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Re: Censorship in Debian

Anthony Towns writes ("Re: Censorship in Debian"):
> On Fri, Jan 04, 2019 at 10:47:05AM -0800, Russ Allbery wrote:
> > People seem to feel they're unreasonably put-upon by having to think about
> > what they're saying *at all*, but this is absurd.  Everyone else in the
> > world is doing this all the time.
> There are times when you don't have to think about what you're saying
> before you say it; that situation is often called being "among friends",
> or "in a safe space", or "able to let your guard down".
> I think it's probably news to a lot of people that Debian isn't that
> sort of a situation today.

Yes.  I think you have put your finger on it.

For a significant minority of Debian's contributors - including me -
Debian definitely used to be a place where we didn't have to think
about what we were saying.

The effects of that unbridled expression on other (potential) members
of the community was not something we thought about much.  But, at
least speaking for myself:

I have been hearing from a lot of people whose participation I care
about - often, people who already have lots of shit to deal with in
wider society.  Those people are saying that it would really help them
to have spaces like Debian have a nicer atmosphere, so that there is
less risk of being harshly criticised and where having a thick skin,
and plenty of emotional resilience, is not so necessary.

So I have been (haltingly) trying to improve my own behaviour.  Yes,
that's work.  Being pleasant to people whose ideas I consider
seriously wrong does not come naturally to me.  Sometimes, I fail.
But now that I and others in Debian are making this effort, I can see
the benefits - on both small and large scale.

But it's not enough for just those of us who have been convinced of
the value of this change, to try to make that change personally and to
help each other.

Unfortunately in a community of thousands there will inevitably be
some people who will continue to do what is harmful, but easy and
convenient and fun for themselves, and who will - at least initially
- reject suggestions that they too may need to think hard about how
their behaviour affects others people (and particular, how it affects
people who are not like themselves).

It is indeed natural for people to resent it, when previously they
could do what they liked, but now they are being being asked to
think about and moderate what they say and do,

So without some kind of consequences, unfortunate behaviour will
continue.  It is in fact very natural human behaviour to push
boundaries like that.  Even very agreeable people will sometimes
misbehave to the point of being mildly told off.

Very competently toxic people will calculate precisely what they can
get away with: they will ride roughshod over weak victims or in
situations with less visibility; when challenged by an authority who
can impose consequences, they will lie and obfuscate and distract as
much as they can get away with.  They will turn the dispute about
their personal bad behaviour into a big poltical fight so as to
increase the cost of enforcing the rules against them.  And if that
fails they will do precisely as much as is needed to avoid further

Maybe even such a person could provide a net positive contribution,
but only by the community maintaining a constant threat of punishment.
(At least for many years, until perhaps their personal growth changes
the situation.)  That is exhausting for the moderators who are
responsible for policing the offender.

Particularly, patterns of lying, selective compliance, and so on, make
that job very hard, especially if the moderators are subject to
oversight by a body of largely naive and detached people who are
unfamiliar with how toxic people operate generally, and who cannot
fully and properly analyse every reported incident.

Perhaps it is better for the world as a whole for such a person to be
given the very serious shock of being permanently ejected.  That will
teach them that trying to constantly play the exact line (of getting
away with things) does carry a serious risk of serious consequence.
Maybe the next community they get involved with will find them a more
positive influence, and easier to deal with.  And at least the
community they were ejected from is spared the work of educating
(and fighting) the unwilling.


Ian Jackson <ijackson@chiark.greenend.org.uk>   These opinions are my own.

If I emailed you from an address @fyvzl.net or @evade.org.uk, that is
a private address which bypasses my fierce spamfilter.

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