The Sound of Silence

I became aware of SlateStarCodex during the online kerfuffle over the popular blogger, Scott, getting his real name and professional identity exposed by the NYT. He’s written a new post about the whole event. He is a victim of sorts, but he doesn’t ask for more sympathy than he deserves. His story is an interesting case study concerning free speech and the internet.

See here the consequences of becoming a known figure in 2020. Quotes from Scott:

The New York Times thought so. Some people kept me abreast of their private discussions (in Soviet America, newspaper’s discussions get leaked to you!) and their reporters had spirited internal debates about whether I really needed anonymity. Sure, I’d gotten some death threats, but everyone gets death threats on the Internet, and I’d provided no proof mine were credible. Sure, I might get SWATted, but realistically that’s a really scary fifteen seconds before the cops apologize and go away. Sure, my job was at risk, but I was a well-off person and could probably get another.

So, you know, death or abuse and unemployment is all. Scott recognizes that some people have it worse. He used his situation to discuss the whole issue of anonymity. Why do people want anonymity to discuss their ideas? Scott brings us some data:

And: a recent poll found that 62% of people feel afraid to express their political beliefs. This isn’t just conservatives – it’s also moderates (64%), liberals (52%) and even many strong liberals (42%). … And the kicker is that these numbers are up almost ten percentage points from the last poll three years ago

Are things getting better or worse for free speech? The answer depends partly on where you start. Are we civilians in America today freer to speak than some of our ancestors who lived under some kind of monarchy or tribal hierarchy? I think so. Has the internet made it easier to share ideas? Well, Scott is nostalgic for an early period of the internet before doxxing. In his words “doxxing was beyond the pale…  We’ve lost a lot of that old Internet, sold our birthright to social media companies and content providers for a few spurts of dopamine…”

The internet has empowered people to speak, and yet it also comes with new problems, even a whole new set of harmful crimes. I hope that we can adapt better in the future. The internet gives (this month it’s sea shanties and Bernie mittens memes) and the internet takes away.

Here are some lyrics to the eerie brilliant song, written by Paul Simon in the 1960’s, before the internet even allowed people to share videos of themselves singing:

People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared

Voices are sharing songs like never before on TikTok, and yet most people are afraid to say something serious.

Consider a recent attempt at a serious conversation within the economist that I follow. Dr. Doleac shared this

She ended up spending lots of her valuable time blocking rude people. The conversation ended up sidetracked by all of the personal attacks, even prompting this tweet.

And by the end we are back to pictures of puppies, to escape.

One thought on “The Sound of Silence

  1. Scott Buchanan January 26, 2021 / 2:13 pm

    I read that link to post written by blogger whose name got exposed. Wow. I learned some new vocabulary, such as “SWATting” (someone puts fake call into 911 claiming violent situation happening at your address so officers with drawn guns come to your door). This is one of many reasons why you don’t want to get doxxed.

    Like

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