Linux developers and users should be civil while disagreeing passionately

In today's open source roundup: Why Linux developers and users need to disagree in a civil way. Plus: Remembering Netscape, and DeadCore has been released for Linux

I'm not sure how I missed the post below by Lennart Poettering on Google+ back on October 6. Reading it has left me somewhat discombobulated since I wrote about how diverse points of view and passion make Linux stronger a few days ago. Unfortunately, I did not take into account the need for civility even in passionate disagreements, and I think I downplayed how out of hand things have gotten among some Linux developers. My apologies to my readers for not taking the issue seriously enough.

According to Google+:

Much of the Open Source community tries to advertise the community as one happy place to the outside. Where contributions are valued only by their technical quality, and everybody meets at conferences for beers.

Well, it is not like that. It's quite a sick place to be in.

I don't usually talk about this too much, and hence I figure that people are really not aware of this, but yes, the Open Source community is full of assholes, and I probably more than most others am one of their most favourite targets. I get hate mail for hacking on Open Source. People have started multiple "petitions" on petition web sites, asking me to stop working (google for it). Recently, people started collecting Bitcoins to hire a hitman for me (this really happened!). Just the other day, some idiot posted a "song" on youtube, a creepy work, filled with expletives about me and suggestions of violence. People post websites about boycotting my projects, containing pretty personal attacks. On IRC, people /msg me sometimes, with nasty messages, and references to artwork in 4chan style. And there's more. A lot more.

More at Google+

You can also read the Reddit reaction thread to Poettering's post.

I can understand the passion that systemd and other technology issues generate in the Linux community. Such things tend to bring out the animal passions in some people. But we are not like other animals. As human beings we have the ability to discipline ourselves and remain mostly in control of our more extreme emotions as we interact with each other.

And I think that this is something that some in the Linux community really need to understand and begin doing. Poettering's anguished post on Google+ underscores the need for each of us to remember that what we say can have a real effect on other people. If we do not remember that then we run the risk of talented people slowly but surely disengaging from Linux and open source softare in general. And that would be a loss for all of us.

I was a forum manager for years for Ziff Davis, and I always tried to get the members of my communities to focus on issues, and not on making disagreements into personal conflicts. It's quite possible to passionately disagree about something without descending into the gutter of bad language and personal attacks. Such things add no value to a discussion and just end up causing wave after wave of negative emotions and energy among the participants.

I hope that Linus Torvalds and the other leaders of the Linux community take a step back and rethink how they interact with others. While it's true that they have no control over individual Linux users, they can serve as role models for civil behavior that at least some Linux users might eventually emulate.

To his credit, Linus appears to understand that something needs to change. But will that be enough for him to start setting a better tone and example among Linux developers? The jury is still out on that, but I'm sure hoping it will.

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