The Downside of Having a Web Presence (or: Kathy Sierra vs. the Anonymous Web Thugs)

Wigu comic from February 20, 2002: “What is wrong with internet people?”

Barely minutes after I dashed off a quick post about how having a web presence can greatly improve your job prospects in the high-tech world, I found out about Kathy “Creating Passionate Users” Sierra’s article that reminds us of the downside of a web presence, especially if you’re a woman.

She writes:

As I type this, I am supposed to be in San Diego, delivering a workshop at the ETech conference. But I’m not. I’m at home, with the doors locked, terrified. For the last four weeks, I’ve been getting death threat comments on this blog. But that’s not what pushed me over the edge. What finally did it was some disturbing threats of violence and sex posted on two other blogs… blogs authored and/or owned by a group that includes prominent bloggers. People you’ve probably heard of.

What follows is her description of some very nasty threats made against her, and as a result, she’s decided to cut back on blogging, cancel her much-anticipated appearances at the O’Reilly Emerging Technologies Conference and call the police (and with good cause: remember, death threats are illegal, and hey, don’t dismiss ’em until you get one yourself).

I can only have the vaguest understanding of what it feels like to get a death threat. The warning that I got over the phone from the creepy guy from Quick Boys Moving and Storage — “Remove that comment. That’s all I’m going to say” — was somewhat unnerving. I imagine that getting death threats and seeing Photoshopped photos of yourself in gags is far, far worse.

I am reminded of a line from Neal Stephenson’s novel Snow Crash — the one about the sexism in high-tech circles being a particularly bad case, since male techies often consider themselves “too smart to be sexist”.

I encourage all of you to speak out against these evil and illegal actions and do what you can to make sure stuff like this doesn’t happen again. And, if you’ve got the time and inclination, please leave a note of support over at Kathy’s blog.

Hang in there, Kathy. We’re all looking forward to your return.

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