Strong opinions, weakly held

The ubiquity of harassment on the Internet

Laura Lemay on the Kathy Sierra situation:

Mostly as I read the comments on Kathy’s post and on other blogs I have noticed a kind of interesting but obvious breakdown. Men, in general, are shocked and horrified that this kind of harassment goes on at all. Women are of course shocked and horrified at Kathy’s situation, but they also kind of nod ruefully and say yeah, it happened to me, too.

I honestly didn’t think this was a secret, that women get disproportionally picked on in the internets. I thought it was a big fat obvious fact.

Do I get stalked and harassed and picked on on the internet? Do I get death threats? Sure. I started getting them the week I first posted to Usenet twenty years ago, and I’ve been getting them ever since. It was worse during the usenet era, and WAY worse when I was selling a lot of books. Its pretty quiet these days now that I’m mostly anonymous and I write a mostly personal journal blog. No one cares about cat posts; there are bigger targets. But it still happens.


  1. I find it hard to believe that anyone who has spend any time as a “presence” on the ‘net hasn’t run into some sort of harassment/abuse from others (see Penny Arcade’s GIFT).

    In my view, the individual(s) who harassed Kathy Sierra clearly went over the line and need to be punished to the full extent of the law.

    We are a nation of laws (I’m assuming Ms. Sierra is a US citizen), but do we need even more laws to ‘fix‘ this particular problem? I can imagine the as-yet unwritten “Kathy Sierra Online Protection Act” that requires all US netizens to be registered and have a traceable ID for every post, thereby crushing anonymous online speech once and for all. The Federalist Papers’ Publius would spin in his grave at the very notion.

    I look at what happened to Ms. Sierra as her own personal “9-11 moment.” She’s suffered emotional trauma at the hands of attackers. Her first reaction is the very justified fear response (“I’m at home, with the doors locked, terrified”), and if she continues giving in to it for too long, I believe she’s letting the harassers win.

  2. There’s some good stuff about the early days of The WELL in Part 4 of Bruce Sterling’s 1992 book The Hacker Crackdown.

    Another book that will help you to understand the WELL is Howard Rheingold’s The Virtual Community.

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