A few thoughts on the aftermath of a linux.conf.au 2011 keynote

During the final keynote of linux.conf.au 2011, Mark Pesce used some images in his slides which breached speaker guidelines and conference policy. Linux Australia and the lca2011 team responded quickly, announcing an apology at the next available whole-of-conference plenary event.

As incidents like this go, it wasn’t a big deal. Although it did distract everyone from the message of Mark’s talk. Hopefully a lesson learned.

The problem was what happened next… here are some thoughts about the aftermath which I originally sent to the attendees’ mailing list.

A few thoughts on the aftermath

  • The response to the keynote was not “blown out of proportion”. There was a breach of policy and an apology was offered by Linux Australia (LA) and the linux.conf.au 2010 team (LCA). The speaker also offered his apology. Done.
  • No “censure” was made, despite the unfortunate subject of an early reaction on the conference attendees’ mailing list, and wilful mischaracterisation by a single, ambulance-chasing opinion writer. Consider that neither LA or LCA have publicly criticised the speaker.
  • We’ve heard some reasonable, well-stated criticism aimed at improving future events and experiences.
  • We’ve seen a fair amount of silly, predictable, confected outrage on the attendees’ mailing list, with debate about censorship, “sexual images” and so on. Here’s an easy answer to those contributors: It’s not your call. Linux Australia and the conference team define the parameters for linux.conf.au, ran the show, and took responsibility for what happened.
  • There has been a small but vocal group who have chosen to debate more general issues, such as how real or prevalent harassment might be. I do hope these people — particularly the more prominent members of our community engaging in it — receive a short, sharp talking-to from their less Neanderthal friends.

What’s next

  • There will be a shit-fight over whether or not the video of the keynote should be published. If it is published, LA/LCA will be criticised for promoting the breach or being complicit in it. If it is not, LA/LCA will be criticised for censorship. Both of these conclusions are bullshit, but I’m sure there’ll be someone willing to give them a red hot go. Either way: It’s not your call. I hope everyone can imagine the range of problems this situation might pose for LA/LCA (including venue, sponsor and hosting considerations), but we entrust them with the responsibility for doing so, and self-righteous indignation won’t help. Those concerned about a gap in the historical record will be relieved to know that Mark has published his slides and an essay based on the talk to his blog: Smoke Signals.
  • We don’t want future events to end on a sour note due to continued haranguing over an issue like this on the mailing list, so there are some bugs to fix.

My suggestions

  • Dump the anti-harassment policy. Apologies to the authors, but it’s badly written (both the lca2011 and Geek Feminism Wiki versions) and unhelpful as an expression of policy or communication, both of which are important. It’s well worth including in references though (as the 2010 team did by mentioning LinuxChix in their T&Cs).
  • Although the lca2011 team adopted Andrew and Susanne’s T&Cs, they were still relegated to the “registration” section of the website, and largely forgotten. This is the right document for policy, and it already very capably expresses the pointy/policy end of the principles LA has adopted. It should be more visible.
  • Pia suggested a Code of Conduct. That’s a great way to adopt a communications document to go with the existing policy (T&Cs), and we already know that Codes of Conduct have found success in other communities. The trick is to ensure it is clearly understood to be a statement of principles, not a policy document.
  • The guidelines provided to speakers regarding slides were already crystal clear: “Please be aware, and ensure your Co-Presenters are aware, of the Terms and Conditions to ensure that Presenters’ material and behaviour is appropriate for the LCA2011 audience, that includes keeping slide-decks G-rated.”

If only “Be excellent to each other” would suffice.

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