Kathy Sierra: the dark side of anonymity

by Mathew on March 26, 2007 · 7 comments

Update 2:

Alan Herrel, who (used to) blog under the name The Head Lemur, has written a long email to Doc Searls – which Doc has posted here — saying he was not involved in the postings on meankids that appeared beside his picture and name, and apologizing for his involvement in the site. He also says that someone has hacked his blog and his email accounts.

And for another perspective on Web-based hate speech, check out a post from conservative blogger Michelle Malkin, who has been getting similar comments for several years now.

Update:

Chris Locke, one of the bloggers involved in the sites that Kathy Sierra described — meankids.org and unclebobism.com (both of which have been removed) — and also one of the authors of the Cluetrain Manifesto, defends himself in this response to a journalist’s questions, and another of those involved, Frank Paynter, has an apology here. There’s a good synopsis of what happened with those sites and Kathy Sierra here.

Ethan Kaplan of blackrimglasses has some thoughts about anonymity and cyberspace and its effect on behaviour. Danah Boyd of apophenia reflects on her own experience with cyber-bullying, and Hugh McLeod of Gaping Void has some thoughts as well, as does Karoli at Odd Time Signatures, and Cynthia Brumfield at IPDemocracy.

Original post:

Kathy Sierra’s disturbing and heart-wrenching take on cyber-stalking, which is here, is yet another example of how the anonymity of the Web allows — and even encourages — certain individuals to toss aside what we see as normal human behaviour and indulge the worst elements of their nature.

anonymity.jpgIt’s not all that much different from the obscene phone call or anonymous death threat of another era, but that doesn’t make it any less disturbing — and the fact that a simple search can find out so much about a person no doubt makes it all the more so for Kathy, who says she has cancelled her appearance at eTech as a result. And given some of the things she found on the sites she mentions (both of which have since been removed), it’s hard to blame her.

As we have all found out to one extent or another — whether through blog comments, or email flame wars, or blog posts about us — the anonymity of the Internet has a tendency to free people from their inhibitions, as James Robertson also notes. That can be a good thing, but it can also be a very bad thing. People will write things that they would never think of saying to someone in person, or saying if their identity could be discovered.

It’s a little like the spell that comes over people when they get behind the wheel of a car. Because the other drivers can’t see them, and don’t know who they are, people feel free to say — and do — all kinds of terrible things they would never think of doing face-to-face. Seth Godin has more to say about the downsides of anyonymity here.

I understand Scoble’s desire to show solidarity by not blogging, but to me the only way to get rid of that kind of behaviour is to shine a light on it. Bravo to Kathy for going public with it.

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