I’ve Got No Sympathy For Mean Kids

Filed as Editorial on March 27, 2007 11:55 pm

There’s been a brouhaha brewing over the past 24-48 hours or so if you’ve been ignoring Techmeme and the usual crowd. Kathy Sierra of Creating Passionate Users was recently singled out in a particularly vicious fashion on an appropriately named blog called “MeanKids” (since taken down) and at least one other blog. More than the usual sophomoric comments, some comments she took exception to included the allusion of death threats, and some fairly mysoginistic kind of stuff. She also mentions that an email was sent to her that also included death threats as well.

While I am sympathetic to her predicament (she finds herself not wanting to leave home, has cancelled speaking engagements, called the police), I am not at all sympathetic to a bunch who she had singled out, rightly or wrongly, as being complicit in these hateful attacks.

Here’s why.

Let’s face it. With the mask of anonymity, people can act like asses. Even with real names attached, there’s a mob-like mentality to the blogosphere even at the best of times. People move in groups. Emotions get stirred up. Sometimes there’s the silent game of ones-upmanship with regards to who can out-snark each other.

And quite frankly, its exactly this kind of ethos that MeanKids was trying to stir up.

I guess I find it completely disingenuous that the very same people are now crying foul, with the blogosphere in a tizzy, rallying behind Kathy Sierra. You cannot create a forum for such vindictives to find encouragement and succor, and then be surprised with the result: an overwhelming backlash of negative sentiment.

Bloggers have an obligation to tend to their comments, regardless of their volume, and irrespective of who the authors of said comments are. I’m not suggesting that you rule your comments section with an iron fist. After all, “free speech” is what draws us all to blogging.

Most of us might fall somewhere in the middle, with accepting most kinds of comments, but not allowing others. Our own comments policy is like that. Racist, hateful, off-topic comments will be flagged and possibly deleted.

But if you’re the type who takes the stance where anything goes, anonymity is fine, ad hominem attacks might be the rule, and censorship is wrong, be prepared to deal with the consequences. Chris Locke and The Head Lemur might not know who is actually doing the mudslinging, nor who is actually sending the death threats.

But to think that they absolve themselves of any responsibility simply because they believe that its not their job to censor anyone or anything is ludicrous. Taken to ludicrous extremes, would they take down examples of child pornography? How about the exploits of a hacker who has decided to reveal social insurance numbers of people? How about death threats?

Oh, wait. They took a pass on that one — for a while.

To say the folks behind the blog are directly responsible for these attacks is a bit of a stretch. They’re not. And to be fair, the sites have finally been taken down, in part due to Frank Paynter, who seems to have finally done the right thing. But should they be surprised by the intensity of the response behind Ms. Sierra? Absolutely not. After all, its the same kind of bloggerific emotion that they allowed to grow in a childish effort to criticize, malign, and otherwise spitefully attack other bloggers, in the guise of “art” and “satire”.

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  1. The iGizmodo splogger rant at The Blog HeraldMarch 28, 2007 at 4:54 pm
  2. By billg posted on March 29, 2007 at 6:17 am
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    Well said. Bloggers need to understand that we are responsible for anything and everything published at our sites. Being allowed to comment at a blog is a privilege, not a right. Removing offensive comments is not a violation of free speech, any more than it is if a newspaper chooses not to publish your letter to the editor. Remember, while a right of free speech exists, there is no parallel right to be published when and where the speaker wishes.