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TracingWoodgrains

1375 karmaJoined Jan 2023

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I broadly endorse your judgment on this topic inasmuch as I've observed it, for whatever that is worth. I do want to add the specific note that one of the most serious problems with the process issues is that they led to such an adversarial launching point to the topic that the response was in an unreasonably difficult position from the beginning. Ozy's article (while being on the whole a defensible view) criticizes the approach of the response quite harshly, but speaking with precision and grace in high-pressure, intensely adversarial situations with an audience primed to distrust you is a specific, rare skill with only limited bearing on someone's approach in regular times.

You are likely right that a mistrial is unrealistic at this point, but inasmuch as people take the approach you advocate, it's worth emphasizing the reasons process concerns make putting things together so complicated.

I found this post in the wake of the recent Nonlinear situation and my own response to it. I think it's worth stating at least briefly in light of all of that that it seems extremely unwise to me to take serious adverse actions against anyone, or spread rumors from any sort of official position about them, if they do not have the opportunity to hear and understand the allegations against them. There is little more unpleasant than having the people around you suddenly treat you as suspect or evil without any apparent reason, particularly if every attempt to learn the reason is rebuffed.

"EA is not the legal system" isn't a good response here: the legal system has evolved due process for good reason, and allowing a norm of confidential-from-accused allegations that lead to concrete action will almost necessarily replicate every harm that led to the evolution of due process in the legal system, given enough time. I recognize the complications of victims fearing retribution, but everyone in adversarial situations fears retribution, whether they are a victim, a false accuser, or (as is perhaps most common) someone interpreting an ambiguous situation in a negative light. I think the policy you outline dramatically downplays the harm of restrictive actions taken based on partial, one-sided views of adversarial situations; if confidential-to-the-accused accusations should be acted on at all, they should be acted on with immense restraint and caution.

I meant nothing of the sort. "They've had" is present perfect tense, and it's in a section where he is referring to Nonlinear in the present tense as of 7 September 2023 as he outlines the basics of their structure and history.

EDIT:

which to me reads as clearly talking about how many employees a company has simultaneously.

This reading would make sense in isolation; as we have all been talking about the same fact pattern for a week, I admit it makes rather less sense to me. Either you read my statement as a general hypothetical to demonstrate what an unambiguous falsehood looks like, in which case there's no issue, or you read it as referring to the Nonlinear situation, in which common sense dictates it should be read as sloppy shorthand for the "has had 21 employees" fact pattern that's been under discussion.

I'm baffled. What do you mean "during the relevant period"? The relevant period as explicitly written into Ben's post is the company's entire history.

Chloe and Alice were in no position to know the company's historical employee count as of September 7, 2023, which is the only thing that matters at all in determining whether Ben's claim was accurate.

If you go and check the primary sources, and they definitely confirm that during the relevant period [presumably you mean: while Chloe/Alice were employed there] Nonlinear did not have 21 employees (and had much closer to the number of employees that Ben listed), it will update me further towards the conclusion that you are straining at gnats to defend obvious inaccuracies.

I absolutely do not admit that Ben's post substantially got the number of Nonlinear employees during the relevant period wrong. As far as I can tell it is still accurate.

His precise sentence was this:

My current understanding is that they’ve had around ~4 remote interns, 1 remote employee, and 2 in-person employees (Alice and Chloe).

He did not say "At the time Alice and Chloe were working there, they'd had...". He used the present tense! It is simple revisionism to act as if the sentence says anything else. Anyone reading that sentence would and should come to the conclusion that he was speaking about the company as a whole, providing background context for who they are, not anchoring it to some unspecified point in the past.

This is a strange claim to litigate in this way.

By "has" I meant "has had a total of", in line with their consistent claim of past count. I think that should have been clear given context and am unsure why you're acting as if I would be claiming something different to that.

It was simple to fact-check. Trivial, really:

They wanted to tell you. They were ready to answer questions and had the information immediately on hand. They knew exactly how many employees they'd had. You could have asked; they would have told you. If you wanted more specifics to ensure you had an accurate count, I suspect that a week would be plenty of time for them to pull up records.

You wouldn't need to take their word for it; most companies keep records of past employees and have some form of evidence to back their claims. You would have needed to go to a source that had the info available, and such a source was there and begging to speak with you.

I think it's worth pointing to the specifics of each, because I really don't think it's unreasonable to gloss as "all of whom disagreed."

I would delay publication.

This goes without saying.

I think it depends a lot on the group's ability to provide evidence the investigators' claims are wrong. In a situation like that I would really press them on the specifics. They should be able to provide evidence fairly quickly. You don't want a libel suit but you also don't want to let them indefinitely delay the publication of an article that will be damaging to them. It is a tricky situation!

"I would really press them on the specifics. They should be able to provide evidence very quickly. You don't want a libel suit..."

They were very clearly offering to provide specific, hard evidence in a short time span, not asking for an indefinite delay. Some of that specific, hard evidence came in two hours before publication. Ben and Oliver did not press them on the specifics, they said they had a hard deadline and that was that.

This feels like a good example of why you shouldn’t over-promise to your sources—you want a cordial relationship with them but you need boundaries too. I can definitely see a situation where you would agree to give a source a heads up once you’d decided to publish — if it was a story where they’d recounted a violent incident or sexual assault, or if they needed notice to stay somewhere else or watch out for hacking attempts. But I would be very wary of agreeing in advance when I would publish an investigation—it isn’t done until it’s done.

In the end the story is going out under your name, and you will face the legal and ethical consequences, so you can’t publish until you’re satisfied. If the sources are desperate to make the information public, they can make a statement on social media. Working with a journalist involves a trade-off: in exchange for total control, you get greater credibility, plausible deniability and institutional legal protection. If I wasn’t happy with a story against a ticking clock, I wouldn’t be pressured into publication. That’s a huge risk of libelling the subjects of the piece and trashing your professional reputation.

On the request for more time for right to reply, that’s a judgement call—is this a fair period for the allegations involved, or time wasting? It’s not unknown for journalists to put in a right to reply on serious allegations, and the subject ask for more time, and then try to get ahead of the story by breaking it themselves (by denying it).

I've bolded the parts that present the most emphatic disagreement. A lot of the problems around the deadline were created by promising sources a hard deadline, something that she would not do. As a result of that promised hard deadline, they got into a situation where, with two hours to go, they looked at new information they received that complicated things and said "Sorry, story goes up as-is." This seems clearly incompatible with the advice in those two paragraphs. The third paragraph mentions a judgment call, and there of course my own judgment call would be different (a week to gather evidence against the results of six months of investigation seems like the minimum for a fair period, certainly not time-wasting) but I recognize there's a bit more flex there. The rest, though? "Disagreed" is the most straightforward read by far.

If a company has 21 employees and someone says it has 7, I’m not going to call the situation ambiguous just because someone disagrees with me. That is the sense I am using the term. The lines contained clear errors that I would expect a serious outlet to correct; I think people who disagree they are errors do so without good reason.

I’m not retreating to “I personally feel that way.” Those lines are wrong either for strict factual inaccuracies or for framing and tones that leads people to a substantially false picture and should be corrected. There is no bailey here—I meant what I said.

Speaking of unpleasant framing, I’m wholly unimpressed by the framing of me “trying to turn [your] objection into an object-level debate.” It matters whether, on the object level, things I said were unambiguous are.

It’s inevitable that some people are going to dislike the way I chose to frame my reply, but I did so carefully and with an eye towards serious, charitable, direct engagement with the topic on its merits. “Epistemically toxic” is strong phrasing that I wholly reject.

Reasonable disagreement, I think, should be as in the legal sense for doubt: disagreement based on clear reasons, not disagreement from people who are generally reasonable. I’ve had a lot of complaints about my “unambiguous” claims being ambiguous, very few reasons provided as to why they are, and no compelling ones (but of course I would say that). I’d see a lot more use to engaging with your point if instead of simply asserting that people could disagree, you explain precisely which you disagree with and why.

I maintain, of course, that the cleanest and best resolution would be for LC to back off of trying to litigate every specific claim to its maximum capacity and instead acknowledge the ways going on a hunt only for negative information and then refusing to pause to consider exculpatory evidence (including a point they agree was exculpatory on an accusation they agree was significant) poisoned the well in the dispute as a whole—even expecting them to continue to believe they were more-or-less correct about NL.

As things stand, it looks almost inevitable that Ben’s next post will focus primarily on relitigating specific claims and aiming to prove he really was right about NL. Oliver has, however, indicated at least some inclination towards the idea that if that does not persuade people, they will be more open to considering the procedural points I raise here. I believe him in that and am broadly optimistic that what I anticipate will be a lukewarm response to that further litigation will open the door to a clean resolution.

Failing a broadly community-satisfactory outcome from that, it does seem like an ideal case for arbitration or something that fills the same role, yes.

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