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May 06, 2007

Dahlia Lithwick on threats

Dahlia Lithwick discusses threats against female bloggers.

With all due respect to Graff, it seems to me that there are important differences between threats received over the Internet and sexual harassment at work. It starts, obviously, with a total lack of context. Women have accumulated at least some skills in figuring out when face-to-face sexual innuendo or threats are serious, joking, or pathological. True, we are sometimes tragically wrong. But for the most part, we can tell whether Jeff from accounting needs a restraining order or just a stern "no." An anonymous sexual threat on a blog could come from anywhere, and it's virtually impossible to determine whether or not the poster is serious. For the recipient, it's a bit like walking blindfolded through what might be a construction site, a retirement home, or a pick-up basketball game between two teams of recovering rapists. [Slate]

Why isn't Lithwick on the editorial page of the New York Times?

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Comments

Seconded. Her Supreme Court reporting is consistently much more insightful and interesting than Greenhouse's, as well, although I can see why the Times might prefer a somewhat dialed-down approach there. But as a columnist...

As long as the NY Times locks their op-eds behind a pay-wall (and doesn't even give people the chance to watch an ad for a one-day pass like Salon.com), NY Times op-eds aren't part of the online conversation like they used to be, anyway.

Eric Jaffa: After all, the online conversation is the only one that counts, and the members of the power elite who read the dead-trees edition of the New York Times but don't read Slate are dinosaurs doomed to extinction because the Adorable Rodents of the Blog Ecosystem are stealing into their nests and eating their eggs.

(Damn, I wish there was an HTML tag for ironic contempt.)

She does appear from time to time in the Washington Post, which owns Slate. E.g.,
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/06/AR2007040601799.html

The question is, why doesn't she have a weekly slot with the Post?

Mmm...because Modo's butt is in the chick-designated chair?

Another edition of Simple Answers to Simple Questions.

And yes, she's pretty sharp.

I think her observation that online threats are much harder to put into context is very insightful. One of the major issues with computer mediated communication is the lack of cues like posture, facial expression, tone of voice and so on. This sort of thing leads to all manner of flamewars, but this is the first time I've seen it so clearly explained in the context of harassing behavior.

Yup, she nails it. would have been a good comment to have back when the Kathy Sierra saga was breaking news but valuable perspective in any case. I only touched on that aspect of the problem without emphasizing it, when I posted

Given her apologetics for torture after 9/11 I'm sure she'd fit very well on the NYTimes Op-Ed page.

Why isn't Lithwick on the editorial page of the New York Times?

Seriously. Replacing the mediocrity that is Maureen Dowd with Lithwick would be a huge improvement.

But, surely, the other side of that is that face-to-face abuse carries a threat of physical violence that online abuse cannot, because the abuser is physically close by. That's the flaw with the analogy she uses - "For the recipient, it's a bit like walking blindfolded through what might be a construction site, a retirement home, or a pick-up basketball game between two teams of recovering rapists" - if a woman were actually to walk through a construction site blindfold, she would be in real physical danger of having something dropped on her head. Similarly for the basketball game. Similarly, to a lesser extent, for Jeff from accounting - Jeff works in the same building. He could wait for you in the car park, or follow you home. An email saying "I am going to cut your throat" is a nasty thing to receive; but compared to someone saying it face to face...

Yes, the absence of nonverbal cues means that a threat online is more worrying than a non-serious threat face-to-face; but it's still far less scary than a serious threat delivered in person.

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