I received a lovely email last night from Kathy Sierra after she saw her name repeatedly being mentioned in the context of EFF’s legal support of weev, particularly in the aftermath of our latest post on harassment. She also sent a statement of sorts that I am free to publish as I wish; Kathy’s words are in full below.
I’ve seen my name brought up in discussions around EFF’s support of weev and hope to clarify a few things:
EFF’s help and support on weev’s case is a reason I can sleep a little better at night. As so many others have noted, that EFF supported *one of the worst people* suggests you’ll help any of us under similar circumstances. I don’t believe for a moment that you took weev’s case on *because* he was a notorious, media/attention-grabbing defendant. I believe you took his case on in spite of it. For whatever appreciation and respect you earned for this in the infosec community, you’ve seen an order of magnitude more abuse for it.
My only complaint about the EFF’s support of weev was the same complaint I had about the tech press: whether intentional or not, you helped spin his image and bolstered his credibility. You did this in a hundred different ways, in a hundred different press releases, tweets, posts, messages. That hurt and misled a lot of people and it wasn’t necessary. That’s the sum total and end of my complaint about the EFF, and I can’t say you were wrong to have done it. That case was terrifying.
We need EFF to do exactly what it’s doing. There is something I fear far more than an online world in which women are subjected to violent “wishful thinking” threats, doxxing, and harassment. I fear a world in which free speech is chipped away, piece by piece, by well-intended people. People like me, from 7 years ago, when I was in the midst of violations of my virtual — and real-life — safety and privacy. I was wrong, back then, for thinking the sorts of threats many of us now find quite common should not be not protected. They are, and they need to stay that way.
I’m beyond sad that we live in a world now where so many people exploit their freedom of speech for no purpose beyond cruelty and hate and lulz. Not as free expression or to “punch up” against a government or corporations or the powerful but simply to abuse the powerless — easy targets — for lulz. Too many people should never have been put in a position to have to give up so much to preserve freedom of speech. But thanks to social media, we are where we are now.
But I do think the EFF can help us support freedom of speech by helping us minimize the damage harassment “speech” (and the fear of it) is creating today. The path forward is not to seek to punish or restrict that speech but to help us craft strategies to reduce its impact. The EFF can help us protect our rights ourselves before that option is permanently taken from us.
Those who pose the greatest threat to freedom of speech in the west today are NOT those using it to rail against tyranny or the powerful, but those who — in very large numbers — are using it to relentlessly harass and abuse and bully and silence large groups of people. From a systems point of view, it makes sense that people who’ve been on the receiving end of endless attacks or watched friends and family suffer will inevitably feel there IS no other option but to create more restrictive speech laws. “Surely THIS is not protected speech!” they say. As I once said. I was so so so wrong. But I can empathize with others who feel this way. And it’s quite scary to imagine what will happen if the number of people who feel this way keeps scaling.
EFF can help us rethink our online communities and make the cultural shift necessary to get us off our current path. Because if we stay this course, and more and more people are subjected to the torrents of online (and spilling into real life) abuse, I can’t see how we WON’T end up with more laws against speech. If we don’t fix this, some form of law enforcement might. And we’re all screwed if that happens.
EFF can help us make that cultural shift. EFF can help us preserve freedom of speech by not glorifying those who push the boundaries. Support them, yes. Inadvertently glorify them, no. EFF can help us preserve freedom of speech by harshly criticizing those who exploit their freedom by using it to harass, abuse, bully, and ruin not the powerful, but the easy targets. EFF can help us by saying, “Hey, asshole, we will defend your right to be an asshole because it matters” and THEN adding, “but don’t you dare say you’re helping fight for freedom of speech because it’s people like you who are seriously fucking it up for the rest of us.”
We need to change the environment in a way that makes harassment far less easy and rewarding for the harassers, because we desperately need options — and we need to take action — before that choice is no longer available.
I’d love to see the EFF bring people together to help figure out a way forward. Whether its a weekend “idea-a-thon”, or a meeting, or an ongoing project, anything. And whatever you do, if you need another body volunteering, I’m here raising my hand.
— Kathy Sierra