Strong opinions, weakly held

I don’t understand

I’ve been reading Kathy Sierra’s blog pretty much since she launched it, mainly because I really enjoyed Head First Design Patterns. Her blog seems innocuous enough. It’s smart, funny, and topical, the topic being designing products that users like. So today I’m checking out the feeds, and what do I find, but a long post there talking about how Sierra is the target of death threats and hateful misogynistic attacks.

How does she suggest people respond?

If you want to do something about it–do not tolerate the kind of abuse that includes threats or even suggestions of violence (especially sexual violence). Do not put these people on a pedestal. Do not let them get away with calling this “social commentary”, “protected speech”, or simply “criticism”. I would never be for censoring speech–these people can say all the misogynistic, vile, tasteless things they like–but we must preserve that line where words and images become threats of violence. Freedom of speech–however distasteful and rude the speech may be, is crucial. But when those words contain threats of harm or death, they can destroy a life.

I’m going to disagree with her here. Yes, people are free to say whatever they like (barring illegal speech like death threats), but I’m not in favor of people saying hateful things just because they are legally allowed to do so. The kind of speech that she cites on her blog is not crucial, or even acceptable. Anil Dash has written more than once about rampant incivility in the blogosphere. The types of things people are writing about Kathy Sierra take that incivility to an absurd extreme.

Shelley Powers says we shouldn’t take this too far and specifically points out that the email with the explicit death threat certainly did not originate from the people who did the provocative anonymous weblog posts that targetted Kathy Sierra. But blog posts about putting a noose around someone’s neck provide the truly deranged with the comfort of knowing that they’re not alone out there, and that their even more explicit fantasies exist in the realm of the acceptable.

Bottom line is, either there’s a place in your life for publishing the kind of stuff that people posted about Sierra, or there isn’t. For me, there isn’t.


  1. I also link to the cached copy of the post that had the noose comments.

    I agree that threats of physical violence are not acceptable. At the same time, the four people mentioned did not threaten Kathy. There’s two events that have been merged into one, and it’s critical to keep them separate or more harm will occur. An original harm cannot be cured by piling on additional harm.

  2. Rafe – I don’t understand what you’re disagreeing with?

    On the broader issues – I told someone last night that if I started writing about this sort of thing I might not be able to stop…

    It is beyond despicable.

  3. I think that the actions of the four people create the environment that make the more explicit threats permissible, so I’m OK with linking them.

  4. I did notice that Kat Herding (a real person?) has removed all posts regarding MeanKids.org, RageBoy, etc. from her (their?) site. As “Web 2.0” marketers perhaps she/they are trying to distance themselves from this; or perhaps there is something they are trying to hide.

    I’m tempted to think this entire thing is a huge practical joke gone wrong; dreamed up by someone with a really twisted mind.

  5. I got the impression that Kat Herding was fake.

  6. Kat Herding… as in herding cats… obv. fake! A parody of buzz-word obsessed web 2.0 maketers, I think.

  7. “Freedom of speech”. But the impression that Kat Herding was fake.

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