Like many development projects, Fedora would like for its mailing lists to
be a nicer place. Hostile and flame-filled lists can only drive away
potential contributors who do not have the stomach (or the email-reading
bandwidth) for that kind of discussion. Fedora's approach to this problem
is the "
," which empowers certain community members to act to suppress
conversations which are deemed to be counterproductive. The monitors (Josh
Boyer, Tom "Spot" Callaway, and Seth Vidal) recently made use of their
power on fedora-devel-list; as a result, we can see what kind of discussion
the project would rather do without.
The policy tasks the hall monitors this way:
They will be subscribed to and monitor the selected mailing lists
for instances of posts that are out of line with the "be excellent
to each other" motto. This includes, but is not limited to:
personal attacks, profanity directed at people or groups, serious
threads [sic] of violence, or other things seen by the monitor as to be
Should they encounter this kind of stuff, they can send warnings to
specific participants in the discussion, force their email to go through
moderators for a day or two, and issue "thread closure" notices to try to
halt out-of-control conversations.
The thread which brought on the monitors seemed to start innocently enough
- though many observers could have predicted what was going to happen.
Ankur Sinha posted a help request noting
that wodim was failing to burn DVDs correctly. Your editor can hear the
forehead-slapping from here: any such post is well known, by now, to be an
open invitation for Jörg Schilling to show
up and complain about the
existence of wodim (and its parent package cdrkit) when distributions
should, of course, be shipping his cdrtools package. Show up he did, with predictable results.
This particular issue has been covered here before; there is really nothing
new to report about it. But that did not stop Jörg from repeating his
arguments on the list - lots of times. After a while, Tom
served notice that the thread was
"now covered under the hall-monitor policy" and that future
posts would elicit formal warnings. It took a few of those warnings, but
the intervention had the desired effect: the thread has pretty well died
One could see this action as a victory for those trying to improve the
mailing list environment. Cdrtools-related threads, wherever they appear,
tend to go on for a very long time and to accomplish very little.
Doubtless there are plenty of fedora-devel-list subscribers who do not
regret this thread's truncation.
But one should always question the suppression of conversation, and there
are things to question here. The thread seemed to be profanity-free, and
there were no threats of violence. Some messages could, perhaps, be seen
as a "personal attack" or "disrespectful" against Jörg, but they were
on the mild side; fedora-devel-list has seen far worse. Serious flames
were all but lacking here. The
discussion, while treading on the edge of what policy allows, did not
clearly go beyond it. So one might speculate that the real reason this
thread was shut down was (1) the monitors had good reason to believe
that it was about to escalate into clearly policy-infringing territory, or
(2) they just didn't want to endure yet another interminable cdrtools
Either way, the shutdown could be seen as a little troubling. Distributors
should think twice before silencing developers who are unhappy about how
their software is being distributed (in all fairness, Red Hat and Fedora
have given Jörg several opportunities to express his view on this
matter). Some participants were trying to talk about the poor state of cdrkit, which is an
increasingly serious problem. Many of us burn fewer disks than we used
to, but there is still a need for a good program for the writing of optical
media. Cdrkit works for a lot of people, but it has clear problems and
does not seem to be under any sort of active development. Suppressing
discussions will not make that problem go away.
This intervention may well have been justified; certainly it's unlikely
that anything useful was going to come from that particular discussion.
But the use of repressive power should always be reviewed. It would be a
shame if, someday, an important development project came to have very
polite "halls" where people were afraid or unable to talk about important
to post comments)