Michael Arrington can be a harsh person, but he is smart. I wouldn’t say that he and other TechCrunch writers are the nerdiest in the industry, but I’d trust his assessment of whether or not a startup will make money and have a viable future.
Having such brutal honesty offline AND online is hard. People don’t like being told their babies are ugly. They don’t want to hear that their UI sucks, their competitor is leaps ahead of them in advancement, or that there aren’t many compelling software companies founded by women. Michael Arrington has faced criticism from all angles and from every part of the planet, because he and his team happen to run the biggest technology blog the world has ever known. People want power, they believe they deserve power, and telling them they haven’t earned it yet will get some people angry at you.
Shira Ovide singled out the culture of TechCrunch in her Wall Street Journal piece as a factor for why there are so few women leaders in technology. Arrington found this unfair. He, after all, has a female CEO whom he picked himself because of her skills. He would LOVE to see female entrepreneurs in the space and end the sausage fest. So he responded with an invite that TechCrunch is happy to cover software created by women that actually interests people.
I read the piece and thought, “Man, he doesn’t get what it’s like to be a woman out there”. It’s not his fault. He’s a guy, and it’s easy to assume that if YOU are cool with having a female CEO, others would be as open too. I disregarded the post entirely until I noticed commenters saying that women just don’t have the right skills for software. I thought this was a bogus statement, so I commented back. It isn’t nature that ensures there are no women in the tech space. I used to be quite good at math and science. I just gave it up because there are a lot of societal pressures on women and frankly, the sciences are a very lonely place for us and I like having friends.
What ensued honestly freaked me out. People would state their impressive credentials and then would put out some of the most illogical, hateful statements I have ever seen. I continued to comment, trying to keep my cool figuring it would do me no service to be nasty about it. I was continually painted as a whiny, know-it-all manhater, almost always by anonymous or obscured commenters. I was called beyond horrible names. It was bizarre enough to almost be funny. Almost.
Prior to installing Disqus, an innovative commenting system, the men behind the curtain of TechCrunch (in this case Arrington and MG Siegler) would have deleted the nasty comments and then grumbled to themselves that humanity is going to hell in a hand basket. But Disqus is real-time and comments show up literally as fast as people can type them. When a nasty comment would pop up, Arrington or Siegler would attempt to delete it and thirty, often nastier threads would show up after it. As the real-time web becomes more prevalent, it will become easier and easier for online mobs to take these pot shots at people with little fear of repercussion. After all, the moderators can’t control them anymore.
People want power. Nice people want it and mean people want it. Like it or not, TechCrunch has it, so it attracts the good AND the bad element no matter what. That’s just reality. As the web speeds up and becomes more connected, it will be up to US to ensure that this blog and other blogs we read are fair and civil for everyone. It’s up to decent men to tell the sexist ones that their jokes and vitriol are not acceptable. It’s up to women to stand up for each other instead of tearing each other apart, or simply ignoring the the problem. Not just when it is easy to add a +1 to a blog post opposing such buffoonery like my last one, but when someone is getting hounded by trolls for standing up for what is right, when it’s brutally hard. The web, like the real world, can be a cruel place. You can’t expect the man behind the curtain to fix all the nastiness for you. It’s just too hard of a job for one person to handle.