A Chinese tech youtuber has alleged that she was subjected to unethical and sexist mistreatment from Vice News, abetted by Sarah Jeong, the New York Times’ new and controversial editor.
Naomi Wu, known as “SexyCyborg,” is a youtuber, entrepreneur, and tech enthusiast who achieved internet fame for her do-it-yourself (DIY) videos of tech creations and products. She has written a long post detailing from her perspective her experience being profiled by Vice News, culminating with being attacked on Twitter by Jeong.
According to Wu, when Vice initially reached out to profile her, she explicitly stated that no questions about her sexuality or personal relationships be included, specifically certain internet rumors. This was agreed to by email, and Wu spent three days showing the reporter around her city and offering a glimpse into her life. Not long after leaving, however, the reporter began questioning her about the very things that she had made clear were off the table.
Wu made it plain to Vice, as elucidated by thorough explanation in her post, that while such a seemingly minor issue may seem of little consequence to Westerners, she knew that she could face serious consequences in China, where attitudes about sexuality are not as progressive, and the government maintains strict control over the internet. (Wu has stated that she does not make much money, and for her livelihood is forced to use illegal an VPN – Youtube and Twitter, which she uses for her channel, are both blocked – and pseudonyms.)
Vice defended their inclusion of the information as necessary to the completeness of their piece. Wu has blasted them as sexist, asking why “can guys make things, do STEM without people taking a crowbar to their bedroom door as if they are entitled to the details of EVERY aspect of their lives?”
Part of the reason why Wu reacted so strongly is likely because she was victimized by a very similar situation before. Last year, she was accused by California executive Dale Dougherty, father of the “maker” movement of tech enthusiasts she is part of, of being a fraud. This significantly damaged her professional reputation, costing her work and a sponsorship, damage which could not be undone by Dougherty’s subsequent apology.
She stresses that because “China rules are very different than Western rules,” there are things she cannot completely explain, for her own safety. This meant that she could do little in public to defend herself against abuse or allegations from Vice, including its Motherboard editor-in-chief, Jason Koebler, whom she consistently describes as arrogant and dismissive, and who refused to honor their agreement.
Having failed to negotiate for her safety, Wu eventually resorted to doxing Koebler’s address, which she admits was wrong, but felt so desperate that she could not see a recourse. Unfortunately, this backfired as it led Patreon to terminate her account, her largest source of income.
Enter Sarah Jeong, who took to Twitter in defense of Vice and Koebler, her former coworker. In her position as an educated, institutionally powerful, and recognized tech and Asian-American journalist, she derided all of Wu’s distresses. She attacked the doxing of Koebler, even though she herself had defended doxing (of names) as the last resort of the powerless. She dismissed Wu’s concerns about her livelihood and safety, invoking Jeong’s own Asian heritage and contacts, even though she is Korean and has not lived in China.
Wu ends her post by saying that this experience has led her to believe Jeong, who was recently embroiled in a separate controversy over racist and sexist statements, is unfit to work for NYT. Jeong appears to have displayed complete hypocrisy in her actions as a progressive female Asian-American, implicitly invoked Asian stereotypes, punched down against a woman in a position of weakness who had limited ability to speak for herself, and taking the side of institutionally powerful, wealthy white men who used Wu and then laughed at her plight from their privileged position in a freer country on the other side of the ocean.
Wu also noted that Vice is unique among foreign journalists she has worked with or seen work in China in terms of their callous disregard for local culture and limitations. The magazine is infamous for its sensationalist style, often sacrificing accuracy and respect for cheap shock value. It has also been plagued by sexual harassment allegations stretching back decades.
Because of this episode, the independence of Wu’s voice, which she had previously used to speak out about women’s issues in restrictive China, has been sacrificed. She has a lower income and a new sponsorship which restricts what she can say. However, Wu is optimistic, referring to herself as a fighter who will not give up, and she looks forward to continuing to work hard, inspire others, and make her voice heard.