There are a lot of ludicrous things about Pax Dickinson’s tweets and his “defense” of those tweets. The issues related to sexism and racism in tech, and the compounding issues that arise when we allow people with overt and aggressive biases into positions with hiring power have been covered pretty well already. Clara Jeffery was all over it on Twitter. Amanda Hess has written two posts for Slate. Courtney Stanton hit the nail on the head at Salon. Anil Dash had coffee with him. So, I’m pretty sure I have nothing of value to add to that conversation right now.
However, there was something totally unrelated to the big issue at hand in the follow up post he wrote to get some attention for his Next Big Thing that really bugged me. You know, besides the insulting “I’m a satirist” angle.
Pax is working on:
Glimpse, is an ephemeral photo sharing app with strong NSA-proof encryption. Ironically an app like this may have prevented me from getting in trouble over a 3 and a half year old tweet.
This, in my mind, shows a total lack of comprehension of the problem. What happened to Pax was not a failure of security. These weren’t sensitive documents or communications Pax was trying to keep out of the hands of the public. These were things Pax was proud to share. If we are to believe him, these were funny jokes. He was proud of how funny his jokes were and wanted people to see them, so they could appreciate how funny they were too. He could have made his account private if he wanted to only share them with people he knew or felt reasonably close to. The point of publicly broadcasting your views is to deliver them to people.
As he says at the conclusion of his post,
I’ll also get to keep tweeting the way I want. I hope those of you who understand and get my jokes will be following.
While I am all for secure sharing, (I think people have the right to privacy from eavesdropping and the pilfering of interactions by third parties, government or otherwise) the fact remains that the actions of your intended recipients are out of your hands, and no amount of encryption is going to change that. NSA-proof encryption can save you from the NSA, but it can’t save you from yourself.
I am reminded of people who send hateful and offensive email and are shocked and outraged when the recipient posts them openly. You are entitled to communicate without an outside party aggressively trying to steal that interaction, and you are entitled to behave how you like, but you are not entitled to everyone putting up with your bad behavior. Once you put a document, or photo, or collection of words, in someone else’s hands you are sharing control of that thing to some degree. You may protect that information with contracts and laws, but the fact remains that the recipient has some control over what happens to it.
By default, the intended recipient of a tweet is “anyone/everyone.” It’s not as though Clara Jeffery or anyone else publicizing Dickinson’s tweets was an incredibly motivated adversary working on compromising a digital vault of Dickinson’s private exchanges. She merely went to a publicly available archive of all of his offensive declarations.
By all means, protect your communications from prying eyes. Just remember that you are still responsible for the things you put into the world. And maybe reconsider trusting your security to someone who doesn’t seem to understand that.
Thanks to Karina and Ryan for giving the first draft of this a look and giving me some helpful comments. And thanks to Editorially for making it so easy to have friends review things.