Tuesday, March 27, 2007

I don't dig this "well we are just a mean culture" alibi

Aside from the fact that no body has ever used the damn things, there is another reason why my brief experiment with "Digg" recommendation buttons is now terminated. Robert Scoble, one of the bigger names among those who blog professionally about software, left a comment on his own blog post that just stunned me:

John: anonymity is a big part of it, yes. But, there’s just a culture of acceptance of making sexually crude degrading jokes online. You especially see it in the chat room on Justin.TV as well as on Digg.com and Slashdot.com’s discussion areas.

I think it +is+ a tech industry problem, by the way. Women quickly learn that they can’t participate in online forums (and, probably don’t feel safe coming to things like my Photowalking or geek/blogger dinners, which decreases their participation in this industry).

I reached that comment because it trackbacked to Kathy's post on how threats of sexual and other violence against her have mounted to the point that she is cancelling speaking engagements at technical conferences. I got to Kathy's post by way of my usual morning's read at Majikthise. Though I work in software, I had yet to encounter Kathy's clear and valuable insights on UI technology. So it its a pretty bad wreck in the Internet that casts flotsam and netsam that far across the hyperlinks. Its not new with Scoble and it wasn't new with me when I threw my two cents onto all the comment threads churned up in the wake of the hounding of Amanda and Melissa when they were elevated briefly to Edwards campaign staff: the anonymity is a little too abusable.

I say "stunned" because though I knew it was bad, I knew that flame wars and generally inflamed arguments do break out in situations where anonymity is used as cheap insurance against being accountable for antisocial behavior...I didn't have the sense, as Mr. Scoble does, that antisocial and misogynistic behavior are wide spread and enjoy any degree of a "culture of acceptance". That is some busted shit of a "culture". If community standards and a modicum of respect and self restraint are not part of the culture then what you get is a casting about for police powers to quash abuse or, as Scoble has done in protest and sympathy with Kathy, just drop out of the community and the conversation. Both of those are the death of the party. If that is all the options the abusers have left us, I am gunning for some abusers. This little party of engaged minds that has been the blogging and surfing experience as I have known it is too much a part of my life and my liberty. Those who disrupt it are the only fly in this ointment that needs any swatting.

Beyond issues of endangered freedoms, this abuse is directly an assault on the careers and incomes of its victims...which clearly appear to include a disproportionate number of women. I have worked on some software teams that had brilliant people doing the UI, and, they were, like as not, women(that is for you, JC, I know you are out there somewhere). So I went and read a few of Kathy's posts. She is now on my short list of RSS feeds for software. She is that good. I like her better than Jakob Nielsen, she is on a par with Apple's wizards and I see she's been at it as long as TOG. So scaring her away from a an O'Reilly [the publisher of great software manuals, not the fount of flatulence for Focksnooze] conference presentation is money out of her pocket the same as bowing out of the Edwards gig was money out of Amanda's pocket.

The mystery to many will be "what did she do?". If you seriously ask that, you ought to check in with a therapist. You just can't get by with presuming in all cases that gods and rapists alike are logical and apply their power only for cause. Quite simply, the existence of a victim is NOT like a marker down on the field where you should wait to hear some referee tell you what foul provoked it. Only if you think a post like this justifies death threats is there any "cause" to be found. That would be a cause found only in the festering brain of the person making the threat.

I was telling a blogging friend, Sister Novena, that Digg made my ass look fat and proved to the casual observer they had stumbled upon an unpopular blog. Always happy to find that I agree with giants, I think Scoble's characterization of Digg "culture" a far better reason to drop DIGG than my own embarrassing unpopularity. DIGG is gone from the template. You never noticed it anyway.

While I was squinting at URLs and typing this with my labored arthritic blogger-fu, Sheelzebub and Zuzu got in ahead of me but I think, for a change I am at least as annoyed and angry as that hornet's nest of bloggers. Maybe its the software connection, whatever.

If the anonymity all by itself is the only root of the problem then why isn't a professional/social site like AutoAdmit as plagued by slanderings of male law school grads as it is by slanderings of female grads? The culture cannot be dragged into court. The anonymity can only be destroyed. Some other way must be found. Unitil better norms are observed, those tools that invite the worst abuse of the anonymity should be shunned. The pushback on AutoAdmit,after the dead reputations were found in its refrigerator and the back seat of its car, did force at least one resignation. And who knows, perhaps in booting Digg, I am doing something rather than complaining and passing around other's complaints. It would be a bigger deal for some blog that depends on links for its author's living to cut some of these link inflating ties. But on the other hand, we seem to be facing a growing crisis where the lower quality and greater prevalence of abuse might become the reputation of the reputation brokers themselves and so they have links but no clicks. As of right now, I am not a user of any of these "services" like Digg. If I add any in the future, I will go read first and see if any kind of honesty or decency seems to be a norm among those who provide links and opinions.

And as for the culture...I wrote this in an E-mail of support to Kathy:
I think conservatives feel personally unsafe if any of their idols or strictures are belittled. The difference is subtle but profound: us liberals are inclined not to feel unsafe ourselves but rather to feel sympathetically, the fear of our fellows if any one of our number are threatened.

I hope the difference, finally, will be in the response: correction rather than repression is how cultures progress.


etbnc said...

A friend of mine posted some related thoughts about conversation culture at the web forum of his local newspaper:

Dialogue vs. Debate:
The goal of the forums


GreenSmile said...

I went over there. Its a pretty good list. I think I'll steal it and put it up over at Missionary Impossible.

Thanks. It is very much in the spirit I would like to see used for exchanges on blogs and elsewhere in interactive media.