The book is so-so; basically a collection of feature-length articles about several cases (most of them relatively high-profile) that have something to do with public shaming. One thing going for the audio version of the book is that the voice of the author (example on Amazon) is very similar to the voice of Neil Gaiman — same intonation patterns, and it’s not just some generic Britishness: Fry doesn’t sound like this, Dawkins doesn’t sound like this, Natalie Dormer doesn’t sound like this; but Gaiman does.
I was deeply impressed by one of the stories. It is the only one from tech world so far. It happened in 2013 and made a huge splash at the time; but since it was before I started paying attention to tech news, I missed it.
It happened at the Pycon conference. Two friends in the audience were making adolescent jokes between themselves, with sexual innuendos. History has preserved that the jokes included phrases like a big dongle and forking a repo. Then a woman sitting in front of them stood up, turned around, and took a picture of them. Then she complained to conference organizers about them, posted the photo on Twitter, and wrote a blog post about that:
Her tweet suddenly got massive attention, and a day or two later one of the developers captured on the photo was fired.
He went on Hacker News and published a post saying that he was the developer on the photo, that he was sorry, and that he lost his job.
This, in turn, provoked a retaliatory social media campaign against the woman. Eventually, she too was fired.
I can’t help feeling anything but the strongest antipathy towards that woman. I can understand (barely, and by no means support) complaints against a speaker for sexual jokes (remember the case of Douglas Crockford?). I can understand complaints against an attendee who makes unwelcome advances towards another attendee, which include sexually explicit jokes. But for fuck’s sake, to police a personal conversation between two men that doesn’t even concern you?
The developer who posted to HN felt obliged to apologize. As if he did something wrong. As if it is not his inalienable right to joke with his friend about whatever he goddam pleases.
There are other precious nuggets about that story. After the developer posted his apology on HN, the woman "called my company asking them to ask me to remove the portion of my apology that stated I lost my job as a result of her tweet." This is the next level of insolence and insanity. But there’s more. In an interview with the author of the book, she reportedly said:
Maybe it was [he] who started all of this. No one would have known he got fired until he complained. Maybe he’s to blame for complaining that he got fired. Maybe he secretly seeded the hate groups. Right?
It was “his own actions that resulted in his own firing, yet he framed it in a way to blame me... If I had a spouse and two kids to support I certainly would not be telling ‘jokes’ like he was doing at a conference. Oh but wait, I have compassion, empathy, morals and ethics to guide my daily life choices.
Just imagine, from those quotes, the way she thinks. I could understand if she said she would never have thought her tweet would have produced such an exaggerated reaction and would have cost the guy his job. But that’s not what she is saying. It’s as if she doesn’t even consider herself an agent, a freely-willed actor who started a social media campaign that turned nasty against her. It’s as if she was wronged and it was her victim’s fault. Who doesn’t have morals, ethics, etc., and therefore somehow doesn’t deserve to have a job. This is so outrageously backwards, so obnoxiously puritanical!