Sheep and Wolves
For the past few months a certain corner of the tech community has been unknowingly harboring a wolf in sheep’s clothing. We all met the sheep as the upstart female blogger speaking truth to power, Samantha Bielefeld. This disguise hid the wolf’s true identity: Victor Wynn Johnson.
I won’t go through the entire timeline of events here. That has been well laid out by Alvaro Serrano at Analog Senses and Michael Anderson at Building Twenty. Both their posts provide crucial perspective to this story.
If you want to dig deep on this yourself, I recommend reading through the Twitter timelines and mentions for Samantha Bielefeld, Amy Jane Gruber, and John Gruber for the past week. There’s no other way to see how all of this went down. John Gruber has also stated that he’ll be writing a post on this for Daring Fireball. I expect that to be the definitive take on this story.
Earlier this year, a Twitter account and blog were started by a Samantha Bielefeld. Samantha billed herself as a bold female voice in the sea of male voices writing about technology. This reputation gave her attention and respect.
She wrote a blockbuster piece criticizing Marco Arment’s new business model for Overcast 2.0. This created a huge discussion and resulted in abuse, threats, and harassment directed at Samantha because of her opinions. This also resulted in a huge amount of attention.
Samantha continued writing and tweeting. She opened up a paid membership to her site, taking advantage of this new following she’d amassed for herself.
And then the shit hit the fan.
Suddenly, Samantha tweeted John Gruber’s phone number, partially obscured and since deleted). Soon after, Amy Jane revealed that Samantha was a fraud named Victor Wynn Johnson. Amy Jane has provided proof and as of this publishing, Samantha Bielefeld has been silent for three days.
We now know that Victor Wynn Johnson, a repeatedly accused conman, pathological liar, and sociopath, pretended to be a woman. He did this to take advantage of the tech community’s collective willingness to accept and promote female voices because we’re sensitive to our institutional sexism. He targeted high profile figures like Marco Arment and the Grubers to gain attention. He orchestrated and faked his own abuse and harassment to win our sympathies. And then he converted that sympathy into money via his blog membership.
This undermines and deeply hurts legitimate female voices in this community. I was going to expand on this, but Kerri Hicks did a better job than I could’ve.
Victor tried to hurt the cause for women in our community by making us skeptical of their voices. I hope for our sake and for the sake of the women in our community that we reject this urge for skepticism. Don’t let Victor win.
After this fiasco, I hope we can double down on our commitment to promote, support, and celebrate female voices among us. What a shame it would be if his plan worked.
A Wolf and his Hunters
Let’s talk about this analogy, a wolf among sheep. A wolf disguises itself as a sheep not to fit in with the sheep, but to prey on them. It’s clear that Victor wanted to manipulate and attack the tech community. I’m glad this behavior was exposed and condemned. Those are essential steps in getting rid of this problem.
But Victor is a human, not actually a wolf. There’s evidence that Victor wanted to be a genuine part of this community before he took the disguise of Samantha. You can’t see the tweets of his old accounts, but if you search twitter for his old usernames, you can see what everyone said to him: @victrjhnsn and @vwj_me. This picture painted here is one of someone simply connected with others about their interests. It's what we're all doing.
This is why I’m worried. Victor deserves to be exposed and condemned for his cruel and destructive actions. But, we’re talking about a broken person here, likely a pathological liar and sociopath, but a deeply broken person still. We've come dangerously close to a mob and witch hunt response here. This response can be incredibly damaging to a person in this mental state. I hope that we as a community have the empathy to condemn Victor and be concerned for him.
We can cut off the wound or heal it; hunt the wolf or tame it.