Lately, this blog has been a source of despair instead of joy.
Where I used to have a lot of outside visitors, who commented regularly and seemed to like what they were reading here, I now get very few comments outside of a few core visitors who I count as my family and friends. I've come to the conclusion that with so many new and interesting voices in the blogosphere, mine just isn't all that compelling. I'm not as entertaining a writer as I thought I was, and I'm back at square one with this blog -- writing these posts for me and a small audience of family and friends, as I did when I started it back in 2003, to document one of our visits to the UK.
And I'm OK with that.
After all, the popular, successful, A-list bloggers don't just get admiring comments and strokes from their readers. They have to deal with trolls -- dreadful people who, with the security of anonymity, snipe at them with insults and meanness.
And this week, the blogosphere has been buzzing with the news that prominent blogger Kathy Sierra has cancelled all her speaking engagements and has retreated into the safety of her home, because she's being cyberstalked.
She actually received DEATH THREATS. Because of her blog, which is an informative series of posts dedicated to helping people better use the technology available to them. It is not controversial, it is not political -- this woman was just out there trying to make the Internet a better place. Because of that, she is very popular. And someone decided to cut her down to size.
And she's not alone. Several bloggers have had to deal with nasty, horrifying cyber-assaults lately.
We wouldn't allow our children to treat others this way. And I don't think most of us would choose to spend time with adults who did so, either.
Yet it has always been like this online. Back in the days of text-only online communities (remember CompuServe? Local BBSes?), there were always a few rotten apples who took great pleasure in sending nasty emails to people they knew only through their interaction on message boards and chat rooms. There's just something about being a cypher in cyberspace -- people say and do things that they wouldn't dream of doing if they were interacting with someone face to face. As far back as 1989, my husband (who was still years away from being my husband) and I had our own cyberbully, a guy who went by the handle of Scuba, who took great delight in posting nasty little messages directed to us and our friends on a local bulletin board. At the time, I was amazed at how real and frightening his messages were, and how all-consumed we were in dealing with him.
(The ironic end to the story is that we eventually met Scuba at a gathering, and in person he was not frightening at all. In fact, we ended up enjoying several drinks with him -- but that doesn't mean all such stories would end that way. There are a lot of sick people in the world, and cyberspace is just a microcosm of that. Any kind of threatening behavior is something to be taken seriously.)
But I do think that we, as a society, have become a lot meaner. We watch "American Idol" and snicker at the losers who think they can sing -- and then "vote for the worst," just to feel smug. We “tsk tsk” at Britney Spears as she has an apparent breakdown and then persist in following her every move, instead of allowing her the dignity of working through her problems in private. We slam other women’s mothering skills for the silliest of reasons (i.e., they don’t breastfeed or they take too long to wean – sometimes you just can’t win).
I've been following this story on other sites, by people who have already done a terrific job of presenting it: do check out what's been said by Denise, DrumsNWhistles, and several of the editors at BlogHer (because -- BIG SURPRISE! -- most of the victims of this kind of harrassment happen to be female). Andy Carvin is one of the prominent bloggers who has declared this Stop Cyberbullying Day as a response:
"Generally, though, I think we should all set aside some time that day to address cyberbullying. Write a blog post pointing to online resources about cyberbullying. Post a podcast about personal experiences. Create your own public service announcement about the dangers of cyberbullying and post it on YouTube. Then tag it with the phrase stopcyberbullying. If you’re uploading it somewhere that lets you type in your own tags, be sure to include it. If you’re blogging and don’t have tagging built into your blog, you can embed it with the HTML code shown here so it will be picked up by search tools like Technorati. The more people we can get blogging about it, the better, because that will catch the attention of search tools and social media websites, spreading awareness further. It will also allow us to aggregate everyone’s posts so we can see who’s participating."
So what do you do? Lisa Stone at BlogHer eloquently suggests the following:
Don't link them, don't talk about them, don't read them. As far as we're concerned, they don't exist. And amongst ourselves, I think it's time to bring the issue out of the closet, demystify it, circle our wagons and learn to roll our eyes about it together, even laugh at it. Who cares?
Are you a victim of Cyberbullies? Do you want to do more to stop it? Visit StopCyberBullying.org for tips, legal information and support.
We are all in this together.