I would like to hear the argument on the ethical and legal issues on this.
David Johnson
52

As I understand it, this guy has been using Jeff’s name to tweet under for four years. At various points he’s said he’d change the name to something else (because he’s not actually just satirizing Jeff, but a lot of tech people) but he never did it. From where I’m sitting Jeff’s been pretty relaxed about that ongoing situation, although I can imagine it must have been extremely aggravating at times.

This situation changed today when this guy publishes an article on Esquire using Jeff’s name with the only indication that it’s satire being a tiny thing hidden away at the bottom of the page. While some people seem to have understood it was satire (although I suspect many of them only saw it after having been informed of that fact), others did not and posted as if Jeff had written the piece. As is probably obvious, the piece was written to present stupid buffoonish opinions.

To me that seems different from posting a piece of satire, which—although it might be upsetting or frustrating—is to some extent par for the course. This instead is verging on the guy passing himself off as Jeff in public (or Esquire making it appear as if Jeff actually published this piece) and that seems qualitatively different from simple satire.

As I understand it, Jeff found that particular move beyond the pale and wanted some kind of redress — either a clearer published indication that the piece was satire and that it was not in fact written by him, or for the piece to be taken down.

Whether or not there are legal issues in play is unclear to me. I’m not a lawyer and I don’t know much about defamation law in the US. I suspect it’s not a legal issue.

But from an ethical perspective it seems clear to me. It is surely unethical for a publication to publish an article under someone else’s name—in which they totally misrepresent their views—unless they could reasonably assume that the audience would understand the piece was meant satirically.

Given in this case, there are clear examples of intelligent reasonable people who did not understand that, it seems reasonable that Jeff would protest, and appropriate that Esquire should do something about it.

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