Fear of writing

Kathy Sierra suffered a meltdown. Multiple stressors came together to move her away from her work. She all but stopped blogging and she withdrew from a conference speaking engagement.

Earlier this week Kathy called me and I assured her that the work was there waiting for her, that she will never want for creative purpose or opportunity. She proved me right a day or two ago with this post, a statement regretting her needful departure from her current blog, and a list of many directions, signposts pointing every which way to the multiple paths she might follow. I wish her the best of luck choosing the right path and following it with the passionate conviction she brought to her erstwhile blog.

This topic is personal for me because I owned the domain name for a blog called MeanKids. It was a group blog with multiple authors and no moderation. The name of that blog has become a shorthand for threatening behavior on the net.

I’ve avoided comment so far because I don’t know how to address this without continuing the pain and discomfort that the whole matter has brought to the surface. Still, I think it is important to begin to piece together different perspectives. Here are some facts:

  • Satire, not cruelty, was the intended content of the MeanKids site.
  • I am very distressed by Kathy Sierra’s suffering. She knows this, and is generally grateful for my support.
  • When over-the-top cruelty showed up on MeanKids (from a single author and an anonymous commenter) I shut the site down. Chris Locke and Jeneane Sessum supported and encouraged that shut-down. I shared the commenter’s IP address with Kathy so she could collate it with some actual threats she had received on her own blog,. Meanwhile, the author of the post came forward privately and assured Kathy of the satiric non-threatening intention of the collage that contained the fearsome symbol.
  • Kathy’s perception of two Kathy-related posts as scary was influenced by horrible stuff that she had received from her own readers in email and comments on her own blog.

Deconstruction of the situation should reveal that while a few close friends and I were associated with a site that published satire and parody, there was a confluence of threats in Kathy’s own blog and personal challenges she herself faced that led her to bring her fears to broad attention. The MeanKids blog was not the proximate cause for her fears, but it was graphically outrageous enough to illustrate them and to permit Kathy’s readers to infer the culpability of the writers posting as MeanKids.

It is difficult to write anything balanced about this without appearing to blame the victim, and that is not at all what I am doing. Nevertheless, at some point people need to be able to isolate root causes of the mob mentality that has effectively silenced some of the people who wrote as MeanKids. What did Kathy intend when she addressed her huge online audience with a post that conflated real threats with our parody and satiric criticism?

I’m afraid that we have quite a ways to go before we reach true clarity on this concern, but now — three weeks after the curtain came down on MeanKids — I am no longer afraid to write about it.

There are many people who encouraged moderation, who didn’t stoke the flames of misunderstanding and whose good insights I recommend to everyone thinking about these matters. None of these people support hate speech, misogyny, or violence and bullying on or off the web — nor do they support a mob mentality and a rush to judgment. Here’s the beginning of a long list of people who support a balanced discussion…

  • Zo
  • Ronni Bennett
  • Betsy Devine
  • Mitch Ratcliffe
  • J. Black
  • Shelley Powers
  • Dean Landsman
  • Rogers Cadenhead
  • Laura Lemay
  • Nicole Simon
  • Chris Pirillo
  • AKMA

Update… I’m glad to see today’s posts from Jeneane! I feel a little bit like the turtle who fell asleep on the warm pavement while crossing the road. Turtle wakes up, sticks his neck out and ZOOOM, almost has his head crushed by a passing truck. Turtle pulls his head back in and thinks “I’ll just hang out inside until it’s safer out there.”

Jeneane, let’s just get ourselves across this road!

[tags]MeanKids, MKULTRA 2.0[/tags]

This entry was posted in Best o' Sandhill, Humor, People, Politics, Truth and Falsehood, Web Publishing, Writing. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.


  1. jeneane
    Posted April 8, 2007 at 7:31 | Permalink

    I started counting the combined years of blogging — never mind Conversational Internet Residency — of the Famous Four accused by Sierra.

    I’ve come up with something like (blogging alone) 25 years. Through death threats, I’ll-fire-you threats, family threats, pointed racist hate speech (okay me, not you frank) and more bullshit than most of today’s pseudo-journ0-blog-newbies can shake a stick at. (I know, I’m making friends and influencing people over here.)

    Hysteria, half-truths and out-of-context word manipulation have not only “tricked the brains” of blog users/readers in this latest melodrama, but have also driven at least one person off the Internet without a book contract waiting.

    Hasn’t been so fun for those who’ve stuck around either, eh?

    So, back to what is REALLY important: Why did this turtle cross the road?

    To get to the other FUCKING SIDE!

  2. flic
    Posted April 8, 2007 at 8:42 | Permalink

    MKULTRA? Hmmm. Interesting.

  3. Posted April 8, 2007 at 9:07 | Permalink

    flic… 2.0, two point oh, get your tinfoil hats at the concession stand and settle in for the ride…

    jeneane… do we need Famous Four spandex outfits and capes? I miss Alan. I’m sure he’ll be back when he’s all firewalled up.

  4. Aunt Hentic
    Posted April 9, 2007 at 2:53 | Permalink

    Brrrrrr……it’s a cold one here in EkalakaLake! I’m still wearing my long-jills LOL. But it looks like Mr.Sun will be peeking out. I hope the chocolate eggs I have hidden for those rascally red-headed neighborhood triplets don’t suffer from the morning dew!

    Funnel of Fun

    You can create a make shift funnel for anything - cooking, placing oil in your car, etc. by using a piece of tin foil. Double it up and wrap it in a cone like shape. Tear the end and there you have it!

    Hot Cross Buns

    Want to keep rolls warmer, longer? Place a piece of tin foil in the bottom of a basket or serving container. Place a napkin on top and the rolls on top of that. The tin foil will help insulate the heat and keep the rolls fresh and warm!

    I’m going to go sit on the porch swing and drink a nice hot mug of cocoa. I like to add those little marshmallows, sinful, yet so delish. Anyone care to join me? (((((hugs)))))

    Have A Good One!!!!


  5. Toby Polio
    Posted April 9, 2007 at 3:31 | Permalink

    Well, I still don’t want to jump to any conclusions. I think Sierra has many valid points and interesting illustrations and is deserving of our benefit of the doubt. She seems like a very nice person. Let’s take this hysteria down a notch or two, people. After all, we are human beings. You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.

  6. Anonymous
    Posted April 9, 2007 at 9:10 | Permalink

    Paynter: “jeneane… do we need Famous Four spandex outfits and capes? I miss Alan. I’m sure he’ll be back when he’s all firewalled up.”

    So much for Paynter’s good sense, remorse and amends. Read: Jeneane, we’ll all be back to malicious business soon enough.


  7. Posted April 9, 2007 at 1:45 | Permalink

    How embarrassing it must be for you, to be so antagonistic and divisive. I certainly understand your desire to remain anonymous. It would take strength of character to stand behind your own words. You and your ilk are the problem. Not Jeneane. Not Alan. Not even me.

  8. Joey
    Posted April 9, 2007 at 2:48 | Permalink

    Am I welcomed here? If peace is the word, I’ll do what I can. I’d just like to see the facts out. You stated things well in your post. Thank you.

  9. Tree Shapiro
    Posted April 9, 2007 at 7:19 | Permalink

    for christsakes mcd, stop leaving cloying posts here and fawning posts at scoble’s. in the interest of transparency, your bullshit is annoying. wtf are you talking about if you never read meankids?

    It’s good to see him remembered and missed. It’s got to be a lonely world for the ol’ Lemur right about now. One can only hope he has some good friends to get him through this.

    last time i checked you can attend any funeral you want, for free. you might want to give one of your boring eulogies there. you know, to like a dead person and shit.

    what are your thoughts on elective cesarian sections? what’s the best restaurant in baden-baden? what’s your game assclown?

  10. Tree Shapiro
    Posted April 9, 2007 at 8:02 | Permalink

    i can’t fucking believe this one you left on cute kitty’s blog you clownshod janus:

    You should rightly brand your ideas and potentially create a network of affiliate consultants/marketing professionals/trainers to take the ideas into the marketplace and speak/train/consult. Meet directly with these “vetted” professionals and see the power of your ideas change the world of training, consulting and marketing.

    Tara would probably be a good fit for building such a business. You have similar ideas.

    Life will be good again!

    thanks dr. phil mccrevice. what an inspiration you are to all y’all!

    you kissass motherfucker. you eggs benedict arnold.

    i was going to go to a cockfight tonight but i think i’ll sit in and watch you make a prick out of yourself. haven’t laughed so much since your vice president shot the old geezer in the face.

    life will be good again says pollyfuckinanna.