Twitter: Please Give Us Your Side of the Story
Warning: This is a frank post with coarse language. I felt I needed to be clear about the kind of harassment I'm talking about. Please do not read if you are sensitive. That means you Mom and Dad!
I have been thinking about this for hours and feel compelled to blog about it. The problem is I’m utterly torn on what to say. I don’t follow Ariel, so I first saw Evan Williams’ Tweet about people joining a mob without the facts—IMHO one of the ugliest and most pervasive things about the Web these days. I am friends with Evan and a fan of Twitter, and have felt bad for all the piling on they’re getting this week (even though as a reporter, I’ve had to write about it as well), so I immediately felt for him. Then, I read Ariel’s post.
Given that I’ve done national press for two weeks for my book and every single person has asked me about SXSW, I don’t think I need to explain why I can relate to what Ariel’s going through. I have several people who have continued to personally harass me since—some on BusinessWeek’s site, some on Tech Ticker, and some still on Twitter. And “cunt” is one of the nicer things I’ve been called. In the days after SXSW my husband had to read some truly shocking and horrible things about me by some truly depraved people. My parents could read that stuff. My niece could read it. And it’s all still out there on the Web. It’s pretty horrific. Especially since – at worst—all I did to deserve this was ask questions people didn’t like.
That said, it never would have occurred to me to ask Twitter to ban anyone, and I have defended Twitter in interview after interview after interview. It’s not Twitter’s fault people are jerks. There are a million mega-phones for people to hate me on the Web. And, personally, I deal with it by just not reading it. Because, stalking and harassment is impossible to control, and I would drive myself nuts trying. I just view it as a price of what I do for a living. And really, more good stuff is written about me than bad. And the bad is mostly by anonymous cowards who no one pays attention to anyway.
So, before I started to write this, I found myself pulled by both sides, I guess. Because I hate mobs and hype cycles—and I’ve been the target of them. And I still don’t know Twitter’s side of the story. But I also hate harassment by cowards online no matter the medium—and I know how Ariel feels.
Then I talked to my husband, who was deeply upset by Ariel’s post. If you think it’s hard to read about men saying they all raped you in Austin last night, try reading that – and so much more—about your wife from miles away. While I just decided not to read all the noise, and to hold my head high and move on, SXSW was incredibly hard on Geoff. He sees how hard I work. He knows me. And, of course, as my husband, he is incredibly protective of me. At the time, he was very upset more mutual friends of ours didn’t come to my defense publicly, and this post brought up all those feelings. At the time, he never thought to ask to have anyone banned either, but now, feels people should have some recourse aside from quitting Twitter and walking away from the Web.
We’re both holding out hope that there’s a Twitter side to this story and forcing ourselves not to judge them until it comes out. And I hope it does soon. But we also can’t fault Ariel at all for her feelings or her actions.
UPDATE: Biz Stone responds here. I don't know what to think, and I still feel unsatisfied, but I get why they can't say more. I think it's wise that they clarify terms of service and think it's silly that Wired is saying they "can't" do that after users have signed up. They have a technical point, but it's a growing service and people can always walk away if they have a problem with the rules. Better that they get fleshed out, even if people are already using it. Twitter couldn't have known everything it would face one the day it launched. In essence, I agree Twitter shouldn't be arbitrating conversations. Still, if other sites like Flickr and Digg address harassment, there should in general be a recourse.
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