A couple stories have emerged about the evil in the blogosphere. The focus has been comments made on a blog called meankids.org (a blog co-founded by Christopher Locke, co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto and which now redirects to the creator, Frank Paynter’s blog Listics. Actually, “comments” is not the right term for the stuff that was posted on meankids.org. Kathy Sierra, the amazing blogger at Creating Passionate Users, has been subjected to disgusting and unwarranted threats of death and sexual assault by commentators on the meankids.org blog. The end result is that she has cancelled her speaking arrangements and has stopped blogging for the time being.
The comments were started a couple weeks ago and included comments like the following:
fuck off you boring slut... i hope someone slits your throat and cums down your gob
They got worse and soon particularly vile images were being posted suggesting some pretty evil sexual intentions. The threats got worse and soon comments were being published on a related blog called BobsYerUncle threatening her life:
What is scary about this incident, aside from the threats and the thought that whoever made them was probably serious about them, is that the meankids.org blog is a blog that is apparently linked to by some of the top bloggers overseas, respected bloggers like Doc Searls (this is not an implication that Doc Searls is party to these threats, more an indication of the utter abuse of trust placed by people in the meankids.org blog by the editor/s of meankids.org).
The end result of this attack on Kathy is shocking:
I do not want to be part of a culture–the Blogosphere–where this is considered acceptable. Where the price for being a blogger is kevlar-coated skin and daughters who are tough enough to not have their “widdy biddy sensibilities offended” when they see their own mother Photoshopped into nothing more than an objectified sexual orifice, possibly suffocated as part of some sexual fetish. (And of course all coming on the heels of more explicit threats)
I do not want to be part of a culture where this is done not by some random person, but by some of the most respected people in the tech blogging world. People linked to by A-listers like Doc Searls, a co-author of Chris Locke. I do not want to be part of a culture of such hypocrisy where Jeneane Sessum can be a prominent member of blogher, a speaker at industry conferences, an outspoken advocate for women’s rights, and at the same time celebrate and encourage a site like meankids — where objectification of women is taken to a level that makes plain old porn seem quaintly sweet.
(Of course, Frank and Jeneane are among the people who make outraged posts about the lack of female speakers at tech conferences. If THIS is what a woman has to put up with for having visibility in the tech world…)
Most of all, I now fully understand the impact of death threats. It really doesn’t make much difference whether the person intends to act on the threat… it’s the threat itself that inflicts the damage. It’s the threat that makes you question whether that “anonymous” person is as disturbed as their comments and pictures suggest.
It’s the threat that causes fear.
It’s the threat that leads you to a psychiatrist and tranquilizers just so you can sleep without repeating the endless loop of your death by:
* throat slitting
and don’t forget the sexual part…
I have cancelled all speaking engagements.
I am afraid to leave my yard.
I will never feel the same. I will never be the same.
I have no idea if I’ll ever post again. I suspect I will. But for now, I have a lot to rethink.
It doesn’t end here though. A little earlier this week Robert Scoble reported that derogatory comments had been made about his wife, Maryam on the meankids.org site. In support of Kathy Sierra and in protest over this sort of disgusting behaviour on the Web, Scoble has stopped blogging for a week.
One of the people implicated in all of this is Locke. He has responded to this sad story in a post on his blog The EGR Weblog with his defence/version of the whole thing. He has focussed on how he feels his character is unjustifiably being attacked by, among others, Kathy and has expressed a few views in an interview with an Australian journalist which I have some difficulty with:
4) How do you feel about the attacks, and Kathy’s response?
I found some of what was written on the meankids and unclebobism sites in extremely bad taste, yes. And as I said, I immediatetly took down the site when I saw Kathy’s understandably strong objections. I think her response, as it pertains to anything I personally wrote, was unjustified — but highly effective — character assassination. As a result, I’m sure I’ll be explaining for years to come that I’m not really an ax murderer and child molester. Nice work.
5) A number of bloggers have blamed the situation on a generally acerbic, misogynistic atmosphere in the IT industry. Do you think this is the case? Is this a problem to you, and how can this be resolved?
I don’t have that much truck with the IT industry per se these days, so I can’t really comment on the state of things in that quarter. Surely I’ve seen hateful stuff about women online, and when it is directed at women *because they are women,* I am disgusted by it. I have a 17-year-old daughter whom I love very much and I would not ever want to see her subjected to such Neanderthal views and behavior.
However, given that half the human race consists of women, it should not come as a newsflash that some of them — in about equal proportion to men — are stupid, venal, dishonest, or just generally annoying. Expressing such an opinion may be distasteful to some and vehemently argued by others, but last time I checked, having a negative opinion of a public figure was neither a federal offense nor an expression of misogyny.
I did write two comments on the “Bob’s Yer Uncle” site, which I am happy to repeat for the record: 1) “Kathy Sierra is a hopeless dipshit.”; and 2) “The only ‘passionate users’ I know are crack heads.” I do not like Kathy Sierra. I like her even less after her post of Monday. If she is waiting for me to apologize for something I did or said, she is going to have a very long wait.
This is some pretty scary stuff. It is also an example of where critical comments can become utterly toxic and get completely out of hand. I find myself thinking about the recent SA Blog Awards flame war and I think this should be a lesson in moderation. Sure, let’s criticise, debate, ridicule each other where we feel that voice should be expressed but there is a line and if that line is crossed by anyone in our community, I will also think carefully about whether I would want to be part of it.