Healthcare - One American's Story
Youth and Age Together

In the Matter of Kathy Sierra

[Cross-posted from Blogher.org]

My issue, my main interest, my reason to be in the blogosphere is the topic of aging. If I can’t relate a post to aging, I don’t write it – at least not for Time Goes By and BlogHer. But a second strong interest, as a member of fairly long standing, is blogging itself and I try to keep up.

It was on Monday that I first learned of the Kathy Sierra issue from a listserv at BlogHer. That evening there were few opinions, just links to Kathy’s post wherein she explains her reasons for canceling a speaking engagement and dropping out of the blogosphere:

“I've been getting death threat comments on this blog. But that's not what pushed me over the edge. What finally did it was some disturbing threats of violence and sex posted on two other blogs...”

There have since been what must be millions of words from bloggers with, I have no doubt, at least an equal amount in the works (including this post). Most I have read are in support of Kathy, rightly deploring the atmosphere of fear, hate and misogyny the threats create. But before the commentary buries the original issue, I’d like to explain my initial reaction to Kathy’s post.

Dotted throughout her post are these:

[continuing from the clip above] “…blogs authored and/or owned by a group that includes prominent bloggers. People you've probably heard of. People like respected Cluetrain Manifesto co-author Chris Locke aka Rageboy).”

“People linked to by A-listers like Doc Searls, a co-author of Chris Locke.”

“At about the same time, a group of bloggers including Listics’ Frank Paynter, prominent marketing blogger Jeneane Sessum, and Raving Lunacy Allen Herrel (aka Head Lemur) began participating on a (recently pulled) blog called meankids.org.”

At first, it was words, writes Kathy. Then it was images, one involving a photo of Kathy with a noose next to her head. I happened to have visited meankids.org in time to see the Photoshopped image Kathy describes. It was, I thought – well, “mean”. And if not done by a “kid”, then by someone whose development was arrested at about age 15. There are plenty of those in the world. I moved on without another thought.

“I don't know which participant actually made the picture,” Kathy continues. “It may have been Joey, or Chris Locke, or perhaps Allen Herrel... the same Herrel (or someone pretending to be Herrel).” [Joey, says Kathy, left a comment below the image: "the only thing Kathy has to offer me is that noose in her neck size."]

Nasty stuff no one wants to read about themselves or anyone else.

But let’s take a closer look at Kathy’s post than many who support her apparently have: I can’t remember when I have read, aside from ignorant political wingnuts, so many aspersions cast, acts implied and innuendo as in Kathy’s post.

As far as can be determined from the few facts she relates, the attacks on Kathy were made anonymously. However, she has tried and convicted Chris Locke, Jeneane Sessum, Allen Herrel, Frank Paynter and, to a lesser extent, Doc Searls without a shred of proof that they were involved. As Chris notes in his rebuttal post,

“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.”

Undoubtedly so of Doc, Jeneane, Allen and Frank too. Many people do not read as carefully as they should and will not catch Kathy’s well-crafted, but false indictments especially when juxtaposed with the gross attacks she relates. In fact, it has been widely noted now that Jeneane was in the hospital during the postings Kathy refers to, but as of this moment, Kathy has not absolved her.

Although I have run across Kathy Sierra’s name here and there, I had never read her blog before this post and have not ventured into her archives now. Perhaps she is an otherwise fair and accurate blogger who lost her sense of balance due to these vicious verbal and pictorial attacks. However, no less vicious are her insinuations against these five people.

[Full Disclosure: Although I do not know Allen Herrel or his blog, I consider Frank, with whom I spent a spectacularly interesting afternoon a couple of years ago, and Jeneane to be blog friends. I had been reading Doc and Chris for years before I started blogging and continue to read all four for their intelligence, wit and unique points of view.]

As it turns out, Frank owns the URL meankids.org and some of the others contributed to the site. It began as satire and was gradually taken over by heinous trolls. That does not make Frank or the others responsible and if you think so, consider the trash comments you have had to remove from your own blogs. It is why some people moderate comments. Others of us take our chances; the delete button is a marvelous invention.

As soon as Frank was made aware of the attacks on Kathy, he killed the site. He also issued an apology on his blog, listics, to the extent of his involvement as site owner. I don’t believe that was necessary, but Frank is one of the all time good guys in the blogosphere.

In the ensuing commentary from many corners of the blogosphere, some have suggested that Kathy over-reacted to the attacks and although none of us can judge others’ levels of psychological trauma, I tend to agree.

Shocking as words and images can be, they are, after all, words. As Chris Pirillo noted in his post,

“This isn’t new, folks - far from it. Kathy is just one out of (certainly) millions of people who suffer at the minds of psychotics. And without trying to minimize this particular situation, I’ve gotta tell you - this sounds like high school to me. Literally. Granted, I’ve had just as many death threats ONLINE - but they didn’t just start last week…”

Indeed, not last week. Personally, I save my panic for when gunshots are fired, repeatedly over a week or more, at the building where I was in the middle of producing a live, all-night radio talk show, as happened a long time ago. Then, the Hell’s Angels lent support by escorting – front and back – my car when I traveled to and from home.

Or when, during the letter bomb scares of the 1970s, a viewer of the network television show on which I worked wrote to warn me that his next letter would be a bomb intended to kill me. (I had rejected him for an appearance on the program.)

Or, in the days when phone calls could not be easily traced, a man telephoned every day to tell me what I had been wearing on my way home a few minutes earlier, that my red bra had been peaking out of my blouse in the restaurant where I’d had lunch the day before, that I’d been ten minutes late to the work that day, etc.

In the second case, the police bomb squad checked the show’s mail every morning for several weeks. In the third, I took sane precautions when I left home and hung up the phone, on the advice of the police, as soon as I realized it was the stalker. The calls stopped after about two weeks.

More recently, I’ve dispatched nasty blog trolls who have personally attacked me by deleting their comments and never responding. They get bored and leave fairly quickly.

Without dismissing Kathy’s anxiety, this stuff happens every day. Should we stop it when we can? Of course. If laws are broken, as Kathy believes in this case, the police should be contacted as she says she has done.

But never, ever may fear and anger be used to attack innocent others. Kathy owes Chris, Jeneane, Allen, Frank and Doc a bold, ALL CAPS apology blasted to the entire web to counter the damage she has done with her reprehensible insinuations. Her tepid acceptance of Frank’s apology is an not enough.

UPDATE: In response to those at BlogHer, including Kathy Sierra, who disagree with my point, I posted there this follow-up:

I am not an attorney and I have no idea, from what Kathy has told us and not told us, what may or may not be forbidden speech. Neither does anyone else I've read yet.

You see, I am a First Amendment absolutist and I would like to read, amid the discussion of how the Delete key should be wielded, some more nuanced discusssion than I have seen on just where anyone believes the line should be drawn in censoring the Web, blogs or any other speech.

Certainly the words and images directed at Kathy are hateful and abhorrent. If a law has been broken, the accused should be prosecuted. Let's do keep in mind, however, that that person is the one who created and posted the words and images.

Beyond that, I don't see what can or should be done publicly. In case anyone hasn't noticed, anonymous abusers are not the sort of people who "own their words." There are bad people in the world. They do bad things. Bad things happen to good people.

And it multiplies the violation when good people respond in kind.

If it had been my site on which someone posted those images and words, would I have removed them? Yes, because they are personal attacks. I would also have removed Kathy's post - because it too is a personal attack. That one is more frightful and graphic does not make the second less offensive. And what is to be said of the commentators who are publishing the one available image?

There is a rush to judgment regarding the owners and administrators of the site. The offending site is gone now and for all anyone knows, it was removed as soon as the owners/administrators were made aware of the attacks.

Kathy's insinuations and innuendo against Frank, Chris, Allen, Jeneane and Doc have not been removed. Some people will believe what she has implied, not realizing it is unfair and unfounded. So it would be good to see some more nuanced discussion of that as well. Or are victims given a pass for their bad behavior?


Comments

It's a sad business. The "bad guy" has achieved his objective of silencing Kathy with terrorist threats, and her unfounded accusations against others will be her legacy.

Ronni, thank you for your supportive assessment. The wounds -- Kathy's wounds, the wounds of other's who were viciously roasted, and the raw feelings of those of us who essentially stand accused of something horrible -- are too fresh for me to discuss the right and wrong about any of this.

One of the drawbacks of the immediate feedback loop we have on the net is that the immediate charged reaction of a huge group of people involves a rush to judgment that crowds out any room for nuance.

I have been particularly grateful for the words of those who are able to shine a light on the whole matter. Thank you, and thanks to Shelley Powers at burningbird.net and to Denise Howell who today posted an objective piece that I found affirming on ZDNet. Others have been forthcoming with kind words and notes as well.

Thanks to Chris Locke for his coherent and informed posting.

The people Kathy named are victims too (see Chris' addendum regarding Jeneane at the above link). I don't write that to detract from the awfulness of what Kathy felt, but to reflect a little of my own anguish and that of my friends as this snowball started rolling.

This is rapidly turning into what some might see as an attempt to justify myself. That is not my intention. Rather I just dropped in to say thank you for bucking the trend to find a rope and a tree and rush everybody colored by the accusations off to be hung.

I for one have no intention of jumping to the conclusion that any of the "accused" are guilty of what has been alleged. I have to agree a tragedy for blogging has occurred when one party was subjected to what you describe, then accused others before sufficient proof has apparently been provided. Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty?

The issue brought up here goes beyond the blog world and is also in talk radio programs. I have just been on a long road trip and sometimes the only talk radio I could get was right wing. Listening to the hosts surprisingly often was not as bad as their callers. I felt the hosts egged them on, created an environment where those anonymous callers got nastier and nastier as the atmosphere enhanced an attitude of hate.

Since I do not know any of the people you mentioned, had never heard of the blogs other than Frank's (and have only heard nice things about him), I had to go read the woman's site to fully understand what happened. My first thought was amazement that what she had been writing inspired hate mail of the sort she was writing about. It had all seemed innocuous-- unless in my hasty skimming, I missed something else. Amazing what people can become enraged about-- although I have seen before from past experiences in chat rooms that the internet inspires a particularly nasty quality in some people. They seem to feel, that being anonymous, they are safe to be as ugly as they want.

It would seem that her fear was increased when she saw the post at meankids. I never was there, the title would never have appealed to me at all-- I had enough of that when I was a kid or my own children were young; but it sounds like nobody at meankids meant it to be life threatening only seeing it as a way to let of steam maybe?

Since the world is full of those who do mean it threatening-- on the right or left-- it's not hard to see why she'd be afraid. We have seen too many celebrities killed by someone who got an idea in their head and carried it out.

I think blog hosts do need to be responsible, and I appreciate what Time goes by does here by not allowing hate talk. Some use humor to hurt also which I also don't appreciate.

On my own blog, which sometimes is political and controversial, as long as comments stay polite and stick to the issues, not character assassination, I appreciate dissent and often get it. I have had concern about being known by my name and see where when you use your full name in a blog, you would have more concern as it's quite easy to trace people with the various methods online. And as you wrote, those risks for people who are out front has been there all along. I think that we need to not cheer when someone says something vicious and instead stand against that kind of talk, wherever we see it, because there are sure plenty on the other side creating a more and more mean environment where real discourse becomes impossible.

Weird. I hadn't ever read her blog before, but other than posting a lot of really common-sense stuff that is somehow supposed to be brilliant, I don't know why anyone would dislike her. Seems like she badly overreacted to some idiot kid's comments. I moderate my comments and delete anything that is offensive or, just plain stupid spam.

There are quieter ways to deal with idiots, that's for sure. Over-reacting to them just makes you even more of a target, like responding to any bully does.

Ronni, you've articulated many of the things that concern me about the whole mess. While I certainly feel for Ms. Sierra and in no way want to dismiss her feelings or encourage on- or off-line misogyny, the rush to judgment and the link of the *anonymous threats* to named individuals without due deliberation has bothered me a great deal. Which is why I have been thinking a lot, but not saying much.

You miss the point.

This is what happened. Paynter created meankids and, as admin, know who posted the Maryam post. When Paynter deleted meankids after that post, Locke created unclebobsim. Within a couple of days, someone there posted the noose image - it *was* *not* in the comments. It was someone who was approved to post to the blog by Locke.

Locke didn't even delete the site himself - wordress.com did.

If you think such posts as those attacking Maryam Scoble and Sierra are acceptable, you have an unusual set of values.

Dan...

I may have mis-spoken when I said the attacks were in the comments of the site, but that doesn't affect my point: that Kathy's attacks on Chris, Frank, Jeneane and Allen were unwarranted and just as vicious.

You really do need to keep up before you leave such comments as this one:

It is becoming apparent none of the people Kathy named are responsible, and as a matter of fact, Chris Locke did delete the entire site himself one post at a time.

Please, next time, get the facts straight and let's take it down a notch, okay?

I have heard that careers have been ruined and lives destroyed by irresponsible bloggers. Case in point: A college graduate who was tops in her class sent our many resumes and failed to get a job. Someone had posted derogatory information about her and the prospective employers checked the Internet for information before hiring. When they saw the false information about her they assumed it to be true and rejected her in spite of her impressive qualifications. I think the Internet needs something like the Urban Legends site where these hate postings can be checked out for truthfulness. Anyone can say anything anonymously but if they don't leave their name sensible people should ignore them and hit 'delete'.

Ronni I'm so glad I saw this. I too wrote about Kathy's post - minus any references to those she named and focusing on the acts against her. I remember wondering, as I read, about those others. I don't read tech blogs very often so chose to concentrate on the "bad acts" and some ideas emerging from a women's media list I belong to -- and just not to mention the rest. That was a sin of omission - and you as a blogger conscience are quite right. When people are frightened or bitter they often focus on their own very particular experiences; in this case it's good that someone is raising questions about the wider message and its accuracy as well. I will certainly go back and take a closer look. Thanks to you for raising it - and I hope you feel better!

Yes, the reaction of those defending Kathy Seirra may be excessive and unfair.

Except isn't this also a case of those behind meankids being able to dish it out but not being able to take it? They created a site for saying provocative and risky things, including trash talk about others and didn't moderate the output.

The name "mean kids" site is a mockery of the idea the web should only have nice discourse. If your going to take that, you can't claim a special exception when the web gets rough with you.

This wasn't folks cracking jokes in a bar, it was the world wide web where anyone might find it and take umbrage and retaliate.

So I find their petulance and playing the victim just as questionable as the Kathy's overdramatic victim metaphors.

Their position also contains some of the self-righteousness they critique in other. All sides only like the chaos and openess of the internet when it benefits them.

These people weren't naive kids making jokes, the were grown adults and seasoned net users. They should have realized the potential for blowback. The net is full of trolls and potential mobs, if you chose to be provocative, you may not get the result you wanted.

It's not just about owning your words, but owning the consequences of those words. This includes what you choose to associate your words with. Support a website which does something offensive, you might become associated with that offense. It may not be logical, it may not be right or kind or fair, but that's how humans are.

If some people desire the freedom to be as negative as possible for whatever reason, others are equally free to react in a negative manner in return.

Unless you've been around the blogosphere for more than five years, you probably don't know Chris Locke's history instigating the kind of thing that happened to Kathy. I went through something similar, and I am just trying to get it posted at www.kalilily.net

This "nasty comments" business is why I made my blog, What I Don't Say Out Loud, a secret blog where commenting is not permitted. Sometimes in life I just want to say what I have to say without having to listen to what others have to say in response. You know? Like a REAL diary, where you talk to the ethers and they don't answer you.

By the way Lorna, I am new to your webpages but am enjoying them very much and have got them bookmarked for further reading.

I've been reading a number of blogs that are discussing this whole situation. You speak clearly about what both sides were doing, which is much more than others have done. I do agree that what was done was wrong but just as wrong was the trial and execution by public opinion. If, in fact, the alleged posts are not directly linked to any of the mentioned, is it not reasonable for them to want justice for the slanderous accusations made? Being responsible for one's actions and words is necessary. With the ability to be anonymous, we have created the ability for anyone to say anything to anyone else without having to be responsible for what they are saying. This isn't the first case of such things and definitley won't be the last. What will be interesting is how those who spend time here react and move on this issue. Do we tolerate what either side has done? It was bad but, if in fact, those accused are not involved, then we have yet another layer to add to this already sad comment on blogging.

I don't know how to address this without continuing the pain and discomfort that the whole matter has brought to the surface. Still, I think it is important to piece together different perspectives. Here are some facts:

* Satire, not cruelty, was the intended content of the MeanKids site.

* I am very distressed by Kathy Sierra's suffering. She knows this, and is generally grateful for my support.

* When over-the-top cruelty showed up on MeanKids (from a single author and an anonymous commenter) I shut the site down. Chris Locke and Jeneane Sessum supported and encouraged that shut-down.

* Kathy's perception of two Kathy-related posts as scary was influenced by horrible stuff that she had received from her own readers in email and comments on her own blog.

Deconstruction of the situation should reveal that while a few close friends and I were associated with a site that published satire and parody, there was a confluence of threats in Kathy's own blog and personal challenges she herself faced that led her to bring her fears to broad attention. The MeanKids blog was not the proximate cause for her fears, but it was graphically outrageous enough to illustrate them and to permit Kathy's readers to infer culpability.

It is difficult to write anything balanced about this without appearing to blame the victim, and that is not at all what I am doing. Nevertheless, at some point people need to be able to isolate root causes of the mob mentality that has effectively silenced the people who wrote as MeanKids. What did Kathy intend when she addressed her huge online audience with a post that conflated real threats with our parody and satiric criticism?

Bringing attention to Kathy's post without unraveling the content probably doesn't help us find our way through this matter with any greater clarity.

I'm afraid that we have quite a ways to go before we reach true clarity on this concern.

Epitymoutty <a href="http://iewqgug.007webs.com/index.html">hicklooro</a>

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