Molly de Blanc & Debian: pushing volunteers boundaries, DebConf orgy


DebConf going online in 2020 doesn't mean we can't have the full experience. Yesterday, we began with the foreplay of plotting defamation with Erinn Clark and today we move on to a full-blown DebConf orgy of hypocrisy.

Lunar (Jérémy Bobbio) is one volunteer who wrote about experiences with Jacob Appelbaum on the debian-private (leaked) gossip network. Here is what he had to say:

Subject: Re: Jacob Appelbaum and harrassement
Date: Wed, 15 Jun 2016 18:39:28 +0200
From: Jérémy Bobbio <lunar@debian.org>
To: debian-private@lists.debian.org

... snip ...

I can personally vouch for 2 of the stories on the website. I also have
direct experience of Jake playing with people's boundaries, mine
included since I first met him in Florence four years ago.

-- 
Lunar    .''`. lunar@debian.org  : :Ⓐ  :
        `. `'`                     `-   
# apt-get install anarchism

We don't want to diminish the experiences of any actual victims of abuse. On the other hand, we don't feel that Lunar's very brief message on debian-private is sufficient evidence to destroy the career of another volunteer.

Playing with boundaries is very ambiguous. It can mean anything you want really. If a complete stranger plays with your boundaries on public transport, that is completely unacceptable and hopefully leads to the confiscation of your child pornography collection, which is apparently a more serious punishment than jail for some people.

On the other hand, in an environment where people choose to mix their professional and social lives, comments like that need to be considered in context to understand correctly. For example, if everybody gets high on drugs and loses track of the boundaries, why should only one participant be singled out for a public flogging? In these events, are yes and no always black and white or are we talking about situations with 250 shades of gray?

jacob appelbaum, river, sam, real identity, real name, debian orgy

In fact, we have the same dilemma when considering the case of Dr Norbert Preining. Molly de Blanc's anti-harassment hit squad sent Dr Preining that ridiculous long list of accusations days before Christmas. Outsiders may raise their eyebrows at some of Dr Preining's comments. Yet when you consider he is not a native English speaker and you peruse the things Debian Developers have been writing in debian-private, you find there was nothing unusual about Dr Preining's writing style in the context of Debian behavior. If anything, exposure to the Debian community lowers everybody's standards by a similar amount.

Let's get back to that difficult question of boundaries and hear from the expert on community, Molly de Blanc. de Blanc got her Debian Developer certificate while dating Debian Project Leader Chris Lamb (a.k.a. Mollamby) and with that in hand, she was nominated to become president of the OSI. In Molly's own words, taken from FrOSCon 2019, she demonstrates the incredibly limited extent of her leadership skills:

Well we can use our collective power to push others

de Blanc has even provided a cute drawing. Does this look like pushing somebody's boundaries? At three-to-one odds, it could be alluding to gang rape.

Molly de Blanc, pushing volunteers, pushing boundaries, bullying, cyberbullying, enforcement

"Push others", Copyright (C) 2019 Molly de Blanc

What happened when a Debian mentor pushed their GSoC intern to work up to the last day and didn't pay them? Other mentors and admins suggested asking Google. de Blanc didn't want to push Google though, maybe they are too big for her:

Subject: Re: Revaluation appeal for [redacted/name of intern]
Date: Fri, 24 Aug 2018 11:35:10 -0700
From: Molly de Blanc <deblanc@riseup.net>

Hi Team,

Google has already spent a lot of resources reviewing code from Debian
participants. We should think very carefully before asking them to do
any more.

Cheers,
Molly
molly de blanc, toxic woman, toxic person, debian, open source, fsf, free software, gsoc, outreachy, payment, unpaid

The intern spent three months on a project, de Blanc, who is not a developer, didn't look at it and didn't think it was worth writing more than two lines about the matter. de Blanc rarely appears to push herself as much as she pushes others.

de Blanc is only willing to push people who are smaller or outnumbered. In Molly's world, freelancers, employees of small companies, students and interns can be pushed, but not Molly and not Google. de Blanc is not interested in pushing companies like Google and Microsoft, especially when they give her treats to help exert influence.

Looking at the Jacob Appelbaum allegations again, somebody tweeted that he had used their work in 2007 without properly crediting them in a research paper. This is a serious issue in the academic world. Nonetheless, we can see exactly the same behavior in Debian: multiple people have been removed from the list of Debian Developers, while Debian continues to distribute their work and take credit for it. The most blatant example of this was Dr Preining, who was told to keep working as a Debian Maintainer, like an apprentice, but he wouldn't be credited for his work as a Debian Developer. Ironically, the software that Dr Preining packages is the LaTeX software. This is the same software that is typically used to format the academic research papers that Jacob Appelbaum is accused of creating from other people's work. How could Debian deny Dr Preining full and proper credit for his work while adding weight to accusations of plagiarism against another volunteer, Appelbaum?

It is not clear if the tweet about plagiarism is noteworthy. Genuine mistakes with crediting authors are not unprecedented and are usually fixed behind the scenes by releasing an updated copy of the paper and a thank-you note on a blog. Many of the Appelbaum allegations are simply misunderstandings that have been hyped by the media, who went into a feeding frenzy over stories of orgies in his apartment.

Back into the domain of pushing people's boundaries, as alleged by Lunar, when you read the self-deprecating confession-apology that Dr Preining wrote, it should be clear that this was not written spontaneously and under his own free will: in Debian, consent is rarely taken seriously. Dr Preining's boundaries were pushed by three months of blackmail. This almost looks like it was written for him and he didn't have any choice whether to send it or not:

I also will take care to listen carefully to advice and corrections, ...
In cooperation with DAM - and the invaluable help of some fellow DDs - we have reached the agreement about my further status. DAM will write about this in a separate email outlining the agreement and consequences.

Absolutely chilling.

We hope this orgy of hypocrisy has made it clear. When we evaluate behavior against Debian's own standards, the behavior of the people accused is relatively tame compared to the behavior of project leadership. If the leader's girlfriend can stand up at a conference and boast about pushing people to do things she won't do herself, how can the same people accuse Appelbaum of pushing to get what he wants?

Note to victims of abuse: in the first instance, we suggest you seek assistance from a competent person close to where you live. We do not recommend seeking help in free software communities, debian-private and other gossip networks. We welcome reports of abuse to help us corroborate stories but we do not disclose any private information.

molly de blanc, bondage, oppression, volunteers, debian

Slides above chosen by Molly de Blanc to show how she wants to coerce volunteers using pressure and punishments.

fsf, deb nicholson, libreplanet, orgy