27 October 2017

Scoble and #MeToo

So, that #MeToo hashtag and the associated drama. I saw a call for men to write about it, but I didn’t really know what to say. Then Robert Scoble just came along and posted a memo regarding sexual harassment allegations against him, and boy were there some things I wanted to say after reading that

Though Scoble’s memo is the starting point, many of the comments could be addressed to countless other men in the tech industry.

The memo is problematic pretty much from the first sentence:

In the past week several news outlets reported that I had committed numerous sexual indiscretions

Just so we’re clear, here’s the description of one the “indiscretions”:

Scoble laughed and quickly said he wasn’t dangerous. I looked at him, keeping a blank expression, and said “I am.” […]

And then, without any more warning, Scoble was on me. I felt one hand on my breast and his arm reaching around and grabbing my butt. Scoble is considerably bigger than I am, and I realized quickly I wasn’t going to be able to push him away. Meanwhile, the people around just watched, in what I can only imagine was stunned shock. I got a hand free and used a palm strike to the base of his chin to knock him back. […] He laughed and rubbed his chin and said something like “I like this one, she has spirit.”

An “indiscretion” is something like having a secret affair with a married woman. Physically sexually assaulting someone is not an “indiscretion”, alleged or otherwise.

If you try to physically force yourself on someone right after they indicate that they want you to stay the hell away from them, then I’d say you’re beyond sexual assault and heading towards attempted rape.

I am sorry that so many women feel wronged by me

The classic “sorry not sorry” opening, non-apology 101 stuff.

I have rejected my lawyer’s advice to not make a statement and in a spirit of healing I would like to address the issue head on with open and honest dialogue.

The phrase “I have rejected my lawyer’s advice” is always a bad sign, and Scoble does not disappoint.

The phrase “in a spirit of healing” is absolutely grotesque, given what comes later in the memo, but let’s just note it for now.

Any response creates potential liability, and lawyers optimize for reducing exposure so they advise against responding.

If your lawyer was the only person advising against responding, Mr Scoble, you really need to get better friends. If you did the sensible thing and had some other people read your post before going ahead with it, well, I’m staggered that you still ended up posting it.

in a move inconceivable to me, they didn’t do any diligence to verify the accusations made against me.

Like what? Unless it’s on tape somewhere, there’s not likely to be any verification possible. Even if there were witnesses, I bet you wouldn’t consider that to be verification, as we’ll see later.

If I were guilty of all the things said about me I would still not be in a position to have sexually harassed anyone.

If you are guilty of all the things said about you then yes, you sexually harassed someone.

I don’t have employees, I don’t cut checks for investment. None of the women who came forward were ever in a position where I could make or break their careers. Sexual Harassment requires that I have such power.

No, it absolutely does not.

I too have no employees, and do not cut checks. I have no managerial power at work. On a few rare occasions I’ve been asked to look at résumés and talk to candidates and offer an opinion regarding who to hire, but I have no power to get anyone fired on my say-so.

If (say) I grabbed a colleague’s ass at a meeting and tried to kiss them, would that be sexual harassment? Why yes, it would. I hope we’re on the same page about that. If not, please go away and consult a dictionary or two.

Each of the women who have come forward used grains of truth to sell false narrative. Perhaps because they felt peer pressure to join the #MeToo bandwagon, perhaps because they felt slighted for other reasons.

Assuming for a moment that you’re actually innocent, this is about the worst possible thing you can say, because it makes you look like you’re in denial.

The thing is, false accusations are rare. Credible-sounding false accusations are even rarer. Credible-sounding false accusations from multiple independent parties conspiring against the same man? Incredibly rare.

Best stats I can find suggest that out of all sexual assault allegations, around 5.9% are false. You want me to believe all three against you are false? You’ll need a really good argument. To be honest, your statement that you don’t have any power works against you here, because if you’re really not a powerful or rich person, what would be the motivation for women to conspire against you?

I won’t speculate on their motives.

You literally did in the previous sentence.

Sarah Seitz and I had an online affair. I am a married man. She knew this, and didn’t care. […] when it became apparent that I didn’t have the power to advance her career any more than the introductions I had already made she felt scorned and attempted to blackmail me by threatening to tell my wife, Maryam, which she did shortly thereafter.

That “spirit of healing” is really shining through already.

I hate to be the person who outs Seitz for her own abuse, but that was what we connected over primarily.

So in the spirit of healing, you’re going to out someone as a victim of abuse and accuse her of blackmail? Even if it’s true, do you really not understand how this looks to other people?

In talking with friends I am not the only person Seitz has felt the need to shame online when she felt jilted.

So it seems you understand the idea of credibility when applied to other people. Now consider that in talking to people in the industry, we hear that she’s not the only person you’ve allegedly felt the need to harass. See how that works?

Kunst categorized a comment I made as racist at a conference we both attended. She took my asking “Why are you here” to be a question of “why are you deserving of being here.”

Maybe it’s just me, but “Why are you here” does seem like a strange question to ask at a conference. I might say “What brings you here”, but a blunt “Why are you here”? I can see how that would be taken as a challenge.

Michelle Greer, who I worked with at Rackspace, was never in a reporting structure beneath me, and while we engaged in flirtations, the limits of the impropriety was that I was flirting with someone when I was married.

She says that you were touching her in front of her boss. Again, even if it was all consensual — which she says it wasn’t — do you not understand how inappropriate it is to be physically flirting with someone in front of their boss?

If you’re at a work conference, meeting with business contacts, then it’s a business meeting, even if it happens in a bar. (Men getting confused by this is one of the many problems caused by the culture of drinking in tech.)

We never had any interactions in a private situation and while that doesn’t mean that it is impossible for inappropriate behavior to occur, it demonstrates that at the time neither of us was ashamed of our behavior.

No it does not. Consider the man who gets fall-down drunk and pees his pants — can we conclude that he can’t be ashamed because he does it in public?

Quinn Norton, by her own account, physically accosted me.

After you grabbed her ass.

She didn’t call for conference security […] Quinn, who is a reporter, didn’t report this story for years

Again, this looks utterly clueless when you consider the fact that most sexual assaults go unreported. At best about a third of sexual assaults are reported; experts think the real numbers could be as low as 5-20%.

I have tried to be a champion for all entrepreneurs equally. I believe I have given as much opportunity to women, and minorities as to other groups.

Given the problems faced by women and minorities in tech, I’d like to suggest that you read about the difference between equality and equity. Treating women and people of color equally shouldn’t be something you feel the need to call attention to. It’s really the bare fucking minimum to be considered a decent human being.

I did express to several people that until I knew how time consuming answering allegations might be

Based on this post, the less time you spend answering allegations the better. Your lawyer had the right idea. I mean, I’m pretty terrible at knowing when to shut up and walk away, and even I don’t think I’ve ever posted anything as awful as your post. It’s legally inadvisable, it’s tactically the wrong thing to do, and it’s pretty morally reprehensible in places as well.

I am transitioning into a job where I can work from home much more, and travel much less. This will give me more time to spend with my wife and kids. You can learn a bit about this here […]

Serious question, are you on the spectrum? How did you go from denying sexual assault and accusing a woman of blackmail, to plugging your new startup business, all in one post?

I have helped amplify the message of others when I felt it appropriate to do so, but I have been careful about promoting damning posts without checking their validity.

So here’s a suggestion, since you mention amplifying the message of others:

Don’t spend time responding to the allegations against you. Instead, spend that time using your fame and influence — no matter how limited you say it may be — to actively promote the work of women in technology. Don’t just do the bare minimum and treat women as equal; make a point to actively help them get their message out, get the attention of investors, and so on. Do that for a few years and keep your hands under control, and people will start to forget what you did while drunk five years ago. People can change, and actually changing is the best way to respond to your situation.

© mathew 2017