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March 27, 2007

Female tech blogger cancels keynote amid death threats

Sad news: Tech blogger Kathy Sierra canceled her scheduled keynote adress at ETech because she was facing a barrage of online death- and rape threats. Over the past four weeks Kathy has been targeted for a barrage of increasingly credible threats of physical violence. In her post, Kathy reports that she has contacted the appropriate authorities and that they are taking her complaints seriously. I'm saddened to hear that another woman has foregone another opportunity because of misogynist intimidation.

I want Kathy to know that her colleagues in the feminist/lib-left blogosphere are pulling for her. Thanks to zuzu and Dr. Sox for voicing their support.

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The mystery to many will be "what did she do?". If you seriously ask that, you ought to check in with a therapist. You just can't get by with presuming in all cases that gods and rapists alike are logical and apply their power only for cause. [Read More]

Comments

Atheist: I am not suggesting that KS is "wrong" or "weak." Certainly most of us would prefer to live our lives and work in peace without having to watch our backs. Nevertheless, bullies are emboldened when they think have won, and I am not of the "lock-the-door-and-hide" persuasion. Problem is: Now the bullies know they CAN intimidate KS, and her life will not be the same unless/until she stands up to them.

By canceling her keynote address, perhaps Kathy Sierra brought much more attention to the threats and other misogynist crap that go on all the time than if she'd simply ignored it and gone about business as usual.

Why exactly do some men feel this urgent need to rush in and tell women how they should or shouldn't conduct their lives, what they should and shouldn't do in any given situation? Feeling entitled to dish out kneejerk advice, approval, or permission is really NOT the same thing as being supportive.

I really, really want to see some prosecutions over this. I also like the idea of a database of threats and threat-makers, which it seems to me could be very useful in prosecutions.

I also wonder what kinds of "cyber-tracking" services are available for recipients of these sorts of threats? A lot of the time, I would not be able to connect an email to a meatspace ID, but I'm a technical ignoramus. Some kind of Private E-Eye service might be a way to get some sunshine onto these perverts. I'd certainly contribute to a fund to establish and maintain such a thing.

Owe you one Lindsay. Being an old software engineer, this story got me pretty worked up. At least I linked back to you.

Spinning: "Why exactly do some men feel this urgent need to rush in and tell women how they should or shouldn't conduct their lives ... "
Actually, my Jewish mother does this all the time and maybe that is where it comes from.

Spinning Liz; you are probably right. Kathy's reaction will be painted by those who don't get it and don't have any insight into her situation as an "overreaction" when in fact it is not just a protest but an example: the Microsoft in-house power blogger Rober Scoble is suspending for a week in sympathy. I am kicking DIGG off my blog because it is [I was unaware because I never read the recommendation threads there] yet another venue for anonymous trashings of other people.

Echoing Bruce from Missouri in the second comment above, these guys sending threats desperately, desperately need a life.

If I ever go into the dog fighting business, I'll be feeding my pit bulls cheetos before every match.

I feel like an idiot about this, but I can't tell what the threatening photoshopped picture is supposed to be. Can someone explain it to me?

It's ridiculous when people come into things like this or the AutoAdmit controversy and make blanket pronouncements about the protected nature of the speech. We're talking about lots of different statements with different content. Most of it is protected. Some of it looks like it might well not be, rote Brandenburg citations aside...

Ms. Beyerstein, off topic but I know you're interested in NYC construction hazards.

cfrost - your dog fighting comment is priceless. Mockery at so many levels, including self mockery. Masterful.

aeroman: The Photoshopped picture of Sierra shows women's panties over her face, covering her mouth.

Thanks, Alan. I still feel like I'm missing something, since I have no idea what it's supposed to mean.

Thanks, Alan. I still feel like I'm missing something, since I have no idea what it's supposed to mean

I think it's supposed to work on a couple levels. It's sexual harrasment, maybe combined with a threat. One, the panties on her face is a sexual thing. Then, it's like an insult because it seems to imply that she munches panties or something. Then, there is also a bondage implication in the photo- it sort of looks like she's been gagged or something, or tied up.

By itself it just looks like a mean joke. Combined with the threats she says she recieved, it's sorta scary.

I think this passage from Sierra's post explains why she found that picture especially threatening:

But when it was my turn, somebody crossed a line. They posted a photo of a noose next to my head, and one of their members (posting as "Joey") commented "the only thing Kathy has to offer me is that noose in her neck size.

There was a pre-existing sexualized strangulation trope. In the picture, Kathy appears to be screaming. It's bad Photoshop, but you can see the panties as a stylized noose.

That picture wouldn't necessarily rise to the level (or sink to the level) of a threat on its own, but within the context of the harassment, I can see why the Sierra and the police would take it seriously.

I had not read Kathy's blog before. Interesting stuff (I mean the stuff she normally writes). It is sad and disturbingly that a creepy minority can use anonymity & intimidation to control the conversation! I hope they find the creep, and that she gets back to posting soon.

I read Kathy's post. What indicates the death threats were "credible", let alone "increasingly" so? Increasingly sick and deranged, yes, but not credible.

This same group also posted racist and sexist filth about Robert Scoble's wife.

Link here.

I've seen quite a bit of this kind of intimidation and freezing women out over the years, in the engineering and technology fields I've worked in. Rarely is it this blatant -- but rarely is a woman as high-profile and successful as Kathy Sierra.

Her ideas are intriguing and thought-provoking, and what I particularly like is that she practices what she preaches, in terms of building user-friendly tech. Her communications are clear and simple. I'm working for a startup company that is developing a new technology, and finding a lot to appreciate in her blog. And as a woman in a traditionally male field, and as a mother of two daughters, it's pleasant to me stumble across a woman who has achieved such a level of well-deserved success.

And then the second new post I see of hers is this post in which she reveals that she's being threatened, has canceled a major speech, and is afraid to go outside.

I can't tell you how angry this makes me, and how disappointed I am at some of the classic trivializing techniques some of her peers are using.

*fume* *fume*

-l.

I trust Kathy to make that determination in conjunction with the police. As she said in the post, she only posted a fraction of what she received.

meanwhile, there are people who are in reality being raped, killed, assaulted. so some random women gets creepy and threatening emails or whatever. Not nice, but not a big deal either.

meanwhile, wonkette has something nice to say about your hero John Edwards:

http://wonkette.com/politics/john-edwards/john-edwards-shocking-claim-clintons-wont-wish-us-well-247273.php


and finally, I see you have an ad from Save the Seals. Back when I was in the food business, my favorite product was Delicious Baby Seal - the Veal of the Sea. Our logo? smiling baby seal, with trapper sneaking up from behind with club.

Atheist, March 27, 1:46 PM: “I am not conviced [sic] that such a person is always a harmless prankster.”

Agreed, I am not convinced either which is why I wrote (pls. see above): “Nevertheless, bullies are emboldened when they think have won … her life will not be the same unless/until she stands up to them.

Apparently, Kathy has taken appropriate steps by reporting the matter to the police. Points of justification for her actions: (1) evidence supports the hypothesis that antisocial behaviors increase in frequency and ferocity over time – cases of animal cruelty, for instance, are now investigated because law enforcement officials know that sadistic behaviors towards animals eventually transition into similar behaviors against persons, (2) perpetrators will continue the harassment or seek other victims until prosecuted.

Finally, anyone who thinks that this is “no big deal” and that clubbing seals is funny should re-read “Points of justification” item (1).

meanwhile, there are people who are in reality being raped, killed, assaulted. so some random women gets creepy and threatening emails or whatever. Not nice, but not a big deal either.

Right, because threats just never, ever escalate.

God, you're a twit.

Very sad.

Here's a short interview with KS from Macworld.

I've been thinking about what conrete steps I could take to discourage this kind of behavior, hence my Hollaback suggestion above. On reflection I think a Hollaback approach is too vulnerable to abuse and error - even though the majority of people identified are likely to be guilty it is still wrong to facilitate harm to those few who are not.

Perhaps it would be better to focus on helping out the victims of these assholes.

Agreed, I am not convinced either which is why I wrote (pls. see above): “Nevertheless, bullies are emboldened when they think have won … her life will not be the same unless/until she stands up to them.

Swamp, I see what you mean. Yes it could embolden the bullies. I just don't feel that I can judge her- especially since I don't have all the data.

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