Anonymous Bullies

I got back to my hotel room after a long and enjoyable day – my first day back from a glorious week off – and did a quick Techmeme check before watching 24.  The top item was a long, graphic, and upsetting story from Kathy Sierra.


I don’t know Kathy, but I think her blog is great and it almost always prompts me to think of something new.  Scoble summarized my feelings well in his post – “I’m physically ill after reading what happened to Kathy Sierra.”

I’m pretty numb to many things – especially in the context of blogging. The endless porn spam and trackbacks that I get don’t even mean anything to me any more.  The occasional nastigrams are fine and even cause me to pause and rethink my position.  I’ve managed to sidestep a bunch of potential flame wars, mostly because I find the escalation to be boring.

Until recently I didn’t think much about the difference between an anonymous comment and one where the person identified themselves.  I’ve been spending a lot of time recently thinking about reputation and trust, especially given the geometric growth in user-generated content. 

Kathy’s story sealed it for me – reputation and trust are at a tipping point and are an issue that is going to have to be dealt with in 2007.  However, if you want to get a feel for the real issue, you have to read down to comments from “Joey” on 3/26/07 at 8:49pm.  Follow the thread from there and you’ll see the second order effect of anonymity.

I’m sad that Kathy is experiencing this.  It’s disgusting that someone is hiding behind an anonymous identity while issuing this type of attack.  For a while, lots of smart folks have been saying that these are things we are going to have to solve in this medium. 

I received a great Walt Whitman quote from a friend named Allison today: “Re-examine what you’ve been told.  Dismiss what insults your soul.”  While this activity insults my soul, I’m not going to dismiss it.  I am going to re-examine it, especially the part about the need to deal with this issue broadly across the Internet infrastructure. 

  • Hi! I found your blog at MyBlogLog, I think it’s great I’m reading it right now. Good work!

  • I thank you for your posts and would like to show my support of your idea of online identity disclosure. I recommend we stop stupid nicknames and photos – and demand real names and photos. Why should the online world be so secretive. I am inspired, from now on I am going to always disclose my full name and photo – If we all did this we could change the landscape over night! That would expose the misfits for who they are.

  • Dave

    Here’s the thing – and I know this from experience – threats of violence are just as devastating when they’re NOT anonymous. And although I don’t know the laws, I do know that you can’t have someone arrested just for making a threat. And even if you could – would this just provoke them?

  • There *are* times when anonymity is important. I would hate for issues like this to drive decisions, legislation and movements out of fear, just like we have been experiencing at the national level.

    However, that said… The things that have been said to Kathy Sierra are unacceptable and the individuals who made these threats needs to be prosecuted. What has happened is immoral, unethical and frankly illegal and the appropriate local and federal authorities should be contacted.

  • I’ve always been surprised and borderline scared of how willing that you and Fred Wilson are to open up your lives to your blog audiences.

    For the normal, sane folks out here it’s entertaining and educational.

    But for the wackos out there… it worries me.

  • Buck

    I am very sad to see that she is going through this. I agree that there is going to be a need to remove this type of anonymous, mental abuse that is being asserted by someone sharing their opinion… However, do we see this medium shrink in popularity as we begin to pull the weeds from the great landscape of the Blogosphere? Many humans are afraid, ashamed or embarrassed to put their opinions or thoughts out on the table. Do we start assigning IP addresses/email addresses with Driver Licenses? To what extent are we really going to be able to keep the medium free and eliminate anonymous behaviors like this?

  • While I agree on the need to evolve out of anonymity and into reputation & trust based models, we also need to pay attention to the issues if reprisals in work and politically, for which our rights to freedom of speech don’t always automatically protect us from.

    What happened to Kathy was downright shameful, and during my time at Tribe, it became common knowledge that women and men experienced clearly different behaviors and interactions. Women being far more likely to experience the crude comment or the unwelcome snide remark. Because of the closed community nature of that site, there were things we did in the Terms of Use to mitigate some of that behavior, but net-net those same people would rejoin, albeit w/lil’ reputation, under another alias.

    I’ve always been a big believer in standing up for what you say, and that one’s comments should keep from being offensive or directly mean spirited to an individual. If this prescription is followed then you should nothing to hide from. But political chatter and women who openly discuss general issues w/strong convictions often brings w/it high emotions and people projecting, so I’m less certain of how this gets addressed and may side w/you on the need to bring people out-of-the-closet so to speak.