Kathy Sierra suffered a meltdown. Multiple stressors came together to move her away from her work. She all but stopped blogging and she withdrew from a conference speaking engagement.
Earlier this week Kathy called me and I assured her that the work was there waiting for her, that she will never want for creative purpose or opportunity. She proved me right a day or two ago with this post, a statement regretting her needful departure from her current blog, and a list of many directions, signposts pointing every which way to the multiple paths she might follow. I wish her the best of luck choosing the right path and following it with the passionate conviction she brought to her erstwhile blog.
This topic is personal for me because I owned the domain name for a blog called MeanKids. It was a group blog with multiple authors and no moderation. The name of that blog has become a shorthand for threatening behavior on the net.
I’ve avoided comment so far because I don’t know how to address this without continuing the pain and discomfort that the whole matter has brought to the surface. Still, I think it is important to begin to piece together different perspectives. Here are some facts:
- Satire, not cruelty, was the intended content of the MeanKids site.
- I am very distressed by Kathy Sierra’s suffering. She knows this, and is generally grateful for my support.
- When over-the-top cruelty showed up on MeanKids (from a single author and an anonymous commenter) I shut the site down. Chris Locke and Jeneane Sessum supported and encouraged that shut-down. I shared the commenter’s IP address with Kathy so she could collate it with some actual threats she had received on her own blog,. Meanwhile, the author of the post came forward privately and assured Kathy of the satiric non-threatening intention of the collage that contained the fearsome symbol.
- Kathy’s perception of two Kathy-related posts as scary was influenced by horrible stuff that she had received from her own readers in email and comments on her own blog.
Deconstruction of the situation should reveal that while a few close friends and I were associated with a site that published satire and parody, there was a confluence of threats in Kathy’s own blog and personal challenges she herself faced that led her to bring her fears to broad attention. The MeanKids blog was not the proximate cause for her fears, but it was graphically outrageous enough to illustrate them and to permit Kathy’s readers to infer the culpability of the writers posting as MeanKids.
It is difficult to write anything balanced about this without appearing to blame the victim, and that is not at all what I am doing. Nevertheless, at some point people need to be able to isolate root causes of the mob mentality that has effectively silenced some of the people who wrote as MeanKids. What did Kathy intend when she addressed her huge online audience with a post that conflated real threats with our parody and satiric criticism?
I’m afraid that we have quite a ways to go before we reach true clarity on this concern, but now — three weeks after the curtain came down on MeanKids — I am no longer afraid to write about it.
There are many people who encouraged moderation, who didn’t stoke the flames of misunderstanding and whose good insights I recommend to everyone thinking about these matters. None of these people support hate speech, misogyny, or violence and bullying on or off the web — nor do they support a mob mentality and a rush to judgment. Here’s the beginning of a long list of people who support a balanced discussion…
- Ronni Bennett
- Betsy Devine
- Mitch Ratcliffe
- J. Black
- Shelley Powers
- Dean Landsman
- Rogers Cadenhead
- Laura Lemay
- Nicole Simon
- Chris Pirillo
Update… I’m glad to see today’s posts from Jeneane! I feel a little bit like the turtle who fell asleep on the warm pavement while crossing the road. Turtle wakes up, sticks his neck out and ZOOOM, almost has his head crushed by a passing truck. Turtle pulls his head back in and thinks “I’ll just hang out inside until it’s safer out there.”
Jeneane, let’s just get ourselves across this road!
[tags]MeanKids, MKULTRA 2.0[/tags]