We Need To Have A Chat About Something Important

Yes, I really did print this the day before the story broke.
Yes, I really did print this the day before the story broke.

With hindsight, I picked the wrong day to 3D print a Cap’n Crunch whistle downloaded from Thingiverse. I was covering the hackspace textile evening, so I set the Ultimaker going and headed off to spend my evening making a laptop pouch. My whistle, a reasonable reproduction of the famous cereal packet novelty whose 2600 Hz tone allowed special access to American telephone networks, was ready for me to take away as I headed home.

The next day, there it was. The legendary phreaker [John Draper], also known as [Captain Crunch] after his use of that free whistle, was exposed as having a history of inappropriate conduct towards teenage boys and young men who he encountered in his tours of the hacker community as a celebrity speaker.

My whistle will no longer go on a lanyard as a piece of cool ephemera, it’s sitting forlornly on my bench. The constant procession of harassment allegations that have been in the news of late have arrived at our doorstep.

There is little point in writing a lecture about the harm a culture of harassment causes, we know that you are aware that it is a bad thing. Even the people who do the harassment know that what they are doing is wrong, so to pen such a lecture would be about as useful as the ineffectual South Park counselor character saying “Don’t do naughty stuff, m’kay”.

It’s easy to tell yourself this is something done by a tiny minority of so-called bad apples who most people will never encounter, that ours is a safe community in which this can happen only to other people, and that when it happens someone will always deal with the perpetrator. But this just hasn’t been true, and too many people’s lives have been affected as a result.

Harassment and abuse, when they come, are facilitated by an imbalance in the power dynamic: the abuser is in a position to wield their greater power. This imbalance can exist in many forms, but obvious examples might be across social, age, gender, disability, or racial lines. A celebrity like [Crunch] could wield immense power compared to his victims, to the extent that he could continue with impunity and any who might have spoken out would not have been believed. Put yourself in the place of an impressionable young hacker to whom someone like [Crunch] is a God-like figure, and you might see how easily it could happen.

Why did it take so long for these reports to surface? The power dynamic can have the effect of placing belief in the one with the power. When you hear of abuse it’s important to identify any power imbalance involved and begin your thinking on the side of the person at the bottom of it rather than the one at the top. This helps lead to action when reports are received. The organized events mentioned in the story have codes of conduct that are now being followed for action and have resulted in [Captain Crunch] being banned from the conferences..

Our community must be both welcoming and supportive, and propagate a culture in which it is safe to report bad behavior in the expectation that it will result in action. Nobody in our community should have to feel unsafe, therefore it behooves upon all of us to ensure that we make our environment as accepting and inclusive a space as possible. We should look upon ourselves as outsiders would, and ask whether our deeds match how we would like ourselves to be seen.

Hackaday has a code of conduct for the events we run, and we expect it to be taken seriously. We are of one mind that there is to be zero tolerance no matter whether a bad actor is a celebrity speaker, or just some random hacker. That’s not to say that we’re resting on our laurels though, a code of conduct should always be under review rather than a done deal. We’ve licensed our code of conduct under the CC BY 3.0 license. We encourage you to adopt a code of conduct for you own events and organizations, and help us by evolving it where necessary.

When the [Crunch] story broke, we had one of our behind-the-scenes discussions among the Hackaday crew in which there was agreement that our position should be unequivocal on the matter. It is with sadness that we see an icon become tarnished, but we think you will agree with us that safety and inclusion in our community are far more important.

That damn’ 3D printed whistle didn’t work properly anyway.

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