Community 2.0

The past week has been very turbulent in the infosec scene, where a very prominent person has been accused of sexual abuse. The accused, Jacob Appelbaum, is a friend of mine, and I was quite surprised of the accusations.

I first want to say that I have no clue about any of the events that has happened. I also want to say that it doesn’t really matter if I know it or not. I want to write about something which is not about this case per se, but generally that we have an issue in the tech scenes regarding abuse and misconduct.

The tech scene was for the longest time inhabited by quite a homogenous group of young men who went from doing nerdy stuff in the shadows to becoming one of the most powerful groups in todays society. The more society moved its communication and business’ away from the analog world to the digital one, the more dependent it became on the tech scene. The shift has been quite dramatic and very quick. A lot of things has not been as quick to update, especially the internal culture.

I’ve grown up in the tech scene. As a kid I started out with blackboxing, greyboxing, calling illegally all over the world to hang out on cool bulletin board systems and meet people with the same interests as me. No adults understood much, and most of the other people I met were young people that in general was somewhat outside the normal society. Not saying it was all abnormal people – it was just people that for some reason, being extremely nerdy and really into technical stuff or maybe had few friends, or sometimes the obvious combination. I’ve been into other subcultures as well and most of them have a similar background. Young people will always try and fit in somewhere and find themselves. The difference with the tech scene has been that most of the stuff that went on was done in the dark. It was never really light put on it from the outside which meant that the scene never really had to fix it’s own faults. If there are faults around but noone acknowledges them, most people would stop looking at them as an issue. It’s very human. In fact, if you fix something in your home, and it’s not perfect, you’ll get really annoyed. If you don’t fix it within a few weeks, your mind forgets about it. There’s been lots of studies about this and I think it’s applicable to all things in life. Beggars on the street, faults in your own community. Ignorance is sometimes a way of coping with things, but other times it’s just being ignorant.

The culture of the tech scene has always felt quite inclusive. The premises for being included has been based on your skills, and that’s it. But it was always very similar people around so it was never really a difference of culture with the new people. I remember when I went to a copy party (those things you young kids call LAN-parties now) in Denmark in 1994, there were about 4 girls there. And 4000 guys. Most guys thought it was fun to finally see girls around. I’m pretty sure that most of these guys were nice guys and was just eager to get some attention from the opposite sex – but it’s also quite easy to calculate that 1000 guys per girl means that you’ll get a lot of attention. More than you’d probably want. The inclusive feeling is of course still there, but without the understanding that you can kill people with kindness too. In 2006 I went on a boat with 44 geeks. 40 were men, 4 were women. Even though it improved in numbers over 12 years, it was still 10 to 1. And it was a lot of attention for the women here too.

A lot of us who grew up in the tech scene has gone from being nerdy to being important. Back in the day, when someone in the media wrote about us it was always for something illegal (and according to our community cool) someone had done – some impressive hack while standing up to the man. A lot of the kids did this because they could, few did because they wanted to change things. But sometimes change come from the outside too, and I think the older we all got, the more we understood that we had the power to change and fix a lot of issues in society. If you watch the TV-series Mr.Robot, the feeling of the group F-society is very much the feeling I have gotten from a lot of the groups I’ve been involved in during my life. It’s exciting, it’s to do good, using civil disobedience and mad skillz. You can show off and feel proud and cool. When some guys are out with a moped burning rubber to impress girls, our scene hacked some organised neo-nazi group. Not understanding the politics behind nazism more than “nazi = bad”. But the gut feeling of right and wrong was there for most. Few in the hacking scene would target a group who did something good for the community. The culture was inclusive, do good, showing off is ok (but not doing so was even more impressive).

The shift when media starting writing about us as something else than illegal and nerdy came very sudden though. The various tech communities showed up with a lot of intelligent and impressive people, with an understanding of how the digital era will look. I often think about what would have happened if the woodstock people actually got into power – how would the world look? In the tech scene, this is kind of what happened. Very few people came prepared to deal with that.

As in most subcultures, ours are obsessed with internal status. We have lots of heroes and with that comes hero worship. Most newcomers look up to their heroes way to much, and most heroes feel like nerds that all of a sudden get their 15 minutes of fame. Everyone copes with that differently, many abuse it. The hero culture has always felt very dangerous to me, and it’s been very binary for most people. When Julian Assange got accused of sexual abuse, it was hard for most people in our scene to separate the private actions of Julian and the actions of Wikileaks. I’ve always been a firm believer that things are nuanced. I wanted (and still want) that Julian should be tried for what he’s accused of, but I also believe Wikileaks has been tremendously important to our society and would not discredit Julians work for that happening. The same goes with Jake; if he has done anything wrong he should be tried for that, but it says nothing about his own work nor the Tor project for that matter. Guilt by association is not something we should approve of.

In any case there are multiple sides to an argument. In a fair community we would listen to all, and find a way to deal with it, and take care of all parties. The people that accuse someone of abuse must be listened to whomever they accuse, without judgement, and with support for their experiences. The people accused of abuse must also be listened to whomever they are, without judgement and with an understanding of how people deal with being accused (no matter guilty or not). And we need to understand that these things should be settled by professionals, not be biased friends in a heated situation.

But most importantly, we must create a safe environment for everyone, including the people that have a different background to ourselves. The non-male, non-white, non-hetero are the people we’ve always wanted to include but could never find until we got enough interest. If we want to have them, which we all do and should celebrate that we finally have a chance to include, we need to understand integration; it goes both ways. We can’t expect people to integrate into our way of life without integrating with their ways of lives as well. The diversity is what a community thrives from and what we need to strive for. We were once the outsiders, now we need to welcome the new as well.

The past week people have been saying that they’ve seen the abuse from Jake for a long time. No-one really knew what to do with it. This is our fault as a community. We need to make sure we have some sort of way to talk about these issues if they arise and not just ignore them. If we want to include people we must care about them too. And it’s also educating everyone in what is not ok behaviour. I’ve met quite a few guys in the scene during my life that has been weird to women, not because they’re evil, but because they have no clue on how to behave or what the boundaries are. I’ve seen quite famous people grab other famous peoples butts and none of them knowing how to deal with the situation. Just because people are respected for one thing doesn’t mean they are experienced in all parts of life. Quite a few times I’ve put my foot down, but I’m pretty sure I’ve also made someone uncomfortable sometimes and that I could have done better with some stuff I felt I should have stood up against. We’ve all been young and insecure, so than it’s also important for the older and more secure people to put their feet down and educate. Otherwise we’ll end up in situations like the one we’re in. As a community we need to acknowledge the issues we have and the responsibilities that all lay upon us – all of us.

As for the people being accused, we also need to understand that they could end up being innocent. We need to understand that they could also end up being guilty – but that they still have rights even if so. To a fair trial for instance. It’s important that we keep our heads cool and don’t fuel fires just because we want revenge. We should use that energy to support victims and to do what the tech community does best in other circumstances: rip up the old code and reimplement new code with the new experience you have. Let’s make a community version 2.0 – now for everyone and with exception handlers for the things we miss.


#1 Andy on 06.09.16 at 07:54

Come one, abuse happens everywhere, also in small villages where everyone knows but no one speaks out against the “priest” etc.

Not everyone seeks the attention that Jake sought for himself. It does not play well to become known as the victim, or as the king slayer, or the attention whore, or the person in kahoots with “our enemies” who want to bring him down.

How to build webs of distrust is an unharmful way?

#2 Links 9/6/2016: Qt 5.6.1, NetOS | Techrights on 06.09.16 at 11:55

[…] Community 2.0 […]

#3 Leif Ershag on 06.09.16 at 14:10

Thank you for writing this, this is a post I hope will spread in many subcultures.

I must also say that the trust you seam to put in the Swedish judicial system is impressingly high when put in perspective your own experience of it.

#4 Missbrauchsvorwürfe gegen Jacob Appelbaum: Erst der Rufmord, dann die Fakten - Ulf Schleth on 06.09.16 at 17:00

[…] berichten, daß es dort traditionell zu Fehlverhalten kommt. Peter Sunde, ein Freund von Appelbaum, erklärt das in einem erhellenden Blog-Eintrag so: „Ich erinnere mich an eine LAN-Party 1994 in Dänemark, auf der 4 Mädchen und 4000 Typen […]

#5 ruff linkage 201623 on 06.11.16 at 09:55

[…] Community 2.0 – “we must create a safe environment for everyone, including the people that have a different background to ourselves. The non-male, non-white, non-hetero are the people we’ve always wanted to include but could never find until we got enough interest. If we want to have them, which we all do and should celebrate that we finally have a chance to include, we need to understand integration; it goes both ways.” […]