Just What Have We Become?

The world of open source software is one that often sees disputes between developers, some of which spawn lifelong schisms between devotees of different forks, and others mere storms in a teacup that are settled over a few beers. There are a couple of stories of late though that seem to show the worst in the online world, and which all of us should take a moment to think about.

Many of you may have heard two weeks ago of the passing of [near], the software developer and game translator whose bsnes emulator for the Super Nintendo was the go-to platform for retro Nintendo enthusiasts intent on the pursuit of the closest possible match to the original without possessing real Nintendo hardware. The details of their passing are particularly distressing, in that they committed suicide after numerous attacks over several years from users of Kiwi Farms, a website notorious for the worst kinds of trolling.

Hot on the heels of that distressing story comes news that [Cookie Engineer] is stepping down as maintainer of the project that’s now called Tenacity, a fork of the popular but now-controversial Audacity audio editor. They are doing so after being targeted by users of 4chan, the most well-known of online trolling websites, following an ill-advised Simpsons joke in a naming poll for the software. [Cookie Engineer] alleges that the harassers knocked on doors and windows where they live and a real-world knife attack followed.

Nobody deserves to be hounded to death, to suffer the sort of sustained harassment that [near] encountered, or to be confronted with knife-wielding strangers merely because they have stuck their head above the parapet as an open-source developer. There are no excuses to be made, no justifications for this.

All of us who read Hackaday are likely to be regular users of open-source software, many of us will have used bsnes and may yet use Tenacity, but we probably rarely stop for a moment to think of the real people behind them. Countless hours from innumerable highly-skilled people are what makes the open-source world tick, and aside from the immeasurable sadness of suicide or the horror of a knife attack there can only be harm done to open source software as a whole if to be a prominent developer or maintainer is to expose yourself to this.

The Internet will always have raucous communities at its margins and that’s something which still contributes to its unique culture, but when it jumps off the webpage and into damaging real people then perhaps it has become a monster. As a community we can do so much better, and we shouldn’t be prepared to accept anybody who thinks otherwise among our ranks.

We’d like to remind our readers that help exists for those who have reached the point of considering suicide, and that should you suffer from mental health problems you are not alone in this. Everybody, take care of yourselves, and keep an eye out for each other.

71 thoughts on “Just What Have We Become?

    1. Except it’s not the “Linux” community in either of these cases. As Audacity’s new owner will tell you, the Linux share of their user base is tiny. (They’ve claimed 1%, but I don’t believe it.)

      What’s happened is that free/open software has gone from being a nerdy little niche to being a lot more mainstream, and we’re experiencing the same pains as the rest of the world.

  1. To answer the article question title- we here at Hackaday have become empathetic.

    There’s no excuse for people behaving like they did but the internet is full of horrible people, they tend to concentrate in specific areas like 4chan.

    Noone should have to wonder if a stranger is going to knife them over a stupid internet poll. Think about how pathetic the people doing this kind of violence must be that something so simple angers them so much.

    My heart goes out to [near]’s family, and [cookiemonster] as well. I’ve never seen antagonism on this site anywhere near ridiculousness like that, and I hope it stays that way.

      1. People with influence and power need to set the tone for the community, and unfortunately many fall short. Dave Jones is a good example, he promotes a very particular brand of toxicity that has made him a pile of money but hurt so many others. He probably never intended it to be that way but we need people like him to take responsibility and fix it.

    1. It’s much more subtle than the easy to spot outright asshats though.

      Take Dave Jones as an example: https://twitter.com/MLE_Online/status/1269082992414097408

      He was regularly racist on his YouTube channel too, e.g. the long running “One Hung Low” joke, as well as sexist with his “in like Flynn (Errol that is)” catchphrase.

      It might seem like those are small things that don’t matter but when someone in his position, with his reach does that stuff it makes others feel like they have permission to be that way too. They feel like it’s all no-nonsense blokes who enjoy off-colour humour, and that makes the hobby very unwelcoming to anyone who doesn’t fit that description. It also encourages bad behaviour and dismissing people with genuine complaints as “snowflakes”.

      The EEVblog forum is pretty toxic and that’s a direct result of Jones’ behaviour and tolerance of it. It’s important that we call him and all the other out on it, to save our community.

  2. “We” haven’t become anything, but there are jerks out there.

    This kind of thing clearly goes way over the line when violent people show up at your house. When it is just unpleasant people online, you just need a thick skin.

    I was on a forum where someone was claiming it was the “new normal” to be rude and critical. Hackaday comments can be a bit on the rough side sometime, but that seems to have calmed down lately. Be true to yourself, be kind, be grateful. Ignore the jerks.

    1. yeah this was just what i thought — these aren’t “us”. if you wanna see open source people acting ugly, it looks more like systemd than 4chan

    2. I know it’s easier to blame it on “jerks”, but this isn’t really a them-and-us (or jerks and non-jerks) situation, it’s a spectrum of people, personalities, and behaviors. The “we” refers to the community at large, some people in that community will exhibit behaviors that some other people may see as “being a jerk”. But the kicker is that the behavior criteria for “being a jerk” varies depending on the individual observing (and also enacting) the behavior.

      I think sometimes, due to many factors (culture, background, life experiences, mood, health, caffeine level, relationship status, etc. etc.), we can all accidentally fall into “being a jerk”. At least for some people it will be seen as “being a jerk”.

      Is it possible to do a better job of not accidentally “being a jerk”? Especially considering that our own criteria for “jerk” may vary from other criteria’s for “jerk”.

      I like Severe Tire Damage’s start on that.

      When writing comments I try to consider things like:
      – Are they comments contributing something positive to the community?
      – If replying to somebody who’s “being a jerk”, is it being useful (or do jerks usually reply to jerks)?
      – If you are correcting somebody, is it polite and constructive, or dismissive and gloating?

      How are other folks considering this?

      1. Helpful.

        Also remember that if someone is being a jerk to you, it’s quite possible they aren’t intending to. I’ve a client who writes like a complete jerk in emails, but is a lovely person; it’s just cultural differences in how they communicate (probably compounded by being brief because they’re not a great typist); and they speak English as a first language – much easier to accidentally sound a jerk in a foreign language I’m sure.

      2. It is not just 4Chan. I had someone of Slashdot say that I should be tied up in a basement and raped. Just go to CNN or Youtube and you will see it. I was attacked by someone online claiming to be a member of my faith because I did not support a political figure because I felt he frankly was evil and immoral. I was accused of being in league with Satan by someone I want to High School with for saying that “God the creator of the all things did not need a human to protect him(fill in your pronoun of choice I am not trying to start a debate on religion)”. I have even had really nasty comments thrown at me because I said the Honda Ridgeline was a good truck for a lot of people that buy trucks as a family vehicle! The problem is in IMHO we have forgotten what the freedom of speech really is supposed to be vs screaming “Freedom of speech” when there are consequences for ones actions and they think it unfair.
        Freedom of speech should mean you can express an idea without fear of going to jail. It does not mean that no one should judge you for it. If you say that all people of one race are better than another race people have every right to tell you that you are wrong and to avoid you.
        I would also say that personal insults and threats of violence are not protected. I would love to see profanity also not being allowed. One thing I liked about Slashdot before it went way down hill was the moderation system and the ability to just not see posts from people that are just jerks by making them a foe or see more of their posts if they are listed as a friend. The only thing was that you could reply without signing in so when attacking they would just not log in and attack as ACs.
        People that are unwilling to stand behind what they say are cowards and it is not a big step from a coward to bully. The consequences free nature of most online forums allows bullies to run wild and frankly they push everyone towards being rather nasty because nothing breed being cruel to others like anger. But the problem is not just the jerks that start it. When we let our anger even justified control us we just add fuel to the flame.
        The real answer is for people to start being polite. It is that simple, A good example of a change that I think would help is if people only posted Positive comments on HackaDay. If you think some project on HAD is not interesting or not a hack then do not post at all. Why waste your time?
        If you see a potential danger in the project point it out and maybe even suggest ways to make it safe but do it nicely.
        If the project is overly complex than politely make a suggestion on how to improve it but also remember that these are projects and not products. There is nothing wrong using a Linux system to something that a cheap micro could do in a project. If you have a Pi Zero why not use it? The stuff on HAD is not cost optimized at all.
        If you see ways to add features suggest them while encouraging the creator.
        if you like a Hack then complement and encourage the creator. Having your project show up on HAD is a big deal for a lot of people. Don’t go out of your way to rain on their parade. Frankly it really just reflects the person making the negative comment than the author of the project.
        Have a nice day.

        1. Slashdot 15 years ago was a saner place.
          Slashdot now is pretty much half cesspool itself, there’s a lot of neo nazis and racist jokes in the commentary there, and the general IQ of the comments is way down from a while ago. It went peak stupid during the last 4 years. It got really bad.

          I used to go there daily for a decade, I don’t even bother anymore with the filth and stupidity that passes for comment there. This is the only place I’ve seen in last 15 years that I visit daily that has actually evolved to something more intelligent.

          1. Slashdot somehow became part of the culture war. Someone figured out how to abuse the moderation system for a long time, and it nearly turned into a far right hellsite. It’s better now but the way Slashdot moderation works you still have to put up with some really awful stuff sometimes.

          2. I forgot to add that I was just kind of amazed that anyone would put so much effort in to trolling Slashdot these days, but you also see paid shills (e.g. pro nuclear) on there so clearly some people think it’s worth investing the time and money.

        2. I agree it appears anonymity, and very large networks lead to breakdowns in community.

          The hands off idea I had is a text analyzer that gives you feedback before you post. Something like SpotBugs java code checker. This is a rather hard problem.

          Which leads me to the traditional fix. Online Passports, aka proof that you’re an citizen in good standing.

          I know this is a can of worms that’s tricky to structure in a way that’s resistance to corruption. However I don’t see how we can have a functional society without it. Currently I’m exhausted from online trolls, and misinformation.

    3. as a proponent of free speech, i have to say that while it can be a beast sometimes, id rather live in a society that has it than one that doesn’t. i shouldn’t have to suppress who i am or what i believe just because someone is offended by it. as with any right, it can be abused, used to propagate hate speech or for general ill will. but it also lets you gauge people’s character by what kind of spewage comes out of their mouths. its like open source for the mind.

      1. A lot of people hide behind free speech as an excuse for being abusive.

        While free speech is important, it’s also important that communities have standards. We don’t always have to behave like we are on our soapbox.

    4. It’s important to periodically state publicly the behaviours you find unacceptable, or they end up getting accepted, and people who otherwise could be decent learn instead to be awful to fit in. Shitty cultures in internet hellholes, companies, the police, etc etc only grow when they’re not proactively stamped out.

      I suspect HaD is being more proactive about deleting nasty comments, which I’m perfectly fine with. I was in the habit of excoriating those commenters myself, but deplatforming them is far more effective.

  3. Raucous is not the same as abusive. But it’s a sad truth that as more humans use the internet it becomes more of a reflection of humanity. Eternal September indeed.

  4. The internet has been a boon for connecting like minded people to build communities.

    Of course the standard deviation of “like minded people” is very, very large. And there’s very little that can (or should) be done about it, because no one should have the power to decide what “like minded” actually means.

    1. One needs to also remember that the KKK, Neo-Nazis, and many other hate groups are communities of like minded people.
      Maybe it should be more about interests than having to be like minded. I belong to many communities where I am pretty different than others in the community but learning to get along with those differences in a polite way seems to be a better goal than clustering in our comfortable self reinforcing echo chambers.

  5. The internet is a reflection of humanity at large, and there is a segment of humanity that is absolute garbage, sad but true. This is the first I’ve heard of [near]’s suicide, this is not just a tragedy but an abomination, the worthless destroying the valuable, makes me sad and angry. As for doxing, it should be a prosecutable crime, seriously, its a privacy right violation. So I guess what I’m saying is that there are bad people out there but lets try to be better.

    1. I agree, but you could say the same about urinating on someone, you can do it, but should you? Do on to others as you would have them do on to you, they may not do it but it does help keep civilization on track.

      1. He didn’t say you had a right to insult, he said you don’t have a right not to be insulted. Very different propositions. Someone can taken insult where none was objectively given or subjectively intended.

  6. What’s really disturbing, is that some 80%+ of people choosing a response on that linked article about Near, chose that it made them feel happy. What?!

    The internet, like so many other human inventions, has an accidental ability to help us other-ize people and dehumanize them. Society has attempted to rein in some others of these (war crimes conventions come to mind), but it is clear we are far from doing the same with the Internet.

    Start with oneself: I’ll take this as a reminder to pause before sending, and try to consider the person, not just the account.

  7. We haven’t become anything different than we already were. Confucius gave the solution to this issue, as well as Jesus. I put these in order of who said it first, not that it matters, as timeless truths are just that.

    1. I don’t need platitudes from famous personalities to tell me how to treat people with decency. I suspect most people don’t. But a lot of people seem to feel the need to ascribe a reason/source to this.

      I just call being decent being a good human. Granted, that’s entirely another discussion, but I’m just saying this as someone who learned empathy for decent people because I grew up bullied. I learned what good people looked & sounded like quickly.

      Whoever & whatever you claim as inspiration, be good to one another. Any fool can hate. It takes someone of intelligence and character and will to try to drown out the rotten of humanity with your own good nature.

  8. Forums like 4chan and kiwi farm allow the worst of humanity to easily gather and feed off one another.
    But don’t think for a moment that those people are only like that online.
    Most of humanity is like that.
    It doesn’t take long on this earth to realise that.

  9. Years earlier when I was gradually getting my selection of a LInux distribution to work, in this case Slackware, I would turn to a Usenet group for more advice. There I would carefully and thoroughly explain what happened and what was wrong. And after a few days I would get out of the ten answers, 8 good ones, and 2 extremely insulting ones. One was given by a real bozo who’s nickname suggested that he was completely less than there. And noticing his answers or comments to practically everyone’s other comments and yes even questions confirmed it. In fact I’d figure out how to have his ISP accounts closed. Three days later he’d come back more vile and stupid as stupid does, well all you get the idea.

  10. “alleged” – perhaps, maybe, it was made up.

    In the mere hours after someone breaking into your home to kill you, would you be immediately writing a formatted essay to GitHub announcing your retirement, or would you be too busy dealing with police, medical care, securing your home, etc? No evidence ever surfaced and a Gizmodo writer gave up because they deigned to ask actual questions surrounding the event.

    It’s the perfect cop-out if you’re incapable of maintaining a fork that you have contributed zero code to and want to make a dramatic exit. I implore you to read the source of “Cookie Engineer”’s GitHub repositories if you truly believe in his abilities.

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