Death Threats, Intimidation, and Blogging

I miss Kathy Sierra.

Kathy was the primary author of the Creating Passionate Users blog, which she started in December 2004. Her writing was of sufficient quality to propel her blog into the Technorati top 100 within a year and a half. That's almost unheard of, particularly for a blog with no commercial aspirations. Kathy wrote because she believed in creating better user experiences, for no other reason than the singular joy of sharing her enthusiasm with us.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

With this many comments, I doubt mine will even be read by many, but here’s my two Euro-cents:

I don’t know the situation at hand. All the original content has been deleted, classified and hidden. So if I am wrong about this particular case, just view my comment as unrelated.

People need to stop blaming others because someone has a thin skin. If I photoshop you with, say, a noose around your neck, THAT IS NOT A DEATH THREAT. If I tell someone, “I hope you die”, it isn’t a death threat either. Just because you perceive it as one doesn’t make it one. Being emotionally unable to deal with crude insults does not mean the entire world needs to be policed and “free speech” rules need thrown out of the window.

Part of the internet is being able to a) say what you want, b) enforce every rule you want on your personal forum, blog, etc. and c) accept the fact that there might be people out there who will say things you don’t like on their own personal space. Don’t like it, don’t read it. If they post on your blog, ban them and delete their posts.

If we blamed everyone who posted something negative “enough” to make someone else quit what they do, then soon nothing but fluffy political correctness would be allowed anymore. What a boring world, where everyone has to be nice. And what a sad world where everyone acts like that would be a good thing.

This reminds me of a game forum I moderate: some guy let his 10 year old misbehaving brat to play the game, and the brat harassed others to the point where they told him to “Piss off and suck my d***”. 24 hours later, the dad contacted me trying to get that guy banned for “child pornography/solicitation”. Here’s my heads up: just because you take something the worst way possible does not make it so. Just because you feel threatened when I say “Go die in a fire” does not make me a criminal who seriously threatened your life. This is your problem, not mine.

In this particular case, I find it very hard to believe that a tech blogger could have said something that would make a sane, stable person assume a “death threat” like the above could in any possible way be meant serious. If you post that abortions should be possible until the day of the delivery, ok, I can see how a death threat would scare you and be taken serious. But a Java tech blogger ? I can’t imagine a scenario in which something like that could possibly be taken serious. If the woman in question REALLY thought someone would kill her over an article about Java programming, then she is the one with mental problem, not the bored trolls who scared her.

Again, I might be wrong about this particular case. My point still stands for the rest of the internet though. I’ve too often seen a random troll casted as the evil villain by people who lack the necessary skin to deal with society.

What do I get out of [having a blog]?

Done right, you get the power to effect some kind of positive change in the world. Having a popular blog amplifies your effectiveness (over the typical MSFT employee) by about, oh, a thousand times. Whatever your agenda is – and I know you have one, because everyone has one – a popular blog will get you much further than toiling away quietly in obscurity.

Honestly, do I really have to point out why Scott Guthrie is so lionized?

Kathy indicated during one of her ETech pesentations that her blog will be coming back soon. She didn’t say when specifically, just soon

Having a popular blog amplifies your effectiveness (over the typical MSFT employee) by about, oh, a thousand times. Whatever your agenda is – and I know you have one, because everyone has one – a popular blog will get you much further than toiling away quietly in obscurity.

You have a strange definition of effectiveness. You seem to equate blog fame with getting things done which is a pretty narrow minded and incorrect manner of judging how much impact someone has. Is Steve Jobs ineffective because he doesn’t blog? Are the core devs working on the iPod and iPhone OSes ineffectives because they don’t blog? How about the engineers behind Toyota Camry or the Lexus?

Honestly, do I really have to point out why Scott Guthrie is so lionized?

Because his teams ship cool stuff like ASP.NET, Atlas and Silverlight?

“All roads to Hell are paved with good intentions”

I guess I should be thankful my attempts to blog have sucked. I’m not provocative enough to invite criticism bold enough to make people uncomfortable with their long-held, but poorly reasoned beliefs.

I’m sorry to hear when anyone is hassled out of good work.


Thank you!

I am officially death-threating you!:slight_smile:

You’ve discovered my darkest secret: I am deathly afraid of ASCII smiley faces.

In the end, it’s up to the person who is blogging as to whether they continue or not. If they don’t want to continue, then it seems ridiculous for them to waste the time. No matter what everyone else gets out of it - the blogger has to get something out of it too or it all becomes a “gimme fest” of readers wanting posts from a person who has lost the will to write them. Because - let’s face it - writing even a small blog post is time consuming. Writing technically detailed posts such as Jeff, Kathy, and Dare (I will assume since I haven’t checked your blog out yet) write, takes quite large chunks of time.

In Kathy’s case, I read through the final posts and decided there had to be other things going on in the background of which I was unaware. Of course that is a supposition on my part. Emails, phone calls, something. People may be online, but they also have an entire life offline, most of which we know nothing about.

Why would I think there is more? Because the things she presented as being the catalyst for shutting down the blog, simply did not seem to be that horrific to me. Then again I’ve never been known for my sensitivity, so it’s quite possible I’m completely wrong and those things as presented were enough to scare her into hiding. And that is a shame.

Keep up the good work. Don’t stop blogging. I read your blog everyday.

I read your blog every day, I hugely disagree with loads that you write and think you are overly kind to Microsoft


I’m not going to intimidate, threaten or otherwise cajole you to stop because

  sometimes you change my mind about stuff

And thats the point of reading a blog

It’s something one works with every day of his life. Many things are really not worth the trouble. A commitment to blogging, for example.

Perhaps the best blog is Raymond Chen’s. Sufficiently technical. Clear boundaries on personal commentary. A perfect CYA attitude with numerous disclaimers, riders, and of late, “pre-emptive snarky comments” and “nit-pickers’ corner”. It’s irritating, but it is required.

After all, my wife quit me because “You are too open a book and you expect the same from me!”. Blogs are nowhere near that level of intimacy.

For the first time after reading your so many posts, I am feeling bad. Very bad.

To be honest, I always found the whole Kathy Sierra thing ridiculous. Ok, so someone said X. It’s annoying, to be sure. But to go from that to “mommy, I’m afraid to leave the house” points to mental instability - and not in those uttering “threats”. I can’t even express how ridiculous the whole thing sounds.

What’s next? Taking chain letters seriously? Jeff, send this message to ten others or your computer will fail!

Are the core devs working on the iPod and iPhone OSes ineffectives because they don’t blog? How about the engineers behind Toyota Camry or the Lexus?

You’re playing the zero-sum game again (which is also why I assumed you had to choose between MSFT employment and blogging-- you keep coming back to this, over and over). I argue they would be MORE effective if they were blogging, writing and sharing what they were doing and gathering feedback on it. This dramatically amplifies their effectiveness.

Because his teams ship cool stuff like ASP.NET, Atlas and Silverlight?

That AND because he’s out there in public kicking ass and leading the way for millions of readers on his blog. Which makes everything else he does about a thousand times more visible and thus effective.

The key to most PM jobs is leading and influencing others. So, rather than thinking about how to be more visible with what you are doing, ask yourself: “what is the best way to lead and influence others?” Think about people in your workgroup, people across the company, people up the management chain, and people across the industry. What tools can you use? What communication channels are most appropriate to drive your agenda?

And what’s your job title? oh right, it’s PROGRAM MANAGER.

It’d be one thing if I was exhorting some poor soul to become a blogger just because I can. You already are one, and a damn good one, too. And you’re giving it up for no apparent reason whatsoever.

This makes you less effective. Which seems insane to me, but different strokes, I guess.

I never really understood how that whole Kathy Sierra thing got started. I mean, she must’ve said something to piss these people off, but I have no idea what that might’ve been – any ideas?

Marcel and others,

I watched the whole Kathy thing unfold and had the same thoughts you did. Think about it for a second: Kathy’s reasonable and smart; she doesn’t take this stuff out of hand. I’m not defending her decisions, but I do remember reading that the folks posting the threats had very personal information about her including her home address and possibly her phone number. The images that were created were pretty intense and graphic and scared her. The threats were, at the very least, credible to Kathy, and that’s what counted.

I don’t know what it is like, really, to be genuinely afraid that someone might actually, really, try to hurt me. I’ve dismissed empty threats before; who hasn’t? The idea that a real stalker is out there is not a good one. I don’t envy that position. Maybe it isn’t worthwhile for a blog.

Until I’m in such a position, I won’t judge Kathy’s decisions. I miss her outstanding posts and her ideas. I hope she finds a way to come back and share more with us. Heck, if she wants to make awesome essays and just e-mail them to me personally, I’d be okay with that.

Garret, just make sure you fwd me every single mail she sends you :slight_smile:

I miss her too :frowning:

I’ve been through essentially the same thing. I don’t have any particular pity for people who start blogs or sites or services and grow frustrated with dealing with people and finally shut them down. It’s just part of the world these days. I also don’t think it has anything to do with gender (though some would like to make that an issue, apparently).

I’ve offered a free service and site for a decade. I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars building, maintaining, moving, rebuilding and operating it. Not to mention countless hours, days, weeks, months… years.

For the most part, it’s worth it. I don’t make a time. I don’t charge a dime. I only allow very specific advertising (which doesn’t pay a twentieth of the costs) and that’s not for me to make money, but to allow people with something topical to get some exposure for their services or sites or businesses.

Out of about 50,000 or so registered members, only a very small number are actual problems. An almost immeasurably small percentage. However, they can have quite a significant impact when they post things on the web damaging your reputation for no other reason than being upset that you banned them for harassing other users or defrauding other people. Or when users harass you by email or instant messaging or even the telephone. Or obtain your private information and start hassling you through various offline messages. Why? Because they couldn’t behave on the site and you had to ban them.

I’ve had many death threats of various flavors and creativity levels. I’ve had people attempts to viciously hurt my reputation. All as a way of repaying me for an entire decade of my life at the expense of a lot of other aspects of my life and interests that I could have pursued.

Not to mention just the day to day task of making sure people generally get along without upsetting the entire apple cart and making everyone leave because of a few bad guys.

There are a number of times I have considered just throwing in the towel. However, unlike some of the other people who have done so, I realized that my services and project were a piece of myself. They were the result of a huge chunk of my life and energy and dedication. As much as I hated dealing with things now and then, it’s hard to justify throwing away a decade of your life over a few asses.

As for Sierra. Yeah, the guy who did what he was doing was a harassing ahole. It’s unfortunate that Sierra and others had to make it less about a guy who was being a total douchebag on the internet and making life difficult for people and threatening them… and more about how he was doing all of that… because he’s a woman-hating bastard just (as many commentaries and posts and blogs about the incident tried to relate it) “like so many other terrible, vile, evil, bad bad males”.

I feel that whole aspect of it really detracted from the underlying point and made it a muddled, uncomfortable discussion that put a whole lot of reasonable people into a defensive position.

That said, the day some dill on the internet scares me out of doing something I want to do - even if they have my personal information and carry it into real life - is the day I might as well just tar and feather myself. Those are just my convictions.

Of course, being scared out of doing something you love versus simply ceasing something you love because the frustration and effort and hassle involved started to seriously outweigh the positives you gain from it is entirely different.