Tech bloggers are outraged tonight over the taunting and death threats that one of our own, Kathy Sierra, received on her blog and elsewhere (see News.com blog post). In reaction to these threats, Sierra has canceled a trip to the ETech conference that's on now, and called off a presentation she was scheduled to give.
Is the blogosphere unsafe? Is it hostile to women? As Chris Pirillo writes, "The problem isn't with the blogosphere. It's with the human race." That's indeed the core problem. But the Internet amplifies human behavior. With it, bullies and psychotics have an easy-to-access, free, and anonymous channel to lob their fear bombs at their targets. It's horrid.
The Internet also amplifies the good things about us as individuals and as a society. When James Kim and family went missing, the outpouring of support on various Web sites (this one, Digg, others) was overwhelming. And Wikipedia is a staggeringly great community-created product.
The Web is a new social medium and people still have to learn how to live together in it. Sadly, that also means that we need to give up some of our innocence on the Web. One of our editors here, a veteran of TV news journalism, told me that when he was in broadcast, he never let female anchors do public appearances or report on stories from the field without a security escort. Over time, he and the people he worked with learned that such precautions were necessary.
Few online personalities take the same efforts to protect themselves online. From leaving anonymous comments open on blogs, to running pictures of our children on our sites, to posting our whereabouts on open-access publishing platforms like Twitter, many of us show what can only be called a lack of street smarts. Sierra's plight shows us what we can expect if we don't all wise up. We need to be as smart in the virtual world as we are on the streets of New York. We're going to have stalkers and bullies online. But it'd still be a good idea to take a few precautions, and when necessary, to follow up on the worst of the threats, as Sierra is doing.