Boagworld celebrated its 200th show yesterday. A live podcast was put on throughout the day to commemorate this event. Many members of the Web industry took part including the likes of Andy Clarke and Rachel Andrews, both respected professionals.
Unfortunately, activities in a live chat-room for the event have overshadowed the otherwise successful day. These events came in the form of sexist comments against some of the female guests on the show. The comments have sparked quite intense retaliation from those involved and the Web community at large.
I would like to state right now that the actions of some people in the chat-room were childish, unwarranted, and something I don't condone in any way. However, this whole situation is very interesting, both with the commenters and with the overall response to the comments. There is much to learn from these events.
This issue has been discussed at length on Twitter and the general consensus is that these comments manifested simply because the chat-room was anonymous. Because there was no physical tie between comments and real people, it meant that anything could be said without fear of attribution. It was a free-for-all where the strongest feelings could be vented with ease, wether they are warranted or not.
An unfortunate aspect of crowds is that as soon as one feeling is made public, anyone else with those feelings feels better about joining in; becoming one of the mob. As this mob grows the feelings get stronger and stronger until they lose all focus and erupt into personal attacks. This is bad.
On the flip-side, most of these comments were undoubtably made by young and immature people who have a bad case of jealousy. Or at least you'd hope that is the case! The reason this didn't happen to any of the male guests is that the majority of this industry, and in turn the chat-room, is male. I would bet money on 100% of the bad comments coming from males. But why the attack on females? Well, because when you're jealous the best way to feel better is bring the other person down, at least in your own mind. The only way they could do that was by attacking the biggest difference; gender. I'm by no means an expert of psychology, but this is all pretty obvious stuff.
I'd like to stress again that I'm not condoning what happened, I simply believe a little understanding of the issue will prevent the community coming to knee-jerk conclusions. It seems to me that the response to the comments has turned into a defensive backlash about how woman deserve to be in the Web industry and how hard they've worked for it. Why has such a small number of anonymous comments required this much defending? Especially if the majority of the industry supports equal rights.
I can't see equality being reached if there is a backlash every time a comment is made seemingly against said equality. If you highlight the difference then the difference will persist. It's a never-ending loop that must be broken somewhere along the line. Of course, this post is part of that loop, but I feel it's place is warranted by highlighting the need to break said loop.
In conclusion, none of this would've happened if users of the chat-room were required to register, attributing a real name and email in the process. A sense of responsibility results once a physical link is made between the user and his comments. The user must think carefully about the impact of their words before joining the crowd. I believe a majority, if not all, of the comments yesterday would not have happened if this simple requirement was in place.