GitHub’s New Code of Conduct and the Inevitable Backlash

A couple weeks ago, GitHub announced that it was adopting the TODO Group’s Open Code of Conduct for its open source projects, most specifically the Atom editor. It took a while for the segment of the tech community that feels threatened by attempts to be more inclusive to find out about it and for the backlash to begin. But it has now.

People are reacting strongly. Of course, everything they’re reacting to is taken completely out of context. The main part they’re reacting to is this:

Our open source community prioritizes marginalized people’s safety over privileged people’s comfort. We will not act on complaints regarding:

“Reverse” -isms, including “reverse racism,” “reverse sexism,” and “cisphobia”

(Emphasis mine.) They are saying that this clause invalidates the entire rest of the document, that the code of conduct is somehow now racist and sexist. Of course, if this clause were taken out, they’d find some other part to nitpick. And again and again … until there is nothing left. They won’t be satisfied with anything less than the status quo.

The status quo isn’t good enough.

At my recent talk, I made the radical point that people have the right to expect to feel safe in our online communities. That people have the right to not be harassed. That people have the right to be free from online bullies. They even have the right to expect not to have to put up with subtle digs1 designed to demean, degrade or exclude. And I made the explicit point that people who expect to be “free” from these rules restricting them from, intentionally or unintentionally, being jerks to people are people that we don’t need in our communities. I don’t care how good of a programmer you are or what great ideas you have or how long you’ve contributed to the Open Source community. If you treat people like shit, I expect you to be shown the door.

In a civilized society, we have rules. These aren’t just “don’t kill each other.” They extend to things like “don’t play your music loud after 9pm.” And occasionally, people have parties and play their music loud after 9pm. Sometimes their neighbors aren’t bothered. Sometimes they go around and ask their neighbors first if it will be OK. But only an asshole whines about their “rights” when the cops come to their door to tell them to turn the music down or cries “poor baby” when people try to pass ordinances to make things more comfortable for everyone.

  1. What’s really hilarious about this particular example is that the person who decided to bring gender into it is arguing for the same outcome as the woman they’re pushing aside. But she’s just a woman, so why should he bother to read what she has to say before putting his two cents in. 


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