UPDATE: I just saw the hard copy of today’s NYT and this story lands on the front page! First time in all the years I’ve been blogging I made the paper, let alone the front page. I guess I have that hazer-fraudster, ‘Neil Pomper’ (or whoever he really is) to thank for this.
Thanks to Brad Stone for including the story of my Blogger.com fraudster-impersonator website in A Call for Manners in the World of Nasty Blogs. Here’s what he wrote about my personal harassment experience:
For the last four years, Richard Silverstein has advocated for Israeli-Palestinian peace on a blog (richardsilverstein.com) that he maintains from Seattle.
People who disagree with his politics frequently leave harassing comments on his site. But the situation reached a new low last month, when an anonymous opponent started a blog in Mr. Silverstein’s name that included photos of Mr. Silverstein in a pornographic context.
“I’ve been assaulted and harassed online for four years,” he said. “Most of it I can take in stride. But you just never get used to that level of hatred.
The premise for Stone’s piece was the brouhaha surrounding Kathy Sierra who has been vilified because she upheld her right at her blog to delete comments she found offensive. The abuse even went so far as someone who juxtaposed a photo of Sierra next to a noose. Much of the conversation in the blog world has circled around the notion that women are the special objects of much, if not most, of such abuse. And that men are often the perpetrators.
To combat such a nasty phenomenon, Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia and Tim O’Reilly have proposed a blogging code of civility (Wikipedia link) which would encourage bloggers to maintain a certain standard within their comment threads by deleting comments that violated those standards. In other words, the code is meant to upgrade the blog conversation and put a certain amount of pressure on those who might violate it to keep their words within the bounds of civility.
Speaking as someone who has been the object of various forms of blog harassment for the entire four years in which this blog has existed, I’m all in favor of anything that addresses the issue of abuse and hate speech. In fact, I have written many posts on the subject using my own abusers here at this blog as my subjects. That being said, I’m not quite sure how useful or effective such a voluntary code of conduct will be. And after all, we bloggers are human. If we adopt one of the several proposed codes and violate them ourselves, perhaps we’re leaving ourselves open to further ridicule.
To me, it seems a no-brainer that blog comment threads should be monitored closely by the owner. I don’t believe in absolute free speech when it comes to my blog threads. Otherwise, I’d be vilified daily with some unspeakable hate speech. Anyone who complains about comments I delete doesn’t understand the nature of a blog–at least MY blog. I see my commenters as visitors in my virtual home. They don’t have to like me and they can say they don’t; but they sure can’t take a dump on my doorstep without my showing them the door. Someone’s right to post comments here is not an entitlement. And with that right comes responsibilities. If you don’t like the terms, then don’t comment.
Another matter that may not be addressed in the code is that abuse can go beyond a blog’s comment threads. What can the code do about trolls and stalkers who do what Neil Pomper has done in creating a site that impersonates me in order to harass me? I note the interesting fact that Stone mentions that Heather Armstrong of Dooce has faced almost the exact same predicament. One of her tormentors created a site that impersonates her. This person also stole copyright images of her including her children and posted on the offending site. The same thing has happened to me. I’ve e mailed Heather to find out more about what she went through and how she dealt with it. I hope to hear back from her.
I’d like to see a code of conduct encourage sites like Blogger.com to enforce their terms of service more vigorously in shutting down harassing, defamatory sites like this. Why is it OK for Blogger to maintain some claim of non-responsibility for material like that which victimized Heather and I? Let’s bring Blogger to the table as well to follow their own code of conduct and thereby show respect to not just their own clients, but those whom their clients abuse and hurt.
I’m hoping that Blogger will take a bit more notice of a nasty review in the New York Times (though the story unfortunately does not mention the company’s name) than it might of my personal correspondence.
Brad also maintains his own person blog, Brad’s Sketchpad, which you should check out.