My Take on the Latest YAPC Code of Conduct Kerfuffle

Michael Schwern has withdrawn as a speaker from YAPC::NA 2013 because he does not believe that the conference organizers will enforce the conference’s published Code of Conduct. This is based in part on a discussion (fight? spat? brawl?) that happened on the #yapc IRC channel recently. The transcript of said discussion is probably worth reading before going further. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

Okay, now that you read that particular piece of unpleasantness, I’ll offer my take on this mess. People have asked me about this because I’ve been a vocal advocate of having a Code of Conduct. I still stand by my earlier position that I will not attend a conference without one.

So what’s going on here? My reading of the IRC transcript is that everyone involved acted pretty badly. Capnleela’s tone was completely unhelpful. Giving summary orders to volunteers is just going to piss people off, and lo and behold, it sure did. How about opening with something like this …

Hey, toddr, I’m really concerned about having game night near this Bikini Sports Bar. That place seems really creepy and inappropriate for a YAPC. Is the venue you’re looking at part of the same building? Will people coming to game night have to see a big sign for Austin’s “breastaurant”?

Apeiron missed a great opportunity to take the higher ground and try to defuse a situation. Instead, he responded to obnioxiousness with more obnoxiousness. This is made worse by the fact that he’s an IRC op, so he has a position of power. With great power … blah blah blah. How about something like this …

Hi, capnleela, I understand you’re upset, and I get that this is a tense issue. However, I feel like you’re giving orders rather than asking for a discussion, and that’s a bit off-putting. Maybe you could rephrase things differently and just state your concerns first?

Kyriel should have been kicked from the channel pretty much immediately. She was trolling and doing everything in her power to make a tense situation worse. I have no alternate wording for kyriel.

That all said, capnleela’s concern about the game night venue was legitimate, but apparently misplaced, since from what I can tell, the issue had already been resolved by the time this IRC fight broke out.

But does any of this rise to the level of a CoC-violating offense? Maybe, maybe not. Not all arguments, even heated ones, are CoC violations. Should the CoC be enforced on the #yapc channel a few weeks before the conference? Well, I wish everyone on IRC would be nicer all the time, and IRC is often a cesspool of nastiness, but the #yapc channel is not really an official part of the conference, and it’s not controlled by the YAPC::NA admins. What about TPF’s role in this? They don’t run the channel either, so I don’t see what they can do.

Will the CoC be enforced this year? Here’s an IRC exchange I had with Todd Rinaldo, one of this year’s YAPC::NA organizers, on the topic:

(20:46:04) autarch: toddr: I assume you do intend to enforce the CoC at the conference
(20:46:19) autarch: and I see the problems with asking for it to be enforced on #yapc
           outside the conference time frame
(20:46:35) toddr: I have no problem enforcing it at the conference.

I’m satisfied that the conference organizers take the CoC seriously and intend to enforce it at the conference.

Personally, I think the community has made good progress over the past two years towards adopting and living up to higher standards of behavior. The past three YAPCs have had clear, well-written Codes of Conduct. I also see people stepping up and moderating flame wars on the IRC channels more often. I submitted a patch to the YAPC Code of Conduct repo for next year’s YAPC to add a report handling procedure for YAPC staff which I hope to see published along with the CoC next year.

I still think we can do better, but social change requires incremental progress, and we’ll never satisfy everyone, me included.


kyriel, on 2013-05-18 00:44, said:
I’m here to address my kicking of capnleela from #yapc on 27th April. It was an impulsive and emotional response that caused additional and unnecessary strife in our already assaulted community. I let my personal irritation with her get the better of me and that was wrong. It won’t happen again.

For the record, I’d like to note that my IRC response was triggered by a number of derogatory things capnleela said about the conference and the people of the community publicly on her Twitter account several days prior to my kicking her.

After kicking her, I privately let Todd and a number of other people in the community know about the nature of her Twitter comments and supplied the URL for their review. On 30th April capnleela locked her Twitter account. To the best of my knowledge there is no log.

Did her public display of rudeness and disrespect for the community justify my reaction? No. Could I have handled it better? Most definitely.

In retrospect, the best thing to do would have been to remain silent on channel, log the offensive contents of her Twitter account, then deliver them to the conference organizer and others in positions to make reasonable decisions regarding offensive behavior.

Aaron Trevena, on 2013-05-18 00:56, said:
I’m wondering why everybody expects a volunteer organiser to walk on eggshells around a bunch of obnoxious irc trolls (looking at the transcript, and the “tasteful” jokes further down, #yapc irc sounds like a bunch of mid-teen boys in a hooters bar), she states flatly that an inappropriate venue is unacceptable and that it should be sorted out properly. That’s not unreasonable, and doesn’t need the sugar coating you suggest.

Apeiron could have cleared it up in 1 sentance, saying it was clearly a joke, and would never happen, but instead decided to pick a fight. He’s known to pick fights and be obnoxious, so why is he still an op? Why is it ok for perl irc to be a cesspool, why is it ok for people to be spoken to in private repeatedly and their behaviour never addressed?

Dave Rolsky, on 2013-05-18 10:17, said:
I appreciate that there was more to the story than just the IRC exchange.

I’m glad that you realize silence would have been the best course. In general, I think people need to learn to take a deep breath and do nothing (at least initially) when someone is irritating them. I have my own struggles with this, of course.

Dave Rolsky, on 2013-05-18 12:41, said:
What you call “flat” I call “peremptory”. Tone is very important, especially in text-only mediums like IRC and email. Always err on the side of civility and calm.

You raise a good question about IRC as a whole, however. There’s really no excuse for the general rudeness. However, not all channels are like that. In #moose we’ve made a concerted effort to enforce civility, and I think that’s been fairly successful. But maybe the solution is to move channels like #yapc to another IRC network, where the ops are not part of the problem.

perigrin, on 2013-05-18 21:35, said:
The part of the logs that have not been posted are the comments that capnleela was responding to. The basic gist of which was that he was offered the venue, told them it wouldn’t be necessary and we laughed at how inappropriate the suggestion was.

I was a participant in the conversation, so this is first hand but subjective account. I can tell you I was shocked that an organizer would call another organizer out in public for something that to my understanding *was not* an issue. The venue was never under consideration as a choice. A venue that shared a store-front address and owner was, and I can see bringing up the “are we sure that this is safe / appropriate” with *that* in mind is an appropriate context.

It *was* actually pointed out that the venue in question was not an option, had never been an option, and would never be an option. The organizers, diakopter and toddr, were told unilaterally by capnleela that the fact the venue shared a store-front address was still not acceptable because there may be signage that would be uncomfortable. When asked what criteria would be acceptable (probably not in the most conducive way, but why should the lead organizer or the organizer to have actually done research on venues walk on egg shells when approached abruptly and rudely in public for an issue they were unaware of) they were not given any strong guidance, just told to find a “more acceptable location”. Capnleela started suggesting alternative places without as far as I could tell understanding of what was required for the venue, or into the acceptability of the alternative places according to her own criteria. Around that point her continued commentary about the process in derogative terms on Twitter (a commentary I can vouch to having seen first hand before it was taken down) was damaging to the process and she needed to stop. It was after that conversation that she left the process entirely.

Should people have reacted to her the way they did? No.

The two “leaders” (kyriel and apeiron) in that have both acknowledged that their reaction was inappropriate. The conversations I had seen were poorly handled all the way around if the goal was to be non-offensive to the participants involved. But your assumptions and understanding of this situation is informed by a *single* set of logs that were posted without the consent of the participants (I never consented to them being posted for one). I’ve been privy to far more of this situation than you have and *I* have been trying to keep from rashly condemning the behaviors of the participants because I know that the full story isn’t out there, and __will never be__.

ether (Karen Etheridge), on 2013-05-19 00:35, said:

Apeiron could have cleared it up in 1 sentance, saying it was clearly a joke, and would never happen, but instead decided to pick a fight.

FWIW, this had been said previously, multiple times, before the log transcript began. She wasn’t listening; it seemed she *wanted* to fight about it. Everyone in the room was getting exasperated with her for finding a problem where there was none (which is a pattern I’m starting to see occur more frequently).