Anyone who has participated in the blogosphere in the past two months knows the troubling story of Kathy Sierra, a prominent blogger who was the victim of online threats that included violent sexual acts and murder ("Death threats force woman to suspend blog, cancel talk at O'Reilly conference". When the harassment spread beyond her own blog to two others that were affiliated with other prominent bloggers, Sierra became so terrified that she canceled an upcoming speaking engagement and took a hiatus from blogging.
But Sierra isn't the only one to endure online harassment. In fact, some would argue that she's just the most visible -- if not the most historically egregious -- tip of an iceberg that has been around since Internet discussions began in the early 1980s. "Between now and the early days of Usenet, the level of abusive behavior has been distressingly constant," says Tim Bray, a veteran blogger and director of Web technologies at Sun Microsystems Inc.
The difference is, with 70 million blogs in existence today and 1.4 new blogs created every second, according to blog search engine Technorati Inc., there are just more people participating in online discussions, and "the more crazy people you've got reading them, the wilder the whole blogosphere can become," says Richard Silverstein, who advocates for a peaceful approach to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in his blog.