Brad Feld

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Anonymous Bullies

Mar 27, 2007
Category Writing

I got back to my hotel room after a long and enjoyable day – my first day back from a glorious week off – and did a quick Techmeme check before watching 24.  The top item was a long, graphic, and upsetting story from Kathy Sierra.

I don’t know Kathy, but I think her blog is great and it almost always prompts me to think of something new.  Scoble summarized my feelings well in his post – “I’m physically ill after reading what happened to Kathy Sierra.”

I’m pretty numb to many things – especially in the context of blogging. The endless porn spam and trackbacks that I get don’t even mean anything to me any more.  The occasional nastigrams are fine and even cause me to pause and rethink my position.  I’ve managed to sidestep a bunch of potential flame wars, mostly because I find the escalation to be boring.

Until recently I didn’t think much about the difference between an anonymous comment and one where the person identified themselves.  I’ve been spending a lot of time recently thinking about reputation and trust, especially given the geometric growth in user-generated content. 

Kathy’s story sealed it for me – reputation and trust are at a tipping point and are an issue that is going to have to be dealt with in 2007.  However, if you want to get a feel for the real issue, you have to read down to comments from “Joey” on 3/26/07 at 8:49pm.  Follow the thread from there and you’ll see the second order effect of anonymity.

I’m sad that Kathy is experiencing this.  It’s disgusting that someone is hiding behind an anonymous identity while issuing this type of attack.  For a while, lots of smart folks have been saying that these are things we are going to have to solve in this medium. 

I received a great Walt Whitman quote from a friend named Allison today: “Re-examine what you’ve been told.  Dismiss what insults your soul.”  While this activity insults my soul, I’m not going to dismiss it.  I am going to re-examine it, especially the part about the need to deal with this issue broadly across the Internet infrastructure.