Who Rule the World? Girls – Part 2a: When the Bullied Becomes the Bully

Library-land has had more than its fair share of Internet bullying of late (see this and this) and I thought I had seen it all.   I thought we had reached the darkest portions of the ugly underbelly of the Internet.

And then the Adria Richards story broke.  And that ugly underbelly reached depths I never thought possible.

For those not familiar with the story (now being called “Donglegate”), here’s the basics:

  • SendGrid developer Adria Richards is at PyCon (largest gathering of developers of open source programming language Python), when she overhears two male developers use certain technical terms (“fork” and “dongle”) in a sexual manner.
  • Rather than confront the men about their inappropriate language and violation of the PyCon Code of Conduct, Adria decides to take their photo without their consent and publicly share it on Twitter and the conference Twitter feed.
  • After meeting with all parties involved in the matter, PyCon officials remove the men from the conference.
  • One subsequently gets fired from his job at PlayHaven.
  • The Internet explodes.  And by “explodes” I mean a DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack against her company, online petitions calling for her firing, and some other very ugly things I won’t talk about here.
  • SendGrid fires Richards.

The first, and thus far, best, post I read on the matter, from Amanda Blum, sums it up simply and effectively:   Nobody wins.

We now have two talented developers – one with a family to support, another making strides for her gender in a primarily male world – without jobs.

We have two companies who had opportunities to use this horrid incident as a teachable moment – for their employees, for their company, for the tech world.  Instead, they pushed the panic button.  Now they are without two talented people on their staff and have reputations to rebuild.

We have seen the ugliest side of the internet.   No one, no matter how toxic a character, deserves such serious threats.  NO. ONE.  Have we really stooped that low to wish criminal acts and loss of life on someone?

We have done a disservice for women, at a time when we need to thoughtfully and carefully explore and unpack issues of women in the workplace.  I don’t agree with what Richards did – from what I have read, she is a strong personality and rubs many the wrong way – but she could have handled it in a much more professional, measured and classy way – with just the gentlemen directly involved and conference officials.  (That’s a sad lesson I learned in college – the more you involve in a dispute, the bigger the fallout becomes.)  Taking photos without consent and making examples of people is not the right way to do it.  It makes women in tech and women in the workplace look like shrill bitches.  (And with that, this blog now gets a PG-13 rating.) Again, this was a highly teachable moment, and Richards blew it.

The Library Journal Movers and Shakers award brings out the haters (a small but loud group), at a time when we should be honoring and celebrating our peers. It’s easier to hide behind the veil of social media or the veil of criticism when airing very strong views.  I saw people take down some of this year’s winners in all matter of ways, all stemming from a justified personal offense.  However, when the bullied becomes the bully in pursuit of redemption for their wrong, things go too far.

As I did back in February, I call for calm.  I call for measured discussion.  I call to act and behave as the adults and professionals we are.   I saw some very ugly behavior from people I have met at conferences and interact with on Twitter daily, and it makes me very sad. No one wants to watch their friends and colleagues commit professional suicide, and I saw quite a bit of that last week.

To quote VentureBeat’s reporting:

Everyone escalated, instead of taking a half a moment to think, relax, chill, give the benefit of the doubt, be a little easy-going, and realize that everyone is bloody well human and we all make mistakes.

Guys. Seriously.  Let’s stop acting like children.  NOW.

I hope that our own community of plugged in librarians learns (or has learned) from their awful behaviors of the past few weeks.  I also hope things never go as far as they did with Richards this week.   If they do, I’ll be out of this profession faster than you can say “Ranganathan.”

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2 Responses to Who Rule the World? Girls – Part 2a: When the Bullied Becomes the Bully

  1. Pingback: So, about that easy tech implementation thing at Attempting Elegance

  2. In case the trackback isn’t enough, I wanted to say this: I agree wholeheartedly. About Richards, about librarianship, about internet ugliness. Thank you for writing it.

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