It was just a few years ago, at the height of the Me Too revelations, that codes of conduct began to prominently appear in Software Conferences. At the time I felt this was appropriate given the horror stories that had been circulating about sexual harassment and misbehavior at some of those conferences. I wrote a blog about it at the time.
Since then I have seen the other side of the coin. Codes of conduct have been used as weapons to exclude people on the basis of their political opinions, or on the basis of their associations, or just because someone didn’t like them. I have written blogs about this as well. (1), (2)
As much as I think that codes of conduct are a good idea, we must not allow them to be weaponized. If we are going to set up rules with consequences, then we also need to set up the the due processes by which those rules and consequences are adjudicated. Otherwise the people who police the codes of conduct will be free of the due checks and balances that protect conference attendees and speakers from unfair and malicious actions. As we have seen, such malicious and unfair actions have become all too common.
It seems to me that if a conference is going to publish a code of conduct, like the one below, they must also publish the process by which alleged violations will be adjudicated. That process must include provisions for the accused to be able to defend themselves against the allegation, and must also allow the accused to know the identity of the accuser(s). Otherwise all conference attendees and speakers will be exposed to malicious and falsified complaints with no recourse to defend themselves.
The conference I was disinvited from is over. I was ejected because code of conduct complaints were registered against me by three relatively minor speakers in quick succession. I do not know if those speakers acted in concert. Nor am I certain of the identities of those speakers (though I have a good idea). What I do know is that three or four weeks before the conference was to begin those speakers threatened to withdraw from the conference if I were allowed to speak.
From what I have been able to discern, the conference organizers conducted an investigation. I was not a party to this investigation, indeed I was unaware that it was taking place. I was not notified about the complaints, nor was I given the opportunity to speak in my own defense. The conference organizers simply judged me based upon the complaints and whatever they could discover for themselves. I am quite certain that due diligence was not a requirement of the investigation.
Given that they were volunteers, and that losing three speakers one month before the conference is a considerable blow, it’s not hard to imagine that the conference organizers were under a fair bit of pressure to resolve the issue quickly and salvage as many speakers as possible. What’s more, the conference had already extracted as much value as it could from my image being emblazoned on their website and on the mailers they sent out two days before the start of the conference. So the decision to eject me must have been pretty easy.
What was the code of conduct violation? Apparently it related to something on twitter. I have read the code of conduct and the only potential violation I can see falls under the following rule.
Any form of written, social media, or verbal communication that can be offensive or harassing to any attendee, speaker or staff is not allowed at Chicago Cloud Conference.
That’s quite a standard. I don’t think any of us could withstand it. We’ve all said or written things that have offended, or could offend someone. I’ve had people get offended about my definition of monads. I’ve had people get upset with me about the SOLID principles, or my position on TDD, or my criticisms of statically typed languages. Some people may even have been offended by my infrequent comments about current politics.
As written, this rule means that anybody can complain about anything you might have said or written, at any time in the past. The only qualification for violation is that someone finds it offensive.
What’s more, since there is no published process of adjudication, you may well find that if a complaint is made against you, you will not be able to defend yourself, in any way. An individual, or a small group of people, whom you do not know, will vote in secret, without your knowledge, and without your input. If they decide against you, you will be ejected from the conference, without refund, and without recourse.
In short this means that if someone doesn’t like you, they can get you kicked out – and there’s nothing you can do about it. In my case three speakers apparently didn’t like something I said on twitter. So they extorted the conference organizers who bowed under the weight of that extortion and disinvited me without giving me the opportunity to address the complaints.
My solution to this is simple:
From now on I will not agree to attend, nor will I agree to speak at, any conference that publishes a code of conduct but does not have a published process for adjudicating code of conduct complaints. That process must include a means for those accused of a violation to defend themselves from the malicious actions of others, and must allow them to know who their accusers are.
I recommend that you all adopt the same policy.
Code Of Conduct
Chicago Cloud Conference is dedicated to providing a harassment-free conference experience for everyone, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, or religion. We have a zero-tolerance policy for any harassment of conference participants in any form. Sexual language and imagery is not appropriate for any conference venue, including talks. Conference participants violating these rules may be sanctioned or expelled from the conference without a refund at the discretion of the conference organizers.
Any form of written, social media, or verbal communication that can be offensive or harassing to any attendee, speaker or staff is not allowed at Chicago Cloud Conference. Please inform a Chicago Cloud Conference staff member if you feel a violation has taken place and the conference leadership team will address the situation.
Harassment includes offensive verbal comments related to gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, religion; sexual images in public spaces; deliberate intimidation; stalking; following; harassing photography or recording; sustained disruption of talks or other events; inappropriate physical contact; and unwelcome sexual attention. Participants asked to stop any harassing behavior are expected to comply immediately. Exhibitors in the expo hall, sponsor or vendor booths, or similar activities are also subject to the anti-harassment policy. In particular, exhibitors should not use sexualized images, activities, or other material. Booth staff (including volunteers) should not use sexualized clothing/uniforms/costumes, or otherwise create a sexualized environment.
If a participant engages in harassing behavior, the conference organizers may take any action they deem appropriate, including warning the offender or expulsion from the conference with no refund. If you are being harassed, notice that someone else is being harassed, or have any other concerns, please contact a member of conference staff immediately. Conference staff can be identified by t-shirts and special badges. Conference staff will be happy to help participants contact hotel/venue security or local law enforcement, provide escorts, or otherwise assist those experiencing harassment to feel safe for the duration of the conference. We value your attendance.
We expect participants to follow these rules at all conference venues and conference-related social events.
Chicago Cloud Conference prioritizes marginalized people’s safety over privileged people’s comfort and therefore we will not act on complaints regarding: ‘Reverse’ -isms, including ‘reverse racism,’ ‘reverse sexism,’ and ‘cisphobia’. Reasonable communication of boundaries, such as “leave me alone,” “go away,” or “I’m not discussing this with you”. Communicating in a ‘tone’ you don’t find congenial. Criticizing racist, sexist, cissexist, or otherwise oppressive behavior or assumptions.
What to do when you witness a Code of Conduct violation?
All reports of incidents are confidential! We will not publish the name of the reporter in any way. Speak up
Of course we do not want you do get into a more uncomfortable position as you maybe already are. You do not need to interact with the person(s) who presumably violated the Code of Conduct. Please let someone of the organizing team know
In every session, you will find one track host (the person introducing the speakers) and at least one crew member (wearing a colorful shirt with the word “crew” on it). All people who are working on Chicago Cloud Conference are very aware of the Code of Conduct. Approach them and let them know. In most cases they will bring you to one of the main organizers, so we can write an incident report. Who What were the circumstances that led to the incident? When?
Everyone working on Chicago Cloud Conference is informed on how to deal with an incident and how to further proceed with the situation.
The Purpose of the Code of Conduct:
By signaling inclusivity and diversity as values we expect the conference to uphold, the Code of Conduct helps guarantee that the event will indeed be inclusive and embrace diversity.