April 09, 2005

Publicizing Achievements, and Reactions

"How could Nixon have won? Everyone I know voted for McGovern." (probably-apocryphal quote)

The reactions to my being nominated as defending freedom of expression have been almost entirely positive. Nonetheless, I've gotten some criticism about publicizing it.

There's two related variants of critics, asceticism and personal. The asceticism position holds that there should be a social taboo against mentioning one's own achievements, to discourage inflation and puffery. While I understand the general reasoning, and there is some validity to it, I think it can be applied far too restrictively and simplisticly. Privileged people have a multitude of ways to get others to promote them, ranging from outright hiring PR agents who launder press-releases, to just being in a position of power to attract sycophants. Those lower down have no such resources or favors to trade. It's not like I can grant somebody a lot of blog-traffic if they write how wonderful I am.

In terms of personal, well, for many years, I worked anonymously, and willingly let others take the credit. As, e.g. James S. Tyre wrote in an earlier nomination:

"All of what Brock [Meeks] and Declan [McCullagh] wrote came from Seth's work. All of the content of the former Censorware Search Engine came from Seth. ... Seth does not mind at all that it is his crack ... that is the basis of Bennett [Haselton]'s program."

Or Jonathan Wallace:

"The research for this article was all done anonymously by Seth Finkelstein; he did all the work and I got the glory for writing it up.

That was only the beginning; Seth did tireless and brilliant work after that to determine what censorware products really blocked. Seth is one of the heroes of Internet free speech; one of those rare people who do the work despite the fact that they know they will receive no credit."

In retrospect, I actually think I made a big mistake in not taking enough credit, and don't ever want to repeat it, but that's a topic for another post. The years of self-abnegation should be a definitive answer to personal criticism (but, sadly, I know that won't count).

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in activism | on April 09, 2005 11:59 PM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

Subscribe with Bloglines      Subscribe in NewsGator Online  Google Reader or Homepage


I've had experience working anonymously over the years. While it can be frustrating it is also liberating.

My first project was one where I'd made a sizable contribution to a program that someone else was going to release, and it was my intention to be anonymous. This wasn't a great act of self-sacrifice, but rather I was worried about the repercussions. This software was, frankly, illegal in most of the civilized world. But I let the leader talk me into putting my name on it, and it worked out OK, I got a lot of credit and reputation, and didn't get into too much trouble.

Since then I've done more projects anonymously, now using technology to protect my identity. This lets me work on things that my employers and others might not approve of. And these days, privacy oriented projects have a political element as well, and I don't want to have to deal with those kinds of problems.

But sometimes there is a sort of Clark Kent/Superman vibe and I get frustrated at not getting credit for what I've done. The other day I was talking to a guy who had a program a few years ago that I had really fixed for him. I found a major security hole in his design, proposed a new algorithm and proved that it was secure. So I was very familiar with him but he barely knew me. Then his program came up in the conversation and he started telling me about it. I so wanted to say, yeah, I was the guy who... But I didn't, of course.

It was my own choice to take this road. I'm happy with the contributions I've made and I fully intend to continue on this path and work on what I'm interested in. I don't have to worry about offending anyone or making my boss unhappy. If I didn't do these things anonymously I probably wouldn't do them at all.

Posted by: Cypherpunk at April 14, 2005 02:34 AM

Well, the problem is that I got the worst of all worlds. Per above, several people who did know I was doing that work, attacked me viciously. If it works for you, that's good. But it didn't work for me, and I don't want to ever go down that path again.

I know there are some people who have had good experiences. But it seems to be a lot tougher and more wearing on a person than is apparent at first.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at April 14, 2005 11:50 AM