TECH
03/22/2013 01:25 pm ET | Updated Mar 22, 2013

Adria Richards' Tweet About A Penis Joke Rocked Silicon Valley

One tweet seems to have upended the lives of at least two people and transfixed Silicon Valley over the past two days.

Adria Richards, a San Francisco-based, self-proclaimed "developer evangelist" for SendGrid, a cloud-based email service apparently overheard a joke while attending Pycon, a convention in Santa Clara, Calif. to discuss the Python programming language. Richards sent the following Tweet to her 12,000 followers on March 17th:

With hindsight we can all say that this probably was a bad move. Alternative options: asking these guys to knock it off, ignoring the immature behavior, or, even, just tweeting that she was uncomfortable with some of the language sans photo.

Not satisfied with the tweet, apparently, Richards went further, contacting the organizers of the event and asking them to deal with the men. She wrote a very long and detailed blog post about the experience, railing against these men. By the way, according to her blog post, these men did not speak to -- or about -- her or even about women in general. Richards says that they made a few penis jokes about dongles and some of a sexual nature about forking (a software term), and she doesn't say what these jokes were. The penis joke remains a mystery.

The tweets exploded online, where seemingly everyone in Silicon Valley argued over whether Richards did the right thing and the role of women in tech. In the real world, things got hairy, as well. The men in question were employees of a company called PlayHaven, and on Thursday, PlayHaven's CEO Andy Yang announced on the company's blog that he had fired the employee who made the comments in question. Yang was sure to point out that the employee that was fired was not the one pictured looking into the camera in Richards' photo.

The man who was fired wrote an anonymous post on the site Hacker News, explaining the situation from his point of view. He wrote that he was sorry that his words made Richards uncomfortable, and clarified that while he did make a "big dongle" joke, what he said about forking was not sexual in nature. He argues that Richards wrongly construed his comments as sexual, and writes that Richards never said anything to him about the comment. He has three children and is now unemployed.

Richards responded on Hacker News, writing that she had no intention of getting the man fired.

After all this, Richards was fired from SendGrid. The company's CEO Jim Franklin wrote a blog post explaining why he fired Richards. "Her decision to tweet the comments and photographs of the people who made the comments crossed the line," he wrote.

While it's hard to defend Richards initital actions, more troubling has been the virulent anti-women backlash. Richards has been continuously threatened and personal information about her has allegedly been made public on 4chan. One 4chan user allegedly posted photos of a bloody, beheaded woman with a caption saying that Richards would look like this when the user was done with her, and 4chan allegedly went after SendGrid's system with a denial of service attack.

Richards has a very long and difficult road ahead of her, and it all started with a simple Tweet.

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