Behavior at and after conferences (PyCon “Donglegate” & Internet tribalism) (transcript)

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Hi there. I’m going to give you a scenario. Lets call it a hypothetical scenario. Persons A, B and C are at a conference. As they listen to a speech, person A is not okay with overhearing a joke that person B makes to person C. Person A considers the joke – in context – to be against the conference’s code of conduct, and demeaning against a certain category of people. Person A thus contacts the staff. Which have them sit down and talk. Person B apologizes to person A.

What do you think about this scenario? My own thought is simply “So what?” Some people had a disagreement, and sorted it out. In the future, B and C are likely to abstain from making such jokes in public. Or at least to keep their voices down, so they don’t offend others. Maybe they’ll even rethink their views a bit.

Person A had three valid options. Staying silent, confronting the guys in a reasonable manner, or contacting the staff. All three options are acceptable. The preferable option, of these three options, is the one that feels best for person A. Simple as that. Do you agree?

What should happen afterward? Preferably nothing, in my opinion. The whole thing is over and dealt with. Time to move along and enjoy the conference. Do you agree?

After the conference, each of them make a blog post about the incident. In these posts, person B apologizes again, while person A makes a recap of the event. Including a photo of person B and C, taken and published without their consent. No other personal info, however. Posting photos to point fingers at people you think have misbehaved or you otherwise dislike… That’s a shitty move, but shouldn’t have to be a big deal. Politely ask for the photo to be removed, and that’s that.

So far, I have not mentioned gender, age, race or whatever of the persons involved. And I haven’t mentioned what the joke is about. Those parameters would be relevant if my question had been whether or not you felt offended by the joke. Or if I had asked you to judge how hard or important it might have felt for person A to speak up. But that’s not what I’m talking about. My previous statements are true, regardless of what categories of people A, B and C belong to. And also regardless of at what group of people’s expense the joke was made, or perceived to be made. Do you agree?

However. While my example is hypothetical, it is based on an actual case. And in this case, all sort of shit did hit all kinds of fans after the conference was over. The internet boiling over with hate, threats and flames over what happened at the conference. Denial of Service attacks against websites. Persons A and B both getting fired, apparently because their employers thought it would be the best way to stay out of the whole circus. Seriously… what the *BEEP*?

Firing either of them was entirely inappropriate, assuming that this incident was indeed what got them fired. If it’s true that person A got fired because some extremists did a DDoS attack against the employer, that’s truly awful. To reward terror and bullying is as immoral as it is spineless.

If you don’t know about this case yet, you still might be able to guess the involved persons races or genders by now. While not relevant for how to handle of the situation at the conference – everyone should be treated equally, you know – it is highly relevant for how things exploded afterward.

Yep. Person A was black and female, while person B and C were white and male.

If the races and genders been reversed, would anyone have been fired? Would there have been any Internet hate-storm or DDoS attacks? Personally, I highly doubt it. If anyone would have been fired, it would have been person A only. And if so, it would have been for posting the photo. Not for speaking up against a joke he found insulting, or for receiving a DDoS attack from some online jackasses. Firing him for the photo would also have been wrong, in my opinion. Just have him remove the photo and apologize. To fire him would at least come across as if they fire him for using his right to report perceived violations of the code of conduct. And that’s disgraceful. I’m sure many would have agreed with me. In any case. Would anyone have threatened anyone, or done DDoS attacks? Hardly.

Nope. It is when a woman stands up to a man. Or when a black person stands up to a white person. That’s when the craziness explodes on “Teh Internetz”. And it’s facking disgraceful.

One thing that annoy me quite a bit is the tribalism. People being up in arms, requesting that people take sides and make a commitment to hate person A. Or to hate person B, as the case may be. Hate, or at least demonize. One is required to divide this little conference incident into one evil villain and one heroic victim. We are required to assume bad faith, on the part of person A or person B. Portraying this person as having an agenda to oppress. Surely this must be some monster who lives only for the sake of hurting other people. Assuming that they BOTH acted in good faith ought to be the norm. But there are quite a few online spaces where that assumption doesn’t seem to be appropriate right now.

If I’m going to to assume bad faith about anyone, it’s not person A or person B. It is the people who did the DDoS attack and the people who fanned the shitstorm of rape-threats and death-threats et cetera. I think that some of those people were simply waiting for their next excuse to get that creepy little hobby of theirs on the road again. If any of those people attended the beginning of that conference, or otherwise heard the lovely opening speech, they might have been all the more excited to get up in arms.

For the record. Sending a torrent of rape-threats and death-threats to a man just because he opens his mouth would be just as bad as it is to do it to a woman. Would be. It is just that such a thing doesn’t seem to happen.

Yes, some men gets threatened sometimes. Hell, over the decades I have gotten my own share of death-threats from neo-nazis and communists alike. Totalitarians sometimes don’t like me. Regardless of what their excuse for totalitarianism might be. But that hardly ever happens when I simply point out that it’s not cool to hate or belittle a certain category of people, and that this does in fact include all races, genders et cetera. Including the one that they happen to blame all the problems in the world on.

It seems to happen only when I explain in some more detail why I think their worldview is bullshit. When I explain the conceit of their epic story about how they are heroes and everyone else in the world are the villains who deserve to die or whatever. I can understand why they don’t take kindly to that. My purpose is not to cause emotional distress. But I won’t shut up about these issues, just because some people are uncomfortable with having their views challenged. I can respect these feelings, although I can’t respect uncivilized expressions of those same feelings. Threats are contemptible.

In my direct and indirect experience, it takes quite a lot before a man starts receiving threats. For a woman, mentioning that there is something she dislikes seems to be enough. Also, nobody ever told ME to confine myself to the kitchen. Not even any of the totalitarian radical feminists and totalitarian Men’s Rights Activsist who freaked out at me over the years. They missed a good line of sarcasm there.

Anyway. A conference should be as pleasant and welcoming as possible. For everyone. Not just for certain categories of people. For this to be possible, three things are necessary. First you must be able to report, or politely confront, people who you feel behave inappropriately. Second, this action must have effect. But thirdly, the effect must not be disastrous – neither for yourself nor for the person you report.

From what I have seen, the conference did everything right. The employers, however, did not. Firing people because of such an incident is a really bad move. And so is firing people for other reasons during such an incident. If you are going to fire them, please wait until things calmed down. Those employers contributed to making conferences hostile environments for everybody. And they should have known better.

As for the people who insist on hating one conference participant or another… Please, get a grip.

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