Responding To Dave Winer

A response, bit by bit to Not looking for sympathy or anything posted Thursday, March 29, 2007 by Dave Winer.

Dave starts with a disclaimer. Disclaimers are good because they mean you can take back whatever you said if it will later benefit you. Disclaimer: Don’t yell at me, I have a disclaimer. Therefore the responsibility for what I have written is not mine. Don’t assume I mean what I say from here on. Thanks.
This turned into a long piece and I don't have time before a breakfast meeting to edit it. Please read this with a generous open mind. I mean well, please try to assume that. Thanks.
He goes on to say that he’s seen this stuff before. Like everybody. I appreciate that he doesn’t go into detail, because, as I said in a previous post, it just becomes a stupid “I’ve had it worse!” game.
Just want to get on the record as Michelle Malkin did yesterday, that the kind of abuse that Kathy Sierra reported is not anything new, it's been going on for a very long time. Without going into detail, because I've found that just creates more of the kind of crap we don't like.
Then things start to get interesting.
People aren't going to like this, but it's true -- when a woman asks for a riot she gets one, and almost no one comes to the defense of a man who is attacked. Who's more vulnerable? Well, honestly, it's not always a woman.
Is this true? I’ll be honest and say that I haven’t been entrenched in the blogosphere nearly as long as any of the main players in this (not even as a reader), but I have never seen anyone else come out against death threats in the way Kathy Sierra did. I’m sure people have, and this is his point. Even so, it is irrelevant. That Kathy’s blog post elicited such a strong reaction is a good thing, and it should be used as an opportunity to really question tricky stuff like internet conduct and anonymity. The scale has tipped, at last, and complaining that no one cared when you cried out adds nothing constructive to the conversation. Yes, it sucks, and I’m sorry for you, but have you considered it might have less to do with gender and more to do with Kathy, her writing style, and those who are part of her community of supporters? Maybe there’s something to the way she represents herself that encourages a more emotional attachment from her readers. It’s not right to try to diminish the seriousness of her situation by claiming that people only care because she’s a woman. Accept that people care, and are being vocal, and start doing something about it, so no one has to experience the same in the future. Leverage this exposure to everyone’s benefit.
Those who provided the riot Ms Sierra asked for, unknowingly, I'm sure, attacked at least one person whose health is pretty fragile. I wonder how y'all feel now that you know that. I wonder how you'd feel if that person died in the midst of the shitstorm. Someday if we don't change the herd mentality of the tech blogosphere, that is likely to happen. I don't want to be part of the herd on that day, that's why I won't join herds.
Now this is just stirring an already boiling pot. All you’re doing is creating a false situation to create a stronger sense of, “Oh shit, maybe we did something wrong.” Yes, it would suck if this “person” (I think you mean Jeneane?) were to die during all this. But I don’t see how this would be the mob’s fault. Here’s another “What If?” - what if Kathy were to be killed? Ooh...then who’d be wrong? See, these suppositions do nothing but get people started with a game of one-upmanship. What if she turned out to be Hitler? What if so-and-so ate little children? What if she were exposed as a Republican? It never ends.

That said, herd-joining is lame, yeah. And people can get hurt. The thing is, you’re already part of a herd, though. It’s the herd of “Not Saying Anything” - a herd that prevails all over the web, and through life, that, by its refusal to speak out against violence, implicitly supports it. This is the worst kind of herd - the one you don’t realize you are a part of, or don’t even know exists. It is the herd of institutional and systematic discrimination. It is the herd that feminists and civil rights activists find hardest to fight, because no one else acknowledges they’re there.
Yesterday I said I don't support the kinds of rules of conduct that Tim O'Reilly was calling for. Giving Tim the benefit of the doubt, I think he doesn't fully unerstand what was going on in the blogging world, and I'm not claiming I do either, but he was running a conference this week, and it couldn't have gotten very much of his attention. And you know what, that's a good thing, and we should all strive to keep our perspective, before we create the kind of fantastic graphic imagery that was created around this event.
Okay, fine. What rules of conduct do you propose? This is the discussion we need to start.
If anyone had a reason to want retribution against the "mean kids" -- I have it. They've been on my case for years. They're really nasty people. That's why I have some credibility when I tried to put the brakes on the mob. Next time, let's have some more people do that too.
Again, Dave, it sucks you have had to deal with the “mean kids.” And I think you’re right to encourage everyone to have some perspective. But it is important to get angry and shout a little bit, too. That’s how people know something needs changing. If a tree falls in the forest and nobody’s there to hear it, then who the hell cares?
To the credit of the mob, very few people attacked me for doing what I did. That's cause for hope! At least some sense of perspective remained.
Yup. Definitely. I think the mob was less crazy than people think. There were some exceptions, of course (particularly in the comments on Kathy’s post), but for the most part, everything I read was pretty civil, and seemed to emphasize that we ought not to jump to conclusions.
And out fo all that was said I think Doc nailed it -- we got used by a few trolls, and no one knows who they are. Everyone played a role in this, the people who stopped blogging, the people who threatened their friends, the people who called it a gang rape, and yes indeed, the mean kids. But they've paid enough. It's time to welcome them back into the blogging world, and in a few weeks, ask them to reflect on what they learned. These are all intelligent and creative people, who have acted badly. But they didn't deserve what they got.
We don’t know for sure what happened. So to say we were used by trolls seems a bit premature. Why and how did trolls get access to the blogs in question? Why weren’t their words immediately disowned by the people whose identities were presumably compromised? It’s true that the threatening emails Kathy received may have come from random trolls, and it’s possible that these incidents are all separate and unfortunately coincidental. But why was the picture of Kathy posted? Was that by anonymous hacker trolls, too? Why was it allowed on the blog? And the comments about Maryam Scoble? Who is “Joey?” A lot of questions need to be answered before we can say for certain that it was just trolls. I think it’s clear that some of the people involved in these sites are at least somewhat responsible. And that still doesn’t address the fact that it is this culture of hate speech that they encouraged which needs to be addressed.

Everyone did play a role in this. And that is precisely the point. Everyone should play a role, if we hope to get something done. I agree that we need to welcome these bloggers back into the community, and show them respect. They are intelligent people, and good writers, and important figures. And they should use this reputation (which has not been destroyed nearly as much as we/they think) to speak out against hateful and violent and misogynistic speech. I’m still not sure exactly what they “got” that they didn’t deserve. Were people mean to them? You reap what you sow, to an extent, but if they were being attacked (even defensively by Kathy’s supporters or trolls posing as supporters) it just shows even further how broken things are.
The time to act is way before it escalates into the kind of post that Kathy Sierra posted. There should be people who are willing to provide personal support to others who are ostracized this way -- and that support should be available regardless of gender, age, or other circumstances. I won't support anything that only offers support to women and not men, we must help unpopular people, even people who we think are mean. It's no crime to be unpopular, and you can measure our humanity by how good we are to people we don't like.
This I mostly agree with. There should be places to go. That there aren’t is the problem. That Kathy posted this on her blog should not be surprising. The people who read her blog support her and are part of her community. They are people who find her writing credible, her persona likeable, and her ideas compelling. They are people who care, and who are willing to listen to what she has to say. Blogs are, very often, an individual’s comfort zone. Kathy’s blog is the one place where she felt she could exercise some power against her attackers, and against those she thinks encourage such attacks. Everyone finds this strength somewhere - the police, a gun, their families, a diary. The popularity of Kathy’s blog has made more people aware of this incident than the million other times things like this have happened, but that doesn’t for a second mean she should have kept quiet.
Sometimes people say things that are designed to hurt other people. Locke, Sessum, Paynter and Head Lemur are the kinds of people who do that. I read yesterday that Denise Howell considers them friends. I've asked other people who do, like David Weinberger and AKMA how they can support that -- I asked when I was a target of their attacks. All I got was silence. I think people need to come to terms with that, and speak up whenever people say or do things designed to hurt other people. That's how we prevent explosions like the one we dealt with this week.
Yes. Keeping quiet is not cool.
So if we have a code of conduct, it can't just talk about how trolls behave, because truly we have no control over that. It should talk about responsible people whose names we know with reputations they care about -- what should they do when abuse happens? That is something we can do something about. There should be 18 steps before something like Kathy Sierra's post appears in the midst of the blogosphere, and it shouldn't come from teh person who has been victimized, someone else should stand up for them and explain what happened. For so many reasons this is a much better way to go, and I'm sure the victim would like it better too (I speak from experience).
Absolutely. Change starts with us. Right now.
You know there's nothing worse than being hunted and having no one care enough to speak up for you. That's what we need to work on folks. And when we solve this problem, we can go to work on Iraq -- because that's much heavier and much worse, but kind of the same thing. Why aren't we angry at all the wasted lives? I think we'll find the answer to that question is related to why we're so bad at dealing with situations like the one we tried to deal with this week.
Dave, you’ve come to the right conclusion. The conclusion that at issue here are agency, accountability, respect, responsibility, and openness. And that this isn’t just about blogging, isn’t just about the internet. It’s about everything. It is merely a symptom of much larger problems facing the world today.

Problems that it’s about damn time we start talking about. Louder than ever before.

For everything related to this controversy that I’ve written about this week, click here.