Nastiness on the Net

I haven’t been keeping up with the blogs I normally read, so when I read the first line of Martin Fowler’s blog entry NetNastiness, I had to look into it.

Somehow I hadn’t heard that Kathy Sierra, of the Head First books series and Creating Passionate Users blog, has had death threats made against her. She canceled a presentation and talked about discontinuing the blog due to these misogynistic threats.

I do not want to be part of a culture–the Blogosphere–where this is considered acceptable. Where the price for being a blogger is kevlar-coated skin and daughters who are tough enough to not have their “widdy biddy sensibilities offended” when they see their own mother Photoshopped into nothing more than an objectified sexual orifice, possibly suffocated as part of some sexual fetish. (And of course all coming on the heels of more explicit threats)

I knew about Tim O’Reily’s bloggers code of conduct, but I didn’t know it was proposed in light of these death threats. I still don’t quite understand what the situation was, but apparently some well known, otherwise respected people were involved with the websites that hosted the comments.

Fowler wrote about the subject of nastiness on the Net in relation to these threats.

I worry that people who have interesting things to say and questions to ask are put off by the cut and thrust. They don’t feel free to speak. The freedom enjoyed by people who are nasty does deny freedom to others – and the nasty people belittle the fears of those they have silenced.

We can’t just sit back and say, “Well, that’s the Web!” It isn’t how I want my Web to be.

You may be thinking that this is taking it too far, some people will take offense at anything; following this logic leads to people who either say nothing, or speak in the bland platitudes favored by PR companies.

There is no need to go to the extreme of not saying anything for fear of offending someone. Fowler is right, however, in that we need to be aware that what we say may mean something a bit more than we intended. If you think that the nastiness is no big deal, you may want to ask yourself what effect it is having. Fowler’s entry touched on research that claims only 1.5% of women are involved in open source, even though 25% of women are involved in proprietary software development. His numbers are actually a bit different, as I got mine from a slideshow my friend sent me from the Flourish conference hosted in Chicago recently. One of the more interesting slides asked the question “Have you ever observed discriminatory behavior against women in FLOSS?” Just a little over 20% of men said yes, while almost 80% said no. Women, however, answered in the reverse.

And this is a study focusing on women in open source. What about foreigners? What about homosexuals? What about parents? What about students? What about race, or handicaps, or religious beliefs? How many people don’t feel welcome on the world wide web due to some level of nastiness that is tolerated in communities such as IRC channels, mailing lists, and blogs? It doesn’t need to be a misogynistic death threat to cross the line.

I want my Web to to better.

3 comments to Nastiness on the Net

  • So you want to censor this “net nastiness” ?

  • I think censor is the wrong word. Discourage, maybe. No one needs to enforce an absolute standard over all communities at once, but it should be pretty clear whenever someone crosses the line. Fowler suggests a few things that can be done, among them is the suggestion to just leave that particular community and join another.

  • I think most people don’t like the word censor.

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