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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Open letter to Markos Moulitsas

posted by bitchphd
Hey, Markos--we met at a Minneapolis Drinking Liberally once when you were promoting your book, remember? So I'm gonna play the "acquaintance" card as well as the fellow blogger card here.

Dude, this post is messed up. I agree with you that the proposed blogger code of conduct is asinine, but it certainly doesn't follow that Kathy Sierra (or any other women who are threatened with death, rape, or frivolous lawsuit, ahem) are making shit up or overreacting or (as you kind of imply) being hysterical.

Maybe, despite being a major blogger, you haven't spent much time thinking about the specific online experiences of women. In which case, you should know that women online--not just bloggers, but women in chat rooms or commenting on blogs or on internet forums--get twenty-five times more harassment than men do. That's not 25%; it's 2500%.

In other words, no; you haven't gotten "your fair share" of this kind of thing. Not even close. And good for you; no one should have to put up with that crap. But when your own experience of harassment is, relatively speaking, very minimal, it's really easy to tell other people that they should just ignore it. It's hard to realize exactly how much cultural energy is devoted to teaching women to be afraid.

Now, I agree with you: the vast majority of that kind of assholish crap isn't *really* threatening. Most email or comment threats are just hot air. But at some point, some dickhead is going to stir up enough craziness that someone really *is* going to get attacked in real life as the result of some online bullshit.

Codes of conduct aren't going to prevent that, of course. Maybe nothing will. But people like you and me *can*, I think, postpone its happening, maybe even make it less likely, by not just saying (in effect) "butch up or quit blogging." The voices of vulnerable people matter too. Maybe even more than the voices of those of us who aren't easily intimidated. And let's get something straight: what needs to happen isn't that the recipients of death threats need to shrug them off. What needs to happen is that those of us who have a fairly weighty online presence need to say, in no uncertain terms, that threats and harassment and sexism and racism and homophobia and all that other offensive shit is flat-out unacceptable, both in real life and online.

The best way to make that clear isn't to tell victims, publicly, that "if they can't handle it" they should quit blogging. Nope. Instead, those of us who provide readers with opportunities to respond--in blog comments, or on online forums, or in chat groups--need to make sure we come down hard on assholes who use those opportunities to hassle, harass, or threaten people (including us). For god's sake, don't make excuses for them by pretending that they're some kind of force of nature, like an earthquake, that we can't do anything about. Because we can, if we shut them down when they show up.

And if we don't "have time" to manage our own commenters (or forum members, etc.) then we don't have time to blog. If we run forums or chat groups or blogs but don't have time to read what people say--well, maybe we should try another line of work.

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