Quinn Norton

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Quinn Norton
Norton in 2007
BornMay 1973 (age 50)[1]

Quinn Norton[2] (born May 1973) is an American journalist and essayist. Her work covers hacker culture, Anonymous, Occupy movement, intellectual property and copyright issues, and the Internet.

Early life and education[edit]

Quinn Norton was born in May 1973. She grew up in a poor family.[3] Her father's struggles with his experience post-Vietnam and his drug-related incarceration[4] inspired her to write later about judicial reform and restorative justice.[5]

Norton completed a GED and attended Orange Coast Community College.[6] She sporadically sat in on classes at University of California, Los Angeles and University of California, Santa Barbara but was never formally enrolled.[7]


Norton began her professional life as a technologist when she worked as a SysAdmin and web programmer.[8] In 2006, she shifted to journalism. Her focus was initially on technology but eventually grew to encompass internet activism.[9]

In 2006, Norton described a conceptual prank called Quinn's Prank / Quinn's Symphonic Conundrum involving writing and executing a computer program that would output all possible melodies, theoretically providing the opportunity to claim copyright for all music.[10]

Norton's work has appeared in Wired, where she spent a year embedded with Occupy Wall Street.[11] She contributed regularly to the Wired blog, Threat Level, which focused on digital security. From 2013 to 2014, she wrote a column, Notes on a Strange World, at Medium.[12] She wrote articles for Maximum PC magazine for five years and has published in The Guardian, ProPublica, Gizmodo, and O'Reilly Media publications such as Make magazine. She was a long-time participant at O'Reilly's Foo Camp.[13]

Norton has spoken extensively on various aspects of technology, history and culture.[14][15][16] From 2006 to 2008, she gave talks at technology conferences about body augmentation, usually under the title "Body Hacking."[17][18] In connection with this work, Norton taught a course at NYU titled "Laboratory of the Self."[19] As part of her research, Norton had a magnet implanted in the tip of her ring finger, enabling her to sense magnetic fields.[20][21] The magnet was later removed.

In 2018, The New York Times announced Norton as its new lead opinion writer covering technology.[22] The hire drew sharp criticism focused on tweets Norton wrote between 2013 and 2017, particularly use of slurs referring to gay people and her defense of her friendship with Andrew Auernheimer, a hacker and white supremacist[23] known as weev.[24][25] Later that day, she and the Times announced she would not join the paper after all;[26] the Times said it had been unaware of her comments.[27] Calling the episode an example of "context collapse",[23] and describing herself as a member of the LGBT community,[28] Norton said her use of slurs had been specific to the context of engaging with the language of hackers.[23][29] She also said her friendship with Auernheimer (with whom she was no longer in contact)[24] had been an effort to discourage his racism.[29] The incident led to debate over the ethics of free speech in the hacking community at large as well as Times social media policy.[24]


Norton is an advocate of encryption when communicating electronically.[30]

In 2009, she opposed the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA).[31]

Norton describes herself as an anarchist[32] and a queer activist.[28]

Aaron Swartz[edit]

On March 3, 2011, Norton was subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury regarding an investigation of her then-partner Aaron Swartz that led to the case United States v. Swartz.[33] She ultimately accepted a proffer agreement with the prosecutor, whereby she shared information about the Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto,[34] which defendant Aaron Swartz either wrote or co-wrote. The document offered the prosecution additional evidence in their case against Swartz.[35]

Articles in The Atlantic and in New York Magazine indicate that in 2011 Norton was pressured by prosecutors to offer information or testimony that could be used against Aaron Swartz in his trial for fraud for downloading thousands of academic articles from behind a paywall, but that she denied having information that supported prosecutors' claims of criminal intentions on Swartz's part. Prosecutors nevertheless attempted to use a public blog post on Swartz's blog that Norton mentioned, which may or may not have been co-authored by Swartz, as proof of a criminal intent.[3][36][35]

Robert Scoble[edit]

In October 2017, Norton wrote a piece about Robert Scoble that described an alleged sexual assault by Scoble on Norton as well as another woman.[13][37] Scoble denied what turned out to be multiple claims of assault, and said they were the result of his struggle with alcoholism.[38] His response was met with a critical reaction.[39]

Personal life[edit]

Norton was married to journalist Danny O'Brien.[40] They have a daughter. The marriage ended in divorce.[41]

Norton dated computer programmer and activist Aaron Swartz for roughly three years, from 2007 until early 2011.[41][42]

Norton was one of the victims that of the sexual misconduct allegations by Jacob Appelbaum.[43] who threatened to rape her.

In 2016, Norton moved to Luxembourg to live with the man she eventually married in 2017.[22][44][45]

Norton identifies as bisexual and polyamorous.[46]

Selected works[edit]

  • Norton, Quinn (17 November 2015). "That Time I Tweeted About #BlackGirlsAreMagic". Quinn Norton. Medium.[47]


  1. ^ Norton, Quinn (11 April 2016). "My birthday I next month. I want something OTR-like for Twitter DM". @quinnnorton. Twitter.
  2. ^ "United States of America vs. Aaron Swartz, Defendant's Motion to Modify Protection Order" (PDF). Electronic Frontier Foundation. 15 March 2013.
  3. ^ a b MacFarquhar, Larissa (4 March 2013). "The Darker Side of Aaron Swartz". The New Yorker.
  4. ^ Norton, Quinn (4 September 2014). "Trigger Warning". The Message. Medium.
  5. ^ Norton, Quinn (25 May 2015). "A Great Injustice".
  6. ^ Norton, Quinn (25 February 2018). "A Few Things That Are True About Me". Retrieved 15 May 2018.
  7. ^ Stark, Kio (2013). "Quinn Norton, Technology journalist". Don't Go Back to School: A Handbook for Learning Anything (PDF). Greenglass Books. pp. 23–28. ISBN 978-0-988-94900-3. OCLC 877875249.
  8. ^ "Interview with our first Hack.lu 2016 Keynote - Quinn Norton". Hack.lu. 24 June 2016.
  9. ^ Rashid, Amer; Norton, Quinn (8 February 2016). "Spotlight: Quinn Norton – DigLibArts" (Audio interview). Whittier College.
  10. ^ Brown, Andrew (21 August 2006). "A worm's eye view". The Guardian.
  11. ^ Norton, Quinn (12 December 2012). "A Eulogy for #Occupy". WIRED.
  12. ^ "Notes from a Strange World – A writer's attempt to understand a world being weirded by a network". Medium.
  13. ^ a b Norton, Quinn (19 October 2017). "Robert Scoble and Me". Quinn Norton. Medium.
  14. ^ "Talk: Quinn Norton, December 3, 2015 – DigLibArts". diglibarts.whittier.edu.
  15. ^ ["Life in the Invisible City": Quinn Norton talk at Goldsmiths JULY 18, 2016]
  16. ^ "Interview with our first Hack.lu 2016 Keynote - Quinn Norton".
  17. ^ Regine (4 January 2007). "Quinn Norton on Body Hacking at 23c3". We Make Money Not Art.
  18. ^ "2008 Presenters: Quinn Norton". Cusp Conference. 2008. Archived from the original on 14 May 2012.
  19. ^ "NYU Tisch ITP People: ITP Community: Quinn Norton". Interactive Telecommunications Program, New York University.
  20. ^ Elliott, Debbie; Norton, Quinn (11 June 2006). "Wave of the Future: Magnetic Fingers" (Audio interview). All Things Considered.
  21. ^ Norton, Quinn (7 June 2006). "A Sixth Sense for a Wired World". WIRED.
  22. ^ a b Bennet, James; Kingsbury, Katie; Dao, Jim (13 February 2018). "Quinn Norton Named to Editorial Board" (Press release). The New York Times.
  23. ^ a b c Rogers, Adams (February 14, 2018). "The NY Times Fires Tech Writer Quinn Norton, and It's Complicated". Wired. Retrieved August 9, 2018.
  24. ^ a b c Glaser, April (February 14, 2018). "Why a Tech Journalist Might Think It's Fine to Be Friends With a Neo-Nazi Troll". Slate. Retrieved August 9, 2018.
  25. ^ Windolf, Jim (13 February 2018). "After Storm Over Tweets, The Times and a New Hire Part Ways". The New York Times.
  26. ^ Sharman, Jon (14 February 2018). "New York Times fires star writer after seven hours over homophobic and racist slurs". The Independent. Retrieved August 9, 2018.
  27. ^ Mirkinson, Jack (13 February 2018). "The Quinn Norton Debacle Is Far From the Worst Thing the New York Times Has Done Recently". Splinter News. Retrieved August 9, 2018.
  28. ^ a b Glaser, April (14 February 2018). "Why Would a Tech Journalist Be Friends With a Neo-Nazi Troll?". Slate.
  29. ^ a b Norton, Quinn (27 February 2018). "The New York Times Fired My Doppelgänger". The Atlantic.
  30. ^ Keller, Bill; Schumer, Charles; Horton, Scott; Landay, Jonathan S.; Norton, Quinn; Wimmer, Kurt A.; Wainstein, Kenneth L. (21 March 2014). "A Conference on the Press, the Government and National Security: Prospects for a Federal Shield Law from Sources and Secrets" (Video of conference panel). The New York Times, CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. C-SPAN.
  31. ^ Norton, Quinn (12 January 2009). "4/22 CISPA Page". Quinn Said.
  32. ^ Norton, Quinn (2 September 2015). "My Plan, and Why You Don't Want it". Quinn Norton. Medium.
  33. ^ Heymann, Stephen P. (7 April 2011). "Subpoena to Testify Before a Grand Jury: Quinn Norton". United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts.
  34. ^ Swartz, Aaron (July 2008). "Guerilla Open Access Manifesto". Guerilla Open Access Manifesto.
  35. ^ a b Madrigal, Alexis C. (3 March 2013). "Editor's Note to Quinn Norton's Account of the Aaron Swartz Investigation". The Atlantic.
  36. ^ Norton, Quinn (3 March 2013). "Life Inside the Aaron Swartz Investigation". The Atlantic.
  37. ^ "Quinn Norton on sexual assault, community response, and restorative justice / Boing Boing". Boing Boing. 20 October 2017.
  38. ^ Scoble, Robert (25 October 2017). "No, of that I'm innocent". Robert Scoble's Augment Your Life. Archived from the original on 10 February 2019. Retrieved 14 February 2018.
  39. ^ Glaser, April (25 October 2017). "Scoble Isn't Sorry". Slate.
  40. ^ Yang, Wesley (8 February 2013). "The Life and Afterlife of Aaron Swartz". New York.
  41. ^ a b Norton, Quinn (12 January 2013). "My Aaron Swartz, whom I loved". Quinn Said.
  42. ^ Peters, Justin (2017). The Idealist: Aaron Swartz and the Rise of Free Culture on the Internet. New York: Scribner. ISBN 978-1-476-76774-1. OCLC 944380312.
  43. ^ "JakeGate". cjdelisle / JakeGate on Github. Retrieved 1 November 2023.
  44. ^ Norton, Quinn (13 February 2018). "Even More Personal News". Quinn Norton. Patreon.
  45. ^ Norton, Quinn (22 November 2016). "I know it's mostly not cool to be a fan of 2016, but I wanted to let you all know it's not all bad: against all odds, I'm getting married". @quinnnorton. Twitter.
  46. ^ Norton, Quinn (May 19, 2021). "Police Uniforms Don't Belong at Pride". Medium. Retrieved October 30, 2023. I'm a passing queer — bisexual, polyamourus, weakly gendered female, and white.
  47. ^ Weatherford, Ashley (19 November 2015). "#BlackGirlsAreMagic. Sorry If You Don't Agree". The Cut. New York.

External links[edit]