If You Can’t Take Death Threats, You Can’t Handle Blogging

You ever heard of Kathy Sierra? I hadn’t until recently (She’s not a political blogger), but apparently she has quit blogging and totally freaked out because of some death threats and violent forum posts. Here are some details from her last post,

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. People like respected Cluetrain Manifesto co-author Chris Locke (aka Rageboy).

…We all have trolls–but until four weeks ago, none of mine had threatened death. (The law is clear–to encourage or suggest someone’s death is just as illegal as claiming you intend to do it yourself).

…But when it was my turn, somebody crossed a line. They posted a photo of a noose next to my head, and one of their members (posting as “Joey”) commented “the only thing Kathy has to offer me is that noose in her neck size.”

My first reaction–and probably yours–is to think, “Of course he doesn’t actually mean it.” But the “funny” thing about crossing the line from criticism to suggestion of death is that your mind starts to wander:

* The guy who wrote this is anonymous (to me… I’m sure the people behind the site know exactly who made that comment and who posted the photo). I have no way of knowing just how disturbed he might be.

* Normally sane adults don’t cross that line, especially when they know they’re breaking federal law.

* The (apparently) same person made several sexual comments about me as well… for example, analyzing my “Canyon of Pain” graphic and turning it into a metaphor for what I want sexually (you can imagine).

Noose. Sex. Hatred. Misogyny. Willing to commit a federal crime. Anonymity.

I started to slide down a very bad path (and I’m showing you only a snippet of what was actually posted and sent to me), but held it together until two days ago, March 24.

…Most of all, I now fully understand the impact of death threats. It really doesn’t make much difference whether the person intends to act on the threat… it’s the threat itself that inflicts the damage. It’s the threat that makes you question whether that “anonymous” person is as disturbed as their comments and pictures suggest.

It’s the threat that causes fear.

It’s the threat that leads you to a psychiatrist and tranquilizers just so you can sleep without repeating the endless loop of your death by:

* throat slitting
* hanging
* suffocation
and don’t forget the sexual part

I have cancelled all speaking engagements.

I am afraid to leave my yard.

I will never feel the same. I will never be the same.

To all of you were meant to be at my tutorial today at ETech, or my keynote tomorrow, you have my deepest apologies. 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).

Two things.

#1) Of course, death threats and sexually violent imagery aren’t acceptable on blogs, in comment sections, or in forums. In the post, Sierra suggests that she contacted the police about some of the comments. That’s entirely appropriate and I’d suggest that anyone do the same if he/she feels threatened by someone online.

#2) Yet and still, this is what it’s like online. There are anonymous people, with their noses far out of the range of your fist, making comments about you. The more famous you get, the more hate mail you get — and some of that hate mail is going to be obscene, obnoxious, violent, and even disturbed. Furthermore, if you get your name out there, YOU WILL get death threats. Hell, I got one just last week.

If the idea of having some pervert photoshop you in a sexual position or having some kook threaten to slit your throat freaks you out so much that you’re afraid to leave your yard and need to see a “psychiatrist” for “tranquilizers,” honestly, you’re not cut out to be running a blog. I wish it wasn’t that way, but it is and people need to understand that before they ever create a blog.

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