Death Threats and the Long Tail of Fame

I’ve been doing lots of reading about the death threats that Kathy Sierra received. It’s hard to avoid in the blogosphere this week, and rightfully so. I wrote about it earlier in the week, but I’m afraid the events and culprits are no more clear in my head.

This whole despicable event has verified one of my (and lots of other people’s) pet theories: the social web has created a long tail of celebrity. I often use this example to explain the long tail idea, because it seems to both surprise and resonate with people.

I don’t write this post to, in any way, make light of Kathy’s situation. I write it to highlight a cultural trend that I think all bloggers need to be aware of.

In a pre-Internet world, here’s what fame looked like. A relatively few number of people were famous (click for larger version, long tail graphic borrowed from Alex Barnett):

Long Tail of Fame, Pre-Internet

However, the Internet came along, and made a bunch more people a little bit famous. There seems to be more fame to spread around, but I don’t want to get into a discussion of the attention economy. Even if you have, say, twenty readers who aren’t your friends and family, you’re a little bit of a celebrity. Here’s what that chart might look like now:

Long Tail of Fame, Post-Internet

Sure, Robert Scoble’s more famous than a college professor, but I don’t want to quibble over the relative positions. The gist is in the broad strokes.

This new long tail of fame is a micro version of what A-list celebrities experience, and that comes with its relative blessings and curses. I’m sure that Angelina Jolie or Jodie Foster get a lot more death threats than Kathy Sierra has, but they’re a lot more famous.

What’s my point? If you’re a blogger, you’re more visible than the average person. Be sure to protect yourself as best you can.


  1. Abusive people on the web are like abusive people anywhere. They thrive on power. And it’s so EASY to take power over the Internet. Anonymity allows people to do and say as they please without accountability or consequence.

    I get quite a few readers in a day, and I don’t know if it’s a matter of luck or my content, but most of them keep it pretty civil. I don’t deal in controversy (mostly) so I’m pretty safe.

    The only kind of “bad attention” I get is from men who send inappropriate emails or photos, for whatever reason. Usually they go away if I ignore them, after some persistence. But it can get pretty unsettling at times.

    I just make sure what I do is defensible and smart, and let the rest of the chips fall where they may.

  2. This is actually precisely why I don’t keep a blog. It’s not that I’m paranoid or anything, I just don’t see the risks as worth taking.

    Also, I predict that, in time, this sort of thing will actually become more commonplace. As with any new medium, it will take some time before the subversives make a real mess of things and, given what some people’s human nature is, it’s sad to say but this is probably inevitable.

    Who can forget how, in the early 90’s everyone was remarking how this newfangled internet thing was so free of things like porn, fraud or mean people. Compare that to the content you can find on the internet today and I challenge anyone to admit that this wasn’t inevitable.

    10 years from now, I predict that only the most resilient of bloggers will still be willing to put their life online (and on the line) like so many do today.

    As with anything, when it comes to a question of freedom vs security, security often wins.

  3. I completely agree with you. Even minor fame produces major problems. I have had my 15 minutes for 4 years now with the Sims Mafia stuff I started. I have had death threats, I’ve had heads of major crime families contact me, hell I even have websites dedicated to making fun of me. You know what I say to the haters out there???

    Fughedaboudit! At least you’ve heard of me. =P

    Jeremy Chase
    aka JC Soprano from The Sims Online
    aka Marsellus Wallace from Second Life
    Founder, The Sim Mafia
    (website down at the moment, but back up soon)

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