TPF: Perl deserves better. Please do better.

Moderator note

The post below argues that Perl's most central governing body should not stand up against bigotry. I will not accept that on this website. Please do not attempt to continue this discussion in the comments or elsewhere.

A recent Standards of Conduct incident[1] regarding The Perl Conference 2019 (TPC) has been deeply divisive within the Perl Community, and handled so poorly that a "clarification" has since been issued[2].

Overview of the Incident

The Standards of Conduct for TPC (SoC) is published in two parts[3][4].

The first is linked when you register to attend the conference and briefly outlines to whom the document applies, expected behaviors (including unacceptable behaviors), and consequences when in breach of the standard. The second is linked from the first and provides structure around how complaints will be received and acted upon.

The facts of the incident[1] seem to be:

  • A talk was given at the conference, wherein the speaker noted the contributions of various authors to Perl
  • No one in attendance during the talk made a complaint to the TPC organizers during the conference
  • No problems were found when the talks were edited and uploaded to YouTube
  • Someone who watched the talk on YouTube, then made a complaint to TPC organizers
  • The complaint was upheld, the YouTube video taken down, and an announcement made publicly[1]
  • The announcement went "viral", with prominent persons in the Perl community advocating further action be taken beyond the SoC[5] and generally stoking divisions[6] within the community
  • The person who is assumed to be the offended by comments in the talk publicly states they are not[7], thereby implying that a third party who did not attend the talk, nor is was mentioned in the talk, has issued the complaint.
  • The speaker is removed from speaking at other Perl conferences[8]

How The Perl Foundation reacted

Regarding SoC violations the TPC has stated that their policy is as follows[4]:

"Presentations or similar events should not be stopped for one-time gaffes or minor problems, although an event organizer or a volunteer should speak to the presenter afterward. However, organizers and volunteers should take immediate action to politely and calmly stop any presentation or event that repeatedly or seriously violates the anti-harassment policy. For example, simply say "I’m sorry, this presentation cannot be continued at the present time" and provide no further explanation."

At a minimum, TPC and The Perl Foundation (TPF) has flagrantly failed to abide by it's policy to "provide no further information" when incidents occur. Given that no one in the audience, and no one who was mentioned in the talk was offended, a strong argument can be made that the incident is a "minor problem" or "one-time gaffe" and should be treated as such.

TPF has gone further than simply breaking its own SoC by providing information regarding this complaint - issuing a public statement[1] that is almost certainly defamatory, and the mob-like reaction by many people on social media would confirm the statements inflammatory nature.

Further, the SoC states[4]:

"Public Statements. As a general rule, event organizer and volunteers should not make any public statements about the behavior of individual people during or after the event."

This requires people (i.e. organizers, volunteers) to not respond on social media (which would constitute a public statement) and certainly not advocating for the removal of individuals from subsequent events - which goes clearly goes beyond expulsion from the event.

Regarding expulsion, the SoC has a clause which is as follows[4]:

"An event participant may be expelled by the decision of SoC Event Committee for whatever reasons they deem sufficient. However, here are some general guidelines for when a participant should be expelled: A second offense resulting in a warning. Continuing to harass after any “no” or “stop” instruction. A pattern of harassing behavior with or without warnings. A single serious offense, e.g., groping someone or a physical assault. A single obviously intentional and extreme offense."

The incident does not seem to fit any of these criteria.

Sadly, it seems that leaders and prominent persons in the Perl community are not familiar with the SoC and how TPF has promised it will be applied. Whilst there are numerous broad clauses such as clause 5 "Any action they deem appropriate"[3], it's reasonable that attendees should be able to expect handling of incidents to be in line with the "general guidelines"[4].

The Perl Conference is now a hazard for speakers, attendees, and volunteers

As TPF and TPC organisers have acted outside the SoC that they have provided, it's impossible for anyone to attend a future event without fear of arbitrary actions and retributions by prominent community members.

A speaker can no longer be assured that in the event of "minor problems" or a "one-time gaffes"[4], that they will be treated as described in the SoC. Participants now risk being defamed (or at a minimum, their actions misrepresented) by TPF and publicly attacked by community leaders.

At a minimum this incident highlights that when well-meaning people act in haste, and insufficient processes and procedures are in place - people get hurt and the community suffers.

The urgent need for change

Moving forward, it is very clear that the whole community needs TPF to perform a thorough review of the Standards of Conduct and associated policy and procedures.

Key considerations for the review should include:

Who has standing to make a complaint?

It is unclear who made the complaint in this incident, as it was not raised by attendees or organisers of the conference at the time of presentation, nor was it raised by the individual who was the subject of the remarks being complained about.

Clarification must be provided whether a third party has standing under the SoC to be a complainant, particularly when neither the person mentioned is not in fact offended?

Must a complainant be at the conference? Or can a person who has only viewed the video online also have a recourse? Is there a time period are a conference during which complaints will sill be accepted?

How are complaints reviewed and handled?

For all attendees, including speakers, it is vital that they understand how complaints will be handled and reviewed.

Complainants need the guarantee that they will be taken seriously and passed to law enforcement if appropriate. Subjects of a complaint need an equal assurance that they will be presumed innocent, have opportunity to dispute complaints, and defend their reputation and good name in a proper mediation process. Especially when no harm is intended.

Announcements regarding violations

Within the confines of the conference, the organizers and the foundation are largely free to include and exclude, people and content at their discretion. However in public forums such as the Internet there is much opportunity to make mistakes that will not only reflect poorly on the Perl community but also open the TPF and individuals to risk of legal action.

For this reason, public statements need to be made with care. Ideally they should be reviewed by legal counsel, using prepared templates included as appendices to the SoC.

Which parties may remain anonymous needs to be clarified ahead of issuing any public statement and the offending party needs to be given ample acknowledgment if they apologize etc. Generally speaking, if a reconciliation succeeds then no further action, including an announcement, should be made publicly unless both parties agree.

What is the expected behavior of prominent members of the Perl community?

In the event that a complaint is upheld, that a reconciliation process occurs, and that both parties are satisfied with the outcome. Should Perl community members accept this outcome, and consider the matter closed?

Leaders in the Perl community must uphold the SoC not only by adhering to it but also by respecting its outcomes both in action and via their social media, Internet, and personal communications. They must show leadership by allowing people to grow and move on from mistakes.

Failure to uphold the outcomes of the SoC processes must carry their own penalties, which should be sufficiently severe as to ensure the integrity of the SoC.

The best outcome should be reconciliation and greater respect

It's stated that "The Perl Foundation believes our community should be truly open for everyone"[3] which implies that the purpose of the SoC is to include more people, not to swiftly exclude people.

So these standards need to speak to inclusion and reconciliation as goals in the event of violations - rather than expulsion, which seems to be the current goal.

Is the outcome to evict a speaker or attendee from the conference, then drive them from the perl community? Or, is the goal to provide a process of improved understanding, reconciliation and forgiveness? What is the best outcome when the complaints process is followed?

The SoC needs to be rewritten, TPF/TPC personnel trained properly

The SoC seems to be written by someone well-intentioned, but without any legal or HR experience. Which the above points highlight, in addition to the overlapping clauses and vague terminology.

With the above in mind, the TPF should engage a competent legal firm to draft a more fully formed and properly thought out SoC document as well as procedures relating to staff handling of complaints, the mediation and/or resolution process, and any additional or associated procedures that may support TPF and TPC in socialising and enforcing the SoC within the wider Perl community.

The hasty behaviour of TPF personnel highlights the need for them to be trained in the procedures prescribed in the SoC, and for there to be clear reporting and review structures in place that include obtaining legal advice before taking any public action (especially outside the conference and on the public Internet).

[1] http://news.perlfoundation.org/2019/07/soc-incident-2019.html

[2] http://news.perlfoundation.org/2019/07/clarification-on-2019-perl-con.html

[3] https://perlconference.us/tpc-2018-slc/standards-of-conduct/

[4] https://perlconference.us/tpc-2018-slc/handling-standards-of-conduct-incidents/

[5] https://twitter.com/vmbrasseur/status/1148667687196749824

[6] https://twitter.com/miyagawa/status/1148827362835890176

[7] https://www.reddit.com/r/perl/comments/cav6m5/standards_of_conduct_incident_report_for_tpc_2019/eteguqz/

[8] https://twitter.com/perlcon/status/1149802813503000576

I choose to post this anonymously. I am not involved in this incident.

10 Comments

This would work better if you weren't presenting your opinions of what happened as facts. It would also work better if you understood why what happened was a problem. Specifically, you need to understand why it is not simply a problem between two members of the community. That seems to be the underpinning of your entire argument and your entire proposed remedy. TPF's statement was not defamatory, because in order to be defamatory it would have to have been false. These problems undermine your ludicrous, hyperbolic conclusions.

Um, preaction, were you actually in the audience for the presentation? After all, there were only maybe eight people in the room when this happened. Or are you basing your overblown opinions on second- and third-hand reports based on the overblown opinions of others who also weren't there?

Furthermore, are you an actual paid member of the perpetually offended class, or just a volunteer? Just curious. After all, it's a fact (and not an "opinion") that the person in whose behalf everyone is supposedly offended has gone on record as not actually having been offended by the presentation.

Maybe take your grievance-mongering somewhere else and let Perl coders get back to being useful?

Dear “Lets Code Perl”

I’m writing to you on behalf of the Board of Directors of The Perl Foundation to let you know that your post has been noted. As has been previously announced, the Board is currently reviewing this incident and related communications.

I ask that further comments or suggestions are directed to the Board by emailing me at Dan@PerlFoundation.Org. I will gladly forward them for you. We expect to have a better alias set up soon for people to contact the board directly, but that is still in the works.

In the meantime, we respectfully request that the community avoid further speculation regarding this issue. We seek to be fair to all parties and further speculation risks unnecessary escalation causing more distress to the associated parties.

Thank you,

Dan Wright
(on behalf of TPF Board of Directors)

You have fundamentally missed the point of any of this if you think his comment or intention is "grievance-mongering".

When an uninformed, uninvolved bystander calls conclusions like the ones presented above "ludicrous" and "hyperbolic," that opinion automatically ascends to the level of grievance-mongering. The legal concept of "standing" here is very much germane to the discussion. If you're an involved party or someone who was supposedly harmed by someone else, you have standing to complain. If not, STFU and get on with your life.

Why, oh why, do I suspect that you won't be doing that, though?

You assume the involved parties are the referenced person and the people who were in the room at the time. In fact, this reflects on the Perl conferences and community as a whole to anyone who is made to feel unwelcome due to this incident, as well as separate followup incidents that occurred. Ignoring it because we are not "involved" is no different from agreement with such exclusionary ignorance. Fortunately, ignorance can be solved with education. As the post says: we can do better.

It only reflects on the Perl community as a whole if uninvolved people such as yourself who have no standing in the situation continue to make a big stinking deal of it. This could easily have been addressed and resolved with a single, face-to-face conversation, but that doesn't do enough to call attention to wrongthink. Unfortunately, grievance-mongers like yourself will CONTINUE to beat your drum and blow this thing out of proportions. Because, of course, that's what you do.

Everybody: ""
You: "I'm offended on behalf of X!"
X: "But I'm not offended."
You: "It doesn't matter. We're all offended in your behalf, and the whole structure needs to come tumbling down, the earth shall be scorched, and enemies of social justice shall be trampled under the feet of rightthink!"
X: "But seriously -- I'm not offended."
You: "Shut up. We've got your back."
Everybody Else: "?"

Have you considered that you are the one blowing things out of proportion here?

I haven't been to the Perl Conference and am only reading about that event through third party articles, some of which allegedly have been altered since their first publication. I don't think I'll ever find out what has happened there.

The TPF, directly addressed by this article, has taken responsibility - see the comment by Dan Wright.

Yet I can't fail noticing that up to today almost every mentioning of the event leads to people attacking each other.

Could we please de-escalate? Different people are allowed to have different opinions, and might experience the same situation in a different way. All of us who weren't at the conference and haven't seen the video don't even have a situation. All we have is people fighting each other.

I am not easily offended but this is starting to go on my nerves. Please do better.

This is the first really thoughtful "Open Letter" type of thing on "the incident" that I have seen.

Certainly this person seems to be the only person in the Perl community who has actually read the SoC.

It's probably a good lesson in not just clicking "I Accept" when presented with terms and conditions.

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