Feature

Blogs

Where women fear to tread.

When Kathy Sierra created a Web site about software programming, she hoped only to share her knowledge of the Linux operating system and chat with other software enthusiasts. But a few weeks ago, someone e-mailed her thus: 'œI hope someone slits your throat.' Then came an anti'“Kathy Sierra site, complete with a picture of a noose next to her head. Sierra's nerve finally broke when someone posted an image of her being suffocated by a pair of thong panties. Announcing that she was shutting down her blog, Sierra wrote, 'œI am afraid to leave my yard.' She's not alone, said Ellen Nakashima in The Washington Post. As more women establish themselves on the Internet, the men who dominate the medium are targeting them for special harassment. One University of Maryland study found that female chat room participants 'œreceived 25 times as many sexually explicit and malicious messages' as males. The anonymity of the Internet, says well-known blogger Arianna Huffington, has enabled 'œa lot of those dark prejudices toward women to surface.'

If these ladies can't stand the heat, said Markos Moulitsas Zúniga in DailyKos.com, they should stay out of the electronic kitchen. As a blogger myself, I get tons of vitriolic e-mail messages. 'œOne or two actually crossed the line into 'death threat' territory. But so what?' It's not as if the faceless cowards who sent these screeds are likely to act on their threats. You don't understand, said Neva Chonin in the San Francisco Chronicle. There's a world of difference between men's and women's electronic hate mail. If you routinely found your inbox stuffed with fantasies about 'œmurder by rape and various acts with farm animals and nonconsensual penetration by mechanical implements,' you'd be freaked out too.

Fortunately, a backlash has begun, said Monica Guzman in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Internet gurus Tim O'Reilly and Jimmy Wales are drafting a self-regulated blogger code of conduct to help combat the profusion of obscenity and personal threats. Their efforts may not work; after all, blogging became popular largely because it's raw and unfiltered and obeys no rules. Still, the talk of taming blogs signals that the Web's trial period of 'œbeautiful chaos' is ending. Now that we've opened a new communications frontier, it's time for us to grow up and 'œsettle down.' If that happens, said the Charlotte, N.C., Observer in an editorial, you can be sure that some Web denizens will be disappointed. What will these cybermorons do for fun if they 'œcan't call someone a pigheaded dolt without fear of being held accountable?'

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