Kathy Sierra, the private public and the anonymous

I, like everyone else in the blogosphere (and a fair number outside it) have been reading up on the Kathy Sierra ‘death threat’ affair. I wandered over to bud’s site to check out how his digital storytelling was going and found his post about standing up against hate crimes in the blogosphere. I’m a little twisted up about the whole thing. I don’t like fear… nor those who inflict it on others. I also really don’t like censorship… nor those who inflict it on others. This is a tricky issue. Some thoughts… and if you don’t read all the way through… I verily encourage you to at least click these two links KATHY SIERRA –> RAGEBOY RESPONSE
I went over to passionate users and saw a photoshop that I can imagine was very distressing and some very over the line anonymous writing that was posted on a website about her. This escalated to a discussion of how they ‘the only thing Kathy has to offer me is that noose in her neck size.’

Not good. Actually… very not good. I was reminded of this “(even to the point of one comment, which Marc Hedlund deleted in my absence, implying that I’m a child molester!)” from o’reilly web2.0 conference controversy and the dozen or so fairly nasty comments i’ve deleted off of this blog (while still in moderation). I have a few posts that get alot of ‘younger traffic’ and they seem to like to make nasty threats and comments. I also work at the university in Canada (or one of them) that posted the Mohamed cartoons last year… oh my the death threats they got that week.

Death threats are bad. Anonymous (or worse, non-anonymous) people threatening harm is bad. It is not, sadly, very new to those people who live public lives. As the famous among bloggers share themselves here on the internet they are becoming fodder for “the star” equivalents that we have on the internet. I might put it a little differently, but Chris is not to terribly off the mark 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.”note – (I just realized that I misread this quote… I’m now not quite sure what Chris was getting at… what I meant was that there are lots of folks out there and alot of them suck) No. This is not new. Any wander around sites that get spammed with lots of anonymous users will bring you up against nasty stuff. I can only imagine what kind of photoshops get ‘banned’ from the fark photoshop contests considering some of the things that have shown up there over the years. The internet is not a particularly nice place in that regard…

I also took note of this reply from rageboy (chris locke) and note that Kathy Sierra doesn’t make any effort to clear the ‘owners’ of the blogs in question of wrongdoing even though in both cases they removed the entire site containing the offensive comments. I do notice that Chris’ response to the comments were that they ‘were in bad taste…’ which seems understated. How many of us (assuming we were well known enough to be noticed) would like to take total responsibility for what is on our wikis I wonder? Are we now to think that the owners of a website are responsible for the opinions expressed on the website?
Here’s the problem. We have no way of enforcing identity on the internet. We can enforce (to a decent degree) identification on our own sites, but for those that do not take those steps, it is not possible. If you take the position that rageboy et al. take that they will not censor other people’s words… what then shall we do? We could say, I suppose, that Chris is wrong… that there is cause for him to censor people’s words on his website if it is hatespeech. Of course, this brings the internet to the point that our other media are in where they are governed by a board of folks who tell US what is RIGHT and GOOD… which i also don’t like.
Shall we ‘ have the police hunt down the perpetrators and bring the full weight of the law upon them.’ as Andy Price says in the comments to kathy’s post. I do not find it surprising that, as Kathy says in her post, “Was the photo itself meant to be a threat? The police believe so, yes…” There has been a desperate attempt by every law enforcement agency in the world to get the enforcement powers to mitigate what is happening on the internet.

So here it comes down. Do we wish to give up a little bit of liberty to gain safety? The ONLY way to ensure that anonymous people do not post nasty things on the internet is to log every keystroke of every computer in the world to the person who is keying it in. We have the technology, microsoft is, to some degree trying to put it into vista. It’s really not much liberty… only that every keystroke we log from here on in will be tracked.

And, as a corollary to this… how much do public figures have to accept to remain public figures. Our actors, politicians and now our bloggers are subject to personal assault. Is this the inevitable result of the public private world of blogging? What kind of comments would Voltaire, Hypatia, Mary Wallstonecraft or Rosa Parks received on their blogs?

Hate sites and hate speech are bad… censorship is bad. Safety and liberty do not often go hand in hand. These are the critical times, however, when the cynically minded people in our culture seize on fear to push their policies…

One more thought –> all the net-savvy younger people I showed the Sierra post (not a scientific survey) to shrugged their shoulders and said “those dudes are a##holes.” (meaning the people posting the hate material) There is a cultural shift here and a disconnect. As someone said in the long list of comments on passionate users ‘victimization is art’ and it is becoming that.

A great recap of the stuff people have been saying blogosphere recap

Author: dave

I run this site... among other things.

5 thoughts on “Kathy Sierra, the private public and the anonymous”

  1. Dave, thanks for the link. I really enjoyed your post on this issue and am glad to see people begin to take a more practical approach to this. Just like pretty much everyone, I am outraged and disgusted by what was written, and think Kathy was right to post about it (though, as some have mentioned, it might’ve been better had she more clearly separated the threats from her general admonishing of the blogosphere), but I am also afraid that her cause will be taken too far and rather than fostering genuine discussion about these issues, we’ll see censorship and hate speech whose effects will be insidious.

    And you’re right to point out the cultural shift. Bloggers and internet users in my generation and below might look at such speech with a shrug because it is all over on sites like YouTube and MySpace. This fact, however, does little to make things better. Instead, doesn’t this mass-desensitization mean things might be worse than we expected?

  2. A good response. I certainly don’t want to shut down any speech — but that doesn’t mean I have to accept as appropriate any speech that’s downright awful. Maybe that’s approaching speech police — and I don’t want to be the speech police — but I don’t think it is.
    I don’t think I said “hate crimes,” though, as I, um, hate the term. Crimes are crimes. Speech is and should be protected. But just because folks can say something doesn’t necessarily mean that they should .
    Lots here to consider and discuss.

  3. I agree with everything you say. The ‘change’ is an expression of frustration and insecurity. Individualism and liberty of the Web allows people to express intolerance and hate. The content of Kathy’s blog challenges male IT and Marketing ideas. She’s a real winner, and good luck to her. I hope she’s soon back.

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