I had a lapse in judgment, did a horrible thing, and I apologize.

I did what is apparently known as “astroturfing,” using a fake ID to try to get attention for GiveWell. Why did I do this?

1. I had a horrible lapse in judgment.

2. I have been low on sleep, and running around like a madman. I’d like to think that had something to do with it, but if you want to dismiss that and just call me an idiot, I can’t argue with you.

  • I used an old Ask Metafilter account to pose a question about where to find a good charity (the kind of question I was asking everyone I knew a year ago), then I created a new account as Holden0 to answer it with GiveWell (I didn’t intend to hide the fact that the GiveWell link itself came from me, the founder of the project – but posing the setup question as an outsider was completely inappropriate).

  • I made two blog comments and sent ten emails from a handle that did not identify me.
  • I also made numerous other comments from a handle that did identify me (“Holden”), but did not put up front that I was the founder of the project.

The gory details are here. The current status of the situation is here.

This was a horrible lapse in judgment. I was simply trying to make comments that would not be immediately dismissed as “plugs,” but rather explored on their merits. I now recognize that by not disclosing my identity, I created the appearance of an “objective” observer, and that was wrong.

I hope as you read this, you can identify with having a horrible lapse in judgment. Everything that is true of me is something that has been untrue of me in a moment of weakness, and that includes the value of honesty, which remains the most important one. I hope you can recognize that the best thing I can do is admit it immediately, apologize, and not try to hide anything. That is what I am doing. I hope you still believe in me as someone who will admit to his lapses and mistakes, if not someone who can be counted on to be free of them.


I had a lapse in judgment, did a horrible thing, and I apologize. — 102 Comments

  1. Everyone has made poor decisions in their lives, and Holden is no different in that regard. These particular decisions had good intentions behind them. Holden is making a uniquely positive impact on society through his devotion to Givewell, and should be respected for that.

  2. I can’t help but think that Holden would have been less likely to have made this mistake had he taken our conversations about the pitfalls of leaning to hard on the business and market metaphors. I wonder just how much is lapse of judgment as opposed to faulty thinking. Working in a competitive mode to launch the organization, and get the message out there.


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