Trouble in Blogo-dise
For the past week or so, there's been a disturbing ripple through the business-tech blogosphere concerning some abuse that Kathy Sierra of Creating Passionate Users. Up until this point, I was not familiar with this blog, although it is an A-list, important blog - especially for those developing technology products.
The more prominent you are, of course, the more unhinged attention you're going to attract, and Kathy has apparently been subject to plenty. I won't get into specifics here, but suffice it to say that violent, obscene, personally directed language may be de rigueur on porn sites, but it has no place in the world of business that Kathy lives and writes in. She deserves sympathy and support, and as far as I can tell, she's getting plenty.
Seth Godin has something to say about this in a post that wraps the Kathy situation into the more general theme of misogyny. This piece has an embedded link to a prior one that takes on anonymity in the blogosphere that is also an interesting read.
I'm relatively new to blogging (7 months in), but one thing I've noticed is that while all that anonymity is liberating, it can also encourage obnoxious and downright heinous behavior.
I regularly read and comment on a number of different sites, most of which are business or marketing related and are generally quite civil. One of the business sites I read veers toward the political and, while the tone and topics of the blogger (a legit business-mag journalist) are often explicitly political (read: all hail Ronald Reagan), he is sensible and thoughtful - plus, of course, we know his name. Of those who comment on his blog, I have noticed that the ones who go in for the more extreme commentary, out and out Coulter-esque nonsense, and ad hominem attacks are almost exclusively anonymous. (Occasionally the attacks are mildly ad feminam, as I've been blasted a couple of times, even though my comments sound incredibly bland and centrist to me. Apparently some of them strike others as if I'm channeling Rosa Luxembourg and Mother Jones.)
Of course, most of the anonymous, pseudonymmed commenters are just fine. And there are legitimate reasons for opting for anonymity, not the least of which is the number of unhinged nutters who are out there that you just might not want tracking you down. (And find you they will. On Super Bowl evening, I did a running commentary for Opinionated Marketers on the ads, one of which featured Sheryl Crowe plugging hair dye. I ended up having to delete an exceedingly vile, misogynist comment aimed not at me, but at Sheryl Crowe. How weird and unsettling that there's someone out there so obsessed with Sheryl Crowe that he - and I'm going to make the leap to "he" here, although you never know - bothers to follow up on every mention of her, however obscure - or has some weirdo spam thing that does it for him.)
But the downside of anonymity is that is sometimes gives bloggers, under cover of darkness, permission to behave in a way that, for most of them, would cause them deep shame if their friends, family, or colleagues saw what they were up to. Some of the vile commenters/bloggers are no doubt deeply disturbed individuals. Others are just cases of arrested development, mired in the infantile world of schoolyard taunting. Although, come to think of it, schoolyard taunts to their lasting credit aren't anonymous (at least they weren't in the day and age before you could text message them or post them on MySpace).
Anonymity is breeding contempt, and it will be no wonder if more and more bloggers don't end up requiring commenters to register and be vetted. Those who - by their silence or by their anything goes attitude - encourage outrageous, beyond the pale commentary should be shamed out of existence.
Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me?
Not any more.
The "invisibility cloak" is hiding the underbelly of the blogosphere. Freedom of speech is great - hate what people blog about. Knock yourself out and hate the blogger, even.
But vicious, puerile attacks that have nothing to do with the conversation, beyond demonstrating the commenter's inability to hold one. Well, just get the hell out of my blogosphere. You've absolutely worn out your welcome.