New York Times, Please Do Not Threaten The Safety of Scott Alexander By Revealing His True Name

post by Zvi · 2020-06-23T12:20:00.788Z · LW · GW · 2 comments

In reaction to (Now the entirety of SlateStarCodex): NYT Is Threatening My Safety By Revealing My Real Name, So I Am Deleting The Blog

I have sent the following to New York Times technology editor Pui-Wing Tam, whose email is pui-wing.tam@nytimes.com:

My name is Zvi Mowshowitz. I am a friend of Scott Alexander. I grew up with The New York Times as my central source of news and greatly value that tradition.

Your paper has declared that you intend to publish, in The New York Times, the true name of Scott Alexander. Please reconsider this deeply harmful and unnecessary action. If Scott’s name were well-known, it would likely make it more difficult or even impossible for him to make a living as a psychiatrist, which he has devoted many years of his life to being able to do. He has received death threats, and would likely not feel safe enough to continue living with other people he cares about. This may well ruin his life.

At a minimum, and most importantly for the world, it has already taken down his blog. In addition to this massive direct loss, those who know what happened will know that this happened as a direct result of the irresponsible actions of The New York Times. The bulk of the best bloggers and content creators on the internet read Scott’s blog, and this will create large-scale permanent hostility to reporters in general and the Times in particular across the board.

I do not understand what purpose this revelation is intended to serve. What benefit does the public get from this information?

This is not news that is fit to print.

If, as your reporter who has this intention claims, you believe that Scott provides a valuable resource that enhances the quality of our discourse, scientific understanding and lives, please reverse this decision before it is too late.

If you don’t believe this, I still urge you to reconsider your decision in light of its other likely consequences.

We should hope it is not too late to fix this.

I will be publishing this email as an open letter.

Regards,
Zvi Mowshowitz

PS for internet: If you wish to help, here is Scott’s word on how to help:

There is no comments section for this post. The appropriate comments section is the feedback page of the New York Times. You may also want to email the New York Times technology editor Pui-Wing Tam at pui-wing.tam@nytimes.com, contact her on Twitter at @puiwingtam, or phone the New York Times at 844-NYTNEWS.

(please be polite – I don’t know if Ms. Tam was personally involved in this decision, and whoever is stuck answering feedback forms definitely wasn’t. Remember that you are representing me and the SSC community, and I will be very sad if you are a jerk to anybody. Please just explain the situation and ask them to stop doxxing random bloggers for clicks. If you are some sort of important tech person who the New York Times technology section might want to maintain good relations with, mention that.)

If you are a journalist who is willing to respect my desire for pseudonymity, I’m interested in talking to you about this situation (though I prefer communicating through text, not phone). My email is scott@slatestarcodex.com.

2 comments

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comment by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2020-06-23T20:43:50.153Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My open letter to the NY Times:

Hello,

I'm a reader of the blog SlateStarCodex. Both the writing and the community is very important to me. As you probably know by now, Scott deleted his blog because he's afraid that he will lose his job, and possibly have his life threatened, if you reveal his full name in print.

If this goes forward, it will change my perception of the New York Times. Right now, I see mainstream journalism as an important and relatively unbiased source of information, a contributor to the ideal of free speech and democracy. If the outcome of your policies and need for content is shutting down a blogging community that's so important to my life, then I will start to see the NYT as limiting free speech by making successful, anonymous bloggers who want to stay that way unable to publish.

There are probably times when involuntarily revealing the true identity of an anonymous blogger is appropriate. For example, if they are advocating violence, have links to terrorist groups, and so on. This isn't one of those times. It feels invasive, a sort of journalistic "peeping tom" behavior.

Generally, we should be able to speak the truth widely and freely, without worrying about being punished. Although I know Scott does not want the attention of national news media, you are able to publish your article with 99.9% of the content by omitting his last name. Your freedom of speech is not being seriously infringed.

Furthermore, you are the ones initiating the decision to pursue a story about an anonymous blogging community in the first place. If that's a topic you want to cover, when the members of that community don't want their identities revealed, then the least you can do is respect the wishes of the members of that community to remain anonymous. These policies you have in place are not laws. They're just your decisions. You have full responsibility for their outcomes, both as a person and as a news organization. You can choose to soften or change them, or at least advocate for this.

My personal action in response to this doxxing would be to boycott your newspaper, and ask friends and family to do so as well.

The news media's reputation as a foundation of democracy is already under attack from one segment of the political spectrum. Please don't create reasons to undermine that perception more broadly.

Sincerely,

X

comment by rmoehn · 2020-06-24T12:15:27.692Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My (less eloquent and less informed) take:

Dear Ms. Tam,

I’m one of the readers of Scott Alexander's blog and I kindly ask you not to publish his real name. He has laid out his rationale in his only remaining blog post and Zvi Mowshovitz has already sent you a much more eloquent appeal than the one I’m writing. No doubt, many other readers of Scott’s blog have sent your their – hopefully polite – opinion about the matter.

I have little to add but the reminder that becoming a public figure makes life difficult. Tim Ferriss wrote about this recently:
https://tim.blog/2020/02/02/reasons-to-not-become-famous/
You ought not to force this on people who neither deserve (through evil deeds) nor want it.

Scott is an honest blogger who wants to keep his peace. Please don’t take it away from him.

Respectfully,

Richard Möhn