This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "So You've Been Publicly Shamed" by Jon Ronson. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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What did Adria Richards write in her infamous tweet? And how did it lead to her losing her job with SendGrid?
In March 2013, Adria Richards tweeted a photo of two developers at the PyCon tech conference, accompanying it with a comment that the two were making sexist jokes. Not only did Richards’ tweet cause massive public shaming on internet forums, but it also got her fired by her employer, the email delivery service SendGrid.
Here is how Adria Richards’s scandal unfolded and what happened in its aftermath.
Adria Richards’ Shaming
Hank (pseudonym) and Adria Richards both suffered the consequences of public shaming as a result of the same incident—on March 18, 2013, Hank and his friend Alex made off-color jokes at a tech conference and Richards called them out on Twitter. Hank was fired. Then, Richards was attacked for getting him fired.
Hank’s Transgression: A Joke
In March 2013, Hank and his friend Alex were at the PyCon tech conference. During a presentation about initiatives to get more women into tech, a joke about a piece of hardware with a massive “dongle” popped into Hank’s head and he whispered it to Alex. Then Alex returned with another technological innuendo about “forking someone’s repo.”
Adria Richards was sitting in front of them and was offended by the jokes, especially given the speaker’s topic. She took a photo of Hank and Alex and posted it to Twitter, explaining that the two men in the photo were making inappropriate comments. She also tweeted her location for her safety—Hank and Alex were part of a crowd of mostly white males—and she was scared she might be hurt.
Ten minutes later, a conference organizer collected Hank and Alex and told them someone had complained about their sexual comments. Hank apologized and explained the joke, saying that they hadn’t meant for it to be sexual and were sorry for offending anyone who had overheard. He and Alex were upset by the confrontation and left the conference early.
On their way home, they wondered how the conference organizers had heard about the joke, as the woman who’d taken the picture had been sitting in front of them the whole time. Hank checked Twitter and found Adria Richards’ tweet, but he was reassured by the fact that there were only a few comments on the photos, and one of Richards’s previous tweets was a stupid penis joke.
The next day, Adria Richards put up a blog post about the event. She wrote that Hank and Alex had felt protected by the anonymity of the crowd and were experiencing deindividuation (another example of the persistence of crowd theories).
Before Richards’s new blog post even went up, Hank was fired. He has a wife and three kids and was terrified. He was also upset because he liked his job. He posted an apology on Hacker News, a discussion board, writing that he didn’t mean to offend anyone or hurt Richards and that she had every right to report him.
In response to his post, Hank got messages from men’s rights bloggers, some offering support, some telling him he was weak for apologizing. Hank didn’t respond to any of them.
Hank was able to quickly find a new job and is more careful around female developers now, which isn’t too difficult as his new workplace doesn’t have any female developers.
Richards’s Transgression: Getting Hank Fired
Richards had never called for Hank to be fired (though she wasn’t sorry that he had been), but it was her tweet and photo that got him in trouble, so people blamed her.
Adria Richards’s Aftermath
4chan, a discussion board that’s popular with trolls, started shaming Adria Richards, calling for her to be killed or raped. Then, one person wrote that death and rape threats were feeding her cause—feminism—so it would be better to do something productive. That something productive was attacking her employer’s website and servers and promising to stop the attack if Richards was fired.
The attack worked—Adria Richards was fired only hours later. The official reason was that her job was to unite communities, and instead, she was dividing them.
Richards never completely recovered. She kept receiving threats even after she was fired and she had to drop off the face of the earth for half a year. She slept on people’s couches, cried, journaled, and watched Netflix.
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Here's what you'll find in our full So You've Been Publicly Shamed summary :
- How public shaming can ruin people's lives
- Why public shaming isn't just a way to get corporations to do the "right thing"
- 6 strategies you can use if you're a victim of public shaming