Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Dear Aja Romano, regarding Sean Fodera, Journalism 101, and the Expectation of Privacy

Dear Ms. Romano,

I was thinking about your recent bit of outrage journalism, Apparently, these guys don't want women to write science fiction, and why the Popehat response, Science Fiction Community Generates This Weekend's Buffoonish Defamation Threat, didn't convince me.

So I googled "journalism privacy". The first hit was Journalism Ethics: Privacy. To use a favorite cliché of social justice warriors, it's Journalism 101, basic principles spelled out in big letters and simple words. I strongly recommend that you read the whole thing. It isn't long.

And you might read this as well: Reasonable expectation of privacy - The IT Law Wiki: "Under current law, to establish a reasonable expectation of privacy a person must establish two things: that the individual had a subjective expectation of privacy; and that that subjective expectation of privacy is one that society is prepared to recognize as reasonable"

Now, you may think the Popehat article is definitive, but any honest lawyer will tell you the law is always a contest of opinions. Here are the relevant points:

1. We have a right to privacy.

2. Sean Fodera, Raymond Feist, and their friends were griping on, a dinosaur site that gets little attention by the general population—at least, until you boosted their google juice with your article. The people who hang out at are the field's old-timers. The best analogy I've seen is that it's the ancient local bar where the old folks go to talk quietly among themselves.

3. You decided to make them the faces of sexism in fantasy and science fiction, and focused on Sean Fodera. Google his name today, and you'll see you succeeded wildly.

4. The conversations you cite did not happen on the SFWA forums, which many of your readers seem to believe. Apparently, you believed it, as the tweet you made and deleted yesterday suggested. I'm sorry I didn't take a pic of it, but please correct me if this isn't right: You mocked me for saying on Reddit that Fodera was speaking at an obscure site—I think you said the SFWA site isn't obscure. Then you deleted your tweet after I clarified my comment and you realized I was right.

5. The current state of technology allows privacy to be penetrated anywhere, so you could argue no one has a reasonable expectation of privacy anywhere, but the law is against you: we have a right to privacy. It's reasonable to expect privacy under certain circumstances. What's done on a soapbox is not reasonably considered private and what's done in one's bedroom is reasonably considered private, but in other locations, "reasonable privacy" is not so quickly decided.

6. The "false light" aspect of this story matters enormously. Sean Fodera is not currently a member of SFWA. He works in publishing in contracts. He's not influential, and he wasn't famous until your article. He was griping about one individual, Mary Kowal, with men and women who dislike a subset of men and women in the science fiction community. Your take on that is obvious from your title, "Apparently, these guys don't want women to write science fiction". And yet you did not cite anything to suggest any of them do not want women to write science fiction, and you missed the fact that they were in a conversation with women who write science fiction.

Let me repeat that so you might understand it: They were in a conversation with women who write science fiction.

If I did not hate all-caps, I would repeat that a third time in all-caps, so let's try it bolded: They were in a conversation with women who write science fiction.

Really, Susan Schwartz, Sheila Finch, Esther Friesner, and Lois Tilton are women.

You knew this. And yet you cast Feist's mention of "fugheads" and Fodera's dislike of Mary Kowal as evidence that they do not want women to write science fiction.

7. The question of whether "someone else would have the story" also matters. The news did not start with the conversation at, because hardly anyone pays attention to The news began when someone anonymously made the tumblr that you linked to. Whether you made it in order to claim plausible deniability is irrelevant. That tumblr, like the conversation it cherrypicks, was obscure until you chose to make it into a story.

So a lawyer could probably have fun with what you did. Because there's another point that you don't seem to care about: mobbing has horrible emotional consequences. It would be very, very appropriate to sue you for the pain and suffering that your targets have endured. And it might be right to sue John Scalzi, who responded to Fodera's outrage with mockery instead of sympathy. Anger is a common response to being mobbed—see Mobbing drives people a little—or a lot—mad. Laughing at a mobbed person's temporary madness is like laughing at someone who shrieks when poked with a sharp stick.

Ah, well. I'm not a lawyer, so everything I've said here may be bullshit.

But I do know a little about writing and ethics, so I beg you to think more about these issues the next time you're tempted to contribute to outrage culture.


Will Shetterly

P.S. Aja Romano, this may be more evidence that the expectation of privacy is relevant

P.S. 2: I read (most of) the Fodera and Feist and Co. thread on so you don't have to