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Thursday, March 28, 2013

On #donglegate, Adria Richards and disingenuous commentators

If you are even remotely involved in net.software, you have by now heard about Adria Richards, "donglegate" and the fallout of  what happened at PyCon. If not, you may read ArsTechnica's account , an almost legal opinion  here, and see a feisty, but funny, video here. I am also appending my TLDR summary of the story at the bottom of this post.

You should also know that:
1) I do not in the least condone the assorted rape and death threats that Ms. Richards has been the target of;
2) I also find unacceptable the privacy invasion she saw fit  to commit;
3) I think she is (partly) responsible for the developer's dismissal;
4) I think she was rightly dismissed for doxxing people;
5) I think that she is an embodiment of American puritanism at its worst, straight out of Hawthorne's novels.

The reason I am writing this (apart from getting it out of my system and turn to more productive thoughts) is an emerging trend about commentators.

Which is, writing a "fair and balanced" piece which starts by sort-of-acknowledging that

'yeah, in the beginning she may have been a little exuberant  but hey, look at the horrific - (and they truly are) - threats that she was in the end made a target of. That means that she was right, and if you dare be among their critics you are also a supporter of the rape-and-death-threat-extenders. And let's not get into all that pamby-namby stuf about privacy and public shaming, because it is bullshit  - "Red herring" or "ill defined" are the preferred terms -. Let us discuss instead the horrific blah sexist tech community blah blah please more page views blah thanks blah.'

Anybody sees a problem here? Because I do. Single sidedness aside, I mean.

The tech community has very heavily (with tweets, comments and likes) weighed in Ms. Richards'actions disfavor - with many women taking this position. No sane, reasonable post I read about this had anything favorable about the net.frenzy that ensued.

But the above commentators (no, I am not linking them, but they are easily found one is on the Guardian site) are conflating Ms. Richards actions and their aftermath with the death threats, using the latter to cast a favorable light on the former. Intellectually speaking, that sucks.

Which brings me to the third reason to write this which is urging anybody reading this (yes, all the three of you) and agrees with my views, to continue to actively defend them online and to avoid that this type of comments become the accepted wisdom on the episode and define what the response of the tech community should be.

Because if they do, it brings us a step closer to an Orwellian world where privacy and freedom of expression will be restricted to places not within remote earshot of an activist with a smartphone and an axe to grind. And that, also, sucks.

As for programming languages: you may want to stick to perl - its conferences are a saner environment :-)

Quick summary of the pycon incident

1) At the PyCon conference, Ms. Richards overhears (some would say "eavesdrops on" but I am willing to assume loudness on the part of the other involved parties) a *private* conversation during which juvenile jokes were being exchanged; (Jokes about big dongles, if you wanna know, as in - "Sure that guy has a bigger dongle than some other guy")

2) She tweets about it, *to a sizeable audience* and *with pictures* of the perceived abusers, taken *without permission* calling for a reprimend. Many would say this is as close to doxxing as it gets, and I would have to agree - I doubt anybody would disagree on the privacy invasion that Ms. Richards committed.

2a) The PyCon staff identifies the developers and tells them to stop  - which they do.

3) Ms. Richards writes a blog entry grandstanding on the heroic ("I know, you don't have to be a hero all the time") feat she performed for the greater good of the community ("The future of women in tech was on the line, and I acted" - no less)

3a) One of the pictured parties is fired (it'd be interesting - and not meaningless - to know the time ordering of 3) and 3a)

4) Ms. Richards is doxxed by some moron and (unforgivable) net.insanity ensues.

5) Ms. Richards is also fired, which -as an entrepreneur - I find is a reasonable course of action to take whenever blatant doxxing and privacy invasion are performed.

If the privacy issue seems of little import, here is some more food for thought: the smirking, bearded guys in the forefront of the by-now-famous pictures *are not* the dick jokers. I read elsewhere that common wisdom is that the person Ms. Richards took issue with is another developer in the background. So, while defending the future of woman in tech, Ms. Richards smeared a couple of innocent bystanders. I'm sure somebody will say that that is irrelevant, or even, justified collateral damage.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your insight.
I have been following this story with amazement at how it morphed into "women gets threats from evil men" on the internet meme. Yours is the only commentary I've seen that points this out.

Culture Critic said...

I couldn't find many blog posts or articles on Google that criticized Adria and none that took the positions you take or analyzed the insane defense of Adria Richards. Twitter was the worst for finding anti-Richards blog posts. I honestly think that censorship has much to do with that.

I used Ice Rocket and found this post.

I think you have to put the claims about death threats in the context of the absolutely insane defense of Adria Richards. And it was an absolutely insane response. Yeah a few people on the anti-Richards camp made some less than logical assumptions such as assuming she "eavesdropped" on them but those errors in thinking do not compare to the madness and irrationality of those who defended Ruchards. There were just tons of different but crazy argument.

When you consider that craziness, the claim that Adria Richards was inundated with threats - an onslought, explosions of hateful threats, becomes highly suspect. I think you should be very skeptical. What source or evidence is there for that claim? So far I only know of two specific threats that have been identified and verified.

Other claims about the Internet exploding with hate are easily debunked. Reddit was a culprit for example but you only need to go search the archives to see that that is untrue. Reddit took very little interest in the Adria Richards affair.