Kathy Sierra, the excellent blogger who pens Creating Passionate Users was the target of some vicious death threats. If you read her blog regularly (and you should), then frankly you see no reason why anyone would think of harming her. She never writes on controversial topics but merely gives useful advice on usability and consumer-friendly behavior. She is a firm believer in positive thinking (and blogging.) Perhaps this gets the goat of many flaming Neanderthals (almost thought of the Geico ad) who carry over their negative attitude to the blogosphere. Of course, bloggers are an angry bunch and we have had more than our share of doling out mob justice but never has the threat been dire enough to cause physical harm.
Even in the desi blogosphere, disagreements are dime a dozen and there have been few insinuations of physical harm cleverly disguised as humorous jabs (the “I’m just kidding” excuse.) Gaurav, during the height of the IIPM scandal admitted to being fearful of physical violence not by bloggers but by goons hired by the institute. The usual (and easy) reaction to opinions that people don’t agree with is violence or at least the threat of. The law against battery and assault is strictly enforced in the U.S. and any physical harm is dealt with harshly regardless of the extent of provocation. Physical violence is never justified although it is kinda hard to explain that to hot-blooded irrational minds. Sadly, in India we yet haven’t reached a stage where punishments for physical violence is deterring possible culprits. The goonda culture often lets the scoundrels take refuge in violence when they are at a loss of words. Disagreements are often answered with blows. And frankly, even though you can easily respond in kind, it is generally not worth sinking to their level.
As in Kathy’s case, women are particularly vulnerable to such threats and such behavior usually stems from sexist or misogynist prejudices ingrained in a culture that still considers male dominance to be a veritable truth. Kathy has cancelled her speaking engagements out of fear for her safety much to the disappointment of her audience but I consider her reaction as completely normal. Protection of self (and your loved ones) trumps all. Scoble who was also targeted by the same people albeit less viciously is protesting against such deteriorating culture by taking the week off from blogging. The behavior that requires a Blank Noise like intervention has reared its ugly head on the Internet too and netizens considered to be an educated lot are no different when it comes to respecting civility.
I hope the trolls are exposed before all so as at least to deter any such behavior in the future. Most of these trolls take undue advantage of the anonymity but would be more responsible if they were to do so under their real identity.
Update: The comments in question were made on a site called unclebobism (now nuked; revised form of another website, meankids) to which several well known bloggers were associated. Now Chris Locke, Kevin Marks, and Frank Paynter are asked to explain their association given that they have distanced themselves from the comments. Frankly, if you associate yourself with blogs intended to spread hate, you’re bound to feel the after-effects.