Loudly Ignoring How CoCs Work

Paul Jones recently wrote an article called An Object Lesson in Conduct Enforcement. The title starts off factually inaccurate, and it goes downhill from there.

Sadly Paul didn't ask either party if they wanted their names launched into the spotlight. Nobody has. I write this not to continue the dragging of their names through the mud, but to try and settle the points. Both original parties involved have approved this article, because I actually ask.

Full disclosure: I am acquainted with everyone involved in the article. I met Matt at SunshinePHP and we've had a bit of a banter. I recommended Samantha for the FIG Secretary role, and I'm well acquainted with Paul Jones, even though we don't get on. We produced the majority of PSR-4 together, and we've argued, both online and in-person, about everything from guns to styrofoam packaging (don't ask).

I defended Paul amidst some awful and bizarre scandal, where somebody threatened to assault us. Whilst I'm certain that he isn't - as was accused - a rape apologist, the regularity in which he ends up looking exactly like a misogynist is absolutely amazing. I personally think he has a confused world view, and has been through some things that make him incredibly paranoid. He's had enough "pitch-fork" mobs come at him that he thinks anyone showing any signs of "politically correct colours" is an extremist who's going to try and get him fired, or some "evil SJW hit squad".

I get it, really, but confusing extremists for the mainstream never does anyone any good, and that really does need to stop. This article hopes to unpick his arguments a little bit, to avoid others being confused by his factually inaccurate postings.

There had been a lot of hubbub about "the incident" since the conference, but when it came to the FIG it got extra ridiculous. An anonymous account posted. Go read the thread, go read the Paul article, then come back here.

Especially in light of the recent Code Of Conduct discussions in PHP I find this selection very disheartening. Samantha was recently outed as saying some pretty offensive things to a fellow PHP conference-goer (http://matthewtrask.net/blog/My-Time-At-SunshinePHP/). She said to this first-time conference attendee: “fuck this guy” and “you need to fuck off back to the Shire”. Matthew is short, so this was a clear insult to his height, not to mention very rude. If a code of conduct was in place in PHP as it should be I can’t help but think Samantha would have at least needed a temporary ban.


Please take these concerns into consideration. In my honest opinion, the insulting of the conference goer alone (and that just within the past month!) is enough to disqualify Samantha from this position.

Ok, let's consider this for a second. The RFC mentioned is for PHP to Adopt a Code of Conduct . Note that it explicitly states the scope is for PHP internals (which covers core contributors, web team, documentation, etc.) Basically, the core PHP team, and nobody else.

That's right. Nobody else. Not the PHP-FIG, not any sort of conference, not me on Twitter: even though I am technically a PHP contributor with a @php.net email address.

"But Phil, that's just your interpretation."

Is it hell. I'm going to shove this image of the RFC in so it's impossible to miss, and you all need to read all of the words it says.

The part of the PHP CoC RFC where it explicitly says it has no effect on conference attendees who are not part of PHP internals. Like Samantha.

So this anonymous poster is way off from the start. The proposed CoC has nothing to do with the parties involved at the conference. I bring this up not to defend "the accused", but because this is confusion that has happened over and over and over. No amount of polite reminding, or holding a megaphone to peoples ears and saying "THATS NOT HOW THIS WORKS" seems to help them notice.

This is also the root of my problem with Paul's title:

An Object Lesson in Conduct Enforcement

Enforcing which Code of Conduct? We've established that the proposed PHP CoC has nothing to do with the conference as far as Matt or Samantha are concerned.

Maybe the conference CoC? Like somebody says in the FIG thread, isn't it a little weird that organizer only posts about men doing shit in his article, and doesn't post about this awful infraction by Samantha??!!?!1

Well, no. No conspiracy here. A CoC works by giving a reporting structure to victims. If something happens, or you're worried something is going to happen, you can ask for help. If Matt had reported this to the organizer, the organizer would have known about it, and if required he could have mediated towards a resolution.

Matt did not think the conference CoC applied to the random after-conference events, so he didn't report it. Rightly or wrongly, there may not have been a CoC to enforce at this unorganized off-the-cuff friendly dinner, and even if there was, if something is not reported then it cannot be enforced. It would have been tough to enforce this so long after the conference ended even if the CoC was still relevant, which is a whole other problem that isn't being discussed in this article.

As such, there is no temporary ban for Samantha, because:

  • The conference CoC did not apply
  • She is not a PHP internals contributor
  • Even if she was she is not representing the PHP internals project
  • Nobody reported a violation
  • The PHP-FIG is not PHP internals
  • What would she be temp banned from
  • What is happening

Onto Paul's comments.

The replies to Concerned PHP User are universally of the form “Samantha is my friend, and I know personally she didn’t mean anything by it; this happened after the conference, so the Code of Conduct didn’t apply; and besides, she apologized, so that should be the end of it.”

That is 100% not what happened here. Somebody instead asked: we're not sure why this is being brought up here, it looks like they resolved it. People have differences all the time, and sometimes people say things they don't mean, and they apologize, and the world moves on. I've made some awfully bad jokes and other comments to people, and we've got past it.

When somebody says "Hey this is a big deal" and somebody says "Is it? It looks like they resolved it.", that does not constitute a defense of any sort, let alone a gender-based hypocritical defense.

To be clear, these are all good people with good intentions. But would all these defenders of Samantha be so forgiving if a man of similar community standing had said similarly derogatory things to a woman who was a first-time conference attendee?

If the man apologized and the woman accepted it then great. Quite often you see some really half-arsed pathetic apologies that actually offend further, and people normally don't swallow those down as nicely. Regardless of gender, only muppets would continue to seek blood after a genuine apology.

And yes, men try and get women fired all the time when they talk about things they don't like publicly. They're as out of line as anyone else who takes dirty laundry to an employer.

  • Would they not see this as somehow indicative that the man had a toxic personality, was misogynist/prejudiced/bigoted/privileged, or that the behavior was a symptom of a larger structural issue of some sort?

Yeah if somebody does toxic things over and over again then they're probably a toxic person. One infraction doesn't make you satan immediately, which is something pro-CoC people have been trying to explain to paranoid misunderstanders for a long time now.

  • Would the apology have become a starting point (instead of an ending point) leading to further demands that the man continue to prostrate himself before the mob of public opinion?

It certainly shouldn't, no. Regardless of what genders are involved.

  • Would they not have cried out that "this is what keeps women from attending conferences!" and demanded further action against the man?

This is where the "shoe on the other foot" argument gets a bit weak.

Men aren't being kept from conferences. Men are still the huge majority. Going by my anecdotal evidence, men are about 90% of conference attendees in USA PHP land. It's surprisingly more even in JS and Ruby but hey, I that's another article.

So no, just because somebody was unjustifiably mean to Matt, it does not mean that we get to invalidate the entire argument of "This is what keeps women from conferences."

Do you want to know what does keep women from conferences? The other five incidents at this same conference that you're not talking about, where female attendees were offered hotel room massages, had their tits made the center of a conversation, groped and forcibly kissed in a hot-tub (check under "The Ugly").

But no, silly me, let's keep focusing on potential mens rights violations instead.

  • Would there not have been concerned emails sent to the man's employer, asking if that's really the kind of person they wanted representing their company, one who would be so rude and dismissive to a fellow community member, especially a woman?

I know this stuff does happen, and one of the things we discussed over and over on PHP Town Hall: Episode 48 - Code of Conduct is how destructive a pitch-fork mob is.

The problem is, that if you confuse literally anyone who happens to be pro-CoC with everyone else who also happens to be pro-CoC, and you don't like how some of them do it, then you're muddying the waters on the argument.

Some people are jerks. Some people are awful. Some people go way too far. Some people try and get people fired when they make mistakes. Nobody should do this. Regardless of their chromosome configuration.

I opine that if the event were effectively identical, but with the sexes switched, there would be a very different discussion going on now. If the roles had been reversed, an apology would not have been sufficent. If a man of Samantha's standing had said the exact same things to a woman who was a newcomer to the conference, there's no way the issue would be left at that. It would be taken as yet another sign of the privilege that men have in the PHP community, that they think they can treat a woman that way. He'd have been vilified, shamed, hounded, and otherwise had his life made miserable on Twitter and elsewhere. Someone would have called his employer and asked if that was really the kind of person they want representing their company.

The situations cannot be identical just by switching their jiggly bits. There's more to it than that.

Firstly, if roles were reversed exactly, then the second Matt suggested there was a problem, women would have come flying in from the wings to call him a liar, a social justice warrior, and a manipulator. This is par for the course when not-men point out problems, when they even feel comfortable enough to do so.

Secondly, trying to use this one instance to suggest that men don't have privilege in this community is odd. This entire conversation disproves that.

Regardless of that, wouldn't it be great if there was a CoC that protected Matt?

I'm not sure if this conference CoC could be extended to cover the evening activities, or if it does already, but it would be cool if more people were covered by a CoC in more instances. Right?

To be clear, I am not calling for Samantha to be fired, denied a position, or otherwise have her life made miserable. I am pointing out that allowances are being made based on who the offender and offended are.

Lol, good. Why would you want to call for anyone to be fired?

I cannot fathom what allowances, exactly, you think have been made for her?

What has she "got away with" that the FIG would otherwise "punish"?

Also, since when has the FIG "punished" anyone? The FIG hasn't even followed its own bylaws and kicked out inactive voting members, so why are the FIG suddenly going to start "punishing" people for things that have absolutely zero relevance to the FIG?

This goes back to something I've been saying about Social-Justice-derived Codes of Conduct in general, and the proposed Code of Conduct for PHP in specific, for a long time now: the "rules" apply differently to different people, epsecially depending on who is doing the enforcing. Some rule-breakers will be forgiven their transgressions, and others will be prosecuted as much as possible, merely by fact of who they are and what they represent. My shorthand for that attitude is "That's just Joe being Joe!" -- Joe's actions, when performed by George, will result in banishment for George and forgiveness for Joe. There's always some reason that Joe can be forgiven that will never apply to George.

When. What. Where has this happened. What are you talking about.

No Paul, this does not "go back to" anything. This situation is being used (I'll be polite and say conveniently, some might say divisively) to try and prove your earlier points, where you showcase a myriad of other confusions about code of conducts in general.

So either you are in favor of all people treating others with equal respect and dignity at all times, under a Code of Conduct or otherwise, or you are in favor of some people being more equal than others and being given allowances based on who they are and what narrative they fit.

Yeah I'm into people following the rules of any CoC that apply to them, and being held accountable according to the rules of said CoC when they break them.

I will expect that to be the process regardless of the genders of participants. Luckily so far I have not seen this process be ignored, nor has Samantha been given any special allowances.

You don't get to invent your own scope for a CoC, then berate the organization for not living up to it. The SunshinePHP CoC and the PHP RFC explain their scope quite clearly, so ignoring it and complaining about it doesn't make any sense.

So again, to state quite clearly, this is not hypocritical: You just literally have no idea how CoCs work, and you're conflating two arbitrary things so it seems hypocritical.

If you would have punished a man for Samantha's behavior, you should punish Samantha too; if you do not punish Samantha for her behavior this time, you should not punish anyone else in the future for any behavior resembling hers.

Here we go again. Who is "you" to "punish" anyone? Why is "punishing" the goal?

The FIG has no bylaws or process in place for what to do when somebody is mean, but it's a good reminder that the FIG should start work on a CoC.

As for "punishing" Samantha, something that happened long after a conference is nothing to do with the FIG. The fact that the two of them seem to have resolved it make it seem even less likely that further action is required.

A friend wrote this, which is bang on the money:

CoC is not instead of expecting humans to try and settle situations on their own when they feel empowered to do so, it's a safety net for when they can't be reasonably expected to - this is obviously not that situation given that Matt and Samantha have stated clearly that they were capable and have in fact settled the situation positively without outside interference.

There is no secret police to send to their house.

There is no "star chamber" to send them to.

Back to Paul:

Finally, a side note. One commenter in the PHP-FIG thread opined: “If a code of conduct was in place, for PHP internals, then that code of conduct would have no bearing here. It is entirely a different organisation.”

There is plenty of reason to believe that it would apply here, and at any time PHP community members gather together or speak with each other, regardless of location or channel.

Plenty of reason to believe this to be true, other than the RFC literally saying THAT IT'S NOT TRUE WHAT WORLD DO WE LIVE IN WHERE LEFT IS PURPLE AND UP IS CHEESE.

Further, if PHP as-a-project ever adopts a Code of Conduct, that code will metastasize (through voluntary action or otherwise) across the entire PHP community. PHP iser groups, projects, conferences, etc., will adopt it merely because it is “The PHP Code Of Conduct.”

Ok, this is a good thing wrapped in slippery slope packaging.

If PHP itself says "We'd rather not have our contributors run about being sexist/transphobic/racist dochenozzels" then... oh no The PHP League might do the same?!?!?! Well too late, we already do.

Other projects might also ask their contributors to not bully and condescend their contributors, and if people ignore those CONDUCT.md warnings, they might get... *gulp* a personal private warning to stop!!!

What is the world coming to? Where are our freedoms going? What will be left for our children in this new world, where upsetting somebody so much they feel the need to report it might result in you being asked to stop doing that thing?!

So don’t believe for a moment that a PHP-project-level Code of Conduct won’t be applied to you in some fashion. It will. Prepare yourself accordingly, and speak out against it if you can.

Throw a bald eagle in the end there while you're at it?

Can we please drop this incident instead of trying to fit it into some anti-CoC narrative? Why the hell are we talking about a problem that has been solved, instead of talking about the verbal and sexual harassment of multiple attendees? Why is this being ignored so we can talk about a single offensive comment which has been apologized for and accepted already?

Both parties are tired of this, Samantha apologized to Matt, he has accepted it (which is the important part) and he even updated his original article saying that he is sick of his blog being used as evidence to attack people. Matt is sick of this. Samantha is sick of this. Everyone else is sick of this.

Beyond this we're all so bored of talking about CoC's. The only way out of this quagmire of CoC posts is to focus on facts, instead of just making things up and freaking out about them.