Tag: code of conduct

Still No Code of Conduct at Mozilla

It’s been nearly four months since events at Mozilla lead several of us to call for adoption of a code of conduct. And yet we do not have one.

I can’t tell if progress is stalled, or if we’re just not hearing of updates. The last post to mozilla.governance on the topic occurred in early May. What’s going on? Why does this appear to be a non-priority for our leadership?

Regardless of the reasons, four months is a long time to wait for something that was long overdue to begin with. It’s a long time to wait to have reassurance from my community that I, and others like me, are welcome, and that discriminatory behavior against us will not be tolerated.

The (Overdue) Need for Community Conduct Standards at Mozilla

Next week marks my sixth-month anniversary as a Mozilla employee. I have been planning to write a post to mark the occasion and to share with everyone what an awesome (albeit challenging) experience it is working at such an innovative, mission-driven organization.

However, recent events on Plant Mozilla (see Hate Speech Is Not Free Speech and Concerns with Planet Content for context) compel me to speak to another issue first: The urgent need for the Mozilla community to work together to develop, implement and be held accountable to standards for participation.

The syndication on Planet Mozilla of discriminatory content and ensuing discussion is just one symptom of a larger, systemic problem. The greater issue is that we have failed to set forth guidelines about what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable behavior within our community. We have operated far too long under the false assumption that individuals can do this entirely on their own.

Frequently, this failure to put forth standards manifests as slightly less than civil interactions. I’ve also seen it displayed in the offhand dismissal of other’s ideas or needs. Most recently, on Planet Mozilla, I’ve seen it threaten and alienate those contributors who are queer.

As Mozilla grows in scope and size and we facilitate more and more in-person events, the harm incurred due to the absence of community standards will increase. No one should have to endure an assault or harassment at an event we host before we take action on this matter. Already, there are a number of us who question whether or not we are safe at Mozilla and if our contributions are valued.

Setting and enforcing norms is a usual and necessary function of community. Our community managers and long-time contributors have abdicated their responsibility to us by not ensuring such norms are set, and in some cases by actively blocking progress on this matter. It’s time for that to change.

Will it be easy? No, of course not. Some will be unhappy at any implied restrictions on speech or behavior. The point is not to make everyone happy. The point is to provide clear guidelines so that everyone can operate within a common context and to provide a support structure to those who need it.

To be absolutely clear: the heart of this recent issue is not what type of content should be syndicated on Planet Mozilla, and it is not about differences of opinion. Focusing our discussion solely on Planet Mozilla is a distraction.

The issue is that Mozilla resources (the server and bandwidth that provides Planet) were utilized to attack a vulnerable group. This group includes Mozilla employees and contributors and it made it harder for them to do their jobs. That they were attacked using Mozilla resources is what is unacceptable and needs to be addressed directly through the implementation of community standards. Indeed, part of the process of developing these standards will be to make it clear that attacking vulnerable groups is unacceptable.

Community standards are not about limiting anybody’s free speech, but about limiting people’s ability to make their coworkers feel unsafe and unwelcome without consequence or accountability.

Fortunately, we have a lot of resources to draw upon in developing our community standards. Several groups not unlike our own have already done so: Ubuntu Code of Conduct, Citizen Code of Conduct, Drupal Code of Conduct, Wikimedia Foundation Friendly Space Policy.

Let’s get to work.


1) I’m not going to publish any more comments related only to Tim’s comments and whether or not they would violate a Code of Conduct. I’m also not going to facilitate any more conversation about whether or not Gerv’s recent post on Planet Mozilla was discriminatory.  There’s been plenty of back and forth on those topics in other forums and I’d like to have a more productive conversation here. If you want to talk about how we can work together to develop a code of conduct for Mozilla, then that’s fine.

2) To whomever submitted the anonymous comment (from a Mozilla IP): calling someone here an asshole is never going to be acceptable, so don’t even try.

Codes of Conduct and Censorship in Technical Communities

Over the past several months I’ve been thinking a lot about anti-harassment policies, codes of conduct, when censorship is harmful and when it is appropriate. During this time I’ve seen a number of comments about how codes of conduct simply aren’t necessary, how they will be used as instruments of unnecessary censorship, and how some people have been bullied into adopting them.

You know what? I’m rather tired of seeing these comments over and over again and of having to argue that it’s necessary for communities to adopt a code of conduct.

Being open, welcoming and safe to all, including gender, sexual and racial minorities, is not the default state of our technical communities (particularly in open source). This is a sad truth, but a truth nonetheless. And, it’s one that people continue to dispute despite overwhelming evidence. All one has to do is to look at the dearth of members from minority populations who participate in open source. Or head over to Geek Feminism and read through the list of incidents.

If communities want to change the status quo they need to be proactive. One way of doing that is to adopt a policy outlining expected conduct.

We decided to adopt such a policy for this year’s Open Source Bridge. It’s something we put considerable effort towards. We created a draft, revised it several times, shared it with a range of community members and revised it again. We made sure to publish it prior to our CFP close so all prospective speakers would know what we expected of all participants.

In the process of writing the code of conduct we realized the following was important to us:

  • emphasize the positive as well as negative behavior, focusing on the idea of open source citizenship
  • give organizers the flexibility to deal with situations according to their best judgement
  • emphasize the grassroots nature of open source bridge by having the same policy apply to everyone involved (speakers, attendees, etc.)
  • give participants a sense of agency around their experience at the conference

Focus on Citizenship

As we discussed what sort of policy to adopt it became clear to us the we wanted something more than an anti-harassment policy. Having zero-tolerance for harassing behavior at conferences is of course important, but we realized that we wanted more than just an explicit catalog of prohibited actions. We wanted a document that emphasized the idea of open source citizenship. We wanted to focus on recognizing positive as well as negative behavior.

Give Organizers Flexibility

We also wanted the document to be flexible enough to allow organizers to utilize their best judgement in dealing with situations. We didn’t want to create a situation where we had to deal with behavior that is clearly problematic but that we failed to identify and elucidate ahead of time in our code of conduct. We knew we couldn’t list everything that could potentially go wrong. Along those same lines, we didn’t want to be in the position of having to kick someone out of the conference for less problematic or correctable behavior or for violating our code of conduct simply because we were unskillful in our wording.

Highlight our Grassroots Effort

Open Source Bridge is a grassroots event, organized entirely with volunteers. It’s important to me that those who are involved with our event: the speakers, the attendees, the participants and volunteers know how important they are in making OSBridge a successful event. Each of those roles is just as important as the other and we wanted this equality to be clear in our code of conduct. This is why we have one code of conduct that it applies to everyone. Each person has the same set of responsibilities to make OSBridge a positive event for all involved, including themselves.

Empower our Participants

We wanted participants to feel that our code of conduct gave them a sense of agency and empowerment about their experience. Don’t like something you see? You have a right and a responsibility to say something about it. Don’t like how your colleague is being treated? Let us know. We wanted to encourage folks to come talk to us about any issues that arose and included very clear way to contact us to do so.

The Result

The end result is something I’m very proud of and I think time will demonstrate it is has made our entire community better for everyone (not just previously marginalized groups). We even created a generic version, the Citizen Code of Conduct that we’ve made available for others communities to adopt and adapt as needed to meet their specific needs.

Is it perfect? No, it’s not. We’ve already identified somethings we want to make better. We want to want to clarify what we mean about participating actively and authentically. We also want to add something about contacting organizers to resolve any questions participants may have about their content/behavior being objectionable.

The code of conduct is a work in progress and we’ll keep iterating on it as we get feedback from our community.

On Censorship and Freedom of Expression

So now that we’ve adopted a code of conduct, does that mean that we’re going to use it to arbitrarily censor ideas and people we don’t like from the community? No, it doesn’t. I think if we started to engage in this sort of abuse people we would be called to task about it by our community.

Having a code of conduct does, however, mean that we’re going to take seriously and investigate any reports we receive of content and/or behavior that violates it. And, yes, since we don’t have a list of explicit rules, we’ll use our best judgement to determine how to handles any incidents that arise. This is no different than every other decision you already trust us with when you decide to participate in the conference.

Not everyone will agree with the calls that we make, and I’m okay with that. I’m also okay with using our power as conference organizers to potentially censor content or behavior that is harmful to a subset of our community.

I’ll say it again in another way: I don’t believe that censorship is in and of itself a bad thing because freedom of expression is not an unlimited right. From Wikipedia: “the right to freedom of speech is not absolute in any country and the right is commonly subject to limitations, such as on libel, slander, obscenity, incitement to commit a crime, etc.”

Yes, censorship has been using by those in power for hundreds of years as tools of oppression and tyranny. But censorship also prevents harm from being done to vulnerable populations.

We censor children’s access to pornography so that they have less of a chance to witness sexual material before they are ready for it. We censor hate speech. We censor certain incitements to violence and crime. We (hopefully) self-censor too, for a lot of good reasons: so that we don’t hit our kids or tell our co-workers to go fuck themselves when we’re having a bad day.

Part of being a mature and responsible adult is knowing when freedom of expression should be limited and censorship is appropriate, and when it is an abuse of power wielded for selfish means or ulterior motives.

As conference organizers we hold that our participant’s right of expression carries with it certain responsibilities. We therefore we ask everyone to abide by a code of conduct and reserve the right to enforce certain restrictions on speech and expression if it becomes necessary.

Moreover, there is a huge difference between government censoring disagreements, which is what protections around free speech are really about, and a community deciding standards are required for participation. The latter is what we’re doing with our code of conduct.

Will some feel disenfranchised?

I recognize that some feel disenfranchised when communities adopt a code of conducts.

They are unwilling to accept that codes of conduct are unnecessary. They take it personally and resent being told how to act like a grown up. They think themselves feminists and above scrutiny. They think there’s nothing wrong with including overtly sexualized material in a technical presentation. They think it’s perfectly okay to name a software package “upskirt” or “pantyshot.” They say we’ve taken political correctness too far and by doing so have removed all fun out of going to conferences. They claim we engage in witch hunts against perfectly respectable members of our community.

And everyone is entitled to their thoughts and opinions.

And we are entitled as a community to exclude a few in order to welcome the many that have been marginalized time and time again.

So, if you feel excluded by our code of conduct, I encourage you to examine your own privilege and behavior and see if you can’t open your heart to what we’re trying to do.