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How do you deal with unprincipled citizen journalists?

A prominent blogger seeks police help after receiving death threats. Some suggest the blogosphere needs a code of conduct.

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Ten or so years ago, the Internet was much like the Wild West: Law enforcement hadn't come to the frontier yet, and people's behavior often depended on an unwritten code of conduct.

This didn't stop some folks from making wildly inflammatory or threatening statements, especially in online forums. But over time, the Web evolved so that other members of a forum or list could police or rate comments. Slashdot.com, a website that has a rating system for posts, is a classic example.

Today, much of the Internet's frontier is more settled, but locations still exist where passions and comments run free.

Take blogs, for instance.

Blogs, and how people respond to them, made news recently when prominent blogger Kathy Sierra announced that she was withdrawing as a speaker from a technology conference in San Diego because of death threats. The threats also led her to suspend her blog, "Creating Passionate Users". In her last posting, she writes that while many have come to her support since she made the issue public in late March, others have attacked her, making more threats.

Ms. Sierra notes that all bloggers have "trolls," people who visit a blog primarily to attack or condemn the author. Until recently, none of these trolls had threatened to kill her. Then, on another site, a posting appeared with a picture of a noose beside her head and the words "the only thing Kathy has to offer me is that noose in her neck size."

The threats, including some that appeared to come from fellow bloggers, became progressively worse over the next few days. Finally, Sierra decided that she'd had enough. Threatening someone with death is a federal crime, and police are now trying to find the perpetrators, who often made their threats anonymously.

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