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July 2, 2020 2:00 PM   Subscribe

NYT technology reporter Taylor Lorenz covers internet culture including The End of Friendly Generational Relations, influencers posting fake brand deals, and Instagram's harassment problem (all on Mefi). Today, it emerged she's been the target of threats and harassment by prominent tech VCs on the private Silicon Valley social network Clubhouse. Notably, Ben Horowitz, co-founder of a16z, has declined to help.
posted by adrianhon (37 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've been watching this blow up on Twitter today, and I'm still a little confused about it. Why do they hate her so much? There seems to be some idea that tech journalism shouldn't exist, because mere journalists don't have a right to intrude on the tech dudes' tech fiefdoms. And I think that there's probably an undercurrent of misogyny: she's a youngish woman who writes intelligently and sympathetically about the often-maligned cultures of even-younger women, and that makes her definitely a bad and illegitimate person who deserves harassment. But is there anything else to it?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:24 PM on July 2 [3 favorites]


Let's first stipulate that any kind of harassment like this is wrong. In Lorenz's case, the bullshit "reasons" include: misogyny; her presence in Clubhouse; her coverage of memes and TikTok (apparently not real journalism); a hatred of newspapers and journalists in general; and outrage that they are investigating private companies at all.

Witness this quote, apparently from Clubhouse:
why does press have a right to investigate private companies, let the market decide, I don’t understand who gives them that right
posted by adrianhon at 2:34 PM on July 2 [15 favorites]


"let the market decide" --- Ugh. Even if you espouse the ideas of free market capitalism, those ideas rely on good information transmission. How can market decide when the market doesn't have the information to do so?
posted by nat at 2:40 PM on July 2 [22 favorites]


Some techbro: "why does press have a right to investigate private companies, let the market decide, I don’t understand who gives them that right"

Let me Google that for you.
posted by chavenet at 2:41 PM on July 2 [4 favorites]


Why do they hate her so much?

A woman who speaks truth from a position of authority?

Why, indeed.
posted by mhoye at 2:41 PM on July 2 [28 favorites]


How can market decide when the market doesn't have the information to do so?
How can the market decide in your favour when it does?
posted by krisjohn at 2:59 PM on July 2 [5 favorites]


Reminds me of when Musk floated the idea of a website rating journalists after negative reports about his companies started coming out. It's funny how Trump and Republicans are mad at the tech industry right now, when they should realize they are united in their desire to end freedom of the press.
posted by star gentle uterus at 2:59 PM on July 2 [17 favorites]


More on this from Motherboard. It sounds like they basically don't like critical news coverage, and they're fixating on Taylor Lorenz because reasons. And we all know the reasons.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 3:01 PM on July 2 [7 favorites]


Kara Swisher has been doing tech journalism for a long time. Based on one of her tweets today, she's suffered some of the same harassment.
posted by rednikki at 3:06 PM on July 2 [3 favorites]


Even if you espouse the ideas of free market capitalism, those ideas rely on good information transmission. How can market decide when the market doesn't have the information to do so?

I assume it's because "the market" isn't what we think of as the market. It's the collection of companies VCs have funded, and everyone who needs to be in the know is already presumed to be in the know via informal private conversations.
posted by treepour at 3:08 PM on July 2 [3 favorites]


There’s an invite only site for rich white guys called Clubhouse? Can we just give Silicon Valley a big wedgie?
posted by geoff. at 3:09 PM on July 2 [38 favorites]


Solid reporting from Motherboard right there. Just incredible to see this gem:
[Balaji] Srinivasan, formerly a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, claimed that "the entire tech press was complicit in covering up the threat of COVID-19," and claimed that relying on the press is "outsourcing your information supply chain to folks who are disaligned with you," comparable to the United States having outsourced its medical supply chain. He proposed that the approaches to truth and accountability offered by GitHub, venture capital funding, and cryptocurrency all offer better models for journalism than "the East Coast model of 'Respect my authori-tay.'"
Github, VC funding, and cryptocurrency? Beyond parody.
posted by adrianhon at 3:09 PM on July 2 [37 favorites]


Can’t wait for the Sorkin movie that has the line “Drop the Club... call it House”
posted by geoff. at 3:13 PM on July 2 [3 favorites]


The VICE article had this great bit calling out the "clickbait" argument:
"When it comes to our industry, there’s a really, really toxic dynamic that exists right now," Nait Jones, an Andreessen Horowitz VC, said on the call while speaking about recent reports about abuse in the tech industry. "Because those stories were so popular and drove so much traffic, they also created a market for more of those stories. They created a pressure on many reporters to find the next one of those stories inside of a fast growing tech company because those stories play very well on Twitter, especially around protecting vulnerable people."

(In 2020, the idea that fishing for “clicks” to drive ad revenue is a successful or even common business model is a fallacy. Publications that rely exclusively on advertising are failing at an astonishing rate; financially, many journalistic outlets are increasingly moving away from an ad-based revenue model driven by traffic, and instead focus on live events, subscriptions, optioning their articles to movie studios, and other models that rely on having a dedicated readership that trusts the publication).
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:33 PM on July 2 [13 favorites]


I love the idea that wealthy, connected CEOs with access to lawyers and PR firms are "defenseless."

CEOs are human beings with feelings, but they are human beings with feelings who sit atop a huge power differential.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 3:47 PM on July 2 [21 favorites]


Glenn Greenwald, independent journalist and outspoken advocate for unrestricted freedom of the press, comes out swinging in defense of... venture capitalists?

@ggreenwald:
If you have a big powerful platform and work for a big powerful newspaper, getting criticized for how you use it - even if harshly - isn't harassment. It's accountability
.
posted by Atom Eyes at 4:25 PM on July 2 [5 favorites]


Has anyone followed up on the part about people trying to change Lorenz's passwords and get into her accounts? That seems like a bit more than criticism.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 5:05 PM on July 2 [1 favorite]


Looking at the article about Away, the company's culture was problematic, but they could have avoided so many issues by just hiring more people and treating them better. Tons of empirical data showing that better work - life balance is good for companies, but I really think the killer app for this business strategy might not be the moral good, or even the benefit to the company, but the good press coverage.

I guess that makes me an innovator, maybe even a maverick, and yet nobody has offered me VC funding, much less a Clubhouse invite.
posted by gryftir at 5:57 PM on July 2


As far as Away, and a company that poorly run with such a toxic culture, it’s almost comical how bad of an example they’re choosing to rally around. Away was/is a cesspool run by a sociopath. It’s like trying and failing to sell a cockroach infested apartment and blaming the person who turned on the light.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:00 PM on July 2 [5 favorites]


"Let the market decide" almost never means the person who says it actually gives a damn about what markets decide.

Usually it means their economic power (or the economic power of someone/something they identify with) yields certain privileges and they want those privileges reinforced and respected.
posted by wildblueyonder at 10:01 PM on July 2 [3 favorites]


I've been watching this blow up on Twitter today, and I'm still a little confused about it. Why do they hate her so much?

They understand that the press is their adversary (as it should be) but seem to have a hard time not getting Mad Online about it.
posted by atoxyl at 10:18 PM on July 2 [1 favorite]


The basic point here is that tech VCs still think they're entitled to the gentle press of trade journalism, and should get write-ups like the teenagers who turn Raspberry Pis into weather stations. So on the one hand they think they deserve profiles in Capitalist Aficionado magazine (or Bloomberg or the WSJ) but on the other hand, the soft treatment of Doing Stuff With Computers Monthly. They think they're hobbyists but also that they do the most important hobby on the planet.

This was true when Valleywag started -- fwiw, Owen Thomas was better at the job than Nick Douglas -- and made the point that by the mid-00s there were a lot of exceedingly rich people who were mostly fortuitous in acquiring their wealth and now had a very direct influence on the direction of tech, a thumb on the scale, and that those decisions have huge consequences that they didn't really care that much about or even understand properly.

I mean, Marc Andreessen came up with the IMG tag as a grad student, was part of Netscape as it was spun out of Mosaic and cashed in when AOL bought it, and now he just flings huge bags of money around and thinks he's god almighty. Mark Cuban bought the Dallas Mavericks; Jamie Zawinski runs a club and pizza joint; Justin Frankel develops REAPER. Peter Thiel does his evil shit and Elon Musk is a fuckwit.

[ interlude music: this all goes back to the Californian Ideology. Louis Rosetto is not blameless. ]

Friends of mine have written a fair bit about how the geekish sense of marginality and ostracism persists even as huge parts of culture have been rendered geekish to some degree, especially music subcultures, because the culture's moved online and nobody buys music unless it's albums for decoration.

VCs are like investment bankers or hedge funds but think they deserve the press coverage of Arduino hackers. Grow the fuck up, you fucking middle-aged adolescents.
posted by holgate at 11:55 PM on July 2 [36 favorites]


Has anyone followed up on the part about people trying to change Lorenz's passwords and get into her accounts? That seems like a bit more than criticism.

It's about ethics in tech journalism. (The defence squads for VCs and the battery-car enthusiasts who worship at the church of Elon Musk by shitting on epidemiologists are direct descendants of people who are deeply invested in their anime avatars.)
posted by holgate at 12:01 AM on July 3 [5 favorites]


The VICE article had this great bit calling out the "clickbait" argument:

The 'clickbait' bee in the VC bonnet goes back to 2008 when Paul Graham used it as his rationale to ban all links to Valleywag from HackerNews. It has literally not evolved since then, even though the entire media industry has been throttled, starved and sliced into pieces, mostly by tech companies' ad business and dodgy analytics. (See: "pivot to video.")

They're still mad at Valleywag.
posted by holgate at 12:20 AM on July 3 [4 favorites]


VCs are like investment bankers or hedge funds but think they deserve the press coverage of Arduino hackers. Grow the fuck up, you fucking middle-aged adolescents.

Exactly this.
posted by harriet vane at 7:18 AM on July 3


The thing about Taylor Lorenz is that she's carved out a niche for herself, and taking down tech CEOs isn't really her thing. There are lots of other reporters who are more equipped to do investigative business stories about tech firms. She's a culture reporter, not a business reporter: she writes intelligently and sympathetically about the culture of the parts of the internet that are frequented by really young people, and especially by really young women. To me, the emblematic Taylor Lorenz story is this one about a 14-year-old black girl from the Atlanta suburbs who created a dance that later went viral and was attributed to a white TikTok star. It's about Jalaiah and her dance, but it's also about power and appropriation and about how white influencers claim credit for and profit off of the work of black creators. And she does that by taking Jalaiah Harmon seriously: she takes Jalaiah seriously as an artist, she takes seriously the financial implications of having other people make money off her work, and she takes seriously Jalaiah's desire to get credit for the things she has created. Lorenz is smart, and she's a good reporter, but a lot of what sets her apart is just that she respects teenage girls and the things they create and therefore is interested in stories that other reporters either miss or wouldn't be equipped to report.

So yeah, these dudes hate journalists because they think they're above criticism or scrutiny, but that's not why they hate Taylor Lorenz. The kind of journalism she does isn't a threat to their businesses.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:29 AM on July 3 [9 favorites]


(In that list above, it sure sounds like Zawinski is the winner — he bailed on the toxic tech industry and tried to save live music in SF. Not sure what he did to deserve being enumerated in a list of tech millionaires acting badly.)
posted by uberchet at 9:29 AM on July 3 [2 favorites]


This tweet does seem problematic.
posted by asra at 9:37 AM on July 3


This tweet does seem problematic.This tweet does seem problematic.

How, exactly? She's pointing out that she's tried to reach out to him over his attacks, and he refuses to talk instead of engaging in character assassination.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:13 PM on July 3 [2 favorites]


Not sure what he did to deserve being enumerated in a list of tech millionaires acting badly.

I should have been clearer that it was meant in terms of contrasts. Some people cashed out their dot-com money and did cool tech shit without thinking of cashing in further. (Frankel ) Some did cool non-tech shit. (Zawinski) Some did cool shit but are also fuckwits. (Musk) But a lot of them decided that they just wanted to sit in boardrooms for the rest of their lives making bets with piles of money while thinking themselves thought leaders and masters of the universe.
posted by holgate at 6:40 PM on July 3 [2 favorites]


@adrianhon

I saw that quote about the press. Every time I think of these weasels, I imagine getting the opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation with them, in person, without their security details, somewhere quiet and out of the way.
posted by constantinescharity at 6:42 PM on July 3


(In that list above, it sure sounds like Zawinski is the winner — he bailed on the toxic tech industry and tried to save live music in SF. Not sure what he did to deserve being enumerated in a list of tech millionaires acting badly.)

Frankel doesn't fit either so I assumed the comment was just illustrating all the different ways people ended up?
posted by atoxyl at 7:09 PM on July 3 [2 favorites]


How, exactly? She's pointing out that she's tried to reach out to him over his attacks, and he refuses to talk instead of engaging in character assassination.

Her selective quote leaving out there part he was responding to. Steph Korey has a tonne of issues. But being a journalist Frankel might have been expected to respond differently than to trash her whole response about challenges as a women CEO. Regarless of the validity, selective quoting stripping the context is never a great move. It makes it look like an attack out of the blue rather than a response to something.
posted by asra at 9:40 PM on July 3


The notion tha Greenwald came I out in defense of the VC bro’s is like the least surprising thing I’ve read all week. I am continually on the fence about him. I can stay with him about 80% of the time on issues, but that other 20% has me scratching my head. He strikes me as the kind of person who is always scoping out where the biggest crowds are and then joining their opposition just on principle irrespective of the actual issue at hand.
posted by hwestiii at 8:48 AM on July 4 [1 favorite]


Glenn Greenwald, independent journalist and outspoken advocate for unrestricted freedom of the press, comes out swinging in defense of... venture capitalists?

Oddly enough, when Greenwald himself has been a target of harassment, he didn't describe that as "accountability".
posted by mhoye at 12:31 PM on July 4 [2 favorites]


But being a journalist Frankel might have been expected to respond differently than to trash her whole response about challenges as a women CEO.

Bullshit.

It's a journalist's job to call out bullshit arguments for what they are, and part of the reason that (gestures wildly around) this is happening is because we've forgotten that.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:37 PM on July 4 [2 favorites]


Also, "I don't like what someone reports" is not a fucking justification for character assassination.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:40 PM on July 4 [4 favorites]


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