Blogs and thick skin

Kathy Sierra's bad day is raining all over the Web. There's a sickening lull in debate going on as people react with the kind of horror reserved for mock outrage similar to Casablanca's Captain Renault: "I'm shocked, shocked to find out there's gambling going on here!

Kathy Sierra's bad day is raining all over the Web. There's a sickening lull in debate going on as people react with the kind of horror reserved for mock outrage similar to Casablanca's Captain Renault: "I'm shocked, shocked to find out there's gambling going on here!" Amazingly, there are jerks in the blogosphere! It's my experience that you can find jerks just about anywhere.

I have read and reread her posting, but cannot follow the arguments she makes implicating many people and the medium of blogging in general in the threats against, and vile behavior toward,We are further from that moment of truth now, however, because the silence of mock outrage reigns. Ms. Sierra. For example, while Chris Locke, one of the Cluetrain authors, does own unclebobism.wordpress.com (which has been taken down for violating WordPress' terms of service), he does not seem to have authored any of the threatening or hateful comments she refers to. Locke does acknowledge writing "Kathy Sierra is a hopeless dipshit" and not liking her before this accusation, but these are not criminal utterances.

Nevertheless, Locke is being held responsible for things he doesn't appear to have had a hand in and that may have a chilling effect on Web publishing generally.

It is awful that people write hateful mysogynistic comments on Kathy Sierra's blog, in email or about her on other blogs, but she seems to have taken very little evidence of the involvement of prominent bloggers as the foundation for damning a lot of folks who, apparently, rub her and are rubbed by her the wrong way. 

This behavior is not a reflection on blogging, on anonymity or the Web, rather it is the same old human tendency to be abusive toward one another written in a new form. Anger as often as compassion is the product of speaking publicly about any issue.

As a journalist, I've received dozens of very serious death threats by bomb and a very real gun pointed at me, as well as endured endless vile tirades. The same happened when blogging. What I've learned over the years is that the hollow crap tossed in virtual forums are empty, cowardly threats that vanish when the abusive poster's anonymity is ripped away. You have to get over it to participate in the world we live in or nothing would change, bullies and the privileged would rule unquestioned.

Bad behavior doesn't reflect on the medium or the whole audience (or the people formerly known as the audience). It reflects on the people who behave badly. Individuals show how rude, low and disgustingly inhuman they can be. Unfortunately, Ms. Sierra takes these examples and damns everything about the medium:

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. 

Bloggers should not be refusing to blog in sympathy for Kathy Sierra, they should be speaking out even more, demanding explanations and seeking to hold the jerks responsible accountable for their actions. Silence is exactly what a bully wants, so don't give in to them. I hope Ms. Sierra finds strength from ignoring the idiots behind this, rather than seeing it as a reason to withdraw.

Yet, Kathy Sierra should also be doing far more homework before accusing people of participating in the slurs against her, because it seems the names of Chris Locke and Allen Herrell (whose WordPress blog has also been suspended) were invoked based on the appearance they were involved rather than proof they participated in some way in the threats. Locke said in a posting today:

I am widely known as RageBoy online. Ergo, most people don't usually mistake me for a sensitive New Age guy. I'm not. However, most people also don't mistake me, as Ms. Sierra seems to have done, for a homicidal maniac. I'm not that either. But given a headline like "Kathy Sierra v. Chris Locke" on ValleyWag, and given the lede there... [It is notable that Valleywag republished one of the pictures Sierra objects to as an editorial graphic on its site without fear of recrimination-MR]

"Kathy Sierra... has made a complaint to the police, and has pulled out of a speaking engagement, after what she says were death threats against her on a website"

...I've already been tried and found guilty in the none-too-bright court of public opinion, which, if this incident is any indicator, takes anything it reads on the Internet as Gospel. God help us all.

The irony is that the Blogosphere is showing its greatest weakness after the fact, by spreading misinformation and fear rather than solid information. Now is precisely the time for a blog culture to coalesce around a discussion of mores and morals. Not participating in this debate only does more damage.

Ms. Sierra says "death threats against bloggers are NOT 'protected speech,'" creating a special class in bloggers who are protected from bad behavior that is rampant in society. The result is that several blogs have been taken down before any facts are clear. Death threats are never protected speech, so let's not be so quick to condemn when the written evidence is no longer available for the public to judge. Broad-brush accusations, I'd add, are not protected speech, either.

I'm confident that when all the facts are on the table, the legal and social issues will be clear and the perpetrators held responsible. We are further from that moment of truth now, however, because the silence of mock outrage reigns. 

UPDATE: Chris Locke in email clarifies ownership and the blocking of MeanKids and Bob's Yer Uncle.... "If either of the blogs in question were blocked for abridging Terms of Service, this was done retroactively. I was not the admin for MeanKids, but I was for "Bob's Yer Uncle" (unclebobism.wordpress.com), and when I nuked it -- shortly after the offending stuff appeared, I dismantled it manually. Wordpress.com (as opposed to the main .org site)  offers to let you delete a blog, but then says it is sending a confirmation email you must respond to. That mail never arrived, though I tried it two or three times. Given the sensitivity of the material, I didn't want to wait around, so I delete each post, one by one, till the thing was gone."

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