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Blogosphere Responds To Death Threats

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A tidal wave of shock has swelled across the blogosphere at large in response to publicized death threats targeting well-known blogger Kathy Sierra.

Blogosphere Responds To Death Threats
Blogosphere Responds To Death Threats
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Any profession that operates within the public domain comes with its share of pitfalls. Blogging is no exception.

Sometimes criticism crosses appropriate boundaries. There’s certainly a tipping point between spirited disagreement and personal attack, something that popular blogger Kathy Sierra has unfortunately had to learn the hard way.

In her latest (and perhaps final) blog post, Sierra documents a series of attacks upon her by other bloggers at meankids.org and unclebobisms.com, both of which have since been taken offline. The textual assaults ranged from obscene death threats to extremely graphic depictions of misogynistic imagery created from actual photos of Sierra.

Sierra speculates on individuals that may have been responsible or contributed to the offending speech:

The "Bob’s Yer Uncle" site was supposedly started by Cluetrain co-author Chris Locke (who, along with Jeaneane Sessum, also authors the Kat Herding Media site) and included most of the same members as meankids.

I don’t know which participant actually made the picture. It may have been Joey, or Chris Locke, or perhaps Allen Herrel.

Locke, however, was none too happy that his name was mentioned in the list of suspects. In his response to Kathy’s post, he makes some pretty bold statements about the way Kathy is handling the matter:

I found some of what was written on the meankids and unclebobism sites in extremely bad taste, yes. And as I said, I immediately 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.

Despite Locke’s unhappiness with being caught up in this mess, there are some real issues to consider here.

First, this scenario is indicative of what can happen when you give people the luxury of complete anonymity. Bloggers try to make commenting as painless as possible, often removing registration requirements because they are seen as cumbersome to building conversations.

The downside, however, is that by allowing anonymous comments, you open up and entirely different can of worms.

Matthew Ingram gives his take on the nature of online anonymity:

It’s a little like the spell that comes over people when they get behind the wheel of a car. Because the other drivers can’t see them, and don’t know who they are, people feel free to say — and do — all kinds of terrible things they would never think of doing face-to-face.

Beyond anonymity, however, issues of gender equality are springing up in blogger responses to Sierra’s plight. Popular blogger Robert Scoble lends his own commentary concerning the treatment of females within online and tech related fields:

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.

It makes me realize just how acerbic this industry and culture are toward women. This just makes me ill.

Are these attacks indicative of an underlying spirit of misogyny? Are women still viewed as weaklings, sex objects, and inferior to men? While females enjoy more civil rights than ever before, do they still have a long way to go before they can hope to achieve the same amount of personal respect and consideration that men are given?

These are tough questions that, at least after today, are difficult to answer with certainty.

The blogosphere backlash, however, has been anything but uncertain. Robert Scoble is refusing to blog for a week in protest of these threats. Many other prominent bloggers are crying for the heads of those responsible for perpetrating these attacks. In general, there is a spirit of outrage and disgust, but is the blogosphere overreacting?

Most bloggers endure their fair share of criticism. In this field, it’s pretty much a given that you’re just not going to see eye to eye with everyone, and many of those who disagree have no problem telling you just how wrong you are in a variety of different methods, some much more crass than others.

The truth, however, is that bloggers are public figures. Many have learned how to enjoy the success of their efforts, and have even come to accept that their popularity comes at the expense of privacy. But it seems that, at least in general, bloggers have been somewhat naïve about their positions as public figures. It comes with unfortunate side effects, like malicious threats and harmful imagery.

Perhaps this whole scenario will wake up the blogosphere to the fact that they aren’t magically immune to extreme criticism and hatemongering.

Kathy Sierra had not responded to requests for comment at the time of publication. 

Blogosphere Responds To Death Threats
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  • T Miller

    “While females enjoy more civil rights than ever before, do they still have a long way to go before they can hope to achieve the same amount of personal respect and consideration that men are given?”

    To answer your question from a female in this techno industry, yes, we have been given lots of civil rights that we currently enjoy. However, in stark contrast, historically, men never had to ask for their “rights”. This industry is no different really than any other.

    Now blogging (among other types of social sites)has made these cyber-stalkers and those who would perpetrate these kind of vicious crimes anonymous. I think that the blogosphere should be made aware that total anonymity is not and making terroristic threats, whether verbal or, in this case written, is criminal and a felony in most states.

  • vahid mirjamali

    You know it’s not really surprising when someone posts a video/picture of some woman doing something and someone comes along and comments on her body parts.

    That is how the whole western society has been since the “freedom” of woman in the 1950′s when woman starting going outside with bikini’s and short skirts. There is always a cause and effect.

    Cause: Woman gets more lustful attention, which is started because they want to fit in and look pretty.

    Effect: Woman start being looked at a sex objects.
    If a woman doesnt dress as revealing as the rest she is looked upon negatively.
    If a woman wants to get a job, she will obviously be looked upon as a woman, and not as a human.

    There is really only one way to fix this problem, and it is what all the muslim woman in the world, especially muslim woman in america are doing. They are covering their body parts, and sheilding their bodies from lustful eyes which is turn gains them respect. When that occurs they are viewed upon as humans that are woman, not just a “woman(Sex Object)”.

    • Rob

      > There is really only one way to fix this problem

      No, that is not the solution. Basically you are saying that men are incapable of controlling themselves, therefore women must modify their behavior to give men no opportunity to misbehave.

      First of all, it is not the responsibility of women to make men behave properly. Secondly, covering up women’s bodies so that nothing can ever be seen except their hands and eyes will not stop men from being misogynistic.

      Men are going to notice women’s bodies. It’s the way we are wired and it is not going to change. But men can control what they say and can control how they act around women.

      Yes, men may notice that one woman is (on the surface) more attractive or sexually desirable than another. But it doesn’t have to be stated nor does it have to be acted upon.

      Men are capable of treating women purely based on their abilities and their character. And it is reasonable to expect that professional, educated men do so.

      If men behave in ways that are inappropriate or demeaning to women in the workplace and in public venues, it is reasonable for there to be consequences.

      But I also think that women should be expected to act, dress and speak in ways that are equally appropriate and professional.

      Both men and women should be able to present themselves in ways that are pleasing and attractive. If either crosses a line where they are dressing or acting in a provocative way, then they’ve crossed a line in the work place and should be corrected.

      Is this really so hard to achieve?

      • Orikinla Osinachi

        As an African blogger, I have been flamed by racist bloggers until they got tired and left.

        Discrimination against women is an evidence of intolerance and such intolerance is an evidence of poor intelligence.

        Making unintelligent remarks against women only shows that the attacker is insecure.
        Only people who are insecure bully others.

        Bullies need help.
        I don’t retaliate when I face insolence, intolerance or violence, I only address the sickness of the sickler and advise that he should seek cure.

        Ironically, those who complain of gender discrimination have also been found guilty of class discrimination or racism.

        The bottomline is what Thomas Jefferson said:

    • Vikki Croft

      In any society, acts of sexual violence are perpetrated upon not only females who dress to enhance their feminine qualities, but upon infants and geriatric females as well. And countries in the muslim world are no exception. As long as any society determines that there is a narrow place for women and that there should be a penalty for not knowing your place, violence against females will be condoned, whether that violence is physical or verbal.

  • Pete Wailes

    For me, it’s not that there’s hatemongering and abuse, it’s the calculated, premeditated and extreme nature of it.

    This isn’t simple disagreeing, or people slagging each other off, it’s a coldly thought out and well executed attack on someone, targeting the most vulnerable areas that can be hit.

    That’s what makes it SO appalling to me.

  • Turner

    There is definite misogyny on the net, in business news and on the internet. I hate to be another person bashing media, but for crying out loud, everything we see: commercials, spam, pop ups, billboards, etc. is geared toward us noticing female body parts. Our media

  • Susan Powers

    I cannot understand why anyone in this day and age would not understand that women and men are equal intellectually, and/or would react negatively to that. The internet on an idealistic level is about free speech (which entails responsibility), equality and intellectual pursuit. It is time for those of us who agree with that concept I have just described to self-police the internet and fight those who will eventually spoil the freedom we all have here in cyberspace. There will always be those types of people who feel the need to spread their black soul-less inner environment into the free open decent space that most people enjoy whether that be “real” world or cyber space. We need to protect cyberspace from those that seek to destroy what is by and large a very good thing, before cyberspace becomes policed by real police to the point there is no intellectual freedom.
    We all have personal responsibility, this is common sense, we should all know that. A for instance to that is a previous poster on this site seemed to think that some people are so weak that women need to remain hidden in order not to enflame (apparently weak by the way he posted) men. No, that obviously does not make sense, nor is is fair to men or women to think that.
    There is something we can all do, if you see something you don’t like that could hurt someone, respond. Blog, email the site ownner, do what you have to do to the extent that the situation deserves, even up to calling the “real” police if someone is in any perceived danger.
    Decency is up to all of us.

  • JBald1

    A sex object…You should get out more.

    Do I think the posts were over the top, yes.

    Do I think her, Waa, mommy, somebody said bad things to me and I’m not coming out to play reaction…was also over the top, MOst certainly.

    A sex object…If your into frightening sex sure but check the pics, that’s no sex object.

    Personally I’ve never heard of kathy sierra before all this started….I think it’s a publicity stunt by her.

  • George S

    Bloggers “…aren

  • amybro

    Has anyone considered using the new IMBRA law as a precedent to regulating men’s communication on blogs and the Internet in general? That is exactly what IMBRA does and it has been upheld by a federal judge. IMBRA does not permit American men to communicate, by email or any other means, with foreign women (can’t even say “hello”) unless he completes a lengthy form and submits very personal background information. Then she must (even if she does not want to) read it and sign that she read it and send it back before he can send her an email.

    So if IMBRA can set conditions for speech just to say “hi” to someone in a friendly way, why can’t there be a law that somehow restricts men from making unfriendly and threatening communication on blogs?