Are Codes of Conduct dangerous to open source software development?

Also in today's open source roundup: DistroWatch reviews Linux Mint 17.3 Xfce, and Debian 8.3 has been officially released

Are Codes of Conduct dangerous to open source software development?
Credit: jbtaylor

Are Codes of Conduct a threat to open source projects?

Codes of Conduct have often been pushed to create "safer" environments, while opponents sometimes find such codes repressive and suffocating. But are Codes of Conduct a real danger to the development of open source software?

One developer, fearing for the loss of his job, posted his anonymous response to what he thinks are dangerous Codes of Conduct.

From the anonymous developer's post on Google Drive:

Hello. I'm a professional web developer, but you can't verify that by looking at this page. I'm afraid to post this content under my real name because I'm around people who would try to get me fired from a job I love, or worse. Still, I need to get something off my chest in a space I control.

I've been in web development for nearly seven of the ten years that I've been barking orders at silicon, and the undisciplined chaos in the web development community is enough to make me question my career choice. It's not code that bothers me, its people who confuse innovation with fashion, and opinions with infrastructure.

Religious wars in software used to be about a fat bearded man named He-macs wrestling a pencil-neck named Vimmy over what text editor to use, but now FOSS devs are concerned about making sure marginalized human beings feel "welcome," as if someone was trying to physically block newcomers. That opens the door to social justice and other buzzwords that prigs use to feel better about themselves, and utopian visions documented in "Codes of Conduct," or CoC.

I resent that I've actually been scared into hiding who I am just so I can speak my mind. I feel like I am not allowed to enjoy writing code anymore because communities want to tell me everything from how to think about problems to how to address women. I feel used, and controlled. I hate it, and I don't understand why you are doing this to me. I know I'm not alone in what I think, but I sure do feel alone because none of my colleagues at my day job are going to risk their careers getting up and challenging you. I don't know who or where they are because they are just as freaked out about speaking up as I am. I want to stand up and say something, and right now this is the only way I know how where I get to keep my job.

Privilege has absolutely nothing to do with keeping anyone down in software. Do not tell me that you are facing some sort of obstacle to learning or finding opportunity when you have an Internet connection. If you are in computer science you are lucky enough to have more opportunities than you can even fathom. Instead of counting your blessings and taking on the challenges facing you, you squander your own intellect trying to bully people who disagree with you.

More at Google Drive

The post by the anonymous developer comes at an interesting time since a new movement has arisen to prevent the institution of Codes of Conduct in open source projects by flatly stating that there will No Code of Conduct.

Here's a sample of the No Code of Conduct (NCoC) on GitHub:

No Code Of Conduct is a groundbreaking new idea. Designed to help you find communities and projects that will not get stuck endlessly debating how members should behave in their communities, only to be found to never be fully resolved to anyone's liking. What if… we all agreed?

We are all adults. Capable of having adult discussions. We accept everyone's contributions, we don't care if you're liberal or conservative, black or white, straight or gay, or anything in between! In fact, we won't bring it up, or ask. We simply do not care. Nothing else matters!

Q: What if, this makes me feel discriminated against?

If you feel this way simply because we do not have a code of conduct, it is hard for anyone to relate to you. This is not intended to discriminate against anyone. Simply because we don't babysit people on our site to make sure they treat you with respect, does not mean we hope you feel unwelcome, or that you are treated without respect. That is just not something we have time for.

More at GitHub

The post by the anonymous developer caught the attention of Linux redditors and they shared their thoughts about the issue of Codes of Conduct in open source software:

4bpp: "I, for my part, am glad that Linus's rants exist, as they keep the CoC people distracted from cracking down harder on rude dismissals of a level that is actually necessary to keep open-source projects running. If everyone who is being excessive toned it down, the end result would be that the ones bearing the brunt of the attack would not be the people who are being excessive, and the frontline between the "getting stuff done first and foremost" coalition and the "down with meritocracy" coalition would be running right through our offices."

Ventomareiro: "For some reason, Free SW seems to have become another online battlefield for the ongoing cultural wars in the US. I personally find it very sad that somebody wanting to approach the community would see all this rage seeping through, coming from people who for the most part have not actually contributed much (if at all)."

I_Hate-Disco: "Codes of Conduct (or CoC) generally are of the form "don't harass people over their gender, sexual orientation, race, etc" and obviously there can be better and worse iterations of this. Most of the outcry is over the fact that people are asking projects to enforce the bare minimum of professionalism.

Aside from a handful of jerks, almost all of the outrage is coming from the "man-o-sphere" and gamergate trying to push an anti-progressive agenda."

Color_ranger: "What I really don't understand is why "Geek Feminism" is treated seriously by some open source projects. They are openly sexist and racist (like in some examples from the article), and their brand of feminism has nothing to do with treating people equally regardless of gender/skin color/etc. "

FUZxxl: "What anti-progressive agenda?"

JustMakeSup: "...many of the people pushing for CoC are just as abusive - they simply see themselves as being right and therefore justified in their abuse. Take Randi Harper, an advocate for Codes of Conduct and "CEO" of the Online Abuse Prevention Initiative, a supposed charity which provides no information other than email addresses and donation pages. She's attacked multiple people online (favoring twitter) and once told a person to "Set yourself on fire." Which, given the dangers of suicide that people undergoing online abuse face, should never have crossed that line into words. Especially from someone running a charity and doing public appearances based around online abuse.

People who act like this still think that Codes of Conduct are a good idea because they don't believe they'll ever run afoul of them, despite their deplorable behavior. Which is why everyone of these posts that points out uneven caveats is still damningly relevant. If they can advocate for others to change without changing themselves, why should we believe the rules will be applied fairly?"

Redsteakraw: "You can choose to look at the best of intentions amongst people you are working with or you ca be an overly sensitive asshat looking to be offended."

Trezor2: "As a FOSS person I'm hostile towards anyone who tries to make open source a political agenda beyond the scope of the code itself."

More at Reddit

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