[Osmf-talk] Proposal - OSMF Should NOT Adopt a Code of Conduct

John Gilmore gnu at toad.com
Sat Dec 2 05:02:26 UTC 2017

OSM should not adopt a "Code of Conduct" that presumes guilt on the
part of anyone accused of a violation.  Almost all of the ones I have
seen have been completely biased toward self-proclaimed victims,
privileging them against all other participants in the organization's
activities.  This creates an incentive for psychologically unbalanced
people to claim victimhood, because it gives them power over other
people, and a disincentive for participation by everyone else.  These
biased Codes say things like:


  If a participant engages in harassing behavior, the conference
  organizers may take any action they deem appropriate, ranging from
  issuance of a warning to the offending individual to expulsion from
  the conference with no refund...  [it repeats this twice.]  ...
  If you are planning to attend an upcoming event, and have concerns
  regarding another individual who may be present, please contact
  XXX. Precautions will be taken to ensure a victim's comfort and
  safety, including, but not limited to: providing an escort, prepping
  onsite event staff, keeping victim and harasser from attending the
  same talks/social events...

See how any "victim" can prevent any other participant(s) of their
choice from participating in the conference or in the work of the
organization, merely by complaining in advance, without any further
evidence?  But when they get in touch in advance of the event, how can
they ever be a "victim"?  A victim of an alleged violation of the code
of conduct that occurred outside the organization that adopted the
code of conduct?  How would the organization ever determine whether
the accusation of some bad event that occurred distant in space and
time is accurate, factual, or fanciful?  The intent of this biased CoC
is obviously to believe the alleged victim, and to straightforwardly
censor whoever that alleged victim points out as their enemy.  Oh, and
to "prep onsite event staff", i.e. to slander the alleged victim's
enemy, by pre-poisoning the minds of the event staff against them.

And these are pretty egregious penalties, including financial
penalties -- so what does it take to "trigger" them?  Turns out that
that is so ill-defined that nobody can tell in advance:

  Harassment will not be tolerated in any form, including but not limited to harassment based on ... [this is a self-referential definition]

  Harassment includes the use of abusive, offensive or degrading language,
  [there are no objective standards for what is "offensive" or "degrading";
   it's in the eye of the beholder.  I just read a letter from an American
   Indian who claimed it was degrading that a football team calls itself
   the "Redskins".  And what some people call "abusive" others call
   normal; whole governments claim that all use of drugs is "drug abuse",
   because that gives them power over those users.]

  intimidation  [another ill defined word]

  harassing photography or recording [another circular definition.
  And let's not let anyone make any objective recordings of such
  interactions, that might bias future decision makers if they could
  actually see what happened instead of what an alleged victim
  reported.  That would be harassing to the alleged victim.]

  inappropriate physical contact [again it's ill defined.  Europeans
  traditionally kiss both cheeks; Californians hug; New Yorkers shake
  hands.  I guess nobody should ever touch anybody.]

  unwelcome sexual advances [now here's a doozy.  A sexual advance is
  completely fine and appropriate, UNLESS the person it's addressed to
  declines it or does not "welcome" it.  At which point you are a
  harasser and you are banned from the entire activity?  How could any
  relationship ever get beyond friendship if it's already a crime to
  merely be turned down?  Who would risk merely asking?  And what
  happens when the advance was obviously "welcome" at the start, but
  the alleged victim decides later that it was "unwelcome"?  I know
  a guy who's spent years living in exile in an embassy over just that

So it defines harassment as harassment, and then says harassment
includes some other things that are completely subjective.  Oh, and by
definition, it includes other things that they didn't even mention.
There's never a complete definition of harassment; it's all defined by
its alleged victim.  Do you see how this is actually a recipe for
creating real, officially sanctioned harassment (banning, etc), of
someone who perhaps never did anything at all?

Here's another Code, from Vox Media.  It has a lot of the above
problems, and even some more:


  Furthermore, any behavior or language which is unwelcoming --
  whether or not it rises to the level of harassment -- is also
  strongly discouraged. Much exclusionary behavior takes the form of
  microaggressions -- subtle put-downs which may be unconsciously
  delivered. Regardless of intent, microaggressions can have a
  significant negative impact on victims and have no place on our

So according to Vox's code of conduct, you can be banned merely for
unconscious feelings or expressions, "regardless of intent".  It
doesn't even have to be harassment, it just has to be a vague,
"subtle" thing that you didn't even know that you were doing (and that
you may never agree that you were actually doing).  Many textbook
examples of microaggressions are statements of principle like "Every
person deserves an equal chance" or "We promote based on merit"
[because this denies the theory that some people should get a greater
chance, to compensate for past discrimination].  See in general:


The Ada Initiative goes further:


  The major weapon of harassers is arguing whether something is
  actually harassing.

So let's not only have a circular definition, but let's also have one
that says that if you argue that you didn't harass someone, you are by
definition a harasser!  Not only is somebody else your judge, jury and
executioner, but you don't even get to plead your side of the case!
Like the witch trials at Salem, if you protest, you must be guilty,
and if you don't, then you suffer the penalty anyway.

Rust's Code is quite a bit better, but:


  Remarks that violate the Rust standards of conduct, including hateful, hurtful, oppressive, or exclusionary remarks, are not allowed.  ...
  Remarks that moderators find inappropriate, whether listed in the code of conduct or not, are also not allowed.
  Moderators will first respond to such remarks with a warning.
  If the warning is unheeded, the user will be "kicked," i.e., kicked out of the communication channel to cool off.
  If the user comes back and continues to make trouble, they will be banned, i.e., indefinitely excluded.  ...
  If a moderator bans someone and you think it was unjustified, please take it up with that moderator, or with a different moderator, in private. Complaints about bans in-channel are not allowed.

Did you notice how the censorship can be done by any individual
moderator, but nobody is allowed to talk or complain IN THE COMMUNITY
about the censorship?  Yeah, you can complain to the censor, and
that's about as useful as pissing into the wind, but the rest of your
community will not be able to even know you got censored, nor weigh in
on whether it was appropriate.  It'll just look like you quietly went
away.  The second thing that censors classically ban is discussion of
censorship -- and here it is staring us in the face.

And of course it says that ANY posting is grounds for kicking you out
"whether listed in the code of conduct or not".  There's a clearly
defined standard for you to follow: guilty until proven innocent!  But
there's no way to prove your innocence, since the standard is
completely subjective.

On the other hand, Ubuntu's CoC is far more evenhanded, and never even
mentions harassment at all; it's about everyone getting along to
accomplish the goals of the organization:


Somehow, Ubuntu managed to avoid the steamroller of "everybody is
guilty, we just haven't gotten around to enforcing it against you yet"
that's a hallmark of this Codes of Conduct movement.  Let's see if OSM
can do that as well.  The best thing in my opinion would be to
explicitly DECLINE to produce any kind of "Code of Conduct"; it's just
a politically correct term for official censorship of some people that
some other people simply don't like.

	John Gilmore

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