Twitter-shaming can cost you your job

Complaint on Twitter about overheard off-color jokes ends up costing two techies their jobs

Hoping to strike a blow against sexism in the tech industry, developer and tech evangelist Adria Richards took to Twitter to complain about two male developers swapping purportedly offensive jokes at PyCon. The decision has set into motion a chain of events that illustrate the impact a tweet or two can make in this age of social networking: One of the developers and Richards have since lost their jobs, and even the chair of PyCon has been harassed for his minor role in the incident.

Here's what more or less went down, based on the various accounts around the Internet. At PyCon 2013 last week, Richards -- who has upward of 9,400 Twitter followers -- overheard a couple of unnamed developers in the row behind her engaged in a private conversation. One made an anatomical joke about "dongles," and the other made a comment about "forking." Richards found their comments offensive, so she turned around, took their picture, and posted it to Twitter with the following text: "Not cool. Jokes about forking repo's in a sexual way and 'big' dongles. Right behind me #pycon."

Twitter shaming no longer just for teens and celebrities

She then followed up with this tweet: "Can someone talk to these guys about their conduct? I'm in lightning talks, top right near stage, 10 rows back #pycon"

PyCon staff was apparently monitoring Twitter for the "pycon" hashtag and responded thusly, according to 2013 PyCon Chair Jesse Noller:

Per the stated guidelines for attendees and staff the issue was reported to the PyCon 2013 staff and resolved privately. Both parties were met with, in private. The comments that were made were in poor taste, and individuals involved agreed, apologized, and no further actions were taken by the staff of PyCon 2013. No individuals were removed from the conference, no sanctions were levied.

All's well that ends well? Not quite: An individual claiming to be one of the developers and going by the name Mr-Hank later revealed on Hacker News that he'd been fired from his job as a result of the incident. He said his associate had not been fired, however. "While I did make a big dongle joke about a fictional piece hardware that identified as male, no sexual jokes were made about forking," he wrote.

Despite being fired, Mr-Hank publically apologized for his "big dongle joke" and even commended Richards' decision to report him and his associate. "I'd like to say I'm sorry. I really did not mean to offend anyone and I really do regret the comment and how it made Adria feel. She had every right to report me to staff, and I defend her position," he wrote.

He was less forgiving of her reporting him and his associate in the manner that she did -- that is, taking her complaint to Twitter, complete with their photo, rather than confronting them face to face. He pointed out that she is well known for her work and social activism and has an extensive Web audience. "With that great power and reach comes responsibility. As a result of the picture she took I was let go from my job today. Which sucks because I have three kids and I really liked that job," he wrote.

Richards defended her actions a length in her blog. "I have been to a lot of tech conferences and hackathons over the years. I've heard a lot of things said. That means I'm more desensitized than others, but it doesn't make it OK," she wrote. "I decided to do things differently this time and didn't say anything to them directly. I was a guest in the Python community and as such, I wanted to give PyCon the opportunity to address this."

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