There's a line between abusive comments and criminal speech.
I read very few blogs on a regular basis, and I've never become enmeshed in the "blogosphere," the entire collection of blogs and bloggers that link to and quote one another. But among those sites I do glance at regularly is Kathy Sierra's "Creating Passionate Users" blog, where she posts thoughtfully about code, interface design, marketing, t-shirts, and a host of other technology-related issues. Although we have friends in common (long-time Mac writers Tom Negrino and Dori Smith, who work with us on Take Control), I've never met or even corresponded with Kathy before.
Being familiar with Kathy's writing, I was shocked to read her reports of receiving death threats on her blog and sexually abusive posts on several other blogs operated in part by a variety of apparently well-known names in the blogosphere. Especially disgusting is that none of this abuse seems to be directed against anything Kathy wrote, and frankly, nothing she writes could possibly engender such a response from any sane person. All the vitriol is purely personal, and graphically misogynistic beyond belief.
The famous New Yorker cartoon said that on the Internet, no one knows you're a dog. But making death threats is a criminal offense in many parts of the world, and since Kathy has properly informed law enforcement, I sincerely hope that the dogs in question are unmasked, charged, and convicted like the criminals they are.
This appalling situation illustrates how the Internet is no longer separate from reality; what happens on the Internet nowadays is as real as any other event in your home town. Unlike equivalently unpleasant plot lines played out in both fictional and "reality-based" entertainment media, this is happening to a real person, in the real world.
Much is said in the journalistic world these days about how the Internet enables public conversation (with the implication that the conversation is about important topics), but we all need to realize that with the ability to say whatever we want comes the responsibility to participate in a meaningful way. To paraphrase my mother, "If you don't have anything useful to say, don't say anything at all."
Thanks to you all for participating in the extremely civil community of TidBITS readers. And Kathy, all I can say is that I'm sorry this happened, but perhaps the outrage we're seeing will help rein in future unpleasantness.
[02-Apr-07 Update: Since I wrote the original piece above on 27-Mar-07, there have been hundreds of comments on Kathy's blog (most, but not quite all, highly supportive), an update from Kathy, a variety of news stories, and - happily - productive communication between Kathy and several of the people who were associated with the sites in question. The identity of the perpetrator remains unknown, but it seems that there has at least been progress to my concluding hope above - that out of this terrible event can come more effective and civil communication online.]