Vox: Pedantic and Unproductive Microaggressor

Furthermore, any behavior or language which is unwelcoming—whether or not it rises to the level of harassment—is also strongly discouraged. Much exclusionary behavior takes the form of microaggressions—subtle put-downs which may be unconsciously delivered. Regardless of intent, microaggressions can have a significant negative impact on victims and have no place on our team.

There are a host of behaviors and language common on tech teams which are worth noting as specifically unwelcome: Avoid “well, actuallys”—pedantic corrections that are often insulting and unproductive

—Vox Product Team Code of Conduct, published 10 November 2015

“Philosopy majors actually earn a lot more than welders.”
—headline, Vox, 10 November 2015

“There is a better way to run presidential debates.  Actually, there are several.”
—headline, Vox, 5 November 2015

“Democrats are in denial.  Their party is actually in deep trouble.”
—headline, Vox, 19 October 2015

“Why the reasonable-sounding ’40-hour workweek for Congress’ idea would actually backfire”
—headline, Vox, 5 October 2015

“Russia says it’s bombing ISIS in Syria. It’s actually bombing their enemies.”
—headline, Vox, 30 September 2015

“Researchers said a popular antidepressant was safe for teens. It was actually deadly.”
—headline, Vox, 19 September 2015

“Kudzu hasn’t actually taken over millions of acres. These other invasive species have.”
—headline, Vox, 25 August 2015

“E-cigarettes and health — here’s what the evidence actually says”
—headline, Vox, 24 August 2015

“How Obama’s Clean Power Plan actually works — a step-by-step guide”
—headline, Vox, 5 August 2015

“USA’s Mr. Robot actually does everything True Detective pretends to do”
—headline, Vox, 29 July 2015

“Which Republicans actually debated one another, in one chart”
—headline, Vox, 7 August 2015

My personal favorite, because it is simultaneously so completely disconnected from reality and so darn smug about it:

“The truth about ‘political correctness’ is that it doesn’t actually exist”
—headline, Vox, 28 January 2015

Two brief points in Vox‘s defense:

(1) The Vox Code of Conduct does call my attention to an important and useful fact. I never realized before why so many Vox headlines made me want to punch Ezra Klein in the philtrum. I now recognize that the word “actually” nearly always has that effect. (Indeed, very nearly everything Vox publishes has this effect, even without using actual word, because, as others have already pointed out, “Well, actually…” pedantry is Vox‘s founding principle and guiding light.) I am grateful to Vox for calling my attention to this, and will genuinely try to reduce my use of the word “actually” in day-to-day life – not because I feel a moral obligation to avoid microaggressing or any of the nonsense this team believes, but because I like persuading people that I am right, and this word doesn’t help me do that.

(2) Many of these articles are actually quite good (ha ha).  In many cases, we need more articles like them, and more people talking about them.  Happily, this Code of Conduct does not apply to the people writing them; it implicates only the Vox “product team,” which runs the site infrastructure.  The problem is not with the articles. The problem is with the Code of Conduct, which is written so vaguely, and so broadly, that it makes essentially all factual disagreements – including the many disagreements that are necessary if you want to build good software or have a functioning civil society – potentially punishable by termination.

Of course, defenders will point out that it will be enforced only selectively, against “genuine problem employees”, and not broadly, against everyone who technically violates the letter of the rule (since that would include everyone). But that selectivity makes it worse, not better: we all know from long experience that enforcement will be selectively deployed against the only true “other” of the journalism world: conservatives — the Brendan Eichs, the Robert Oscar Lopezes, and anyone else who dares express or (G/god/dess/es forbid!) act upon wrongthink.

Nobody on the Vox Product Team is going to get fired for sharing and supporting Vox‘s article, “The Truth About ‘Political Correctness’ is that It Doesn’t Actually Exist” over lunch, even though it is a pedantic, unproductive “well, actually” microaggression of an article.  But suppose a Vox developer brings a copy of Kevin D. Williamson’s equally pedantic, unproductive, microaggressive article, “Bradley Manning Is Not a Woman” to lunch, and admits, politely, that he agrees with Williamson — or, heck, suppose he doesn’t bring the article to work, doesn’t say anything about it, but simply retweets a link to it, on his own private Twitter account, while he eats his french fries.  Under this Code of Conduct, as written, do you think he’d last all the way to the end of the day, or be escorted from the building before leaving the cafeteria?

Vox‘s journalists would never agree to work under these conditions.  Vox‘s developers shouldn’t have to.

Sadly, it’s not just Vox where this is happening.

This entry was posted in Pith. Bookmark the permalink.