This essay, published at The Verge, tells the troubling story of the harassment of Kathy Sierra, the incident that drove her away from particiapting in the tech Internet for years, and how the man who perpetrated this incident is being lionized and help up as a hero by cyber civil liberties organizations like EFF. Below are a couple of excerpts:
… In March of , some visitors to Sierra’s blog called “open season” on the now 57-year-old. Hundreds of commenters on her blog made rape and death threats. “I hope someone slits your throat,” wrote one person. People posted photoshopped images of her with a pair of panties choking her, or a noose near her head. She had enraged scores of men for supporting a call to moderate reader comments, which is of course common practice now. Sierra went public about the threats, writing on her blog, “It’s better to talk about it than to just disappear.”
But disappear is exactly what she did next. Andrew “weev” Auernheimer, a well-known provocateur, hacker, and anti-Semite, circulated her home address and Social Security number online. He also made false statements about her being a battered wife and a former prostitute. Not only did Sierra find herself a target for identity theft, but all the people who had threatened to brutally rape and kill her now knew where she lived. So, she logged off and didn’t return to the web until two months ago. She gave up the book deals, speaking engagements, and even fled her home. An anonymous internet group had chased her off the web and out of tech, and it finally managed to hijack her offline life. ….
…Auernheimer is in jail now. In March, he was sentenced to spend 41 months in prison for releasing the email addresses of 114,000 AT&T customers. He says that all he did was expose a security flaw and that forced the company to secure its systems. According to him, he was doing society a favor. The FBI saw it differently. They called it “identity fraud and conspiracy to access a computer without authorization.”
Immediately, there was a call in the tech sector to rally around Auernheimer. Tech pundits predicted that his prosecution would prevent security analysts from exposing vulnerabilities. Lawyers from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the group that advocates for internet users and tech companies, jumped in to help with his defense.
“I have this beef with a lot of organizations, including EFF,” Aurora said. “This is another case where they’re saying, ‘The cases we care about are the ones white men are interested in. We’re less interested in protecting women on the web.’” …
… There were plenty of techies who criticized Auernheimer and said he was getting his due. But the debate over his case was larger than anything that has ever occurred regarding internet harassment. That wasn’t lost on the women who have been threatened with rape and death while online. What it came down to for them was that a man who threatens women can generate more concern within the tech industry than female victims of abuse.
“His rise as a folk hero is a sign of how desensitized to the abuse of women online people have become,” Sierra said. “I get so angry at the tech press, the way they try to spin him as a trickster, a prankster. It’s like they feel they have to at least say he’s a jerk. Openly admitting you enjoy ‘ruining lives for lulz’ is way past being a ‘jerk’. And it wasn’t just my life. He included my kids in his work. I think he does belong in prison for crimes he has committed, but what he’s in for now is not one of those crimes. I hate supporting the Free Weev movement, but I do.” …”