Saturday, December 29, 2012

Dealing with trolls and women in technology

Hacker News had a discussion on this a while ago.

The original blog was taken down either by 'hackers' or the original person.

She had claimed at Hacker News (and the tech world in general) that there is a sexist, misogynist attitude towards women as well as harassment, douchbaggery and other things. I feel sad for her that she experienced these things, and this is an issue that needs to be addressed.

Now I have known women in technology that are experts in what they do, they are knowledgeable,  they learn new skills easily, and nobody would deny them a place at a conference or meeting or group to discuss issues. We should not discriminate by gender or any other thing.

What this woman experienced is trolls, they exist on the Internet and in real life. Call them bullies, sociopaths, egomaniacs, people with emotional and psychological problems that take things out on others. You might have known some in high school or elementary school, the very same grow up to become adult bullies.

The thing these bullies or trolls did was target her because she wasn't an expert in her field, even if she came up with the idea and helped organize the event, what these bullies or trolls did was called "bite the n00b" in which a n00b is a new or inexperienced person who is just learning or has basic knowledge in a subject. There exists a small fraction of the hacker community that considers itself 'elite' or '733t' and then picks on and bullies the part that is not 'elite'. "Did your mommy buy you a 'puer for your birthday?" they used to say in the 1980's when a new user signed into a BBS and barely knew what they were doing. I was in the part that believes "information should be free' in that everyone should have the chance to learn and share the knowledge and information on how computers and technologies work

Now she is an organizer and a planner, and she did come up with a new idea. We need more people like that, and we should not discourage people when they come up with new ideas and lack the experience in the area. We need to be inclusive and not exclusive. Yes she is a blogger and writes 'disruptive journalism' that uses negativity to get attention. Nothing wrong with being a blogger, free speech and all that. Just that we hold people responsible for their free speech these days as well as their actions, behaviors, and words.

Not everyone had dealt with her fairly. Was it because she is a woman, or was it that she lacked knowledge and experience in cryptology? Either one is an unacceptable reason to treat her that way. I think part of the problem is that hackers are not held to standards of behavior and courtesy.  True most hackers have a code of ethics or morals that they developed over the years. But I am talking about the small minority that doesn't seem to have a code of ethics or morals and just has anarchy of ethics and morals. True most had dealt with her fairly and wanted to hear what she had to say, but didn't do anything to stop the minority from trolling and bullying her.

Throughout my career I trained and tutored people in learning how a computer works, how to use an operating system, how to program, how to use databases. Not just as an employee at a company, but in college and universities, and on my own free time. In 1986 I was at the University of Missouri Rolla (Now Missouri University of Science and Technology) and pledged a fraternity there. I studied Computer Science and saw that there were few women at the university (I think that has changed since then). There was a woman in my Pascal class that was struggling, and I tutored her to help her pass an upcoming class. Other members of my fraternity had tried to ask her out on dates, and they were stunned to see me on campus and in the student center having conversations with her. Now I wasn't dating her, I was tutoring her, I was treating her like a human being.

My point is that we would be better off helping people who are inexperienced or struggling in computers and technology rather than harassing them, bulling them, trolling them, or even asking women for dates. If you want to date a woman, find a dating site or something, don't turn Hacker News or a forum or your hacker event into a dating one. Part of being a hacker should be being a professional that is willing to help out others and not bully or troll them.

It isn't just women who are targeted by bullies and trolls, it is men as well. In some of my former workplaces I was bullied and harassed because I would not go to happy hour and get drunk with coworkers (I don't drink or use drugs, and I have a family that needs my help at home) or that I didn't join in on the politics or trying to force a coworker to quit by harassing and bullying them and withholding important information from them. You see I believe in helping people out and not doing those harassing and bullying things to them. It happens more often than you think, and it is not the majority but more of the minority of people who do it.

Yes it is important to discuss, and yes it isn't just women who are the victims. We need to have an empathy for others so that we don't do these things. We must not form social kliks and only include an inner circle of elite people and shut out and bully and harass the rest. I think learning Critical Thinking can help in this area. It should be taught in grade schools on up to high schools and be in college and universities (it should already be there in higher education) that not only would help people treat other people as human beings, but also allow people to learn and grow to become better people and learn areas of technology and science.