This is not my web

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.