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Re: The Code of Conduct needs specifics

Hi Solveig,

[I didn't have a lot of time this morning, so I could only fire off a
quick mail down the thread. This mail does deserve a more in-depth
answer, however, so here goes]

On Mon, Mar 24, 2014 at 02:31:54AM +0000, Solveig wrote:
> I think if you do something, do it right. Lots of feminists, who work on
> these questions since years, collectively, and are concerned by the
> problem, have documented not only *why* have a CoC, but also *how* - not
> following their advice is silly and wrong.
> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Not_invented_here

I'm sorry, but that characterisation is wrong. I did not pull the
proposed Code of Conduct out of thin air; while I did write the text
from scratch, I have looked at, and drawn inspriation from, a number of
CoCs before drafting it. This included the codes from Ubuntu, KDE, and
GNOME, to name a few, but there were more (I don't recall all of them,
but I mention a few more in the video of the bof at debconf).

I don't think it's fair to call it "not invented here" when most of my
inspiration comes from other, existing, codes of conduct.

> So, what's their advice, and what's missing? Please read the whole of
> these pages:
> http://adainitiative.org/2014/02/howto-design-a-code-of-conduct-for-your-community/

I have read that, and I disagree with it, as I've explained in
<20140321094129.GA24977@grep.be> (and elsewhere in this thread).

> http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Code_of_conduct

That doesn't have much content beyond a table of codes of conduct of
several communities, and a note for each on how well they do on the
three points you list below.

Out of fourteen in that table, one (the Django CoC) scores "yes" on all
three, one (the Rust CoC) scores "yes" on two out of the three, and one
(the Drupal one) scores one "yes". Everything else is a "no" or a

You're not going to convince me that what you propose is the best way to
do something when, according to your own argument, almost everyone else
does it differently.

> 1 * List specific common behaviors that are not okay
> 2 * Include detailed directions for reporting violations
> 3 * Have a defined and documented complaint handling process
> The proposed CoC doesn't list specific behaviours,

That's correct, since I'm not convinced that such a list is useful
(quite the contrary, in fact)

> has no clear way to report violations and there is no sanction planned
> (or no way to have it happen). This thing only says "be nice" (or
> "don't be a dick").

This is not correct. There is a whole section "in case of problems"
dedicated to what to do when things don't go the way we want them to.

Your suggestion of a conduct@ address does have some merit, and I'd be
inclined to agree that something like that could be a good thing to
include. Beyond that, I don't think the code of conduct needs to be
specific on what will happen when someone goes astray; those are
procedures that do not belong in a CoC.

> http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/wheatons-law
> Saying "be nice"? Cute, but doesn't work, and it even helps harassers
> going away with stuff.

My proposed code of conduct is not an anti-harassment policy, nor does
it try to be. Rather than enumerating badness[1], it tries to point out
the kind of behaviour that we want to see in our community. Rather than
telling people "You're welcome to do anything on our communication
media, as long as it's not one of <long list>", it tries to empower
people through being positive, which I believe (as did several people
during the BoF with me) is a better way to convince people of the merits
of a CoC.

For the avoidance of doubt: that's not to say I think harassment is okay
(it is not), nor that an anti-harassment policy is necessarily wrong (it
may be a good idea to pursue this, although I don't think I'm the right
person to do so). But the goal of a code of conduct, in my eyes, should
not be to discourage bad behaviour; instead, a code of conduct should
encourage good behaviour. A list of "don't"s doesn't do that; worse, it
may actively detract from "do"s in the same document.

[1] http://www.ranum.com/security/computer_security/editorials/dumb/

> Since *lots* of people don't see what's bad with sexist jokes, or asking
> for body mensurations, or stalking you and publish your personal data,
> it does make sense to list what's inappropriate. It won't be complete,
> but if it catches 90% of bad behaviours, it's 90% we won't have to argue
> about. Also, with exemples, it's easier to see if a given situation is
> similar to those listed.

Yes, but it makes it much harder for the 10% when it isn't.

To quote from your example: it's easy to say that stalking, or sexist
jokes, or publishing personal data, is not being respectful towards
other people. If someone behaves like that on our lists, it will be well
within listmasters' prerogative to take action (as they already do

However, if you add a list that contains the first two in this example
but not the third, then suddenly the argument "publishing personal data
is not respectful" is much more difficult to make.

The argument on the Ada Initiative's website seems to be that if you
have a list, there will be less discussion. My answer is that you'll
have that discussion anyway if you let people, and that a list
(exhaustive or otherwise) will actually encourage people to try to argue
the point. The better way, then, is to not let people argue the point:
"I think this is disrespectful" will more often result in apologies than
"you're failing title 1, section 5, §3 of the code of conduct here"
(exaggerating, but you get my point).

The advantage of using a word like "respect" is that it is clear and
vague at the same time. Everyone pretty much understands that "respect"
is the opposite of "being a jerk", yet it remains somewhat open for
interpretation. In my opinion, that's a feature, not a bug.

Administrators should simply give people a warning when needed; and if
they persist, institute a ban. Administrators should explain their
reasoning when asked, and should submit bans to their peers for review
(currently, this is being done on -private for lists and the BTS).
However, "Being banned from Debian for two weeks" is not a conviction, 

> 2. "Complaints should be made (in private) to the administrators of the
> forum in question. To find contact information for these administrators,
> please see [the page on Debian's organizational
> structure](http://www.debian.org/intro/organization)"
> There should be a way to report abusive or inadequate behaviour without
> starting a quest to find somebody interested, maybe have
> conduct@debian.org where people can redirect you to the right place AND
> keep trace, so that inadequate behaviour cannot continue on a different
> forum. Or maybe see if https://wiki.debian.org/AntiHarassment can be
> extended?
> Also, why "(in private)"? People who are not confortable to report in
> public will do it in private, but shouldn't *have to* be discreet about
> other's misbehaviour.

The "in private" part is only about talking to administrators; it is my
experience that saying "I think you're out of line here", with an
explicit Cc to listmasters is often a fairly inflammatory way of doing

The same section says, in the previous paragraph:

   When [bad behaviour] happens, you may reply [...] and point out this
   code of conduct. Such messages may be in public or in private, whatever
   is most appropriate.

Because I do agree that sometimes a public note of "please calm down"
can have a better effect than a private one.

> 3. "Serious or persistent offenders will be temporarily or permanently
> banned from communicating through Debian's systems."
> I think if somebody is a serious and persistent offender, they should be
> banned from the project, and not only some communication channels.

I think you'll find it's difficult to ban someone from the project
without also banning them from our communication channels (and vice
versa). Therefore, that's just semantics.

> In general, this Code of Conduct seems to be more afraid to bruise
> offender's ego than to assure contributor's well-being.

Not really.

This Code of Conduct is afraid to scare away potential contributors; so
a lot of effort has been put into making this a positive, welcoming Code
of Conduct rather than a negative, scary one.

> It's hard enough
> to report when somebody treats you badly, I think those precautions are
> counterproductive: it kindof says "people shouldn't be mean, but if they
> are, it's probably ok".

That's certainly not the intention, and I don't think we've failed. But
then, I *could* be wrong.

> If somebody acts correctly or apologises in case
> of offense, nobody will report them,

Nobody will offer apologies when they're not aware in the first place
that their behaviour was offensive. This is why the first paragraph of
the "in case of problems" section encourages people to speak up to the
offender (no pun intended).

> so let's remove:
> ## In case of problems
> "[...] However, regardless of whether the message is public or not, it
> should still adhere to the relevant parts of this code of conduct; in
> particular, it should not be abusive or disrespectful. Assume good
> faith; it is more likely that participants are unaware of their bad
> behaviour than that they intentionally try to degrade the quality of the
> discussion."
> This just repeats all the above, and that's condescending to the people
> who have to report something: it's probably not the first time in their
> lifes that they are being harassed, they probably just ignore minor
> offenses daily. It's insulting to assume they misjudge if something is
> offensive.

That's not what this tries to say.

When someone makes an inappropriate remark, you could reply with a long
rant about the inappropriate remark (which would in itself be
inappropriate) and then point out "oh, and here's the code of conduct".
This would be more likely to occur when a discussion is pretty much to
"flamefest" already, but would also be very wrong.

Instead, the right way to reply to an inappropriate remark is to say,
politely, that you think the remark is inappropriate, and (possibly)
point to the Code of Conduct. This would be a better way of doing

The above-quoted text tries to encourage the second, and discourage the

Note however that in both cases, I'm not commenting on whether someone
misjudged something. It's how you react that's important.

> Maybe they do, but that's not very probable (especially if a
> list of inadequate behaviour is provided).
> There could also be a mention that you can speak up and/or report if you
> witness inappropriate behaviour, not only if you're the target of it.

I don't think any part of the proposed text suggests you should only
take action if you're a target of inappropriate behaviour?


This end should point toward the ground if you want to go to space.

If it starts pointing toward space you are having a bad problem and you
will not go to space today.

  -- http://xkcd.com/1133/

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