive… that’s another thing.

10/19/2014: Retiring an old iPad? Back it up first, USA Today

A chat with EcoATM CEO Mark Bowles at Super Mobility Week last month about how often people try to recycle iPhones through that company’s buy-back kiosks without first resetting them and disabling Activation Lock ultimately got me thinking that an explainer about backing up and resetting an iOS device prior to resale or donation could help on the week of a new iPad’s introduction.