[Linux-aus] [LCA2011-Chat] Some Anti-Harassment Policies considered harmful

Susanne Ruthven susanne at lca2010.org.nz
Mon Jan 31 22:45:18 EST 2011

Russell, we agree with you.

As the person who wrote the terms and conditions for LCA2010 [1] (which
LCA2011's terms and conditions [2] has copied), those T&Cs were
purposefully based on the anti-discrimination and anti-harrassment laws
in New Zealand for the very reason Russell gives.  

We purposely kept the policy broad, refraining from providing a list
(exhaustive or otherwise) so as to make sure it was a mechanism we could
use for any 'true' situations of harrassment or discrimination. Not for
us to use to chastise someone for what some might consider inappropriate

When we were writing the terms and conditions for LCA2010, we considered
and chose not to adopt a proposed draft form of an anti-harrassment
policy similar to the LCA2011 one [3], because we thought what we had in
the terms and conditions already achieved the same goal, and if anything
was better because it was broader and empowered conference organisers
with a variety of methods with which to address a situation of 'true'
harrassment, or discrimination.

As organisers of LCA2010, Andrew and I have discussed this current
situation and think some of Mark's slides could be inappropriate and
considered bad taste, but they have certainly achieved their purpose of
making us all sit up and think, and more importantly, to question. In
our view, Mark's talk was not discriminatory or harrassment. It
obviously offended some people, but then he is entitled to shock,
horrify and offend under his right to freedom of expression (as long as
his actions aren't breaking any laws, like discrimination laws etc).

Under the same right, attendees are entitled to not receive the
information Mark is imparting. And they had the opportunity to do that.
He warned right at the beginning of his talk that the following slides
were rated PG13. Those who wished not to see those slides had the
opportunity to leave the room.

I cannot speculate as to what LCA2011 did, but for LCA2010 we *asked*
speakers to keep their slide deck G-rated. We did this over several
emails, and in an information page on our website. Repetitive
communication of what is expected of speakers is the best way to ensure
the talk they give during the week of LCA will be appropriate to the
audience. At best, Mark's talk was not what LCA2010 would have asked of
him and perhaps contained some slides that are inappropriate for the LCA

So what should LCA2012 do? Really that's up to the conference
organisers. Personally, I don't see why LCA needs to expand any further
than the Terms & Conditions. Those terms and conditions clearly state
that true harrassment, discrimination and the like will not be

As conference organisers, our role is to ensure our delegates are safe
from harrassment, intimidation, victimisation and discrimination. Not to
control what our speakers say and how they say it.





Susanne Ruthven
LCA2010 - Co-Director

PO Box 11-682    |          linux.conf.au 2010 
Manners St       | Follow the signs. Visit Wellington!
Wellington 6142  |      http://www.lca2010.org.nz

                 | Me             | LCA2010
identi.ca        | MadHatter      | linuxconfau
Twitter          | Mad_Hatter__   | linuxconfau

On Mon, 2011-01-31 at 18:13 +1000, Russell Stuart wrote:
> I have been itching to contribute to the discussion on the Mark Pesce
> talk, but have resisted doing so because I was a highly visible part of
> LCA 2011 team and I didn't want to be seen to speak on behalf of the
> conference, nor Linux Australia.  Now that LCA 2011 is safely over I'll
> put in my 2c worth.
> When I first read the proposed Geek Feminism Anti-Harassment policy I
> was two minds about it.  On the one hand it was performing an important
> task in keeping the Norin / Florian incident fresh in our minds.
> Anything that drove the anti-harassment message out to a wider audience
> was a very good thing.  On the other hand, I thought the policy was both
> ill-conceived and poorly written.  It reminded me of some of the
> similarly ill-conceived and poorly written laws that have followed 9/11.
> So when some of my fellow team members proposed LCA 2011 adopt it I
> resisted strongly.  I didn't prevail, obviously.
> Nonetheless after it was pointed out that Mark talk had violated the
> policy, I was one of those saying we must apologise.  We had made a
> promise, we had broken it and so an apology was in order.  In fact had
> we had our wits about us that morning, there were would have been no
> need for an apology.  We had developed internal procedures for enforcing
> the policy which naturally flowed from it.  Those procedures said Mark's
> talk should have stopped when it became evident it violated the policy.
> Given we had adopted the policy, I fully endorsed those procedures and
> their implementation.  I don't know why they weren't followed for Mark's
> talk.  Perhaps it was because it was at the end of a long week.  But had
> it occurred there would no doubt have been a hue and cry that makes the
> current one pale into insignificance, and I would found myself in the
> unenviable position of having to defend the person who taken an action
> that I personal find intensely distasteful.
> So what is wrong with the Geek Feminism Anti-Harassment policy?
> Firstly it is poorly targeted.  Mark's talk wasn't harassing anybody.
> (Well nobody at the conference anyway.  Perhaps some authorities in
> Egypt felt harassed by it.)  Nor did it encourage harassment.  (Any
> suggestion that someone felt that Mark's presentation gave them
> permission to put their hand up someone's skirt, or worse yet encouraged
> it, is clearly absurd.)  Yet somehow a talk that didn't harass anybody
> got king hit by this policy that supposedly targets only harassment.  At
> the very least, it is a glaring bug.
> Secondly it gives the more radical attendees a lot of hammers to hit the
> conference organisers over the head with.  Get pissed off with someone
> and don't want them in the same bar as you?  Claim that are harassing
> you by following.  Don't like someone in photocomp doing portrait
> studies at rego?  Claim it is "harassing photography" (circular
> definition?).  Take offence at a picture?  Claim it is "sexual content".
> It's all allowed for under the this particular policy which defines a
> grab bag things (10's of them) as harassment.  None are well defined.
> For example it is not clear when following becomes harassing, nor when
> an image is sexual.  Now that I have organised a conference, I can
> authoritatively say handing these ideas out is not necessary as
> attendees are perfectly capable of thinking them up on their own.
> Worse, you are now lending authority to those claims with your own
> words.
> Thirdly, from what I could tell Geek Feminism policy wasn't just about
> stopping harassment.  It was also about forcing open source conferences
> to adopt the Geek Feminist view on what harassment is.  We know this
> because LCA 2011 already had a strong anti-harassment policy in its
> terms and conditions, inherited from previous LCA's.  It gives us
> permission to do what we dammed well please when harassment occurs.
> What's more, LCA has a history of using those permissions to throwing
> people behaving inappropriately out of the conference.  And as hindsight
> now tells us it doesn't contain bug the Geek Feminism one does.  So why
> ask LCA 2011 to adopt it?  Well, the only substantial difference between
> the documents is the Geek Feminism one spells out what they define as
> harassment.  The issue I have with that is the society I happen to live
> in already defines that in a way that is seemingly acceptable to the
> vast majority of people who live within it.  And obviously it is better
> written, as authored by lawyers and whatnot who do it as a day job, and
> it is better vetted as it has been through the political treadmill we
> subject most of our  Australian laws to.  I am not sure why as a
> conference organiser I am asked to use a different definition.
> Fourthly, I am fairly certain the Geek Feminism policy is an ice berg.
> The bit you were meant to see was the anti-harassment stuff, and it was
> noisily pointed to.  The berg underneath was the attempt to control what
> could and could not be said at a geek conference - ie censorship.  This
> was openly stated to me by some who worked on the policy.  The spin was
> "we want to make open source conferences a place where women can feel
> comfortable".  The underlying message was they intended to achieve this
> by banning words and images they found personally distasteful.  I happen
> to be a current member of the EFA (a sister organisation to the EFF) of
> some years standing, I took a small role in the EFA's campaign against
> Australian internet filter, and so I recognise the arguments in favour
> of censorship.  This is one of them.  The motivations for such arguments
> are usually good (just as they almost certainly are in this case), the
> justifications put forward in support of them are always sound pure, but
> as in this case the cure is dangerously simplistic and frankly puerile.
> To state the obvious, the conference organises can't protect you from
> bad talks.  Since isn't always clear where on the good/bad scale a talk
> will finish up until it ends, what hope do the papers committee have
> when they look at it 6 months before it starts?  But should you find
> yourself listening to a bad talk, there is a simple solution.  It is the
> same one all anti-censorship people give.  If you don't like it, stop
> listening and leave.    No one is forcing you to be there.  You don't
> need the conferences organisers to act as a nanny state for you.  If
> enough people do that, you can be reasonably certain the speaker won't
> be invited along next year.  If no one else does, then perhaps its you
> and not the talk.
> Which brings me to my final frustration with this entire saga.  One of
> the roles of LCA organisers is to bring popular, enlightening and if we
> get very lucky even inspiring talks.  By two measure's Mark Pesce's talk
> was one of those.  It received one of the longest, it not the longest
> acclamation of any talk at LCA 2011.  And if the chatter on our lists is
> any guide, it caused more people to stop, think and act than any other
> talk.  And yet we have a small minority of people who evidently take
> offence at images and words that would be perfectly acceptable on
> Australia broadcast TV, and are now suggesting the vast bulk of the LCA
> attendees who enjoyed the talk should not have been allowed to see it
> because they object to it.  And they got very close to achieving just
> that.
> They did so because we adopted the Geek Feminism policy.  The banning of
> overwhelmingly popular talks such as this would be positively harmful to
> LCA and indeed to any conference that adopts it.  At they very least, I
> believe all conference organisers should avoid using it until it gets
> substantially re-worked.
> _______________________________________________
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