Today began Science Online Together, the blogging, social media, and writing conference that occurs annually in Raleigh. This gathering now attracts an international crowd, despite its humble roots as a local gathering. Over the (now) 4 years I have attended, I have learned a lot about writing and related things I would not have likely learned elsewhere.
This is the first year that the conference has not had its primary founder, Bora Zivkovic, in attendance. Last year women began coming forward to report inappropriate behavior on the part of Bora, including a lot of information about his sex life. He admitted to a single episode of impropriety after the first shoe fell; unfortunately for him, more women then came forward including one who had saved the inappropriate emails he had sent. They mirrored the reports of the other women, making it clear that this was not merely poor judgment. This fell into the realm of recurrent predatory behavior.
This morning at the first session, the conduct and harassment policies were reviewed with the group because of “recent events.” One of the first scheduled sessions dealt with boundaries (scheduled simultaneously with another women in STEM conference; no conflict there), and one guy (@ScientificScott) asked a very good question:
Is Bora actually Voldemort as there's a sense of "he who shall not be named" at
The live tweets have been Storified here to give you a sense of the discussion. Many women, both in attendance and online, felt that the decision to gloss over these issues was inadequate. It will be difficult to maintain trust in a group that is not willing to publicly call out harrassment such as documented in these events.
Another issue arises here. On January 1, 2014, Anton Zuiker, another of Science Online’s founders blogged over 5,000 words about his friendship with Bora.
he said things to others that would have been better shared with a best friend or a therapist, women called him on it, he apologized, he disappeared in shame and regret.
Likely most have moved on, or maybe some still have a lingering hint of bitterness for my friend. [This was a clumsy sentence that minimizes the depth of emotion and pain. I was trying to capture a range of possible views, but I shouldn’t have attempted to speak for others. Rather, I should own my own statements.] But I sincerely hope that with time and reflection, and a dash of forgiveness, there might be a recipe for moving forward, for Bora and his family, for the women who shared their stories, for our science-communication community, and maybe for women and men in general.
The post could be boiled down to “a guy made a mistake, but he has been offline for 3 months. No one filed charges. Let’s forgive him.” Anton is getting a lot of hard looks from women as he passes by at the meeting; this attitude makes us feel devalued.
Personally, Bora's repeated, almost identical behavior with several women made me feel squeamy. My daughter is a twenty-something communications major who discussed pitching some story ideas to Bora. At the time I said to do it; now, I would not let her near him. I don’t know if I can ever get back any degree of trust. When I read Anton’s defense of Bora, it makes me sad. Although, as he repeatedly points out, no crime has been alleged, he clearly values his collegial relationship with Bora over the damage done to the women directly hurt by his actions. Also, we women wonder how seriously our own accusations would be taken if another in our group acted out inappropriately.
Unless Science Online can directly address these issues, to paraphrase George Orwell (a dude writing under a pseudonym), all of us are equal; but some are more equal*. Science Online has work ahead to better address these issues. One hour of facilitated discussion is not enough.
*Yes, I know I have made heteronormative assumptions throughout this post; however, the circumstances under review involved a male in a position of relative power harrassing women. Certainly other gender and power dynamics can present in various combinations, and all can do irreversible harm to those targeted by offenders.