Friday, March 30, 2007

Stop cyberbullingly

Today has been designated "Stop Cyberbullying Day." The events that were revealed on Monday regarding Kathy Sierra prompted such a day, but of course, bullying, online or offline, is nothing new. Nancy White has an excellent post about online bullying and what it means for those of us who participate extensively in online communities. I, myself, have never been the victim of cyberbullying, nor the perpetrator. I've been insulted before, called stupid or other such names and sure, that stings, but it certainly doesn't feel threatening. I have actually always tried to keep my discourse civil, both here and on other blogs or forums I've commented on. I admit to feeling uncomfortable about blogs that use threatening language about prominent figures--bloggers, politicians, journalists. Even though some people might say that "it comes with the territory," I believe that such language, even when it is a somewhat abstracted expression of anger at a public figure, contributes to a culture that tolerates that kind of language aimed at people we know or believe we know.

I've been online for over 15 years now, and certainly it's true that some people feel emboldened to say things they would never say in person in an online forum. That is both a blessing and a curse of the online space. It is a blessing when it allows someone who doesn't have a forum for expressing themselves or who is otherwise constrained in physical space to share their views and opinions and to connect with others. It is a curse when it allows opportunities for the people who may or may not be bullies in the physical space to express their hatred and to intimidate others. I'm not sure there's any way to educate the true bullies among us, but we can certainly educate those who have not yet crossed that line. We can, when people comment on our blogs in ways that begin to seem irrationally cruel, ask them to reframe their comment in a more civil way and point out how someone might see their language as hurtful. We can teach our kids what is and isn't acceptable for speech in online spaces. We can teach our kids, just as we do in the physical world, how to defuse bullies online.

What disturbed me most about the Kathy Sierra incident was the way it was, to some extent, embedded within the web and technology industry. Robert Scoble commented on this aspect of the incident:

It’s this culture of attacking women that has especially got to stop. I really don’t care if you attack me. I take those attacks in stride. But, whenever I post a video of a female technologist there invariably are snide remarks about body parts and other things that simply wouldn’t happen if the interviewee were a man.

It makes me realize just how ascerbic this industry and culture are toward women. This just makes me ill.

I have often removed myself from the conversation on sites that border on being misogynistic. Reading Slashdot comments, for example, sometimes makes me ill. I have written before about misogyny in the tech world. The attacks on Sierra are an extreme example, but I can tell you that many women experience much more subtle "attacks" as they move through the tech world. Women often perceive that their ideas are not listened to, that they're not welcome in certain forums, that the men who dominate the tech culture are generally not interested in seeing things from their point of view. An event like the one this week represents the underbelly of the culture that we sometimes feel is always just beneath the surface of the smaller slights. I think there are plenty of men who are trying to combat this undercurrent of misogyny, but it's somewhat of an uphill battle, it seems. And removing myself from certain forums doesn't help (and I'm sure I'm not the only one). So perhaps, in keeping with what I said above about education, I (and other women) should engage those groups and try to do a little educating and try to raise the discourse a little.