I Had Death Threats in High School

Okay, so the blogosphere is going apeshit today over Kathy Sierra’s situation – which has to do with anonymous hate and abuse:

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.

This isn’t new, folks – far from it. Kathy is just one out of (certainly) millions of people who suffer at the minds of psychotics. And without trying to minimize this particular situation, I’ve gotta tell you – this sounds like high school to me. Literally. Granted, I’ve had just as many death threats ONLINE – but they didn’t just start last week.

I received death threats in high school all the time – ALL THE TIME. Only, I didn’t have to deal with anonymous Internet cowards [back then] – I had to deal with real-world bullies who weren’t happy unless they struck fear into me. Death threats are just as serious in high school as they are in the world beyond.

There was this one guy at Southeast Polk (let’s call him “Charlie”) who decided that he didn’t like me – he didn’t like me for whatever reason. I looked like an easy target? I was too short? I looked like a nerd? I couldn’t dress properly? I acted like a moron? Who the hell knows. I swear, it was his mission in life to make my life a living hell in high school. I did my best to avoid conflict, which only seemed to fan the flames for him.

I didn’t want to leave my house, either. I didn’t want to go back to school, ever. I didn’t want to see this guy in the hallways, and I certainly didn’t want to be in the same classes as him. Did I bother to mention that he was much taller than me, likely MUCH stronger? Did I bother to mention that if he really wanted to, he could have beat me within an inch of my life? Did I bother to mention that?

Did I bother to mention all the other fucking torment I went through in fucking high school just because I wasn’t [insert anything here]? Did I bother to mention that it didn’t start or stop with “Charlie?!” Now, I’m not trying to minimize Kathy’s situation (which I appreciate, wholly) – but I am rather surprised that everybody’s up in arms about it all of a sudden, as if this was an isolated incident that was limited to the blogosphere or to women in general?

No, unless you’ve ever stared straight into a real bully’s eyes – you have no fucking idea. I’m not talking about teasing (which is another matter, entirely) – I’m talking about “I’m going to fucking kill you” bullies. Unless you’ve received death threats (online or off), you have no fucking idea how this can make you feel. These situations used to be limited to locality, but now they’re all over the place – all over the Internet.

This isn’t new, my friends and enemies – and this will never, EVER stop happening.

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 worse when you know who that person is – or if they’re not all that anonymous in the first place. I’ve dealt with my fair share of bullies (both before and after high school) – and in a few cases, was able to weather the situations long enough to seek some sort of resolution with the other parties.

I’m still not quite sure what pulled me through – especially the day I finally confronted “Charlie.” He shoved me from behind, and instead of walking away – I pushed him back. My life could’ve ended at that moment, were the rumors true. I would’ve been severely injured based on the fact that this guy didn’t like me.

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’m not a woman, and I’m not going to pretend I fully understand Kathy’s situation, but she’s absolutely right about this potentially destroying a life. It’s not just the anonymous blogosphere – it’s a microcosm of what’s happening in meatspace.

The outpouring of support for Kathy has been substantial – but a lot of it seems to be knee-jerk / reactionary. Kathy is *NOT* overreacting to her situation in the slightest, but I do believe that the rest of us simply aren’t putting it into perspective.

The problem isn’t with the blogosphere – it’s with the human race.

65 thoughts on “I Had Death Threats in High School”

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  5. agreed, chris. however, when people are using the internet to hide, unlike your bully (and any number of my own personal bullies from school), it is a scary thing.

  6. Same for me … until i was 15 i was short and fat … over the summer i grew 7 inches (in 2 months) … all the weight was now in the right place and i was looking them in the eyes …. they weren’t looking back …

    It takes along time to build self esteem … one second to loose it …

    Never suffer the bully … it does last a lifetime

  7. Agreed Chris but like a wonderful party with awesome friends, good food, great beats and brilliant conversation .. it only takes one really skanky foulmouthed psychotic to crash through to TOTALLY ruin the mood.

    It’s not just about a single incident , it’s about the fact that we all realise that blogging has now passed the invisible threshold and integrated with the rest of the human race.. with all of its potentially smelly citizens to affront the happy playground that once was the blogosphere.

  8. I totally agree with you that this is a problem that does not just effect the web. This happens all over the globe in every level of society.

    This does not mean that we ignore the problem either. I’m used to dealing with this issue between kids, but there are steps we can take to shed some light on this. Contacting the police, spreading the word, and pointing out internet BS that can lead to this kind of behavior.

    I think the blogosphere needs to focus less on the outrage and look at how we interact and how we can foster more positive interaction.

    Great Post.

  9. I haven’t had to deal with death threats. But I was sure the odd man (woman) out in junior high and high school. The only person with a disability in a small midwest town. Felt like an outcast…and bullied.

    That way I never left southern Illinois after college. More accepting of others.

  10. Very, very, very well put. I also agree, not to at all “minimize this particular situation” you are right that the guy or girl who seems to be inadequate in the minds of some people who think they are adequate were once insulted with words like nerd and geek. As well as being looked upon as a deficiency when it came to the cool crowd. But nowadays that is changing. Because it is the nerds and geeks who were once being subjected to fear tactics who are now standing up for those who are unaware of their rights in society through blogging and closing the gap of ignorance in the knowledge of technology, i.e. the internet. It is possible that nerds and geeks are the ones who have made such threats in their lifetime. But I won’t give that credit to the nerd and geek in them for doing this, unfortunately it’s the heartless, unethical, immoral individual who deserves the credit. As a woman I do understand Kathy Sierra’s fears and it becomes worse the more you soak it in. I hope the community of bloggers, videobloggers, photobloggers, podcasters, techies, news givers, news seekers, the human race step up and show that these actions are not tolerated and as well the law shows it is not blind.

  11. Hi Chris,

    I think the problem that Kathy and other bloggers are dealing with here is a bit more than bullying. It’s the level of bullying and the enormity of it. It used to be you were picked on by “known” bullies: people who you went to school, work, whatever with. You might have feared these people but you knew or had some feeling about how far they might go to harm you. You had the local rumor mill.

    When someone threatens you anonymously online, you don’t have that kind of information. Are they some sick pervert that lives 10,000 miles away and really can’t do much harm to you or are they that creepy next door neighbor who’s always giving you strange looks? Are they just trying to scare you or would they really be willing to drive across the country to cut your head of and spit down the hole? You just don’t know.

    And that’s why it’s different.

    With the known bullies you can more easily protect yourself. But with unknown bullies, you have no idea who they are so..who do you protect yourself from? Everyone? Anyone? You just don’t know.

    As someone who spent the better part of a year being stalked by a strange Internet person, I can tell you it is the most frightening experience of your life. I was bullied in school but it was NOTHING like what I experienced during that year. I was suspicious of everyone. I was paranoid. It nearly ruined my life.

    So, no, I think the blogosphere is reacting just about right to this. We need to support Kathy during this time and we need to re-educate ourselves on how vulnerable we really are as bloggers.

    I think you’re a little off on this one. But great post nonetheless. Very eyeopening.

  12. i’m not happy with the statement that “it will never EVER stop.” we really don’t know what WILL happen. what we can do, though, is to clearly and loudly express our unwillingness to accept such behaviour. in meatspace and in the blogosphere. and there are many ways we can do this. one of them is to rally around someone like kathy at a time like this.

    and let’s not forget that bullying doesn’t come out of nowhere, either. bullying is nurtured in an atmosphere of disrespect and intolerance. every day we have many opportunities to demonstrate the opposite: respect, tolerance and compassion.

    the dalai lama says, “be compassionate whenever possible. it is always possible.”

  13. Mmmmm…it’s true you are not a woman, or a mother, and you don’t know how Kathy feels. Yes, it’s the human race, but there’s a certain transparency involved in living your life on the Internet that didn’t used to be there in high school (well, I’m old). I just think it makes us all look like high school to have this kind of thing happening, and I wish we could just stop and be the citizen journalists and community-oriented people we want to be.

  14. One reason small towns have a “safe” label applied to them is that everybody knows everybody, and nobody has any privacy. But even in a large city, you don’t have privacy. One can walk from Boston to Washington, being photographed by security cameras every inch of the way. And that’s not counting the satellites.

    Privacy advocates seem to want to make the world safe for those who want to make the world unsafe. The lack of privacy doesn’t mean that you’re less free to drive 90 MPH, less free to Love Thy Neighbor, less free to grow dope in the back yard. All those things happen in small towns, and nobody cares.

    But they do care about their neighbors. If Joe repeatedly gets drunk and beats up his wife, pretty soon no bar in town will sell to him.

    That doesn’t happen where people are anonymous.

    A few years ago, a bunch of kids, tired of being abused by bullies, took guns to school, and fought back. What was the official response? Nothing was done about the bullying; instead, they installed metal detectors at Columbine.

    There are a few good uses for internet anonymity. There are online support groups for alcoholics, for the abused, etc. In general, though, those places have their own rules that provide even more security, not less.

    I wouldn’t suggest curtailing free speech. Just “ownerless” speech. Evil lies in the dark corners.

  15. Yeah, this whole situation is kind of blown out of proportion. I would think anyone who has had a presence (own a web site, blog, etc.) on the internet long enough has at least had one death threat.

    I think Scoble owes Kevin Rose an apology for pointing blame in his direction… Kevin didn’t leave death threats…some whacko did! Hell, why not point blame at Kathy’s hosting company.

    It’s also easy to forget that the world is full of real life axe murderers, etc… and if you put yourself out in public it is a risk. I think the smart thing to do is use a stage name for yourself and hide your whois info. This is something I’ve seriously been considering.

    It’s beyond me why bloggers like Dooce continuously blog such private info about their personal life and family to millions of people. If this was a perfect world you wouldn’t have to worry about it… but turn on the news on any day and you can see that isn’t the case.

  16. Chris, I wrote all that BEFORE I had seen what they wrote about Maryam. It is TOTALLY VILE, VILE STUFF.

    If they wrote what they wrote about Maryam about Ponzi you’d be over the top pissed.

    I want a public apology from everyone involved in the MeanKids.org site. This stuff was done to hurt, and hurt deep.

    Well, they deserve every bit of public scorn that they now are getting.

  17. Not much else to say here but I’ll say something anyway. What’s difficult with stalkers you can’t find or anonymous bloggers is that you can’t fight back. There’s nothing to fight back against UNLESS you find them.

    So, as I see it, you could try to find them, then push them back as Chris did. Maybe that will work. It’s certainly part of the mythos of American culture that most bullies will back down when confronted. That’s what my father taught me but the guys who bullied me in Jr. High were twice as big as me, many times stronger and came in twos. But some bullies don’t back down. And some are so sick that they will then try to kill you.

    But this is a serious situation and though I’m not normally a tough law and order type of guy, I certainly could see getting these people thrown in jail for this type of offense. I don’t know whether that will turn their life around when they are then, hopefully, educated to see how serious their crime is. But ignoring it only ends up with either the bullied bruised or killed or with the bullied then seeking revenge against anything and everyone that ignored their plight one way or another – Columbine or Pearl Jam’s Jeremy.

  18. Been there and worn that tee-shirt as well Chris. I agree totally with your sentiment. Not to belittle Kathy’s situation, but I’m betting she wasn’t bullied at school or in the workplace at any point. This is probably her first encounter with the lowest of human parasites and this is why she is so alarmed.

    The chances are that the hate filled posts aren’t truly anonymous since Kathy shows the IP details of posts. Of course, illegal or spoofing tricks could have been made to ensure they were truly anonymous, but I suspect the dimwitts aren’t that bright, although over the coming weeks they may well wish they had been just a touch cleverer in their comment postings. Their IPs can be traced, their computers siezed and forensic evidence collected to build a case fit for pursuing in any court.

    Those of us who’ve had physical harm done in the real world, those of us who’ve sat in class for year upon year worrying about what they next had planned, those of us who’ve survived this behaviour don’t find this such a big story as the media are making out.

    Go to any school playground and you will see some poor kid being terrorised and bullied. Visit many workplaces and you’re likely to find some employee being threatened. This is the real tragedy of the human condition!

    The real danger in this frenzy is that the lawmakers use this as yet another reason to seize further control of the Internet. Let’s not make the job easier for them when they should be concentrating on stamping out bullying from the human condition, starting way back in school playgrounds!

    As for Scoble turn off his blog and blocking comments in sympathy… well so what! That guy is going to desperate measure these days to maintain his readership. He’s not been the same since leaving Microsoft IMHO.

  19. I also meant to add that Kathy’s bullies have won! They have managed to terrorise her into reclusion. She would have been better to ensure security measures were adequate for her to continue with her life and show the bullies that she wasn’t for playing their game. Sure it can be scary facing up to the bullies, but it must be just as scary to be hold up in your home waiting for them to come get you.

    Also meant to add that the BBC website had an article dedicated to it and Scoble even got a mention in it! What’s wrong with the BBC? Couldn’t they find a UK based blogger to make comment on this terrible situation.

  20. Freedom of speech ends when it is a threat to someone else’s life. THAT is not freedom of speech. Whether there is ever intent of actually following through with the actions or not, it is wrong.

    I agree, it is a lot like high school – or junior high in my case – which was HELL. Grown adults should know better, and there is NO excuse for the behavior of the people behind this. Think it, say it over coffee to your friends, whatever – but you take it to a whole new level – a very WRONG level – when you start up a blog just to be cruel.

    Wrong, wrong, wrong. The whole thing just is wrong.

  21. Ones who don’t hide are easier to deal with.

    Given the right tools, the victim can turn the tables on the bully and dictate the rules. Enough is enough; if they can dish out, they better be able to take it.

    Bullies thrive on fear, but fear is something that can turn them off. By changing your image, you can change hoe they perceive you. If they see you as someone able to fight back, they will back down, or at least that was my experience.

    I got tired of being bullied, enrolled in a martial arts programme, and within two months rumours turned the bullies who used to harass me back and by the end of grade nine I had them kissing the ground I walked on. I didn’t threaten, just changed the way I carried my air of confidence.

    Rumour are a powerful tool.

  22. The human race is scary. If I was an alien, I wouldn’t even set foot on the planet. I probably wouldn’t mind killing them from afar… since they kill themselves for no reason anyway.

    We are the only creatures on this planet that destroy for self mental satisfaction.

    in hell, there’s nothing more to lose… it’s worse than hell here sometimes. And sometimes we do get a glimpse of heaven.. only to be quickly taken away.

  23. Interesting post, and ditto for the comments. Japan is considered a safe country. I was discussing large cities with a fellow teacher, in the wake of this week’s murder of a young female English teacher by a student, who buried her body in sand in his bath before fleeing his apartment. In many Western cities, safe and unsafe depend on physical, tangible, things: place, what you drive or wear, and who you are with. We learn easily to avoid carrying expensive items in public, or avoid areas known to be unsafe. In Japan, on the contrary, with the large number of mentally unstable people, it is much harder to be sure where and when one is safe, and this puts a lot of pressure on already stressed-out people, further driving up the number of mental cases.

  24. It wasn’t ok in high school and it isn’t ok now. As far as I know, no one involved in Kathy’s situation is in high school. Shouldn’t we have learned something by now about how to treat people with respect? I think that’s what Kathy was getting at when she said that the culture of the blogosphere needs to be re-examined. Whether the people she called out directly are responsible for the threats or not, they do play a role in defining that culture. If you think it’s ok to allow this kind of bullying to take place, you are part of the problem.

    As we can all see by the level of trash-talking that she has received by going public with this, it took a lot of balls for Kathy to post what she did.

    Online/offline – it makes no difference in how a threat impacts someone. The internet is real life. It’s time we all start treating it that way.

  25. Problem’s with the human race as it’s now configured. Which is not to say being bullied by a sabertooth tiger or some kind of shadowy night-stalking carnivorous giant ground sloth was a walk in the park.
    We’ve created a refuge from the carnal flux of metabolizing that is the natural world red in tooth claw and intention. But within that refuge things aren’t all nice and sweet for everyone. A higher percentage than it used to be maybe, and from that higher percentage come these cries of outrage at what most kids on the bottom rungs of the economy deal with all the time.
    Lots of calls for the officially designated agencies to step in, something missing from your post is that option, snitching off the perpetrators, which it seems you didn’t pursue.
    And it’s tangential but interesting that those same official agencies get their mandate from a government that right now is doing large violence to people, many of them relatively or entirely innocent and helpless, and threatening more of the same to others.
    Of course that would be happening somewhere else, some place almost virtual in its distance from the day-to-day of those most outraged by the scurrilous treatment of Ms. Sierra.
    In Sierra’s case it’s been by anonymous cowards.
    Which is key. Not the anonymity, but the safety it entrails for what are already cowardly souls.
    Bullies are essentially, most of the time, cowards who feel safe.
    Cowards who feel safe are almost always prone to sadistic cruelty.
    And cowardice is really the issue, all the way around.

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  27. So sad ! I had this woman making deaths threats against me and another woman & her kids and the internet service had all info and proof of what she said she’s done it more then once and nothings been done about this woman online making death threats against military families, women & their kids greentea143 a.k.a. chr057 ppl needs to be stopped from doing these kinds of things no matter where.

  28. Unfortunately, I have to disagree with some points of your blog. I have dealt with the bullies you talked about, the chauvinistic, barbaric brutes that they were. However, from that environment, I learned to adapt, to grow quicker and smarter, and to survive. You see, when you can outsmart a bully and insult him in a way that he doesn’t even understand, it’s something you can laugh at on the inside, and he just won’t give a shit. When it comes to conflict, choosing your battles becomes a must. I’m not talking about fist fights, nor am I talking about grabbing the nearest blunt object, but I’m talking about the basics of self-defense in utilizing your opponent’s strength against him. Nothing screams “don’t screw with me bub!” like moving out of the way of a punch and then twisting the arm of the bully around behind his back, only to kick out the back of his knee and put him into submission with your foot on his ankle. Key pressure points to save your life, along with a situation to save your life, and maybe even the bullies. Who knows, from that one encounter, he could learn to pick his fights better, and won’t go brawling against Mr. Packing-a-revolver down at the local bar.

    I detest though. While yes, bullying happens, and why yes, I do agree it should stop, I don’t think that drawing attention to it is the right way to do it. Yes there is power in numbers, but in the bullies’ eyes, that’s just a bigger crowd and a bigger audience. When you can learn to stand up, to say “Screw you, I’m not going to fight you, but if you attack me, I’m going to defend myself and make you regret throwing that punch” then, you have truly defeated a bully. Why? Their mind understands two things. Power, and dominance. Speak their language, and you can bend them to your will. Does that make you as horrible as them? No. Why? You use defense for yourself, and not to terrorize others…

    Whoever reads this, know this, if you are threatened and fear for your life, get help, and make sure above all else you can help yourself because one day you WILL be standing alone against your fears, threats, and pains.

    Sorry for the long post.

  29. This woman keeps going on people’s names pretending to be them & making up many things that are untrue can she be a stalker and/or just a nut case?

  30. I had to deal with only one other bully in my life but this guy done it to everyone in school because he had hate and anger & no one liked him so he went to bully ppl to make him self feel better well he dropped out of school after getting threats from kids to kick his butt he relized no one was gonna take his crap any longer for being a bully and he could not take it either so both sides were equal ! But I think for an adult to cyber bully people & kids online is just sick and cruel ! What is wrong with this world it is so messed up this woman online gets her one friend & her to gang up on people in chats no matter how old they are these two people are adults woman & man so stuff like this makes me sick to my stomach at one point there was one person they would pick on in a chat not caring it if was a teen or adult like them ! So greentea143 & Docredisback may need some serious help or start thinking before they threaten people and kids ! Does this make them feel better or maybe they get a kick? I don’t care they both need to grow up & act like the adults they are just makes me sick these two can still be online and threaten/bully people !

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