Update: Lisa Rabey and nina de jesus have issued a retraction and apology regarding their claims about Joe Murphy. I don’t take back or regret anything I said about my personal interaction with Joe, but I was horrified by the way he was tarred and feathered — by people who had no first-hand knowledge of him or his alleged crimes — on social media.

Social media is something I have in common with popular library speaker Joe Murphy. We’ve both given talks about the power of social media at loads of conferences. I love the radical transparency that social media enables. It allows for really authentic connection and also really authentic accountability. So many bad products and so much bad behavior have come to light because of social media. Everyone with a cell phone camera can now be an investigative reporter. So much less can be swept under the rug. It’s kind of an amazing thing.

But what’s disturbing is what has not become more transparent. Sexual harassment for one. When a United States senator doesn’t feel like she can name the man who told her not to lose weight after having her baby because “I like my girls chubby,” then we know this problem is bigger than just libraryland.

It’s been no secret among many women (and some men) who attend and speak at conferences like Internet Librarian and Computers in Libraries that Joe Murphy has a reputation for using these conferences as his own personal meat markets. Whether it’s true or not, I don’t know. I’ve known these allegations since before 2010, which was when I had the privilege of attending a group dinner with him.

He didn’t sexually harass anyone at the table that evening, but his behavior was entitled, cocky, and rude. He barely let anyone else get a word in edgewise because apparently what he had to say (in a group with some pretty freaking illustrious people) was more important than what anyone else had to say. The host of the dinner apologized to me afterwards and said he had no idea what this guy was like. And that was the problem. This information clearly wasn’t getting to the people who needed it most; particularly the people who invited him to speak at conferences. For me, it only cemented the fact that it’s a man’s world (even in our female-dominated profession) and men can continue to get away with and profit from offering more flash than substance and behaving badly.

Why don’t we talk about sexual harassment in the open? I can only speak from my own experience not revealing a public library administrator who sexually harassed me at a conference. First, I felt embarrassed, like maybe I’d encouraged him in some way or did something to deserve it. Second, he was someone I’d previously liked and respected and a lot of other people liked and respected him, and I didn’t want to tarnish his reputation over something that didn’t amount to that much. Maybe also the fact that he was so respected also made me scared to say something, because, in the end, it could end up hurting me.

People who are brave enough to speak out about sexual harassment and name names are courageous. As Barbara Fister wrote, they are whistleblowers. They protect other women from suffering a similar fate, which is noble. When Lisa Rabey and nina de jesus (AKA #teamharpy) wrote about behavior from Joe Murphy that many of us had been hearing about for years, I believe they though they were acting as whistleblowers, though whistleblowers who had only heard about the behavior second or third-hand, which I think is an important distinction. I believe they shared this information in order to protect other women. And now they’re being sued by Joe Murphy for 1.25 million dollars in damages for defaming his character. You can read the statement of claim here. I assume he is suing them in Canada because it’s easier to sue for libel and defamation outside of the U.S.

On his blog, Wayne Biven’s Tatum wonderswhether the fact of the lawsuit might hurt Murphy within the librarian community more than any accusations of sexual harassment.” Is it the Streisand effect, whereby Joe Murphy is bringing more attention to his alleged behavior by suing these women? It’s possible that this will bite him in the ass more than the original tweets and blog post (which I hadn’t seen prior) ever could. 

I fear the impact of this case will be that women feel even less safe speaking out against sexual harassment if they believe that they could be sued for a million or more dollars. In the end, how many of us really have “proof” that we were sexually harassed other than our word? If you know something that substantiates their allegations of sexual predatory behavior, consider being a witness in #teamharpy’s case. If you don’t but still want to help, contribute to their defense fund.

That said, that this information comes second or third-hand does concern me. I don’t know for a fact that Joe Murphy is a sexual predator. Do you? Here’s what I do know. Did he creep out women at conferences? Yes. Did he behave like an entitled jerk at least some of the time? Yes. Do many people resent the fact that a man with a few years of library experience who hasn’t worked at a library in years is getting asked to speak at international conferences when all he offers is style and not substance? Yes.

While all of the rumors about him that have been swirling around for at least the past 4-5 years may be 100% true, I don’t know if they are. I don’t know if anyone has come out and said they were harassed by him beyond the general “nice shirt” comment that creeped out many women. As anyone who has read my blog for a while knows, I am terrified of groupthink. So I feel really torn when it comes to this case. Part of me wonders whether my dislike of Joe Murphy makes me more prone to believe these things. Another part of me feels that these allegations are very consistent with my experience of him and with the rumors over these many years. But I’m not going to decide whether the allegations are true without hearing it from someone who experienced it first-hand.

I wish I could end this post on a positive note, but this is pretty much sad for everyone. Sad for the two librarians who felt they were doing a courageous thing (and may well have been) by speaking out and are now being threatened by a tremendously large lawsuit. Sad for the victims of harassment who may be less likely to speak out because of this lawsuit. And sad for Joe Murphy if he is truly innocent of what he’s been accused (and imagine for a moment the consequences of tarring and feathering an innocent man). I wish we lived in a world where we felt as comfortable reporting abuse and sexual harassment as we do other wrongdoing. I wish as sharp a light was shined on this as has recently been shined on police brutality, corporate misbehavior, and income inequality. And maybe the only positive is that this is shining a light on the fact that this happens and many women, even powerful women, do not feel empowered to report it.

Photo credit: She whispered into the wrong ears by swirling thoughts