I was disappointed to see Kathy Sierra leave Twitter, but respect her decision to do so. I read her writing about why she left, but I also dug through past Twitter postings with the individual she references, Rob Graham. Twitter is not the best of places for thoughtful discussion when parties agree, but it is especially bad when two people have views that are diametrically opposed.
I knew the people involved with Kathy’s original leaving years ago. Or I should say, I knew a group of people who got conflated with others in a case of rotten timing.
Three different events happened in the same period.
1. A group of people wanted to start a site where people could speak freely, even critically. Abusive, childish photos were posted related to Kathy, as well as racist comments made about another well known woman in the tech community. The site was immediately shut down by the originators. Rogers Cadenhead wrote a good summary of this event.
2. In comments to a weblog post Kathy posted, a man suggested the worst, most violent act be committed on Kathy. Later, we discovered he was a British ex-pat who lived in Spain.
3. Another individual posted personal information about Kathy, including her Social Security Number and address. He did so in a highly fabricated context, making the act that much worse. In a 2008 New York Times article, a man who goes by the name “weev” took credit for the posting. Weev’s real name is Andrew Auernheimer. Auernheimer also took credit for the posting in an article for Esquire.
Individually, these three acts would be enough to stress any individual, but coming at the same time, it could feel like a conspiracy to the impacted person. But it was not a conspiracy. Each was an individual act, not some form of black internet ops of the unknowns against the famous. It is important to understand that the acts were independent of each other.
Andrew “weev” Auernheimer was arrested and convicted for violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) for an unrelated incident, but was exonerated and released earlier this year. He was somewhat of a cause célèbre in tech and transparency circles, where the CFAA is universally loathed. Understandably, Kathy was less than happy about the celebration of a man who claimed responsibility for a posting that caused her so much pain.
Fast forward to recent events. October 4, Rob Graham, who tweets as ErrataRob got into a Twitter discussion with Kathy Sierra (@seriouspony) and other individuals. I managed to capture a PDF of the tweets and replies, though by this time Kathy’s tweets are gone. You’ll have to dig through the recent postings until you get to the right day (October 4). The links to conversations work, so you can expand the discussions if you wish.
Graham believes, strongly, that weev was incorrectly prosecuted for violations of the CFAA. Evidently, one or more individuals expressed an opinion to Graham that weev should be jailed for what happened to Kathy. He disagrees with this because, as he later wrote. “there is no evidence supporting such a conviction”.
As I pointed out on Twitter, we can’t believe Weev either way. He is notoriously unreliable. We can’t trust his denials today, but at the same time, we can’t trust his statements from 2008. As I pointed out on Twitter, Weev has claimed credit for trolls that he was at best only peripherally involved in. Yet, Kathy Sierra insultingly claims this means I somehow believe Weev.
Kathy wrote of her reaction:
But a few days ago, in the middle of one of those “discussions”, this time with @erratarob, I realized it wasn’t worth it. He concluded that I was just trolling so people would troll me back. I asked him what he thought I should have done. And his answer was “don’t feed the trolls.” “Ignore it and move on.” Perhaps Rob didn’t know that I’d already tried that for six years, but that it was weev who kept that damn thing alive no matter how gone I was. He managed to tweet to my social security number not long before he went to prison, and well before I resurfaced. No, I didn’t troll him into that. I didn’t “engage”.
But Rob didn’t do anything wrong. He was saying what he truly believes. What, sadly, a whole lot of people in tech believe. Rob just happened to be the last “you asked for it” message I wanted to hear. So I just stopped.
What Graham had said was:
@seriouspony you are a passive-aggressive troll, a different kind of troll than weev’s naked aggression, but a troll nonetheless.
Graham stated he politely responded to Kathy’s Twitter posts; I can’t quite see the politeness in this response. Regardless, it’s important to understand the context of Kathy’s “you asked for it”.
Rob Graham and Kathy Sierra approached this Twitter discussion from positions that are black and white. Graham doesn’t believe weev’s claims, and definitely doesn’t believe that weev should be prosecuted for something without proof. Kathy believes the claims weev made in the past, and while she isn’t advocating jail time for him, she is not happy with the acclaim weev is receiving in tech circles. There is no middle ground, no gray area where they can meet and find some commonality.
This really is the end of the story. Rob Graham did not drive Kathy off of Twitter, the web, or the internet. Kathy decided Twitter was not a healthy place for her, and she left. They disagree on whether weev is the man responsible for the posting of her personal information. They disagree in how trolls should be handled.
There is no need of a posse. Nothing needs to be done about this specific event. No change needs to be made, and no larger story needs to be told.
That tech women have been the recipients of harassment is a larger story, and continues to be written. The never ending flow of naughty boys and girls who infest our online lives is another larger story, and I don’t see an ending for this one. But the exchange between Kathy and Rob is not a chapter in either story. It’s just two people who don’t know each other and who profoundly disagree discovering no number of 140 character or less posts will change these circumstances.
If you respect and/or care for the individuals, you should support them whatever the cause of pain and discomfort, but that doesn’t mean you have to find someone to hang over the nearest branch. Not every difficult event that happens to people we care about requires a posse.