Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Kathy Sierra and the roots of death threats

Technodope that I am, I don't know Kathy Sierra from Adam's cat. She's apparently a tech blogger who posts about code. It seems hard to believe her content could generate death threats, but nonetheless she has been subjected to a series of such vile and violent commentary that she was frightened enough to cancel a public appearance. As someone who lived for too many years under death threats coming from an abusive husband, (who damned near killed me more than once), I understand her fear. And although I haven't been similarly threatened by my legion of critics, as a woman who blogs under her real name, to some extent I share it. Predictably, most of Blogtopia has responded with outrage and support. You can add my name to that list.

But many have attributed the threats to anti-feminist thuggery and while I'd agree the sexualized nature of the threats are limited to women bloggers, I have to disagree that this is a women's issue. The seething cauldron of incivility where such hateful rhetoric is brewed isn't confined to gender or even to any specific blogger. The calls to condemn such an egregious abuse of free speech should by rights include the rejection of all such threats, whether made specifically against one person, or as all too often happens on the internets, against groups of people whose ideology differs from the group think of any opposing clique.

When we allow content such as this, an allegedly satirical piece by a high ranking blogger, to pass without equal condemnation, then we shouldn't be surprised when the culture of casual hate bred on these blogs inures society to violent imagery and thus spills over into individual threats. I urge you to read the whole post and the comment section to understand my point, but let me illustrate with a couple of quotes from this piece by the popular blogger Misha, where he is mocking a group of elderly Jews who went into therapy after the 04 election.
Venting of Idiotarians is a Good Thing?. Particularly if the venting is accomplished by poking them repeatedly with sharp, pointed instruments.

Sadly, they won’t give up on breathing, but we hope that that might be the next stage.

Heck, we’ll offer our own Imperial Free Therapy as well, we’ll even pay for the bullets. But the patient has to agree to us passing the gun on to the next one after they’re, er, “healed”.
The commenters then vie to outdo themselves in "clever" comebacks, perhaps best embodied in this one.
I congratulate, my American brothers and sisters in driving the fuckwits so close to the edge.

But now is not the time to rest. Indeed you must actively engage in pushing as many of them over the edge as humanly possible. I want to hear about these leftist wank….sorry…therapy sessions becoming mass suicide sessions.
When we allow such violent and uncivil discourse to pass unchallenged as "humor," then we all share the blame when the unhinged lunatics start acting out these hateful fantasies, and yes I'm mostly talking about the rightwing nuts here and those like the Instapundit who thinks he can keep his hands clean because he only links approvingly to such sites and doesn't voice these sentiments himself or Little Green Footballs who disavow their violent commenters but don't delete them.

There's nothing funny about death threats, in any context, and until the high profile bloggers stop giving hatemongers their tacit approval, we can expect Blogtopia to continue to devolve into a cesspool of incivility that generates real threats to individual bloggers.

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Blogger Kathy said...

Great post, Libby, and I absolutely agree that we can't let such actions go unchallenged. Violence is a learned behavior in many cases. Kids who see their dad hitting their mom or vice versa often grow up to be abusers, and the same is true for children who were the victims of abuse and in turn abuse their own children.

We need a change from the top on down. As long as we have presidents, politicians, athletes, etc., setting double standards on violence and concocting reasons to justify violence the problem will continue to grow.

It's way past time for our nation to start setting a better example.

6:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You should get the dateline guy to go to their house.

6:12:00 PM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

Thanks Kathy and great to see you. As you may have noticed, despite my best intentions, I still haven't been to the blogs on my roll in weeks. I might have too many blogs.

You're right of course. The real roots of today's incivility rest squarely on our "leaders" who use violent rhetoric as a means to an end, which has been taken up and amplified by the wingers and other fringe nuts.

6:14:00 PM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

Who's the dateline guy Lester?

6:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the guy who does the "to catch a predator" thing. they get guys who think they are coming to see a teenage girl and then they're like "we're from dateline you pervert!"

they rent a house and lure the guys. from tips they get from a site called pervertedjustice

6:17:00 PM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

Oh yeah. I did catch a few minutes of one those once. I thought it was a pretty bad idea actually. Smacked of entrapment and I didn't see how it would help prevent real perverts from exploiting young girls. It kind of felt like they were encouraged the behavior in order to get the story.

But of course that's based on literally a four minute review. I've never liked any of those "reality" programs.

6:21:00 PM  
Blogger belledame222 said...

well, I think yes and no. for sure that AIR (what a charmer) post is vile and leans toward what Orcinus calls "elimationist rhetoric." but i do think that the Kathy Sierra business is specifically geared toward putting her violently back in her place; the comments are aggressively and creepily sexualized.

if you see the comments thrown at women of color sometime...that ups the ante even more.

there's a baseline level of vileness; being a member of any oppressed group on top of catching the beady little eyes of these people tends to ratchet up the vile exponentially, particularly if you belong to more than one.

2:14:00 AM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

Point well taken Belle. I don't mean to minimize the problem of women being targeted but I also think that the overall atmosphere of incivility allows this sort of vile behavior to thrive.

11:48:00 AM  

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