There has been a firestorm within the blogging communities about free speech, death threats and responsibility. It all started with this entry from Kathy Sierra on the Creating Passionate Users weblog:
- Creating Passionate Users: Death threats against bloggers are NOT “protected speech” (why I cancelled my ETech presentations)
Kathy tried to explain why she had to cancel her ETech presentations:
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. People like respected Cluetrain Manifesto co-author Chris Locke (aka Rageboy).
Chris Locke responded with this entry:
He explained his side and his YOYOW philosophy:
With Mean Kids gone, I thought I’d have another go at it. After all, we were mostly having fun posting totally surreal stuff about nothing particularly relevant to anything or anyone. But again, there were a couple posts — the ones Kathy mentions in her post — that were over the top. I didn’t think for a minute that they were “threatening” — and again, they were not my doing — but when I saw mail from her objecting to them, I nuked the entire site rather than censor any individual.
I was a conference host on the Well 15 years ago where the core ethos was acronymized to YOYOW — You Own Your Own Words. This has remained a guiding principle for me ever since. I will not take responsibility for what someone else said, nor will I censor what another individual wrote. However, it was clear that Sierra was upset, so it seemed the best course to make the whole site go away.
In the end, they release a joint statement here:
Kathy: That said, Chris and I are in complete agreement that it would be tragic if this incident were used as a weapon by those who would limit free and open exchange.
Chris: Misogyny is real — and vile. Violence against women is wrong. It must not be tolerated. This issue should be explored and discussed, not swept under the rug, not rationalized away. At the same time, we need to look closely and carefully at the implications for free speech. The First Amendment allows and protects language that many find noxious.
It seems that this is an issue of freedom of speech and website responsibility. Is Chris Locke responsible for what an anonymous poster put on his website? God help us if he is. It is very difficult to monitor every comment and forum posting that is put up. Keeping up with spam alone takes so much of my time that I can’t imagine trying to censor every post. Is Chris responsible for putting up a website with the intention to “poke fun” at other people in the first place? Man, that’s a slippery slope to step on as well.
True be told, death threats are common on the Internet. After Kathy Sierra’s statement was released, many high profile bloggers came forward admitting that they have received similar threats. Additionally, this is not a new occurrence. Laura LeMay, another prominent female tech writer, posted a common admission here:
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.
In the end, the words of Carl Schurz ring true and both Kathy and Chris agree that legislation is not the answer. Here are a few more quotations about the subject to get you thinking: