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Some quick reflections on the Kathy Sierra incident...

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If you're a reasonably well-read blogger, you've no doubt heard and read about Kathy Sierra's post about her reaction to threats she received via email and other blogs.  This is something that you just can't believe once you've read it and started following the links and comments.  I just wanted to jot down a few random thoughts that have flitted through my mind over the last couple days concerning this...
  • What is it about a small subset of male internet users that brings out this type of behavior?
  • I am stunned that some people have the attitude "that's just the way things are, get used to it or go home."  Since when did vulgarity and threats of physical violence become an acceptable way to interact with others?  Just because some people choose such a warped way of interaction does not mean that it's OK, all in the name of "free speech."
  • I realize that the right of privacy and anonymity does serve an important purpose in society, and by no means would I want that right to disappear (or at least at a faster pace than it already is).  But with rights come responsibilities.  No one has the "right" to make the type of vulgar, harassing comments that have appeared over the last few days.
  • I'm amazed that people think their virtual and physical personas are two complete and distinct entities with no reflection on each other.  The virtual persona is created by the physical one.  If your virtual self gets off on degrading women and making physical threats, what part of the physical self gave rise to that?  You can't tell me that talk of beating a woman (virtually) and loving your daughter and wife (physically) are somehow mutually compatible.  
  • Google remembers everything...  
  • Whatever happened to owning your words?  
  • Let's say the police showed up at your door asking questions about a murder that occurred somewhere close to where you live or work.  If you were known to run a blog that hosts violent comments and posts (some of which you may have made), do you think the police would surmise "well, I'm sure that doesn't matter because that's his *virtual* self, not the *real* person?"
  • Has anything rational or coherent ever come from a Slashdot posting?

If Kathy were someone like Ann Coulter, someone who is taking positions on things by using extreme speech, I could start to see how people might become polarized and outspoken in their responses to her.  But we're talking technical stuff here, not life-and-death matters, religion, or politics.  And even then, the type of hatred and vile that's been exposed over the last few days has no place in the discussion.

I'd hate to see Kathy quit blogging or speaking as a result of this.  I've interacted with her on a number of occasions, and she's a wonderful person with unique insights.  But under no circumstances should the events of the last few days be seen as the "price of admission" to participate in the larger tech community.  And if that "price" is too much to be paid, then I fully support her decision and actions.  And those of us who have lost out on her (and others, male and female, who refuse to play in that world) wisdom can thank the few miscreants who don't know their place in a civilized world.


Gravatar Image1 - A very thoughful, well written entry Tom. I agree with everything you say

I have been following the thread on Kathy's site and even posted a small message of support to her. It all looks like it has got out of hand in the thread - lots of posturing and nonsense

My approach has always been - even if posting anonymously, would I type something I wouldn;t be brave enough to say to directly to someone's face? Be it a friend, an acquaintance or a stranger in a bar.

Gravatar Image2 - Point taken, Dave... I'll change that this evening when I get home. My point was that most of this type of behavior comes from men, not women. I over-generalized there.

Gravatar Image3 - Can we at least agree to say "What is it about <b>a tiny subset of</b> male internet users...", Duffbert?? I mean, really, just as not every man is a rapist, not every man online is a rabid misogynist either...

Gravatar Image4 - very well said.

Gravatar Image5 - AFAIK, Tom, you are the only person in our part of the blogosphere that has commented on this. Thanks for posting your thoughts.

I have read a lot concerning this topic. I just don't understand that somehow a person would feel that the blogsphere, specifically, or the internet, generally, would differ that much from the physical world. And vowe has made it very clear that 'you don't know me:'


So, there is a disconnect between the physical you and the virtual you. For some, it may be a great chasm. Others, not so much.

Personally, I find these types of attacks disgusting and serve no purpose (except maybe to move page rankings or page hits). And the backlash has been just as interesting. Some of those responses are very angry, perhaps bordering on the same disgusting and vile line. But are they okay, as they are in defense of Kathy (personally, I enjoy her posts, but I do not know her at all)?

Is this a major reason why there are a disproportionately small number of women bloggers?

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Thomas "Duffbert" Duff

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