Friday, March 30, 2007

Stop Cyberbullying Day

Andy Carvin pronounced today as Stop Cyberbullying Day, as a result of a very public and serious online harassment of a widely read tech blogger, Katha Sierra.

One of the nice things about being such a casual blogger is not having enough visibility to be the object of online feuding and blog wars. One of the sad aspects of Kathy Sierra going public with her ordeal is, that as a result, she's gotten even more vitriolic and hateful messages directed at her. So I'm loathe to blog about that incident, as if I would even have something worthwhile to say. But it's not correct to think I'm unaffected by such awfulness, directed at Sierra and many others. One of the most direct impacts I can feel, if not measure, is the voices I don't hear online because bloggers are tired of the BS.

Of all the bad things someone might say about me, to be labeled a misogynist would cut me to the quick. That's not how I want to be identified, and the idea of hating women boggles. From my position as man, not very manly sort, but a man none the less, I don't have to endure the cruel assaults which too many women face all the time. Vile verbal attacks against women are a particular problem; a subset of the larger problem of hateful speech. All of us have some experience with the ways words wound, but it's useful for guys like me not to imagine I can truly understand the impact of sexual objectification and threats of sexual violence against women. To get a sense of how clueless men can be about this, consider the justification sworn in some cases where a man is accused of murdering a gay man: "He was coming on to me." And then to consider how often such testimony results in acquittal. Men know the power inherent in such assaults, but not a clue what it feels like to be on the receiving end.

So this disturbing aspect of misogyny is an important part of the discussions going on all over the blogosphere about cyberbullying, but there is so much more. Andy Carvin has set up a Ning site Stop Cyberbullying. Ning is Web site that allows people to create their own social network with profile pages and forums. so the turn around from Sierra's post on Tuesday to a site that up and running in response now is just remarkable. Go there look around, the discussions are thoughtful, there are numerous resources about cyberbullying; and it's a great example of "create something good" when confronted by evil.

Surely most of us have noticed how tempers can flare as the result of Internet correspondence. I have unintentionally pushed those buttons and pulled the leavers to make others livid with me. When that's happened I've wondered: What the heck did I do? That's different, of course form cyberbullying, but those instances provide a window to view how powerfully emotions can be engaged, and how difficult it can be to repair online relationships.

Any regular readers of blogs or Newsgroups are familiar with Internet trolls too. Considering my own instances of infuriating people and my own annoyance at trolls, I've poured over various list like Giveen's Guide to Internet Trolls. I've wondered: What kind of Internet troll am I? I'm not a troll! Clueless and insensitive at times, maybe, but I don't intentionally strive to sow discord. So the issue of trolls is a bit different from cyberbullying too, but it's subject that's hard to avoid when considering the broad issue.

Among my online African friends I've heard their experiences with Westerners, in particular Americans, hurling racist language in their direction. As a white guy, muzungu, and an American who's never been to Africa, how to talk about racism here in America is a subject I've never figured out the words to tell the story. It's not like it's easy to talk about with other Americans. Certainly one of the first things I discovered going online was how terribly much racist talk floats around on the Internet. One particularly frustrating situations that comes up is over advance fee frauds and being tarred with the broad brush: "You people!"

Come to think of it when the sentence begins, "You people.." it's pretty easy to predict nothing good is coming after it. Except, who isn't prone to generalities and stereotypes? We all are, it seems it's part of the way people in general create a map to navigate around in the world that's compact enough to actually be usable. It's a good thing to be aware of this tendency. In any case we can be fairly sure that "You people..." is the beginning of an expression of anger.

There are many things we can be reasonably angry about too. Nigerian Letters in my email box don't make me angry, but it's easy to see why they make some so angry; their intent is fraud after all. It seems helpful to recognize there's another perspective from just the consumer of such fraud, and in some cases the intent of the fraud isn't so very different from that of the cyberbully. The various ways of scamming people on the Internet again isn't exactly cyberbullying, but something to consider in the whole ball of wax. On the Internet scams are truly International affairs.

Dave Winer has made some very important contributions to the current discussion. He wrote:
So if we have a code of conduct, it can't just talk about how trolls behave, because truly we have no control over that. It should talk about responsible people whose names we know with reputations they care about -- what should they do when abuse happens? That is something we can do something about. There should be 18 steps before something like Kathy Sierra's post appears in the midst of the blogosphere, and it shouldn't come from teh person who has been victimized, someone else should stand up for them and explain what happened. For so many reasons this is a much better way to go, and I'm sure the victim would like it better too (I speak from experience).
This blog is hardly a piffle, but in my best imagination it belongs to the so called "bridge blogs." Like other bridge bloggers I encourage people to blog, to tell their stories. We have a special responsibility as bridge bloggers to respond to abuse in our connected communities. It's not always obvious what to do, but at least we can stand by and support our friends when they are subjected to cyberbullying. At a minimum we can take care and be mindful.

1 comment:

eshuneutics said...

A thoughtful post which I wholly endorse. Like you, I am a mere "bridge blogger"--but have experienced some anonymous trolling. Luckily, the troll went away after it had had its unenlightening say. I will look up your links.