Love on the doxx: SlateStarCodex and the right to be anonymous

I say all my bullshit with my real name but some people can't

This is a story about a niche blog with a big audience. That blog is called SlateStarCodex and it’s pretty much the bible for a certain kind of — in my opinion — data/stats-obsessed internet guy. I appreciate that the author of SSC, who goes by the slight pseudonym — it uses his real first and middle names but omits his real last name — of Scott Alexander, is an interesting thinker, I just don’t agree with some of the things he says.

Last week, Scott Alexander was approached by a New York Times technology reporter who told him that a piece on his blog was in the works and that it would include his real surname. This is a big problem for Scott Alexander who works in his day job as a psychiatrist and does not want his patients to tie his popular blog and personal perspective to his professional work. That’s entirely reasonable.

Scott Alexander also has online enemies, some of whom have threatened him with violence. He would rather not have to encounter those people in real life. Again, entirely reasonable.

In the case of SSC, which has very passionate fans, maintaining a level of anonymity is reasonable, understandable, and prudent. Scott Alexander does not use his anonymity as a shield to attack others, but merely as a mild form of mask to allow him to be both a psychiatrist in his ‘real’ life and a thinker in his ‘online’ life.

Writing about his conversations with the New York Times reporter, Alexander says:

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.

For the sake of ‘policy’, a person has been forced to remove a blog that they’ve worked hard on and to deprive a community of its campfire. It’s a bad policy. The New York Times should only strip away the shield of anonymity in cases of criminality or proven abuse. Otherwise, it is stopping people from exercising speech rights which any sensible society would defend.