Dan Lyons, author of a book on HubSpot, named in BuzzFeed article about alt-right’s tactics

Dan Lyons at his home in Winchester in 2016. AFP PHOTO / Gretchen Ertl / Getty Images
Dan Lyons at his home in Winchester in 2016. AFP PHOTO / Gretchen Ertl / Getty ImagesGRETCHEN ERTL

The author of a searing book about Cambridge company HubSpot and writer from the hit HBO series “Silicon Valley” received backlash on social media Thursday night — drawing deep criticism from a Hollywood actor and many others — after a report by BuzzFeed revealed he asked about specific people in private emails to an alt-right provocateur, making offensive remarks about their gender identity.

Dan Lyons, the Winchester resident who wrote “Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble,” was briefly featured in a section of BuzzFeed’s report, which examines how Milo Yiannopoulos, a prominent alt-right media figure, and the website Breitbart.com “smuggled nazi and white nationalist ideas into the mainstream.”


The report said Lyons had reached out on several occasions via e-mail to Yiannopoulos, who was once a tech-writer for Breitbart, a website co-founded by former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.

In one such exchange, Lyons wondered “about the birth sex” of Zoë Quinn, a victim of the GamerGate controversy, BuzzFeed wrote.

But Lyons, whose book chronicled his attempts at navigating the world of marketing alongside people half his age, told the Globe he has apologized for the comments and believes that he’s been unfairly categorized as an ally of the controversial alt-right movement.

“This is a McCarthyite tactic — guilt by association,” he said in an e-mail.

GamerGate began in 2014 as a Twitter hashtag after Quinn’s ex-boyfriend wrote a 9,000-word screed accusing Quinn, a video game developer, of being unfaithful, specifically with a reporter who covered the industry and wrote about her.

The situation escalated and led to serious threats against Quinn as a debate about “journalistic ethics” in the world of gaming emerged, according to a profile in the New Yorker. Soon, other women within the industry — including a woman from Arlington — became targets of similar harassment.

In one of Lyons’ e-mails to Yiannopoulos, he allegedly asked, “Is Zoë Quinn a biological female or trans?” Lyons also asked whether Amber Discko, founder of the website Femsplain, was “a dude,” according to BuzzFeed’s lengthy report.


“I honestly can’t tell,” Lyons allegedly wrote to Yiannopoulos.

As BuzzFeed’s story went viral Thursday afternoon and into the evening, Lyons was taken to task for the comments, including pointed criticism from actor Kumail Nanjiani, who stars in “Silicon Valley,” a show Lyons once wrote for.

On Twitter, Nanjiani had said he was “sick to his stomach” about the report that named Lyons, and included a screenshot of the excerpt. He later deleted the tweet, but not before Lyons responded directly to the criticism.

“Kumail I feel sick too. I am to the left of Bernie Sanders. [People] who know me know this. But I am getting smeared as alt-right,” Lyons said on Twitter. “Nothing could be further from truth.”

Lyons said, in his defense, that he has extensively covered “bro culture” and diversity issues within the technology sector and startup world, and shared multiple stories he’s written about such issues and how they plague the industry.

“But [because] I traded email with Milo in 2015 I’m now supposedly a Nazi,” he wrote.

Lyons also said on Twitter that he “apologized to Amber and Zoe, at length, before the Buzzfeed story came out,” and said he didn’t remember those emails.


“I felt sick when I saw them,” he wrote. “The emails were each one line long. I feel awful. I made a mistake. That’s what I told Amber and Zoe when I apologized to them.”

In an e-mail to the Globe Friday, Lyons again defended himself, calling the inclusion of his e-mails in BuzzFeed’s story “gossip” and distancing himself from Yiannopoulos. He said he was only asking about Quinn and Discko because he didn’t know who they were.

“I don’t know Milo. I’ve never met Milo. We’re not friends. We’ve never been friends,” Lyons said. “I’ve been shocked and horrified by what he has become over the past two years. His politics are awful. The things he says, the hate speech, is terrible.”

Both Quinn and Discko addressed the controversy Thursday night, with Quinn claiming she never received an apology from Lyons, despite his claims.

“No you didn’t,” Quinn wrote, sharing Lyons’ tweet.

Later, she wrote, “You’re not sorry you said it. You’re sorry you got caught.”

Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.