Hate, Threats and the Culture of Love
(Note: This post has been growing and evolving since Monday.) "It’s this culture of attacking women that has especially got to stop. I really don’t care if you attack me. I take those attacks in stride. But, whenever I post a video of a female technologist there invariably are snide remarks about body parts and other things that simply wouldn’t happen if the interviewee were a man. It makes me realize just how ascerbic this industry and culture are toward women. This just makes me ill."
Late Monday night, after a day offline, I was alerted via an email list for/about women in technology, about Kathy Sierra's post Death threats against bloggers are NOT "protected speech". My first reaction was to send an email of support to Kathy.
Upon reading Kathy's post and the river of blog posts about it, a lot of feelings welled up of times online in the past 10 years where people were incredibly hurtful, both to people they know and with their full identity, and to people they don't REALLY know, and masking themselves with anonymity. I felt hurt. I felt anger. I felt hostility towards others. I was reminded of the conversations some of us had the last 18 months about the "us/them" dynamics in blogs and online spaces. The conversations about civility and challenging ideas/status quo. Of creative abrasion on ideas, not trashing people. Of art, satire and "the line" over which we do or do not cross. Of the important stuff that happens at the boundaries, and our discomfort. Of that delicate balance between openness, freedom and human dignity, trust and that ambiguous thing we call "safety."
Humans can be both profoundly generative and dysfunctional. We have an extraordinary ability to love and hate, to create and destroy, and we play this out offline and online. What Kathy experienced, both in the threats and the huge outpouring of support, is a distillation of human behavior. It is not uncommon. That does not reduce the pain of the experience in any way, particularly for a person who comes to the net with an open, giving aspect, regardless of what you think of her work. (I think highly of her work.)
I have thought about what to write, how I could attempt to add something generative to the collective expression flowing out of the blogosphere. I don't think it is a conversation yet. Few of us are talking to each other. We are expressing our views. That is a good step. But what can add to our learning and understanding, rather than pile on? Here are some contributions I have been thinking about from others.
"Leading a pack of rabid animals is not something to be proud of... I hope people will think hard before they decide to create an online community like meankids again. I don't think mean speech should be illegal, but I do think the rest of us have responsibility to condemn it if we see it getting destructive and to protect the targets. And of course, threats are illegal.. so I'm happy those sites removed once they went from mean, to threatening abusive acts."danah boyd
"There's nothing illegal about what the prominent bloggers did, but i think it is unethical at every level. This is not an issue of censorship, but an issue of social responsibility. What does it mean when the most prominent bloggers are encouraging speech that divides, particularly that which divides along the lines of race and gender? What kind of standard does that set? How can anyone support their practices, even as a "joke"? I believe in moral responsibility and key to that is a level of social respect, even for those with whom you disagree. Without social solidarity, the moral fabric of society erodes. When you allow room for intolerance, you breed hate."Robert Scoble
"For starters, we need this to be a bigger conversation. That’s why I decided to unilaterally declare this Friday as Stop Cyberbullying Day. What does it mean? I leave that up to you. Generally, though, I think we should all set aside some time that day to address cyberbullying. Write a blog post pointing to online resources about cyberbullying. Post a podcast about personal experiences. Create your own public service announcement about the dangers of cyberbullying and post it on YouTube. Then tag it with the phrase stopcyberbullying. If you’re uploading it somewhere that lets you type in your own tags, be sure to include it. If you’re blogging and don’t have tagging built into your blog, you can embed it with the HTML code shown here so it will be picked up by search tools like Technorati." From Blogher: Lisa Stone
"Hate speech is forbidden on BlogHer -- we designed our community guidelines to ban hate speech, and every member of the community has the right (and the responsibility, but I'll get to that below) to report this behavior. In the rare instances that such comments have made it past our registration process and spam filter, we have deleted them immediately."From Blogher: Beth Kanter
Advice on Cyberstalking and Online Sexual HarassmentI read a lot on how we should/could/want to respond, which is for me the opportunity for learning, action and reflective thinking which is often the missing part of our action:
(resources - go read the whole thing if that is what you need)
For me there are three levels:
Free speech is essential. Hate attacks and rape fantasies should not have to be policy level decisions - or only as last resort. We as a community should not tolerate them. If you want to have hateful discussions, take it to a walled garden. If you do it in public, expect impact on your reputation. (Note: this is NOT directed at anyone. I don't know who did what and leave that to those involved to sort out. I'm talking at the general level.)
Finally, I had an echo in my head of a conversation last summer at the cocktail party at Blogher 06 about the Culture of Love. In the US, it is easy to live in the culture of consumerism. In the culture of snarky cynicism. In the culture of ignoring things around us. In balance with other cultures, none of these is going to end the world (or I hope they aren't.) But when they operate outside of the Culture of Love, we have a problem. As I started out with, we are capable of very polarized ways of being. It is only when we can embrace the whole, the dark and the light, including the love, that we find a way forward.
There is a huge community that sent out their words of love and encouragement to Kathy. That's a powerful, healing force. We can stand up for each other. We should stand up for figuring out what happened and being individually and collectively smarter going forward.
That's a lot to wish for. But I'm an optimist.
(Edited to add a few more links)
"It’s this culture of attacking women that has especially got to stop. I really don’t care if you attack me. I take those attacks in stride. But, whenever I post a video of a female technologist there invariably are snide remarks about body parts and other things that simply wouldn’t happen if the interviewee were a man.
It makes me realize just how ascerbic this industry and culture are toward women. This just makes me ill."