TODO Group And Open Source Codes of Conduct

by Nikki Murray on July 23rd, 2015

TODO Group bills itself as a guild for programmers, a members-driven organization that strives to “collaborate on practices, tools, and other ways to run successful and effective open source projects and programs.” Yet while guilds have historically not aligned with employers, clients, organizations, or companies, TODO is run largely by massive multi-national corporations. The Members page says it all; a list of companies, not people. Facebook, Google, Twitter, Walmart are featured, with some smaller startups including GitHub, Dropbox and Khan Academy rounding it out.

This week, TODO signaled their intentions to set standards for community behavior across the OS sphere, releasing a shiny “new” Open Code of Conduct. This move ignores the fact that marginalized people in tech have been working on creating open sourced community standards for years, with projects like Ada Initiative’s and Geek Feminism’s Code of Conduct, Coraline Ada Ehmke’s Contributor Covenant, and the Citizen’s Code of Conduct. These are conversations we’ve been having in public, in PR’s, in the Issue Tracker, at conferences, at meet-ups, and in private in IRC channels, Slack, and DM. We’ve come up with some pretty great resources and tools, put them into practice, tested and iterated, and built community consensus. Yet TODO swoops in to erase and replace all of this work: without our consent or input, a group of massive companies with practically unlimited funds are branding and pushing a code of conduct that suits their needs, not ours.

The TODO code of conduct actively puts marginalized people in harm’s way. It omits key phrases or promises that are a cornerstone of other community-driven Codes, like assurances that complaints about reverse -isms won’t be honored, and the use of the Code of Conduct as a means of tone policing will not be allowed. It overtly calls for abuser and abused to “work it out,” saying: “It is important that we resolve disagreements and differing views constructively.” TODO’s Code of Conduct ignores the reality that there is no way to “constructively” resolve a disagreement over whether or not a trans person is a person, whether or not the use of slurs is OK, or rape jokes acceptable. Moreover, it states that “being unable to understand why someone holds a viewpoint doesn’t mean that they’re wrong.” Except it sometimes does mean they are wrong when that viewpoint is “women shouldn’t code” or that a black woman contributor shouldn’t be offended by misogynoir in the project’s Slack channel.

When cis white heterosexual men on Twitter are calling your Code of Conduct “approachable,” you know it was written to protect the privileged at the expense of the oppressed. This Code of Conduct is essentially legalese to protect the corporations and their cis straight white men contributors from accusations of sexual discrimination, racial discrimination, and with the recent EEOC ruling, homophobic and transphobic discrimination. Since this Code of Conduct does not explicitly condemn tone policing, it could potentially be used to silence and punish marginalized contributors for speaking out against discrimination. This pull request demonstrates the cavalier attitude that TODO has: when a request was made to replace “everyone is equal” with “everyone is worthy of respect” and the response was a clear “no”, they showed that they are unwilling to listen to feedback from the community over which they are trying to exert control.

Further, none of these companies have proven themselves to be exemplars of diversity. Twitter recently threw a “frat party” for their team, events largely associated with college rapists. They are also currently fighting against a class action lawsuit for gender discrimination. Github has a long history of harassment and abuse. A former Google employee has come out to talk about pay inequity at the tech giant, and how that landed her in trouble. Facebook continues to put domestic violence survivors and trans people in danger with their real name policy. Walmart, as a whole, is incredibly hostile to workers rights in their stores, and cannot be trusted to not try to pull labor violations in their tech departments. Further, Walmart has also been the subject of a gender discrimination class action lawsuit. These companies do not have the best interests of marginalized communities at heart. These companies do not hire trans people to work on their apps, they do not hire people of color, they do not hire people with disabilities that they do not see as “valuable,” they do not hire women. The environments they create can be outright hostile and discriminatory. This attempt at creating a Code of Conduct is not backed up by meaningful action to correct the systemic discrimination and mistreatment they have encouraged and promoted for decades.

TODO is an attempt by large tech power players to exert control over the OS community and co-opt and pervert existing social justice work, setting community standards in such a way that protects “the best and the brightest” in the field (cis white straight men) from accountability for their sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic and other discriminatory behavior. The fact that the Code of Conduct is not at all comprehensive, nor does it protect the populations it purports to, is the feature, not the bug.