Kathy Sierra’s story, as discussed here, has generated a variety of blogospheric responses, such as this post at Pandagon, and this post at Mathewingram.com and this post at BlogHer, and this post at Odd Time Signatures. Tech blogger Robert Scoble went on hiatus in response not only to what happened to Kathy Sierra, but because his wife was targeted as well, with comments such as those described here.
Getting lied about and attacked by anonymous strangers is a huge downside of blogging. On the bright side, there is no real anonymity in cyberspace and if people cross certain lines, they almost certainly can be identified by law enforcement agents. For lesser but still troubling behaviors, in terms of self-help, documenting the acts via screen captures and printouts at least creates a record that can be used in the future. One negative post or comment might not seem like much independently, but when harassing acts are repeated they become more serious and documentation can help illustrate patterns of bad behavior. Additionally, while civil defamation or harassment suits are expensive and complicated to pursue, sometimes there are other options. For example, if the culprit is another attorney, state bar associations may offer avenues to file complaints and seek productive intervention.
… In an ideal world, Kathy would carry on just as before, albeit in a slightly paranoid state. Because the only way to get bullies to back down is to stand up to them, not cower to them.
It’s easy for me to say this given that I’m not the person being targeted. And I know, believe me, that it’s never, ever safe to dismiss threats against women. I spent six years as a volunteer at a shelter for battered women in DC called My Sister’s Place, manning the hotlines and helping women find safety. I’ve heard live on the phone and seen first-hand what can happen when threats aren’t taken seriously.
But I also know that creeps like those who are threatening Kathy won’t stop unless nobody pays attention to them. I really sympathize with Kathy and I understand her fear and I don’t fault her one bit for being afraid to leave her yard. But a big giant”f:- you”to these petty people would probably shut them up faster and make them feel even smaller than they already feel. …
She illustrates in three paragraphs the difficulties inherent in responding to online abuse: In the first paragraph she asserts that it is important to stand up to bullies. In the third she states that creeps won’t stop the bullying unless you ignore them. Here’s the problem: You can’t stand up to bullies and ignore them at the same time. Challenging them and exposing their actions to light and air also gives them the attention they crave. Ignoring them lets them get away with bad behavior, embolding them for future negative acts. There is no correct approach. And as she notes in the middle paragraph, horrible things happen when threats are not taken seriously.
Every time I read somebody saying that patriarchy doesn’t exist anymore, feminism’s won, etc., etc., I think, try being a feminist blogger for a while. Or if you already are a feminist blogger, wait a bit until the shit finds you. Or try doing online research on anything connected to feminism and find yourself shoulder-deep in a slime pit of woman-hating so toxic it makes you want to weep with fear and despair.