Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Potholes in Cyberspace

It's hard to believe this journal is over 11 years old. The word blog hadn't been invented. And few people ever published their thoughts on the Internet.

Email was just getting to be the next big thing. There were no instant messaging tools. AOL and their competitor Prodigy were largely non-web based publishing sites, a large compendium of information and tools for registered users only on proprietary software. AOL made the transition to the Internet as we know today, Prodigy did not.

The early Journal entries (many still available on-line) were about the new wonders of the Internet. Modern marvels. Many entries were actually programming hints, technical advice or links to new and wonderful websites.

Google didn't exist. And Yahoo only cataloged registered websites. It could take a month for Yahoo to add your website to their directory and, then, only if it met their editorial standards.

One of the first and most important objectives of this journal and my work on the web was to extend freedoms and rights that existed in the real world into the cyberworld. We needed to keep the Internet public and free. We needed free speech protection. Some web portals actually attempted to engage in censorship.

That was a long time ago... in cyberspace years.

Today, at least here in the United States, Free Speech is assured. The evolution of blogging has taken the list of those who publicly post their thoughts or ideas on the web from a few hundred to fifty five million. 55,000,000.

And the Internet provides a measure of anonymity. Most bloggers use pseudonyms or handles. It's just like the early days of CB radios, right Rubber Ducky?

And some actually are registered on blog sites like blogger with dozens of different user names. They even answer their own blogs! Sometimes even arguing with themselves! Schizophrenia in cyberspace.

The problem with blind, anonymous blogging and posting, combined with 55 million blogs, is that often no one listens. Most anonymous bloggers have little credibility. Their opinions just melt into the grand milieu.

So, in order to break through the clutter, they use attacks, foul language, graphic pictures or vile hatred. Occasionally such over the top language and graphic references work. But generally, as in the case of
Amanda Marcotte, it only works if the blogger actually has something important to say.

However, some posted comments and many bloggers are caught in a never ending spiral of hyperbole that can only lead to the most vicious hate attacks and then even death threats.

Since every reader here is on a wide ranging Journey through Cyberspace, you know I'm now referring to today's NUMBER ONE topic in the blogosphere (as determined by Technorati searches),
Kathy Sierra.

Kathy has been on the receiving end of a rapidly escalating barrage of hate mail, cross posted attacks, and x-rated, vile images that ultimately led to death threats so serious she has cancelled all public appearances and ceased writing in her blog. A technical computing blog!!

Could someone please explain to me how a technical blogger could become the object of such hatred? Those of us here in the Political blogosphere see such language and hate speech all the time. But we need to remember that Grandma always told us that neither politics nor religion was a topic of polite conversation.

But I've read Kathy's blog. What could she possibly have said? Back up your hard drive before leaving work?

I've discovered a blogger today who has captured my feeling exactly. The Blog is
Graceful Flavor, and the blogger is certainly not anonymous. His name is Jeff Ventura.

I suggest you read his entire entry:
Virtual life and real life share the same dark underbelly

Let’s talk about what happened to Kathy Sierra of Creating Passionate Users. She recently had a small group of people, some of whom are very well known, make some downright vulgar comments about her. Things got dangerous when they crossed the line into death threats.

Yes, really.

Before you read my post any further, read Kathy’s story (linked above). Go. Do it now. Read the comments to her post too.

As sad and disturbing as this is, we bloggers have to face hard facts:

We work in an Internet medium that offers others the perception of anonymity coupled, in most cases, by comment pages that allow allegedly-anonymous people to write and say whatever they want.

In a medium this connected, this mature, and this instantaneous, the same shitty elements we deal with in real life can make their presence known more forcefully and quickly than in real life. In that sense, the Internet is a lens that can very quickly magnify both the good and bad regions of human behavior.

The difference is real life that there is (a) no public forum where they can comment on her, and, more importantly (b) no anonymity. But it doesn’t mean those people aren’t out there feeling the same sentiments as they expressed against her on It doesn’t mean that, somehow, the deviant assholes don’t exist. In real life, the only thing that doesn’t exist is an anonymous feedback mechanism that allows underdeveloped cowards to be underdeveloped cowards.




1 comment:

Not Your Mama said...

I'm not "getting" the hate for her either, makes absolutely no sense. Not that death threats are ever sensible but usually one has to be controversial to inspire them.

As for the anonymous handle issue...for me it's a privacy and personal safety issue. Not that I am anyways significant enough to inspire kooks across the country but locally, let's just say there are a significant number of heavily armed kooks and aside from family and friends did not sign on to become targets.