Death Threats, Anonymity, and Blogs

I’ve been avoiding comment on the whole Sierra/Locke/etc. dust-up lately. Most of the commentary seems pretty on-the-mark, but a few usually sensible people are starting to overreact and call for self-censorship. Once the mainstream media gets hold of this next week, expect the customary cast of Congressional idiots to elevate that to calls for government mandated censorship. However the problem has been blown way out of proportion. There’s one thing that I think needs to be said that hasn’t been said yet to put this whole sordid mess in its proper perspective:

Death threats are no big deal.

I say this as someone whose been getting death threats since at least early college, before the Internet made them even less significant. I still get a few death threats a year. The frequency varies depending on whose sacred cow I’ve slaughtered lately and how vocal I’ve been. They definitely took an uptick after September 11, and have cooled down a little since then.

In my case, when I’ve been able to or bothered to identify the source, death threats come almost exclusively from young, single, right-wing males who have little connection to reality. If you’re coming from a different point in the political spectrum, you may see a different kind of person sending you death threats. I don’t know.

How do I know who these folks are? Because in more than one case I’ve talked to them, face-to-face. A couple of them really hated me viscerally and personally. (These particular individuals were actually officers in training in our nation’s armed services.) However, most of them were bigger nerds than I was, who really had no clue how to carry on a civilized conversation, a reasonable argument, or get a date on a Saturday night. They believed in a political fantasy world they learned from James Bond, sci-fi, and comic books; but they had little knowledge of real world politics, economics, or history. They’re frankly rather pathetic types, and the most they have the skills or the courage to accomplish is sending some inane anonymous comments. Whether the mechanism is IRC, e-mail, blog comments or the telephone, the key is that the mechanism is anonymous and they don’t actually have to talk to the person they’re assaulting. They’re just not that good at social interaction, as their style of conversation should prove.

I suspect they’re especially poor at talking to women, and even more so women they find attractive. They have deep self-loathing deriving directly from their sexual inexperience (which is a fancy way of saying they’re pissed off that they don’t get as much sex as they want. Indeed many of them are likely virgins.) That probably accounts for the misogynistic nature of the threats directed at attractive women like Kathy Sierra, as well as the rape threats. Whatever the attackers say, or whatever reason they may give for hating or disagreeing with a woman, what they’re more pissed off about than anything else is that she (or equally attractive members of her gender) won’t date them.

The bottom line is this: the people who make such threats are ineffective, pathetic individuals. They are no more capable of acting on a death threat than they are of getting a date with the Playboy model they jerk off to. But they are out there, and they’re going to continue to be. If you haven’t gotten any death threats before now, consider yourself lucky; but don’t expect them to go away.

When you react in terror to death threats, cancel public appearances, and go into hiding, you give these creeps far more power than they could ever have achieved on their own. When you publicize these responses, you give them far more significance than they deserve. Yes, the first time you get a death threat it’s a little scary, but if you respond to every random blog comment like it’s a fatwa from the Ayatollah himself, you’re never going to leave your house. Don’t let these insignificant losers ruin your life like they’ve already ruined their own. If you have the opportunity, challenge them directly, non-anonymously, and face to face. Watch them run. It’s rather amusing. Otherwise, laugh at the threats and then ignore them. They won’t go away, but they won’t cause any real harm. The only power they have over you is the power you grant to them, nothing more.

4 Responses to “Death Threats, Anonymity, and Blogs”

  1. Aaron Says:

    I mostly agree, but if Lennon had confronted Hinkley, you think it would have turned out differently?

  2. Doug Simpkinson Says:

    Yeah! If Lennon had confronted Hinkley, Reagan would still be alive today!

  3. Elliotte Rusty Harold Says:

    I’m not quite sure what you mean. John Hinkley had nothing to do with John Lennon’s murder. Maybe you meant Mark David Chapman?

    Either way, if you’re a president or a world famous musician you likely have a little more to worry about than computer book authors like myself and Kathy Sierra. There are some real wackos in the world, and in America they can get guns.

    However one interesting thing about both Chapman and Hinkley that may be relevant is that they did not threaten. They simply shot. I suspect this is a common pattern among real assassins who are actually dangerous. They don’t warn you first. The purpose of a death threat is to terrify, not to kill. Once the target stops being terrified, the threat loses all effectiveness.

  4. Aaron Says:

    Alright Doug & Elliotte, it was early and I got my assassin names mixed up…so shoot me. My main point is that even real wackos indicate their intentions and that anyone making death threats should be held accountable. You want peace, think peaceful thoughts.

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