Richards did not help her cause by blogging about the incident the next day, describing herself as a kind of Joan of Arc for downtrodden female geeks everywhere. (That's my interpretation anyway -- you can judge for yourself.)
Still, she didn't deserve what happened next: a predictable but sad heaping of abuse, hatred, and threats spewed directly at her Twitter account. Angry geeks took a page from Anonymous and launched a DDoS attack on the website of her employer, taking SendGrid offline for most of a day. Some rallied to Richards' defense; others noted similar incidents in Richards' past or unearthed examples of Richards herself engaging in sexual innuendo with a male colleague.
Tempest, meet teapot
Then things got real. One of the Play Haven developers was fired from his job for making inappropriate comments at a public conference. A day later, Richards lost her job for the way she handled the situation. (She had been responsible for developer relations -- insert ironic comment here.)
All this happened because of a few jokes about dongles and forking.
If this pattern isn't familiar to you by now, it should be. Something happens in the real world and it triggers a lizard brain reaction in a critical mass of people, whose fingers are drawn immediately to the nearest keyboard. The s**t starts flying and everyone gets splattered. Then there's a lot of hand wringing and Post-Kerfuffle Recaps (PKRs), like the one you are now reading.
My personal 2.5 cents, for the record: Yes, the dorks should probably not be making those jokes in a public forum, but I don't consider them sexist. As far as I can tell they weren't demeaning to either gender; if they reinforced any stereotypes, it was about what geeky males consider to be funny.
I asked a female colleague of mine, whose response I really liked: She said the most sexist part of the whole incident is the assumption that women don't like to joke about sex.
Richards handled it poorly but not badly enough to receive verbal abuse and physical threats. Both companies were wrong to terminate their employees, though I can see how Richards might have a hard time getting any job involving developer relations for the foreseeable future.
Where do we draw the line?
The bigger picture here, though, is that this kind of thing just can't go on -- especially as consequences spill over into the real world. Last week two people lost their jobs over some stupid online controversy. How long before someone loses their life? I think we've reached a tipping point in how rude people can be to each other.
Is this really why Al Gore invented the InterWebs? I don't think so. We need a return to sanity and civility, the sooner the better.
How do we create an Internet with less crazy and more manners? Politely post your grand schemes below or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article, "Come back, civility -- the Internet misses you," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.