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Why I don't use my real photo when messaging with customers on my website (kapwing.com)
1016 points by bemmu 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 612 comments



A woman here is explaining that she prefers to interact anonymously or pseudonymously on the internet in order to avoid vicious abuse, amply demonstrated in screenshots. I find it very alarming that a significant part of the response here is to suggest that we should therefore eliminate anonymity and pseudonymity on the internet in order to force people to behave better.

This suggested measure would force this woman, and others, to face this vicious abuse all the time, with no escape except not to use the internet.

This seems like a bad idea. Problems like this are precisely why we must protect the rights to anonymity and pseudonymity, and indeed work to make them normative. (And that's without even getting into the fact that real-names policies have been conclusively shown not to make people behave better.)


I found this post deeply upsetting and alarming. I guess I am lucky that my co-founder and I run a B2B SaaS, and not a B2C company - in over two years of running a chat agent on our website and within our app, we have never had anything even close to this. Frankly, seeing the interactions on that blog post was like opening a door into some sort of hell hole.

Maybe I lead some sort of cloistered life online, but I don't think I have ever seen anything like it. And yes, I am male and my co-founder is female, and all of our team use our own profile pics within our chat widget. I will never tolerate even a paying customer treating any of my team with anything but courtesy and respect.


I am female, and have run my own B2B SaaS as well as currently managing chat (as part of marketing) for another B2B SaaS.

I have seen all sorts of comments like the ones mentioned in the article, and I hate to say it, but many of them came after we got profiled in places like Hacker News (and other tech websites, too, to be fair.)

One that had a referrer as a thread on Hacker News kept insisting I couldn't be a real person, and wanting me to do basic math like 2+3 "before he would talk to me." It was gross.

I put my own face as an avatar on my current client's chat without thinking twice. Less than 24 hours later, my first interaction on the chat was harassment. Their product is an enterprise B2B SaaS.


> One that had a referrer as a thread on Hacker News kept insisting I couldn't be a real person, and wanting me to do basic math like 2+3 "before he would talk to me." It was gross.

I'm a bit confused, is this an example of harassment? I'd be pretty sure I was talking to a bot in one of those chat popups as well.


Maybe some context would help. Since I knew many of the folks visiting our website would assume our live chat was a chatbot, the initial message in our chat said "Hi, I'm Erica! I'm a real person, and one of the founders of [name of my company.] What questions can I answer for you today?"

I put that in there specifically to circumvent people asking if this was a bot.

The person who kept asking me to answer simple math questions had the context of this being the initial interaction. Furthermore, he didn't stop at asking once. He continued to repeatedly ask me to answer math questions, and when I asked him to please ask a question about our product or service, he would refuse and smirk about how I was obviously a bot because I refused to play his game.

It was this repeated questioning that turned it into harassment, from my perspective. And this single interaction was part of a pattern of harassment, both sexual and otherwise, that I've seen manning B2B SaaS chats.

I can also attest that men who've run the same live chats, at the same companies, with their avatars and real names do not get this sort of harassment at all. In fact, they have been shocked at the level of harassment received by simply having a female face and/or name.


> I put that in there specifically to circumvent people asking if this was a bot.

Nice idea, but nothing prevents one from writing a bot that starts conversation with "I'm a real person" so that people would type their questions to a cheap bot instead of demanding to speak to an expensive human. Thus not all people trust this. Plus of course not all people read anything that is written as a chat header, because the assume it is a boilerplate filler like "we value your feedback and eager to help you" blah blah, no relation to my actual question so I won't read it.

That of course presents a problem - how do you prove you're human if a bot could always be doing the same thing? I don't really know :)

And yes, chatbot designers frequently use pictures of attractively looking women to make the customer more likely to engage with a bot. Which trains the users in a predictable way, unfortunately.


Apparently in this context it is.

Basically, if I read dang correctly it is not possible to disagree, because a) she identified as being female, and b) said it was gross, c) it was mentioned in the context of abuse.

I feel like HN just jumped the shark.


No, what dang said was, "Please respond to the strongest plausible interpretation of what someone says, not a weaker one that's easier to criticize." No reasonable person could possibly interpret this as meaning, "it is not possible to disagree, because a) she identified as being female, and b) said it was gross, c) it was mentioned in the context of abuse."

You are just trolling, and I am only responding because dang's comment may not be visible to other people reading this thread.


Ok, humor me. What is the strongest plausible interpretation of:

"One that had a referrer as a thread on Hacker News kept insisting I couldn't be a real person, and wanting me to do basic math like 2+3 "before he would talk to me." It was gross."?

(I am not trolling. Disagreeing with your point of view is not the same thing as trolling.)


A stronger plausible interpretation is that the commenter has indeed seen many instances of harassment like the ones in the OP—which was obviously her main point; that as a SaaS founder she knows about chatbots, and would have no problem with a prospective customer who just wanted to make sure a human was at the other end (obviously it would be in her business interests to engage with such a user); and that she had additional reason to believe that the person asking her "2 + 3" etc. wasn't doing so in good faith, since she wrote "kept insisting" and "it was gross".

Now obviously I don't know what happened there, but the above interpretation is not only plausible, it's almost inevitable if you begin by assuming that the other person is just as smart as you are. Instead you began by being a jerk, assumed stupidity on the part of the other, and threw in additional insults. If you behave like that on Hacker News again we will ban you.


>Instead you began by being a dick

I'd like to point out that using this word to imply certain traits (commonly stereotyped to male behaviors) is not much different from calling someone a pussy to imply weakness/sensativity/etc.


I don't want to touch the flamebaity aspect of this but the word 'dick' was too harsh and not one I usually use in moderation comments. I changed it to the slightly more modulated 'jerk'.

vgf 6 months ago [flagged]

> One that had a referrer as a thread on Hacker News kept insisting I couldn't be a real person, and wanting me to do basic math like 2+3 "before he would talk to me." It was gross.

I'm sorry, but I literally laughed out loud reading that one. It was gross to have to do natural language processing plus arithmetics?

#metoo

I hate it when people force me to do arithmetics early in the morning. So gross!

Seriously though, what I do hate is when money-hungry people hijack worthwhile movements for their own monetary gain.


Since the parent mentioned that in the context of an overall pattern of harassing comments, you're in the wrong here. Not only have you broken this site guideline:

"Please respond to the strongest plausible interpretation of what someone says, not a weaker one that's easier to criticize."

... you've also been just plain rude. (Edit: and by adding the "money-hungry" slur, crossing into bannable incivility.) Please don't do these things on HN.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


The problem runs deeper than that. I'm a woman and have participated on HN for about 8.5 years. HN is one of the most civilized environments I have participated in. I still have men politely email me to essentially chat me up and otherwise don't want to engage me at all.

I recently offered to let someone email me to discuss their issue. They were all enthused. We never discussed their issue. They basically wanted to know when I might come visit their country. I cut them off and let them know they could write back if they had any actual questions about [issue]. I never heard back.

There is a very short list of men who will talk to me like a human being. But about 99% of men have only one reason they would ever talk to me and that reason is to treat me like a talking fleshlight.

It's very frustrating and I'm getting to the point of starting to be pretty mad about the whole thing. Then when I comment on my gender being a factor contributing to my intractable poverty, inevitably someone is a jerk about that and acts like I am crazy.


> about 99% of men have only one reason

You lost me on this.


There is a loud minority of men who seek out opportunities and jump at any opportunity to sexually harass a woman. It's not uncommon that women often encounter these males in ridiculous volumns. Some women actually get such a volumn of sexist males that it's difficult to form regular relationships with members of the male community who are not overtly sexist. Please don't let this somewhat offensive exaggeration make you dismiss the daily struggles women can have with never ending systematic sexism.


Some time ago there was a write up about a very similar problem, in B2B context. It was not about chat, but about email. The experience was quite similar as described in this article. [1]

[1] https://twitter.com/i/moments/839950218099576832


do you have a non-twitter link? thank you.


Wow, twitter is a really inferior way of telling a story like that.


threadreaderapp dot com is a great way to "collect"/"rollup" tweets into a single page/long form for reading.

Unfortunately, it doesn't support twitter moments yet (you have to copy the original tweet url) and, really, REALLY unfortunately, doesn't support this particular "old" tweet because the twitter API doesn't allow fetching tweets more than a few months old. :/


> we have never had anything even close to this

Have you confirmed this with your cofounder?


The other kind of problem women on the internet face is people assuming they haven't done obvious information gathering.


Amazing. The author spends a lot of time to tell us a very convincing story how sexism affects people in our industry, and the Hacker News thread is full of people rationalizing it.

- it's only because people think you're a bot

- it's because of your target audience

- it's because chat widgets are annoying

- you don't really have enough data to make any conclusions

How much will it take to convince the average HN reader that sexism actually is everywhere?


> How much will it take to convince the average HN reader that sexism actually is everywhere?

Many comments in this thread are lamenting these dismissals, which happen to be languishing at the bottom while this comment as well as the original article are massively upvoted. If I were to draw a conclusion about how the community generally feels about this issue, it would be opposite to yours.


I generally agree with your appraisal here, but it is worth it to note that although those sorts of comments are usually pushed to the bottom of the discussion, they are almost always there on every thread where these sorts of issues are raised. I don't think it's a stretch to assume that a significant portion of the tech worlds holds those sorts of beliefs; there are probably even more people who would post things like that, but don't because they know they'll just get downvoted.


Sure: the community is divided, as is society in general. That's the accurate way to frame this. What's not so accurate are grand claims about HN being massively one way or the other, which people make all the time as a rhetorical device.


Also, HN story about general experience that isn’t about sexism: “Oh, that’s interesting, I wonder if that’s because of X or Y?”, “gee that most have been awful”, “hey that makes me re-examine a way I behaved once”, “I’ve seen similar behaviour here at Q and Z”

When about sexism: “unless this is a triple-blind study that has been repeated across every continent, let’s not jump to the conclusion that there is a lot of online sexism”.

We should all up our game here. It’s depressing how oblivious a lot of the posts are on these comments.

Clearly, the female avatars received the worst abuse. And the effect was so strong, so immediate, and based on a solid hypothesis. Something has gone very badly wrong with the internet and we should be working out what we can do about it, rather than sticking our fingers in our ears saying “boys will be boys” or “this isn’t scientific!”. Are we all too defensive to admit there is a problem?


I don't think people are doing that so much as there's just not much to discuss there - sure, you can yell at people to parent better til the cows come home or talk about how our society is somehow collapsing because of this but no one will care. There's no proven fix, so not much to say on the matter.

Instead, people here are looking for realistic fixes - like making the chat box not automatically open so only those who need support will go out of their way to get it. I think the author would have been much less likely to receive abuse if people were actually there to ask her questions about her service than because they had just searched for a way to to generate a shitty meme. I could be wrong about that, but it'd be an interesting thing to do an A/B test with I think.

Perhaps it makes more sense to put it into security terms - In the same way that it doesn't make sense to don't go around talking about how we could live in a dream world where bots don't scan the internet for weak SSH credentials all day, it doesn't make sense for us to go around talking about a dream world where sexism simply doesn't exist. The author found a good compromise to defend herself against that threat - many people on HN are just suggesting other possible defenses.


> Something has gone very badly wrong with the internet and we should be working out what we can do about it, rather than sticking our fingers in our ears saying “boys will be boys” or “this isn’t scientific!”.

I think the internet has just served to exposed something heinous that has been in our society for eternity. Plenty of men have held these attitudes from time immortal, it's just that the internet gives them an easier means to express those attitudes without consequence.


On a positive note: Harvey Wienstein issue broke in September and October and there has been a lot of WM-behaving-badly who have lost their jobs as a result.


"How much will it take to convince the average HN reader that sexism actually is everywhere?"

I presume those that think this way either have no female friends or have not asked them about it.

Men generally don't get catcalls or get their body fondled by strangers.


Regarding catcalling.

Unfortunately it is one of those things that women and sometimes men will have to sacrafice if they want to live in a free country.

(See burkas)


That assumes they’re honestly representing their views, rather than marketing their prejudices as something more acceptable to the HN crowd.


Men generally don't catcall or fondle strangers' bodies either. It's a general projection, "why would anyone do that?".


> Men generally don't catcall or fondle strangers' bodies either.

But vastly more men catcall or grope women than the other way around. That's the issue.

> It's a general projection, "why would anyone do that?".

To assert power and dominance (both attributes that are part of the common definition of "masculinity" in western societies).


You say the last sentence like the concept of masculinity varies greatly among different societies. Are there any societies in the world where men aren't more assertive, aggressive, and power-seeking? I kind of thought they were fundamental psychological differences between men and women overall[1].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex_differences_in_psychology


I believe it happens more to women. But ask an attractive male bartender or waiter. We shouldn't hand wave those abuses away either.


> But ask an attractive male bartender or waiter. We shouldn't hand wave those abuses away either.

Was a male bartender for nearly two years. I agree it happens from time to time that customers try to score with you, but it's really incredibly rare compared to the stuff my female colleagues had to endure (maybe twice over my career vs daily).


Yet another thing that explains the obliviousness that people are mentioning.


Or as I’m saying, the 1 day old account is making an argument it thinks will be more acceptable to this audience rather than its real views.


I've been both sexually harassed at work and groped by strangers when out on the town (by a woman) - but yeah, I agree with your larger point. I think it's certainly more prevalent the other way around.


How did you feel?

Yeah... I still got it!

or

Something negative?


I got groped by some passing female tailgaters when I was just walking down the street minding my own business listening to a podcast. It was very startling.


“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” - Upton Sinclair

The average HN reader is a huge beneficiary of sexism. Most people do not have the mental fortitude to accept that a decent chunk of their good fortune is due to something like this.


> The average HN reader is a huge beneficiary of sexism.

I dispute that statement. (I will admit that you can find some possible benefit to the majority from sexism. "Huge" is a much larger claim, though.)


Anecdotal and not really a big problem, but it took me having to put my coke in a coffee cup to be taken seriously in meetings to really "get it".


Thanks for the tip about the cup in meetings. Often these implicit rules are not obvious, so making them explicit is very helpful to work around and maybe even fix them.

Humans are guided by stereotypes and superstition and not scepticism and scientific reason. And if there is an individual that is sceptical and demands scientific reason, they are punished socially for it. This makes homo sapiens look a bit bad in my eyes.


Good scientific analysis does require a level of domain knowledge though. Otherwise you will be susceptible to those exact issues of sterotyping and superstition. Especially when we are talking about issues that are so complex and have such a long legacy.


^ nailed it


You also have to sip it slower than you normally would with a coke, taking small sips and exhaling slowly after each sip. But I'm sure you already know that.


I've never heard of this, can you please explain why you aren't taken seriously with a Coke (bottle/can)? Thanks.


I had to put my coke in a small bag in my key pocket to be taken seriously.


I too was confused when she wrote "coke".

Don't think putting a can of Coke in a cup was the problem there.

And

"coke" and "Coke". Different things.


You can believe sexual harassment is everywhere and also believe chat widgets are annoying. Sadly, women getting harassed on the internet by anonymous strangers, while unfortunate, is not a novel revelation. Anyone who says it isn’t common has their head in the sand. You can’t help people like that.


A single message is not harassment though.


You can't make that blanket statement.

A single punch is battery. A single genital grab is sexual assault. A single demand for quid pro quo sexual favors in exchange for professional rewards is sexual harassment. A single message asserting that an individual is not right for their job because of their gender creates a hostile work environment, and that's also sexual harassment.

Just because there can be cases where a single message does not constitute sexual harassment doesn't mean that a single message can never amount to sexual harassment.


A single event can be illegal, immoral, wrong, or any one of a bunch of other words, and a single event is never harassment because harassment requires multiple events.

A single demand for quid pro quo sexual favors in exchange for professional rewards is a sexual offence, a bad one, and alone it is not harassment. IANAL, though the dictionary definition sticks with me, especially the key words: "multiple", "unwanted", and "intentional".

That's why "harassment" as a word exists, it is to indicate that multiple unwanted events have happened intentionally.

Maybe the legal definition of "harassment" differs from the dictionary definition. If so, a new word for single event harassment needs to be chosen.


> A single demand for quid pro quo sexual favors in exchange for professional rewards is a sexual offence, a bad one, and alone it is not harassment.

That's simply wrong -- a single egregious instance can certainly constitute harassment, both in terms of common sense and in terms of legal consequences. What matters is severity -- and though repeating the behavior makes it more likely to be judged as severe, one bad incident can easily exceed the threshold. A quid-pro-quo proposal of sex-for-promotion is a perfect example.


But that's just a single instance, and by definition not harassment.

Unless my understanding of the word "multiple" (and "persistently" and "continually") is completely wrong...


Harassment does not require "multiple". That's just wrong.


The dictionary of definition DEFINITELY does. (Caps for emphasis, not yelling.)


It is not a requirement. Consider the Oxford English definition:

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/harassment

> Aggressive pressure or intimidation. ‘they face daily harassment and assault on the streets’

English doesn't have a definitive dictionary, anyway -- usage determines meaning. It has been the case for decades that a single quid pro quo proposal could be ruled as "harassment" in court. (As it should be!) Is it any wonder that colloquial understanding would reflect legal reality?


Both the legal and linguistic standards for harassment do not require repeated events. You are incorrect.


If you're talking about the legal definition, that depends largely on your jurisdiction (there are many where a single instance does constitute harassment; perhaps most states in the US require a "culture"). Unfortunately again, common language and legal language overlap but with slightly different meanings.

However, in every case where multiple messages were sent, that's clearly harassment in many jurisdictions. Additionally, the sum of actions by multiple people constitutes harassment. Also many jurisdictions will consider it harassment if there is a single, severe incident. However, many of these laws only apply when a co-worker is the harasser.

In summation: your statement is not necessarily correct.


Somewhat depends on your point of view. A single message sent may not be intended as harassment, but receiving a single message from multiple people can certainly feel like harassment. An individual act might not be harassment, but it can definitely contribute to it.


Probably quite a bit because this is "private".

Most people don't witness these kinds of things off the internet, or run with groups who never do this outside of one-to-ones with mostly disconnected people.

I don't dispute her results at all, but I can basically guarantee you that I haven't been around where a woman has said "hi" to someone and they're all "Yea, eff your mom". Only confounding factor I think comes in to play is the assumption that it's a bot, so you can say taboo/antisocial things without repute.


> I haven't been around where a woman has said "hi" to someone and they're all "Yea, eff your mom"

Lucky you, I recently saw this 'interaction' between a guy and a girl on the street:

Guy: Hey cutie!

Guy: Hey sexy!

Guy: Hey girl, come over!

Guy: Hey bitch, come over here.

Guy: Go away you ugly bitch!

The girl just kept walking and the guy turned to more profanities. This wasn't in some shitty part of town, it was at the main station of one of the nicest cities in the Netherlands. It's not just the internet where stuff like this happens.


I’ve heard that before. Guys will get aggressive if a woman ignores them. I don’t get it and it’s sketchy as hell. It shows how superficial so many guys can be - they want to sound sweet until it’s clear they’re not getting anything, and then they become aggressive. It’s always about their satisfaction - they reveal that they were not being nice in order for the woman to feel better, or they wouldn’t have turned aggressive.

Obviously it should be clear that I’m not talking about all men, but I have seen this behavior on occasion before and it’s super unnerving.


Actually anger is a normal reaction to frustration, not to mention to the rude rejection. It shows how the society is broken. Wolves prey on the streets for trusting victims. They won't listen to polite no. People learn to just walk away quietly without saying anything polite. Wolves don't mind it, but ordinary people find such silent treatment infuriating. They respond with more rudeness back.


> rude rejection

Are you serious? There is nothing rude about it, she didn’t owe that random stranger anything and it was incredibly rude of him to make unwanted and unsolicited advancements. Yelling “cutie” and “sexy” at a stranger is incredibly rude.


> to the rude rejection

Saying "Hi cutie" isn't exactly a polite or respectful way to start a conversation. Ignoring it is frankly the most polite way to deal with it.


Ignoring someone in the street is not a rude rejection.

Also I'd expect ordinary people to handle a rejection like that without any problems. (I'm born in Europe and spent most of my time in Europe but would expect this to be the same in North America based on the few times I've worked there.)


Ordinary people say - Go away you ugly bitch!

Got it.


It's very different. The guy on the street actually wanted the girl. These people on the internet don't want anyone. They just want a victim for abuse. The annoying chatbox just gives them an excuse to vent off.


How is it (sexual) abuse if you write dumb shit in a chat box? At most you are wasting their time while being rude...


Words can affect people. People can and do take that "dumb shit" personally. The age-old adage "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never break me." is nowhere near true.


Sure, people think it’s a bot. But what is happening in their brain that makes them so much more likely to be nasty when the chat program looks like a woman? If it’s just because they think it’s a bot, why does gender appear to be so significant?


Breaking popular taboo is exciting for a lot of people when they feel they can do it without reproach. They get a rush from breaking the "rules".


Because gender has an influence on whether they think it's a bot.


> How much will it take to convince the average HN reader that sexism actually is everywhere?

When you use the word "sexism", notice how it was not necessary to say "against women". This little example highlights the strong societal view that there exists sexism against women far more than any against men to require that clarification.

The reasons I find it necessary to highlight this fact is: from the perspective of someone trying to intentionally provoke offence in others, this view is an obvious candidate for exploitation when the target is a women.

I'm talking about trolls of course, but it seems to be so hard to get that point across here... there is a clear bias in the offensive messages, but if they are all trolls (and they certainly look that way), then surely the bias reflects the simple fact that sexism against women is a reaction provoking topic, rather than "wow we have a sexism problem look at all these legitimate sincere comments", I mean isn't the later exactly what the trolls wanted.


Exactly. These "kids" don't randomly harass anyone; they harass very specifically women, and the more attractive the woman is, the more harassment. This is sickening. I can't help but think that as the symptom of a profoundly heinous society towards women. And frankly, I find the sort of lame excuses in this thread quite hard to swallow.


First things first: we do need some solution to the problem that she faced, and it is a real problem, that relates to gender. That said.

> How much will it take to convince the average HN reader that sexism actually is everywhere?

In a sense, it obviously is. But I want to reflect a bit on what that might entail.

You will note (see https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16390786) that the amount of sexist threads was 14 per week, which, in the period of 3 months with 2100 messages, gives about 1% of messages.

For reference, the DSM gives the prevalence of psychopathy at 3% for males and 1% for females (https://www.quora.com/What-percentage-of-people-are-psychopa...).

So, even though this sexism is a societal problem (in the sense that it exists in our society and is hard to extricate from comunities) it is not clear that sexism (or at least the sexism displayed in the article) is a problem with a social solution: teaching children (or people in general, as it may be) that this is not OK probably would not reduce the problem much further.

I predict, therefore, that no amount of society-wide measures against sexism can reduce this (very marginal!) behaviour (if the chat itself remains consequence-free for the users). That is: that fighting sexism is not gonna help this at all, and we'd need other, technical and local-to-the-website solutions.

> How much will it take to convince the average HN reader that sexism actually is everywhere?

That it is everywhere, in the sense that some (few) people bring it everywhere, not much. That it is everywhere, in the sense that all of society is guilty of it and each person should try to fix it in themselves, evidence of an entirely different sort.


I’m not sure if the problem is that the average HN reader doesn’t believe that sexism is everywhere or if the problem is that the average HN reader doesn’t believe that sexism as it exists today is a large, interesting problem that needs to be solved.

I would love to see this experiment done as a function of time of day in the user’s IP location. There have already been studies showing higher rates of abusive behavior towards women from low-status males[1] and if internet activity follows general population entertainment consumption trends from television we can infer that there is a higher likelihood of someone being low-status active on the internet during daytime working hours.

1. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371%2Fjourna...


> it's only because people think you're a bot

I wonder if people are more likely to assume it's a bot when a female image is used - I've noticed that a lot of sites that are automated (or at least aren't so directly connected to a real person) use stock photos of female staff. Certainly not a justification, but could be a factor.

I wonder if there's any way you could control for that to get truer data (I'm not doubting the overall conclusion that sexism is rampant) - maybe explicitly say "This is/is not a bot" or trial photos that look like very stereotypical/generic stock photos?


"Rude people are sexist" or "Sexist people are rude" is about the only conclusion you can draw here (maybe not even that, correlation != causation etc etc)

It doesn't even come close to showing how "sexism is everywhere". For all we know the sample could be entirely edgy 12 year olds.

Tell me again how this self-admittedly "non-rigorous scientific study" proves "sexism is everywhere"?

It could easily be that more attractive profiles result in more interactions and receive the same proportion of sexist responses. Their data measures sexist messages not the proportion of sexist messages over all of their interactions.


I am so glad someone on HN is here to enforce rigorous standards when it comes to this topic, in particular.

Because there have been multiple accounts of bad behavior, both subtle and not-subtle, at tech conferences (https://shift.newco.co/what-its-like-to-be-a-woman-at-a-tech..., https://blog.juliaferraioli.com/2014/08/do-you-even.html), but those aren't studies, they're just isolated experiences, so we can ignore those.

And there have been multiple accounts from women who won't use a feminine identity online due to harassment (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3411627), and really talented women who have to endure sexist work environments (http://rachelbythebay.com/w/2011/12/04/meeting/), and, occasionally, even much more lively discussions from women on what it's like to work in tech (https://www.reddit.com/r/sysadmin/comments/4ioxw9/as_i_sit_i...). But, again, these aren't studies, so we can ignore them.

Of course, there have been studies, including one that found feminine names in chats got 25 times more malicious messages (http://www.ece.umd.edu/News/news_story.php?id=1788), which would seem to support this woman's experience too ... but, surely, we can find some way to dismiss that, too, right?

The important part is that, every time a submission like this comes along, we rush to the comments section to try to shout it down.

There are surely some medium.com posts about experiences that other developers have had that we could upvote instead. Preferably, ones from developers who don't happen to be too feminine.


The only thing I disagree with is the assertion that women in tech (STEM?) have somehow different/worse experience than women in general. Or at least I can not imagine why that would be the case - are educated and intelligent men more sexist than the average Joe? I think the main difference is that in tech we are much more open to acknowledge the problem and discuss it.


Its not so much that men in tech are worse than men in other industries, but women are far more outnumbered in tech.

If you assume a constant rate of harassment (say 5% of men harass women per year) then a woman who works alongside 20 men and 5 women (a common ratio in tech) will get harassed more than a woman who works with 12 women and 13 men (a more typical non tech ratio).

And in truth I wouldn’t be surprised if as women get more outnumbered the frequency of harassment tends to go up.


> The only thing I disagree with is the assertion that women in tech (STEM?) have somehow different/worse experience than women in general.

I'm not sure that's a statement I'd make. I don't think I know enough to say that.

It's tempting to let myself get nerd-sniped into a longer, less productive discussion comparing different fields and pontificating on different possible causes, but then I'd be making the same mistake as so many other people here.

What we really need in these conversations is fewer people like James DaMore writing dissertations on the subject and more people saying, "hey guys, stop being dumb ass holes."

This is a problem that is better resolved by calling out socially repugnant behavior rather than dissecting it.


It would be great to have guidelines prohibiting expressing and promoting damorish views here.


"damorish" views? I think that shows that you dont have a good understanding of them to begin with


>I am so glad someone on HN is here to enforce rigorous standards when it comes to this topic, in particular.

I am so glad someone on HN is here to tell us exactly why we aren't allowed to have a rigorous discussion when it comes to this topic, in particular.

It is interesting how you immediately reframe women getting harassed as misogyny. Nevermind women likely get more attention online as well.

Let's have a look at the study [0] you mention. Which measures private messages received from an IRC channel by a bot. Do you honestly not think a female username will receive more attention given the typical gender composition of an online IRC channel? (Who still uses IRC apart from unwashed CS nerds?) 25 times messages likely means there were 25 times more males than females in that particular room.

[0] Meyer, R., & Cukier, M. 2006 http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.89....

This point is, without properly establishing a base rate of attention VS harassment, all you can do appeal to emotion. Yes women are being harassed in tech, are they being harassed in at a higher rate than other industries? Is it a specifically a tech problem? Is your solution to the problem to accuse men in the tech industry as misogynists/sexists further alienate both sides from each other when you don't even have proper evidence?


I like how the unstated assumption that unwashed CS nerds are obviously hostile towards women is not further examined.

Namely because that unstated premise is almost exactly the conclusion of the argument you're trying to argue against.


The point is that even with this assumption it still fails.


No, the point is that you can't assume "unwashed CS nerds" are troglodytes towards women while simultaneously trying to say tech doesn't have a problem with women.

Your final paragraph is particularly telling. Re-read it and think about the equivalences you're trying to draw.

Edit: >The point is that the distribution of genders are likely overwhelmingly male.

Do you just intentionally ignore the fact that without there being a differential rate of harassment between people on the basis of sex that this doesn't matter in the slightest? Your argument assumes the point you're trying to argue against.


No one said unwashed CS nerds treat women any differently to other men. The point is that the distribution of genders is likely overwhelmingly male. Thus even if a small percentage of that male population exhibit sexist behaviour, the tiny proportation of females would get most of the abuse, and more abuse than the average male.

Work on your reading comprehension before spitting out snark.


> 25 times messages likely means there were 25 times more males than females in that particular room.

It's somewhat disingenuous to say "messages" when the study is specifically counting only "malicious messages" (and makes no mention of how many non-malicious messages were received.)


You have some very good points, but your tone comes across as emotional and aggressive enough to inadvertently turn off some of your intended audience. So, in your case a little ‘appeal to emotion’ may help. Maybe you guys can meet in the middle.


The same could be said about the post they replied to though, somebody made a valid point and is met with a sarcastic reply that implicitly equates criticism of a study with trying to invalidate the entire problem the study tries to underline. Let's be honest, be it here on HN, on reddit, or on twitter, this isn't a topic that you can have a conversation about without people on either side getting emotional and somewhat aggressive.


Yep. I jumped in to try to hopefully tone down some of the excitement. I should know better and won’t try again.


The OP is suggesting an important question though: what if the vast majority of this ubiquitous harassment comes from a tiny minority of men whom few others here are even aware of?


Are you male though? These men are everywhere for women. It is a minority of men, definitely, but that minority directs the whole of their psychological issues to women. They won't do this to you, they will rarely do this around you, and if they are around others they do it in a way that's hidden from your eyes. And the thing is, these guys are everywhere on the Internet as well. I think they spawn from 4chan or something. It starts young and the issues just keep building. They are anonymous, consequence-free interactions with women that let them vent their own issues with women. And then they go to echo-chamber forums like 4chan to validate their distorted reality. They won't interact with you because they don't have an issue with you, unless you also advocate for women and make your views public, in which case they will attempt to poke holes in your masculinity.


"Rude people are sexist" still means we have a 'systemic' problem of sexism. In fact, one might argue that rude people being sexist are worse than polite people being sexist. Because the rude people are more disruptive over all.

The statement 'sexism is everywhere' does not mean 'almost all people are sexist'. Instead, it means 'almost all women suffer from sexist attitudes in most areas of their lives. If 10% of people are sexist, that is easily enough for all women to notice it. I'd guess the real threshold is more like 3% of people being sexist.


You're exactly right. This is a minority of men. Which is why, as a woman, I think we need to examine why this minority has such deep seated issues with women. It's not men in general, it's the fringes of society, and the fringes are very telling of the society as a whole. they represent all our fears and mistakes, because these fears and mistakes become all that they can perceive.


>I'd guess the real threshold is more like 3% of people being sexist.

Rachel’s guess is 0.28%, or roughly 1 of 350.


So, you're saying <grin> that the problem is actually very small?


No. The brake line on your car is a very small part of it. If it is cut, the problem is anything but small. That a small percentage of men can have a disproportionately large effect in no way implies that the problem is small.


[flagged]


Please don't do this here.


I think the term "sexist" is being used very lightly here. Sexism implies some sort of discrimination based on sex. Same goes for "sexual harassment"; harassment implies some degree of persistence, not just a single action. I think "indecent" behaviour is the most fitting word for this kind of problem.


These people are sending malicious messages to women but not men. This is straightforward discrimination based on sex.


You're probably new to HN, so you might not have seen all the other stories about sexism posted in the last year or so.

A single story like this doesn't prove anything, but the flood of stories just like that paint a pretty clear picture.

At some point you can no longer say: "This is an isolated incident".


The daily newspaper has stories that are interesting because they aren't happening to nearly everyone. They give people a very skewed impression of how likely they are to happen to them.

The newspaper rarely bothers to write stories about things that are likely to happen to you, like dying from a hospital mistake, car crash or a drowning.

The risk of dying in a terrorist incident in the US is essentially zero, but you'd never know that from the flood of newspaper stories about it.


>At some point you can no longer say: "This is an isolated incident".

The problem with this is there's really no such thing as an "anti-sexism" story. No one posts news about how they worked at a company and everyone was just a normal person. That's not news, that's just life. It happens all the time, and in fact it's probably happening right now within a few hundred meters of almost everyone reading the post, yet it will never make the news. Moreover, the vast majority of news articles on this site are analyzable as containing an absence of sexism, but that's not an "anti-sexism" story either.

What I'm trying to get here is that the signal you are listening to is unidirectional. If you're incrementing a mental counter of "how many sexism-related articles have I seen" without any way of decrementing it then yeah, eventually you'll hit a number you dislike. That's not because there's any meaning behind your metric though, it's just because you've structured your metric in a way that means given infinite time, you'll hit /all/ the positive integers.

Anyway, that doesn't mean that sexism isn't a major problem. But it does mean that you, jakobegger, don't know if it's a major problem or not.


The plural of anecdote is not data. We need real stats about this because individuals complaining vastly outweighs the silent remaining ones.

There are enough murders every day to cover the front page of hacker news with a story about each one. It doesn't mean murder is a rampant problem in our society.


> The plural of anecdote is not data. We need real stats about this

There are mountains of real stats. Have you tried to look? All you have to do is google "sexism statistics". The first hit for me has a link to a real study about online interactions: http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/10/22/online-harassment/

> There are enough murders every day to cover the front page of hacker news with a story about each one. It doesn't mean murder is a rampant problem in our society.

What a strange statement. Since there are enough murders every day to cover the front page of HN, doesn't that prove it's a problem? If sexism covered the front page of HN every day, would that mean it's less of a problem than it is now?

Murder is a rampant problem in our society. There are entire countries with less than one tenth the murder rate of the U.S. Are you suggesting that because the problem is everywhere, it's not a problem?


We have real stats. Hundreds, if not thousands of studies. But those get this identical reaction.


> Hundreds, if not thousands of studies

That you personally know of, despite citing even one?


I'm not new to HN, I've been here for far longer than you have. And yes some of those stories have merit, but this is not one of them.


(account age is not a good proxy for "time on HN")


But "you're probably new to HN [lil fella, but here's how it's been]" is a tacky, low-effort quip especially towards an account over 8 years old.


A flood of stories on the internet doesn't necessarily prove much either. When there are billions of people on the internet, there could easily be a vocal minority that doesn't represent the majority.


The flood of stories only tells me "We want the power these organizations wield" to have everyone walking on eggshells and start a rioting mob towards anyone not paying respect to the social priest caste.


Believing things based on quantity of internet articles on the topic is how fake news works.

If a proper study of incidents like this is done, with good stats relating to the totality of incidents in context - i.e that takes into account the full picture, we could then conclude something.


> It could easily be that more attractive profiles result in more interactions and receive the same proportion of sexist responses.

The male co-founder is an attractive man. He did not receive nearly the same amount of sexual harassment. It's reasonable to suspect that the reason is gender. Your objection is true, it could be that way. But given all of the priors we has in this area, it's quite reasonable to lean towards a gender-bias in receiving sexual harassment.


This one thing is obviously not the smoking gun. But in context of the thousands of other similar things it becomes impossible not to see a pattern.


Thousands of similar events, in a ratio with millions upon millions of respectful interactions. It really shouldn't be surprising when the proposed solution to the former is to endlessly harass those doing the latter and accuse them of sexism day in, day out using the largest megaphones our species has ever constructed that the latter get touchy. For which the secondary solution is then to berate them for getting touchy, which as anyone with a basic understanding of human nature could tell you, doesn't do much to endear your arguments to them. The perception that it is being done so that those doing the berating can feel good about how virtuous they are doesn't help either. It's the streetlight effect [1] in social problems; yell at the people whom it is safe and convenient to yell at, who are not (in general) the problem.

It does not help anybody to come on to a place like HN and broadcast how deplorable you think everybody else is. Even the possible benefits it could bring, like setting the tone for making it clear this isn't acceptable, is handily defeated by the amount of anger you create by accusing people willy-nilly of sexism (which, by the way, people are supposed to be angry about, remember; if sexism is one of the True Evils of the world you should not be surprised when people react to accusations of it) and the way it makes those who are behaving well start to wonder "Why, exactly, am I bothering reigning in these impulses if I'm going to be bathed in accusations of sexism anyhow?"

Whatever the solution is, it isn't going to be found in abusing broadcast media like internet discussions.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streetlight_effect


> Thousands of similar events, in a ratio with millions upon millions of respectful interactions.

No, the number of harassing interactions is in the millions, and the people who acknowledge it's a problem are the majority of people. You are in the minority by denying that this is a real problem.

Data:

http://www.pewinternet.org/2017/07/11/online-harassment-2017...

> It really shouldn't be surprising when the proposed solution to the former is to endlessly harass those doing the latter and accuse them of sexism day in, day out

Did you seriously just claim you're being harassed by this article??

If an article about Julia's experience and not about you or directed to you is harassing you just by existing, how exactly do you think Julia feels about the people calling her names and demanding sex? Do you have any sympathy for what she or other women are going through online?

If reading the topic of sexism bothers you, what about helping to eliminate sexism and harassment? Maybe if we get rid of the sexism, the articles will go away?

> Whatever the solution is, it isn't going to be found in an abusing broadcast media like the internet discussions.

I don't understand this sentence. Where is the solution, and why don't broadcast media help? Public awareness on many topics is going up, due to the internet and broadcast media, for example, public awareness of science. Most people consider this trend a good thing.

Were you forced to read the article? I don't understand the suggestions that the internet & broadcast media are abusing you somehow. Maybe take a break and go outside?

Here are some more stats about the state of sexism in the U.S. and abroad, to help you understand how women, not you, are the victims of this problem.

https://www.dol.gov/wb/stats/earnings_2014.htm

https://mic.com/articles/168585/the-next-time-someone-tells-...

https://www.makers.com/blog/21-facts-you-never-knew-about-in...

https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2016/09/27/lean-in-stud...

Etc., etc.


"No, the number of harassing interactions is in the millions,"

Please consider more deeply the meaning of the word "ratio". You have no idea what the actual number of either harassing interactions is, nor non-harassing interactions, as it isn't even possible to formulate a definition of "an interaction". But there is no scenario in which these interactions are not a vanishing, vanishing minority of interactions. It literally could not be any other way, because if it was, say, the majority of male/female interactions, that would mean literally more than half the time a man passes a woman in the street, the man harasses the woman. Absurd.

"Did you seriously just claim you're being harassed by this article??"

No, I'm claiming that what you are doing, as are many other people, are harassing people, who are on average the wrong people. And then being very, very surprised when they don't take it very well. Well, yeah. You attacked, so what do you expect? Do you seriously think you helped anyone, even if we assumed for the sake of argument you read my post correctly, which you didn't? No, you didn't help anything. You just made it worse.

"I don't understand this sentence."

Well, try reading my post again with these corrections in mind. You may not agree with what I said, but it may help you understand it. Especially if, again, you consider that I consider your post a prime example of what I am talking about.


You keep making this about yourself. Why do you think this relatively civil discussion is hurting you more than Julia was hurt by the disgusting comments people made directly to her?

> Please consider more deeply the meaning of the word "ratio". You have no idea what the actual number of either harassing interactions is, nor non-harassing interactions, as it isn't even possible to formulate a definition of "an interaction".

Yes, I do. I gave you a link to some actual data. You pulled your "ratio" out of your butt. Please investigate the data, or provide your own source, before you claim the ratio is so small it doesn't exist.

"Roughly four-in-ten Americans have personally experienced online harassment."

"women are about twice as likely as men to say they have been targeted as a result of their gender (11% vs. 5%)"

http://www.pewinternet.org/2017/07/11/online-harassment-2017...

> But there is no scenario in which these interactions are not a vanishing, vanishing minority of interactions.

That statement is flat out wrong, but feel free to prove it.

> No, I'm claiming that what you are doing... You just made it worse.

I harassed you before I commented? I made what worse, exactly? What is the problem you're talking about, and why is it worse than what Julia experienced?

> I consider your post a prime example of what I am talking about.

Please, instead of being hyperbolic and emotional, explain clearly how I or anyone is attacking or harassing you. I am arguing with you, yes, as you are arguing with me. You're acting like you didn't choose to participate here, like something unfair is happening to you. You're acting like your choice to consume media is hurting you, you're acting like your feelings reading about someone else's problems are worse than their feelings about their own problems.


> harass those doing the latter and accuse them of sexism day in, day out

I’m a man. I feel neither harassed nor accused by this post simply because I don’t harass woman. If you feel accused though, maybe it’s worth taking a closer look at yourself and ask why.


There are plenty of people who are saying implicitly and even a few saying explicitly that it is all men. There are plenty of people who would turn your exact same rhetoric back on you and say that if you think you aren't part of the problem, you just need to look harder, because it is all men, especially the ones who think they have a clean conscience.

So in addition to proving my point about how berating the people who aren't part of the problem is very common by providing an example before the ink was hardly dry on my post, you've set yourself up for attack in the world of today. You need to be more careful.

(Edit: I suspect I'm being downvoted because some people may have a hard time understanding I'm not just being rhetorical about people saying it's all men, and that it's especially men who think they're innocent. To them, I would commend spending 15-30 minutes browsing through the various results at https://encrypted.google.com/search?hl=en&q=all%20men%20are%... . Not just a scan through the results to confirm your prejudices, but to actually look at the conversations happening, which is why I specified 15-30 minutes and not just "a glance". And while I'd observe it may not be "the new york times" for all those results, it's not just "Joe Bob's Blog & Grill" or Tumblr for those results either. I'm also not saying that every last result will say that, but the existence of results refuting the argument also point to the fact that it is being deployed.)


> There are plenty of people who are saying implicitly

I understand you think they are saying all men, but unless you can read minds over the Internet, that’s just your opinion.

But more than that, saying “men are sexist” does NOT imply “all men”. It means “a large-enough-to-be-generalized number of men are exist”.

If you think it means literally all men (and hence feel attacked by it), in my opinion, on some level, you are sexist and are just trying to avoid discomfort/guilt by spouting #NotAllMen.


This "NOT" seems to be overcapitalized, since it is usually "" in a regular context, as other commenter already noted. It is not a private opinion, it is how language rules define it. From complete redefinition of terms on the fly and going to you-are mind reading in just two sentences, it seems very probable that your argument is either purely emotional or projective or lacks enough logic. When using mirrored version of "girls suck at math", don't expect a different reaction from those who may be actually good at it.

Even if someone temporarily accepts this "large-enough-to-be-generalized" definition, it may have a hard time to retain "large" part, because a number on topic is not more than 156/55000, assuming that 156 is a unique set.


I don't think this is how people usually communicate. Referring to a group without a qualifier refers to the majority, or all. Consider the following sentence:

"Women can't code"

Not only is it true for a substantial portion, it's true for the majority of women (and men, for that matter). But would you criticize those who object to the statement?


That is about as fair an argument as that gag where someone shouts "Hey asshole" loudly in your direction, and makes fun of everyone that turns around, implying that the people that react are assholes.


Well, apparently not impossible, if one denies hard enough.


Or is uncertain.


Even I, being not good at statistics, got your parent’s point. We do see patterns easily when there is/maybe none due to how our pattern-detection works. It is evolutionally false-positive, because it is easier to label and avoid than explain and manage (and take damage on mistake).

In this light, the “context of thousands of similar things” is one great generalizing bs.


The conclusion you can draw here is that being female will makes you the target of abuse that you wouldn't receive as another gender (or species in the case of this article). Other people have provided data that supports the case that this is a widespread problem that faces female tech-people (and even that is a subset of a larger problem).

To take it to extremes, that abuse could entirely be the fault of one single person who frequents every forum on the internet (you suggested it was "just 12 year old boys"). That the cause of the problem is only a small subset of men in no way affects the fact that there is a problem that makes being a female tech-person a less pleasant experience than being a male tech person.


I'm not sure you can conclude from accounts on sexual harassment alone that being a female tech-person is a less pleasant experience than being a male tech-person. Women do experience more sexual harassment in tech industry than men but they do not experience more harassment or workplace bullying overall. The harassment that is not of sexual nature is not necessarily less upsetting than sexual harassment. In fact the opposite might be the case: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-bullies-work/workplace-bu...


Accounts on sexual harassment give one way in which being a woman is worse than a man.

I am aware of no study or plausible anecdotal evidence of a significant issue that men are exposed to that women aren't.

Lacking something to 'balance it out' I find it reasonable to conclude that women have a less pleasant experience.


> Tell me again how this self-admittedly "non-rigorous scientific study" proves "sexism is everywhere"?

By itself, this article doesn't prove that, it's only one more data point in the vast unending ocean of data points that prove it.

> It could easily by that more attractive profiles results in more interactions and receive the same proportion of sexist responses.

You're imagining something fairly contrary to what the article said, and to what many other examples and studies have shown. The primary factor is the gender of the recipient, and while the article is not rigorous, it demonstrated a greater percentage of sexist comments for the more attractive female photo, and demonstrated a near zero percentage for the male photo.

> For all we know the sample could be entirely edgy 12 year olds.

That, um, doesn't count as sexism? If it's all 12 year olds, we still have a problem. Maybe a worse problem.

Out of curiosity, you seem to be arguing that sexism online might not exist, yet it's a huge problem, easily demonstrable and widely known. What's preventing you from acknowledging the issue?


Ok, but do you think those 12 year olds are going to all grow up to be well behaving adults? Or maybe the problems with this kind of sexism are starting very young. If you are right then the solutions still need to be addressed, but we need to start earlier.


If these are really just edgy 12 year olds, then I don't even see the problem in their behaviour itself as much as the fact that it's not possible to identify them as just edgy kids. It's probably not that they need to find out what they are doing is wrong, they probably even know that already, but that they find out that it doesn't make them cool or special or in any way better, which is what they most likely believe when they do stuff like that.

A woman (or man, for that matter) who really gets distressed by being insulted by a 12 year old kid certainly shouldn't be the norm, and I don't believe they are. If every one of those chat messages had a button to "forward this to their parent", they would look completely harmless, but with the anonymity the internet provides, they are just chat messages from what could very well be a 30 year old man, making the dumb prank of an even dumber kid seem like way more than it is.

What I think would be interesting is some sort of age statistic, because I expect at least two thirds if not more of these messages to be from people under 15.

And since somebody will undoubtedly interpret this message like that, no, I am not saying all online harassment can be dismissed, only the large majority of it.


Marginal levels of immature and/or antisocial elements don't mean that society is sexist, no matter how vocal those trolls may be.


No, society tolerating those vocal trolls does mean that society is sexist.

"The standard you walk past, is the standard you accept" - Lt. Gen. David Morrison


> No, society tolerating those vocal trolls does mean that society is sexist.

What change in society would count as not tolerating these trolls?


To start with, commenters on HN could acknowledge that this is actually a problem.


> No, society tolerating those vocal trolls does mean that society is sexist.

Actually that just means society tolerates trolls. You're showing your bias by jumping to the conclusion that everything is sexism or that somehow antisocial and immature people only target women.

Furthermore, western society actually holds in high regard concepts such as frer speech, which covers idiots being able to say idiotic things.


These vocal trolls are being sexist. A society that tolerates sexist trolls tolerates sexism. A society that tolerates sexism is a sexist society.


A society that tolerates sexist trolls because it values free speech is not being sexist, it's being pro-free-speech.


It is being sexist, and it's being rather absurdist with it's definition of "free speech".


Do you remember how sexist were the 70's and the 80's? People who were 12 back then turned out just fine, considering that we're even discussing this, didn't they?


I was 12 in the 70s, and don't remember any boys talking to girls like this. If they did, they'd probably get a slap in the face, if not by the girl then by the teacher if overheard.

One big difference is that there was no access to the sort of degrading pornography that is just freely available today. A 12 year old boy in the 70s might be able to get his hands on a Playboy or maybe even a Hustler but it took some real effort and those magazines were tame compared to the porn today.


Sure, but there were sexist ads everywhere including the TV; every pub, car repair shop etc. had at least one erotic calendar hanging in the public and so on. There's way more, please don't try to say that there is more sexism today than there was in the 70's.


What makes you think they turned out fine? Considering all the high-profile sexual harassment issues over the past few weeks, I get the feeling that many of them did not "grow out of it".


That's a very, very small portion of the population. It's also the part of population known for its crazy parties, abundance of money, drugs and alcohol.


I am going to speculate that it is incredibly unlikely that those 12 year old are going to grow up to be well behaved adults. I'm also going to speculate that the vast majority of those twelve year olds do not telegraph their wickedness to anyone in their life or their social circles - parents, teachers, relatives, etc because for last several decades US adult population has been playing ostrich pretending that the disgusting behavior of junior is only a problem for the juniors of those unwashed masses from the redneck South and cannot possibly ever come from the home of the NPR listening, PBS supporting, women's march going family.


While I think the other commenter on this post stated their point unhelpfully rudely, I agree that I think you're writing the child off too quickly. I'd imagine that giving up on a kid at this stage would only make it less likely that they realize how terrible they are being.

Even if adults don't know that a kid is being shitty, they can still lead by example towards a happier outcome


> it is incredibly unlikely that those 12 year old are going to grow up to be well behaved adults

I'm glad you're very unlikely to work in any kind of K-12 educational setting, given how eagerly you write kids off.


I was thinking just that. Target audience of 12yo boys, who are "parked" by their parents with a tablet, with no control, no supervision, that are left to 'self-educate' in the wild-wild-west of the interwebs, and their responses are quotes and memes, will definitely do that.

On the other hand, a 35yo educated person, that just wants to make something silly for ther corporate 'yammer', will definitely NOT insult or waste time in any other manner.

Kids will be kids.

Uneducated kids will be uneducated kids.

And we should all be patient, as.. ahem.. we were kids one time :)


>will definitely NOT insult or waste time in any other manner

I wouldn't take those odds, if I were you. Being 35 is no guarantee of not-being-an-asshole.


The conclusion we can draw is pretty much what the author says: it's better to present yourself as an anonymous avatar than a real person.

Despite what marketing people tell you about "creating a connection" or "showing that your company is made of real people", often a bit of distance and professionalism is best for your relationship with customers.


> it's better to present yourself as an anonymous avatar than a real person.

Only if you want to avoid rude/sexist messages. You can get more normal messages with good looking girl, and that's what matters for business.


> Only if you want to avoid rude/sexist messages.

Who wouldn't?!


It's not just black and white. You will get less rude messages, but you will also get less normal messages. It means you will have smaller conversion ratio and earn less money.

So to answer your question, I would not want to avoid sexist message if it means less money for my business. It's extremely simple to ignore bad people on the Internet. It's hard to earn money.


Do you have a source for that claim?


You are right, I should have written "you probably can" instead of "you can". But my original point is that that

> it's better to present yourself as an anonymous avatar than a real person

is not what's implied from the article. Rather it should be:

"it's better to present yourself as an anonymous avatar than a real person if you want to receive less crap"

Note: there's a user in this discussion saying in their case image of good looking woman worked the best.


Why was no one rude to the dude, dude? You're engaging in cargo-cult statistics.


Also, rude comments aside, which avatar received the most useful comments?


I would be interested to find this out.


> For all we know the sample could be entirely edgy 12 year olds.

If 12-year-olds are being sexist to be edgy, that's a problem in itself. Also, if it was people deliberately trying to be edgy, I'd expect way generic, or possibly racist, to be directed at Eric Lu, which does not seem to be the case.


Sexism might be everywhere (going both ways), but this particular case likely isn't sexism. Even if it is, it's not clear whether this is sexism against women or against men (programmers in particular) assumed to be hiding behind pretty woman's photo.


Since the female photos get a significantly higher level of harrassed, how does this not indicate sexism?


I agree with your conclusion (that this is sexist), but not for the reasons you state. Correlation and causation, and all that.

If crappy programmers make crappy chatbots, and they all have female pictures, then people's disdain would not be caused by a sexist reasoning, but by the widespread practice of using female pictures in crappy chatbots.

I have no idea how would one go about testing this theory, specially when I believe your conclusion to be correct to begin with. But I can see why other commenters would disagree.


They also get a higher level of normal responses. That's also sexism, but "positive" for them. Why don't we talk about this, as well?


They specifically didn't mention the level of "normal" responses:

>Other than the creeps, trolls, and bullies, I didn’t notice a shift in the types of questions people were asking - users with problems on Kapwing still asked Rachel for help. But we didn’t analyze the volume of messages, so I can’t say if Rachel got more or fewer messages overall.


Since we know nothing about these strangers, it may be anything from mostly rude boys who like girls (so they target “her”) ... to actually average rude people of all sorts who only attack women. If latter proportion is true, then women get their “cut” asymmetrically.

Lsh, it is no clear indicator.


Female photos, especially the second model photo, look incredibly fake. I guess people use that unwanted box to vent to frustations with what seems to be a bot?


The perception that female photos look fake is still sexism. It suggests people believe it less likely that a woman would be on the other end of the conversation. And you suggesting that perception as an explanation without challenging it kind of demonstrates how this is a pervasive problem.

Now I agree that the model photo looks a little more artificial for reasons beyond gender, and they should probably have compared with a male model photo as well. Though personally I suspect people would still think it more likely that an attractive man was a real person than an attractive woman.


>The perception that female photos look fake is still sexism

Except it's not. Stock photos of good looking women are routinely used in marketing to attract users. It's proven by stats from A/B testing.


So the gendered assumption is the result of a gendered marketing practice which is based on gender differentiated responses to images (which are proven by stats)? But there's no sexism involved here?

Okay, I'm being glib, but this idea that thinking of a plausible causation with no further critical analysis means it's "not sexism" is kind of exasperating.


>But there's no sexism involved here?

I'm only saying a person using good looking woman as an avatar because of a/b testing does not make him sexist.


I'm not sure why it matters if they're "a sexist".

Whether they make a decision based on internal biases caused by societal norms, or make a decision by measuring those societal norms directly and responding to them, the decision is still an expression of societal sexism.


That's literal sexism then... As in it's literally made to trigger sexual areas of your brain to get your attention. If you wan't to insist that it's wrong to be biologically wired like that, Go on. But... idk.


No, the person is using sexism of other people, but that does not mean he/she himself/herself is sexist.


> Stock photos of good looking women are routinely used in marketing to attract users

They're photos, though. They're real. Not "fake"


What's wrong with rationalizing things? Should we just take it for pure truth because a woman said it?


I think rationalizing is fine.

But people tend to rationalize selectively, and only when it benefits their worldview. The parent comment made that clear, but you sidestepped that point. I don't think the downvotes are necessarily virtue signaling.

I was temped to downvote you, though. I live with a woman, and know many more, and I've been party to the sexism and harassment they deal with on a day to day basis. I've been party to people not believing what they say because of what's between their legs (eg "...take it for pure truth because a woman said it?"). I've been party to my wife being groped on a crowd, and seeing young teenage girls being catcalled by grown men. I've had female friends who have been raped. At this point, the evidence is more than anecdotal to me.

I find myself wondering, when I read comments like yours, if the people who make them have absolutely no connection with any women at all.


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"Rationalize" != "think rationally", despite the similarity in the words.


That’s not sexism, just being disrespectful.

But why are you surprised about this if the next article on HN may be about technology in PornHub?

It’s okay to treat women as a piece of meat in porn, but suddenly it’s a big deal if people are making sexual comments?


When "being disrespectful" tends to happen more often to women than men, that is sexism.


> It’s okay to treat women as a piece of meat in porn, but suddenly it’s a big deal if people are making sexual comments?

No more or less than it's ok to treat people as units of work in corporations. I rarely see sex-tech on HN anyway, plus not every feminist has a problem with porn.


I'm strongly convinced that the 'average HN reader' is well aware of this (sexism) problem.

I don't rationalizing it, but I believe, the points you mention are important. And in addition, yes there are idiots on the internet. And not all problems have a easy wrong solution...

The blog post is (for me) shallow and the 'tests' would need to be expanded to be really interesting: what happens if you put on pictures from women from different cultures, ditto men from different cultures? Where are these insulting comments coming from? Does it also happen if you use 'less-into-your-face chat widgets'? etc...


> The author spends a lot of time to tell us a very convincing story how sexism affects people in our industry, and the Hacker News thread is full of people rationalizing it.

I wonder what you expected. Actually, for most of us its not shocking, as that is exactly the internet we know for some time now. Have you ever been around when some 15ish boys are in a small group? They keep saying such crap the whole day. Some of us eventually grow up some day, but some seem to be stuck in their puberty forever.

I don't like it either, but I haven't found a cure for that disease yet. I mean in some online gaming communities its daily business and when you hear those guys grunting into their microphone you are very happy to have mute buttons and kick/ban vote systems (telling them to stop doesn't seem to have a positive effect on the situation).

The difference here seems to be that, you don't have to play online games, but when you work in our industry you have to cope with such crap.

Btw. whats wrong about 'rationalizing' things? I mean your list just shows quotes of people missing the point.


"Sexism is actually everywhere" is an extremely strong statement. Such a strong statement requires an extraordinary amount of work (going far beyond mere observations) to be proven.

I personally would be very interested to know why "Julia" is being insulted much more than "Eric", but saying "this is because of sexism" is no better than saying that "the sun is bright because it shines".


"Julia" isn't being insulted more than "Eric" because of sexism. "Julia" being insulted more than "Eric" is sexism.

The causes of sexism is another subject. But the first step is to acknowledge sexism is going on in the first place.


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In this entire situation, it was ALWAYS Julia answering the messages; the ONLY thing that changed was name and photo.


What? No. "A man and a woman are treated differently" is not sexism unless there's a causal link between their sex and their treatment.


How else would you explain the difference in this case?


I dunno, maybe with some actual analysis of the events rather than an assumption that "if something bad happens to a woman then it's sexist"?


TFA does that.


I'd add - it also usually has to be unjustified and harmful per common usage.


>”Julia" being insulted more than "Eric" is sexism.

This argument could stand if we knew the exact sexual preferences of site users. If tested auditory was e.g. 100% to-male-attracted, what is your guess about “Eric” getting harassed or attacked vs “Julia”?


Most things in life cannot be terated like a scientific experiment. It would be interesting to conduct high quality research to find out if my company is sexist, but there is no time, money or desire to do that. So we have to rely on less formal information.

Also the whole "strong statement requires an extraordinary amount of work" thing is entirely dependant on your outlook. I could just as easily say the opposite statement (that sexisim is minimal) and suggest that it requires extraordinary evidence to prove that. The degree to which you think something is extraordinary depends on your outlook and experience, it is rarely objective.


Both statements - "sexism does not exist" and "sexism is everywhere" are equally extreme. By saying the former you deny the obvious. By saying the latter you effectively claim that every single person is sexist, which is a bit unfair.


Except that the extremeness of the statement is subjectively based on your own outlook. And there is an implicit value judgement in making that decision about what you consider "extreme". Arguably all people are sexist, but not in a particularly problamatic or socially unacceptable way. It is human nature to notice gender after all. And applying such logical rules to something so nuanced and subjective is flawed, and will unavoidably lead to an argument over semantics.


> I could just as easily say the opposite statement (that sexisim is minimal) and suggest that it requires extraordinary evidence to prove that

You could, and it does. But it's it matter of opinion/semantics that this is "the opposite statement".

In context, a specific claim is a specific claim, whichever way it goes. The "opposite" in another sense, is to make no claim, and therefor stick to the default position of allowing for either possibility without knowing which (agnostic position?). There is absolutely nothing wrong with that position, and it requires no additional information, as opposed to "less formal information".

Now, if you claim we need to adopt a specific position, and do so with little information, i.e. without the time/money to do so then you'd have to justify that - i.e why isn't it strongly desired, yet still apparently important, to hold a position on the topic?


I think it is mindnumbing that your (very reasonable) questioning of the validity of such a strong and all-encompassing statement is being dismissed, downvoted.

To some extent, I would take it with a grain of salt. Anonymous internet accounts can be fabricated and controlled by groups or individuals. This is also something that should be taught, actively.

Do not let apparent social pressure have you concede rationality, truth.


I always assumed these messages were automated helper bots, I didn't realize they are people on the other end. Now I feel a little bad about being so curt when I use them like I'm searching an FAQ.


Yes, I noticed that people hated when they thought they were talking to a bot. [This is Julia, the OC.] Sometimes I would respond to a sequence of four or five messages from a user, and they would immediately stop messaging, as if they didn’t realize a human was there. I tried that tactic for a while - a user would message me or Rachel some inappropriate demand and I would respond with “Absolutley not.” Many users would stop messaging, but some would get even more fired up and become really aggresssive or threatening.

So I stopped responding to any message that was inappropriate, mean, or nonsense. It’s a waste of time and energy when you’re trying to grow the company.


Was thinking about this ... I reflexively hate bots, but it might be a UX thing -- maybe it's the popup. The pop diverts my attention from where I was looking on the site and feels like an intrusion. Same as if someone comes to your desk and grabs your mouse. So .. maybe an improvement would be to have a status-line or ticker-like text field that doesn't pop up or obscure any part of the underlying page design.

Also, IRL anecdote. My ex-wife used to get heckled and cat-called all the time when walking alone (even pushing baby pram). Number of times it happened when she was walking with me? 0. I'm amused and saddened by all the incredulity on display here. I could have said "well I've never seen it, so it's not happening..."

EDIT> You have to be a special kind of ignorant or inexperienced to not have noticed that this is how people talk to women when there are no consequences.


> Was thinking about this ... I reflexively hate bots, but it might be a UX thing -- maybe it's the popup. The pop diverts my attention from where I was looking on the site and feels like an intrusion. Same as if someone comes to your desk and grabs your mouse. So .. maybe an improvement would be to have a status-line or ticker-like text field that doesn't pop up or obscure any part of the underlying page design.

I almost entirely agree with this. Chat pop-ups are _incredibly_ annoying. Many websites have a livechat tab at the bottom, or at the side of the screen that you can click to initiate a chat, and that's fine, but the chat should _never_ be initiated automatically (or appear to be). Once the page loads, any change in the main area of a website should _only_ be initiated by user interaction, such as clicking the 'chat' tab at the bottom. Otherwise, for the interruption it generates in my thought process, you might as well just load another page entirely.


>Was thinking about this ... I reflexively hate bots, but it might be a UX thing -- maybe it's the popup. The pop diverts my attention from where I was looking on the site and feels like an intrusion. Same as if someone comes to your desk and grabs your mouse. So .. maybe an improvement would be to have a status-line or ticker-like text field that doesn't pop up or obscure any part of the underlying page design.

But it wasn't nearly as bad when the avatar was male or nonhuman.


Thanks for the article, really good to see, and reaffirm what most of us guessed already.

Might I suggest another round of trials but changing up the message when someone joins? It reads quite like a bot/automated system/interactive FAQ, as others point out.

I know that personally if I join one of those with a bot you can usually get a real human on the other end if you curtly answer questions and voice dissatisfaction with the bot answers (e.g. "this doesn't help") at which point it offers to give a human.

What I'm saying is I wonder how this gender effect would interact with a 'bot-like' variable—if people would react this way if the message was more along the lines of "hi, I'm Rachel and I'm a real human working for…'


I'm male and I suppose this kind of problems happen much less often than to you, but I also came to the conclusion that not answering to meanness, nonsense, rudeness etc is the best tactic.


I would wager most people would think these are bots, especially when photos are used. Internet users are a little too accustomed to stock photos of happy company employees gathering and customer support smiling for the camera.

Then they want to see how the bot responds to stupid memes.


TBH even when I see a chatbox that isn't a bot (aside the automated greeting) I assume it's a minimum wage tech support drone in some low cost country. Especially when they have a cliché American name ("Dave", "John", "Adam", etc).

I'm not the kind of person that routinely insults chatbots but if I'd see a portrait photo of a woman I'd likely assume it's a bot, simply because too many companies use fake photos of smiling women because someone told them it's good for business (though this article makes me wonder if that trend might finally change).


Without reading this article, I would never, in a million years, have believed there was an actual human being manually operating any of these "chat popups". I probably still won't believe it, but now when I see these things I have to think there's a 99.9% chance it's a bot rather than 100% chance it's a bot.


And even if that isn't the case today you can bet that that is exactly what it will be like in the near future.


I hate those chat popups so much. There are better and worse implementations, but mainly the best ones are the least obtrusive, and the absolute best are not having these at all. Even if I did want to contact the company, this is not how I'd do it, as there are no guarantees made about who will see the message, how it will be handled, etc. (email with a ticketing, or some other form where I'm clearly submitting something and a process exists to handle it, sure.)

Still not as bad as surveys ("Yes, your website was fine until you popped up a modal for this survey which broke my interaction...")


Yeah, recently I have seen the other side of one of those tools, I felt like Dorothy pulling the curtain.


A few thoughts from Julia (the OC) 24 hours after this post caught on: 1. Thank you all for the kind words and thoughts - The Kapwing chat box has been full of supportive and kind messages this morning. 2. I didn’t intend to solicit pity; annoying users are just one small challenge on the way to growing an Internet company and are easy to avoid, thanks to the Drift messaging platform and pseudonyms. But it is one example of a small thing that steepens the path to success for women founders. 3. The discussions in these comments are, for the most part, insightful and interesting. Even though my users and my experience are not representative of everyone’s, I appreciate the conversations this post has started around user behavior on the internet.


It may also be that people are more likely to assume it's a bot if it's a female, given that almost all chat bots claim to be female.


I don't want to trivialize the misogyny and sexism that shines through in the behavior you're seeing, but I think this is a big part of it. By now many users assume that any unsolicited message from a female is a bot, phishing, or both. Definitely becomes a problem when you're an actual person just trying to engage your users.


Showering abuse on a female bot still demonstrates deep misogyny imo, even if there is no victim in that case.


If its a bot, is it really "male" or "female"? The larger point that many people are trying to make is that if websites and corporations didn't always try to disguise their bots behind the face of a pretty girl then perhaps people would consider that their messages were being sent to actual human beings.


Not only that but if the image is of a swimsuit model I would absolutely assume its fake.


That would still be sexism. Im not sure people care why others are being jerks to them. If people are a jerk to you because you are a woman then that's sexism.


I can't relate to her post. We use on purpose attractive female profiles for our support chat avatars (our product is a SaaS) and the cases where a user behaves like this are 0.5% and for us not a problem at all, we just ignore them.

FYI, we tested a while different pics, female, male, average looking, good looking and we just got the best conversion rates with the above mentioned.


I guess that the “video-meme” demographics is quite different than yours. Which type of SaaS is it?


Just wondering, how do the support people feel about being represented by better looking avatars?

"Your real face is too ugly, sorry."


Same way I felt when I was younger and would serve drinks at events, but then was moved to just pouring the drinks because "we now hire actual models for serving".

I'm a guy, by the way.


Fake names and fake avatars. They feel safe that no one is going to find them offline.


It's easy. Don't tell them "Your real face is too ugly, sorry."

If that's what they interpret, sucks for them.


Is a difference in that

- your product is enterprise enough to only attract people who are considering speding larger amount of money (and thus are usually more 'adult') - your users are logged in (and assume you know their identity as they have paid throu their CC)

?


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Also likely not a site that deals with meme makers: http://kapwing.com


>mentally retarted

In an ideal world this would be an attempt at irony.


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I expect your downvotes are for the unnecessary and offensive inclusion of, "have to be mentally retarted [sic]." Without that I might have up-voted you for the other points made. (Although they could have been made with a less confrontational tone as well.)


upvoted your comment:) You're right. I'm sorry.


Honest question: What's the logic behind being so utterly rude from the first moment to someone you find attractive? Is it supposed to attract them back somehow?


I don't have an answer based on any kind of scientific information, but I have a theory about this. I think that young boys who are learning how to behave towards women test their boundaries. Since they are anonymous, they go way too far into aggression. So I think the combination of being at the bottom of the food chain in terms of being a mate combines with their anonymity and their lack of actual social skills in behaving towards women.


Ha maybe the response to this type of abuse is to link the offender to research like that


Just guessing based on behaviours I have witnessed amongst school friends and work colleagues.

If you're not an attractive person yourself there are women and girls who are out of your reach. This breeds resentment at an early age, and a weapon of choice, for some, is derogatory language.

Why, because what else can you do to hurt someone so easily without fear of repercussion?

The problem is not just confined to misogynists btw. If you're a man and have an attractive wife or girlfriend the insulting behaviour still goes on, but usually behind your back - these people are generally cowards after all.


Actually, people are colder and more abusive towards those less good-looking. The case described in the article is not due to beauty. It's because people think it's a bot or at least a fake photo. That's what irritates them.


Ahh, yes, that would explain it. I guess the next step here would be to put a note that says this is a human and see how people respond!


Yes! They should definitely try that experiment!

When reading the article my first questions were: do these people think there is a real human at the other end, and, if so, do they think the photo is of that human? It's probably impossible to answer that question directly, but putting up a notice similar to "you are talking to a real person, not a bot" and seeing how that affects the behaviour would give some indication, perhaps.


Did you speak to the people in question or are you just speculating on the reason for their behaviour?


I think it's obvious that everyone here is speculating, there's no benefit to trying to call one of them out.


But then why would you harass a bot?


Because it's an emotionless inanimate thing, so it's a safe place to play around with saying things you otherwise never could?


Maybe for the same reason that I drown or starve my Sims characters


Because it's safer than harassing a human. Perfectly reasonable people will be abusive to a bot, because they assume the bot cannot feel it.


Sour grapes. If you know you can't have or get something, pretend you never wanted it. Thus your ego is preserved.


I don't think anybody thinks in these terms about an internet chatbot.


Objectification. Performative masculinity.

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