Queen of Spain Receives Death Threats on Twitter

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Erin Kotecki Vest at NewComm Forum in 2008

With great regret this post discusses recent death threats (warning: graphic language) received on Twitter by Erin Kotecki Vest, known on the social web as the Queen of Spain. In the worst cases (warning: graphic language), the lives of her children were threatened.

Death threat

Erin is one of those special people who has been on the social web since the pioneering days, yet makes herself widely open to her community. A Democratic party leaning political blogger and a friend to many, Erin is currently publicly waging a harrowing battle against Lupis. While certainly the ire of GOP social web opponents may be understood, no human being — especially one as fun, loving and special as Erin — deserves such horrifying threats online.

Erin’s situation also follows on the heels of the horrific Arizona shootings. While not a Congresswoman, Erin is a highly visible person on the social web, and thus has attracted the worst kind of parasocial behavior.

Kids2

Such cases have happened online in the past, most notably with the Kathy Sierra controversy in 2007. Kathy ended up leaving the blogosphere, and though she came back briefly on Twitter, the threats chased her off the web. Erin has chosen to stay online, an act of courage given the harsh nature of these threats.

Having been threatened with a beating for questioning a photographer’s practice of tagging bloggers with watermarked images on Facebook, it’s easy to say that such threats are not a pleasant experience. Threatening people physically — or worse threatening to kill them and their children for differing ideas — goes beyond “heated discourse,” and enters the realm of criminal and mentally unbalanced behavior. There is no provocation that can justify these kinds of threats against other people.

Yesterday, the Momocrats hosted a podcast on the topic with Civilination’s Andrea Weckerle. While sometimes disagreeing with Andrea about the finer points of civility, we agree that there can be no tolerance for cyberbullying and online threats. If you are sickened by this news, if you have experienced threats online, please check out Civilination’s site.

Let’s hope Erin’s bullies find help, and go away. Lupis is enough of a scourge. Here’s to the Queen of Spain. Long live the Queen!

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  • Andrea Weckerle

    Geoff, thanks for taking a stand by talking about Erin’s situation. As you point out, this isn’t about political leanings, but the fact that “no human being…deserves such horrifying threats online.” While everyone’s response to online harassment and threats is different, Erin is showing tremendous courage by refusing to be silenced, and deserved the support of the online community.

    • Anonymous

      I totally agree, Andrea. She is doing the right thing by staying online. We can’t allow our lives to be interrupted by the unwell.

  • http://ariherzog.com Ari Herzog

    You remind me of a similar intensity of threats on an internet role-playing game in the mid-1990s. College students around the world telneted to a central computer server that ran the game, and we all had characters. Someone’s character was “raped” by another character, using various textual phrases. It didn’t matter that this wasn’t a real rape in the sense of one body on another body; while the offender had his character banned and IP address blocked, the victim along with others like me who knew her off the game went through some emotional scarring that just because someone is hiding behind an internet handle doesn’t mean the virtual isn’t real and that we’re not all people.

    You also remind me of Shea Sylvia who received an email threat from an anonymous person about raping her solely because she used Foursquare. I soon deleted my account there, as I detailed at http://ariherzog.com/why-i-deleted-my-foursquare-account/

    Some people don’t understand how to treat other people. Some people think that if they can write it on a computer that they would say it to that person’s face. And that’s where they are wrong, I hope.

    • Anonymous

      You are right, Ari. I think you and I can both relate to that. I also think the Internet gives sick people unprecedented reach to attack more people, and that’s what’s really frightening. Predators, etc. It’s just one of the negative outcomes of the peer to peer phenomena we live in today.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=537361252 Paul Short

    As someone who has received threats in the recent past, although not as severe as Erin’s, I can identify with how she must be feeling. The courage she is showing by staying online through this shows strength of character. No-one deserves to be treated this way and the people doing the threatening are cowardly.

    • Anonymous

      I’m with you on that. It’s unacceptable. Erin’s courage is certainly fantastic, and she should be lauded for her moral fiber. It’s not just the threats, it’s lupis, too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kbmsg Keith Brooks

    This sadly is the downside of an open and social world. People can say whatever they want with out recourse in nearly all cases.
    Politics, and religion, unfortunately, not just in the US, is and has been the cause of many unfortunate incidents throughout history.
    Why people take it so seriously and extreme is just beyond me. We all have what time God gives us, why waste it on senseless hatred?

    • Anonymous

      I am pretty sure this person is mentally unwell, though I have to agree with you people take the Internet WAY too personally. Unplug and walk away from the keyboard.

  • http://twitter.com/megfowler Meg Fowler

    Erin has more cojones than most men I know, and I bet her fear about this probably has more to do with the safety of Aaron and her kids. People say stupid and hateful things all over the Internet because no one calls them to account, and no one expects better. We celebrate snark and derision as one of the primary forms of entertainment online, then seem surprised when people lose track of their boundaries and common sense.

    The one time I had a blog post hit the front page of Digg, I got all sorts of emails from men I’d never had any communication with telling me that I needed some good sense f***** into me… and those were the nicer ones.

    We need a tone adjustment online, period — but unfortunately, the area where Erin works and lives online is one of the most heated, problematic, rhetoric and hate-filled spheres: politics. I’m sure this wasn’t the first time she’s seen things like this go by, and it probably won’t be the last.

    We need to expect so much more from ourselves, and start acting the way we want others to act. Politeness. Grace. Listening. Learning to debate without name-calling. Learning to back up our opinions without questioning the intelligence of others. To let go of anger towards people who don’t live and act and speak and conduct business exactly as we do.

    We need to make it so these people stick out like sore thumbs, instead of blending into a malevolent landscape.

    • Anonymous

      Erin’s courage is stellar. Threats of violence are never acceptable in any part of life, much less online. As to your situation, I do not think it is ever acceptable to talk to a woman (or man) that way in public, private or on the Internet. I am sorry you went through that.

      As far as the civility police argument on tone, I think we are likely to disagree. I’ve seen the civility argument as an excuse for tyrants and their friends/followers to beat down dissenting voices way too many times online to agree with that. Who is any one person to judge “tone?” The horse seems mighty high to me when I hear these complaints.

      My attitude is if I wouldn’t say it to your face, I’m not publishing it online. And believe me, I would say these things to people’s faces. That’s how I was raised, not to back stab, to say it and move on. If you don’t like it, unfollow or leave..

  • http://twitter.com/allenmireles Allen Mireles

    I admire honesty. And courage. Erin is one of the people I follow because of both of those traits and it makes me sick at heart and angrier than I can express to think that some cowardly asshat (mentally unwell notwithstanding) has tormented her with these vile tweets. Yes, it is one of the sad side effects of the open and social world we live in, and, like many of us, I have seen this before. And hated it then too.

    My friend @TruckerDesiree has been threatened with bodily harm on multiple occasions on Twitter because she works to expose the dark side of the trucking industry’s treatment of women truckers. Her opponents have gone to great lengths to threaten physical harm, organize other truckers to damage her vehicle, post her private history online and disparage her worth and character. It has been long and ugly and is a reprehensible use of the social media tools we use to communicate with one another in this open and social world.

    Kudos to you Geoff for calling this behavior out, for exposing this cowardice and craziness and for offering Civilnation as a tool we can us to combat it.

    • Anonymous

      We all need to stand against violence and abuse like this. Unacceptable. I am sure the person is sick, but it’s not OK, and it encourages more bad behavior.

  • http://twitter.com/cbarger Christopher Barger

    I don’t think this happens in a vacuum, and this isn’t about social media. (Though the anonymity or pseudonymity — yes, I’m saying it’s a word — of most of the social web is a huge enabler of the problem; anonymity makes brave people out of cowards.) My question: where’s Twitter on this? Deleting the threatening accounts isn’t good enough; they have to have IP addresses or some sort of a way to at least generally ID where this came from.

    Hate to say it and offend libertarian sensibilities, but you know what’ll solve it? Hold Twitter and other networks financially or legally responsible for any illegal threats posed using their networks (hell, it worked on Craigslist and sex trafficking). If Twitter and its leaders were held responsible for the behavior of their users, I bet all of a sudden you’d see some pretty serious policing of these kinds of things. Yes, I know this opens some unpleasant doors, but this stuff is unacceptable and needs to be stopped.

    • Sane

      Yeah! And let’s start holding paper companies accountable for all the ransom notes printed on their products!

    • Anonymous

      Hey, Christopher. I think you are spot on. The FCC may need to step in since Twitter is adamantly against regulation and authoritative interference (a la Wikileaks). This is clearly one of those cases where if you can’t do the right thing, then the Feds should put the heat on them.

    • http://www.margieclayman.com Marjorie Clayman

      I have to step in and say that I don’t really understand Twitter’s stance on issues like this. You can’t find an IP address and block it when the proof is right there? Heck, we could kick people out of AOL chatrooms back in the dinosaur days…c’mon, Twitter…!

  • Andrea

    As well as being horrible and unbalanced, isn’t making death threats via the Internet a federal offense investigated by the FBI and prosecuted in the courts?

    • Anonymous

      The Secret Service sure seems to investigate people on Twitter who threaten POTUS.

  • http://mizzinformation.blogspot.com Maggielmcg

    What Christopher said. Twitter should be responsible for reporting stuff like this to the police and giving them the identifying information to locate the person. The reason online hatred and harassment is as bad as it is is because there are no consequences. People hide behind anonymity and say whatever they want because they can. Twitter deletes their account? They create another. I’ve dealt with trolls enough to know that they will not be deterred and will continue to create aliases and keep on hating.

    • Anonymous

      I actually deleted two anon comments that were pretty snarky and mean on this post. It’s pretty sad when people don’t have the guts to stand behind their name. And agreed, trolls are not deterred very often.

  • Anonymous

    I’m having trouble finding words to wrap around this – it is, as noted – TOTALLY unacceptable.

    After that, I’m stumped — I think strapping Twitter with financial or legal responsibility for its users (as Christopher Barger suggested) is objectionable for many reasons – and worse, I doubt it’d work (except for the few who have legal means to exact that responsibility).

    I like Meg Fowler’s idea about a “tone adjustment” (and the whole tone of discussion here, for that matter) – AND I’d like to see something done. What, though??

    Thank you, Geoff Livingston, for blogging about this – and kudos to Erin Kotecki Vest’s courage – she sounds like a marvelous person – I feel like I “met” her here.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks, Karen for your thoughtful questions. I do think Barger is on the right track though, and Twitter is a public medium and should be held to the rules of public media. If they can’t do the right thing, maybe it’s time for the FCC to help them. As to tone, I stand by comments to Meg on that one. I think we are really asking for is manners. We should be gentlemen and ladies. The civility issue boils down to that.

  • http://twitter.com/TheJenATX JenWojcik

    Geoff,

    Thank you for this post. Erin is possibly the bravest person I know. This abuse is tough enough to handle for a person not dealing with a life-threatening illness let alone what she and her family are going through.

    While I understand Twitter’s position of “hands off” in a general sense, I definitely feel that once law enforcement is involved, there should be EVERY effort made to cooperate with the authorities to bring this despicable person to justice.

    This person has not only threatened Erin and her family, but others as well (myself included). They need to be stopped before something ACTUALLY happens.

    I am frankly disgusted that Twitter in particular has not taken a more proactive stance against this type of behavior.

    It is simply unacceptable.

    Long live the QUEEN!

    Jen Wojcik

    • Anonymous

      Yup, I agree, Twitter needs to do more as a public network. Perhaps threat of regulation is needed for the public network. And the law should offer a digital restraining order for such situations.

      I am so sorry to hear that you have been threatened, Jen. It’s not OK, it never is.

      Long live the Queen.

  • http://www.eatwithaspork.com Michael Beck

    There’s no excuse for making threats against someone, online or offline. Terrible this had to happen to @QueenOfSpain.

    My fiance and I are starting to gain traction as online personalities through an Internet talk radio show we’re doing. We were actually targeted by cyber-bullies during our last show in our chatroom. We’re hoping this doesn’t continue.

    • Anonymous

      Sounds like your skin is thick, and it needs to be on the Internet. Hopefully, you won’t have to test its strength too many times.

  • Anonymous

    This is sickening, thank you for raising awareness about it. These threats are unacceptable and should be investigated.

  • http://www.purplecar.net/ PurpleCar

    I just wrote about the “permanency” of text on my blog today. I didn’t address the area of threats. But having a permanent record of threats seems to be an advantage to the victim in this situation. i.e., something to hand to the police and FBI. But for the everyday user, there must be some conventional wisdom about how to handle stalking, how to survive threats when you’re a whistle-blower, etc. Getting threatened isn’t a new situation. I know the old guard police would tell you to “stay offline” like they used to tell women “don’t go to work” or “don’t use the subway” but there must be some good advice out there that doesn’t hold prejudice about Internet use. It’s a ridiculous notion that a victim of stalking must remain inside their homes and it’s just as ridiculous that a victim of online threats must stay offline. Where is the wisdom and how can we adapt it to educate current law enforcement and users?

    • Anonymous

      I would say it’s strictly a women’s issue , but in this post and one of the commenters you have two men who have discussed receiving threats online. I think this has a lot to do with Erin being a strong voice, but men have been stalked and killed, too, need we not forget John Lennon. We just need to look at violence and abuse online in general, and not make it a sexism issue.

  • Anonymous

    This isn’t about tone, this is about silencing women who speak their mind. It won’t happen. We won’t let it ;-)

    • Anonymous

      Amen.

  • http://pulseandsignal.com Andre Blackman

    This is is really, really disheartening. It’s unfortunate but a reality of living a life out loud and online. I remember signing up for that service where folks could ask you things anonymously (Formspring). The day after I signed up I received a very harsh racist comment.

    • Anonymous

      You and I both know Erin, and I think we can both agree that this is not good Hate exists. I heard a Christian tell me because they saved more money than I do that they were the better Jew of the two of us. Nice. Formspring scared me when it launched. Sorry you had to deal with that, Andre.

  • http://twitter.com/skypulsemedia Howie at Sky Pulse Media

    I have been dying to comment since yesterday. I am a proud Progressive. I am not a Liberal! That is a false term just like conservative is a false term. When I was investigating Twitter to see if Brands should be advertising there (not posting think Sponsored Tweets) in Summer 2009 I started a Political Account because of the crazy stuff about #HCR

    I followed Democratice and Republican congresspeople and senators. I found the conservative Hashtags (TCOT, ORCA, SGP and others). What I found was vile hate speech. People saying Dems should be shot. Obama is commie. He is a Nazi. it was really repulsive. I myself decided why not just fight back in their little holes and humiliate them. The scary thing was GOP Reps and Senators using twitter to lie and that shocked me because it is public and permanent. Dems are wimpy they would just announce town hall meetings!

    Anyway this stuff does not shock me. It is sad. Just think if you are a Brand that your Sponsored tweet could of preceded this in someone’s Twitter feed.

    As to Erin. I am so sad to read about this. It is why I used an Alias. And I agree with some of the comments that I think if you tweet a death threat the Feds should find that person and arrest them the same as they do for off line threats.

    • Anonymous

      The lunatic fringe on the right is absolutely scary. The level of hate that they bring to the table is disgusting. Political social media in general is not a fun thing at all. I feel for the people engaged in these online debates.

  • http://www.shuaism.com Josh Peters

    This is so disgusting I don’t even know what else to say other than my hat’s off to QueenOfSpain and I hope the people behind these threats get brought up on criminal charges and taken out of society for a while. It’s truly foul behavior.

  • http://twitter.com/swhitley Shannon Whitley

    The original version of Twitter’s Terms of Service was very clear:

    “You must not abuse, harass, threaten, impersonate or intimidate other Twitter users.”

    Today’s version is not quite as clear, but a death threat should be covered here:

    “You may use the Services only in compliance with these Terms and all applicable local, state, national, and international laws, rules and regulations.”

    We need to demand that Twitter address this. Twitter has shown that it can provide tools to fight spammers. It needs to attack this type of bad behavior as well.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sustainablefarmer Michael Sykes

    One of the most courageous humans alive. This is completely unacceptable. I agree with Meg. Erin has more cojones than most men I have ever met. She is Fearless and Full of the truth and light. I am pleased to count her as a friend and will stand between anyone who threatens her and her family. Just went through the same thing on my collectives website, but we expect it here in S.E.Texas. I truly hope her detractors get some help. Peace and Light, thank you for the strength of your post and her defense.

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  • http://thesocialjoint.com/ Lucretia M Pruitt

    I hadn’t seen this Geoff.
    My death threats were never on Twitter… I can’t imagine.
    But Erin has always managed to rise above the twisted, psychotic, violent, vitriolic, and bilious spewing of those who simply think that Internet anonymity means that you can bully someone with impunity. Still, she’s got enough to deal with right now, so it can only help to know that so many are in her corner.
    Twitter scum are some of the scummiest scum out there.

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