Thursday, 21 March 2013

The bullied have become the bullies

I’m willing to give SendGrid a pass in this fiasco. A small pass, only, but Daily Dot is reporting that their hand was forced. Beyond the DDOS attack that they, and Richards’ blog, were suffering, Anonymous is/was threatening the utter destruction of the company if she wasn’t removed, and publicly.

I knew there was something strange about publicly firing her, if even just to try to pacify the trolls.

The threat from the Internet’s favourite band of vandals and vigilantes includes the following details of the plan:

“You [sic] client list has … been obtained by Anonymous. They have already begun harassing your customers. These include obnoxious phone calls, emails, denial of service attacks, online vandalism and defamation, and even real-life harassment.”
“Your financial backers have also been targeted for the same harassment. …If any of your backers have something embarrassing or illegal to hide (sexual misconduct, tax fraud, etc), Anonymous WILL find it (they are good at doing this) and make it public.”
“Real life harassment is an escalation that comes into play based on how long this situation is allowed to play out. It is not affected by the effectiveness of the previous forms of harassment. Even if your customers and financial backers are dropping like flies (or the opposite, entirely unaffected), this will still happen if Anonymous still maintains an interest in this situation. …If some of the more talented members of Anonymous take an interest into [doxing], every employee of Sendgrid becomes a target, starting at the top. For your reference, this is already happening to Ms. Richards as per standard protocol. There are also some interesting information about her dentist that was dug up in the process.”
“However, you do have a choice to make at this point: Do nothing, or publicly announce that Ms. Richards will be fired. The opportunity to stop this growing mob in its tracks before it tries to tear Sendgrid apart is as simple as publicly announcing Ms. Richards' firing. Now, you also have the opportunity to be sneaky about it and just publicly announcing the firing but not actually do it. But if Anonymous ever finds out, they will bring the full fury on you and your company. To put it in perspective, not even secure government websites are safe. If you believe you can tough it out, by all means, do nothing.”

I think it’s safe to say that Sendgrid didn’t have a choice in the matter.

They did, however, have a choice in what words to use when they announced Richards’ dismissal, which means that despite the reality that they had to sever their relationship with her, writing the following in their public blog continues to send much of the same message that I decried earlier:

“A SendGrid developer evangelist’s responsibility is to build and strengthen our Developer Community across the globe. In light of the events over the last 48+ hours, it has become obvious that her actions have strongly divided the same community she was supposed to unite. As a result, she can no longer be effective in her role at SendGrid.”

I don’t believe for a minute that Adria Richards divided the developer community. The developer community is already divided, because large numbers of men think nothing of making sexually suggestive jokes in a crowded conference hall. Large numbers of men think that a person who’s been offended by sexually suggestive commentary at a professional event should discuss the issue quietly, and not make a fuss. Large numbers of men believe that Human Resources department policies regarding indirect sexual harassment in a professional setting are stranglings of their free speech.

The software developer community is rife with sexist comments, and sexist thinking. Richards didn’t create a divide, her actions exposed it. The CEO of SendGrid “supports the right to report inappropriate behavior, whenever and wherever it occurs”… but clearly, only as long as it’s kept quiet.

To say that the Internet has exploded with hatred really doesn’t quite do the reality justice.

Let’s review:

  1. A woman—a woman of colour, at that—embarrasses a man for making sexually suggestive comments in a professional setting.
  2. The man is chastised, and apologises, presumably in earnest.
  3. His employer fires him for making these comments.
  4. The public isn’t told specifically why (perhaps this wasn’t his first offense, perhaps it was, we’ll never know, and his employer isn’t accountable to any of us), but he publicly accuses his accuser of getting him fired.
  5. Men across the Internet rally around his cause, and begin attacking her for daring to publicly call out inappropriate comments made in public. Every terrible word you can think of to describe women, and women of colour, is used.
  6. /b/ hears about it, and begins a campaign of harassment, demanding that she be fired in retribution for, ultimately, an HR policy violation firing.
  7. Vigilantes get in on the campaign, and attempt to destroy the woman’s employer, and everyone associated with them, unless she is fired.

This is not the behaviour of an inclusive, welcoming group.

This is the behaviour of a group of misogynists, who are frightened by the thought that the power relationship that they have historically always enjoyed over women (and over people of colour—the English-speaking software development community is not only overwhelmingly male, but overwhelmingly white) is in jeopardy.

I don’t recall where I originally encountered the thought, but it’s becoming more and more clear how true it is, the longer I look around—the nerd community wasn’t born out of a spirit of inclusivity. The community was born in an effort to exclude those who had previously excluded its members—a spirit of “fuck you, now we’re the cool kids.” The community at large claims to be more evolved than the cool kids who rejected them, but that simply isn’t true.

We’re a tribe of hurt little boys, who only ever learned to hurt. When we were overwhelmingly in the minority, it was a support group, and there was no one to hurt. But we never got over the pain of rejection, and we never learned how to rise above the hatred that forged the community.

But now we’re a pop culture, and we don’t know how to deal with that, other than the only way we know how—by lashing out at those who say they don’t like what we’re doing. And those who are most inclined to lash out have the means to do much more damage than a playground fistfight.

This week has dealt a huge blow to the feminist cause in IT, because the public perception of developers being misogynists, and of the community being a boys’ club, has been dramatically reinforced. I’ve seen all kinds of comments confirming that the comments made at PyCon are by no means unusual, or that Richards is alone in finding them highly inappropriate. But for men to demand that women interested in STEM fields simply accept that ribald comments are just part of the environment only serves to keep highly talented women out, because they don’t think having to put up with their colleagues’ shit is worth it.

Regardless of what you think of Adria Richards, or of the picture she tweeted, I would like to think that we can all agree the technical community as a whole needs to stop the cycle of revenge.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"A woman—a woman of colour, at that—embarrasses a man for making sexually suggestive comments in a professional setting."

What does color have to do with it? Why are you people always making it about color?

Sexually suggestive comments have been made since the dawn of time. The are as universally human as yawning, burping and farting. They are literally everywhere.

Sexual prudery has nothing to do with feminism. The two only go together because of the culture we live in.

A culture that bans sexual joking is anti-human. I am happy Adria Richards got fired. BTW, fuck feminism.

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