Tuesday, 22 July 2008

(Column) - You may have heard about the Kathy Sierra case, which has been spreading in the blogosphere like wildfire for the past couple of days. In case you haven’t heard about the news, here’s a quick synopsis. Sierra, a prominent female blogger, decided to withdraw from participating in a workshop at O’Reilly’s Emerging Technology Conference and decided to stop writing on her blog because of the death threats and crude sexual comments that she has received in the course of four weeks. Obviously these comments were made anonymously on Sierra’s blog and on two other sites.

This incident has me thinking about the crummy culture of the Internet, and how it could be improved. Certainly Sierra isn’t the only prominent blogger to have received these threats. Other, A-List bloggers have also received such threats, and it’s pretty obvious the way people behave online, behind an anonymous pseudonym. Can we do anything to remedy this widespread problem? Of course! Let’s kill anonymity and make people responsible for their words.

Look at it this way. How many people will come up to you and make death threats and crude sexual comments in real life? No one, right? At least not in professional settings. But as soon as they are behind a keyboard and a username, their behavior takes a 180-degree turn for the worse. What these crazy people don’t understand is how hurtful their comments can be to people who put themselves online and contribute something worthwhile for these brainless maniacs to respond to.

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I’m not saying people shouldn’t offer counterarguments. After all, the Web is an interactive medium, and what good would it be if we, as readers, weren’t exposed to varying opinions. With that said, can we be civil? Are these people really that out of control that they need to lash out on a columnist or a blogger? If that’s the case, these people need to get some help.

By killing anonymity, I’m willing to bet that the Internet will suddenly become a more respectable medium and yield mature discussions. Sure, some of us have opinions, and we don’t want to share our real identity for legitimate reasons, but unfortunately, some people are too focused on ruining the environment for the rest of us. It’s like they say, it only takes a small group of people to ruin it for everyone. It’s a pity, really.

As much as I don’t like my own suggestion, this seems to be the only way to control these atrociously nasty comments towards innocent folks. It will be painful, sure, but we don’t have much of a choice.

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