As I type this, I am supposed to be in San Diego, delivering a workshop at the ETech conference. But I'm not. I'm at home, with the doors locked, terrified. For the last four weeks, I've been getting death threat comments on this blog. But that's not what pushed me over the edge. What finally did it was some disturbing threats of violence and sex posted on two other blogs... blogs authored and/or owned by a group that includes prominent bloggers. People you've probably heard of. People like respected Cluetrain Manifesto co-author Chris Locke (aka Rageboy).

[UPDATE: Comments have now been closed [3/28/07, 6 PM] after someone posted personal data mixed with inaccurate information. It is the only comment I have removed from this thread. I wish to thank everyone for their support, but honestly--the high visibility and coverage of this one post has led to more trouble for me. Now, even people who had never heard of me are expressing hatred and creating new problems (posting my social security number and address, horrific lies about me, etc). I do want to clarify that I still do NOT know who made the photos and the posts from the two sites--the noose photo, not shown here, as well as the photo below--or who made the threatening comments on this blog. There is no evidence that the blog comments and the posts are by the same person or persons; and it is open to debate whether the photos (including the one not shown here--of the noose and my head) are threatening, or merely vile. The people I've named here as being participants on one or both of those sites have not denied their involvement with the sites (as owners or participants), but all have denied making either of the posts in question, although it was someone who had author priviliges on the blog, not a random commenter. This whole debate will have to continue elsewhere now. While I'm happy the topic is being discussed so vigorously, the more my name and this post is brought up, the more abuse I get in email or other blogs--and now that my address has been posted... Yes, I should have known that when I posted, and had I known the firestorm that would be created, I probably would have stayed silent. But my words here still stand. This is everything I know--and don't know--about the situation.]

[Note: This post includes disturbing language and a picture beyond anything I'd normally say here, so some of you might not want to continue reading. But I felt it was important to be specific about as much as the police investigation will allow.]

It began just over four weeks ago, when something shifted. It started with death threat blog comments left here (which some of you may have seen before I deleted them) including:

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Comment from:

Name: siftee

Email: siftee@yahoo.com

IP: 62.37.152.243

Comment:

fuck off you boring slut... i hope someone slits your throat and cums down your gob

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We all have trolls--but until four weeks ago, none of mine had threatened death. (The law is clear--to encourage or suggest someone's death is just as illegal as claiming you intend to do it yourself).

At about the same time, a group of bloggers including Listics' Frank Paynter, prominent marketing blogger Jeneane Sessum, and Raving Lunacy Allen Herrel (aka Head Lemur) began participating on a (recently pulled) blog called meankids.org. At first, it was the usual stuff--lots of slamming of people like Tara Hunt, Hugh MacLeod, Maryam Scoble, and myself. Nothing new. No big deal. Nothing they hadn't done on their own blogs many times before.

But when it was my turn, somebody crossed a line. They posted a photo of a noose next to my head, and one of their members (posting as "Joey") commented "the only thing Kathy has to offer me is that noose in her neck size."

My first reaction--and probably yours--is to think, "Of course he doesn't actually mean it." But the "funny" thing about crossing the line from criticism to suggestion of death is that your mind starts to wander:

* The guy who wrote this is anonymous (to me... I'm sure the people behind the site know exactly who made that comment and who posted the photo). I have no way of knowing just how disturbed he might be.

* Normally sane adults don't cross that line, especially when they know they're breaking federal law.

* The (apparently) same person made several sexual comments about me as well... for example, analyzing my "Canyon of Pain" graphic and turning it into a metaphor for what I want sexually (you can imagine).

Noose. Sex. Hatred. Misogyny. Willing to commit a crime. Anonymity.

I started to slide down a very bad path (and I'm showing you only a snippet of what was actually posted and sent to me), but held it together until two days ago, March 24.

On that day, the meankids site was down and a new "replacement" appeared, unclebobism.wordpress.com. The "Bob's Yer Uncle" site was supposedly started by Cluetrain co-author Chris Locke (who, along with Jeaneane Sessum, also authors the Kat Herding Media site) and included most of the same members as meankids.

And then I found this:

Unclebobpicture

That pushed me over the edge.

Was the photo itself meant to be a threat? The police believe so, yes... especially when taken in the context of the other posts and comments. A pattern of intimidation is clear, and it worked.

I don't know which particiant actually made the picture. It may have been Joey, or Chris Locke, or perhaps Allen Herrel... the same Herrel (or someone pretending to be Herrel) who added these misogynistic comments on a different Unclebobism post:

UncleBobComments1

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I do not want to be part of a culture--the Blogosphere--where this is considered acceptable. Where the price for being a blogger is kevlar-coated skin and daughters who are tough enough to not have their "widdy biddy sensibilities offended" when they see their own mother Photoshopped into nothing more than an objectified sexual orifice, possibly suffocated as part of some sexual fetish. (And of course all coming on the heels of more explicit threats)

I do not want to be part of a culture where this is done not by some random person, but by some of the most respected people in the tech blogging world. People linked to by A-listers like Doc Searls, a co-author of Chris Locke. 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.

(Of course, Frank and Jeneane are among the people who make outraged posts about the lack of female speakers at tech conferences. If THIS is what a woman has to put up with for having visibility in the tech world...)

Most of all, I now fully understand the impact of death threats. It really doesn't make much difference whether the person intends to act on the threat... it's the threat itself that inflicts the damage. It's the threat that makes you question whether that "anonymous" person is as disturbed as their comments and pictures suggest.

It's the threat that causes fear.

It's the threat that leads you to a psychiatrist and tranquilizers just so you can sleep without repeating the endless loop of your death by:

* throat slitting

* hanging

* suffocation

and don't forget the sexual part...

I have cancelled all speaking engagements.

I am afraid to leave my yard.

I will never feel the same. I will never be the same.

To all of you were meant to be at my tutorial today at ETech, or my keynote tomorrow, you have my deepest apologies. If you want to do something about it--do not tolerate the kind of abuse that includes threats or even suggestions of violence (especially sexual violence). Do not put these people on a pedestal. Do not let them get away with calling this "social commentary", "protected speech", or simply "criticism". I would never be for censoring speech--these people can say all the misogynistic, vile, tasteless things they like--but we must preserve that line where words and images become threats of violence. Freedom of speech--however distasteful and rude the speech may be, is crucial. But when those words contain threats of harm or death, they can destroy a life.

I deeply appreciate all the support y'all have given me here. It really sucks that so few can do so much damage.

I have no idea if I'll ever post again. I suspect I will. But for now, I have a lot to rethink.

[UPDATE: In comments, Frank Paynter -- owner of the meankids.org site -- expressed that he was both ashamed and sorry for his participation in both sites. I Frank when he says that he was not the one responsible for the specific posts and comments in question. ]