Cafe Witness

Friday, March 30, 2007

My Two Cents on Kathy Sierra (Or, Why We Can't Let the Bastards Win)

This is old news, but Kathy Sierra has ceased blogging (or appearing publicly) due to a number of death threats and generally misogynistic behavior from a number of anonymous blog followers.

Needless to say, the blogosphere has been electric with the news. Nearly everyone agrees that this is a horrid situation. As Seth Godin points out, quite accurately, "Isn't it sad that misogyny is so common that there's even a word for it?"

Robert Scoble's response to the situation is to let his blog go dark for a week, in a form of peaceful protest.

But, as many of his commenters point out, this is probably the least effective way to go about ENDING the problem.

Drawing attention to it? Absolutely -- CNN noticed. But silence won't do anything to stop the overwhelming problem of internet trolling and, more broadly, ignorance-based hate from the scum of the web world towards people who are different -- women, minorities, homosexuals, etc.

So What Do We DO About It?

How you respond to news like this depends upon how strongly you feel about personal responsibility.

Judging from the bulk of asinine behavior powered by the anonymity of the web, I'd say very few people believe in personal responsibility these days -- which means it's all too easy to sweep this kind of behavior under the rug as "an aberration."

Personally, I'm fully on the side of John C. Welch, who writes:

"When someone threatens you, out them. Publish the comment, with IP address, and whatever other kind of information you can find. If you can dig up real names, publish them too. No, I don't have qualms about it...

Oh yeah, call the FBI, the Cops, and Dear Abby's daughter too...

The point is, don't YOU be the one doing the hiding. Expose and report the little fuckers every time it happens. Don't give them the power to attack you from the safety of darkness. Make them operate in the light. Someone threatens you or your family, don't ignore it. Handle it in whatever way you feel safest doing, but don't ignore it, don't silently take it. That's what they want. Don't give them what they want. Make it so fucking painful to threaten you that they'd rather eat glass than do it a second time. Better yet, make them not want to do it the first time."

Internet Bullies Don't Want Your Lunch Money

They want to intimidate you because they want power.

They NEED power.

They need to know they have the upper hand in a situation because they lack the upper hand in their own lives.

Internet bullies hide behind the spectre of anonymity because they believe it offers them the ultimate power: to control the people who DO make themselves public, and bend them to their will.

John Carman is right when he says (via Twitter):

"The internet is a power tool, and I think parents should caution their children about it in the same way."

It's one thing to have to handle the problem of internet bullies who ARE picking on someone their own size. But when you draw children into the mix, things get even uglier.

Those of you with kids and computers: how do you plan to prepare them for the wild ride ahead?

How do you plan to educate your kids on the proper way to handle someone who's not just bullying them in the schoolyard, insulting them to their faces and demanding money or toys?

How do you train them to deal with someone who hides behind an avatar or a handle -- or, even better, an "anonymous" posting -- and can spend hours a day spreading rumors, lies and reputation-damaging information on the internet?

Fight or Flight?

Someone in school calls you a name, you have three choices: take the high road and ignore it, take the middle road and deny it, or take the fight directly to them and make them very sorry they started a problem in the first place.

Those rules still apply online, except the processes are very different.

Taking the high road means the bullies believe they won. Anytime they start a problem, they know your response will be to ignore them and hope your friends come to your rescue. That could become very inconvenient in a world where a week of silence is akin to becoming a technological Rip van Winkle.

Denying the allegations is insanely time-consuming online. As fast as information (or misinformation) spreads, there's no way you can track down every hotly-Googled, troll-laden Digg article that could hit the circuit. You'd have to hope, once again, that your friends have higher Google rankings and Technorati authority than the trolls do.

But, as we've learned with insurgents in a ground war, having more firepower doesn't mean you'll stamp them all out.

Your only recourse? Take the fight to them, but not in a way that glorifies the attack.

Think of what evening news programs are doing now with "to catch a child predator" shows. Think any of those idiots will try that activity again? (Sadly, some probably will, but if they get caught again...)

Now apply the same logic to the embittered 17 year-old... or 24 year-old... or 52 year-old... who takes pot shots at you in the dark, from the safety of his (yes, almost definitely his) online hidey hole.

You really think THAT guy wants to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the light by the feds? (Or, worse, a group of vigilante hackers who know how to make his every move public knowledge?)

An End to Anonymity

The end result in all of this is simple, of course: we need an end to anonymity.

If we can't use it properly -- and history has proven that mankind is almost universally incapable of making the best choices for itself when saddled with crowd mentality -- then we shouldn't be able to hide behind it at all.

What if your every move online were trackable, and everything you did meant you'd be held accountable? How much asinine shit would YOU do on a daily basis?

Maybe you'd still be a member of AdultFriendFinder, and then we could finally have a conversation about why America is so afraid of sex.

Maybe you'd still complain about bad service, false promises and lousy bosses. But now the world would know how to make it up to you -- and, if you were fired for complaining about your job, everyone would be able to see which companies value freedom of speech and which ones are working to learn from their mistakes.

And maybe you'd still insult everyone you already insult, but now the world would know you meant it because you weren't doing it from behind a closed door. You were standing in the light, like a man (or a woman), and saying, "Hi, I'm ___, and I think you're full of shit because ___."

And then maybe we could all move forward in this great big experiment we call "life."

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