Ariel Waldman was the target of an online “stalker” who posted abusive comments about her via Twitter. She’s understandably upset about the harrassment and posted a long note about getting no satisfaction from Twitter despite responses including a call with the Twitter CEO, who seemed to feel the case fell outside of Twitter’s responsibility.
I’m trying to get Twitter’s response to Ariel because I have a feeling there actions may hinge on a couple of twists that complicate what at first appears to be a clear cut case of putting free speech – which should be protected at great cost, above threat speech – which is a plague on the online world and should be harshly policed by the online and offline community including law enforcement.
The first issue is that Ariel blogs about some very “emotionally charged” topics with sexually charged language (though I saw no sign of what I would call abusive language in a quick scan of her blogs). However Twitter may be thinking that to censor comments about her or her topics while keeping Ariel’s own stuff online would not be in keeping with some sort of fairness standard (I agree this would be a weak argument based on Ariel’s description of the abuse).
The more relevant twist is that Ariel is the community manager of Pownce, a social microblogging site that is very much in direct competition with Twitter. Unless Ariel is certain that Pownce would handle this situation very differently from how Twitter is handling it she really needs to explain why this is calling out Twitter so powerfully rather than making more general statements about how the very lax online abuse standard are threatening the online social fabric.
This problem very powerfully emerged last year when Kathy Sierra, a prominent and excellent blogger, quit blogging entirely after several death threats against her. Although most of the community expressed outrage an alarming number of prominent bloggers suggested that free speech issues trumped the death threats, and came irresponsibly close to supporting what they seemed to see as the right of harrassers to threaten violence against others.
So it is important to make clear here that my personal view (which is not necessarily that of WebGuild) is that Twitter is wrong as are any social networks that allow harassment of community members. Whatever tiny advantages we might gain in free speech from an “anything goes” policy are washed away as debate is stifled under the threat of the virtual violence turning into real violence.
Update: Twitter Replies to Ariel
In their reply at GetSatisfaction, a customer resolution website, Twitter suggests that this case might be viewed differently by people if the comment stream was available. Presumably both Ariel and Twitter have a copy, so it should be published in the interests of fairness to everybody concerned.
Update 2: Ariel’s Mom Checks in at her blog:
May 22nd, 2008 at 10:31 pm
Yes, this is Ariel’s real mother. Those of you who are easily manipulated by media driven celebrity conspiracy theories or actually believe there is no such thing as integrity any longer will ignore this post. Too bad for you.
I am not here to comment on twitter, TOS, freedom of speech, the “sexiness” of ShakeWellBeforeUse or if Ariel is a c—. If I said she wasn’t, you wouldn’t believe me anyway.
I CAN attest to one thing. It IS a fact Ariel’s stalker has been after her for over 3 years beginning in her home town—before she had a high profile on the web. I have seen the physical evidence and know it to be threatening. Ariel did nothing to initiate this situation, the person in question is mentally unbalanced and deeply insecure. The person found out where she lived and made it known to her. Ariel has done everything within her power (talking to the person and friends of the person, police, legal advice, adjustment of lifestyle) to defuse the situation all to no avail. I had thought when she moved to the city, these attacks would end, but they have not. There is more than mere name calling going on. There is a history of vindictive harrassment. Whatever else you think about how she is handling it is your opinion, but she did NOT make this up.
Since I have known Ariel all her life I can tell you one thing. She plays by the rules. She does not manipulate people or situations for her own gain. And she is too smart to screw up her own reputation as a consultant in social media to try and play competing services against each other. All speculation on that account is ridiculous.
And Mom to Ariel: you could have told me you were going to blog this rather than let me randomly find out about it on my own.