Arguably one of the world’s experts on the ebb and flow of online communities, Norton didn’t exactly try to defend herself. The use of—oy, find me a better way to say this than “the N-word,” but OK—was part of an ill-conceived retweet of John Perry Barlow, who was trying to make a point about racists. Those similarly foreclosed-upon words referring to gay people were sometimes, Norton said, because she herself has been active in the queer community and were covered by in-group privilege, and sometimes because she was code-switching to the language of 4chan and other online groups that use vile epithets like cooks use salt.
Complicated. And, as Norton is a journalist covering free-speech and privacy issues online, maybe this kind of language isn’t just allowed but appropriate. She’s speaking the language of the people she writes about.
But what about the friends-with-Nazis thing?
In particular, Norton had defended Andrew Auernheimer, a hacker (who wrote an opinion piece for WIRED in 2012) and went to prison in 2013. Upon his release about a year later, Auernheimer said that he was also a white supremacist and anti-Semite.
Everyone is redeemable, Norton explained, and silence or disengagement make racism worse. She pointed to an article she posted on Medium about talking to racists as part of fighting the good fight against them, but also keeping open the lines of communication—as opposed to just, you know, punching Nazis.
Anyway, the Times compounded its apparent lack of due diligence with surrender to the mob, and fired her. Here’s the official statement from James Bennet, the editor of the editorial page: “Despite our review of Quinn Norton’s work and our conversations with her previous employers, this was new information to us. Based on it, we’ve decided to go our separate ways.”