Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Dark Underbelly of the Blogosphere Exposed In Attack Against Tech Blogger

An email from friend Andy Carvin crossed my inbox today--a very disturbing email directing me to a post by distinguished tech blogger Kathy Sierra that details a series of disturbing comments about her relayed through email and then posted on something called meankids.org...

This is indefensible.

Now, I may not agree with Sierra. I may think that sometimes many of the points she makes are things I already knew, and may have said, just without the fancy graphs. But that's just an intellectual disagreement. We can have intellectual disagreements. We can even be kinda blunt or downright nasty in an intellectual disagreement...

Yet personal attacks of the sort that happened to Kathy--attacks that advocate violence, that disparage someone's gender, sexual preference, or physical attributes--are unjustifiable under any and all circumstances.

Most disturbing, though, Kathy's post clearly points to a tolerated dark underbelly of the blogosphere--a place where "boys will be boys" and assholes can go around saying things like "if you didn't have legs you'd leave a trail like a garden slug..." and others will think it's just bloody-darned-fuckin'-funny-free-speech....

When it isn't.

Scoble posted his thoughts on what's happened...notes that he's been threatened before, and has just brushed it off. But he realizes that what's been said to Kathy and about Kathy doesn't constitute something one can just brush off and move on. from Scoble:
It’s this culture of attacking women that has especially got to stop. I really don’t care if you attack me. I take those attacks in stride. But, whenever I post a video of a female technologist there invariably are snide remarks about body parts and other things that simply wouldn’t happen if the interviewee were a man.


Absolutely. Most of us deal with it our whole lives--esp. if we're pretty and smart. A lethal enough combination to make any beta male see red. It's the thing that, at times, makes me feel good about the ability to "frump it up" and disappear from most men's vision...

It's not just the tech culture either. Last year, longtime blogger Peggy Phillip, one of the few women executives, even fewer women tv executives, to ever blog, was forced to shutter her blog due to threats and intimidation similar to those levelled against Kathy...

Then again, I got a bit "cyberbullied" last January when I failed to support another woman blogger's participation on panel and merely suggested someone else might have been more appropriate...

There are lots of reasons for cyberbullying--none are acceptable.

Still, violence against women lurks in this space...across this great huge wonderful landscape. Like the Wild West, it has its Dark Underbelly, where horrific fantasies are bandied about by people who have some sort of strange dark thing living within them that wants to preserve some cro-magnonlike hierarchy of men over women. And some folks tolerate this. They say "boys will be boys" and let the Jack-the-Lads act up and act out, thinking that they can control them in some ways by letting them vent their spleens...

But that never works. Eventually, someone gets hurt. That "someone" is usually a woman--silenced by those who can't deal with their own sorry states of affairs...

The thing, though, that I find most disturbing in Kathy's case is not just that she found the meankids.org site--and that some people would find it funny to bash people in the manner that meankids.org was doing. Sure, there were times when Snappy the Clam was a hoot...but there's a line. And that line gets crossed when we openly say things that propose violence, suggest levels of degradation, and imply that the death of another individual is somehow a good thing. (yes, we may say certain things in private, among people who know we'd never do those things--but we should not take those things and put them out in the light of day. we should, perhaps, look at our venom and figure out what it is about that other person, who's probably minding his or her own business, that makes us feel that way. Why do we feel so inferior or so falsely righteous that we have to think that way about someone else? And then we should, perhaps, use that anger to motivate ourselves to change our own sorry states of affairs. Because it is indeed a truly sorry state of our own personal affairs that makes us "hate" another person to this level. Nazis were, after all, a bunch of self-hating cowards...)

Andy's set up a social network to start discussing this thing. And March 30 is Stop Cyberbullying Day....

We do indeed need to flush this out of our world in here. We can't necessarily cure the ills of the entire world, but we can start working so that others are not silenced in this space by threats of sexual assault, degredation, and murder.

Otherwise, none of us will be safe.

UpdateI've been following this one around, and have noticed that it is being whisper-down-the-lane misconstrued that the emailed threats to KS and the foul blog posts came from one guy--which they did not. Personally, I did not want to post any of her allegations of who made the remarks because I didn't want to repeat things that have not been proven. However, Chris Locke, one of the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto, is taking some serious heat and gives an excellent response. I agree with Locke re the title of Sierra's blog "Creating Passionate Users" which I have always found massively offensive--just never got around to concocting up my own blog post as to exactly why I find it offensive. But now I'll say it: first, "users" is a demeaning term ussed by tech folks to discriminate against those they believe aren't smart enough to understand their code. Please. Grow up. It's not rocket science. Second, "users" aren't created by anyone. They use things and become loyal as acts of free will. Sierra's blog title always smacked of a certain post-Est/Forum stale incense that always made me itch.

But, it's an incense that's endemic in the Tech world...with its locus in the Silly Valley. If the emphasis of tech wasn't there, the sentiments it engenders would be very different...

But while I might pointeldy comment on Sierra's concepts and the thinking, I'm not about to attack the her in the manner that was set out in the emails and on those blog posts. That isn't how to get one's disagreeing point across. Nor am I going to levy blame on someone who, while ascerbic as Locke may be, appears to not be to blame for either the emails or the posts.

Also, Locke cannot be held libel for the words that someone else posted to a blog or message board he hosted. And if that's what people supporting Sierra end up leaning towards in their calls for action by law enforcement, they might want to look again at what they advocate--because, one day, the chickens may come to roost on their own palaces of Free Speech.

Update 4/4/07 Crusing around this evening I came across a follow-up on Silicon Valley Watcher that discusses a brokered meeting between Sierra and Locke (by O'Reilly.) O'Reilly, in the SF Chronicle:
"We need to say this is not acceptable behavior," said Tim O'Reilly, CEO of Sebastopol's O'Reilly Media, which publishes Sierra's books and runs the ETech conference where Sierra was scheduled to speak this week. "If you start making offensive comments, they will be deleted from a blog. Don't give people that platform."




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7 comments:

Bill Dusty said...

Okay, Okay! You're not a weenie! Now quit with the swear words, will ya!

Ha ;-)

Tish Grier said...

LOL! you know Bill, I meant to get back to the Weblogs forum, but I've been swamped! (if you noticed, I just had enough time to create this post and that's the extent of my blogging...)

I'll get you though...just wait ;-)

Rhea said...

Thanks for mentioning violence against women. Most people addressing the issue of cyberbullying stop short of even uttering those words. I am heartened to see so many people rally around the idea of stopping cyberbullying. I want to add my two cents that cyberbullying, at least in Kathy's case, is simply another expression of the woman-hating that permeates our culture. The Internet is home to a multi-billion-dollar pornography industry. If there was ever a group of second-class citizens it is women. We should get to the root of the problem.

Morriss Partee said...

Hi Tish,

Wow, this is just awful. I follow Kathy Sierra's blog. She is a great writer with boundless helpful ideas. It's such a shame that a great thinker has been even temporarily derailed by the acts of pitiful group of sociopathic cowards.

Tish Grier said...

Hi Rhea and Morris....

Talking to some Old School journalism folk over the weekend, there's still the feeling of the best way to handle stuff like this is to tough it out. Just let it blow away or blow over...

But the thing is, that's a philosohpy that's also left lots of us with the inability to fight bullies--esp. women. Women have been bullied in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways for generations--forced out of jobs by men who feel that we're taking something away from them.

Heck, from what I've heard form Andy Carvin, and from what I read on Scoble's blog, there are men who get particularly antsy and bully other men, too. Men just don't talk about it all that much and take care of it in their own way...

But there's something different about the bullying that women encounter. Mostly because it often devolves into threats of sexual violence or something about our personal appearance. Sure, someone calls me an asshole who doesn't know much is one thing. Someone who says I'd leave a trail like a slug if I had no legs crosses the line totally. Yes, there are things that women could say about men, many "little man" jokes, but why bother? That rarely works as a sufficient put-down--and can result in stepped-up violence.

And it's the violence that we believe we should not have to face. We should be safe. But when there are folks who feel they must control women, they will resort to violence when intimidation doesn't work.

I'm sick of it.

blogMeTender said...

A kind of cyberbullying that's happening nowadays is done silently. It's the kind where fellow employers now Google applicants. You can write something that's simply different that gets people to think. However, a future employer may misinterpret or misread that and it'll cost you the opportunity.

Not all of us have decided to what extent we'll use our real names in the blogosphere because of this. It's a very big concern to we who have positions like Peggy in management.

Tish Grier said...

thank you, bmt, for your comment...

and you're right....

about a year ago, I had my personal blog linked to this one--then un-linked them because I didn't want anyone to go for the personal blog from here...

but, if they google me, they'll still find it...

and, yes, I worry about that. and it is a form of cyberbullying to hold someone's blog against them professionally. That was one of my arguments to Steve Outing of Editor and Publisher when he suggested that journalists be transparent about their personal lives. Transparent to what degree? I asked him. He failed to realize that some folks personal lives are not neat and tidy, and that this could cause problems for them in the workplace, with employers who expect some level of perfection from the people who work for them.