On public discussion and safety

As well as going through a leadership appointment process (despite the name, no, it is not an election), the Ubuntu Women Project is currently once again reviewing the IRC channel situation.

This is of course not an easy topic to get to agreement on since The Ubuntu Women Project has several aspects, and not all the participants require or employ all aspects.

The current discussion is centred around logging for things like the tracking of project and initiative discussions, etc. To understand how best the channel archiving is to implemented going forward, it requires evaluation of how the channel is used now.

As I mentioned before, The Ubuntu Women project has several faces. It is a project, and hence it has initiatives. It also provides Mentoring.

It is also a group who women can make contact with as a starting point. A place where they can get to know people like themselves (read: other linux geeky women) who are part of the community as a whole, who can inspire them through the process of stepping out in to areas like MOTU, or support channels, or their LoCo, and provide somewhere to fall back to if something happens. Instead of a 96:4 male:female gender skew, the proportions are much more balanced and hence more woman-friendly. The IRC channel (of between 60 and 70 people) for example, currently floats around 50:50.

It is a place that has an incredibly higher chance of being sympathetic to problems that occur due to the 96:4 gender skew. A place that is less likely to attempt to silence discussion of the issues and hence give them more consideration than they would receive elsewhere and more likely to help the individual work through it. It is a place where people are less likely to turn a blind eye to people behaving badly towards women, both within and without.

And that’s what makes it a ‘safe space‘.

Being a safe space is not by any means a guarantee of airtight, cotton wool and bubble wrapped safety. It is a relative thing. Even men who are willing to respect the intentions and boundaries of the group are welcome to join, and always have been. The #ubuntu-women channel is available for anyone to join, and we don’t interrogate your intention or ask for proof of possession of ovaries. Questions are usually not asked unless behaviour raises them.

As I mentioned before, the topic of archiving IRC activity is under discussion, and part of this involves understanding what a safe space is. I sent a mail to the list yesterday describing what I understand a safe space to be:

What tends to be needed from a safe space is:

* The ability to approach people who advertise to care about the issue
at hand, and can share experiences and advice.

* The ability for these approaches to be an environment where we can
seek privacy if we need it,…

* …and likewise do not feel shamed into a confessional booth if we do
not wish for such.

* A *balance* between public and privacy.

* A moderation policy that is accommodating of proactive moderation, not
just reactive.

* An understanding that the boundaries of the target demographic takes
absolute priority over the boundaries of those who are not of that
demographic.

* The ability to socialise and learn in an atmosphere in which the above
principles establish the tone.

Right now, the moderation of the IRC channel is sub-optimal as far as this is concerned. I have been, in the past, condemned for greeting a new participant who turned out to be looking for hawt ladeez and consequentially banned. I have been, in the past, condemned for directing to the rules a new participant whose behaviour in either PM or channel had been inappropriate, leading to their earning a ban for continuing the bad behaviour in the channel. In these (and other) cases I had blame for causing the behaviour of the individuals placed upon me because I dared to be proactive. This needs to change.

Introduction of blanket logging of current #ubuntu-women discussion would put everything we say in this channel out in to the Public Domain (as this is what irclogs.ubuntu.com is licenced as). This includes women asking advice for dealing with online stalking, or inappropriate behaviour by people within the Ubuntu community. This would ruin the balance of public and privacy. You may be on the ubuntu-women mailing list and wondering why the discussion of this stuff is rare there. The mailing list is publicly archived.

Both these things have happened on multiple occasions, and were discussed in #ubuntu-women. Without these discussions in #ubuntu-women the issues would not have seen resolve, and eventually would have driven the women away. The incidents included some actively participating women whose names are linked to their IRC nicknames on their wiki pages and elsewhere, and whose discussions would have, if logging had been in place, been locatable by a google search on something like ‘”her_nick” + “his_nick” site:irclogs.ubuntu.com/year/month/’.

Right now this is not possible, so women who discuss incidents in #ubuntu-women are not currently doing so on the reflective side a 2-way mirror. If logging the social, mentoring and advice discussions occurs, they will be. The chances of someone guessing the domain of sekrit unauthorised logging is minimal. The chances of someone being told to look for logs in irclogs.ubuntu.com via say, a factoid in the Ubottu the official IRC bot, is rather high.

If however we split the channel in to sections, then we can target the important discussions, pertinent to the project’s initiatives. Siphoning all project discussion to a publicly-logged project-specific channel would un-bury it from the social discussions that occur daily in the channel now. I honestly believe this is the best way to resolve the issue of archiving positive activity.

The alternative that has been proposed is to split off a counselling-specific channel and leaving the regular socialising and project discussions all mixed up in the current channel and log that. I don’t think this would solve much. It would not give the project-specific discussion the focus it would greatly benefit from, and it certainly would not solve the “argh evil feminist Amazonian fem-bots are plotting our demise in sekrit discussions” attitude, since there would still be a private forum. And private discussions in PM which would need to be referenced in the channel. This privacy is needed for sensitive discussions that I mentioned above.

There is no doubt that the discussion archiving needs work still. A policy that declares to a participant from the outset the circumstances (ie, need for higher intervention) under which personally held logs (of whichever area ends up being not-publicly-archived) will be exchanged with parties such as Freenode, the Community and IRC Councils, should be drafted. Here in Australia, private recordings of discussions are, AFAIK (and IANAL), able to be shared in spite of a privacy agreement if all stakeholders waive their right to privacy for the specific exchange. A written policy that permits the exchange of logs of presumed private discussions with respected parties under this sort of practice is probably worth investigating.

On a personal level, the idea of logging the #ubuntu-women social banter is a real concern and worries me to no end. #ubuntu-offtopic is not logged, and is a social channel that caters to the 96% male/4% female audience. The prospect of logging a 50% female social channel because some people who haven’t bothered to really take the time to understand the Ubuntu Women Project think that maybe they might kinda one day be mentioned potentially negatively doesn’t sit well in comparison. Letting women socialise with a group half-comprised of women under the same circumstances as men are allowed to socialise with a group almost entirely comprised of men isn’t going to ruin the whole Ubuntu project. Seriously, it isn’t. Not even slightly. Really, it won’t.

The meeting tomorro^WToday is set to decide on this, and the implementation of the result will be up to whoever is appointed Leader next week. Lucky them! And will no doubt involve sleepless nights like this one has been so far for me. I’m off for a nap. The meeting is in 4.5hrs.

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8 Responses to On public discussion and safety

  1. Thanks for the comprehensive explanation, Ms Draper. I really appreciate it and understand a lot better the arguments for separating what’s logged, what’s not, etc. And I had no idea there were was another ubuntu-related channel that wasn’t logged! As you point out, that does make one raise an eyebrow.

  2. shermann says:

    Well,

    I really wonder why those ubuntu channels shouldn’t be logged?

    Regarding Drapers examples, some gals (right I do that with purpose now) need to complain about “I have a virtual stalker” on #ubuntu-women..

    Honestly, the right thing is: 1. if this has something to do with ubuntu, go to the community council…Draper knows how this has to be handled…if not, she can read the whole ubuntu documentation again…

    If it has something to do with IRC and freenode, then this person needs to direct its complain towards freenode staff…

    Actually, no #ubuntu-women needed, so why not being logged? Or do the people in there have something to hide?

    And I really wonder how many stalkers a woman or man on irc have…

    Kind Regards,

    \sh

    • melissa says:

      Firstly, I have a first name. Either use it or prepend my surname with an honorific.

      Some “gals” may need some hand holding to deal with approaching the scary official-sounding things like Councils or Boards to make a report. Assault victims are often accompanied to Police Stations or Hospitals by friends or relatives. These people are unlikely to accompany an online victim of stalking or harrassment to the Councils or Boards.

      Honestly, you have no idea just how much #ubuntu-women is needed. I needed it to discuss how to deal with your vendetta against me a few years ago.

      I can point you to a female friend who has 2 people who follow her around the entire internet with creepy motives. One even phoning her on skype.

      I could outline the current stalker I have, who is sending emails to various addresses of the place I work at this past week because I refused to evict debian users from the Australian LoCo channel.

      I could outline a lot more things, but to be honest, I don’t want to have to recite all this all the time. Just understand that there is a need for the channel because the participants of it feel that there is that need.

      If you don’t need it, don’t use it. But for crying out loud, don’t tell others who do feel the need that they shouldn’t.

  3. Well-written. I can definitely understand the issue you’re outlining. I only know vaguely what the Ubuntu Women Project concerns with, but from your post, I gather that it’s as much as it’s just as much a support group as it is a place to meet like-minded (like-sexed?) people, which deals more with interaction between people than software development.

    Taking this, and your thoughts on what #ubuntu-women should be, then I’d go against logging. While I haven’t myself experienced such unpleasant behaviour online, I haven’t missed it completely, and the protection of these people is more important than public logs.

  4. shermann says:

    @Lasse:

    So, you need to
    1. join the channel only with a key (/join key) because you need to know who comes in and who shouldn’t come in.
    2. how do you make sure, that (if you don’t go with point 1 at least) that nobody else in the channel is logging?

    Please, social problems are social problems, and stalking/racism/sexism is a social problem…no irc channel will change this…what needs to be changed are people who don’t have a clue about life and technology.

    Again, Cyber Crimes are also Crimes, and when you see a crime happening you go to the police, but you don’t join IRC.

    If someone is not seeing it like that, they don’t take cyber stalking (which is a crime), or whatever Ms. Draper has in mind, serious.

    And as long as Ubuntu Women will be an official Ubuntu Project, it needs to follow the rules..and this rule right now is: Official Ubuntu Project Channel == Logged.

    Or do you know how else we can check if someman or somewoman is doing something against the CoC?

    Regards,

    \sh

    • melissa says:

      Stephen (Look, I have the decency to address you with your given name! Just like you did for Lasse.),

      #ubuntu-women is a TEAM channel. Just like LoCo Channels, but defined in a different manner than geology or language. MANY LoCo channels are NOT logged. Even OFFICIAL ones.

      Ubuntu is a social project just as much as a technical one. You need to stop being hostile to “people who don’t have a clue about [...] technology”. You are not user friendly. Your comments make Ubuntu newbie-unfriendly.

      If you genuinely believe that a stalker is going to limit his or herself to one medium, then you’re the one without clue about life. If you think the best way to solve this is to shame victims off IRC and other mediums of communication because they are used, then you have no decency. A victim who gets followed to work should not be shamed in to quitting work, for crying out loud.

      I’m sick of your your misplaced ego and selfishness. I’m sick of you pushing users away with your elitism against non-technical users and contributors. Stop it.

  5. Robert Wall says:

    @Lasse
    like-minded (like-sexed?)
    Like-minded. As Melissa said, there’s about equal parts men and women in there. Probably the best way to get a feel for the channel is to /join it and idle for a while.

    @shermann
    this rule right now is: Official Ubuntu Project Channel == Logged
    No, it isn’t. A number of Ubuntu approved LoCo channels, including the one I frequent, are not publicly logged either. Comparing a list of project channels to today’s log list, I see a bunch of channels in the former and not the latter. #ubuntu-women being unlogged is not a singular exception to a rule, and I’ve never seen such a rule in my perusal of the IRC documentation (not that this means there isn’t one, but still).

    • melissa says:

      Robert,

      Well, the like-sexed is relevant. We’re much more likely to find other linux-geeky women in the channel, other people like us. In a 96% male community, i’m much more likely to find another linux-geeky woman in #ubuntu-women than anywhere else. But at the same time I’m likely to find like-minded folk (as far as typical regard for the general social norms goes).

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