The Sierra Saga Part 1: Dissecting the Creation of the Kathy Sierra Blog Storm

For me it has been a long three days. I cannot begin to imagine how horrible it has been for Kathy Sierra. I cannot imagine how difficult it has been for the likes of Jeneane Sessum, Frank Paynter, Alan Herrell, and Chris Locke. This entire ordeal has also had some collateral damage of others involved, including Tara Hunt, Robert Scoble and his wife Maryam. Some of the people I knew better than others, some I had never heard of before, but all have been affected by this online tragedy. I am going to dissect the information I was able to gather, add my own opinion and commentary to it, and try to remain objective in spite of the editorial. This is by no means the full account and in no way represents all of the facts. These are facts and information only available through what I was able to read and gather online. I am sure if all the facts were known, no innuendo, conjecture or assumptions would be floating around. The blogosphere is rampant with this and I hope not to add to it. I am going to post this in separate parts because even my ADD cannot hold out long enough for what I have written.

This tsunami began not on the day Kathy Sierra posted about her cancellation of her appearance at ETech and about the death threats she received. It may have started long before, but the most relevant beginning was when Tara Hunt posted an article in early February about Higher Purpose. The comment section there became an emotionally debated article and during that debate, the phrase “Mean Kids” was used. Frank Paynter refers to the flap in a post dated February 8, 2007, and in fact Kathy herself makes the first comment, making light of the “mean kids reference”.

Chris Locke reveals that following the exchange, a group decided to set up a new site and call it MeanKids.org. He stated to a reporter:

“…some of us thought afterwards that it would be amusing to formalize (and goof on) the “mean kids” slur, so we set up a blog by that name.”

Frank Paynter more eloquently states:

“MeanKids was purposeful anarchy. I thought the people at MeanKids would create art and criticism, pointed and insulting satire, but not foster a climate of fear.”

At this point nothing has happened other than a setting up of a site called Mean Kids. In my mind, Kathy herself in a self deprecating manner acknowledged the satirical nature of the idea by her comment. No lines had been crossed to date. The creation of this site was to amuse those involved in the group.

It is unclear from the information available a complete list of who was involved in the group at this point. We do know that others were asked to be a part of the community through invitations such as Tom Matrullo of Improprieties, as he states:

I was invited to participate in Meankids back in Feb. by Chris Locke. I saw Jeneane and Frank were involved, both people I have come to know, admire, and like.

We now have the beginning of a list of the involved people in MeanKids.org, although not a complete list, and not a list of the others that may have been invited as was Tom Matrullo. We do not know the list of possible authors.

Now back to Kathy’s post about what she believed was the beginning. She states that there was a “death threat” stated in her comments, which she deleted. There has been a number of people say that this in no way is related to any of the websites or anything else, and I must say it is obvious to me as well. This is a troll that commented on her own personal site. We do not know who left the comment or its purpose. Some say it is not even classified as a death threat, but to the person it is directed to, if they feel the threat, we cannot argue their feelings.

Where I feel I need to interject my opinion is that it is not clear and not evident that this coincidental comment and the creation of the meankids.org site are at all related. I have to assume they are not. I could not find any evidence that one was related to the other. Kathy seems to want to connect these dots and I cannot given what I know. At this point the only possible lawbreaker or responsible person is a nutjob leaving a comment called “siftee”. I know some out there have done their diligent Google searches and believe they have identified the culprit. I don’t attempt to go down that path yet. I am going to back to the other parties to the complaint.

Not being able to go to the MeanKids.org site, I cannot surmise what Chris Locke refers to at first having “a lot of fun”, unless of course he refers to distasteful postings referred to by Frank as he states:

Misogynistic postings at MeanKids.org led me to try to moderate, but indeed the group there was of the “You Own Your Own Words” tradition, so moderating or central editorial control wouldn’t work. I tore the site down.

I think it is important to note the reference above to the YOYOW tradition. Chris refers to that in his own posting:

“I was a conference host on the Well 15 years ago where the core ethos was acronymized to YOYOW — You Own Your Own Words. This has remained a guiding principle for me ever since. I will not take responsibility for what someone else said, nor will I censor what another individual wrote. However, it was clear that Sierra was upset, so it seemed the best course to make the whole site go away.”

In my opinion, it seems that within the ranks of the group conscience became an issue, and they themselves could not agree on a course of action. Chris goes on to state:

“Due to administrative considerations not under my control — and yes, some tasteless posts (though they were not mine) — the site was taken down.”

Chris recognizes that there were tasteless posts, and that he did not author them. The site was torn down by Frank we know, but Chris seems to intimate even though Sierra was upset, the site was taken down out of his control. This is a very unclear statement in my eyes, but it could be just poorly worded.

We find that Tara states that she believed the site was taken down after an email to Jeneane Sessum by Kathy Sierra. These may be the administrative considerations as stated, it may be the reference to Sierra being upset. In my opinion, Chris seems to imply that he would have continued the site if he had the control over being able to stop its demise. I can only make this assumption because of the next step in the story. I’m not trying to single Chris out but I only have actions and those seem to outweigh the words here.

I want to inject some opinion here that I feel is important that seems to be lost in the argument and where I believe all involved up to this point have a certain amount of culpability. Whoever the list of persons are that are responsible for setting up the meankids.org site, contributing to its content, and have stood by while comments were made are solely responsible for anything that had transpired to this point. Whether its guilt by association, collateral damage or otherwise, I do not condone this type of cyberbullying. To me, that is what we have at this point, and where everyone was given a chance to take a step back and see it for what it was and put a stop to it. Sure making fun of people and calling them out and having your fun was a hoot at the time, but stop being childish and go forward. I know that feeling, I think I dogpiled Britney Spears a few times. Yeah, we call out celebs and in this case Kathy and others may be looked upon as celebs, I get that point.

Hugh MacLeod vividly describes the scene as:

“OK, so you weren’t the actual jock who raped the cheerleader. But it seems you were in the posse circling them, chanting ‘Go go go go go go go…’ “

We all know what happened to the cheerleaders in that Jodie Foster movie. This may be a bit of a stretch given that using the word rape here is uncalled for given the facts to date. I only know my own emotions and I’m angry and hurt and we say angry and hurtful things when in that state, and it does describe my feelings on the matter. Some hurtful and hateful things were written on meankids.org, and some of it I have seen and now wished I had not since it was about a friend that has never done anything to deserve the post.

Everyone at this time is given the opportunity to walk away, or to take a different fork in the road. It may be that here is where a threshold was reached and a poor decision was made. Chris Locke goes forward with a new venture.

Coming Up The Sierra Saga Part 2: Big Bad Bob and the Lull Before the Kathy Sierra Blog Storm

Tags: Kathy Sierra, Jeneane Sessum, Frank Paynter, Alan Herrell, Chris Locke, , , Maryam Scoble, , Tom Matrullo, Hugh MacLeod

Comments

  1. Thanks for pulling together a summary and realizing that a lot of people and reputations have been damaged. I’d really like to see a firm timeline of things that talks about facts and not just allegations.

    Kathy’s transition from pissed off and annoyed to fearful clearly happened over time – but it seems that Kathy contacted meankids folks and the site was taken down. She then contacted the unclebob folks and THAT site was taken down.

    Why did she fail to mention those back channel communications in her post or refute those claims by Chris Locke?

    I haven’t even see anyone bother asking those questions.

    Her description makes it sound like the meankids site was taken down to protect the founders from legal action.

  2. Linda says:

    Anyone who is visible will be fair game for trolls.

    In reading some of the threatening posts Ms. Sierra listed, I would be willing to bet that these trolls were smoking crack…heroin……(they say meth is big down south) …something more than just booze.

    Lot of that going around. (Oh yes…lets not forget Ridalin, Prozac, etc….Mix that with some Ecstacy and a few beers – what do you get??

    GOD KNOWS!!)

    Those trolls were stoned. When they woke up the next morning, they probably didn’t even remember any of it.

    I was attacked by trolls on a consumer site. (Wow. I had never been hated by strangers before.)

    My trolls learned the names of the people involved in my scam, and CALLED them on the phone. (1000 miles away….! ).

    Then they hacked my hotmail account and started threatening me with lawsuits, etc..

    In short, they really made my life miserable for a few months.

    (I ignored them; they went away.)

    But no death threats.

    Why?

    Because I’m OLD and UGLY. (Praise the Lord).

    None of that sexual stuff with me – that’s what REALLY ignites the danger. Drugs, testosterone, and internet anonymity)

    Poor Ms Sierra has the misfortune to be young and pretty.

    And the imprudence to post her own photo.

    It’s going to happen.

    I think she should come back to the blogosphere…..or not…since she has kids, and then it DOES become a problem.

    BUT… at least the kids would get to see the real world as it really exists. They would be more intelligent, aware, and informed when they go out into that world.

    Just my 2 cents worth…

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