[personal profile] mjg59
The Fantasyland Institute of Learning is the organisation behind Lambdaconf, a functional programming conference perhaps best known for standing behind a racist they had invited as a speaker. The fallout of that has resulted in them trying to band together events in order to reduce disruption caused by sponsors or speakers declining to be associated with conferences that think inviting racists is more important than the comfort of non-racists, which is weird in all sorts of ways but not what I'm talking about here because they've also written a "Code of Professionalism" which is like a Code of Conduct except it protects abusers rather than minorities and no really it is genuinely as bad as it sounds.

The first thing you need to know is that the document uses its own jargon. Important here are the concepts of active and inactive participation - active participation is anything that you do within the community covered by a specific instance of the Code, inactive participation is anything that happens anywhere ever (ie, active participation is a subset of inactive participation). The restrictions based around active participation are broadly those that you'd expect in a very weak code of conduct - it's basically "Don't be mean", but with some quirks. The most significant is that there's a "Don't moralise" provision, which as written means saying "I think people who support slavery are bad" in a community setting is a violation of the code, but the description of discrimination means saying "I volunteer to mentor anybody from a minority background" could also result in any community member not from a minority background complaining that you've discriminated against them. It's just not very good.

Inactive participation is where things go badly wrong. If you engage in community or professional sabotage, or if you shame a member based on their behaviour inside the community, that's a violation. Community sabotage isn't defined and so basically allows a community to throw out whoever they want to. Professional sabotage means doing anything that can hurt a member's professional career. Shaming is saying anything negative about a member to a non-member if that information was obtained from within the community.

So, what does that mean? Here are some things that you are forbidden from doing:
  • If a member says something racist at a conference, you are not permitted to tell anyone who is not a community member that this happened (shaming)
  • If a member tries to assault you, you are not allowed to tell the police (shaming)
  • If a member gives a horribly racist speech at another conference, you are not allowed to suggest that they shouldn't be allowed to speak at your event (professional sabotage)
  • If a member of your community reports a violation and no action is taken, you are not allowed to warn other people outside the community that this is considered acceptable behaviour (community sabotage)

Now, clearly, some of these are unintentional - I don't think the authors of this policy would want to defend the idea that you can't report something to the police, and I'm sure they'd be willing to modify the document to permit this. But it's indicative of the mindset behind it. This policy has been written to protect people who are accused of doing something bad, not to protect people who have something bad done to them.

There are other examples of this. For instance, violations are not publicised unless the verdict is that they deserve banishment. If a member harasses another member but is merely given a warning, the victim is still not permitted to tell anyone else that this happened. The perpetrator is then free to repeat their behaviour in other communities, and the victim has to choose between either staying silent or warning them and risk being banished from the community for shaming.

If you're an abuser then this is perfect. You're in a position where your victims have to choose between their career (which will be harmed if they're unable to function in the community) and preventing the same thing from happening to others. Many will choose the former, which gives you far more freedom to continue abusing others. Which means that communities adopting the Fantasyland code will be more attractive to abusers, and become disproportionately populated by them.

I don't believe this is the intent, but it's an inevitable consequence of the priorities inherent in this code. No matter how many corner cases are cleaned up, if a code prevents you from saying bad things about people or communities it prevents people from being able to make informed choices about whether that community and its members are people they wish to associate with. When there are greater consequences to saying someone's racist than them being racist, you're fucking up badly.

Date: 2017-02-28 12:11 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Not necessarily. It is very easy to misconstrue the meaning of what someone says, especially if you want to see someone as a victim (I am not saying that everyone who gets offended wants to be a victim).

For example: I am hypothetically speaking at an event. During my talk, I make a joke that "I am not into dyed hair." This is fairly ambiguous, and without context could mean that I am not attracted to people with dyed hair, or that I don't like the idea of dying my own hair. Someone could tweet this thought, maybe without context, maybe to try and drum up controversy about me and purposely misinterpret it, or maybe they genuinely were offended by what I said, either in my intended context or an unintended but perceived context. Now this person, or someone who gets the comment second (or more) hand, is pissed off. A twitter mob forms up and starts calling for me to be exiled from the community and barred from speaking at future events, and maybe not even allowed into any conventions/trade shows in my industry for the foreseeable future. Or even if I had made that comment sitting in some cafe to a friend and someone tweeted "Saw at . That fascist hates dyed hair."

This is the situation I can see this system trying to protect. I do acknowledge that this also has the potential to defend people who have opinions many find abhorrent. And it is easy to jump right to the extreme of what is allowed. But I think it is more important to consider that if one person doesn't have rights, none of us do. Either all of us are safe from persecution, or none of us are. A friend of mine became a free speech lawyer for just this reason. She has to work for some of the worst people she has ever met, and defend actions she personally hates, but were legal. And if their are ever considered illegal, the amount of speech which is free is endangered. Even speech that wasn't offended can be targeted. My above hypothetical comment could be used as precedent for hair dye manufacturers attacking critics or censoring online reviewers who did not like their products.

This is not intended for me to be defending racism, but more of a concern that if it is acceptable to ban speakers, or in more extreme cases, raise enough of a fuss that their career is over, what happens to the person who says something not racist, but that some think is almost as bad as racism? What happens to the person who is slightly less bad then that person? Or the next? It is easy to say where your moral line is, but history has shown that society can't always draw a clean line, or be able to reach a consensus of where that line is before things move passed it.

Date: 2017-02-28 03:44 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
It's important that people have the *legal* right to say anything. People shouldn't be prosecuted for it.

That doesn't mean any of those people need to be permitted at a conference. Their inclusion necessarily means the exclusion of many other people. Their rights have not been affected; they simply have not been allowed to attend or speak at a conference.

Date: 2017-02-28 06:41 am (UTC)
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
From: [personal profile] tim
Why wouldn't you just say "I'm sorry, it was thoughtless of me to say that, I know it was wrong, and I won't do it again", preventing everything else from happening?

Date: 2017-02-28 11:31 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Is the conclusion of your whole comment “But what if slippery slope fallacy”?


Matthew Garrett

About Matthew

Power management, mobile and firmware developer on Linux. Security developer at Google. Member of the Free Software Foundation board of directors. Ex-biologist. @mjg59 on Twitter. Content here should not be interpreted as the opinion of my employer.

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