Blogger Death Threats

Markos Moulitsas Zuniga is skeptical of the widespread claims of death threats aimed at blogging, thinking most are ploys for attention and the rest are “just the rantings of a lunatic.”

For my part, I’ve gotten my fair share of such vile emails. Some of them have threatened my children. One or two actually crossed the line into “death threat” territory. But so what? It’s not as if those cowards will actually act on their threats. For better or for worse, this isn’t a country in which media figures — even hugely controversial ones — are routinely attacked by anything more dangerous than a cream pie.

Email makes it easy for stupid people to send stupid emails to public figures. If they can’t handle a little heat in their email inbox, then really, they should try another line of work. Because no “blogger code of conduct” will scare away psycho losers with access to email.

Kos is certainly right that implementing a code of conduct, with or without fancy badges to display on sites, will hardly dissuade the type of person who might potentially react to words on a blog page by stalking down the writer and performing criminal acts.

I do believe that a handful of bloggers have gotten legitimate threats about which they were rightly concerned. While it’s doubtless statistically true that emailed death threats virtually never manifest in actual death, it’s nonetheless prudent to take them seriously and take appropriate action to protect your family.

UPDATE: Interestingly, several liberal blogs are much more outraged by Kos’ remarks than I am. Then again, I was one of a handful of bloggers who addressed his infamous “screw them” comments on the merits rather than a “how dare he!?” so maybe my outrage meter needs recalibration.

Skippy has an excellent roundup. His uppercase-free take: “we, for obvious reasons, will not link to the markos post today which, in effect, calls for whiny girls to stop crying because they have to deal with inconsequential things like death threats and stalking and violence on the web and off.”

Amanda Marcotte notes that “Markos is not a woman.” This is followed by a set of arguments with which I generally agree couched in a screed about The Patriarchy.

echidne (of the snakes) makes essentially the same argument, with somewhat less vitriol against men.

Melissa McEwan also thinks Kos’ perspective is sexist but she’s merely “disappointed” rather than outraged by it. She thinks cross-gender discussion here is bound to be fruitless because, “Every male blogger to whom I’ve ever spoken about receiving rape threats reacts with horror and shock because they don’t get them.”

Stephen @ The Thinkery thinks it all yet another example of the immaturity of the A-list Democratic blogs.

Lindsay Beyerstein (whose response is lacking in outrage) believes “the person who is best-situated to appraise the threat is the target, in consultation with police and other authorities.”

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, Uncategorized, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. legion says:

    Humans have a difficult time thinking in large-scale terms. When you put your thoughts out on the Internet, you’re opening yourself up to worldwide scrutiny. And yeah, there’s some vanishingly small percentage of people out there who might consider any given person’s opinions worth killing over. There’s also a much higher number of total asshats who think death threats are funny.

    But even if such a freak is only a one-in-a-million person, that means there’s 300 of them in the US – a dozen in NYC alone.

  2. If you criminalize comments, only criminals will have comments.

    While a blogger code of conduct could potentially dampen down the emotional fires, if someone would seriously harm another because of what they wrote or commented on in a blog, no code of conduct would stop them.

    If code of conducts really had such power to limit violence, why stop at blogs? Why not a code of conduct to be an American or a Homo Sapien. My what a wonderful world this would be if we could all just get along.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    What’s a “legitimate death threat”? It seems to me that (assuming “credible” is meant) any death threat that’s not very obviously loudmouthery is credible deserves at least some consideration.

  4. James Joyner says:

    Dave: Yep, we agree. I meant “legitimate” in the sense “not spurious or unjustified; genuine” but perhaps “genuine” or “credible” would have been a better adjective.

    In any case, I’d categorize those which are “not very obviously loudmouthery” as credible/legitimate/genuine.

  5. kyochan says:

    When someone sends a death threat, that’s when you know they’re not going to hurt you. If they really wanted to hurt you, it would have been done without warning.

    Proficiency in email and Photoshop does not translate to proficiency in killing.

  6. James Joyner says:

    When someone sends a death threat, that’s when you know they’re not going to hurt you. If they really wanted to hurt you, it would have been done without warning.

    Whether that’s generally true, I couldn’t say. Surely, though it isn’t always true. Some people who want to kill other people are irrational.

    Proficiency in email and Photoshop does not translate to proficiency in killing.

    No but then killing unsuspecting civilians doesn’t require any great proficiency. Any idiot can kill an unarmed, untrained person at close range.

  7. John Burgess says:

    Without getting into the politics of the argument, I think we have sufficient evidence of death threats appearing on certain anti-abortion sites that led to the death of those threatened.

    Assessing the danger of any given threat isn’t easy (9/11 anyone?). Most threats may be spurious; some are not. If you can distinguish the asshat from the crazy who will do as s/he says, then you can take appropriate action. But anonymous comments on a blog are rather hard to assess.

    Yetanotherjohn: We do have codes of conduct for behavior in public places. They go by the name ‘manners’ or ‘etiquette’. They are not generally enforced by law, of course, but that doesn’t make them less real. Even in my non-blogging life, I block the senders of flames and unfair critiques. I don’t socialize with people who use certain kinds of abusive language, behave as bigots, or are busy ‘spamming’ their POVs around the known universe. I also tend to avoid dangerously crazy people. But I’ll certainly agree that many people seem to have forgotten that good manners serves as a social lubricant, intended to avoid friction and violence.

  8. Bithead says:

    Amanda Marcotte notes that “Markos is not a woman.”

    James, you will never know just how difficult it is for me not to respond to this particular line. Nor, I suppose, will she… either one of them.


  9. Mickle says:

    When someone sends a death threat, that’s when you know they’re not going to hurt you. If they really wanted to hurt you, it would have been done without warning.

    Yeah…because people never warn you that they are going to try to hurt you.

    It takes all the fun out of seeing the surprised look on your face.

  10. Bithead says:

    I believe that it is the Russians who have the old saying; rattling the saber makes noise, drawing it does not.