Disturbed About Reactions to Kathy Sierra's Post [en]

[fr] Comme cela avait été le cas lors de l'affaire SarkoWeb3, la blosophère s'est maintenant emparée de la triste histoire des menaces reçues par Kathy Sierra, telle une meute affamée et sans cervelle. Hypothèses présentées pour faits, coupable car non prouvé innocents, noms, déformation d'information, téléphone arabe, réactions émotionnelles trop vite bloguées et sans penser... tout y est.

Encore une fois, je suis déçue des gens.

Since I [read](http://twitter.com/stephtara/statuses/13216861) and [posted](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/03/26/death-threats-in-the-blogosphere/) about [Kathy Sierra’s latest post](http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/2007/03/as_i_type_this_.html), and stayed up until 3am looking at blog post after blog post pop up on [Technorati](http://technorati.com/search/%22kathy%20sierra%22) and [Google Blogsearch](http://blogsearch.google.com/blogsearch?hl=en&ie=UTF-8&q=%22kathy+sierra%22&btnG=Search+Blogs), I’ve been growing [increasingly uneasy](http://twitter.com/stephtara/statuses/13328601) about what I was reading in the blogosphere.

Like many other people I suppose, I was hit with this “tell me it ain’t so” feeling (denial!) that makes one sick in the stomach upon reading that Kathy had cancelled her ETech appearance out of fear for her safety. My heart went out to her. Of course, I felt angry at the people who had cause her such fear, and I also felt quite a bit of concern at seeing known blogger names appear in the context of this ugly affair.

And then, of course, there was the matter of getting the word out there. I [blogged it](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/03/26/death-threats-in-the-blogosphere/) (and blogged it soon — I’ll be candid about this: I realised it was breaking news, heck, I even [twittered it](http://twitter.com/stephtara/statuses/13216861) before [Arrington did](http://twitter.com/TechCrunch/statuses/13218961)!), and although I did use words like “horrible” and “unacceptable” (which are pretty strong in my dictionary, if you are familiar with my blogging habits), I refrained from repeating the names mentioned in Kathy’s post or demanding that the culprits be lynched.

One of the reasons for this is that I had to re-read some parts of Kathy’s post a couple of times to be quite certain to what extent she was reporting these people to be involved. Upon first reading, I was just shocked, and stunned, and I knew I’d read some bits a bit fast. I also knew that I had Kathy’s side of the story here, and though I have no reasons to doubt her honesty, I know that reality, *what really happened*, usually lies **somewhere in between the different accounts of a story one can gather from the various parties involved**. So I took care not to point fingers, and not to name names in a situation I had no first-hand information about, to the point of not knowing any of the actors in it personally.

In doing this, and taking these precautions, I consider that I am **trying to do my job as a responsible blogger**.

Unfortunately, one quick look at most of the posts coming out of Technorati or Google Blogsearch shows (still now, over 15 hours after Kathy posted) a [collection](http://digg.com/tech_news/Death_threats_against_bloggers_are_NOT_protected_speech_Kathy_Sierra) of knee-jerk reactions, side-taking, verbal lynching, and rising up to the defense of noble causes. There are inaccurate facts in blog posts, conjectures presented as fact, calls to arms of various types, and catchy, often misleading, headlines. I tend to despise the mainstream press increasingly for their use of manipulative headlines, but honestly, what I see some bloggers doing here is no better.

Welcome to the blogmob.

The blogmob is nothing new, of course. My first real encounter with the mob was in [May 2001](http://climbtothestars.org/writing/kaycee/), when Kaycee Nicole Swenson [died (or so it seemed)](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2001/05/16/kaycee/) and somebody [dared suggest she might not have existed](http://www.metafilter.com/comments.mefi/7819). The mob was mainly on MetaFilter at that time, but there were very violent reactions towards the early proponents of the “hoax” hypothesis. Finally, it was demonstrated that Kaycee was *indeed* a hoax. This was also my first encounter with somebody who was sick and twisted enough to make up a fictional character, Kaycee, a cancer victim, and keep her alive online for over two years, mixing lies and reality to a point barely imaginable. I — and many others — fell for it.

Much more recently, I’ve seen the larger, proper blogmob at work in two episodes I had “first-hand knowledge” about. The first, after the [LeWeb3-Sarkozy debacle](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2006/12/12/le-web-3-et-sarko/), when bad judgement, unclear agendas, politics and clumsy communication came together and pissed off a non-trivial number of bloggers who were attending [LeWeb3](http://www.leweb3.com/). There were angry posts, there were constructive ones and those which were less, and then the blogmob came in, with hundreds of bloggers who asked for Loïc’s head on a plate based on personal, second-hand accounts of what had happened, without digging a bit to try to get to the bottom of the story. Loïc had messed up, oh yes he had, but that didn’t justify painting him flat-out evil as the blogmob did. In Francophonia it got so bad that this episode and its aftermath was (in my analysis) the death stroke for comments on Loïc’s blog, and he decided to shut them down.

The second (and last episode I’ll recount here) is when the whole blogosphere went a-buzz about how Wikipedia was going to shut down three months from now. [Words spoken at LIFT’07](http://www.liftconference.com/blog/?p=312) went through many chinese whisper (UK) / Telephone (US) filters to turn into a [rather dramatic announcement](http://www.901am.com/2007/wikipeda-could-shut-within-3-4-months-wikimedia.html), which was then relayed by just about anybody who had a blog. Read about [how the misinformation spread and what the facts were](http://www.lunchoverip.com/2007/02/the_wikimedia_c.html).

So, what’s happening right now? The first comments I read on Kathy’s post were reactions of shock, and expressions of support. Lots of them. Over the blogosphere, people were busy getting the news out there by relaying the information on their blogs. Some (like me) shared stories. As the hours went by, I began to see trends:

– this is awful, shocking, unacceptable
– the guilty must be punished
– women are oppressed, unsafe
– the blogosphere is becoming unsafe!

Where it gets disturbing, and where really, really, I’m disappointed and think bloggers should know better, is when I read headlines or statements like this (and I’m not going to link to all these but you’ll find them easily enough):

* “Kathy Sierra v. Chris Locke”
* “Kathy Sierra to Stop Blogging!”
* “Kathy Sierra hate campaign”
* throwing around names like “psychopath” and “terrorist” to describe the people involved
* [“Personally I am disgusted with myself for buying and recommending Chris Locke’s book…”](http://blogher.org/node/17319#comment-16756) and the like
* the assumption that there is a unique person behind the various incidents Kathy describes
* taking for fact that Chris Locke, Jeneane Sessum, Alan Herrell or Frank Paynter are involved, directly, and in an evil way (which is taking Kathy’s post a step further than what it actually says, for the least)
* …

In [my previous post](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/03/26/death-threats-in-the-blogosphere/), I’ve tried to link to blog posts which actually bring some added value. Most of the others are just helping the echo chamber echo louder, at this point. Kathy’s post is (understandably) a little emotional (whether it is by design as

I’d like to end this post with a recap of what I’ve understood so far. (“What I’ve understood” means that there might be mistakes here, but I’m giving an honest account of what I managed to piece together.) I’m working under the assumption that the people involved are giving honest accounts of their side of the story, and hoping that this will not unravel like the Kaycee story did to reveal the presence of a sick, twisted liar somewhere.

– Kathy has been receiving threats. Some in the comments of her blog, some by e-mail, and some in the posts and/or comments of meankids and unclebobism, sites which have since then been taken down.
– Meankids was set up by a bunch of people (including Chris and Frank at the minimum). It was closed after going overboard, and the same people opened Unclebobism as a replacement. (Details about exactly what went in internally are not clear. See posts by [Kevin Marks](http://epeus.blogspot.com/2007/03/death-and-rape-threats-are-criminal.html), [Frank Paynter](http://listics.com/20070326984) and [Chris Locke](http://www.rageboy.com/2007/03/re-kathy-sierras-allegations.html) for source information.)
– Stowe says this [doesn’t fit with the personal knowledge he has of Jeneane Sessum and Alan Herrell](http://www.stoweboyd.com/message/2007/03/kathy_sierra_de.html). Other people like Lisa Stone also report phone contacts with Jeneane, and [it seems she is not directly involved in the acts Kathy describes](http://blogher.org/node/17319) (though it definitely seems she had something to do with the two sites meankids and unclebobism, if only in [linking](http://allied.blogspot.com/2007/03/bigger-than-twitter-its-twatter.html) for the second). **Update:** Chris gives details on her (indeed) [very minimal involvement](http://www.rageboy.com/2007/03/brief-addendum.html).
– Frank Paynter [apologized early on](http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/2007/03/as_i_type_this_.html#c64434246) on Kathy’s blog, then explains that this whole thing is [an experiment in anarchy gone overboard](http://listics.com/20070326984).
– [Chris Locke](http://www.rageboy.com/2007/03/re-kathy-sierras-allegations.html) denies being directly responsible for any of the threats Kathy mentions, and owns up to two direct comments about Kathy on unclebobism.
– Alan Herrell seems to have shut down [Raving Lunacy](http://theheadlemur.typepad.com/ravinglunacy/)
– Kathy ends her post with “I have no idea if I’ll ever post again. I suspect I will. But for now, I have a lot to rethink.” — this seems to point to her taking a break, not abandoning blogging.
– “Joey”, the author (?) of one of the threats Kathy received, comments on her blog: [one](http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/2007/03/as_i_type_this_.html#c64459820), [two](http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/2007/03/as_i_type_this_.html#c64463926), [three](http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/2007/03/as_i_type_this_.html#c64466218), [four](http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/2007/03/as_i_type_this_.html#c64468260), [five](http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/2007/03/as_i_type_this_.html#c64468722); he says the threat was not towards her but some other person he called Kathy (?!). See also [Brent’s response to the first comment](http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/2007/03/as_i_type_this_.html#c64460850). I have to admit some skepticism here. He could be a simple troll. But again, not to be dismissed without taking a good look.
– **Update 28 May 2007** Alan Herrell reports being victim of identity theft. E-mail made public by [Doc Searls](http://doc.weblogs.com/2007/03/28#whatItIsnt).
– **Update 29 May 2007** Jim Turner gives a way better account than I have here of [what we can make out of the story for the moment](http://www.onebyonemedia.com/the-sierra-saga-part-1-dissecting-the-creation-of-the-kathy-sierra-blog-storm-4/) — part 2 is due to follow and here is part two: The Sierra Saga Part 2: Big Bad Bob and the Lull Before the Kathy Sierra Blog Storm.
– **Update 1 April 2007** Jeneane Sessum publishes a few words [about the whole mess and her name being dragged in the dirt](http://allied.blogspot.com/2007/03/just-few-words.html).

Please, Blogosphere. Keep your wits. This is a messy ugly story, and oversimplications will help nobody. Holding people guilty until proven innocent doesn’t either. (Trust me, I’ve been on the receiving end of [unfounded accusations](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2005/02/23/reponse-a-luc-olivier-erard-la-cote/) because somebody didn’t hear my side of the story, and it sucks.)

The problem with bullying is that perceived meanness isn’t the same on both sides. Often, to the bully, the act is “just harsh” or “not to be taken seriously” (to what extent that is really believed, or is some kind of twisted rationalisation is not clear to me). To the bullied, however, the threats are very real, even if they were not really intended so. Bullying is also a combination of small things which add up to being intolerable. People in groups also tend to behave quite differently than what they would taken isolately, the identity of the individual tending to dissolve into the group identity. Anonymity (I’ve blogged about this many times, try a search) encourages people to not take responsibility for what they say, and therefore gives them more freedom to be mean. Has something like this happened here?

If you have something thoughtful to say, then say it. But if all you have to say has already been said out there ten times, or if you won’t take the trouble to check your sources, read carefully, calm down before blogging, avoid over-generalisations, and thus avoid feeding the already bloated echo-chamber — just go out for a walk in the sun and let the people involved sort themselves out.

The word is out there, way enough, and I trust that we’ll get to the bottom of the story in time.

**Update: I’m adding new links which actually add something to this story to [my first post](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/03/26/death-threats-in-the-blogosphere/) as I find them, so check over there for updates.**

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Arrived in the UK [en]

[fr] En Angleterre. Contente de voir que ça se calme un peu côté SarkoWeb3, et que je vois maintenant surtout des billets constructifs.

Just a note to say I’m safe and sound in the UK. I’m going through the latest on [LeWeb3](http://technorati.com/search/leweb3) and I’m really glad to see the mob has somewhat calmed down and I’m starting to see some very constructive posts popping up. I’m sticking stuff [in del.icio.us](http://del.icio.us/steph/leweb3) as fast as [Flock can synchronize my favorites](http://steph.wordpress.com/2006/12/13/when-does-flock-synchronize-my-favorites/).

I’ll write more on my views about the whole mess in the coming days. For the moment I’m recovering from too many weeks of madness.

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Le Web 3: Recap [en]

[fr] Résumé (sans les liens, cliquez dans le corps du billet):

Positif: atmosphère et gens sympas, bon réseautage, excellente nourriture, voir des anciens amis et en faire de nouveaux, Hans Rosling (et danah bien sûr), bon choix du lieu de conférence, en-cas dans le hall, et un compliment concernant ma brève prestation sur scène.

Négatif: mauvais wifi, fête trop bruyante, récupération politique (même si je pense que Loïc pèche plus par excès d'enthousiasme pas toujours bien placé, et par manque de "sensibilité clients", comme lors de l'épisode Ublog), niveau un peu "grand public" des présentations, pas de fête de clôture.

En somme, contente d'être venue malgré les déceptions, mais pas certaine que je remettrai ça la prochaine fois.

Right, in telegraphic style, here’s a wrap-up of how my [LeWeb3](http://www.leweb3.com/) went.

**Positive:** overall nice atmosphere and people, good networking, excellent food, saw old friends again and made new ones, was blown away (like many others) by [Hans Rosling’s presentation](http://www.ted.com/tedtalks/tedtalksplayer.cfm?key=hans_rosling&flashEnabled=1) (both by the numbers he gave and the [software](http://www.gapminder.org/). I liked the venue, thought the sizing was right (small enough to encourage people to communicate, without being cramped). Break food/drinks were nice (even if there was no [bottled water](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2006/02/02/first-impressions-of-lift06/)). Somebody said [something nice about my brief panel contribution](http://www.onemanandhisblog.com/archives/2006/12/le_web_3_the_ol.html). Impressed at Loïc organising something this big in so little time.

**Negative:** [bad wifi](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2006/12/11/wordpress-dreamhost-wifi-arghl/), [noisy party](http://twitter.com/stephtara/statuses/973263), [political takeover](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2006/12/12/le-web-3-et-sarko/) (though I do believe that Loïc messes up more by excess enthusiasm and some lacking in customer care skills — like with [Ublog](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2004/07/21/u-blog-six-apart-and-their-angry-bloggers/) — than because he’s a “bad guy”), not being in the target audience (topics were a bit too general for me), and not having a good-bye party or some chance to say good-bye to people (people left little by little and I hardly got to see anybody before they left).

Overall, I’m glad I came, but I’m not sure I’d come to this event again.

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Ce soir: Scènes de Ménage [fr]

[en] On TV tonight (just 5 minutes). Will post a link once it's online.

Je fais très bref vu l’état (et je vous parlerai de [SarkoWeb3](http://del.icio.us/tag/sarkoweb3) quand j’aurai récupéré). Si vous êtes à la maison ce soir, vous aurez l’occasion de me voir faire de mon mieux pour répondre aux questions de Martina Chyba durant les cinq minutes que dureront le plateau de l’émission [Scènes de Ménage](http://www.tsr.ch/tsr/index.html?siteSect=349300) (TSR1), consacrée ce soir aux geeks et à la technophilie rampante en cette période de Noël. [Cinq minutes qui ont occupé tout mon vendredi après-midi](http://steph.wordpress.com/2006/12/09/murphy/), et même plus.

J’ajouterai le lien une fois que l’émission sera en ligne. L’émission est en ligne!

Update (en direct): je tiens à préciser que je ne suis pas d’accord avec la “définition” geek (+ nerd) donnée dans l’émission après le premier sujet… Pour moi ils parlent des cas déjà problématiques, là.

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Le Web 3 et Sarko [fr]

[en] Not impressed by what Sarkozy said. I tried translating in the IRC backchannel. Seemed mainly like electoral blah-blah to me. Note to conference organisers: don't do this. Don't mess up the program for last-minute political celebrities who won't take questions, and won't even speak in the language of the conference. Update: check the sarkoweb3 tag.

Sarkozy a bouleversé son emploi du temps pour venir parler à Le Web 3 (tout comme Shimon Peres (orth?) et l’autre candidat dont j’arrive pas retenir le nom Bayrou), et nous aussi, on a bouleversé le nôtre pour l’écouter. Ca commence à ressembler à un défilé de politiques plutôt qu’à un truc de geeks. Déjà qu’à mon avis beaucoup des sujets sont très généraux (bien pour les médias et le grand public, pas très instructifs pour nous)…

Bref, le discours de Sarkozy ressemblait à mes oreilles à du blabla électoral standard (certes, c’était sur sa vision d’Internet, il est resté dans le sujet) — mais bon, j’ai quand même préféré l’autre qui a répondu à des questions du public, même si ce n’était que moyen et assez consensuel.

Conseil pour organisateurs de conférences: ne bouleversez pas le programme pour faire intervenir des célébrités de dernière minute, surtout quand celles-ci sont d’un intérêt local (50% de la salle n’en a probablement rien à faire de la politique française) et parlent sans traduction dans une langue qui n’est également pas comprise de tous. J’ai fait une traduction “à l’arrache” de ce qu’il disait dans le canal IRC… en espérant que ça aura été à certains.

Update: collection de liens avec le tag sarkoweb3.

Aussi, si vous avez une ligne de 40Mb, c’est cool, mais assurez-vous que les bornes wifi tiennent le coup. Aussi… (c’est pour Laurent)… où sont les fontaines à eau dans la salle? ou les bouteilles?

Oui, je suis de mauvaise (48h à tenter de remettre mon serveur debout, tout en voyageant et avec un accès wifi à peu près impossible, stress accumulé, etc etc). Bah.

**Update:** lire aussi Anne Dominique, [“Loïc Ministre?”](http://annedominique.wordpress.com/2006/12/12/leweb3-day-2-loic-ministre/)

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