Open Letter to the Perl Foundation Board

Dear TPF Board members,

We want to express our disappointment with the recent transparency reports and associated actions from the Community Affairs Team (CAT).

On Monday 19th March, a first Transparency Report was issued, which said that an individual had been investigated for (1) behaviour on IRC and Twitter, and (2) behaviour at a Perl event in 2019. The report also reported that they had "found many instances of communication which alone may not have constituted unacceptable behavior, but when taken together did constitute unacceptable behavior", but no further details were given on those. The report issued a ban from all TPF events "in perpetuity", and furthermore issued a ban on the individual’s participation on irc.perl.org and any perl.org mailing lists. A second individual was issued a warning.

Prior to the 19th, one of the Perl Steering Council (PSC) members explicitly asked you not to issue a ban, saying that the PSC were already starting work on improving discourse in and around p5p. That person felt that a ban would be counterproductive when the PSC were trying to improve things in a more inclusive way. The second event was the Perl Toolchain Summit (PTS). The incident was investigated at the time, resulting in two of the organisers (Philippe Bruhat and Neil Bowers) asking the individual to leave. He left peacefully, expressing regret that he had upset and offended the other party. The PTS is not a TPF event.

Nearly two weeks after the initial report, TPF issued a Transparency Report Update, which retracted parts of the first report, but left other parts hazy. For example, the first report mentions other "unacceptable behaviour", but gives no further details in either report. The warning for the second individual was retracted.

The use of "transparency" seems incongruous:

  • No charter for the CAT had been published, nor a common set of guidelines as the basis of triggering investigations or taking corrective actions.
  • No definition for “unacceptable behavior” was provided.
  • The CAT did not talk to the relevant communities or their leaders before publishing the initial report.
  • The CAT had not spoken to either person investigated prior to publishing the first report.

These behaviours don't demonstrate the values and behaviours that we could reasonably expect of a body investigating community affairs. As the most visible and official Perl organization, TPF should hold itself to a higher standard.

This felt like a clumsy attempt by TPF to establish control over all Perl communities, and only when you got push-back did you attempt to wind some of that back. You do not have jurisdiction over IRC, email lists, or most other parts of our communities. It is not TPF/CAT’s role to request that people stop participating. We have not given you consent to unilaterally define policy across our communities, nor impose punishments on behalf of them.

We are all firm supporters of codes of conduct, where the goal is to set expectations for behaviour. Many of our individual communities have long defined and enforced their own guidelines and standards of conduct. That said, we believe that our communities could benefit from harmonising standards. This was an opportunity for TPF/CAT to demonstrate leadership, and start bringing our communities together towards a unified policy. Instead the TPF acted seemingly without consideration for the varied needs and devolved leadership of the communities it purports to represent.

This is not to say that we condone the individual's behaviour. Some signatories to this letter were part of the governing bodies that issued the initial corrective actions on the two incidents the CAT cited. We also do not want to diminish the upset and offence that the individual has caused to a number of people over the years.

We would like to see TPF acknowledge its failings in how this has been handled, and make changes to ensure these aren't repeated, but we're not looking for a blood-letting and further division. We would like to see this debacle as a catalyst for our communities coming together to move things forward. We need to clarify the organisation and governance structures of our communities, and start the process of defining common values and expectations around behaviour. This needs to be a community-led activity: given recent events, we don't feel that TPF/CAT is currently fit for a leadership role in this, but we would absolutely want your participation.

In volunteer communities such as ours, leadership is about doing the hard work of building consensus, not imposing your will on the rest of us. Leadership should be a service we provide to our communities.

Signed

Andreas König, Chief PAUSE Admin, White Camel award recipient
Andrew Shitov, conference organiser, White Camel award recipient
Ask Bjoern-Hansen, Perl NOC, runs perl.org, White Camel award recipient
Chris Prather, Admin for irc.perl.org, White Camel award recipient
Dave Cross, Perl trainer, regular speaker, author, Facebook group admin, White Camel award recipient
Kenichi Ishigaki, CPANTS Admin, PAUSE Admin
Neil Bowers, PAUSE Admin, event organiser, PSC member, White Camel award recipient
Olaf Alders, MetaCPAN founder and project lead
Philippe Bruhat, longtime event organiser, White Camel award recipient
Robert Spier, Perl NOC, runs perl.org/pm.org , White Camel award recipient
Thomas Klausner, event organiser, CPANTS Founder, White Camel award recipient
Tim Bunce, founder of the Module List, PAUSE Admin Emeritus, author of DBI, White Camel award recipient

12 Comments

Nice. I hope the TPF takes this seriously under consideration.

+1. I can't claim to have any authority more than simply "p5p committer, Freenode #perl regular/op", but I would be happy to give these words my endorsement too.

Thanks a lot Neil, your work is (as usual) astounding.

Also, for everyone else reading along. Several people mentioned having trouble with BPO and thus opting to comment instead in the reddit submission:

https://www.reddit.com/r/perl/comments/n7z7zy/open_letter_to_the_perl_foundation_board/

(Meta note: submitting from the comment preview form is now fixed, btw. That should remove one big source of confusion.)

Thanks for fixing it (submitted via the preview page).

+1 from YAPH

The CAT's charter says the CAT must be trusted and viewed as consistent and impartial and to maintain the trust of the community, the CAT must make its processes and actions transparent while not sacrificing privacy but right now a large segment of the community doesn't trust them anymore because they have failed all of those things. The CAT is supposed to ensure accountability in our community, but ironically fails to be accountable itself.

Thank you all for supplying a credible and desperately-needed voice of reason.

I was co-organizer of YAPC Europe 2020. As such, I had very long discussions with mainly SawyerX because he (as contact person for main sponsor Booking.com) forced the American Code of Conduct on our conference. He did not (want to) care that those rules are unconstitutional in Europe. It made me leave the Perl society.

Societies have written regulations, which you MUST follow: it is what participants expect and what defends your actions in case of court cases. There never, ever is self-elected elite which will be able to solve conflicts.

Expressions and behaviour of participants is either lawful (so must be accepted), or unlawful (not for "normal" people to decide about punishment). Regulation is different for open and closed meetings, and media.

Those American Style Code of Conduct must be banned from our events: they damage us. FOSDEM, CCC and many more, show us how to do it: how to stay sane.

To solve this: ditch all rules which violate freedom of speech. For each event, assign a team of mediators in case of conflicts. Harassment claims and such are police business.

Both events you used as examples seem to have a code of conduct:

Certainly BooK. There is nothing wrong with explicitly state that you want everyone to be pleasant. As organizers of a big event, you are also required (by law) to solve problems which emerge: being explicit on such procedure is also a good thing. That's where FOSDEM and CCC end.

But forbidding people to say unpleasant things beforehand is not allowed in the EU. Kicking people out solely because a few non-elected others do not like your expression is not acceptable. But it has been done a few times now. Giving your own interpretation on very sensitive terms as harassment is really wrong.

Event organize MUST mediate when there are problems. As resolution, the MAY kick-out someone for that event. They can be asked in court for their reasons, and will often loose. (That's why you should get an organizers insurance)

Organizers can impose a bit stricter rules when the event is for members of an association, where the rules have passed a vote on the members meeting. We lack all of that in the Perl community, so end-up in horrible fights and a self-elected elite.

TPF's domain of control is limited to its official services & assets. This needs to be clarified.

TPF should offer a boilerplate set of community guidelines which perl affiliated projects may elect to adopt.

Beyond that, perhaps a mediation service should be offered to assist in resolving complaints. Projects may then wish to opt-in to the outcome of these resolutions.

This is not the first time this has happened, it is however the first time the perl community didnt pile on to someone. That's something *everyone* should think about.

http://blogs.perl.org/users/lets_code_perl/2019/07/tpf-perl-deserves-better-please-do-better.html

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About Neil Bowers

user-pic Perl hacker since 1992.