It’s the same old story

I rarely join in on the blag-o-spheroid buzz of the day but I do feel compelled to throw in my 2c on the events that have a massive number of people all a-twitter today.  Essentially, a rather high-profile (and rather good) blogger, Kathy Sierra, has been subject to some extremely vile and graphic harassment.  She details the events here on her blog (I should throw in the obligatory warning here – I wasn’t joking when I said graphic.  Consider yourself duly warned before you follow that link.)

The actions of the people involved are utterly reprehensible and inexcusable.  And you know what else?  This.  Is.  Normal.  This is how people behave online.  The only difference I can see in this case is that the perpetrators seem to be connected to some incredibly high-profile people.  I imagine those people are in major arse-covering mode right now.

I find the majority of reaction from other bloggers slightly confusing.  The outpouring of support for Kathy Sierra is fantastic but the recurring “I can’t believe this happened” theme simply boggles my mind.  Really?  You can’t believe people would do this?  What fucking internet are you using?

It isn’t that I’m not outraged by this – I am.  I’m just not surprised.  Maybe I’ve spent too long on YouTube (as xkcd put it so eloquently, the behaviour of YouTube haters is bad even by internet standards.)  I’ve gotten so used to receiving violent, anti-semitic (ironic considering I’m not Jewish) and homophobic (ironic considering I’m not gay) threats that I thought everyone was used to that standard of behaviour.  I’ve also repeatedly seen the most vile, disgusting attacks imaginable levelled at women and children.

Ever wondered why I post anonymously and wear a mask when I make videos?  Astute readers will note that I’ve done that from day one.  It wasn’t an afterthought.  I’m not doing it retrospectively as a results of some vile little troll.  I thought it through ahead of time and realised it was going to be very important.  Sometimes it pays to have a very low opinion of humanity in general.  You’re so rarely proven wrong.

So I am having a little trouble understanding why people are so surprised by this.  I remember one prominent female YouTuber said she was going to stop making videos unless something was done about the haters.  I hope she does the right thing by herself and never goes back to YouTube.  Nobody deserves to be treated like that and if you don’t have sufficient psychic armour to withstand the assaults then you’re far better off staying out of the online fray altogether.  It’s a sensible response (I’m not sensible).

Kathy Sierra has cancelled a public appearance and is seriously considering not returning to blogging.  I can’t blame her.  I would like to throw a few questions at Robert Scoble, who’s taking a week off blogging in support/protest.  In his announcement, one of the things he said was “We have to fix this culture. For the next week, let’s discuss how.”  Fix it?  You mean change the behaviour of thousands of (mostly) young (mostly) male fuckwits who get their jollies by launching cowardly, vile attacks against people who don’t deserve it?  You really think you’re going to fix that?

Short of rounding them all up and shooting them (they aren’t as anonymous as they think) there is no “fix” for this problem.  So far as I can see, there’s just dealing with it and not contributing to it.  And as for taking a week off, it’s a noble show of support for someone who deserves support but don’t you realise that these gutless little dweebs would see that as a victory?

This is how the internet works.  I thought people realised that.

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19 Comments

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19 responses to “It’s the same old story

  1. You’re probably right, but there’s plenty of people talking talking talking. I figure a little silence and reflection is better.

  2. You know what? I can’t fault your logic there. Good response.

  3. Surely it’s difficult to discuss how to fix something if you don’t talk?

    Ah well, are you sure we can’t just kill them? They’d go on my list, probably leapfrogging reality TV stars with no brain.

    I always figured that when it came down to it there were three social groups:
    Those who want to do right, and do.
    Those who want to do right, but for reasons unknown can’t.
    Arseholes.

    Unfortunately we can’t kill all the Arseholes, so we kinda have to live with them. In real life everything’s less anonymous so the Arseholes tend to remain quiet, but on the internet they can say what they like. We could strip everyone of anonymity but that just replaces one issue with another. I guess we kinda have to live with the arseholes, and remember that they’re in the minority.

    Strangely this reminds me of the story of the King of Denmark during WW2 parading around the street without bodyguards. When a german invader asked a boy would protect him if things got ugly he simply said: “Everyone will.” Or words to that effect. You have to trust that if some arsehole comes out of hiding to get at you, then all the nice normal people will happily beat them to death for you.

    On that tangent, I’d better get back to work. Sorry about the rambling.

  4. tom

    I recently read on someone’s blog his idea that “it’s self-evident to me that humans are not animals” and it really stopped me in my tracks, until I realized that “self-evident” really means “according to my own little pea brain”. I’ve gotten enough of a taste of online rock-throwing to know it’s out there. You’re absolutely right. It is what it is.

  5. I don’t think that you will ever be able to “fix” the problem completely – but steps can be taken to ensure that the Internet culture continues to thrive in spite of this phenomenon.

    First of all, more people need to understand that this behaviour is unacceptable. Some folks, many more than I had previously thought, tend to argue that this is all in “good fun,” it’s “not serious,” it’s “just the Internet,” “ignore and it will go away.”

    Nope. It’s not funny, and it’s not to be ignored. Trolls thrive on attention – but this is not mere trolling.

    Anonymity continues to evaporate as technology advances. People ARE going to be held accountable for this behaviour.

    Now, I’ve received threats and insults and other vile attacks. Because many of them originated in Eastern Europe, where I don’t really live anymore, I largely ignored the wankers. But if I was experiencing this from my American neighbours – I’d be a whole more worried. After all, I chose to blog under my real name – for a variety of reasons that are important to me.

    It’s good to be philosophical about it – but I don’t think it’s a “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen” kind of situation. No?

  6. Fix it? You mean change the behaviour of thousands of (mostly) young (mostly) male fuckwits who get their jollies by launching cowardly, vile attacks against people who don’t deserve it? You really think you’re going to fix that?

    What got me about this was that the source wasn’t that anonymous… it’s the “six degrees of separation” between Kathy and “Joey” that bothers me.

  7. engtech: Some people don’t care if you know they hate you. I’ve dealt with real harassment in person with not enough protection, and it sucks.

  8. tom

    what’s the state of law enforcement with these matters? death threats and the like are not “protected speech” but crimes, and it seems to me it would be fairly easy to track these people down – when it gets to that level

  9. Tom, law enforcement is involved, as far as I know. She did contact the police. Good for her.

  10. Blimey – I agree with lots of people here.

    I too have taken time offline for “silence and reflection” when the corner of cyberspace I was in went nuts. It’s a good way to respond.

    I think one of my earliest lessons from online communities was that there really are nutters out there; great, big, serious, dangerous nutters. I was on a literate site, so our nutters (with one exception) didn’t issue death-threats. But one in particular sought out the mentally vulnerable and worked hard to make them break. It’s not pretty seeing people sent – literally – mad online. I actually ran an online “survivors” site for a while.

    Some of us have led lives more sheltered than others, but all of our lives are narrower than cyber-space.

    I find it extraordinary that people post in their own names about their own family members, put up photos of their kids, blog about them with their own names, say where they live. All of those things.

    Full of weirdos, the Internet. And I don’t think there’s much one can do about it. We assume that the world is full of people like us, but it isn’t, and the Internet is one of the few things that makes this really really obvious.

    Aphra.

  11. Massif: Rambling forgiven. It’s a topic that makes me go off at some lengths too.

    Tom: Self evident is a great phrase. It seems to mean “I’ve stopped thinking”

    Natalia: I absolutely agree with you. I hope I didn’t come across as thinking “if you can’t stand the heat stay out of the kitchen” Some of those psychos are applying far more heat than any decent human should have to put up with. I only mean that if someone really can’t withstand the assaults while we ALL fight back against them then taking yourself out of the public eye can be a very sensible course of action. I tend to fight them rather than let them get away with their vile behaviour.

    Engtech: What also stood out was how the perpetrators were linked to some VERY high profile people. I wonder what steps those high profile people are taking?

    Candice: it does indeed suck.

    Tom: I believe this has been passed to the police who believe a criminal offence has been committed.

    Aphra: You’ve highlighted one of the behaviours of these sick bastards that really disgusts me: the tendency to seek out the weak and vulnerable. On YouTube, quite a few people with serious disabilities and mental conditions post videos and seem to get quite a bit of “therapy” out of it. But these sick bastards launch the most vicious attacks imaginable against them. Some days, humanity really disgusts me.

  12. it would be peachy if the interweb (and “real world”) was devoid of threatening arseholes, but we know they’re out there. guess the best thing to do is take measures to protect yourself, and, if things get too heavy, involve the authorities.

    harassment is unacceptable. bloggers shouldn’t be expected to shut up and take it.

  13. mhargrave

    What’s going to need to happen one of these days is the formation of some sort of internet law enforcement with tasers that work via usb and subdue offenders.
    A little far-fetched, but still a neat idea.
    I once did a joking blog about pepper spray that shoots from the monitor of computers to ward off hackers. I’ll not link to it so as not to appear to be a spammer.
    In all seriousness, though, I think that there will just eventually need to be some serious, strict form of law/ethics enforcement on the internet that specializes in just that.
    Since the internet is constantly offering new forms of freedom and abilities to express onesself, the current methods of enforcement in each respective country are just trying to learn as they go, and it’s getting a little ugly and messy.
    Here comes Big Brother!

  14. Vetti: I agree. I can cope with vile, hateful loser. Real threats of violence or incitement to violence are criminal offences.

    mhargrave: The funny thing is that the people who do this are almost always traceable. We don’t need new laws because existing laws cover it. When someone crosses the line they should be reported to law enforcement.

  15. There are idiots everywhere.

    And haters as well.

    Naturally I believe such statements are reprehensible, but in a world where more and more groups come online, such as neo-nazis and the like, you will get more and more of these types of comments or statements.

  16. Pingback: On Kathy Sierra And Blog Death Threats at memoirs on a rainy day

  17. Pingback: On Kathy Sierra And Blog Death Threats « memoirs on a rainy day

  18. Mr. Angry – it doesn’t surprise me either.

    Yet, I hope one day all people’s will respect each other enough to not threaten death on another when facing their own fears.

    My prayers are with you Kathy.

  19. Range: Yes, I think there’s a difference between accepting that these attacks are inevitable and thinking they are in any way tolerable.

    Jessica: I think the best we can do not contribute to it, make it clear to perpetrators we don’t accept it and support those on the receiving end.

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