These scenerios got me thinking: what to do if you feel afraid of someone's threatening, stalking or otherwise harassing comments? I looked around and Bloggingfeminism covered most of the suggestions I found:
1. moderate comments. delete as needed.
2. bloggers can help each other by outing authors of anonymous threats and harrassing emails: track their IP or email addresses of threatening commenters and notify the targeted blogger; post the harasser's email address
3. talk about it with other bloggers, "out loud" - identify the comments as threatening and harrassing
4. pool resources and create a site for public outing: join with other bloggers, collect harrassing commenters IP addresses as a means of identifying their origin or identity and post this information. prosecute whenever feasible.
All suggestions worth considering.
Missing from the suggestion list, however, was advice that I imagine Gavin DeBecker, author of The Gift of Fear might give. I read his book as a means of coping with a personal stalking experience. I had received mixed advice, including, from my local misguided police officers, the exact thing DeBecker said NOT to do: face my stalker and tell him to stop contacting me. Which was exactly the thing I did do. Theh result? The stalking escalated.
So I read The Gift of Fear and followed advice to victims of stalkers, which, in a nutshell, is to minimize contact with the perpetrator, to zero, when at all possible. No conversations, no rebuttals, no arguements, no bad mouthing in return, no requests, no talking to those in contact with the stalker -- there's a chance it will get back to the stalker, which is an indirect form of contact. Because, according to DeBecker, the stalker wants to have a dialog with you and get a reaction from you. Any forms of communication are feeding the stalker's desire to interact.
So given DeBecker's recommendations, it seems to me that the best advice of all is to delete and ignore (which moderating can accomplish). Elevating a threatening post to a public discussion may, in some cases, give the hate-commenter exactly what he's looking for -- attention. He gets to learn that his post had it's intended impact -- fear. Shutting down a blog is one way to ignore and become unavailable and in the case of the blogger mentioned, she was so fearful she felt this was her only way of coping. But deleting and giving no "airtime" to these hate mongers is something to consider first.
Credit goes to Ezra Klein at The American Prospect, where I first learned of this story. Because Sierra became the subject of much scrutiny, and in some cases, criticism for shutting down her blog, Slate published a defense of her reaction, explaining why women bloggers needn't apologize for feeling fearful of these kinds of attacks. Picture of the anonymous blogger was lifted from Chamber Music Today.