A Tweet About a 'Dongle' Leads to Two Firings, Death Threats

A woman's tweet about an offensive joke has led to firings and death threats.

ByABC News
March 22, 2013, 6:20 PM

March 23, 2013 — -- Offensive jokes whispered at a tech conference last Sunday night have now spread much further than anyone would have ever thought.

While at the PyCon technology conference last weekend, Adria Richards, a software developer and self-described technology evangelist, overheard two men behind her making a series of offensive and sexual jokes about "dongles" and "forks."

"They started talking about 'big' ad dongles. I could feel my face getting flustered," Richards wrote on her blog titled "But You're a Girl." "I was telling myself if they made one more sexual joke, I'd say something. Then it happened ... the trigger."

Richards didn't turn around in her seat and talk to the two men. But she did speak up on the Internet. She snapped a photo of the two men and tweeted it: "Not cool. Jokes about 'forking' repo's in a sexual way and 'big' dongles. Right behind me #pycon pic.twitter.com/Hv1bkeOsYP."

Richards then tweeted at the PyCon account, and as a result, the two men were removed from the conference.

That was just the start of the impact of those tweets. Later in the week, one of the men, whose name has not been revealed, was fired from his job at Playhaven, a mobile gaming company.

"PlayHaven had an employee who was identified as making inappropriate comments at PyCon, and as a company that is dedicated to gender equality and values honorable behavior, we conducted a thorough investigation," Andy Yang, the CEO of PlayHaven, wrote on the company's website. "The result of this investigation led to the unfortunate outcome of having to let this employee go."

But he wasn't the only one who lost a job over this situation. Richards herself was fired Thursday from her job at SendGrid, a technology company that provides cloud and email solutions. Jim Franklin, the CEO of SendGrid, said that the company supported Richards concern about the jokes.

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"We understand that Adria believed the conduct to be inappropriate and support her right to report the incident to PyCon personnel," Franklin wrote on SendGrid's blog. But he took issue with her decision to "publicly shame" the offenders by tweeting the comments and photos.

"A SendGrid developer evangelist's responsibility is to build and strengthen our developer community across the globe. In light of the events over the last 48-plus hours, it has become obvious that her actions have strongly divided the same community she was supposed to unite. As a result, she can no longer be effective in her role at SendGrid," he wrote. When reached by ABC News, Richards would not comment on the recent activities.

PyCon now has also updated its conference code of conduct with the following language: "Report the harassment incident (preferably in writing) to a conference staff member - all reports are confidential, please do not disclose public information about the incident until the staff have had sufficient time in which to address the situation ..." it reads now.

Numerous websites, individuals and groups have responded to the firings and the story, which invoke themes of privacy and sexism.