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April 01, 2007


Lesli Schauf

You speak of sites that want to be taken seriously. I don't know that meankids.org wanted to be taken "seriously", per se. It wasn't created as a place for thoughtful discussion. It was created as a venting-zone, a place to for people to let off steam, joke around, and talk a little bit of trash without actually doing anything about the person or incident. There are plenty of sites on the net that are places for people to have fun, rather than be a site to be "taken seriously". Unfortunately, without a strong community moderator, these "venting" sites can, and do, spiral out of control pretty easily. Moderating a community is no job for delicate flowers, the very busy, or the thin-skinned. You have to be willing to get out the Bitch Stick on a fairly regular basis, and you have to be fast to act. I don't know what happened at meankids.org, I don't know where it tipped from being venting to being abuse - and I don't know why a moderator didn't step in and say, "Okay. That? Right there? That's over the line."

People should know that in addition to contacting the police - an utterly correct thing to do, in Kathy Sierra's case, some of those posters not only stuck their toes over the line but leapfrogged right over it - they should contact the webmaster and the web host of sites that allow physically abusive speech. Most of us have a clause in our TOS that prevents hate speech, threats of violence, or "material that is defamatory or abusive in nature". Web hosts do not scan our clients' content; but we will act if someone reports a site that's threatening physical harm to someone. Threats of physical harm are against the law. They are not protected speech, the same way that yelling "fire!" in a crowded theater is not protected speech. Something going on, on our servers, that's against the law...most web hosts will act on that. Action could come in the form of demanding that the offending material be removed, site suspension, account termination...any number of things. The exact action is up to the individual web host's policies (which are often not made public, nor are subject to influence by any complaintant).

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