Blog Post

Public shaming and free speech: Why the rush to attack Pax Dickinson makes me nervous

Every week seems to produce a new poster boy for the sub-species of internet troll known as a “bro-grammer” — the kind of unrepentantly macho and in many cases misogynistic idiot who makes everyone around them cringe. This week we’ve seen two already, including the guys who came up with the widely ridiculed Titstare demo at Disrupt. But it’s the second one I’m more interested in: namely, Pax Dickinson, the former chief technology officer at Business Insider — the guy whose tweets eventually got him fired.

In case you aren’t following this particular story, Dickinson made a number of sexist comments on Twitter that triggered a storm of controversy. This caused some of those who were outraged by his behavior to dig back through his Twitter stream, where they found abundant evidence that this had been going on for years — involving not just sexist or misogynistic comments but what appeared to be homophobic and racist ones as well (I’m not going to reproduce the worst ones here, but you should be able to find them if you really want to).

Tweet some sexist remarks, get fired

Dickinson’s tweets quickly turned from a typical Twitter rubbernecking incident into a full-blown news story, in part because of his position as CTO at Business Insider, the online news site run by Henry Blodget. Nitasha Tiku wrote a story about his behavior at Gawker and asked Blodget what he thought about one of his executives saying such things — especially the ones that implied he wouldn’t hire women — to which the BI founder replied that he didn’t agree with them. The next morning Dickinson was fired.

shouting, free speech

For many, this seems deliciously fitting: A man who has used Twitter to make horrible comments about women and other groups loses his job over those comments, and the arc of the moral universe tilts toward justice as it should. Even some of my Gigaom colleagues, when I brought the incident up during a story discussion, argued that this kind of crowd-fuelled public shaming of a creep like Dickinson is totally appropriate, especially since he had the ability to make hiring decisions at a major internet site. As one person put it:

“FWIW, I think it’s actually a good example of using public shaming to enforce social mores. Like, it’s no longer cool to be a racist dick in public. That’s kind of the point of shame anyhow and how we as a society enforce our idea of what’s right.”

Just to be crystal clear, I am not defending anything that Dickinson said in his tweets, nor am I arguing that he should get his job back, or that he should win employee of the month, or anything of the sort. Based on an interview he gave to New York magazine, he seems to be a bit of an idiot — and one who can’t seem to understand what people found so offensive about his comments. Either he is trying to generate publicity for his new startup or he is just thick.

When does shaming become an angry mob?


That said, however, I confess that I still find what happened to Dickinson disturbing, in much the same way that I found what happened to the “brogrammers” who made the dongle remark at PyCon disturbing, and what happened to the Twitter user known as Comfortably Smug, after he posted a series of fake news alerts during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in New York. All of those involved were subjected to public ridicule and attacks from all sides, and eventually lost their jobs.

In each of these cases, there was clearly some harm done by the comments made. And I fully appreciate that there is a systemic sexism problem in the technology industry, and that allowing such behavior to go without being criticized encourages that to continue. But at the same time, this case produced what seemed like an orgy of outrage that at times felt like the beginnings of an angry mob — if only because of the speed and aggressiveness of the response.

Clark Bianco at the blog Popehat echoed some of my concerns in a post, in which he argues that the kind of public shaming that the social web encourages can be more damaging than helpful. While public shaming may have worked in small towns or other confined spaces, it becomes a much more dangerous thing when the entire internet participates — and it’s difficult to crack down on the speech we don’t like without affecting everyone else’s right to free speech at the same time. As Bianco puts it:

“I simultaneously think that the proper response to speech is more speech… and worry that given modern technologies, the result is often not debate that merges thesis and antithesis into synthesis, but punishment… and punishment that can be disproportionate to the crime.”

In some cases, free speech is a victim too

Naming and shaming

The desire to do something about behavior like Dickinson’s is totally understandable, and even admirable, since his comments demean women and make light of their inability to get good jobs, as well as other serious topics like sexual abuse. And as many people have pointed out in the aftermath of Titstare and other incidents, the technology sector has a problem with brogrammers and related behavior, and it needs to be called out. I understand that, and a lot of the criticism he got was appropriate.

But Bianco, who says he has corresponded with Dickinson but never met him, argues that what the former CTO was doing on Twitter was a form of satire — or “performance art,” as he calls it — and that he is “smart, hilarious, and an ardent defender of free speech, human rights, and a decent human being.” The satire explanation, which Dickinson elaborates on in his interview with New York magazine, may have worked with his wife (he has been married for 15 years) but apparently wasn’t enough for the woman he co-founded a startup with: she wrote on Medium about how she was parting ways with him.

Regardless of whether you buy his defence, however — and plenty don’t — it is still more than a little troubling to me that we are so quick to censure someone for some comments they made on Twitter, in some cases years ago, and to hound them publicly until they lose their jobs. At some point, that kind of activity becomes tantamount to censorship, as Jillian York of the Electronic Frontier Foundation argues in an interview with the Switch blog at the Washington Post.

Where is that line exactly? Perhaps we are starting to find out — but it is a messy and unpleasant process, and I am afraid that if we aren’t careful we could end up on the wrong side when it is all over.

This post was updated to remove the term “lynch mob,” which I agree was a poor choice of analogies.

Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Shutterstock / Aaron Amot, Shutterstock / 1000 Words and Shutterstock / Sam72

62 Responses to “Public shaming and free speech: Why the rush to attack Pax Dickinson makes me nervous”

  1. SERIOUSLY!? – You are going to ignore prejudice to attempt to pathetically hold up freedom of speech? As an American Military veteran who comes from a loooooong line of military history, and who’s sons are proudly serving right now in the Air Force, I can tell you that an omelet made with 9 good eggs and one bad one, is STILL a rotten omelet!

    Stop attempting to perversely justify freedom of speech, while downplaying the incredibly distasteful language and hatred Mr Pax Dickinson showed… He deserved “everything” he has received, and is still short one ass kicking by some REAL men!!

    We live in a progressive world and there is NO PLACE for such prejudice. His words don’t just reflect upon him, it makes us “ALL” look bad.. And to attempt to use “freedom of speech” as a justification is about as immature and ignorant as one can get..

    What we should be writing about is ways to slam dunk these people and make DAMN sure they don’t get jobs! With all the people still out of work, lets make sure the person with respect for all others gets the job first…

    Does he have a “right” to free speech? Sure, and I have a “right” to fire him for being prejudice! He should just be glad that’s all he got..

    And for the record, I’m no screaming Liberal with a hug everyone carry flowers and save the planet speech either.. I’m a proud card carrying Conservative, true raised in the country, American bred patriot American who is tired of idiots like him making “ALL” of us look bad…

    Enough is enough.. There is no “excuse” for prejudice mindset anymore.. It’s a new world and prejudice has no place here!

  2. Are you attempting to justify Free Speech with the ilk repute of bad character and form?? You don’t shoot the horse to save the lamb… BOTH are equally valuable, but both have a “responsibility” to act correctly.

    I have NO problem with the bandwagon running over, backing up and running over again.. Mr. Pax Dickinson. In my humble opinion, it couldn’t happen to a more deserving donkey.

    It high time people stopped “ignoring” the filth people produce from their lips just to use to term free speech… As a military veteran myself, who came from a looooooong line of military veterans, and who’s sons now proudly serve in the Air Force, I can tell you we didn’t raise our right hands and put our lives in harms way so that someone could “abuse” some of our freedoms, and then hide behind others…

    GROW UP!! Get real, and move into the new century… Prejudice has no place in this world, and anyone practicing it deserves the heat it inflicts upon them…

    How’s that for no political correctness and exercising my right to free speech!!??

  3. #standwithpax

    I don’t mean to grief you Mathew and tip my hat for at least not joining the mob, but:

    You state as fact Pax’s Tweets were racist, sexist, homophobic, and misogynistic. You don’t get to make that call. I certainly don’t find a single one of his Tweets wrong in any sense and I suspect many, perhaps most people don’t.

    And what if you did agree with Pax? What would your next move be? Defend him? You’d get fired too, immediately, and never work in your field again. So what’s your analysis worth here, or any journalist’s? Not much, respectfully.

    McCarthyism was all about “normal social consequences” for speech & thought – it wasn’t illegal to be a communist, just a career limiting move in Hollywood government and elsewhere. So that line of defense for the witch hunt doesn’t fly.

    Nitasha Tiku is a Marxist – not an exaggeration – with a long history of comments (and leading witch hunts) which betray hatred of men and white people. The mob is fine with racism & sexism, just as long as it is targeted at certain races & genders. It’s a game to them, a club with which to beat white males, and only white males.

    It was brave contrarians like Pax who stood up to Hitler and Stalin and any goon you could name; his go-with-the-flow politically correct detractors and harassers were the type who were Hitler’s and Stalin’s enthusiastic executioners.

    Rape jokes? Fine with the mob, as long as it’s of the don’t bend over to pick up the soap type. It’s a staple of standup & Hollywood – nobody complains.

    I’m from Canada, and have programmed for governments and companies which do hire by race & gender quota rather than merit and are obsessed with this crap. The resulting workplace is dysfunctional beyond description – everybody is on stress leave & antidepressants.

    Ever notice why Canadian tech companies always fail (Nortel, Corel, Mitel, Hummingbird) or get bought out (Cognos)? It’s like a law. I can tell you why because I was there: quota culture, and the attendant hellish workplaces that result from that mindset. You’ll see what I mean, Silicon Valley, because it is coming to you, and soon. You will not be able to compete or innovate. Freer societies like China (!) and Russia (!!) will eat your lunch.

    • WOW!! StandwithPax.. Are you REALLY that Dense!!?? – You assume because “YOU” don’t find them offensive that they’re NOT offensive?? WOW!! Who died and left you God??

      The “N” word, “Rape” and other suggestive language is considered to be “PREJUDICE” MR standByAPrejudice… I read a majority of his comments on Twitter, this guy is a prejudice ass and got everything he deserved.. Actually, he deserves more… But relieved from his job was a good start!!

      There’s a new world, GROW UP or GET OUT.. Those are the words we should be telling the ILK who attempt to hide behind the freedom of speech BS…

      For your information, “Freedom” is only a “freedom” until it imposes upon others.. Then its no longer a freedom. Maybe you should get a little “depth” in what the word really means… And its values…

  4. This is one of those who, whom? moments. Mr. Dickenson lost his job and BI lost a cto they were satisfied with all because some Gawker basement troll found something to do one day. Ultimately this comes down to content. I expect if BI produced the cure for cancer and Pax Dickenson was the cto they would not have reacted so hastily.

  5. Shai Goldman

    This is not a free speech issue. Pax isn’t get locked up in jail for his comments. His employer has every right to fire him as those comments are negative reflection on the company. Pax is now working for himself, so he can continue to post similar tweets all day long and no worry about getting fired.

    • Mathew Ingram

      Thanks, Shai — I know his employer has every right to fire him, as I mentioned in the post. And I agree this isn’t a classic First Amendment-style free speech issue, since the government isn’t involved. But despite that, I still think free speech and our ability to tolerate it is at issue in this case — as much as I dislike the way Pax exercised that speech. The bottom line is I think speech should be protected from more than just government intervention, especially when it involves political statements made in public, however offensive they might be. And it disturbs me that an angry mob on Twitter can help determine what speech is tolerated and what isn’t.

      • txpatriot

        Matthew, since you won’t say it, allow me: this is yet another example of political correctness run amok.

        To all of those piling on to this guy, I hope none of you ever lose your job for saying something stupid online.

        But if you do, just remember what you said here, and that karma is a b*tch.

  6. So, Matthew, are you saying that other people should not have their say on this matter? Are you saying it is wrong for someone (or many someones) to call for Pax to be sacked?

    Where the hell is your freedom of speech then?

    And Matthew, if you think the First Amendment is wrong, then feel free to petition to get it changed. But remember, the Internet is not the USA.

    There are two ways of looking at “free speech”. One is that you are always free to say what you want. Even in the most repressive of regimes. It could get you killed, but you are free to say it so long as you accept the consequences (remember Matt is talking about a principle here).

    Alternatively, there is not, nor has there ever been, any such thing as free speech, because it always comes at a cost.

  7. fredhstein

    Mathew – too many words in your article. If you’re a public figure, don’t create a ton of public embarrassments. If Pax thought his comments were private or not offensive, he lacks the judgement for the job he held – full stop.

    As for public shaming, I agree, there is a “pack attack” component to this. And the pack only needs allegations, no proof, nor even due diligence. It is a sad side effect of free speech.

  8. Free speech is an inappropriate term
    What you can utter and what is acceptable has always been governed by the words used, the context, the situation, who is listening, who actually heard what was said an how it was understood. So when you are absolutely alone you are free to say whatever to yourself.

    • Talk about confusion… Your structured thought here is crazy insanity at best… “everyone” knows that you are a “byproduct” of your “belief” system.. Whether you attempt to hide it or not, it shines through in one way or another…

      To say that he has the right to be “prejudice” in his own privacy doesn’t bode well when he has other people’s lives in his hand… That’s right, too many people take the role of a leader/manager with a pathetic grain of salt.. That’s why we have the troubles we do in the work place. “Character” does define the man… And it defines the position!!!

      Regardless of free speech…

  9. Sally Fitz

    Hard to take a guy seriously that can’t even spell “defence” right. Pax was a serial defender; this was no drive-by. Your whole argument falls apart because of that. Must be great to be a white male!

  10. Paul Quigley

    Mathew – What I find interesting is that it feels like 80% of the body text of this article is you distancing yourself from Pax’s comments and condemning them, lest the internet mobs think you’re standing up for him.

    But when you have to be this cagey it’s hard to then frame a principled defence of freedom of expression. All you can do is condemn, condemn, condemn, raise a hand and say “hey but”.

    The mob is scary. And you can feel it even on this page.

    Good topic and piece though, glad you raised it.

  11. To me the fallacy of articles like this is that they imagine a coordinated attack where there is in fact just the chaos of the internet.

    Nowadays if you tweet something stupid, a million people can see it. If all of them respond with outrage, the effect of that can feel like — and have the practical effect of — a rain of nuclear bombs upon your life.

    When it happens to a schoolteacher who Facebooks her anti-gay views, I don’t want her teaching my kids but you could convince me she was a victim too insofar as Facebook doesn’t exactly warn people of the risks it encourages them to take.

    When it happens to the “technology officer” of an internet-focused internet company? Puh-leeeze.

    You guys BUILT this freaking nightmare.

  12. Agree with others who have said that this is not a free-speech issue. No one has taken away Dickinson’s Twitter account. If this is a free-speech issue, then every company that has guidelines for appropriate employee behavior would have a free-speech issue.

    Question for Mathew: How would you reconcile your uneasiness with this demonstration of the power of the masses on Twitter with what you’ve written in previous posts in which you seem quite at ease with that power despite its messiness, such as “If you don’t like the chaos of breaking news, you should probably stay off Twitter” (

    The issue in all these cases is the immense power that Twitter has given to everyone, how responsibly the masses are using that power, and the potential negatives of that power. Your advice in the piece on breaking news and Twitter was basically “nevermind the mess.” Would your advice to yourself in this case be “If you don’t like the way Internet justice works, you should probably stay off Twitter”?

  13. This story is about whether the public’s reaction to this guy’s twitter comments were too much or not. It seems that a main premise is that the public loves sensationalism. And did the public go overboard blasting this guy? Is the internet too open so that anybody can publicly ridicule anyone… anonymously?

    I had an oil operator on my land in Texas that threatened to kill me, beat me up, set me up and I went to jail, he lied to my neighbors and had them thinking that I was a bigtime druggie and that I had all sorts of mental problems.

    The law enforcement was extremely corrupt and would do nothing. The local media wouldn’t do anything because oil is the main industry in the area.

    The only place I had to turn was doing my own journalism and I used a forum on the internet. The oil operator’s lawyer had the forum shut down. Fortunately I went to journalism school and wrote up an article myself and printed up about 1000 copies old school and distributed them by hand all over town.

    I haven’t given up on using the internet. Having the internet as a future option to use against the oil operator is one of the few things that helps me to breathe easy.

    In my situation, journalism very well could have saved my life. If my forum hadn’t had been shut down, my problem might have been solved by now! The company that hosted my forum was totally chicken even though they were not liable for any content outside people posted on it.

  14. “it becomes a much more dangerous thing when the entire internet participates”

    I take issue with this and agree with Subway Suicide. It’s like arguing in favor of security through obscurity. Twitter is a broadcast medium, and Dickinson was able to coast along for years because his audience (follower count) was relatively small and probably more like-minded than the Internet as a whole. Traditional broadcasters like Don Imus and Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder were fired for what they said because they already had large audiences; the Internet had nothing to do with it. Besides, it works both ways. Among many others, Marilyn Hagerty, Justin Halpern, and Caine Monroy got their 15+ minutes of fame because of the Internet. What happened to Michael Arrington, the posts in popular blogs with little evidence to back up troubling accusations, was much more deserving of rebuke and is something we really need to be vigilant about.

  15. Pax Dickinson strikes me as a douchebag and a liability. For that I would have fired him. This has nothing to do with “free speech”.

    That said, there’s a larger issue here. Progressives seeking to reconfigure society to fit their values are constantly demanding that we have a “dialogue” about race and sex in the tech industry (and, well, everywhere else). However, what “dialogue” means in this context is for progressives to express their opinions and for anyone who disagrees to be punished – shamed publicly for their thoughtcrime, perhaps fired, perhaps prosecuted for hate speech.

    I’m a startup founder who would be happy to have an honest dialogue about issues of race and sex in the tech industry as long as I could honestly and directly communicate my views in good faith without being punished via a public shaming, a bogus discrimination lawsuit, and a permanently stained Google search listing for my name.

    What’s going to happen if I post under my real name something like “There are fewer women in tech than men because a) the social rewards in society for financial and professional success are greater for men than women, b) many women quit work when they have children, and c) fewer women are interested in tech than men”? That strikes me as completely reasonable, not sexist or misogynist, and something that adds to the conversation. I’d be happy to debate that statement with anyone, and to hear opposing points of view. Maybe I’m wrong and haven’t considered in the right way. I also don’t feel it’s unreasonable for a startup co-founder with a female co-founder to ask if she’s planning on having a child and taking 6 months of maternity leave in the next year or so. Is that crazy and misogynistic? Apparently so.

    The problem is we really can’t have these debates. You say anything from the last paragraph publicly, you get tarred as a misogynist. So the “dialogue” basically consists of the Jezebel crowd finding the worst examples of male behavior in tech, claiming that they’re representative of the entire industry, screeching loudly and exacting revenge, while everyone else tiptoes around having the exact opposite of a real conversation about race and sex in tech (or elsewhere).

    • May I offer a quick rebuttal?

      As a gay man, I have spent my life on the receiving end of egregiously unfair and unjust treatment with a zero percent chance of realizing any kind of justice over any of it. The very day Barak Obama was elected California stripped me of my right to marry. This was in 2008.

      Now things are getting better. But the pushback is constant. God forbid a straight white man should be unjustly punished even by a hair over anything. Believe me, the world will hear of it. In fact, through you, they have yet again.

      I’m sorry it’s so tough for you. It’s quite a bit tougher for the actual recipients of real bias. But that as ever is not your problem so don’t waste a second thinking about them when you could be nursing grudges over imaginary slights, as is your privilege.

      • GrayZip – No one who doesn’t stand in your shoes understands how you feel. As someone who went to school for Psychology and spent time as a Big Brother, there is a “real” component to what these prejudices do to people.

        it’s not just an unhamrful thought, but a “serious” and “real” weight that can be Physically as well as mentally felt. Dealing with some of the toughest cases, I have seen through their eyes, and only slightly able to feel their pain.. But it was enough to know that we all have to stand up for such injustices.

        As a Conservative white Christian man, I fight a stigma that is of a different nature.. Pressure and default acceptance that its OK to tell me a prejudice joke, and a total shock of disbelief when I lash back.

        I always remind my fellow Christian friends, that the maddest Jesus Christ got while on Earth was at the Church, not at the sinner…. ;) In fact, it was their building he crumbled to the ground as he left here, not the sinners..

        So, people would be wise to stop preaching the words, and instead actually “observe” what they “really” mean.. :)

        Good reply Grayzip and the world is slowly becoming a better place…

  16. Dave Winer ☮

    Mathew, great piece. Thanks for speaking up.

    This is the part of the PD interview that I found chilling.

    Q: When your tweets were being criticized, you responded, “feminism in tech remains the champion topic for my block list. my finger is getting tired.” That wasn’t satire, and that fanned the flames.

    A: Yeah, and I’m surprised by that. I mean, when I tweet about feminism in tech, I get a lot of grief. I get vitriol, and it’s content-free vitriol. And when I get content-free vitriol, I, you know, tend to block. That’s what I used to do. That was kind of my way of keeping the haters away. And now, you know, it doesn’t really matter anymore. The haters are everywhere, so I don’t need to block anybody anymore. But that’s all I meant by that. I don’t block people who are making a valid point. I block people who are just, you know, calling me a douchebag. That’s not necessary. I’m going to block that. And I never get that kind of content-free vitriol on any other topic. If I touch a controversial topic, I’ll talk to people and go back and forth and say what I mean, but with that it tends to be vitriol, so.

  17. Most companies care about the public perception of them, and if an executive says things that are offensive to a large segment of the population (especially if the segment overlaps with the subset of the country that uses the company’s product), it’s not unusual for the company to fire the executive. If he was a lower level employee, it wouldn’t have received as much attention, but when you’re at the C level, you can often be considered a spokesperson for the company, or at least someone who represents the kind of leadership the company looks strives for. Dickinson’s comments project a negative image of leadership for BI, especially given Blodgett’s morally challenged career in the financial industry, so he had no choice but to fire Dickinson.

    He can now continue to make those kinds of jokes without worrying about making his employer look bad.

    • ajbennett

      When I first came across PD’s twitter account, two things came to mind:

      (1) Is this guy for real or just a troll? He’s saying some pretty unpopular and offensive stuff.

      (2) CTO of Business Insider? That’s a company I’ve actually heard of. Wow. Do they know he’s posting this stuff.

      I think you hit the nail on the head in explaining that PD was a C-level executive at Business Insider. I don’t really think Blodgett’s past skeletons in the closet have much to do with the decision.

      It doesn’t matter if you’re posting about stuff completely unrelated to your job title. Even if you’re CFO posting about religion, or (in PD’s case) CTO posting about politics and social issues, if you use your company name in your twitter bio, you’re making the choice to representing your company. All the more so if you’re CxO.

      The fact is, if he posted exactly the same things under some alias “Paul Dickerson”, had no information about his company, and had a cat picture as his avatar, none of this would have happened. Offended people would unfollow or block him, a few people would agree with him, and he’d be just another twitter member with a thousand or so followers.

  18. Travis Mason-Bushman

    The First Amendment says you can’t go to jail for saying something dumb and misogynist. It doesn’t say your employer has to keep paying you after you bring them into disrepute.

  19. This is not a free speech issue. Free speech violations occur when the government punishes people for speaking their mind. The general public complaining until someone loses his job? Not the same thing. Why do so many people not get this?

      • Frankypelvis

        Oh Jeeze, you really are defending Pax in particular. So he can say “hey I’m the powerful CTO and I will let it be known that no one in my organization, and none of my peers, should hire a woman as a programmer, because none of them are talented.” And no one is allowed to attack him for that. He can admit to baseless illegal discrimination and face no repercussions? We all just shut up because that’s free speech?

        That’s asinine.

      • @Mathew, I agree, freedom of speech should be upheld because it is a “morale” and “rights” given to all men through our creator… But if you’re going to hold this to be true with distinction in character, you must also hold true any and all other distinctions which fall below the acceptable realm of a good morale justice. And prejudice falls into that category…

        I’m sorry my friend, you CANNOT ignore one while attempting to prop another one up…Unlike the Benjamin Franklin “T” I believe there is another strong filter based formula that works even better.. it’s called the “equal(=)” sign… YOU cannot justify one side of it without ensuring the other side has been given equal value.. To do so makes it unequal or an improper value… That is “logic” at its base core…

  20. Seriously

    “In some cases, free speech is a victim too” — look, no. That’s just not true. Free speech is not under attack. No one is preventing Pax, or anyone else, from continuing to make whatever statements they would like to in an open, public broadcasting environment like Twitter. He is still free to continue saying whatever he likes (and he certainly has continued to).

    But that doesn’t mean that BusinessInsider (or any other organization) has to continue to employ him.

    Considering that Pax had hiring/firing control and the statements that he publicly made, he put BusinessInsider in potential liability for biased hiring practices. So from a purely legal point of view, he had to go. No question.

    It wasn’t the mob that terminated him, it was BusinessInsider, and they had every right and just cause to do so.

    Separately — the “public shaming” that Pax received was in the form of free speech as well, wasn’t it? How could you argue for Pax’s form of free speech, but argue against the form of free speech that the response took?

    And what about the public responses to ValleyWag and others who have covered this debacle? Those who have escalated the name-calling and threats in defense of Pax? Is this acceptable or unacceptable free speech?

  21. I understand why it’s troubling to you “that we are so quick to censure someone for some comments they made on Twitter.” But I draw the line at the comparison of actual rape to a move. And the word “only” in his tweet is barbaric and cruel.

  22. Tom Streeter

    ‘Free speech’ is only protected in the US (theoretically, though less and less) from government interference. That doesn’t apply here. These things are all happening in the private sphere. No one’s asking for him to be prosecuted for anything (nor should they). Nowhere, however, is there a right to say whatever the heck you want to say and then get to be immune from the consequences of saying it.

    Bad people can harass someone for saying something good and virtuous and there’s no recourse for that. Why shouldn’t the inverse be true?

    And as far as the ‘performance art’ defense? Maybe. I don’t know his heart, only his actions. But I hope he was a better CTO than artist, then.

      • madiduslexdiscipulus

        Anyone who defends this Pax is clearly a sexist misogynist. You would think it was ok to fire him if he said “I hate Niggers” or “Gas the Jews,” but you think that women should be abused because they won’t give it up to you stupid, old, and ignorant ass. Your comparison to misidentified Facebook user is SUCH a logical fallacy. Pax said all that he was accused of. He admits that he is a misogynist and is proud of it. We don’t support that, except on Fox news, in America today. Freedom of speech is strengthened by the public discourse. Hate speech is defeated by the speech of the rational and caring side of society, and children learn what is right. When I grew up in the 70’s the racists learned that they need to shut the fuck up, it is long past due that the sexist need to be knocked down a few pegs.

  23. Subway Suicide

    Um? Pax Dickinson is free to say whatever he likes. And when his free speech potentially exposes his employers to legal ramifications of that speech, they are free to part ways with him. No one’s right to speak has been impaired here. Making this a free speech issue badly misses the mark.

    I think part of the problem here is a category error, in that Mr Dickinson probably believed that his audience was primarily made up of people much like himself, “brogrammers” who would be amused and not offended by his jokes. It’s possible – even likely – that his tweets seem playful in the right context. However, on twitter, EVERYONE can hear you. Twitter has no context. And it behooves someone with a C-suite position at a very public-facing company to watch what he says in public. Else he may lose that C-suite employ. That is a normal social consequence.

    Free speech does not mean consequence-free speech. Adults are free to say whatever they like. And they are also free to face the consequences of that speech.

    • What is the consequence to the crowd for ganging up on somebody who may or may not deserve the mass criticism? That is the million-dollar question. Take for instance the case when the person being mass-criticized turns out to be innocent. What then is the consequence to the crowd?


      “Consider the announcement of the Sandy Hook episode and the ensuing media frenzy to name the shooter. He was first incorrectly identified as Ryan Lanza, who turned out to be the killer’s brother. Other “Ryan Lanzas” and their friends and families were harassed during the confusion. Reporters are notoriously bad at getting the facts straight during the frenzied moments following a big story, let alone amateur detectives or doxxers. Things get especially hairy when big media publish the identity of alleged aggressors based on unverified claims from untrustworthy sources. Amateur detectives raced against the FBI to uncover the perpetrators behind the Boston bombings on social news site Reddit. They fingered the wrong person, resulting in a misguided witch hunt that prompted Reddit’s general manager Erik Martin to publicly apologize. Such exposure can lead to misguided counterattacks from a faceless troll army. On an Internet where people can so deftly conceal their identities and impersonate strangers, we must be mindful of our propensity for error.”

      I think the lynch mob analogy is actually quite apt. What we are lacking here is due process and a presumption of innocence before proof of guilt. A crowd can mistakenly attack an innocent, and there is no consequence to them for their free speech.