Those of you who have been following the Samantha Bielefeld saga may already know that a few days ago, new information was made public that caused many people, myself included, to question our role in this whole thing.
It appears — at this point I consider it proven — that Samantha Bielefeld’s real identity is actually a man named Victor Wynn Johnson. Not only that, but this man has been accused of being a pathological liar and a conman in the past, long before Samantha ever entered the picture.
For obvious reasons, that has some very important implications.
That a man would pass himself off as a woman in order to use a very real and serious issue — the struggle of women in tech — to get attention is already bad enough,1 but it gets worse.
If Bielefeld’s identity is finally confirmed as Victor Johnson, that also means he staged the whole harassment claim that got the ball rolling in the first place, and ended up becoming this huge mess that’s tarnished many a reputation, including mine.
If the above is unequivocally confirmed, despicable doesn’t even cut it.
You may reasonably ask for proof. Currently, the strongest evidence we have was published yesterday by Amy Jane Gruber. Samantha’s IP address matches that of Victor, a fact that can be verified by inspecting the headers of email messages received by John Gruber from both identities.
Now, I’m well aware that IP addresses don’t unequivocally identify people, but we’re talking needle-in-a-haystack odds here. Add to that the fact that both Samantha and Victor had a very similar — and quite uncommon — joke in their blog’s footer, and it becomes as close to a smoking gun as we can realistically expect to get.
I mean, seriously, if you’re a harassed woman, what are the odds of you using the same joke in your blog AND having the same IP address as the man you’ve publicly accused of harassing you?
Right now the only thing that could surpass this level of proof is an outright confession from Victor, but that doesn’t appear very likely. Samantha, in turn, has denied the accusation of being Victor. That may be enough for some, but at this point I consider the burden of proof to be on her.
Which brings me to my next point.
For clarity’s sake, I will continue to refer to this person as Samantha and use the female pronoun “her” when commenting on the actions carried out under that identity.
The way I see it, there are two separate issues at play here: Samantha’s criticism of Marco Arment over the patronage model for Overcast, and her alleged harassment at the hands of Marco’s friends and followers.
Those two issues are obviously related, but they are indeed separate. I maintain that many of the points she made on the patronage issue were valid, but the fact that she would fabricate harassment claims just to get attention strikes me as one of the most dishonorable things one can do on the Internet. And when that comes at the expense of a developer’s reputation, the whole thing becomes downright disgusting.
As I said on twitter yesterday, I may still agree with many of her points, but I can’t, in good conscience, support her anymore.
Some people argue that the fact that she made valid points should be enough to redeem her. That she shouldn’t be condemned because she was speaking the truth about important issues in the Apple community that nobody else was willing to talk about.
I could not disagree more with that assessment.
It all comes down to respect. Faking harassment to get attention is just about the most disrespectful thing I can think of, and it completely squanders whatever measure of trust I may have felt towards this person before.
I have no time and attention for someone who clearly does not respect me as a reader. Even if she’s right about patronage, or whatever else she keeps writing about in the future.
Luckily, Samantha Bielefeld does not exclusively own the rights to complaining about the economics of the App Store — or any other topic, for that matter. We do not need her to be the voice to agitate the consciences of the developer community. Others will surely pick up that fight, and I will be glad to support them instead.
I’ve been writing here at Analog Senses for over six years now. Throughout that time, I’ve always done my best to be respectful towards my readers. I have never taken any shortcuts, and I have never published anything I didn’t honestly believe to be the truth, to the best of my knowledge. That is a line I will never cross here.
When I wrote about this last month, I was going off publicly available information. Clearly others knew more about the situation than they were letting on,2 but I didn’t. I took Samantha’s claims of being harassed at face value, and by publicly defending her, I staked my reputation on that claim.
I was wrong about her, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right thing to do.
Had I not spoken up about it at the time, I feel I would have done even more of a disservice to my readers. When something like this happens, I don’t want to be the person that watches from the sidelines, too afraid of getting in trouble to do anything about it.
That said, I should have been more careful and gotten my facts straight before placing my trust on this person, and especially before asking you, my readers, to do the same. I was wrong, and I’m very sorry I misled you.
I also owe someone else an apology, and that someone is Marco.
I made several assumptions and character judgements about Marco in my piece that painted him as petty and vindictive. Those assumptions were not only unwarranted, speculative and colossally wrong, they were extremely out of place, and inappropriate.
I am really sorry for that.
I may disagree with some of his business decisions, but I deeply respect Marco. I had no right to question his character, and truth be told, I’ve never witnessed anything that would make me think badly of him as a person.
Surely Marco has done enough over the years to earn the benefit of the doubt, and I am ashamed I didn’t give it to him. If I were ever accused of something like this, I’d like to be given the benefit of the doubt, too. After all, what good is a reputation if we turn on each other at the first sign of trouble?
I don’t think we’ll ever get 100% conclusive, unequivocal proof of Samantha Bielefeld’s real identity, but honestly, at this point I don’t really care anymore. I’m moving on, and I suggest you do the same.
I hope I can live up to your trust in the future, and the best way I know how to do that is to get back to work. I have a lot more writing to get done before the holidays, including several reviews in the pipeline. Clearly I have my work cut out for me, which is just the way I like it.
I know I usually say this, but today I need to say it more than ever:
Thank you for reading.