Threats Aren’t Debate, and They’re Not Acceptable

This is a short one because I’m so appalled…

Kathy Sierra runs an interesting, thoughtful blog “Creating Passionate Users.” She’s a biggie, with important things to say, in some demand as a speaker. I don’t always agree with what she says. I always think it’s worth reading.

And she posted this astonishing tale today, explaining why she’s not at ETech today–and why she’s canceled all speaking engagements.

Death threats. Threats of personal violence and violation. Easily credible enough to be worrisome.

It may be virtual space, but these are real people–and this is just not acceptable behavior. Period. Not as a joke, not as a gibe. Not. Acceptable. Behavior.

Update: Robert Scoble posted on this issue and decided not to do any more posts for the rest of this week. That’s a big deal for him and not unusual for me, but I think he’s right: Leaving this post at the top of the page for the rest of the week is worthwhile.

As for anonymous comments: With the single exception attached to this post, I will remove any comments that do not contain a real and verifiable email address–and I will never reveal that email address. But I’ll also remove any negative hateful or personal-attack “anonymous”/pseudonymous comments as a matter of course.

6 Responses to “Threats Aren’t Debate, and They’re Not Acceptable”

  1. jennimi Says:

    W, as someone who has unfortunately dealt with similar from jealous no-names early on in my blogging career (on a much milder scale than this), I can empathize with the feelings of fear, vulnerability, and violation this kind of thing brings. After 13+ years in social work and mental health I STILL believe people are generally good – in person or in cyberspace…. but when a scant few bits of shoe-gum filth cross a very clear line it behooves the rest of us to stand at the ready, as you have here, even if we may respectfully disagree on issues. See, grown-ups can disagree while not attacking each other. Cool thing, adulthood.

    I have followed your discussions about the importance of not posting anonymously – especially within the bibliosphere – and have vehemently agreed with you! I have made such a conscious choice in the matter I discuss it openly in my “About” (If only I could get some of my pals to realize it isn’t so bad to comment under their real names… they have many valid points to make!). While I do understand the reasons for pseudonyms, I find them cowardly in adult discussions. Anonymity breeds contempt and prurience.

    I hope the authorities put the same efforts into enforcing Sierra’s rights as a human being as they would if the cowards had attacked, say, the President. Afterall, as most of us realize, there’s no such thing as true anonymity online. – jennifer graham

  2. anonymous Says:

    “I hope the authorities put the same efforts into enforcing Sierra’s rights as a human being as they would if the cowards had attacked, say, the President. Afterall, as most of us realize, there’s no such thing as true anonymity online. ”

    Hope springs eternal.

    Until ‘the authorities’ rescue all who call themselves victims, we have anonymity to directly protect ourselves.

  3. walt Says:

    Now here’s a quandary. Technically, I don’t allow anonymous comments. The comment directly above worked around the rules, using a phony email address. I do, of course, have the IP address from which the comment was sent. (No, I won’t reveal it. To do so would be a flagrant violation of fundamental blogging ethics.)

    I’m going to violate my own norms and not delete the anonymous comment because the person makes an important point. Anonymity does have its uses–but, at the same time, it’s difficult to take any anonymous comment seriously.

    On the other hand, Jennifer’s mostly right–anonymity online really is limited, and can easily be abused (if “anonymous” had said anything negative, the comment would have been deleted without notice).

    I also agree with Jennifer that people are mostly good.

  4. jennimi Says:

    Looking back at my original comment, I can see how it would inspire such a response from Anon. I wrote it immediately after reading the stuff over at Sierra’s blog, and my blood was boiling. Indeed, it shows in my tone. Apologies. Of course I realize there are reasons to be anonymous. On the other hand it’s nearly impossible to have a meaningful discussion with someone who is.

    It’s a tough one. I have friends who are just trying out this “2.0″ stuff. They use aliases on my blog but submit real email addresses, and I am ok with that. I know who they are even if you do not. But, fake commenters and metadata = higher likelihood of deletion.

    “we have anonymity to directly protect ourselves.” – I disagree. Especially in the case Walt is highlighting here originally. We do not get to make death threats behind a cloak of anonymity and be protected. That’s not what free speech is about.

    I have talked with people at conferences and at work about what many see as a huge problem with blogging: anonymous commentary. It’s hard to argue with detractors when something like this happens.

  5. Kathleen de la Pena McCook Says:

    Very good essay in today’s SALON by editor Joan Marsh
    “Men who hate women on the Web. ”
    And the women (like me) who try to ignore them. Or at least I did — until the Kathy Sierra affair. by Joan Marsh
    http://www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2007/03/31/sierra/

  6. Kathleen de la Pena McCook Says:

    Forgot to say that there are 35 pages/ over 250 comments on this issue at the Salon site. These are outside of librarian blogs, but give a good overview.
    http://letters.salon.com/opinion/feature/2007/03/31/sierra/view/?show=all


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