Matthew Garrett ([personal profile] mjg59) wrote2017-12-21 10:09 am
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When should behaviour outside a community have consequences inside it?

Free software communities don't exist in a vacuum. They're made up of people who are also members of other communities, people who have other interests and engage in other activities. Sometimes these people engage in behaviour outside the community that may be perceived as negatively impacting communities that they're a part of, but most communities have no guidelines for determining whether behaviour outside the community should have any consequences within the community. This post isn't an attempt to provide those guidelines, but aims to provide some things that community leaders should think about when the issue is raised.

Some things to consider

Did the behaviour violate the law?

This seems like an obvious bar, but it turns out to be a pretty bad one. For a start, many things that are common accepted behaviour in various communities may be illegal (eg, reverse engineering work may contravene a strict reading of US copyright law), and taking this to an extreme would result in expelling anyone who's ever broken a speed limit. On the flipside, refusing to act unless someone broke the law is also a bad threshold - much behaviour that communities consider unacceptable may be entirely legal.

There's also the problem of determining whether a law was actually broken. The criminal justice system is (correctly) biased to an extent in favour of the defendant - removing someone's rights in society should require meeting a high burden of proof. However, this is not the threshold that most communities hold themselves to in determining whether to continue permitting an individual to associate with them. An incident that does not result in a finding of criminal guilt (either through an explicit finding or a failure to prosecute the case in the first place) should not be ignored by communities for that reason.

Did the behaviour violate your community norms?

There's plenty of behaviour that may be acceptable within other segments of society but unacceptable within your community (eg, lobbying for the use of proprietary software is considered entirely reasonable in most places, but rather less so at an FSF event). If someone can be trusted to segregate their behaviour appropriately then this may not be a problem, but that's probably not sufficient in all cases. For instance, if someone acts entirely reasonably within your community but engages in lengthy anti-semitic screeds on 4chan, it's legitimate to question whether permitting them to continue being part of your community serves your community's best interests.

Did the behaviour violate the norms of the community in which it occurred?

Of course, the converse is also true - there's behaviour that may be acceptable within your community but unacceptable in another community. It's easy to write off someone acting in a way that contravenes the standards of another community but wouldn't violate your expected behavioural standards - after all, if it wouldn't breach your standards, what grounds do you have for taking action?

But you need to consider that if someone consciously contravenes the behavioural standards of a community they've chosen to participate in, they may be willing to do the same in your community. If pushing boundaries is a frequent trait then it may not be too long until you discover that they're also pushing your boundaries.

Why do you care?

A community's code of conduct can be looked at in two ways - as a list of behaviours that will be punished if they occur, or as a list of behaviours that are unlikely to occur within that community. The former is probably the primary consideration when a community adopts a CoC, but the latter is how many people considering joining a community will think about it.

If your community includes individuals that are known to have engaged in behaviour that would violate your community standards, potential members or contributors may not trust that your CoC will function as adequate protection. A community that contains people known to have engaged in sexual harassment in other settings is unlikely to be seen as hugely welcoming, even if they haven't (as far as you know!) done so within your community. The way your members behave outside your community is going to be seen as saying something about your community, and that needs to be taken into account.

A second (and perhaps less obvious) aspect is that membership of some higher profile communities may be seen as lending general legitimacy to someone, and they may play off that to legitimise behaviour or views that would be seen as abhorrent by the community as a whole. If someone's anti-semitic views (for example) are seen as having more relevance because of their membership of your community, it's reasonable to think about whether keeping them in your community serves the best interests of your community.


I've said things like "considered" or "taken into account" a bunch here, and that's for a good reason - I don't know what the thresholds should be for any of these things, and there doesn't seem to be even a rough consensus in the wider community. We've seen cases in which communities have acted based on behaviour outside their community (eg, Debian removing Jacob Appelbaum after it was revealed that he'd sexually assaulted multiple people), but there's been no real effort to build a meaningful decision making framework around that.

As a result, communities struggle to make consistent decisions. It's unreasonable to expect individual communities to solve these problems on their own, but that doesn't mean we can ignore them. It's time to start coming up with a real set of best practices.

"Discipline"? "Members"? What kind of "community" are you talking about?

(Anonymous) 2017-12-21 11:36 am (UTC)(link)
From your tweet:

> Good morning I am jetlagged and spent the morning writing a post on things a community may want to consider when deciding whether to discipline members for behaviour outside the community

"Discipline"? "Members"? What kind of "community" are you talking about?

The problems mentioned are real, and they happen in *society,* not in "communities." That's where we have to fix them. And it's not because some groups are being ghettoized out of society that it's a good idea for them to develop their own (illegitimate, not to mention badly amateurish) notion of justice.

Re: "Discipline"? "Members"? What kind of "community" are you talking about?

(Anonymous) 2017-12-21 12:32 pm (UTC)(link)
Many of the people who *work* (as you rightly pointed out) in those "communities" may not be there of their own volition, but may have been pressured to join various workflows and/or events because of their occupation.

As such, the idea that there would be a "shared set of behavioural expectations" which is somehow distinct from society is problematic. I believe this is an aspect which merits a bit more consideration of your part.

You should, at the very least, properly define what "community" and "membership" means. (E.g., being a "Debian developer" is a clear thing, and Debian is very disciplined about who holds which powers. This has a huge cost—much higher than "just adopting a CoC"—but also builds legitimacy.)

Your tweet was advocating "disciplining" members. (Your post, at least, is a bit tamer.) That word in particular is why I am reacting to your write-up; I think there is enough authoritarian talk around without you adding to it.

I know of only one case where we accept that people be involuntarily placed under the authority of a system which can discipline them, and that's citizenship. Everything else must be a *contract*, and fully voluntary—or the authority is fundamentally illegitimate.

(Note that I fully support reporting "cases" to judicial authorities, and finding ways of improving the judiciary. I fully agree that police forces must be fully held accountable for their use of their vested authority. I am also happy when the likes of Weinstein are forced to reconsider their position by a lucky turn of events—but we must still consider that a temporary fix rather than an "independent justice which works.")
fluffymormegil: @ (Default)

Re: "Discipline"? "Members"? What kind of "community" are you talking about?

[personal profile] fluffymormegil 2017-12-21 12:00 pm (UTC)(link)
"Society" and "community" are emergent effects of the interaction between people. If we want society to be ordered in a certain way, it behooves us - while we're straining to steer the juggernaut - to strive to order our own communities in a way compatible with our vision of how society should be ordered.

For example, if one wishes for unrepentant serial sexual harassers to be ostracized by wider society, then in the first instance one should seek to have unrepentant serial sexual harassers ostracized by the communities one is part of.

Re: "Discipline"? "Members"? What kind of "community" are you talking about?

(Anonymous) 2017-12-21 12:46 pm (UTC)(link)
Matthew was talking about "disciplining" on Twitter, which is a clear appeal to rely on authority.

As private individuals, you and Matthew have a right to order your home, family, as well as the private events you organize. You may also have a right to order some ventures in which you have vested your responsibility (depending on the relevant laws).

Before you tell me that it behooves you to "strive to order our own communities," you will have to elaborate on which "communities" you are talking about, and what makes them your "own." The only (and, as you pointed out, emergent) community which is your own is the nation/entity of which you are a citizen. And democracy (if you are lucky) is what defines your legal (if not legitimate) interactions with it.

Talking about "community" is too broad

[identity profile] 2017-12-21 12:34 pm (UTC)(link)
Kicking someone out of a private club or dinner party is a small sanction. But removing someone from a software community could easily mean destroying their livelihood. It's not at the level of a criminal conviction, but we could compare it to a doctor being struck off or a lawyer being disbarred - things that rightly require an extensive formal process with significant protections for the accused.

All too often, we equivocate between treating online communities as private parties or as quasipublic institutions. Compounding the problem, a given software community can very quickly grow from the former into the latter. I don't have a good answer, but it's another thing to consider; I don't think we'll be able to come up with a single set of guidelines that's applicable to both small and large communities, and we need to think about what happens as a community shifts from one to the other.
altamira16: A sailboat on the water at dawn or dusk (Default)

Re: Talking about "community" is too broad

[personal profile] altamira16 2017-12-21 03:08 pm (UTC)(link)
People have had their livelihoods destroyed over their bad behavior. For example, if you are an accountant and steal money from your clients and get caught, your livelihood will rightfully be destroyed. You will probably never get to work in that field again.

I like how people are drawing connections between software communities and society. Some of the things happening are not limited to software. They are patterns repeated over and over when people decide that their community is some unique and exceptional place that does not have to follow societal norms.

For example, the Catholic church was going to deal with its pedophiles on its own. The Society of Creative Anachronisms was also going to deal with its pedophiles on its own. We can draw a pretty clear line of not putting pedophiles in positions where they come in contact with many children. In most places, every one who works with children in a public setting has to undergo a background check and get fingerprinted. If you volunteer to work with children, you do this.

In general, I don't care about your hobbies, but you can't be an outspoken leader in one field associated with your livelihood and also an outspoken leader in an area that undermines your respectability. For example, in the US, teachers are typically driven out of the field if they have ever worked in porn. (I think that it is a little unfair for teachers being the only people who pay a price in this situation. The students who are being disruptive and watching porn and telling all their classmates about it should face some consequences.)

Re: Talking about "community" is too broad

(Anonymous) 2017-12-21 03:35 pm (UTC)(link)
> if you are an accountant and steal money from your clients and get caught, your livelihood will rightfully be destroyed.

"Rightfully"? According to whom?

(You are likely to undergo imprisonment, or at least be sentenced, but this is about punishing the crime, not destroying the livelihood. Destroying an otherwise legal livelihood is, in itself, always is a bad idea, as you are then forcing the perpetrator to find another way to survive without taking advantage of their knowledge. Proportionality, please.)

More generally: none of this is limited to software, nor is it limited to "communities." It's about organizing a decent society to live in—without, hopefully, fragmenting it in various subgroups which consider themselves more virtuous or righteous than other citizens, because that cannot possibly end well.

Re: Talking about "community" is too broad

[identity profile] 2017-12-22 09:52 am (UTC)(link)
> People have had their livelihoods destroyed over their bad behavior. For example, if you are an accountant and steal money from your clients and get caught, your livelihood will rightfully be destroyed. You will probably never get to work in that field again.

Sure. But there'll be a legal or quasilegal process with evidentiary standards, a right of response and so on, not just a couple of people's say-so. We should be very careful about imposing heavy consequences without correspondingly stringent safeguards.

(Anonymous) 2017-12-21 12:37 pm (UTC)(link)
"It was revealed that he'd sexually assaulted multiple people"

You forgot an "allegedly", I will just link Jacob words so every reader can make up his or her own mind.

To be frank I am always puzzled when coders act like they have the skills and technical background to act as a lawyer/philosopher/ethicist: we wouldn't let a footballer do the job of a math teacher or viceversa.


(Anonymous) 2017-12-21 08:53 pm (UTC)(link)
The high-profile German magazine "Die Zeit" did a heavy investigative reporting piece on that, and concluded, that the allegations are just that.

This, again, shows your usual bias: you just want to believe these stories, because they fit your narrative (which I assume is your narrative, because you actually narrate on a regular basis on this blog).
For that you ignore any evidence, and any legal standard that exists in all modern democracies - for good reason.

That said, Applebaum might have raped someone, I don't know. But I'm not ready to be the judge in absence of any evidence. The vigilant-justice that happened to Applebaum is just as despicable as the crime he might have committed.

I'm not even sure why I write this, since I know your reaction already, and neither know Applebaum, nor the communities he used to be part of.
I guess I'm just disillusioned by the willingness of someone who's work I respect and who's promoting the view that being the judge without any process is a good thing.
hypatia: (Default)

[personal profile] hypatia 2017-12-24 07:35 pm (UTC)(link)
Just FYI, I was the first person to come forward about Jacob’s misconduct under my own name (rather than anonymously), and the Die Zeit “journalists” never contacted me when writing their story. My account was also confirmed by someone who witnessed the events in it, under his real name too. The Zeit “investigation” was a biased hatched job.

(no subject)

(Anonymous) - 2018-01-16 23:20 (UTC) - Expand

(Anonymous) 2017-12-21 12:50 pm (UTC)(link)
Thinking about the ethical, legal and organisational dimensions of your work is part of being a professional.

- David Adam
marahmarie: (M In M Forever) (Default)

[personal profile] marahmarie 2017-12-25 05:52 am (UTC)(link)
And I'm always puzzled when others act like you can't be good at more than one thing, ie coding and law. Maybe the footballer has great math skills. Maybe the lawyer played college football but chose law as a career. Maybe the coder is great at football.

The amount of obtuse comments in this thread from anons (who I'm not yet convinced aren't all one and the same person, but maybe not) are quite frankly amazing, so while I'm at it I'll add that further upthread people are "who", not "which", that the use of depersonalizing language such as that is bothersome, and that people who complain of strawmen should, at a minimum, not launch blistering ad hominem attacks. That Mathew even put up with it is a show to how kind (or patient) he is.
Edited (typo, clarity) 2017-12-25 06:00 (UTC)

Interesting, but incomplete picture…

(Anonymous) 2017-12-21 03:30 pm (UTC)(link)
As others have already noted; there is little context in your post, so this comment is more about general community behavior that I have observed.

There are some people who find it acceptable to silence a necessary community discussion by using the code of conduct as a means to avoid the discussion all together. Any passionate argument that might threaten the public opinion of a community or an individual member could easily be turned into a violation of the CoC and misdirected as a (personal) insult, regardless if it was well intended. Many of these community shepherds argue for stronger CoC when it comes to respectful interaction with each other, while at the same time feeling totally in their right to denigrate and publicly insult others as long as they do it on their personal social media accounts. In their opinion, the community Code of Conduct does not apply on the personal accounts because that would be censorship. Usually it goes something like: the other party obviously is a terrible person or has bad intentions and therefor any interaction with this person should be avoided and publicly ridiculed. If there is anything more toxic to a community it is this immature, hypocritical and polarizing behavior. Sadly very few people seem to want to draw attention to themselves by scrutinizing this kind of behavior, worst case they just become cheerleaders.

When it comes to individuals being able to separate business and community interests and have a sense of integrity, I usually picture the person in my mind with a giant sticker on their forehead that says “Includes paid promotion”. Than I try to figure out based on there actions in reality if that picture makes sense. For example in your case; constantly preaching how some companies are immoral or unethical while remaining mum when it involves your own employer is kinda silly.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)

Re: Interesting, but incomplete picture…

[personal profile] tim 2017-12-22 02:08 am (UTC)(link)
There are some people who find it acceptable to silence a necessary community discussion by using the code of conduct as a means to avoid the discussion all together.

Can you give an example of a specific situation when this has happened?

Re: Interesting, but incomplete picture…

(Anonymous) 2017-12-22 11:25 am (UTC)(link)
Well, I should have known that Matthews post was going to be about harassment. (Does he talk about anything else these days?)

My comment was more about technical communities using the CoC to insulate themselves from anyone and anything that might pierce the bubble or echo-chamber they are living in. I am not going to point out specific incidents, but it is not that hard to recognize the pattern when being involved in these communities. It usually involves people priding themselves being experts or good-doers feeling threatened when someone (usually an outsider) might point out inconsistencies between the story and the reality. Resulting in these community members engaging in behavior ten times worse than what they condemn in others, only now it is justified.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)

Re: Interesting, but incomplete picture…

[personal profile] tim 2017-12-22 06:53 pm (UTC)(link)
Okay, so you're talking about a hypothetical situation rather than something that has actually happened. Got it.

Harassment is not a hypothetical situation -- it happens all the time -- so I think it's okay to take action to prevent it even if there are bad things that could hypothetically happen as a result.

Re: Interesting, but incomplete picture…

(Anonymous) - 2017-12-22 20:27 (UTC) - Expand

Re: Interesting, but incomplete picture…

(Anonymous) - 2017-12-24 00:32 (UTC) - Expand

Re: Interesting, but incomplete picture…

(Anonymous) 2017-12-23 09:03 am (UTC)(link)
Tony Morris being banned from ScalaZ might be, depending on what exactly actually triggered his banning. (To this day various members of typelevel give contradictory reasons for why he was banned; some even flatly deny that he ever was banned. But certainly there's enough uncertainty around his banning to make for a chilling effect on important discussions)
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)

Re: Interesting, but incomplete picture…

[personal profile] tim 2017-12-23 08:15 pm (UTC)(link)
I can't take you seriously if you're defending Tony Morris.

Re: Interesting, but incomplete picture…

(Anonymous) - 2017-12-24 10:35 (UTC) - Expand


(Anonymous) 2018-01-16 10:56 pm (UTC)(link)

When I'm reading this (with the comments)...

(Anonymous) 2018-04-26 04:41 pm (UTC)(link)
... I'm happy to have a job that does not imply working in such 'communities' and remove any desire that I have to go spend some of my limited free time there.