Blogosphere Responds To Death Threats

    March 27, 2007

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

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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 and, 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.