Consider the effect of your words before you post or comment

Kathy Sierra, author of the Head-First books and a well-written, well-spoken author around human-computer interface stuff in general, has withdrawn from the blogosphere because of death threats posted to her through the blogosphere. (Be warned, that post has some pretty graphic material in it, definitely not for children.) The result? Kathy has not only decided to stop posting to her blog (for now, hopefully not a permanent state of affairs), but she is in fact in fear for her life:

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.

How incredibly sad for the industry, when one person can effectively douse a bright light like Kathy's. Of course, Kathy has my full support and sympathy--as the author of some outspoken pieces, I've been targeted by some heated voices, but never like anything she's now suffering. I really can't imagine what she's feeling right now, and I really hope I never do.

But the death threats to one side, the anonymous nature of the blogosphere (and the Internet as a whole) is creating a very real danger of shutting down this incredible social environment we call home. Kathy's experience is only the most extreme end of the spectrum; every blogger has seen their share of "virtual hecklers", people whose comments consist of nothing more intellectual than "you're an idiot" or "your mother should be ashamed of having not had an abortion before you were born" (which is an actual comment I received once).

I recognize that when one posts to the blogosphere, one is putting oneself into the public crosshairs, and a certain amount of abuse is to be expected. Hell, sometimes that kind of reaction is what a blogger is gunning for--nothing provokes a good discussion around an idea than an outrageous opinionated statement! I've never questioned the right of people to comment on my blog and call me names (or, at least, what they think is a name--the guy who tries to insult me by calling me "the next Microsoft employee" just really doesn't get it), partly because that's part of the Free Speech idea, and partly because if I can't handle the pressure I shouldn't be running with the big dogs. But folks, let's be honest: if I were to say to you that I get warm fuzzy feelings when somebody posts a personal attack on my character, I'd be lying.

Here's the great admission: It does hurt. Of course it hurts. How could it not?

Nobody likes to be insulted. Nobody likes to have their intelligence called into question. You wouldn't like it if somebody said the same about you, would you?

I'm not suggesting that people who disagree with a blogger's opinions should just roll over and shut up--hardly. You have every right to disagree and offer up your reasons for disagreement. But never lose sight of the fact that behind the blog is a real person, with feelings and a family and the same emotional range as yourself.

Or else we may all find the blogosphere reduced to people screaming shrilly at each other while the smart ones quietly slip away to find a better way to hold their discussions. And that doesn't help anybody.