This is mostly a gut reaction, a feeling that CoCs serve more to tighten the overton window and fear that I might find myself on the wrong side of sharp demarcation which should be more of a soft gradient. It's like a wanted poster, being declared a thought criminal.
Of course many things in a CoC are individually sensible rules, but as a larger set they feel like a demand for a flawless human who is always genuinely nice, polite and only makes perfectly inoffensive jokes and never raises their voice while arguing things etc.
I'm quite aware that I am not that perfect human, I have issues with empathy and following what was considered group consensus (it has cost me friends and a job before). Those CoCs just feel a bit like a "only people with A-grade social skills welcome here" sign to me.
« a demand for a flawless human who is always genuinely nice, polite and only makes perfectly inoffensive jokes and never raises their voice while arguing things »
Yeah, that sounds similar to the frustrations I've heard from women and people of color, being held to a higher standard than their white or male colleagues.
I'm societally allowed to be rude, even threatening! And I'm rarely called on it. But that's not actually a good thing.
So I think it's totally fair to have a CoC that says "be nice to people" and has some teeth and makes white men a little nervous. "A little nervous" is kind of a baseline for a lot of people. Think of it as educational.
Even the exact same document will make people feel more or less comfortable depending on other factors like the culture of an org or the people you commonly run into.
Or the examples are strawmen. You can easily spot these by a nonspecific, generalized language or lawyering up.
Our rule set (not some CoC) provides concrete examples of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. (Quotes and actual descriptions of things that actually happened.)
I like this article but it doesn't go into the positives of a CoC. There are many problems but if you don't weigh them against the positive characteristics, you don't see the full picture.
My organization NumFOCUS, asks all conferences and projects working with us to adopt some CoC. Why do we do this? First it has been shown in our community to help encourage minority groups to participate. Second it outlines a real procedure if something does go wrong. Finally, it sets the expectation of professionalism early.
Our numbers on diversity have skyrocketed as we enforces CoCs. It's not just a bandaid, it's an invitation to people of all types that we, the organizers, will protect your right to be at our event. I don't think event organizers are in any position to think they can solve all the problems in tech but at least they can create an inviting space.
Without a CoC, the procedure on how to handle a harasser is very grey. What legal grounds does a person have to tell someone to leave an event? If it is any grounds then why for some and not others? Who makes these decisions? I've seen conferences not deal with up front and have to resort to the local law enforcement to intervene.
Which brings me to my last point, set expectations up front. It's like the big silver punch bowl at the new years party. We expect you to be an adult and treat everyone else like an adult. A CoC clearly lays out that your event is intended to be professional.
I don't think it is the end of all discussions, in fact only the beginning. Our staff put together more things to consider, https://github.com/numfocus/DISCOVER-Cookbook, but a CoC is the simplist.
>I like this article but it doesn't go into the positives of a CoC. There are many problems but if you don't weigh them against the positive characteristics, you don't see the full picture.
The author mentions this,
"People are trying to force organizations like CCC, or events I am involved with, at a smaller scale (I cannot talk for other events I don't know anything about), to adopt a CoC because they feel like it works for them, and therefore everyone should adopt a CoC regardless of the own culture of each community."
It seems you're doing exactly this and you've ignored large parts of the reasoning in the author's post.
When people do things to prevent liability, they can't say they're doing them to prevent liability, or the liability effectively recurs. If such middling statments exist, it's much more likely that judges and juries would consider the action insincere, if not intentionally deceptive and evasive, and disregard it entirely, thus undoing the effect of the program/statement/rule in the first place and potentially inviting additional punishment for the supposed deception.
So why is it a good idea for venues to force events to have Codes of Conduct? Because if the venue gets caught up in a Donglegate-esque scandal, they can point to something and say, "We did everything we reasonably could to prevent such an outcome, we told our customers that they needed to warn attendees against such behavior, we acted according to the documented procedure, and we need to get dropped from the suit and/or not have bad press anymore".
Whereas, if they don't have such a policy, especially if other venues do, there's more ambiguity and it's much harder to make a decisive argument.
This is also a large reason why PR matters so much. Try all you want to find an unbiased jury or a judge totally unmoved by public opinion, couch it in pomp and circumstance until the cows come home, but like it or not, reputations and assumptions matter. You're much more likely to get a positive outcome with a positive reputation v. a neutral or negative one, and PR events frequently become legal props: "Of course we're non-discriminatory, see $LOCAL_NEWS for the story about how we're working so hard to recruit diverse talent!"
It also hurts from the PR angle, for basically the same reasons. News outlets don't want to be seen as tools of the machine spreading corporate FUD and saving BigCo from liability. They want to see themselves as noble soldiers on "the right side of history", and they want the public to see them that way too.
It's therefore much easier to get coverage, which will be useful for establishing your non-bias, if you don't tell everyone "we wouldn't be running this program and enforcing these 'everyone play nice now' codes if we didn't feel there was a meaningful legal risk involved in not doing so".
You are free to feel different of course, both in the case of bridges and in the case of people.
This is the same fallacy politicians always commit when they pass laws rather than regulations. Or when the regulations are then not observed and penalty is ineffective.
A technical margin of safety is different as it is built into the system and works all the time. A safeguard is different as it requires no action to work at all.
Rules require observance and agreement.
You didn't address any points made by the author. You made a generic comment that could apply to any post on codes of conduct, and that's specifically against Hacker News posting guidelines.
While the comment doesn't directly address points by the author it does provide a valid and important perspective.
Here, art187 has made a generic comment and, as you point out, posted a shallow dismissal of the author's work. Both in violation of hn guidelines.
The original post by art187 could have succinctly been stated as "I disagree" which basically adds nothing to the conversation.
No action has been taken after 17 hours. It's still the top rated comment.
The author's submission highlights what the author thinks is "The Problem": CoCs don't work.
It's fine to disagree with that, but it's helpful to point to examples of a CoC working rather than creating another example of them not working. At the very least, comments ought to discuss specific points. None of that happened here.
Contrast that with benign comments that moderators label as "personal attacks"
But when there are actual personal attacks made against people with the "wrong" opinions,
No actions are taken. The implications are clear. The CoC here is used as a stick to smack people with opinions that the moderators don't like. All more evidence in favor of the author's stated assertion that CoCs don't actually work.
Please explain how the observation "it doesn't go into the positives of a CoC", is equivalent to "forcing an event to adopt a CoC".
I think it was likely this part.
What would Voltaire say after finding we’re still debating perfect shouldn’t be the enemy of good? An imperfect document can’t invalidate the entire concept.
A code of conduct is not a solution, it’s just another form of communications and standards that may do some good if you iterate on and refine it enough to be useful.
The first is that they are often overly broad and police what people can say in entirely different contexts, the second is that they become weaponised so that people can only contribute if their entire political position doesn't offend somebody.
Neither are usually intended consequences, but the people putting CoC's in place don't tend to realize they are potential consequences at all.
“One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.”
Yes, it sounds good on paper, but in my experience, a code of conduct is used as a veil of legitimacy on top of partisan decisions.
Even when a CoC exists, it is ignored or twisted to use as a justification for kicking someone out of a project based on their unconventional sex life (BDSM):
A frequently used code of conduct is explicitly used to invalidate others complaints. For example the Open Code of Conduct says: "We will not act on complaints regarding: ‘Reverse’ -isms, including ‘reverse racism,’ ‘reverse sexism,’ and ‘cisphobia’" I'm Asian and I hate that discrimination against Asians is still institutionalized behavior (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16497551) and codes of conduct seek to silence any complaints.
We have situations like Opalgate where someone not associated with a project, dug through a contributors old tweets to find one instance where he said something politically contentious about trans people to try to get him kicked off the project. A code of conduct would encourage more behavior like this:
In my own experience, I was participating in a computer science organization which had a code of conduct. A speaker went on stage and gave passionate speech about how Fascists are invading our city, and we need to resist and join Antifa.
I wrote an email to the organizer explaining how this goes against their code of conduct which states that they are to be inclusive to all people no matter their beliefs. I mentioned that the group the speaker was encouraging people to join would likely be engaging in violence against peaceful protesters. Of course it turned out as expected:
But of course the organizer ignores behavior that breaks the code of conduct as long as it suits them.
But also (and this is my main issue with such points) CoC are a reaction to things that went bad, and an attempt to fix these issues.
I briefly talked for a time with a guy who knew I had life threatening respiratory problems and he tried to talk me into meeting him in person, while swearing my health and welfare were his highest priority and intentionally leaving out the fact that he was a smoker and a toker. When it finally came out in conversation, I had a cow and he pulled this nonsense about "If it is that important, you should have asked."
I was so upset by the whole thing, I briefly considered putting something in my profile on the forum where we met specifying "No smokers, no tokers." Then decided this is about as useful as putting up a dating profile that says "No rapists, no pedophiles."
He knew it was not acceptable. This is why he hid the information. Any BS justification for his behavior after the fact is just part of the headfuckery.
And, unfortunately, a lot of CoCs seem to be along those lines of explicitly forbidding behaviors that we already understand are bad, as if that will somehow stop people who already know what they are doing is not socially acceptable.
The areas where people are oblivious due to entrenched prejudice of some sort will not be fixed by spelling it out in some detailed list.
We are catering to the lowest common denominator by spelling out what is and is not acceptable. This isn't a means to foster a civil environment.
Somehow, they don't seem to typically have big problems with people behaving badly while having lunch or whatever.
There are plenty of situations where you just forfeit the cost. Too bad, so sad.
> while swearing my health and welfare were his highest priority and intentionally leaving out the fact that he was a smoker and a toker.
Unless he is smoking or toking in your presence or in public , I don't see how that's your concern.
>We are catering to the lowest common denominator by spelling out what is and is not acceptable.
I think the bigger problem is people exporting their own sensitivities out to public under the garb of social norm and culling everyone who doesn't prescribe to it.
I agree with your sentiment though even if I don't happen think smoking is socially unacceptable...and I'm not even a smoker.
Sounds like this author feels similarly.
Of course no organisation of fewer than say a hundred thousand people can actually abide by all the provisions of a HR-worthy CoC. The problem is then with the organisations that instead of saying "we have this ass-covering CoC to keep the grant, but here are the actual things we will do to enforce acceptable behaviour" escape with "we've done our bit to prevent unacceptable behaviour -- look, you can read our code of conduct".
When those debates leave the world of corporate work and enter the world of voluntary (or ideally-voluntary - see the "you need open source contributions" advice to job seekers) efforts (e.g. open source) they still keep the corporate aura.
I really liked the example about accessibility. It's a great point—organizations should be honest with themselves about what they can actually offer.
I disagreed with some other parts, in particular the part about how a lot of orgs aren't actually prepared to handle harassment complaints professionally. While that's definitely something to work on, I think that's something that's going to be true for many orgs regardless of whether they have a CoC. Not welcoming people to come forward with complaints is... probably worse, right? Or am I missing something?
In general, telling an organization they need a process for something doesn't work out unless they genuinely buy into the idea. It tends to result in a bunch of process documents getting written, but no practical changes to how things are run.
That doesn't mean a Code of Conduct is not a necessary step.
Teaching people to be good members of your community, and being proactive in removing bad members, isn't possible until you define what that means.
Maybe you also have to realize that, just like human societies in general, no community is ever going to be perfect, and focusing too much on rules,rules,rules, can become counter-productive.
I doubt that necessary is the correct choice of words here.
> and being proactive in removing bad members, isn't possible until you define what that means.
What does it mean to be a bad member, unless you write a whole encyclopedia about your CoC it will always be open to interpretation - that's just a nature of social interactions (and if you do no one will ever read such a long document). It give's the opportunity for a CoC committee to thought police individuals that they disagree with. I just wish people that come up with this politicized BS were acting less cowardly and stopped being high on their own morale. I'm not saying that some community guidelines can't be useful, but CoC and committee systems are downright abhorrent.
Codes of conduct are generally about behavior that isn't criminal, because once you've crossed that line the appropriate response should be obvious.
I quite like the CoC of the EMF camp as it seems to the point, un-ambigious and written in language I understand. I may try and adapt it for online interaction. What do others think?
As long as its impartial (to the extent humans can be impartial...), there's no real problem.
In the end a CoC will be used to persecute unwanted characters, but wanted violators will not be affected.
In the end it becomes a monument to the organizations hypocrisy.
That's the important part. How are you going to make sure that the CoC is applied when it comes to people of high status? With another Code of Conduct? You made me laugh.
> Have you considered, that they are either having a bad day, are a bad listener, or possibly, you are wrong?
Uh, yeah, great advice to have in the FAQ for what is supposedly your anti-harassment policy. -_-
> How is a CoC helping me here, when CoC offer so many gray zones to play with, when the line between insecurity and harassment is so thin that it is almost impossible to distinguish one from another?
This is exactly the sort of thing a CoC should help with. Without explicit policy, you have no explicitly stated means of defense. With a CoC, you should be able to simply tell the people in charge of upholding it that this person's actions come across as threatening and harrassing.
I am not saying this will work everywhere. A CoC also only enables you to know what defenses you have, it does not create them. But I feel at least the spirit is in the right place, and I know of at least one community where IMO it works very well.
Sample rules that were retired:
* any member may ask anyone else to desist and go away or shut up and you have to comply (hasn't been invoked yet to any real extent - people tend to comply)
* any member may ask a non-member to leave (likewise) - criminal stuff is covered already
* we have a list of persona non grata - preferably do not let them in or keep them under constant supervision - list gets outdated, these people tend to not show up, new members have no idea
* do not take excessive phone calls in open space - just asking is good enough
Rules that we kept:
* is not a hotel or sleeping space - do not abuse the coach - crashing is fine, doing that many times in a row is not
* is not a pub - take excessive drinking elsewhere, likewise drug use or dealing
* members can be banned by a vote in a specific matter - it has happened
* keep the place clean (esp. put things back in their designated places, take out the trash and keep fridge clean of old mold)
* how meetings and rule changes are made (consensus on an actual face to face meeting announced at least 48h ahead; must be at least one person from steering committee which is also chosen by consensus on a big meet by majority)
Note there is nothing about harassment since there is no need to. The general rules are fine.
There is also clear definition of who is responsible for upholding the rules.
If we had a CoC like one of those "inclusive" ones we'd have to ban half to two thirds of the members. They are fond of religious and sometimes lewd jokes. Or are sometimes abrasive or crude.
Abuse (incl. verbal, stalking) is not tolerated regardless since it is a bad plan and if it recurs it will get you banned - it has in the past. We do not write it in rules as it is dealt with on case by case basis. Mostly as it requires a vote and vote requires a discussion and presenting the points clearly.
And anything illegal and disruptive will get the police called on you. Obviously.
Really, it would help if we could trust adults to be adults, or at least 16 year olds, but this speaks to bigger industry and societal problems. Recently, I heard conference attendees bragging of how they messed up a presentation by trying to connect to the bluetooth device being demonstrated. And I've been lucky to have never worked at a place where changing the background to pornography or setting an inappropriate facebook status was a thing.
The truth is that the tech industry (among others) still has people who are less mature than the people at lan parties I went to when I was 14-16.
Well, it's virtue signalling at _worst_. Which is to say, the worst case is you're signalling virtues with no intention of upholding those values.
Secondly, virtue signalling is, you know, useful. If you are clear about your values and the values you expect in others, then you've at least stated an intention to do better.
Your post is filled with things that signal your virtues.
Why is virtue signaling bad? How is it not just a standard part of humans communicating with each other?
It's like looking at a profit and loss sheet, and perjoritivity calling it a "economic document".
That's literally just what it is doing, and it's stated purpose for existing.
"That line that made you feel like you'd get something out of the event was nothing else than an useless talking point copied of some checklist that made the organizers of the event feel like they are doing the right thing."
To emphasize the rest of my post and my anecdotes; we have to post a sign that says we expect people to be professionals, yet conference attendees continue to lack maturity.
From my point of view, as someone who is likely not going to be subject to bad behavior, I felt like a lot of it was standard HR boilerplate feel-good stuff. Not that there's anything wrong with that - it's good to signal quite clearly the behavior you think is right and wrong.
But I think that in some cases it helped more than that. It really does give you specific benefits:
1. It gives you something to aspire to. Yes, our CoC included accessibility issues. No, we weren't amazing at dealing with them, since it was our first time and it's not an easy topic to take care of. But the CoC certainly helps make it a priority, if only because people may (rightly!) call you out on failings. Most people will be understanding with you even if you don't get everything right, as long as you're trying.
2. I think specifying specific contacts (male and female) in case of certain abuse situations is a good thing. Of course whoever is the contact is not necessarily trained in dealing with trauma - but that's usually not the situation we're talking about. If someone is raped or physically asaulted, it's a matter for the police. We're talking about much lighter but still problematic cases, where hopefully the victim wants something done, but doesn't need a trauma specialist or anything.
The idea of the CoC isn't to be instead of law enforcement, it's to be another layer on top of that providing specific rules about what is and isn't considered professional behavior in this kind of conference. No more, no less.
There's also a difference between specifying a CoC and enforcing a CoC. Maybe there needs to be a different name for expectations that aren't going to be enforced, either because they're too imprecise or the people running things are incapable of doing so.
I'm much happier in one of those than the other.
In a conference there are no safe spaces, only safe people. What we need are social structures to help keep safe people around other safe people, if that’s where they want to be.
We need an effective way of calibrating a person’s safety profile. An individual for instance may be perfectly safe for a minority, but unsafe for all but the most hardened women.