Do tech communities need rules?

An interesting question was just asked by @Jess on Twitter

In my responses, I was thinking of this community as one that seems to get by fine without rules but I didn’t want to say that in case it attracts trolls.

Well done, you people.

I don’t think a Code of Conduct is just about rules. The most important is usually the bit that says “If anyone doesn’t behave like this document says, I am the person you talk to.”

Most of society has people in who aren’t nice. Some are probably part of the tech industry too. I don’t think I’ve met any, but I wouldn’t know if I had because I’m not someone who gets harassed in mainstream society, let alone our tiny subculture.

Most counter responses I’ve heard to CoCs have said “But it would just say ‘please be nice’ and everyone knows that”. I say if everyone knows that, there’s no harm in putting it on paper and your phone number along with it for when someone inevitably isn’t nice.


PS: There’s also the odd worry about inhibiting Freedom of Speech or some similar phrasing.

As an event organiser I have a commitment to my attendees that’s way more important to me than Freedom of Speech. After all, if people stop coming because they’re uncomfortable being a part of our group, the speech I’ll hear will be missing voices I want to hear from.


I find that being told “You aren’t being nice” by a friend is enough to keep most people’s occasional excesses under control.

I’m horrified by what I read about US ‘bro’ culture though. Why would ANYONE want to work in those places? If that spills over into conferences then that must be horrible.

It would be interesting to see if a bunch of techs could put together better ‘legislation’ than politicians.

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I very nearly started a thread similar to this myself a few weeks ago upon seeing the TODO Group’s Open Code of Conduct. I wanted to adopt it for for this community - not because we’re a bad community - but like @jackweirdy says, to let people know there is someone they can reach out to should they feel they need to.

Only… I’m not 100% happy with the wording of it as it stands at the moment, because I don’t think it truly is as inclusive as it claims, and uses terminology which I just find confusing - and I’m no the only one.

Personally I was a fan of this pull request (specifically this change), as I think it’s far more inclusive and easy to understand (even if it does use the word “ameliorate”) - but it, along with all the rest, has been put to one side while it’s on hold.

Anyway, this discussion is here, so I might as well get feedback from everyone - do you think the community should have a code of conduct? Should it be the TODO Group one? And if so, should it include the changes I favour?

My initial reaction was that it didn’t but I saw your guiding comments about seeing how if went and there have been a couple of conversations to clarify things, like whether young people ‘should’ be here and the consequent conversation that set certain common standards.

Someone arriving here fresh from /. doesn’t have that so perhaps their expectations do need to be set.

Someone in Jess’ conversation, maybe her, said that there needs to be a mechanism for someone who isn’t happy to raise a concern. I think a back-door secret channel is a bad thing but I don’t scare easily, so others who are less confident about expressing an opinion might want that. I don’t imagine you want to play policeman, @LimeBlast so an open mechanism where any member of the community can ‘have a word’ with someone being too unruly seems better to me.

I think we’re pretty good on sexism, ageism, multi-cultural acceptance etc. but I’m not someone who’d suffer. I’m relatively old but I don’t care.

I don’t believe it’s necessary here.

Obnoxious behaviour would be flagged and, presumably, removed. I’d like to think we would act in support as a group. (I’m new here, but everyone appears to be extremely supportive.) I’m not clear how a CoC would preclude obnoxious behaviour.

That said, I’m naturally averse to bureaucracy, so my default position is to oppose.

What about behavior that is not public though? Like people being harassed through the private messaging feature?

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One way to look at it is to ask: who would be put off if there were a CoC for a forum or an event? The person who has to create it - it’s time and possibly worry for them getting it right. People who are, to put it bluntly, dicks - those who think “it’s my right to be able to say what I like and act how I choose without being told it’s unacceptable”. Who else? Would having a CoC actually put off someone who was neither of those things?

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I’m pretty into the ToDo one, though also fond of the Geek Feminism one and the Django and Python communites’ CoCs.

I don’t think a set of guidelines would add bureaucracy - they sort of sit there quietly, advertising that everyone is welcome, and I would guess in most cases generally do not need to be called on. They’ve done their job by being available to read, both by minority groups and by potential harassers.

I agree with @Woo that communities can self-police, at least to a degree. I’ve seen minor incidents of sexism be handled very competently in supportive forums (people are more willing to speak up, I think, where they know that discriminatory or exclusionary attitudes will be challenged).

Unfortunately our industry has some way to go to challenge the inequality within it - you only need to see the bro-oriented content of some conference presentations or the phenomenon of GamerGate to see the nature of the problem. There’s also been a couple of discussions on Stack Overflow (re: a call for mentors for new female programmers, and about a temporary logo change in support of the US Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality) in which a number of (privileged) community members registered objections in the strongest possible terms. For that subgroup, anything in support of more equality is “too political”.

In other news, I like the word “ameliorate” :smiley:

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Just noticed Jess’ Storify on Twitter, makes for an interesting read. The number of people who now won’t go to an event without a code of conduct is very high, right across the gender spectrum.

I noticed the same thing. But this is only a starting point - what I’m most interested in is WHY this is the case?

I don’t really go to conferences, and I’ve a full hat of privileges, so I don’t know. Perhaps it is a mix of some bad experiences in the past, plus wanting to widen the appeal of the industry from its current straight-white-male preserve. I think it’s using a code as a prevention mechanism, rather than experiencing an overwhelming number of incidents at every conference.

One of my philosophical musings is that I think people should do what works, but identifying what works - i.e. what will increase diversity and reduce harrassment in the long term - is rather tricky. One of the issues of CoCs is that they’re sometimes regarded by a minority as left-wing devices, forcing a particular set of views onto people (identity politics, political correctness). This response is often a reactionary expression from people who, consciously or otherwise, would like to hang onto the privileges that have served them well thus far.

Thinking about the GamerGate and Reddit sagas, I very much admire the journalists who have been critically analysing female role models within video games, and I do not believe that misogyny and other forms of discrimination should be left unchallenged. However, I am not sure if someone has just moved a rock to see what crawls beneath, or given an anthill a jolly good kicking, and then been surprised at the result.

Thus, perhaps it is the case that moving too quickly in challenging stereotypes creates a counter-reaction that defeats the movement, though I realise that I am saying this with that full hat.

For many, because crappy things happen in communities and at events quite often. Knowing that an event/community isn’t going to tolerate harassment and is ready, willing and prepared to act against it is a great sign that the event is going to be a good match for folks who don’t want to put up with unpleasantness.

This is a massive challenge, as I see it. While I find CoCs as a really useful tool, it’s gotten to be so difficult to separate their use from the feelings of challenging structural positions that can be really threatening for many.

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@Jess Does this happen at Birmingham tech events? I’ve just said I’ve never seen anything but I wouldn’t would I? I know that there can be catcalling in the streets in the city but i guess I hope those people are on their way to Broad Street.

Yes. There have been challenges and issues at Birmingham tech events and meet ups. Some events have been really great at working to build processes and policy in to better support a diverse range of technologists (<3 <3 Hackfrence) and some aren’t even in a place to have issues reported to them.

I think we’ll need to dig this thread up for the Midland Information Cluster. I hope that ‘whatever it is’ will be liberal, (relatively) inclusive and distributed. There may need to be more guidance if dark corners emerge. I hope ‘the mic’ will have higher standards than UK society, so people can see that Birmingham is nicer than other places. Manchester has set a high bar over the last couple of days. Respect!

I recommend this list of women speakers and presenters & Resources for planning gender-inclusive tech conferences - Pauline

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