I saw this tweet pass by my stream earlier today, so went to read the post. Then I started digging around the site and realized Audrey has not just turned off comments for future posts, but has removed all comments from her blog. Period.

I had a bit of a back and forth with Audrey, hoping that she might reconsider her decision to delete all the comments on Hack Education. In my opinion, the conversations that have happened there constitute an important record in the history of EdTech as we go through a critical period of change. She has been one of the most thoughtful and vocal critics about the business of EdTech at a time when we need critics the most, and I have seen many thoughtful comments and conversations take place in the comments.

But there have also been assholes. And worse. Much worse.

This makes me incredibly sad and angry.

“Stupid bitch”, “fuck you”, and “stop being such a bitch.” While that content is highly offensive, it’s the pseudonym that this coward uses that casts a cold chill on the message and takes it from vitriolic to menacing threat. Jack the Ripper. The very name conjures up horrific images of violence against women. A name chosen as a pseudonym designed to do one thing and one thing only: silence through intimidation.

You could chalk it up to it just being the internet. That comments like this are part and parcel of the game. But it shouldn’t be. It can’t be.

It can’t be.

When I see comments like this, I become painfully aware of the existence of the types of terrible gender barriers that prevent many woman from participating in open spaces. It is one thing to have ideas criticised and debated. It is quite another to be attacked in a manner designed to threaten and intimidate and make you fear for your safety.

I don’t know if this specific comment had that effect on Audrey, but I do know that comments like this have led her to not only stop accepting comments, but to remove all comments from her site. It is a decision that I know she did not take lightly.

I know she will not stop writing or being a sharp critic. In fact, I hope that this may prove to be a liberating exercise for her as it frees her from having to worry about dealing with the assholes on her site.

But I do mourn the lose of conversation. I know, I can always leave a comment here, link back to her blog and signal her that way in hopes of having a discussion through pingbacks and trackbacks. That is still possible, but in reality what you end up with are a hundred individual voices scattered all over the web. It becomes a monologue and not a conversation. And I actually do read comments and often find them illuminating. In the case of Hack Education, much of how I think about the Silicon Valley attitude of education has come from comments left by people on one of her blog posts. Through their own words I see their plans.

Let me make this clear – Hack Education is Audrey’s space. She can do with it what she wants. And while I do feel that we in education have lost an important part of our history with the deletion of the comments from Hack Education, I respect her decision. No one should be subjected to the kind of abusive anonymous threats like those left by idiots.

We cannot accept this. Especially if you are male and reading this; we need to stand up and shout – loudly – that this type of language and behavior will not be tolerated.

Men do not just need to stop being violent. The vast majority of men are not violent. But men do need to stop being silent. Calling violence against women, whether street harassment or sexual harassment or rape or murder, a “women’s issue” allows men to ignore it as if we have no responsibility for it or stake in ending it. We all have grandmothers, mothers, sisters, daughters and female friends and colleagues. Our lives are inextricably interwoven; women’s issues of safety and equality directly affect our lives as men. Donald MacPherson

This cannot be our web.

This cannot be our culture.

We cannot have discourse silenced because of intimidation.

We cannot have women hesitant to enter into these open spaces because of crap like this.

This is not my web.

CC BY 4.0 This is not my web by Clint Lalonde is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Profile Picture for Clint Lalonde
Wrangler of learning technologies by day, Dad, cyclist, soccer fan and, lately, home roaster of coffee by night. INFJ. I am the Manager of Educational Technologies at BCcampus, working primarily on open education projects. This blog is a personal blog and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of BCcampus.

Comments

  1. Thanks for this thoughtful post. What happened to Audrey is sadly neither surprising nor rare for women to experience.

  2. Not surprised. Sad to say. Not surprised at all. And more than a little peeved that the rhetoric on the digital streets still naively celebrates "openess" and "democracy" as if something wonderfully different and liberating is emerging there->here.

  3. I have a feeling there was always hate on the web. Maybe not hate-bots. "Fuck you. Have a nice day" does sound like a random-generating bot.

    I moderate comments on my blogs. I prefer reading blogs and news sites where somebody has kicked the jerks out of the room. Sure, I wish people weren't jerks, but I don't have to hang out with them. And I don't need to invite them into my space. And I don't need to go places where they can poison the conversation.

    I don't see this as any kind of censorship. They can spew in their own space. When they make it difficult for non-jerks to stop by, they're censoring my turf. So screw 'em.

  4. I had a really eloquent comment I managed to lose with my clumsy phone thumbs. I so appreciate what you bring forward here, and driving home the privilege I have as a male of not being the target of the kind or degree of malice Audrey has faced.

    In 10 years, I cannot think if one comment even close to the ones she shared. If anyone calls me a "f***ing loser asshole" it is likely me.

    And while I take this as a chance to be more vigilant and look for opportunities to speak out when I see it– it still does not feel like it or I is doing much.

    I do not like that a minority of abusers can have this affect on the many more people who do and can gain from open comments. We are a long ways from a civilized society.

    I would like to try and not be nostalgic for the simple old days of the open web. I am glad I had a chance to taste it before it got tainted.

  5. Well said. It's not a matter of pinning a ribbon on every once in a while. It's about being on guard, standing up and speaking out whenever the sickness shows its face. We also have to call out those who turn away.

  6. Hi Clint, These types of comments might be generated by machine, or hackers who code them automatically to flame others. So, it may not be just about attack on woman or man. I had received some spams (indeed sometimes tens or even hundreds in a day or two). I just deleted them all. My take away with learning on the web is: "Don't feed the troll". These spams and flaming comments are intended to hurt our self respect and esteem, beautifully wrapped with sugar coated "praises" as a start, followed by intimidation and threats. That's also unfortunate to see the evil part of human – who tried manipulating others to satisfy their egos and superiority. May be we are no longer dealing with human, but machine generated Trojans and melware, and hackers who are cowardly behind the avatars. We would assert ourselves to "fight" against these evils. As a Catholic, I don't worry about any evils and their attacks. Thanks again Clint for bringing this up for discourse. John

  7. Thank you for writing this it's something I face often. I usually cringe to check my comments on YouTube, or on anything I write that focuses on female issues. It really wears you down to constantly be called names.

  8. One of the things I love about the Internet is open and free speech… One of the things I hate about the Internet is open and free speech. As a man I'm ashamed of my gender.

  9. Thank you, Clint. This post means a lot to me.

    I've still got all the data and Discus comments. They're just not visible on the site. Maybe someday I'll make them visible again. But it's too much work for me right now to close the comments on every post and deliberate on what to keep and what to delete and how to moderate these sorts of comments. "Jack the Ripper" is an easy one to delete; the misogyny was often much more subtle.

    I am very, very grateful to have strong allies, because yes, these are the sorts of things that keep many of us silent.

  10. That is not my web.
    I have been blogging since 2007 and I can remember only one time I was called names via comments.

Comments are closed.