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Re: Code of Conduct complaint about Linus's comments at DC14

Theodore Ts'o <tytso@xxxxxxx> writes:

> I will agree that these borderline cases are rare, but those are the
> ones that are hard, and they are the ones that matter.

I don't agree.  What matters is setting a baseline expectation for
behavior at our conferences and in our communications forums, and
excluding clearly inappropriate conduct.  Which, you will remember, we
have had in the past, and had a track record of being ineffective in
dealing with.  That is the problem we are trying to resolve with a code of
conduct (as well as making an explicit statement of welcome to people who
were traditionally not welcomed).

The borderline cases are absolutely not the cases that matter.  I'm sure
you've heard the phrase "hard cases make bad law."

> So if it means that it's ultimately up to composition of the
> anti-harrassment team whether it happens to have more of the "obviously
> a CoC violation has taken place", people on it, or more of the "this was
> clearly not a CoC violation", then it's basically down to the Justice
> Potter Stewart's, "I know when I see it" argument, which is not
> particularly satisfying.

If indeed such matters were decided solely by how many people were in some
particular camp prior to the entire event happening, the world would be a
very sad place, and a very contentious place, in which no meaningful
discussion, learning, or change could possibly happen.

Thankfully, there exists this thing called "community discussion" that
people can use to shape their reaction to events, rather than relying
solely on their own personal opinions.  It's quite helpful in cases where
one is trying to find the right thing to do in a borderline event that is
controversial within the community they are trying to serve.

> So the question is ultimately who gets to decide whether it is really
> beyond the pale or not?

I believe that question has a clear answer, which was already spelled out
in our code of conduct.  More on this below.

> I am quite aware of some of the truly spectacular failures that have
> happened at various Science Fiction Cons, and it is for that very reason
> that I worry about having vague definitions.  I would be much happier if
> the CoC admitted that many of these decisions are subjective, and that
> they are human, and they will sometimes make mistakes.  Moreover, it
> might be good to admit that there may be decisions made about type I vs
> type II errors where it is far better to make mistakes in one direction
> if the issue at hand is safety of the attendees (e.g., Wiscon and the
> Jim Frenkel decision), and that perhaps the committee might err in
> another direction if what's at stake is a pleasant atmosphere and people
> not being offended, if the alternative is that conversations about
> legitimate differences might get shut down.

Yes, I agree with this.  For example, when it comes to harassment of other
attendees (which is not how I would characterize this particular issue), I
think this blog post makes some good points about which types of errors
are preferrable:


In the case discussed in this thread, I do indeed think that we should
take a different approach than we would take for personal harassment,
since the statements were general about groups and affiliations and not
aimed at specific individuals, or pursued with those individuals in a way
that was a threat to safety or well-being.  That makes it a much different
type of problem, IMO.  Many of the issues raised in the above blog post do
not apply here.

> The point is, it *is* hard.  Trying to paper over the fact the edge
> cases do happen (and we probably are in the middle of one right now)
> doesn't do anyone any favors.

I was not trying to paper that over.  I was disagreeing with what I
thought you were saying or implying, namely that this represents some sort
of flaw in the concept of codes of conduct, or that codes of conduct
cannot deal well with such edge cases, or that those edge cases are the
most important things to talk about.

> And that the people who get to apply that judgement have privilege over
> the rest of us, and while it probably is good that some or all of these
> people might be composed from classes of people that traditionally do
> not have privilege, let's be honest about the fact that for this
> purpose, they *are* in a position of privilege, and so let us hope they
> use those "sudo bits" responsibly.

I'm not really sure what you're trying to get at here, but the statement
that the people enforcing the code of conduct are "composed from classes
of people that traditionally do not have privilege" is clearly not the
case in the context of the Debian and DebConf codes of conduct.  One
could, I suppose, argue over whether that should be a goal (personally, I
think that sounds like an irritating and almost certainly pointless
discussion), but it has little bearing on the current situation.  Both the
person who took offense nor the people who would take action under our
code of conduct (specifically the DPL or the DebConf organizing committee)
are composed of pretty typical members of our community.  If anything,
they tend to be on the more privileged side.

Maybe this is a roundabout way of attempting to point out that both
members of the current anti-harassment team are women, but if so, I feel
like I should note that, at least by my reading, the anti-harassment team
isn't the one responsible for taking action.  Personally, I would be
comfortable with them doing so, since I trust both of the team members to
make reasonable decisions, but I believe their role is more handling and
routing complaints to appropriate people.  The Debian code of conduct
spells out who takes action:

    Serious or persistent offenders will be temporarily or permanently
    banned from communicating through Debian's systems. Complaints should
    be made (in private) to the administrators of the Debian communication
    forum in question. To find contact information for these
    administrators, please see the page on Debian's organizational

and the DebConf code of conduct says:

    Complaints can be made to the organizers by contacting the
    registration desk or emailing antiharassment@xxxxxxxxxx. All
    complaints made to event organizers will remain confidential and be
    taken seriously. The complaint will be treated appropriately and with
    discretion. Should event organizers or moderators consider it
    appropriate, measures they may take can include:

which I think makes it clear that it's the DebConf organizers who are
ultimately responsible for taking action, not the people who read the
anti-harassment alias and route and respond to reports.

Patty or Amaya should correct me if I got this wrong.  It might be worth
being a bit clearer about who exactly is taking action in the DebConf code
of conduct.

Russ Allbery (rra@xxxxxxxxxx)               <http://www.eyrie.org/~eagle/>

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