Thursday, 21 March 2013

The #pycon incident: a catalogue of failures

This story makes me a little sad, of a joke gone wrong at the #PyCon event that has resulted in all kinds of mess. The story doesn't end with that blog post, it goes on further to the abuse and harassment of an individual for the choices they made.

From start to finish it's one unfortunate misjudgment over another that has compounded itself in horrible and hateful attitudes bubbling to the surface. I just wanted to list them here, I think we need to learn how we fight our battles.

1) Speaking out

I have no problem whatsoever with people speaking out against what they feel has no place in the environment they're in. Adria is clearly a woman with bags of confidence to be willing to do this over and again to help clean up behaviour that isn't really acceptable any longer. However Adria unfortunately chose in this particular instance to go with "shaming" as the tactic.

Now, I'm not a big fan of shaming as a way to re-educate people as it's a risky strategy. Shaming someone only works if they know that they're doing wrong, so try to shame someone that thinks they're perfectly within their rights and behaving acceptably and the only thing you do is cause the fight or flight reflex to kick in, almost always to "fight" given that the shaming is in an environment where escaping is impossible (online, it's out there, you're not putting the genie back in that bottle)

It also only works if everyone else understands how shameful the behaviour is, or at least the vocal community does. It's clear how much of a misjudgment this course was when reflecting on the unfortunate balance of misogyny vs inaction against misogyny in the wider community, and web world.

2) Justice

After the shaming, the conference organisers made the call to remove the offenders. No warning (as far as we're aware), no ability to fight one's corner, no apologies that matter. It is undesirable in a fair society that one person's claims can result in the loss of liberty for someone else without question. As respected and trustworthy as Adria may be, was this the best process to go through, to cement someone's "guilt" through punishment without any context?

Edit: Just been informed they were indeed spoken to and warned, then allowed to return, so well done PyCon :)

This compounds a sense of injustice, that only one side of the story has been listened to (even if it were entirely correct). Yet we're in a world where attitudes are evolving, not evolved. We have to accept that when we set out our rules of conduct they will actually be interpreted differently by people as they self-determine what falls under the rules or not. Either the rules need to be more explicit (impossible, arguably), or we need to accept that the first course of action is to make sure they understand what you mean by your own code of conduct.



3) Firing

I know that America is *awful* when it comes to employee rights so maybe I shouldn't be surprised, but Adria has said she didn't intend for this to go as far as anyone losing their job. Why would she? There's nothing to be gained in the community to removing people that make silly jokes, not when compared to educating them about what is acceptable behaviour.

Unfortunately Playhaven decided that going through any form of what I would deem to be acceptable disciplinary procedure was less interesting than simply firing the guy. It's pretty shocking, but I don't really "get" the culture over there with employment rights!

So now we have a guy that may not feel he's done anything wrong, thrown out of a talk without really any way to defend himself, and then loses his job for it. I'd feel pretty hard done by in this situation, and more than likely resistant to the idea that I'd done anything to deserve this. These steps only go to reinforce the idea in someones mind that they are a victim through disproportionate action...and this means that they belittle and ignore the reasons that the actions may have started in relation to that.

After all, if the punishment is clearly over the top, then the understanding of what they did must have been completely wrong too...at least that's the thought process

4) The abuse

Unfortunately people then chose the wrong targets to continue the argument. Harassment alone of Adria is completely unacceptable and deplorable, and even on the flip side any abuse that the other guy may be getting is going to be unacceptable too. Adria did what she felt she had to, I don't think I agree it was the best course, but she wasn't been unfair by invoking the code of conduct. It is, after all, there for people like her that feel uncomfortable as a result of other conference goers.

Where is the abuse for the conference that "zero-toleranced" the situation? Well hopefully no-where either, it's always more constructive to engage with the organisers to come up with better processes than to just hurl abuse.

And what about the abuse for playhaven? Thankfully it seems people that are inclined to understand the nuance of this situation aren't "abusive" as such, and are giving Playhaven a tough time for what is a complete farce of a stance in firing their employee over this.

At no point is blaming or targeting someone who makes a complaint about something the right course of action. People have rights to bring these kinds of concerns up, if they go the wrong way (in your eyes) or results are disproportionate then that is the fault of the systems and the policies that we follow, not of the person that brought up their concern.

That people chose Adria as a target, and the fact that they maybe thought she was an easier target, is a real problem...and much worse than the overall action brought against the guy now without a job. It's also this choosing of Adria as a target that shows why we need her, and those like her, to stay brave and continue speaking up; there are a lot of attitudes that need to change.

More importantly, more of us need to speak up in support of this. It's all too easy for those who are unreasonable to dominate the space. And, much like the deindividuation concept Adria talks about, without our voices providing context to acceptable behaviour it is all too easy for people to slide in to more extreme versions of themselves, to the detriment of the community as a whole.

Edit: 5) The second firing

So it turns out Adria has now been fired from her job too.

This is absolutely insane.