Cyberstalking and Fear Online…

I joked last week with Erica that she is like Christine 2.0. You see, I used to blog a lot more than I do now, and my posts used to be different in nature than they are today. I’m working on getting back to that, on becoming Christine 3.0. Or Web 7.2 compliant. Take your pick. Anyways, we have talked a lot about the latest events in one circle of the blogosphere, and I find myself saying how I have seen it all before.

Sadly, there is one thing that has happened yet again, but in a very public way that has caught a lot of attention. Kathy Sierra, who writes an amazing and insightful blog on creating passionate users in addition to her books and the speaking engagements that she handles, has received death threats that have left her terrified.

The interesting thing is that “big name” bloggers, bloggers that are prominent in the tech industry, and bloggers that the media watches are both involved in this and talking about it. I’ve actually seen people in the past few days react as if this is the first time this has happened. As Min Jung so eloquently put, it is AWFUL, yes, but it is sadly NOT new.

The whole thing is disturbing to me – and by the whole thing, I am actually including Kathy’s post. It was gross, vile and disgusting what was said to her and about her. I do not blame her for cancelling her talk at eTech. I would have been bolting the doors too. However, it rubbed me the wrong way that she pointed fingers and named names without proof – or without showing us that proof. And I realize that she may have proof for every name she named, and she maybe was advised by legal counsel not to disclose it. But if that is the case, don’t name names. (edited to add: I saw Kathy’s comments on other sites, stating she does have more proof. I still think she should not have named names.)

On the internet, people are viewed as guilty until proven innocent.

This consumes and hurts everyone involved. The victim, the accused, the innocents, and even those standing on the fringes. I know. I’ve been there. In 2003, I had a friendship publicly fall apart over similar events. I hate to bring that series of events up by linking to it, because it was almost 4 years ago and it still feels like a sad part of my past, but I saw the posse and lynching mentality that was going on then and I had to stand up and say something. Tonight, while I am just an observer far, far out on the fringes, I am left feeling the same way. A posse is the wrong way to go about things. Because of the posse mentality, over the years I have seen friends quit blogging, others have gone behind closed doors and made their sites private, and many things have changed for a number of people.

Events such as this one can polarize people in very unusual ways. It made me sad to read a comment today on BlogHer post that was written by a woman that basically said that Kathy shouldn’t have taken the threats so seriously to cancel showing up at eTech because they were “just” online. I whole-heartedly disagree with that. Basic safety on the internet – just because a threat is “just online” doesn’t mean that someone can’t come and find you when it is well published that you will be speaking at a conference. Thinking like that is what gets people in serious trouble. Very serious trouble. It is the reason I teach my son internet safety, and caution him to be wise in his actions. You CAN NOT dismiss such behavior.

The ironic thing that I keep hearing is how this is going to effect the *entire* blogosphere. Really? I mean … really? Are you serious? Because I think that is really overstating the level of influence. The tech geeks do things that ripple all the way to the last user sometimes; creating great blog software is an example, or working on improving browsers, code, or sites like and Flickr. This will not have that sort of reach.

It is effecting one CIRCLE of the blogosphere. It isn’t that big of a circle – it is just a very loud one. I have an interesting vantage point here: this blog is read by some in the tech circle; it is read by people that read personal blogs; it is read, along with my other site, by knitters; and it is read by people that are into photography. For some of my readers, several of these circles overlap, just like they do for me. But if I walked into a room full of knitbloggers today and asked them how they felt about the latest crisis in the blogosphere, acting as if it was so huge it must be effecting them personally, they would look at me with a very puzzled look. Only if their circles intersected with others like mine do would they know.

And an interesting sidenote about the knitbloggers? I have never seen this sort of attack come up in the knitblogosphere. I’m not naive enough to think it has never happened, and I know that trolls appear from time to time. But not like this. Knitters unite and fight back against the outsiders when companies try to tell us that we can’t use the phrase “Stitch & Bitch” or when they insist that yarn shops use keystone pricing models. They do not generally fight with the other knitters. Isn’t that interesting? Maybe more people need to be knitters.

I think Tim O’Reilly got it very wrong when he suggested, “I do think we need some code of conduct around what is acceptable behaviour, I would hope that it doesn’t come through any kind of [legal/government] regulation it would come through self-regulation.” As adults, we should have developed our own personal moral code of conduct, and it is a very sad state of affairs to see that some adults have not. Creating a site like “MeanKids” is just wrong from the start. A formal “code of conduct” will do NOTHING to help those that have no moral compass to begin with.

Talk has also come up that anonymous comments should not be allowed on blogs, there are other types of sites online that offers all kind of services, from purchases to adult services like Zoom Escorts. Sure, that makes sense – that is why most blogging software has settings so that the end user can decide what level of anonymous comments they want on their blog. Again, this has all happened before, and Blogger, WordPress and SixApart have all had to deal with how to handle anonymous comments in their software. If someone wants to spew forth crap, they will find a way around it anyways. Fill in a name, an e-mail address – bogus or not – and you are off and running. There really is no way to stop it.

So today as I read through the tech blogs and kept seeing references to this latest situation – a terrible, terrible situation – I then followed a link to Mickipedia and saw her post from February 4, 2007 with the above video about her stalker, and she shares the comments made to her about things like “I would buy the bike to see you crash through the car windshield.” It hit home at that moment how many times before I have seen this exact same thing.

She also brings up something that Scoble points out – attacking comments against women, even by other women, are often personal ones like “she is fat” or “she is ugly”, which often encourages women to contact a Criminal Justice Attorney.  Things that would never be said about a man. How sad is that? Why are women treated that way? Why do women participate in such behavior?

I am glad that this whole thing has people talking and thinking about it. I am glad it has gotten people’s attention. I think it is great that people are thinking about it. Now, as my post yesterday mentioned, we need to find a way to put some positive karma back out into the world. What are we going to do about this? Beyond education, is there anything we CAN do about it? Because as Chris Pirillo pointed out, this isn’t unique to teh internets – it happens in real life too.

What are YOU going to do to change the world?

Other links of note (just linking all that I have read to be fair about it all – I am sure there is lots more out there):
Shelley Powers – Disappointed and One More Post
Ronni Bennett – In the Matter of Kathy Sierra
Mind Killer
BBC News – Call for Blogging Code of Conduct
AKMA’s Random Thoughts
Robert Scoble – Taking the Week Off
NetSquared – March 30th is Stop Cyber-bullying Day


About Christine

Christine is an Avenger of Sexiness. Her Superpower is helping Hot Mamas grow their Confidence by rediscovering their Beauty. She lives in the Heights in Houston, Texas, works as a boudoir photographer, and writes about running a Business of Awesome. In her spare time, she loves to knit, especially when she travels. She & her husband Mike have a food blog at Spoon & Knife.