Friday, March 30, 2007

Celebrity was at the root of the Kathy Sierra incident

So the firestorm around the Kathy Sierra incident seems to be dying down, and a couple things are clear.

First, Chris Locke is a bit of a jerk. He has poor judgment on when to pull a site. His brawling mannerism does not bring out the best in people. And he doesn't get the the misogyny thing. At all.

That's probably about it on Chris Locke. As advertised, he's brilliant, and he's not nice.

And Allen, in case you haven't heard, was hacked and had nothing to do with the comments either.

So the initial question Kathy asked (how could A-list people do such a thing) has been answered. They didn't.

Still, as a person that runs a number of online communities, I'm interested in why this happens, again and again, regardless of whether the perpetrators are A-List or B-list or just plain trolls. People have been saying it's anonymity that's the problem.

Well, true enough. There's a good linky summary of that issue here. And any administrator of a community site knows the disproportiate time they have to spend booting out trolls. The discussion of how to solve that has been going on a long time. It will continue.

What interests me about the incident, though, is not the overdone question of anonymity. The part that interests me is the aspect of celebrity.

Celebrity is a form of dehumanification. And during the height of the Age of Broadcast, we somehow come to believe that enduring vicious personal slurs was part and parcel of that dehumanification. When celebrities were a gang of 1000 millionaires, that was passable. Not right, but passable.

In a Web 2.0 world where everyone is a celebrity, it becomes a problem. Remarks about offing David Hasselhoff may be seen as rebelling agains the idea of Baywatch and bad pop records. Do remarks about offing Kathy Sierra rebel against the idea of Kathy Sierra? And where is the line?

Michelle Malkin is a celebrity, and an unlikeable one at that. Here's her take on the situation. So do we draw the line of shock under Malkin or over her? At what point do you become famous enough that you are expected to take this stuff in stride? At what point were you abrasive enough, or wrong enough you were asking for it?

This problem will only get worse. I'm a celebrity. My wife is a celebrity. Everyone with a MySpace page is a potential celebrity. You're a celebrity.

We got through the Age of Broadcast with one set of rules for celebrities and one set for rules for us. Celebrities were asked to recognize attacks just came with being in the public eye.

As that distinction fades, it's time to reevaluate that model.

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