How Worthy Crusades Become Witch Hunts

[originally published on Nov 26, 2017 · 3 min read]

Harvey Weinstein is a troll; Terry Richardson an opportunist and both sexual predators with a capital P. They have been aided and abetted in this behavior for years yet today we are part of their reckoning.

It seems like every day, another famous man stands accused of sexual misbehavior. The courageous women who first came forward inspired more to reveal their experiences for catharsis, solidarity or reasons of their own. Hard conversations are taking place in many living rooms, workplaces and medium. Friends and family members of mine come away from conversations feeling accused for behavior they do not engage in nor can understand.

Christina Wodke has written eloquently, and again, about her unwanted sexual encounters with 2 IA/UX luminaries at a popular professional conference []. While there is a great deal of detail about the unnamed-yet-not-unknown perpetrators, the same attention to detail is not provided to the circumstance. As a result, the encounters do not seem to possess the abuse of power or spidery network of complicit co-conspirators that predators often employ. Yet, this reader is left with the impression that conference breaks and meals are more for bacchanalian than networking purposes.

What seems to be missing from the entire #metoo landscape is a delineation of predatory behavior from that which is boorish, puerile or juvenile. Also missing is some sort of tangible and lasting reconciliation. Can the juvenile groping of a wheelchair bound ex-president be treated the same consequence as a demand for sex to keep a job or get a promotion? I do not want to diminish the trauma of unwanted sexual advance. Other than talking among ourselves what effective means to provide relief and remedy?

True predators face the consequences of law that allows their victims some sense of retribution. For the boorish or puerile, what is the desired outcome of these revelations: solidarity, catharsis, truth, retribution? As information architects, we know that specificity is key to structure and wayfinding. Can we expect less from our community gatherings? Under what circumstances is an apology sufficient or ruining someone’s reputation called for? [And, for the record, #metoo in my first career in Hollywood.]

As co-chair of the 2017 IA Summit, I can vouch for the seriousness with which my colleagues and I approached the matter. However, a Code of Conduct are words on a screen and as effective as the Terms and Conditions we ignore about sharing our personal data if remedy outlined is not backed up. As a community, we must accept Christina’s request that we remain vigilant and take action.

That’s not to say that the conference hotel bar doesn’t see its share of bawdy behavior until the wee small hours of Sunday morning. Likely why the first sessions on Sunday are known as “the dead zone” due to lack of attendance or seriously hung over state of some in the audience. This does not excuse said juvenile, boorish or puerile behavior. Jared Spool does a stellar job of exploring how to add teeth to a Code of Conduct with action [].

Action could take the form of calling out sexist, racist, ageist and careerist comments or jokes as they happen instead of silent acquiescence followed by sub-tweeting. Those who are part of the Saturday evening burlesque in hotel and local bars could designate someone as hall monitor to intercede when someone, of either sex, is not responsible starts to cross lines or is incapable of rational behavior.

For those with friends or family that have crossed the line, Sarah Silverman explores this in her monologue Can You Love Someone Who Did Bad Things []. As individuals, we can be good friends and colleagues to guide those whose private struggles result in publicly bad behavior. And, as Desmond Tutu modeled for us with the South Africa Truth and Reconciliation committee, we can forgive to move on.

Without transparency in motivation and desired outcome, resulting ambiguity creates an environment of fear without reason, accusation without recourse. Without reconciliation, past behavior becomes a searing scarlet letter that can never be overcome. History tells us that these conditions create a not-so-worthy witch hunt with innocent, clueless and clumsy put together with the deeply corrupt and viscous. As Arthur Miller shows us in The Crucible, that is a landscape that we do not want to inhabit.