Kos attacks calls for a bloggers’ code of conduct. This is actually the one point where I tend agree with him. It wouldn’t help the situation and would be a muzzle on free speech, although I can understand why Sierra might have called for such a code. Unfortunately, it would not have stopped what happened to Sierra. If Kos had stopped there, I might actually have found myself in the uncomfortable position of actually agreeing with him on something. Unfortunately, Kos then went on poo-poo whether Sierra actually received the threats that she described, in effect mocking her for overreacting to the death threats, equating them to more generalized nastiness posted by trolls. Now, I’ve received threats by e-mail on occasion. Usually threats to “expose me” to my Department Chair, Division Chief, or Director of my cancer institute, they were pretty impotent, given that my bosses already know about my blog, although, as far as I can tell none of them are regular readers. The worst consequence might be some embarrassment if they happened to be pointed to one of my EneMan posts or one of my sillier Your Friday Dose of Woo pieces, instead of one of my more substantive work. (Not everyone “groks” our blog mascot, alas.) I usually ignore them, forward them to my bosses to give them a heads-up, or respond by offering to forward their complaints to all of my bosses, which I in fact did several times for one particularly obnoxious troll. (In other words, don’t bother threatening to “out” me to my bosses. They already know about my blogging and, as long as I do it on my own time and don’t represent it as having being representative of the position of my university and cancer institute, have no problem with it.)
What Sierra suffered was a different kettle of fish entirely from the minor harassment to which I’ve occasionally been subjected and to the obvious trollery that Kos posted as an example of a “threat” against him. (I’m surprised that’s the worst he can apparently come up with, given his prominence.) It is true that the Internet and, by extension the blogosophere, are wild places. There are a lot of total jerks, who, under the cloak of anonymity, will say incredibly vile things and make threats. Abusive e-mails come with the territory. In actuality, though, I’ve been rather pleasantly surprised at how few such e-mails I get, and the threats, to me at least, have never taken the form of threats of physical violence in the more than two years I’ve been at this. Rather, they’ve virtually all been like the idiots above who think that they can intimidate me by “outing” me. Early on in the history of this blog, there was a time that that might have been true, but not anymore. and not for a long time. There was also a rather strange incident last year in which one “Casey Cohen” played head games with me, trying to get me to “debate” HIV/AIDS “skepticism,” but I found that more amusing than threatening
Still, it takes a fairly thick skin to be a blogger, particularly if you write about controversial topics (like skepticism towards alternative medicine or the mercury militia). However, Sierra is a noncontroversial blogger who writes about computer interfaces. For this, she received threats of rape and death. Photoshopped images of her with a severed neck or a noose around it were posted. She reported the threats to the authorities, who apparently took them seriously. Threats of violence are always tough to judge, but if the authorities took it seriously I have to think that the threats were credible. In any case, although it is true that the majority of threats made on the Internet are not in any way serious or credible but it can be hard to differentiate a vile troll from someone that you really need to worry about, when the threats are as direct as the ones Sierra received, only a fool would dismiss them out of hand as being mere trollery. And only a fool would criticize someone for taking such threats seriously.
A fool like Kos. As Majikthise puts it:
I’m so tired of hearing the “every blogger gets threats” canard. Empirically, it’s all too true. But that logic cuts both ways. Kathy Sierra is a veteran blogger. She’s probably gotten her share of low-grade abusive email over the years. If she’s saying that she finds this latest round of threats credible, chances are that she perceives a qualitative difference between run-of-the-mill angry letters and the sexual humiliation campaign being waged against her by a handful of highly committed sickos.
Indeed. Zuzu at Feministe got it right when she characterized Kos’ remarks as saying, “She was asking for death threats, which she probably made up.”
Kos is a moron. I’m with Mark on this one.
ADDENDUM: Wampum has a link roundup here.