Is there a Debian Campaign of Harassment?
Harassment is a serious topic and in many civilized places, it is also a crime.
Sam Hartman, Debian Project Leader (DPL), has recently referred to a Campaign of Harassment, suggesting that one mysterious person is driving him mad. His comments really stink, this is another example of somebody in authority making an acid attack on a volunteer.
It also looks suspiciously like a case of victim-offender reversal.
There is prima-facie evidence of harassment from Debian's top brass directed downwards at volunteers:
- The Debian Account Managers (DAM), Enrico Zini, Joerg Jaspert and Jonathan Wiltshire, violating the normally restful Christmas period to impose an arbitrary punishment on a volunteer in December 2018. As this was done without warning, without due process and it had a detrimental impact on the Christmas experience of many volunteers and their families, including their target, Dr Preining, it would be safe to call this harassment. Hartman himself admits Things ended up being a lot more public and painful than DAM intended. In other words, DAM humiliated somebody, what the UN now calls cybertorture.
- When a volunteer had surgery and six weeks off work, Margarita Manterola, who is now chair of Debian's Technical Committee, one of the most senior roles in the Debian constitution, told them they would be sanctioned. Given that medical leave is a legal right in most civilized countries, Manterola's heavy-handed communication would have been abusive and illegal if it happened in an employment relationship.
- The Debian Project Leader spreading a malicious email about a volunteer after the death of his father. This violation of his family's privacy is horrendous.
These are concrete examples of harassment. The impact of abuse like this is amplified by the seniority of the person who inflicts it upon a volunteer.
What Hartman now describes as a Campaign of Harassment appears to comprise two things: firstly, any questions he wants to avoid are now classified as harassment. This is a redefinition of the word. Example: due to the work we all contribute to Debian, there are a lot of donations coming in. If volunteers ask where that money comes from and where it goes, that is now harassment. Asking about any office holders with romantic conflicts of interest (Mollamby) is also harassment. Anything the leadership doesn't want to answer is harassment. If you dare to ask the same question twice, of if you dare to ask why?, you might be suspected of running a Campaign of Harassment™. These are the reflexes of a monoculture, not the words of a leader who is accountable.
What Hartman regards as a Campaign is simply the world outside his comfort zone.
This type of conflict doesn't occur spontaneously. It may simply be a reflection of the arrogance in the aristocracy. It may be a social experiment that has gone on too long. It is bizarre to blame a single volunteer for every communication Hartman doesn't want to answer.
When the US President was recently impeached, like Hartman, he pretended to be a victim. President Trump quickly went on to run witch hunts and sack US officials who told the truth, including Lt Col Vindman, who had previously been awarded the Purple Heart for the sacrifices made for his country.
In Debian, it is particularly hard for the public to know the truth because the most abusive messages are circulated in private mailing lists, such as the debian-private mailing list.
Some volunteers have observed many cases of genuine harassment in their work. Here is the correspondence one woman sent to both the Debian Project Leader and another respected Debian Developer describing his efforts to support women who are genuinely being harassed and a similar pattern of victim-offender reversal that immediately appeared:
Thank you very much for being so supportive.
I read the comments on the thread and to be honest I am really sad that [REDACTED] said that. It is not true at all.
They ([REDACTED] & [REDACTED]) pretend to support women but on the other hand their behavior towards many of us shows the opposite.
Daniel I feel bad because you have encouraged and helped not only me, but so many other people, no matter if they are [REDACTED] members or not, and also all the attendees from [REDACTED] to learn new things, to work and improve their skills and knowledge. They are doubting your good intentions just to remove the attention from the shady things that they are doing.
The [REDACTED] comment is really offensive to me and i feel it should be offensive to every woman who is part of the community.
I have been contributing and supporting [REDACTED] since its early days, and I have put a lot of effort and time, I do this because I believe in what it is meant to stand for and without waiting something in exchange, but the situation lately has been not very positive. Daniel has been present by chance in few cases where situations have been very hard to go through.
I would definitely like to talk to any of you and tell you more about everything that is happening here, its fine to me whether it is a video call, call or just emails.
Please tell me what would be more convenient to you.
This type of voluntary work is particularly challenging but it is also rewarding when volunteers on the front line receive positive feedback like this from people who they've been able to help.
On the other hand, when the Debian Project Leader received news of this incident, he tried to invalidate the concerns of these women and the volunteer supporting them:
DPL: [REDACTED], please feel to drop Daniel from any replies you wish to make, if you even wish to do so
That's what it looks like when somebody in authority covers up abuse, a DPL who would rather snub another volunteer than listen to all sides of the story.
On International Women's Day, it is an interesting time to reflect on the lack of women in Debian. Barely one percent of Debian Developers are female. When we see condescending comments like that from the leadership, discouraging a woman from speaking up, it leaves us with no doubt where the problem originates.