Things You Don’t Do Online

by Latoya Peterson

This doesn’t directly deal with race, but I want to make readers aware of something that happened.

Remember Paula’s post called “I’m Not Crazy?” Where we had that great discussion about microaggression, and how difficult that is to deal with?

Yeah, well someone disagreed with Paula’s post. And instead of posting a rational argument, they decided to threaten her.

[T]his comment, which prompted an immediate call to the police and has resulted in an investigation by both law enforcement and other professionals investigating on-line on my behalf, left me speechless:

    Love your blog, Paula.

    We share the same name.

    Heck, we even live in the same state. xxx (state named). It’s only a matter of time until I find out your address. And your son’s school. And ___’s (husband’s first name used) work.

    Then we’ll be best friends. I’ll stay close to you and your family.

    And teach you a lesson.

    Love ya,
    Paula


This threat was sent to me by the same person (as has been confirmed) who had sent several comments (many harassing in nature, but not threatening) to my blog in the recent past. In the series of comments to me, they used my full legal name, mentioned the city and state in which I live as well as my husband’s first name – information which I have never disclosed on my blog. Not to say that this information cannot be found through other means, but clearly, this person did a little searching. One comment they left included this in the name field: “Watch out, your children are in danger”.

You know, feel free to insult my writing. Go ahead – make fun of my picture. Tell me you don’t agree with me or anything I say and that you think I’m full of crap. Others have said and written these same things to me before, and though I won’t be sending my heartfelt thanks anytime soon, it doesn’t mean you don’t have a right to your opinion. Just because I don’t agree with you doesn’t mean I don’t support your right to say it.

But try as I might, I cannot and will not ever be able to justify or find any legitimate reason behind a threat that goes after me and my family in such a personal manner.

I heard about this about a week ago, and did everything in my power as an admin to help Paula locate this sick fucker. Whoever this person may be, s/he stepped way over the fucking line of what is appropriate and inappropriate in online conduct.

Carmen & I have a policy of virtual to virtual. If someone is screwing with your virtually, you take virtual action against them. Maybe you ban them from your forum, or report them to the moderator. Normally, with most people, that’s where it ends. Occasionally, that person may be a little persistent in their obnoxiousness, but generally, it isn’t a problem.

Threatening to take something into the real world? That’s harassment and it counts as a form of cybercrime.

Cybercrime is serious. Think back to what happened to Kathy Sierra back in 2007.

Anonymous death threats against Kathy Sierra, a popular Web developer, author and blogger who encourages people to consider human behavior when designing technology products, have ignited the blogosphere.

Scores of bloggers have rallied to Sierra’s support. Prominent blogger Robert Scoble said he would take the week off to protest her treatment. Many women (and some men) weighed in with their own tales of online bullying.

Sierra herself cancelled an appearance at O’Reilly Media’s ETech conference in San Diego this week, and then wrote about her decision, and the pernicious threats, on her blog.

Sierra wrote:

    As I type this, I am supposed to be in San Diego, delivering a workshop at the ETech conference. But I’m not. I’m at home, with the doors locked, terrified. For the last four weeks, 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… blogs authored and/or owned by a group that includes prominent bloggers.

It was only two weeks ago that Sierra was a keynote speaker at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival, where people were talking reverently about her inspirational message.

Kathy Sierra blogged about software y’all. About making software with the user in mind. And for that egregious offense, someone thought she should receive death threats.

As bloggers, we understand the risks of posting. Some bloggers remain anonymous – and we respect that. We respect the right of commenters and posters to want to keep a part of themselves safely hidden. We respect the fact that everyone isn’t comfortable using their real name online. But the majority of people at Racialicious do blog under our real names. Me, Carmen, Wendi, Nadra, Fatemeh, AJ, Arturo, Jessica, and Thea all do. Many of our guest posters do as well. We have all weighed the relative benefits and risks of outing ourselves online.

And we choose to do it anyway. We know anyone posting online has to have a thick skin. We have made adjustments to our space to keep the discussions on the productive side. We generally ignore the racists and laugh off the sexist bullshit we see in the comments and in our inboxes everyday.

But it doesn’t change the fact that women bear a lot of sexualized harassment, nor does it make it any easier to read all this crazy mess before you delete it.

And it does not excuse the behavior of some people who use the relative anonymity of online conversation to physically threaten people they disagree with.