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Internet fights over sexism and dongles, everybody loses

via Twitter
via Twitter

In a society that can’t stop throwing money at “Family Guy” creator and “We Saw Your Boobs” song provocateur Seth MacFarlane, how is it that the sophomoric comedy stylings of two guys at a tech conference has resulted in two lost jobs, DDoS attacks, death threats and the most misinformed discussion on sexism since … um … Seth MacFarlane’s “We Saw Your Boobs”?

The hubbub began March 17, at the PyCon developers Conference in Santa Clara, Calif., Adria Richards, developer evangelist for a software firm called SendGrid, overheard two dudes cracking wise, junior high style, over the tech terms “forking” and “dongles." So incensed was she by their untargeted doofery that she clutched her pearls on Twitter, broadcasting their picture and a description of the offense, and then followed up with a request that conference officials deal with it ... which, according to a PyCon blog post, they did:

The comments that were made were in poor taste, and individuals involved agreed, apologized, and no further actions were taken by the staff of PyCon 2013. No individuals were removed from the conference, no sanctions were levied.

Dudes chastised, righteous indignation addressed, end of story.


Just like every other time someone attempts to right a minor wrong via social media, things got on — very much like "Donkey Kong."

One of the two dude developers, an employee of PlayHaven, lost his job, as confirmed by the official PlayHaven blog. Then, compounding the original sin, Internet communities Hacker News, Reddit, and of course, Anonymous, unleashed their own very special brand of righteous indignation upon SendGrid and Richards' personal blog, shutting both down via DDoS attacks ... because that's what happens to websites that anger the Internet.

Richards, personally, became the subject of rape and death threats via Twitter ... because that's what happens to women who anger the Internet.

And by Thursday, Richards was also out of a job, her former boss and SendGrid CEO explaining her canning in a blog post of his own:

What we do not support was how she reported the conduct. Her decision to tweet the comments and photographs of the people who made the comments crossed the line. Publicly shaming the offenders — and bystanders — was not the appropriate way to handle the situation.

True enough, Richards threw the first snowball ... but she sure isn't responsible for the avalanche of over-reacting stupidity on behalf of pink slip-happy employers and the Internet Indignation Industrial Complex as a whole. Ironically, it's the same Internet Indignation Industrial Complex that Richards attempted initially to court via her tweet.

In her own blog post describing her actions, Richards implied she did it for the kids, specifically the female kids ... who, no doubt, are too busy making dongle jokes of their own to notice. (Richards, herself, made a juvenile genitals joke on her company's Twitter account days earlier.) And as any decent Human Resources department can tell you, it's not sexual harassment worthy of report unless you've asked the offender(s) to stop and he/they refuse. By Richards' own admission on her personal blog — "I didn't want to be heckled or have my experience denied" — she never addressed these dudes directly.

As for the joke ... well ... much like MacFarlane’s “Boob Song,” the real victim here is comedy, not women. (Though to be fair, these dudes weren't telling their jokes at the Oscars.) But none of this is deserving of death threats, let along job loss, especially in this economy.

If there's any lesson here, it's the very same one everyone keeps not learning. Sure, dealing with even the most mundane problem in a mundane manner deprives you of the opportunity to broadcast it on social networks. But nine times out of ten, not broadcasting is the way to go.

Helen A.S. Popkin goes blah blah blah about the Internet. Overreact to her inconsequential nonsense on Twitter and/or Facebook.