Series at The Atlantic

I’m writing a series of articles for The Atlantic revolving around the topic of surveillance, privacy, and rights in the digital age—particularly in the financial sector. The first went up on Friday:

How a Cashless Society Could Embolden Big Brother 

In a cashless society, the cash has been converted into numbers, into signals, into electronic currents. In short: Information replaces cash.

Information is lightning-quick. It crosses cities, states, and national borders in the twinkle of an eye. It passes through many kinds of devices, flowing from phone to phone, and computer to computer, rather than being sealed away in those silent marble temples we used to call banks. Information never jangles uncomfortably in your pocket.

But wherever information gathers and flows, two predators follow closely behind it: censorship and surveillance. The case of digital money is no exception. Where money becomes a series of signals, it can be censored; where money becomes information, it will inform on you.

Great art by Kara Gordon.




This is one of the weirdest blog posts I will have to write and I am incredibly bemused and unhappy to have to do it.

The short version:

There was a ridiculous and unholy Twitter spat going on two years ago. The result of that spat was that an absurd number of allegations about who is or isn’t supportive of rape victims were thrown around, primarily by people who were not survivors themselves. Sarah Kendzior ended up being mocked for speaking about her threats, Megan Erickson was accused of being a terrible hater of survivors, and apparently I am also now accused of hating survivors.

In most of these cases, the truth of what was said was completely blown out of proportion. In my case, Connor Kilpatrick’s anger at another man (Rusty Foster) was instead directed at me for some unknown reason, resulting in Connor making up a bunch of weird lies about me out of whole cloth.

Now a very niche segment of the internet believes them entirely, credulously, and without justification. I never “led a twitter mob” against Connor Kilpatrick or Megan Erickson, and the only reason to believe so is that Connor said it, for no good reason.

The long version follows. I apologize for the crappy writing, I just wanted to bang this one out and get it over with.


In 2014, I publicly sided with Sarah Kendzior, when she said something I took to mean that an article in Jacobin had linked out to a rape threat directed at her.

This turned out to be untrue. Jacobin had merely linked out to a tweet where she described being threatened—but, in context, the link out was trivializing and mocking her account. I regretted my factual error, and I tried to rectify it, at the time, in subsequent tweets. But I still believed that what Jacobin had done was wrong.

This whole affair was documented in Today in Tabs.

It only turned into a huge thing because Megan Erickson, who had edited the piece, (who hadn’t even edited the piece??????) became oddly belligerent about her decision to either leave in (or add, it wasn’t clear) the controversial hyperlink. These are the two times I ever @-ed Erickson on Twitter. On June 7th, I said:

I wouldn’t @ her again until June 10th (we’ll get there).

I wasn’t particularly invested in this fight, which had brewed into something truly bizarre, sucking in various prominent figures on the left. I was not a prominent figure, and I still am not. I was nowhere the center of this controversy—until one day ten million push notifications came to my phone.

Let’s back up to the day before. On June 9th, Today in Tabs had recounted “the Jacobin kerfuffle” in a way that didn’t sit well with Jacobin. Megan Erickson sent in a letter to the editor, through the Newsweek webform, containing a legal threat and a demand that Rusty Foster, who writes Tabs, retract various statements. She also disclosed in her letter that she was a victim of sexual assault.

On June 10th, Rusty republished this letter in the interest of fairness (you know, letting Jacobin tell their side of the story), upon which the Jacobin crowd excoriated him for, I guess, doxing her.

Sarah K., although still very much at loggerheads with Megan, said that such confidential information should be censored. This is where I objected.

This is the second and last time I would ever @ Megan Erickson. I later added, without pinging her:

Today, the archived version of that issue of Today in Tabs does actually have Megan Erickson’s letter removed, although it excerpts the legal threat. That’s the way things should be, and I don’t like the idea that I’m putting this information out there by writing it in a blogpost.

Later that day, Connor Kilpatrick, another editor at Jacobin and Megan Erickson’s husband, tweetstormed at me. (I’ll reproduce in full below).

A short summary is that he accused me of leading an online mob against him and his wife, harassing her into ill health, calling them rape mockers, and so on. Here are all the tweets I’ve ever tweeted at Connor. They start on June 10th, 2014.

Here are all the tweets I’ve ever tweeted about rape mockers:

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Here’s the Connor Kilpatrick tweetstorm. I have not deleted any tweets at Connor. The following was not threaded in response to anything I had said.

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When I first got the push notifications, I was freaked out. I didn’t know what to think. I was being accused of maliciously orchestrating an internet mob against a cancer patient and an assault survivor, and I had been barely on the fringes of a vicious spat that had engulfed far more public persons than me.

I was shaken. But I decided, in the spur of the moment, that I was being attacked by someone who was obviously deranged and that the best thing I could do was deflect with humor.

I’m not proud of my response here, but I was still in shock. I thought it was going to stop, but Connor just kept going. I remember him aggressively replying to the flippant tweets above and sending hordes of people at me, so many that I had to give my phone to my partner to block everyone who tweeted at me. Those tweets, however, seem to have disappeared.

The next day it would get storified. Weeks later I’d get put into some weird Benghazi-style infographic with screencapped tweets and big neon fonts and ominous red lines running between people. There have been tons of those infographics and they keep popping up all the time. Every few months I get someone harassing me on Twitter because of Jacobin.

The story was rewritten, with me at the center. I, apparently, was the one who led a Twitter mob against Jacobin.

There was no proof other than Connor Kilpatrick’s after-the-fact tweets. No one wanted proof, either; the fact that he had said it was enough to cast me—who at the time had something like 4,000 Twitter followers—as a bully who had managed to stir up a terrible mob against Jacobin Magazine (out of hatred for socialism???).

It is extremely bizarre to have a lie made up about you. Not just a distortion of something you had actually done, but a complete lie, one that isn’t really debunkable because there’s nothing to point to to debunk it— all I can do is point to the absence of me “leading a Twitter mob” because Kilpatrick never cited any tweets either. All he had to do was point the finger, and people piled into my mentions for days, weeks, months, and now, years.

At first, I wondered if there was a reason why he had done this. I naively thought that because Connor isn’t an anonymous twitter rando, he was more likely to be, I don’t know, a reasonable person?

Immediately in the aftermath, a mutual friend reached out to me and Scott Kilpatrick (Connor’s brother, who was also attacking me) saying that there must have been a misunderstanding, and that we should mediate. A few minutes later, the mutual friend followed up with a “never mind.” He had read what Connor had said about me, and he was too shocked to even try to mediate.

I reached out to another mutual friend. She contextualized the incident by saying that the Erickson-Kilpatricks had had a death in the family and were very stressed out, but ultimately concluded that there was no excuse for what had happened, and there couldn’t be a mediation.

I came to believe that Connor did this because he wanted to go on the offensive, and knew he didn’t have a chance attacking people who were actually central and relevant to the controversy—like David Graeber, who waded into the fray and was vocally criticizing Jacobin. He picked me, because I was literally irrelevant.

But in retrospect, I don’t know if he actually thought that far. I don’t know what Connor was thinking or what motivated him, and I may never know. None of his actually stated motivations make much sense. Although he professed that his wife’s survivor status should be utterly confidential, he treated the information like a weapon. For example, this tweet is still up after I pointed out years ago that he should take it down.

As I’ve noted earlier, the letter in question isn’t on the Newsweek website anymore!

I’ve come to accept that there are people out there who will just do this. I still don’t know why Connor lied and I don’t know why the lie is still alive in 2016. I had, at the time, made the decision to let it be. If it was a blatant lie with nothing behind it, stemming from a convoluted controversy that no one outside of leftist Twitter understood, surely it would just go away.

It didn’t go away.

I don’t know what the fuck any of this is and I think I may never know.

I do want to apologize for @-ing Megan the first time. Honestly, had I known that Megan was struggling with health issues and grief, I would have kept my snark to myself. And I am painfully sorry that this blogpost discloses her survivor status. If it hadn’t been a central fact in the incident, I would have left it out.

And I’m sorry to Sarah K. I never wanted to dig up the past—because it undoubtedly means she (and Megan as well, honestly) will be harassed all over again.

I only have one apology to make to Connor Kilpatrick. Two years ago I said this:

I wish I could have kept my promise. But here we are.

Top Six Things Mark Zuckerberg Should Do With 45 Billion Dollars

6.  Prank Bill and Melinda Gates with 4.5 billion Dominos cheese pizzas

5.  Give every man, woman, and child in the developing world an opportunity to beat that Candy Crush level again

4.  Fund remedial math education for journalists who mess up on orders of magnitude

3.  Buy Damien Hirst and suspend him in a glass tank of formaldehyde

2.  Replace buses with self-driving cars, mail carriers with drones, teachers with MOOCs, and policemen with Soylent

1.  Bury all the money deep into the ground and employ everyone in America to dig it back up again

November 14th – Writers with Drinks

Writers with Drinks

Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015:

Sarah Jeong (The Internet of Garbage)
Carrie Patel (The Buried Life)
K. Tempest Bradford (Strange Horizons, io9)
Jessica Erica Hahn (Transient Ways, Elysian Fields: A Fucked Up Love Story)
S. Kay (Reliant: An Apocalypse in Tweets)
Michael Collins (How to Sing when People Cut off your Head and Leave it Floating in the Water)

Cost: $5 to $20, no-one turned away
All proceeds benefit the Center for Sex and Culture.
At The Make Out Room 3225 22nd St., San Francisco CA, from 7:30 PM to 9:30 PM, doors open at 6:30 PM.

Stop Diluting the Definition of “Dox”

The definition of doxing is the publication of a physical residential address, or information protected by law (social security numbers, medical records, and so forth).


Abusive people love claiming they’ve been doxed.

Here, I have to acknowledge that I’m pulling a similar move. The word “dox,” like “abuse,” is infused with fear and panic. A popular stance is that doxing is strictly unacceptable. It is the great taboo of the Internet. Similarly, who on earth would defend abuse?

But while we engage in some level of productive discourse on what counts as abuse and what abusive dynamics actually are (though not nearly enough!), there is very little productive discourse on what doxing actually is.

Doxing has taken on a deeply nebulous and completely unhelpful definition, mostly thanks to abusers exploiting the hell out of the word.

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Let’s take a look at the evolution of “doxing” or “doxxing,” starting with a textbook example of doxing. In 2007, Kathy Sierra was fully doxed—her Social Security number, her physical address, and much much more was all posted online with malicious intent. Yet the term “dox” was not commonly associated with what happened to her until many years later.

The strict “hacker” definition of “dropping dox”/“dropping docs” involves the publication of documentation, which can include addresses, phone numbers, financial information, medical records, and emails. Schneier dates the term back to 2001 (confined mostly to hacker circles, I imagine), but some people have given me anecdotal and unconfirmed accounts of it being used in the mid-to-late 1990s.

The word burst into the mainstream in 2012 (although it had been used in previous articles in 2011 in the newspaper), as documented by The New York Times’s “Words of 2012.” The NYT defines “dox” as

DOX: To find and release all available information about a person or organization, usually for the purpose of exposing their identities or secrets. “Dox” is a longstanding shortening of “documents” or “to document,” especially in technology industries. In 2012, the high-profile Reddit user Violentacrez was doxed by Adrian Chen at Gawker to expose questionable behavior.

Between 2001 to 2012, “dox” undergoes a remarkable dilution. It starts out as an information dump that includes physical addresses, social security numbers, financial information, and other information protected by law and/or acquired in ways criminalized under federal and state law. Then it comes to mean “unmasking.”

Adrian Chen did not publish Michael Brutsch’s address. He did not publish his SSN. He did not hack and publish Brutsch’s personal documents. He merely outed Michael Brutsch as Michael Brutsch.

Depending on the circumstances, outing someone can be quite dangerous and is unwarranted or immoral. But that depends on the circumstances. When an abusive anonymous individual is terrorizing individuals that go by their real names on the Internet, it is sometimes better for everyone that that person be unmasked. An unmasking can make people safe, even if the abusive anon is not arrested, reported, or even fired from his workplace. Unmasking can deter an abusive personality from serially harassing people out of a community.

For a word so infused with moral authority, “dox” should not encompass actions that are often justifiable depending on the circumstances.

Unmasking someone by their full name, identifying someone by their first name, identifying their place of work, or screencapping e-mails are not doxing. They are—once again, depending on the circumstances—possibly abusive things to do. But they are not doxing.

Do you know what is an abusive thing to do? To expand the definition of doxing in order to harness public outrage without having to actually discuss the circumstances in which you have been exposed.

While the definition of “harassment” remains nebulous, there is no reason that “dox” should be diluted.

The definition of doxing is the publication of a physical residential address, or information protected by law (social security numbers, medical records, and so forth).

A similar analysis will appear in my forthcoming Internet of Garbage, published as an ebook through Forbes.