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Zer Netmouse
March 27th, 2007
03:15 pm

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nastiness on the blogosphere
I've seen a few links to the reported death threats received by Kathy Sierra of the blog Creating Passionate Users, and how they kept her from speaking at a conference because she is staying at home behind locked doors, in tremendous fear for her life and person.

While I am sympathetic to Kathy I have concerns about the way this has been posted about on her blog, in that she names several people repeatedly and implies that they, by hosting a site that involved over-the-top nasty comments (by unidentified commenters), are by implication responsible for the threats made to her. A discussion over on supergee's journal brought up the following cogent commentary by machineplay:


I think there's a precedent here and the comments by "Joey" defending his comments saying that they were about a 'persona' and not a 'person' (he claims to have made the direct comment "The only thing Kathy Sierra has to offer me is a noose in her size.") are making me even more inclined to believe that this was some "nasty fun" that coincided really unfortunately with a handful of worrying threats.

Is her life in danger from the named people? No. Did they post or allow to be posted ugly pictures and statements about her? Looks like it. Are they responsible for creating an environment in which some crackpot already threatening her life feels justified? Yep.

I definitely feel it's more socially complex, and that's why her post conflating the actual danger to her with the 'meankids' stuff is not helpful. I don't think she's being malicious. I think she's unable to separate them in her head right now. She's really talking about two equally unacceptable events: anonymous death threats, and threatening, cruel public commentary. The unfortunate thing is that the bully gang's self-perpetuating ugliness creates an atmosphere that allows genuinely dangerous people to feel that they have social support for their distorted thinking.

(emphasis mine)

Thoughts? Social psychology suggests that even with no evidence to support it, people believe the other people in their community tend to believe as they do (though lately it *does* seem like the tendency for people to cry "The silent masses support me in this!" is going down - is that true or am I just not in those forums any more?). Is there any way for dangerous people not to believe they are supported or justified in their thinking? That we can influence, I mean?

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From:tlatoani
Date:March 27th, 2007 08:05 pm (UTC)
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Some dangerous people will believe they are justified and supported no matter what. I think there's a second group, though, who act badly only if they get public approval when they do it. Therefore, I think it is important not to participate in -- for lack of a better word -- the kind of "lynch mob" mentality they're referring to above.
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From:dionysus1999
Date:March 27th, 2007 08:43 pm (UTC)
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Ah yes, the "mob mentality". I don't know that the internet is enough of a stimulus to provoke a mob response, that's more real time, though a case could be made for some kind of flash mob.

As a therapist, I had a hard enough time convincing "normal" folks to give up some of their more crazy beliefs. Some people know they are completely right, no matter what the evidence. Shoot, anyone who thinks evolution is wrong is just misguided. Come on, if we can breed dogs into any shape we want, what is there not to believe about evolution?
From:tlatoani
Date:March 27th, 2007 09:04 pm (UTC)
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I agree that what you get on the Internet isn't really the same thing you get with a physical mob, but I couldn't come up with a better analogy.
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From:atdt1991
Date:March 27th, 2007 08:33 pm (UTC)
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Most people believe they are justified in both thoughts and actions, until proven otherwise (and often even then). The further one travels down the road of foolishness, the harder it is to be convinced.

There was a study I read about while I was looking at the Stanford Prison experiment re: a cult group based on the end of the world and how aliens were going to save these people before the world was destroyed. They had a time and date, and the cult members gave away their possessions, got divorced, and otherwise made life-altering decisions.

The time came and they all gathered in a circle and meditated (with their leader in the middle).

Time passed. No one came. Eventually, the leader speaks up and declares that the aliens sensed their meditation, and essentially that they had saved the world from destruction, right then and there.

That's not the interesting bit.

The interesting bit is that before this circumstance, they were much like the jewish in that they did not proselytize their beliefs - people came in as they desired. AFTER this circumstance, they used street corners to gather new members and otherwise attempted to convince others to their cause.

The researcher who'd infiltrated them surmised that when people are at risk of believing they've done something phenomenally illogical/embarrassing/incorrect, they try to convince others to have the -same- belief in order to diffuse that potential pain and in order to justify their actions in the usual "everyone else did it and everyone can't be wrong".

We all know, of course that if 99 out of 100 people make decision A instead of B, 99 people damn well may be wrong.

Anyway, as far as I see it, there is no way to combat this. We humans use coersion and peer pressure from the moment we can control our bodies, and there are so many niches in that crennellated wonder we call the intarweb that you can ALWAYS fine SOMEONE who will support you in your wacky ideas.
From:rachelann1977
Date:March 27th, 2007 09:15 pm (UTC)
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I'm with tlatoani on this one. I despise mob mentality. Have you ever heard of Milgram's Experiment 18: A Peer Administers Shocks? It has been used to explain the spread of the Holocaust, among other things. While not a direct correlation, it does show that people will do much more horrifying things than they ever thought themselves capable of if they believe that someone "important" wants them to do it. Because most of the interaction here happens on the internet, the potential "victim" becomes faceless, just like the person receiving shocks on the other side of a wall in Milgram's experiment.

Make no mistake, while we may not be able to stop the true crazies out there, it is entirely possible for blogs to create more of them. It is possible for an otherwise sane individual to commit unspeakable acts under the influence of mob mentality.

The way to avoid this, however, is less clear. We can't just abolish all blogs that aren't monitored for violently hateful speech directed at a specific person. I can avoid them, but I can't force anyone else to do that. However, it would be reasonable for the police or other law enforcement to consider such speech suspect. The thing is, it's all anonymous, and I really don't want that to change, so we're kind of stuck.
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From:shadowriderhope
Date:March 28th, 2007 01:37 am (UTC)
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the tendency for people to cry "The silent masses support me in this!"...

I believe a long time ago, on alt.polyamory, the phrase used was "me and the squirrel in my pocket." I always found that amusing. (It implied a tongue-in-cheek awareness that one is making sweeping statements that imply the silent masses agree with you).

Sorry, no time for a more meaningful response than that, alas.
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From:markeyisapunk
Date:March 28th, 2007 02:00 am (UTC)
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I had this debate a few years ago about fan fiction that portrayed underage characters engaging in sexual acts. on one side of the fence you have the sanctity associated with freedom of speech. coming from that perspective, it doesn't matter what you write, e.g., it may be bullying or distasteful, but it is not the same as engaging in the act or suggesting that anyone should engage in those acts. on teh otherhand, you have the idea that writing about sex with children, even in a fictional context, might encourage people to think it's okay to engage in those acts. I don't know enough child molestors to have a balanced opinion about this. in the context of the discussion on this thread, I wonder whether it makes a difference whether the forum is fiction or non-fiction, e.g., is it more harmful (aka encouraging crazies to do their craziness) to have sexism, pedophilia, or general nastiness in a fictional context or as an op-ed piece/discussion thread/chat forum/etc?
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From:metalfatigue0
Date:March 28th, 2007 05:00 am (UTC)
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I have nothing useful to offer re: the actual issue that hasn't already been said, but…WTF? Can someone provide or point me to a timeline of l'affaire Sierra so I can figure out what it's about without digging through the dreck?
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