Web bullying: actually I do care – why my song is “Please don’t let me be misunderstood”

Filed as News on March 29, 2007 3:31 am

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Yesterday, I chose not to write about the Kathy Sierra atrocity, partly because many other people had written thought-provoking insights into the incident, but mainly because the Blog Herald is a professional outlet (even though they took me on!) and I wasn’t convinced – even with the luxury of an edit button – that I would stay professional.

I was going to let things pass by. I’ve spoken out before on my personal blog on various issues without necessarily thinking everything through – not that I regret doing so, but I felt that the Blog Herald probably needed a measure more decorum, even on a subject that has rightly piqued people’s emotions.

The reason I’m revisiting it is NOT to gain Technorati rank for the Blog Herald, nor to somehow make myself look good – I know that I care about this issue – but because a trackback on yesterday’s post implied that – basically – I couldn’t give a sh*t.

Elaine Vigneault wrote about the issue and referenced my post.

Where I had said:

The blogosphere is rightly filled with discussion about the whole issue surrounding death threats on Kathy Sierra, and there are far bigger names than I reacting to it, so instead I’ve decided to air one of my current rants,” says iGizmado.

(By the way, Elaine, we are NOT iGizmodo – that was what the rant was about, ironically)

she interpreted that:

Translation: If the popular kids talk about it, it’s worth talking about. Otherwise, harassment stays in the closet. We don’t discuss it. In fact, I’m not even going to discuss it; I’m just going to mention it so Technorati will pick it up and I’ll get traffic from tagging my post “Kathy Sierra.”

Now, I can stick up for myself, and so can the Blog Herald. There’s no way we’d say that everyone on a corporate site thinks this, or that, or the other. However, this piece of poor research (she couldn’t even get the name of the blog right) effectively tells people that Andy Merrett cares more about his Technorati rank than he does about the issue.

Whilst I can’t find the posts on my blog anymore (some of the archives got chewed up in a server move), long time readers might remember that I detest the concept of the “A list” and the “elite”, so to suggest that I only write about what the ‘popular kids’ do is a gross misunderstanding of my character.

I’ve stuck up for a number of different people on my blog (both individuals and groups) because that’s who I am. I’ve been accused by people of not sticking up for X or Y, but maybe that’s because I was sticking up for Z.

I’m not the sort of person who can sit by and do nothing when I see people being abused or dehumanised.

Don’t see this post as me trying to puff myself up and say “aren’t I good, I care about people”. I actually prefer not to talk about all of these issues because it makes me very angry and my tongue-taming exercises don’t always work.

In the particular case of Kathy Sierra, I’ll be totally honest and say that I haven’t read every angle to this story. That’s not because I don’t care, but because after I read and saw the horrific images posted on Kathy’s site – and stopped feeling physically ill that anyone could even dream this sick, disgusting crap up even as a ‘joke’ or as ‘social comment’ or whatever other pathetic reason they’ve used – I didn’t much feel like listening to the side of the perpetrators. Sure, they have excuses – the occasional one has apologised – but the fact is they allowed it happen in the first place, and didn’t act – or acted slowly and cold-heartedly.

I care very much about the situation, even though I don’t know anyone involved personally. I’m saddened on a professional level that the issue has forced Kathy to give up (temporarily, hopefully?) blogging, but I fully understand and embrace it at a personal level – if my family were potentially at risk I’d probably do the same.

I don’t know if temporary blogging boycotts by the likes of Robert Scoble will have any effect or not. Speaking out against the issues instead of remaining silent is important, and I do understand how yesterday’s article may have been perceived as a brushoff – it wasn’t meant to be.

Having said that, I don’t condone the vigilante attitude. Two (many) wrongs don’t make a right. The evil has been done, and Kathy has been terrorised because of some Neanderthal idiots who don’t understand etiquette, or civility, or respect for others’ views, and whose sad lives only find a smidgeon of fulfilment when they’re tearing others down, using Photoshop to create disgustingly violent pornographic images (there’s an hour or two that could have been used for something productive and to the benefit of humankind, rather than to the detriment of one), and writing puerile filth. Turning on the mob attitude against them ultimately doesn’t help Kathy or the situation. Far better to speak our disgust in public, and then to disengage from the idiots who think this behaviour is acceptable.

I was bullied a little at school. My wife was bullied a LOT at school, and 15 years on, sometimes, still feels the pain of it. I understand the narrow-minded bully to some extent, and it’s no less important, or impacting, because it’s online. And we never suffered death threats.

If anyone still thinks that I don’t care about this, or any other incident of bullying, online or off, feel free to comment.

Two rants in as many days. I think I’ll do a nice quiet news piece tomorrow.

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  1. Andy Merrett» Blog Archive » Kathy Sierra: Web Bullying: Yes I do careMarch 29, 2007 at 3:52 am
  2. By Tony posted on March 29, 2007 at 6:05 am
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    And actually, *I* had already written about it (which you had linked to), and I thought that the issue was important enough that there ought to be at least one post on it — although if anyone else wanted to, they could.

    What’s unfortunate is how Elaine misinterpreted your introductory paragraph about splogging as something dismissive about the Kathy Sierra debacle.

    Mrs. Vigneault’s opinions are strong, but, I agree — they are premature and misunderstood in her characterizations of the original post, as it was really not about belittling the situation, nor aiming for cheap technorati buzz, but more about splogging.

    Normally its not something I would weigh in on, but to characterize Andy as someone who doesn’t care about abuse, bullying, or harassment of any kind is simply wrong based on that post.
    cheers,
    tony (ed.)

  3. By duck posted on March 29, 2007 at 6:08 am
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  4. By Tony posted on March 29, 2007 at 6:08 am
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    What’s ironic is that her *next* post is on *exactly* the same topic that you were posting on: splogging (and scraping)
    http://www.elainevigneault.com/2007/03/28/scraper-people-suck.html

    tony.

  5. By AngryTox posted on March 29, 2007 at 6:18 am
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    The gem here is “Far better to speak our disgust in public, and then to disengage from the idiots who think this behaviour is acceptable.”

    As much as we want to lash back at the churls, there are just too many of them. And in a sense, we’re giving them what they want: hurt feelings and a big uproar. Where dark corners and anonymity abound, there’s just no shaming these people. The only way to limit it seems to be contained in the quote above.

    This is depressing, but mainly because crap like this happens all the time.
    AngryTox

  6. By Andy Merrett posted on March 29, 2007 at 6:26 am
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    Yes there’s a big difference between speaking out against something, and retaliating. I know too well that revenge can feel good at the time, but it rarely (if ever) solves anything – in fact it can spiral things out of control, and make the whole situation worse.

    The Net is very good at fanning the flames, as it’s such a huge place and it’s so easy to weigh in with an opinion.

    It’s worth noting that, although I said that people hadn’t apologised, we’re still not 100% sure who the real people behind these cowardly anonymous attacks are. We may never be. Someone other than the creators may know – or they may not. It would be easy to backlash against the people who are supposedly involved, when some circumstantial ‘evidence’ suggests that they may not be.

    Nevertheless, there are people in control of the sites where the comments were posted – and they certainly have the power to influence what’s published.

  7. By AngryToxicologist posted on March 29, 2007 at 6:45 am
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    Excellent last point about those in control of the sites. Gasp! Maybe people will have to handle their sites better! That may be the silver lining here. Each time this happens, people will gravitate towards better run blogs, creating an impetuous for blogs being better run…hopefully.

    There’s my plea to anyone who will read it, keep the smut (and vitriol) off the page!

  8. By Andy Merrett posted on March 29, 2007 at 7:03 am
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    I suppose the retort will be that those sites were set up explicitly to snark people. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but there’s healthy critique and the odd bit of teasing / sniping at people who we disagree with, and then there’s out and out obscenity.

    It wouldn’t be tolerated in the offline world.

  9. Elaine Vigneault » Blog Archive » My Words On Others’ BlogsMarch 29, 2007 at 10:46 am
  10. By Andy Merrett posted on March 29, 2007 at 12:38 pm
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    Excellent. I love trackbacks.

    I was going to leave a comment saying that Elaine and I had resolved any differences in a pleasant email conversation, but I think this response has dampened that.

    I haven’t the energy to dive into a huge exposition of the second post (as if I were about to write a doctoral thesis, or something).

    1. “research” was used in the basic sense – like knowing who it is you’re crediting as the source blog / web site when you write. No doctorate required.
    2. “But Andy and his friend Tony seem hurt that I misread his blog post.” Erm, Tony’s my boss, firstly – yes I am glad to call him a friend as well but this wasn’t about being hurt so much as showing that my seemingly dismissive remarks in the original post targeted were in fact, not. If that makes sense.
    3.

    “Well, sorry. I was really just using the post to make a point. It wasn’t a characterization. I wasn’t purporting to know Andy and his deepest thoughts, I was just using examples of Kathy Sierra themed discussions on other blogs to make my points:

    1. the A list exists (in other words: A list bloggers > B&C list bloggers > Z list bloggers > non-bloggers/ forum posters/ chatters > lurkers > people who don’t have/don’t use the Internet)
    2. hate speech online has deeper roots than anonymity and lack of civility, it stems from a culture of hate”

    Absolutely. I was never disagreeing with any of that ;)

    And then, in the sand, a line was drawn.

  11. By Elaine Vigneault posted on March 31, 2007 at 7:08 pm
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    Andy, I’m really sorry you’re so bothered by my post. I really didn’t mean to offend you or portray you as a heartless person. I was just making a point.

    I found your post on igizmodo and that’s why I was confused. I didn’t realize you were being scraped. Again, sorry. I fixed the original post to reflect the true origins of your post. But I wasn’t the one scraping you. Don’t hold that against me. (I’m just a less savvy blogger who got confused.)

    But your use of Kathy Sierra in the first sentence of your post seems like a deliberate effort to take advantage of the harassment situation. It wasn’t the greatest intro to a post about scraping. I stand by my original sentiment. I’m just sorry you were so offended by it.