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Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian has called out his “fellow geeks’, for the DDoS attacks, crude responses and death threats they sent to Adria Richards after she tweeted out an image of several men who made sexist jokes behind her during a programming convention.
“We, the tech community, should be taking a hard look at our response to the aforementioned events,” Ohanian writes on his blog.
While it would be easy to dismiss the attacks on Richards as the work of a few errant trolls, Ohanian feels that the tech community as whole needs to take a good hard look at itself in the wake of the incident:
I’m talking about how many (otherwise reasonable-seeming) people I saw who were comfortable and self-righteous in calling a woman a bitch/cunt/etc from their Twitter, Hacker News, or, yes, reddit account.
Attacks like the one faced by Richards, he says, diminish the internet’s credibility as a space for free speech:
These amazing open platforms for speech work because an internet connection is all we need to share an idea with the connected world. What makes this freedom so awesome is not simply that we have it, but how we exercise it. Your tweets, your comments, and your upvotes matter. The comments (and support for them) I’ve seen over the past few days have really disappointed me and I really hope this is a chance for us to reflect on how we use these tools to foster the tech community. This isn’t “political correctness,” this is you having the courage to use your words to create an environment that promotes an open exchange of ideas — not alienate people and certainly not terrorize them.
Speaking to The Verge, said that the views of those who acted badly towards Richards did not represent the majority of geeks. He adds however that more people should have stood up to the abuse aimed at Richards.
In his blog post, he underlines this point, saying the fact that many geeks were ostracized growing up should meant that they should be more finely attuned to empathy than hate:
Growing up, we typically weren’t picked first for sports, but were first on the Quake II server. Few people really understood our peculiar hobbies or how amazing it was to see “Hello, world” for the first time. Plenty of us got used to being ignored. Many of us were bullied. But what did we learn from it — empathy or hate?
As co-founder of Reddit, which bills itself as the front page of the internet, Ohanian carries considerable clout. He’s also had to defend the platform he helped build at times when it has been accused of harboring racism and hate-mongering.
The best defence against this kind of behavior, he maintains, “is to challenge it, to have people say ‘this is not OK.'”
“There will always be frenzied agitators who are just mashing away on their keyboard, trying to outrage people,” he says, but “the internet won’t live up to its full potential without getting the best out of everyone”.