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Debian IRC sexism

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In March 2004, a thread started on a Debian mailing list about sexism on IRC, entitled Some Comments on Sexism in #debian.

"I would like to say some words to those who have been saying that Debian doesn't discriminate against women. As far as IRC goes, IT DOES. ADMIT IT ALREADY. Every day the channel is filled with trolls and flamers abusing the few female regulars who "boldly dare to frequent it." On top of that, there is a constant flow of sexist sexually suggestiv[sic] remarks [...]. Simply put, we can do better."

Ten years later, Debian's IRC channels are much better places. There is an established culture that Debian's IRC presence is a place for professional and respectful help and coordination. Sexism is unwelcome just like racism, crapflooding or spam. The Debian project has also adopted a Code of Conduct which applies equally to IRC as to mailing lists and in-person meetings. IRC still suffers from two problems: (a) being text-based and lacking non-verbal cues, criticism can still become too personal and be harsher than actually intended (b) IRC channels are public places and all manner of nutters like to drop by to spread their particular forms of hate. Channel and network operators deal with (b) as best as they can -- everyone still needs to work on problem (a).

Notable thread partcipants

Mike Beattie

Mike Beattie was against changing the culture on #debian, equating that with censorship.

"Matt, I hate to burst your bubble, but IRC is not real life, and in the grand scheme of things it really doesn't matter - we do not control what people say or do. We cannot, and we will not." [1]

"Last I looked, Debian's world domination plan did not include censorship." [2]

David Nusinow

David Nusinow was in favour of improving the tone of the #debian IRC channel.

"That's absurd. People get kicked and banned for obvious trolling, crapflooding, and racist remarks. We can and we do control what people say or do, and we can do better." [3]

Jonathan Walther

Jonathan Walther was against changing the culture in IRC...

"Debian is apolitical, so it should not be making political judgements on its official IRC channels." [4]

... but claimed/offered to support women who were affected by it:

"Lukas, I see that you are coming from a position of a lot of hurt and pain. I empathize with your suffering. How can we list-members help you out?" [5]

Lukas responded:

"My suffering in this case was mostly caused by your posting, so probably the best you could do to ease my pain would be to stop contributing to this thread."

Jonathan: "Self diagnosis are rarely reliable. Perhaps you could dig deeper, and tell us the real cause of your pain. Your pain is our pain, and we don't like being in pain." [6]

Thread participants then labelled Jonathan a Troll.

Evan Prodromou

In a sub-thread, Evan Prodromou said:

How about this:
1) We act courteous, mature, and professional towards each other.
2) When representing Debian, we think ahead of time about what image we want to portray.
If we work together better, we're more productive and we make a better operating system.
If we're respectful to our users and potential users, we get _more_ users, who then help us make a better operating system.
That's not "plain stupid". That's common sense.

Andrew Suffield

In response to Evan Prodromou's suggestions (above), Andrew Suffield flamed out, calling people wusses, and equating respectful behaviour with the causes of the Earth-Minbari war. It all starts here.

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