The Matter of Kathy Sierra

My issue, my main interest, my reason to be in the blogosphere is the topic of aging. If I can’t relate a post to aging, I don’t write it – at least not for Time Goes By and BlogHer. But a second strong interest, as a member of fairly long standing, is blogging itself and I try to keep up.

It was on Monday that I first learned of the Kathy Sierra issue from a listserv at BlogHer. That evening there were few opinions, just links to Kathy’s post wherein she explains her reasons for canceling a speaking engagement and dropping out of the blogosphere:

“I've been getting death threat comments on this blog. But that's not what pushed me over the edge. What finally did it was some disturbing threats of violence and sex posted on two other blogs...”

There have since been what must be a millions of words from bloggers with, I have no doubt, at least an equal amount in the works (including this post). Most I have read are in support of Kathy, rightly deploring the atmosphere of fear, hate and misogyny the threats create. But before the commentary buries the original issue, I’d like to explain my initial reaction to Kathy’s post.

Dotted throughout her post are these:

[continuing from the clip above] “…blogs authored and/or owned by a group that includes prominent bloggers. People you've probably heard of. People like respected Cluetrain Manifesto co-author Chris Locke aka Rageboy).”

“People linked to by A-listers like Doc Searls, a co-author of Chris Locke.”

“At about the same time, a group of bloggers including Listics’ Frank Paynter, prominent marketing blogger Jeneane Sessum, and Raving Lunacy Allen Herrel (aka Head Lemur) began participating on a (recently pulled) blog called meankids.org.”

At first, it was words, writes Kathy. Then it was images, one involving a photo of Kathy with a noose next to her head. I happened to have visited meankids.org in time to see the Photoshopped image Kathy describes. It was, I thought – well, “mean”. And if not done by a “kid”, then by someone whose development was arrested at about age 15. There are plenty of those in the world. I moved on without another thought.

“I don't know which participant actually made the picture,” Kathy continues. “It may have been Joey, or Chris Locke, or perhaps Allen Herrel... the same Herrel (or someone pretending to be Herrel).” [Joey, says Kathy, left a comment below the image: "the only thing Kathy has to offer me is that noose in her neck size."]

Nasty stuff no one wants to read about themselves or anyone else.

But let’s take a closer look at Kathy’s post than many who support her apparently have: I can’t remember when I have read, aside from ignorant political wingnuts, so many aspersions cast, acts implied and innuendo as in Kathy’s post.

As far as can be determined from the few facts she relates, the attacks on Kathy were made anonymously. However, she has tried and convicted Chris Locke, Jeneane Sessum, Allen Herrel, Frank Paynter and, to a lesser extent, Doc Searls without a shred of proof that they were involved. As Chris notes in his rebuttal post,

“I think her response, as it pertains to anything I personally wrote, was unjustified - but highly effective - character assassination. As a result, I'm sure I'll be explaining for years to come that I'm not really an ax murderer and child molester. Nice work.”

Undoubtedly so of Doc, Jeneane, Allen and Frank too. Many people do not read as carefully as they should and will not catch Kathy’s well-crafted, but false indictments especially when juxtaposed with the gross attacks she relates. In fact, it has been widely noted now that Jeneane was in the hospital during the postings Kathy refers to, but as of this moment, Kathy has not absolved her.

Although I have run across Kathy Sierra’s name here and there, I had never read her blog before this post and have not ventured into her archives now. Perhaps she is an otherwise fair and accurate blogger who lost her sense of balance due to these vicious verbal and pictorial attacks. However, no less vicious are her insinuations against these five people.

[Full Disclosure: Although I do not know Allen Herrel or his blog, I consider Frank, with whom I spent a spectacularly interesting afternoon a couple of years ago, and Jeneane to be blog friends. I had been reading Doc and Chris for years before I started blogging and continue to read all four for their intelligence, wit and unique points of view.]

As it turns out, Frank owns the URL meankids.org and some of the others contributed to the site. It began as satire and was gradually taken over by heinous trolls. That does not make Frank or the others responsible and if you think so, consider the trash comments you have had to remove from your own blogs. It is why some people moderate comments. Others of us take our chances; the delete button is a marvelous invention.

As soon as Frank was made aware of the attacks on Kathy, he killed the site. He also issued an apology on his blog, listics, to the extent of his involvement as site owner. I don’t believe that was necessary, but Frank is one of the all time good guys in the blogosphere.

In the ensuing commentary from many corners of the blogosphere, some have suggested that Kathy over-reacted to the attacks and although none of us can judge others’ levels of psychological trauma, I tend to agree.

Shocking as words and images can be, they are, after all, words. As Chris Pirillo noted in his post,

“This isn’t new, folks - far from it. Kathy is just one out of (certainly) millions of people who suffer at the minds of psychotics. And without trying to minimize this particular situation, I’ve gotta tell you - this sounds like high school to me. Literally. Granted, I’ve had just as many death threats ONLINE - but they didn’t just start last week…”

Indeed, not last week. Personally, I save my panic for when gunshots are fired, repeatedly over a week or more, at the building where I was in the middle of producing a live, all-night radio talk show, as happened a long time ago. Then, the Hell’s Angels lent support by escorting – front and back – my car when I traveled to and from home.

Or when, during the letter bomb scares of the 1970s, a viewer of the network television show on which I worked wrote to warn me that his next letter would be a bomb intended to kill me. (I had rejected him for an appearance on the program.)

Or, in the days when phone calls could not be easily traced, a man telephoned every day to tell me what I had been wearing on my way home a few minutes earlier, that my red bra had been peaking out of my blouse in the restaurant where I’d had lunch the day before, that I’d been ten minutes late to the work that day, etc.

In the second case, the police bomb squad checked the show’s mail every morning for several weeks. In the third, I took sane precautions when I left home and hung up the phone, on the advice of the police, as soon as I realized it was the stalker. The calls stopped after about two weeks.

More recently, I’ve dispatched nasty blog trolls who have personally attacked me by deleting their comments and never responding. They get bored and leave fairly quickly.

Without dismissing Kathy’s anxiety, this stuff happens every day. Should we stop it when we can? Of course. If laws are broken, as Kathy believes in this case, the police should be contacted as she says she has done.

But never, ever may fear and anger be used to attack innocent others. Kathy owes Chris, Jeneane, Allen, Frank and Doc a bold, ALL CAPS apology blasted to the entire web to counter the damage she has done with her reprehensible insinuations. Her tepid acceptance of Frank’s apology is an not enough.

* Contributing Editor Ronni Bennett also blogs at Time Goes By - What it’s really like to get older.,

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