We’ve all, by now, read about what’s gone on between Paul Christoforo of Ocean Marketing and Mike Krahulik, co-founder and comic artist for Penny Arcade. The exchange is posted on Penny Arcade, and Icrontic has a report on it over here. What’s happened since that report is this: Christoforo has pleaded with Krahulik to ask his horde of fans to back off. Krahulik responded publicly by making a comic about how pleased he is with himself, and telling his fans to leave Christoforo’s family, “If they are real,” out of the attacks. Tacitly or not, Krahulik has urged his fans to continue attacking Christoforo, with the implication that ‘bullies’ deserve what they get, whatever that may be.
Personally, I don’t agree with Krahulik’s actions. The punishment here—the ruining of a man’s career, buckets of hate mail (including death threats), the permanent ire of the entire geek culture, and the potential that someone will do him real physical harm—doesn’t fit the crime. Even if it did, Krahulik is not an elected official, nor is it his place to dole out justice on behalf of others.
What gives him the right? His celebrity status? His clout? Those give him the ability, but not the right. Celebrities have a lot of power over public thought, and they need to use it responsibly. If you’re the only man in the room with a gun, that gives you the right to shoot whomever you don’t like? No. It gives you the power to, but that’s completely different.
This is not a case of ‘wild west’ justice, as many have implied; it’s just a very mundane case of a celebrity abusing his sway over the public. Celebrity sway is not new or revolutionary. Celebrities have had this sway for time immemorial. Perhaps we’re just lucky that they rarely choose to use it for evil, but I like to think that there is an ethical understanding here that celebrities not use their power over the public to hurt people. If a TV star went on her show and told the public how mad she was at some guy, and people started attacking that guy because of it, it’s her job as the responsible celebrity to go back on the air and say “Look, guys, I know you want to support me, but knock it off now, okay?”
Would she need to do that legally? Could she get in trouble with the law? Unlikely (maybe an FCC fine, if anything, depending on how she said what she said originally). That’s not why she should do it. She should do it because it’s unethical to use her power to abuse someone she perceives as a bully (which brings up a whole other point I’ll address in a moment)
Krahulik should behave better than that. He should have taken the high road. It was fine to make business decisions based on this stuff. Deny the company a PAX booth? Fine. Inform the PR guy’s superiors of his behavior in an attempt to get him fired? Okay. Post the letter on your webcomic/blog that you know is read by millions of mob-justice geeks along with enough information about the guy that those geeks can make his life hell? Not okay. That’s where the line is.
Then, when they guy writes and pleads for Krahulik to ‘make it stop’, the cartoonist revels in his own power, and urges the throng to torment the guy further. This is not right. Krahulik has allowed himself to become much more of a bully than Christoforo ever was.
But to my other point: Do we really want someone like Krahulik to have this much power over our community? What are his credentials? He’s a popular cartoonist. A self-described victim of bullies. An angry satirist. We let him tell us whom to punish? For all we know he just made all this up. All the information about this situation originates with this one celebrity personality, and we only really have his side of the story. For all we know, this Christophoro guy just talked Krahulik into paying too much for some used carpeting, and he made up the rest as a way to turn the ire of his fans—which he knows is powerful—into a weapon against him.
Sure you think you support what he’s doing now, but who else will we let him use this power on? Krahulik could do this to you. He could do this to me. If he sees this article, and decides that it makes me a bully too, he can turn that weapon on me, and turn my life to shit. Do we want one man, a cartoonist, not a Federal judge, to have that kind of power over us?
We have to be better than to let this happen.
This is not a lesson in internet politeness.
This is not ‘justice’.
This is not wild-west gunslinging heroism.
This is a mad-man with a gun.