Tag Archives: Online Death Threats

Hiding Behind Anonymity

If you read much of the IT related blogs, you may well have come across the storm over Kathy Sierra and her abrupt withdrawal from an O’Reilly Conference. Certainly it has registered on the radar of the major news organisation such as the BBC.

I have to say that Kathy’s blog is not one I read regularly, however it does indirectly affect me in that Robert Scoble is suspending Scobelizer for a week as sites that mentioned Kathy have also mentioned him and Maryam, and not surprisingly both of them are freaked out by it. If you take a look at what Kathy has faced, you can understand why. There is also a good summary of what has gone on here.

The bottom line is that the blogsphere runs pretty much as an anarchy – essentially it is a society that exists without any sort of central control, that coupled with the fact that people posting and commenting can have a good deal of anonymity, means that people say things that they would never say to somebody’s face. Certainly we’ve had a few offensive comments on here, and they are usually swiftly removed, but nothing of this sort of level. Having said that, it is worth remembering that even someone apparently anonymous is not really so – WordPress logs the IP address of anyone posting a comment. For example when a couple of young gentlemen at Beth’s school decided to post an offensive comment, believing themselves totally anonymous, we were within a couple of hours able to trace the comment right back to the terminal and user account in the school that they used to post. With what has happened to Kathy Sierra there are IP addresses logged, and it is probably possible to trace back at least some of the posts in much the same way. Since it is apparent that she has involved the Police, hopefully they will be able to investigate and find at least some of the perpetrators, and I would hope that the hosts of the various sites involved will be quick to come forward with the relevant logs.

However alongside this, the event has been a catalyst for a discussion on how women are treated in the IT industry. It is sad that for some the level of argument when you don’t agree with someone’s position posted on a blog is just to post a personal attack, it is much more than that when just because the person being attacked is a woman, people can degenerate to a whole new level. Whilst I am certain this current discussion is not going to stop all the personal attacks, I’m hopeful that at least the discussion will bring some more visibility of the problems, and the way people in the IT industry, and the blogsphere as a whole treat women. Hopefully it will also lead some of the supposed A-List bloggers involved in the sites at the centre of the story to reconsider the wisdom of their actions – some it seems have, others perhaps need to learn when it is best to just shut up and apologise – there are times when however you feel, trying to justify your position or argue your point further really does you no good at all.