Why is Tech Journalism Such Shit?

They hate you, that’s why.

Imagine you’re a tech writer for Vox, NYTimes, or some other mainstream outlet. You probably have a fancy Ivy League education. You’re smart, woke, and as well-connected as any of the tech bros you write about. Yet you’re earning chump change in a dying industry while Silicon Valley steals both your revenue and your relevance.

Resentment ensues.

There’s only one possible explanation: You’re poor because you’re righteous; they’re rich because they have no scruples.

Adam Johnson’s North Korea Law of Journalism dictates that a paper’s editorial standards are inversely proportional to a country’s enemy status. The more hostile the enemy, the more inclination for a journalist to simply make shit up as they go along.

The Law applies to domestic enemies too — Just look at how Trump supporters are portrayed in the media.

Now, I don’t know a lot about North Korea, but I do know a thing or two about China. Media coverage follows a basic formula:

  • Take a single image or event and ascribe the most uncharitable interpretation possible.
  • Generalize it to the entire population.
  • Hit up random Weibo users until you get enough quotes to support your narrative.
  • Sit back and wait for the clicks to roll in.

    For example, Winnie the Pooh. Five years ago, Weibo removed a number of posts where people used Winnie the Pooh to mock Xi Jinping. The cartoon character alone was fine, but a few innocuous posts got caught in the dragnet. Outlets like the New York Times ran with this story: Winnie the Pooh is banned across China because Xi Jinping is a thin-skinned ninny!

    Obviously Winnie the Pooh isn’t banned. The article above literally features a photo of Pooh dolls at a Disney store in Shanghai. But we hate China, so we suspend all incredulity when it comes to negative news.

    It’d be like, if Xinhua published a story about Twitter censoring the phrase “Learn to Code” last year, when some people were using it to troll unemployed journalists. Learning to Code is Banned in the USA because America hates education, Xinhua might say.

    And that’s what a lot of tech journalism looks like. Shitty journalism is not a conscious decision so much as a desire for confirmation bias. It’s hard to empathize with our enemies, and the media industry has good reason to see Silicon Valley as an enemy. Fixate on the negatives, ignore nuance, and turn the subjects into uncanny Others.

    Statistics for journalists: One is an outlier, two is a coincidence, three is a trend.

    The biggest mistake made within the tech industry is caring what media outlets have to say. Journalists aren’t writing for you; they’re writing for each other. Their bosses are journalists, their friends are journalists, the Pulitzer Prize Committee is made up of journalists. They don’t care what you think. If you find their coverage biased or unfair, they’ll blame your inability to take critical feedback (always impute bad intentions on your enemies).

    There are two ways to respond to a reporter. First, the Nassim Nicholas Taleb way:

    Or, have some fun with it. They’re gonna say bad things about you no matter what, might as well do your part to accelerate mainstream media’s spiral into irrelevance:

      Q: Hi, I’m a reporter for Recode. We’re doing a story about concerns about coronavirus in Silicon Valley. Care to comment?

      A: Yes, super terrified of coronavirus. All stocked up on hazmat suits and gas masks. I also have a freezer full of spare organs, since severe COVID-19 infections can lead to kidney and liver failure. My colleagues in China shipped them to me; I think they were harvested from kids caught posting Winnie the Pooh on Weibo.

    Silicon Valley spans a diverse population of 4 million people, but Marc Andreessen speaks for us all!

    See Also:

    Death and Taxes

    If the government uses my tax dollars to perform extrajudicial executions, can I sue the president for Tax Fraud? I never agreed to fund unconstitutional assassinations. And seeing as how the US is the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism, does that mean the IRS is in the business of laundering money for terrorists?

    Our Founding Fathers understood that this is a nation of diversity, and no central government could possibly legislate in a way that makes sense for every community. That’s why the Fifth Amendment authorizes citizens to protect themselves against governmental abuse — through the use of grand jury indictments.

    Grand juries are citizen assemblies empowered to try, convict, and sentence suspected criminals; thereby preserving the sovereignty of a local community. Judge Learned Hand called grand juries “the voice of the community.”

    Back in the olden days, crime was limited to simple things like theft and murder. Now the legal code has grown too complicated for commoners to comprehend, and citizen grand juries have fallen to disuse.

    In 1996, a group of concerned citizens (including cypherpunk Jim Bell) formed a common law court called the Multnomah County Common Law Court and empaneled themselves as grand jury. They tried and convicted IRS employees in absentia and issued judgments against government officials.

    Unfortunately, Multnomah County Common Law Court was infiltrated by federal agents, and Jim Bell was sent to prison for obstructing the IRS.

    Bell is best known for his essay on Assassination Politics, a prediction market where participants could anonymously contribute digital cash to bounty funds designated for the death of government officials. Each bounty would accept anonymous predictions on the politician’s date of death, and upon the target’s demise, the reward fund would be transferred to anyone who correctly predicted the date. The idea was that only the assassin would have known the date ahead of time.

    Bell’s prosecutors were disturbed by the idea of an assassination market, but they mistakenly assumed that the market would be applied in the US. In fact, the assassination market was intended for bad guys — Like Saddam Hussein, who was still alive at the time. It took two separate wars and over half a million dead children to finally depose Saddam Hussein, when a modest bounty could have done the job more neatly.

    The Nobel Peace Prize committee should have been all over this.

    Appendix. Who is funding our wars?

    We’ve spent over $6.4 trillion on our War on Terror. I wanted to know just how heavy my moral burden should be, so I got in touch with an accountant to help me out with some #Math.

    The total tax revenue for 2020 is estimated at $3.643 trillion. The Congressional budget estimates total spending to be $4.746 trillion. $1.295 trillion of the tax revenue comes from payroll taxes, which goes straight to funding Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment. That leaves $2.348 trillion (from income taxes, corporate taxes, and tariffs) to pay for $3.451 trillion worth of stuff. There’s another $1.546 trillion worth of mandatory spending (stuff like Medicaid and welfare), and authorization laws mandate that Congress must appropriate whatever funds to fulfill this spending.

    Subtract $479 billion to make interest payments on the national debt (important to avoid US debt default!) and that leaves $323 billion to pay for $1.426 trillion worth of discretionary spending. Military spending is the biggest part of discretionary spending, with a total budget of $989 billion.

    At this point, we have 12 cents on the income tax dollar going towards military spending.

    That’s not a lot. But $323 billion doesn’t cover $1.426 trillion worth of spending, which means we will have a $1.106 trillion deficit.

    The deficit is funded by the Treasury, which auctions off securities like T-bills to cover the budget. (See also: How Treasury Issues Debt)

    And the biggest buyer of this debt is…not China, but the Social Security Trust Fund! Then China. Then Japan. But for the most part we’re funding wars by borrowing from our retirement savings.

    Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

    People don’t like Freedom. We talk like we do, and sometimes LARP it by going for a Walk in the Woods, but the moment a deadly virus shows up, it all goes out the window. People are scared and demand that the government Do Something.

    Massive lockdowns? Check. Invasive checkpoint searches? Of course. Ministry of Truth to keep people apprised of the situation? Yes please!

    Facebook has taken the initiative to remove misleading hashtags about the virus outbreak. Google will boost “reliable” search results related to public health. Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok are all working to “deprioritize” misinformation. Ordinarily we’d complain about such heavy-handed censorship, but this is an Emergency.

    Once the emergency’s over, we’ll do a post-mortem. Create a new bureaucracy to figure out how we can be better prepared for the next pandemic. Maybe put out a color-coded chart to tell the public how scared we should be.

    The coronavirus may or may not be a Really Big Deal, but it’s nothing if not convenient. Every powerful government knows that if a population starts feeling too plucky and independent, all it takes is a healthy dose of Fear to get everyone cowering in submission. Look, those Hong Kong protesters finally went home.

    Hospital construction has been turned into a new reality TV show. Security theater, but literally.

    Sometimes I worry about Bitcoin and Self-Sovereign Individualism. A scared populace is a docile populace, and people are awfully easy to scare. During the Panic of 1907, JP Morgan called up all the newspaper editors and told them to run burglary stories as often as possible, to scare people into leaving their money in the banks. It worked. When it comes to Freedom versus national security, security always wins.

    See Also: US Department of Fear

    I know it when I see it.

    Suppose you live in an anarchocapitalist society with unqualified free enterprise. Build your factories, spew smoke from the stacks, dump your trash in the river. The skies are endless, the oceans vast, and externalities don’t matter.

    Now suppose one day a group of stationary bandits show up and announce that you may no longer spew waste with impunity. You must find a way to conduct your business without emitting toxic waste, or terminate your business altogether.

    What the actual f…, is what any developing country thinks when they see the UN’s carbon emissions targets. Here in the first world, we understand that pollution is harmful to humanity as a whole. So obviously you shouldn’t pour crude oil into the ocean, obviously you shouldn’t smog up the air, obviously you shouldn’t leave hypodermic needles on the Shore.

    Our attitude towards pollution is a lot like the attitudes of autocracies toward free speech.

    In China, there’s something called “Spiritual Pollution” (精神污染). Not spiritual in the sense of religion, but spirit as in “mood” or “energy” – ie, We got spirit, yes we do!

    The Chinese government is generally amenable to environmental protections, and is on track to meet Paris Accord targets nine years early. But the most important step it’s taken to curb harmful emissions is banning climate activists like Greta Thunberg. Carbon dioxide may pollute the atmosphere, but sanctimonious grandstanding pollutes the spirit.

    Another example is porn. Republicans have, at various times, advocated for banning pornography under the Communications Decency Act or by emphasizing its ties to human trafficking. It never works because detractors retreat to the Motte of free speech. China cuts to the chase and declares pornography a form of spiritual pollution. Right?? No one ever concludes a porn video in high spirits the way they do after watching Amelie or It’s a Wonderful Life. Just the opposite, in fact.

    I’m not pro-censorship, I’m anti-pollution! All of a sudden, content moderation becomes super easy. No more arguing about whether something is fake news or hate speech. If it pollutes the spirit, BAN! Clickbait? BANNED. Outrage porn? BANNED. Breitbart.com? BANNED. Huffpost.com? BANNED. NYtimes.com? BANNED.

    I passed through an airport last week, and every single TV screen was displaying impeachment garbage on CNN. Would airport travelers tolerate it if I showed up with a diesel-powered leafblower and proceeded to spew exhaust all over the terminal? NO! So why should we tolerate CNN assaulting our mental capacity in much the same way?

    Pollution need not be objective or quantifiable. We have laws against noise pollution, visual pollution, public nuisance. In an ideal anarcho-capitalist world, externalities would all be resolved through voluntary contracts (see also: Coase Theorem). Alas we don’t live in this world, and must rely on a coercive government to protect us from the health effects of environmental pollution, and the enstupidating effects of spiritual pollution.

    National Protectionism

    I’ve always been a fan of protectionism. In fact, my favorite part about Bitcoin is the 21 million supply limit — Bring on the halvening, I got mine.

    Previously, I advocated occupational licensing for engineering jobs. Not out of national security concerns or anything; I just wanted to protect the scarcity of my mediocre job skills.

    Looks like the Commerce Department was listening! Early this month, a new rule went into effect requiring a license to export geospatial imagery technology. Information isn’t a physical thing you can transfer overseas, so under the new rules even conversations about technology between Americans and foreign nationals are deemed exports.

    The Department of Commerce is now looking to expand export restrictions to all “emerging” technologies. Tech companies will likely need to apply for licenses before employing foreign workers from China, Russia, or Iran. (Although I can already say from personal experience that “foreign workers” includes US citizens of ethnic descent.)

    Maybe these export restrictions will end up being a boon for the disenfranchised American worker (at least the ones who aren’t Chinese, Russian, or Iranian). Or maybe the new vacancies will be snapped up by immigrants from a more US-friendly regime.