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The simple civility of an apology

I dropped by Jeneane Sessum's blog (Allied) today. I haven't been there in a while. Top of the page is her decision to quit  Blogher.  Some of her previous posts, shortly after the Kathy Sierra incident, are pretty raw. 

Frankly I'm a little ashamed that I haven't spoken up earlier.  Instead of defending my friend Jeneane two weeks ago, I stayed on the sidelines.  I didn't want to get mixed up in the fight, and I still don't, really.

Some pretty horrible things were said about Kathy Sierra, including things Kathy took as death threats. Misogyny is a terrible thing.  So a lot of people rallied to her support, and condemned the folks named in her posting.  It became the virtual equivalent of a lynch mob. 

Mobs are cruel.  Mobs are irrational. Mobs rarely stop to consider the facts.

What's clear now is that the accusations made may be incorrect.  Accounts appear to have been hacked, and the malice perpetrated by anonymous hackers. 

In the aftermath, Kathy and one of the people accused, Chris Locke, went on television, and published joint statements. Tim O'Reilly proposed a bloggers code of conduct. Kathy posted again, this time about her non-blogging future, and hundreds more people wrote to support her. 

While you can't and shouldn't minimize the hurt Kathy encountered, people forget that she wasn't the only one damaged. At one point Jeneane measured the Google search count of her name associated with the phrase "death threats" at over 11,000.

What disturbs me the most is simply this — amidst the handwringing and navel gazing, people seem to have forgotten that the simplicity and accountability of a mea culpe might be the most effective and human thing to do.  Instead of blogger codes of conduct, how about beginning with the simple civility of an apology to those who were wrongly accused?

{ 11 comments… add one }

  • Marianne Richmond April 11, 2007, 12:30 am

    It’s waaaaay overdue.

  • steve April 11, 2007, 6:44 pm

    “What’s clear now is that the accusations made were incorrect. Accounts had been hacked, and the malice perpetrated by anonymous hackers.”

    In what way is this “clear”? Herrell (if it was indeed him) sent one email to Doc Searls claiming identity theft, but AFAIK not one shred of evidence has been provided in support of that claim. So, how is it “clear” that that’s what really happened?

  • Alec April 12, 2007, 6:16 am

    It’s perhaps not clear enough for conspiracy theorists, Steve, but it’s clear enough for me. Raving Lunacy, his blog, dated back to Sept of 2003. You can either accept that identity theft is the reason for his complete absence from the net, or not. For me, it’s pretty far fetched to imagine that he would choose a faked identity theft, and universal condemnation as his way to bow out of the blogosphere and the entire internet.

  • Bert Bates April 12, 2007, 12:13 pm

    Let’s for the moment, hypothetically, say that Alan got hacked. How does that relate to Jeneane? Jeneane’s blog enthusiastically commented on and linked to meankids and unclebob. Jeneane’s blog continued to link to those sites even after Kathy wrote to Jeneane, 10 days before Kathy’s post, telling Jeneane about what was on the site. All that Kathy said was that Jeneane celebrated those sites. Now exactly what should Kathy apologize for? Anyone could have seen the encouragement on Jeneane’s site, followed the links, and found those horrible posts and comments.

  • steve April 12, 2007, 12:45 pm

    Alec, I think “Accounts had been hacked, and the malice perpetrated by anonymous hackers.” is pretty much a paradigm example of a conspiracy theory. And while it may be true – and I understand why you believe it is – it is by no means a proven fact. There’s a big difference between believing in Herrel’s innocence and promulgating his version of events as the undeniable truth. Even Doc Searls doesn’t go that far.

  • Alec April 12, 2007, 3:01 pm

    Steve — point taken. I’ve modified the text.

  • Alec April 12, 2007, 3:20 pm

    When did you stop beating your wife, Bert? Oh sorry… I didn’t realize…

    Innuendo, character assassination… I dunno, I figure there’s plenty to apologize for.

  • Bert Bates April 12, 2007, 3:57 pm


    Did you carefully read Kathy’s post? It’s become clear that a lot of people who have been talking about this haven’t actually read it. Here’s a direct quote from Kathy’s post:

    “I do not want to be part of a culture of such hypocrisy where Jeneane Sessum can be a prominent member of blogher, a speaker at industry conferences, an outspoken advocate for women’s rights, and at the same time celebrate and encourage a site like meankids — where objectification of women is taken to a level that makes plain old porn seem quaintly sweet.”

    Where’s the innuendo and character assasination in that? I’d ask you to read my previous post again and explain to me how the act of reporting what Jeneane posted on her own site amounts to character assasination?

  • Alec April 12, 2007, 7:28 pm

    Thanks Frank. The background certainly helps clarify.

  • Frank Paynter April 12, 2007, 8:25 pm

    Kathy wrote to Jeneane and me on March 15 (in response to my offer to pull the post that was troubling her). Here is some of that exchange:

    I said:

    “If you want that post deleted, I’ll see that it is pulled, but I would rather not. Like other obscenities, it will move off the screen soon enough.

    Tell me if you can bear it, or if you would rather that I pulled it.”

    She said:

    “I don’t mind being a target of the mean kids, and it SHOULD be an anything goes environment, so I definitely don’t want it deleted.”

    There was more related to an unidentified commenter and ultimately I provided her with his IP address. It’s my understanding that this was not one of the threatening IP addresses that she had collected from trolls on her own blog.

    I’m starting to be concerned for Bert and Kathy and the fixation they seem to have on these matters. Reputations have undoubtedly been damaged. I think a simple apology to Jeneane should suffice.

    And I would like to apologize to the author of the post, which wasn’t in the least bit misogynistic or obscene, though the comment about noose and neck size that was associated with the post made it seem so.

  • Alec April 12, 2007, 11:28 pm

    Hey Bert,

    Of COURSE I read Kathy’s post (and there’s more to it than what you quoted). I recommend that you now go and check out what Jeneane ACTUALLY wrote about Meankids — there’s one 3 word sentence on her blog Allied, and a silly reference on her satirical site Kat Herding. Celebrate, encourage? From where? Her hospital bed?

    Want to help heal the blogosphere? Screw the pantywaists who want a code of conduct, and start by being accountable for your own words. Start with an apology for smearing the wrong person!

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