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Facebook’s Open Source Community Is Dealing with Toxicity and Harassment

The toxic behavior towards women, minority groups, and other underrepresented groups of React was the conversation that was trending the previous week while the React Rally was ongoing. This conference was set to be remarkable for developers using an open-source framework- ReactJS- that was developed by Facebook, and it powers the web, much of it. […]

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The toxic behavior towards women, minority groups, and other underrepresented groups of React was the conversation that was trending the previous week while the React Rally was ongoing. This conference was set to be remarkable for developers using an open-source framework- ReactJS- that was developed by Facebook, and it powers the web, much of it. This open-source community is now recounting how it treats these underrepresented groups in tech in a traditional way. Two conversations- one, tweets by high-profile community members and the other talks on how the community must give support to women, people of color, and genderqueer people- caused a Reactgate hashtag which is the flashpoint.

A tweet sent by a designer, Heydon Pickering that compared React to Vue, insinuated that React developers were interested in Trump, guns, and weightlifting. Defending the framework’s user base, a Facebook developer Abramov quickly responded to the tweet. Ken Wheeler, a developer who often gives speeches on the React conference, also posted a tweet that started a broader debate. Wheeler, who is already famous among a group of coders, had caused a controversy at the React Rally in 2018 when he flashed the OK hand symbol knowingly which had been associated online with white supremacy as he was presenting. He strongly denied any accusations of intentionally invoking a white power symbol in his tweet when the conversation resurfaced up the previous week. He apologized for the same via his Twitter DM.

Facebook’s Open Source Community

Before Heydon Pickering’s tweet, some online harassment and abuse had already been experienced in the development community. Designer and art director, Tatiana Mac, gave a presentation on how the oppression systems can replicate in the paradigm design systems earlier in the week. Some Twitter users, including the ‘React bros’ didn’t take long before starting to ridicule this presentation in their tweets once images of Mac’s talk, were made public. Then shortly after, there came a debate between the critiques and defenses of the speech where the critiques went as far as sending her abuses. Both Wheeler and Abramov deactivated their accounts for this reason, but Wheeler claimed that he just wanted to de-platform and take a breather. Both later came back to twitter and apologized to Mac on their behavior and hatred. The rhetoric, however, has opened a more critical conversation to the community. After fulfilling speaking obligations upcoming through 2020, Mac has talked of her stepping away. She praises the React developers that she has been working with and that the community at large has erased the contributions of women and people of color- the white dudes are the ones we are constantly thinking of as the face of React-JS. She says that the React ecosystem has lost the critical foundational elements and that many people have called her wanting her to erase the human side of tech.

She goes ahead to give an example of those in the Sass framework who have created less abusive communities (non-white, non-male leaders at the center successfully) under their core team designer, Anne who monitors and enforces the code of conduct extraordinarily. She also brings up Wheeler’s hand gesture which she says that such kind of toxic behavior negatively impacts the community. The unsustainable abuse is the cause of her stepping down. She feels hurt that she gives love only to get hate in return from the industry.

Her advice to the React core team is to enforce the code of conduct diligently and to take it seriously. A communications manager for the Engineering team at Facebook, Alexandru Voica commented on the three strategies by React that will help in solving community issues- a new code of conduct, a reporting structure for abuses within the community and individual activities for promoting diversity and inclusion within the communities.

In other news, a developer who revoked access to Lerna, a popular open-source program, from any organization collaborating with the ICE has been booteed and removed from the project. The commitment to total freedom grants anyone the ability to use the code freely, even in offensive ways, and the community has to live with these consequences. Jamie Kyle, an open-source developer, changed the terms of Lerna’s license for the groups working with ICE to be barred from using the software as reported by Motherboard. Sixteen organizations, including Microsoft, Amazon, and LinkedIn, among others, were banned. Kyle could not stand to see the software get used by companies contracting with ICE, yet he helped it develop. As expected, some applauded his move while some critiques like Eric Raymond condemned him for violating the open-source software spirit. Raymond says that making exclusions to open-source licenses would create uncertainty about ethics and the legality of using the code of conduct.

Stockman, an active core contributor to Lerna for the past year, made a comparison on Kyle’s changes to a license format created by Crockford in 2002. Crockford licensed a variant of the programming language JavaScript that was hosted by Google until 2009 where Google identified the violation for defining open and free source software.

Legal issues were also raised at IBM, where the IBM lawyers reached out to Crockford to ask him to create an exclusive license for his programming language. After doing it, Kyle was removed as a contributor for violating several of Lerna’s code of conduct.

The Lerna issue puts to open the upcoming split in the development community on the position where politics takes a stand in the development of the open-source software. Gabriella Coleman noted that political uncertainty has been among the defining features and a primary reason for its popularity. That politicizing software curtails its members’ freedom and is also a form of censorship. Therefore, modifying the Lerna’s license undermined the whole idea of open-source software.

Developers can be activists, too, and the tools and licenses to make this work more promptly are highly supported. According to Stockman, reversing to the MIT license does not necessarily imply he endorses the ICE, which he describes as monstrous and has to be abolished. Modifying the license, though, will not hurt the ICE or affect the companies that contract them. Open source is all about the community, not an individual and a community is utmost and robust in an all-volunteer effort

Date: November 4, 2019 / Categories: Marketing, / Author: Kam R

November
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2019

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