The Daniel Baumann experiment: blackmail, expulsion, humiliation, shaming and servitude
Editor's note: we regret that Debian has taken this direction. The Debian Social Contract, point 3, calls upon us to be transparent about the way Debian treats volunteers.
On 8 March 2013, Joerg Jaspert started an experiment in shaming and controlling another volunteer, Daniel Baumann.
The story has a lot in common with other recent cases where people in the Debian cabal have abused volunteers. The Baumann experiment proves that this has been a long standing problem in Debian itself. The volunteers selected for shaming do not deserve this, no matter what mistakes they made.
The Baumann experiment lasted from 8 March 2013 up to 4 August 2018. Baumann was subject to this shaming experiment for 1,975 days.
Given that shaming and humiliation were factors in the suicide of Debian's founder, Ian Murdock, it is incredibly disrespectful that these shaming experiments are conducted over and over again to the point that they feel normal.
The gist of it is simple: Debian Developers are volunteers. Debian doesn't pay us. Therefore, if the leaders want to make us do things, they either have to demonstrate very good leadership skills or they have to coerce us. They usually choose the latter.
As professionals, we are responsible to our employers, clients and families. Through these experiments, various people in Debian attempt to insert themselves ahead of our employers.
The experiment says a lot more about Debian than it does about Baumann. We show some of the message that started the experiment:
Subject: Your behaviour inside Debian; status change
Date: Fri, 08 Mar 2013 19:36:40 +0100
From: Joerg Jaspert <email@example.com>
To: Daniel Baumann <firstname.lastname@example.org>
CC: All Developers <email@example.com>, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
In any credible organization, a grievance procedure begins with a private communication between the people involved. In this case, however, Jaspert has decided to involve the entire community, approximately 1,000 volunteers on the debian-private email list. A normal grievance procedure ends with a decision and punishment, but this procedure begins with the punishment, putting the volunteer on the back foot. This corrupt procedure creates a huge bias against the volunteer as many people are either afraid to challenge somebody like Jaspert or they don't realize that Jaspert has skipped all the essential steps of due process.
This shoot-first-ask-questions-later approach is no accident: Jaspert and his ilk want to maintain control through fear. They periodically pick somebody off like this so that everybody else will be afraid.
We are convinced that this is an unhealthy and unacceptable working attitude inside our community, and so we have to take action. We have tried to reason with you in the past, but it does not seem that we managed to get our point across.
Translation: we don't pay you, but you have to obey us.
After a long discussion between all Debian Account Managers, we concluded that either you are unable to properly function inside the project, or you refuse to do so on purpose. You seem both unable to respect your fellow DDs and our core beliefs, and unable to properly work together with others - especially if they disagree with you.
Translation: when you disagree with us, you are always wrong and we are always right.
The long discussion between all Debian Account Managers also reveals a lot about the flawed process: why didn't they involve Baumann in the discussion before announcing a punishment in front of the entire community?
At the same time, it would be unfair not to acknowledge that you do valuable work. We do not want you out of Debian: we want you to be able to participate, even while you don't have, or while you rebuild, that trust.
After considering all that, we decided to change your status: from that of Debian Developer, to that of Debian Maintainer.
Translation: we are expelling you but we still want you to do stuff for us.
Any package not added to your ACL within two weeks will be offered for adoption and eventually orphaned.
Translation: a threat to throw away all the past work that Baumann has done, removing many of his packages.
We reserve the right to revert an ACL change, and hand over packages to other maintainers, should we deem it necessary
Translation: you do work for us but if you don't do it the way we want, we push you aside, we build on your previous work and take credit for it.
As usual with decisions taken by DAM, you can complain to the NM committee which can override the decision if 2/3 of them agree on it. The NM-ctte is defined as "all active AMs who approved an applicant in the last six months, who went on to become a DD". You can reach them at email@example.com.
Of course any DD can start a GR on your behalf to override this decision as defined by our constitution.
Translation: a veiled threat, if you don't follow our orders there will be a humiliating public vote. If you do what we tell you, we keep this semi-hidden in debian-private.
The existence of this hideous thread (below) on debian-private is a lot like revenge porn: the perpetrator threatens to disclose the material publicly, increasing the shame for their victim, if the victim doesn't follow orders. Many victims of revenge porn are forced to continue meeting the physical needs of their partner even after being dumped. Baumann was simply expected to do more work, even after being expelled from the Debian Developer keyring. The shaming principle behind both types of abuse is almost identical.
In practice, this means your account will become a "guest account", with all the usual conditions attached. We recommend you follow the procedure outlined at  to sort out access to those machines you may need.
Translation: everybody will see you working from an account dba-guest now, like a child riding a bicycle with training wheels. Humiliation complete.
The Debian Account Managers
How many more Daniel Baumanns are being shamed in Debian and other free software communities right now?
We can see that over 100 people simply disappeared and over 250 people were removed from the keyring. Some simply resigned in disgust, but how many of them were subject to secret humiliation and blackmail under the demotions experiment?
If a volunteer does commit suicide, their family is usually oblivious to what happened in the debian-private email list. They may never be able to join the dots and establish Debian's culpability.
When the UN recently used the word Cybertorture to describe experiments in shaming people online, the 1,975-day Daniel Baumann experiment was one of the first things that came to mind.
If you employ somebody who participates in a large free software project and they came under the coercive influence of an experiment like this, would you be concerned about them taking orders from somebody outside your company?