I didn’t comment on the Adria Richards story because I wanted to see how it panned out before I said anything. But here goes.
To Summarise? Adria Richards overheard two men sitting behind her at PyCon making frankly childish jokes about dongles and forking. She spun round, snapped a photo of them and posted it on Twitter with a summary of their joke. PyCon officials intervened and dealt with it. However, this didn’t stop here. One of the men was fired from his job.
Angry at this, a variety of Internet heroes came out in full force harassing Richards’ own site and that of SendGrid (her employer). Both were subject to threats and DDOS attacks. Richards personally received rape and death threats including the picture of a decapitated body with the caption “when I am done”. There was a concerted effort by 4Chan to get her fired and rather than stand by an employee SendGrid caved in an fired her.
Everything about this story is stupid and gets stupider at every stage.
I don’t know about you, but I come from a culture where everyone makes “dirty jokes”. I do feel that Adria Richards responded in a bad way to this. The photo and tweet was a pretty hefty escalation. I don’t think she should have done that even if there was no backlash.
One of the men was fired for silly jokes about dongles then WTF. That does seem a bit excessive.
However Adria’s story isn’t the only one. Woman says something about sexism. The hordes of anonymous internet denizens rise from it’s murky depths and issue rape and death threats. Woman runs because she is clearly outnumbered and often leaves whatever scene this occurred in entirely.
She isn’t the only one. We remember other women who have done similar things. Some within atheism/skepticism/freethought communities. Misogyny in online spaces is rife mainly because it is easy to say things and not be held accountable to them.
Then people decide what she could have done to avoid this. It’s a common thought experiment particularly when looking at rape. Well hindsight is 20/20. If I didn’t give that con artist the money I wouldn’t be looking wistfully at sandwiches like Tiny Tim looks at turkeys. Shouldn’t have given her that money. Shouldn’t have made a fuss. Should have a better sense of humour. Should be able to go “tss! Silly Buggers” and let it slide. Shouldn’t have walked home with that man if you didn’t want sex. Shouldn’t have gone out. Shouldn’t have worn that outfit. Shouldn’t have drunk that. Should have eaten more garlic to repel him with your “Dragonbreath”.
It doesn’t matter whether Adria Richards was right or wrong, what matters is that the backlash was indicative of incredible sexism and hate.
Even today, the victims of harassment generally are the more punished. Anita Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter while making a lot more money was then subject to demands to stick to a unfeasible time table and further harassment including lawyering up. And when she did make her video people complained about video quality and more threats. Hell let’s look at the Steubenville Rape Case. The rapists got excellent media coverage which was frankly shocking to someone living in the aftermath of the Delhi Rapes in India. In addition the fact that the school tried to cover it up was astonishing. And the most astonishing part of all that was that a single blogger traded EVERYTHING in her life to get justice for the defendant. She was harassed, given death threats and even sued for her actions. Her best friend even abandoned her because football was more important than some girl’s life.
Hindsight is 20/20. If one signed the winning numbers in a lotto ticket then one would be a millionaire. It’s easy to say that on the day of the Lotto Result. Likewise it is easy to say that if the victim of the Delhi Rape just got on a different bus the world would be a very different place. And just like the Delhi case, the Adria Richards case carried on. The victim was blamed for not behaving the way she should have behaved to avoid this situation rather than looking into the behaviour of the company involved and the harassers.
Saying “rape threats are terrible” is fine. Saying that they are terrible but she shouldn’t have tweeted that picture is trying to imply she got threatened for tweeting the picture.
Rape, Death Threats and Harassment are not the price of admission to the Internet no matter what people say. It’s not an acceptable threat to levy at anyone who breaks the rules of any society or for simply making a big noise about something. And we should not fire those who are subject to those kind of threats unless they broke a employment law.
SendGrid were wrong to fire her. As was the company that fired one of the men.
The harassers are wrong to harass her.
That’s really all there is to this. The other issues are just incidental to the event.