What a rollercoaster of a couple of weeks it’s been. It was already a wild year. In a wild decade. For a wild life.
SURRO Linux Effort
For SURRO, we started a new ambassador program to increase our presence on various media. Also hardened down on our ability to verify identities of project leadership due to a recent rash of impersonations of me on the new Libera network.
It also looks like new work will start soon on the troubleshooting of Foster. It’s about damned time a new cycle started. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wondered through this project if I can pull it off.
Freenode has been interesting and inspiring. I am so proud of these people I am working with.
So for those of you who are not aware, I am new staff at Freenode currently. As discussed in previous entries, there was a change in leadership over the last month that lifted a great burden for me. Lots of reasons why.
I see some people compromising and making the argument that both sides have been mean or toxic towards each other, but, I am only seeing positive vibes on our end against the grain of some of the ex-staff and their social circles who either abused people on this network for decades or enabled it and sometimes covered it up. I get the occasional dislocated abusive ex-project leader romping in trying to work a gotcha argument, but nothing I’m not used to dealing with. They’ve been sending in people and bots to spam and spread misinformation about the integrity of the network, targeting the staff with more smear campaigns (behaviours that literally are what got them in the position they’re in). It had become a toxic culture for everyone except the people the abuse was benefiting. The most insidious thing though that I observed was circles of ex-staff telling sponsors and project leaders outright lies to strategically overhwelm them with false information that undermined their confidence and generating rallies to call for a transition to their new network — in alot of cases those channels literally set their channel up where no one could speak and started booting people out after telling them to go the other network, essentially forcing users who did not want to transition into doing so. In alot of cases they used those ever-more famous “whisper networks” to facilitate the miasma they were generating. And all the while they believe they’re the good guys in this. I am having difficulty reconciling what they believe themselves to be with what I am observing and have been observing for many years now.
Malignant Narcissists are the Problem, not “Social Justice Warriors”
The problems in F/OSS culture are hugely misunderstood. While all societies are burdened with such things, the issues we have are not nearly as heavily related to racial bigotry, transphobic bias, or even gender disparity — although these problems do exist even in these communities — they are being worked on and are socially empowered to be worked on. A very serious, overlooked and unaddressed problem in F/OSS that accounts for most strife in these communities is a problem with narcissists once they reach a position of authority or influence.
NPD is a disorder that has a set of hallmark behaviours common to it that I strongly suggest anyone reading this educate themselves on if they wish to understand why so many problems have occurred over the last 10 years or so in those communities. One of those behaviours involves smear campaigns and the expert use of gaslighting, a technique called DARVO, and the sinister but effective inspiration or utilization of what are referred to as “flying monkeys”, which are secondary and tertiary actors to a narcissist’s smear campaign and sometimes do (and sometimes don’t) know whether the smears are true or not.
Behind most of those campaigns are 2-3 primary actors with NPD, APD, or a similar combination of actors with what are called “dark triad” traits, and the secondary actors who do most of the harassment or defamation will usually have a personality disorder that is related, often covert and is sometimes also NPD, and then there are tertiary actors (these are also flying monkeys) who mainly act as the peanut gallery holding the signs or throwing the tomatoes on various mediums — this class of campaign actor tends to be the loudest, and serves mainly as a vessel to carry the misinformation. Tertiary actors often have no clue that this is the function they are serving, or that it was a function designated to them by the NPD actors driving the campaign.
The general mode of operation of a narcissist is reputational attacks and subversion of social orders; this is the coworker that lies about you in the office that you never give enough ammo to until one of you leaves, or the disgruntled ex-employee that posts mean reviews on yelp about your business, or the embittered ex-fiance who lies about you to try to destroy your happiness– or the F/OSS community leader who seems to continuously get away with destroying people who have more potential than they do to remove threats to their career progress or position as a technical authority — or sometimes just to protect the same for people in their circles.
The smears involved will usually have pieces of real events woven in with the lies consisting largely of false light, taking advantage of the high cost of attention required to validate their assertion. So, people go to validate, see that some elements line up, and accept the lies. This makes the secondary and tertiary actors (the flying monkeys) emboldened by a false sense of justice.
This is not an exaggeration: A narcissist will put an enormous, staggering, and unbelievable amount of work into the deceptions that they use. In some cases, they will not use a lie if they can’t get any ammo but will use innuendo so that others will misinterpret and relay that implied misinformation to avoid liability. They also groom their secondary actors to find people who will either read between the lines and do it deliberately (ritual defamation) or will be gullible and malicious enough to be a willing, but dumb relay.
The narcissist is an interesting creature and you often don’t see them for what they are until it’s far too late. Most of their accusations are confessions, they are attracted to positions of power or influence for sometimes long periods of time, and , above all, they lash out when their position of power is reversed with their targets. Everything I’ve seen so far is textbook playbook and pretty easy to draw out and handle.
One element of these types of tactics that makes them devastating to their targets is that their campaigns can feed off of each other without any coordination: When an NPD’s smear campaign dies down, years can go by but their smears are still in the public’s memory so a new narcissist comes along and rehashes the other’s old smears to try to falsely establish a destructive narrative. Sometimes just for fun, and because they can. Someone already did some of the work for them, so, it’s ammo. People who are targeted by a narcissist are extremely likely to be targeted again by other narcissists often with variations of the same smears to establish a narrative, attack reputation, and undermine their target’s credibility to prevent the truth from coming out (which would result in consequences for the narcissist).
The solution to alot of the problems in the F/OSS community, in particular regard for the parts of it that are backed by large corporations, which attract these at a higher rate because the positions carry the tone of funded authority and immunity, is to simply stop participating in these smear campaigns or bullying operations.
In terms of accountability today, malignant narcissists tend to springboard from one environment to another to avoid accountability; for example, one I’ve engaged with recently was high up at RedHat until his behaviour was starting to become exposed and create problems for him, so, he hopped over to Microsoft after things fell apart and he was becoming exposed, and that person is now a Principal Program Manager and Microsoft has no clue what he is or has done, giving him a completely fresh slate to quietly start again in the background and likely a bump in pay. Society often rewards NPD abusers because almost none of the effective strategies against their behaviours are legal or socially accepted; There aren’t even really socially acceptable ways to even make people aware of their behaviour, or the damage that they cause, because it has been a masked issue for so long. They don’t get exposed and when they do it is often at great personal cost to quite a few people before it has any real impact at all, which likely just forces the narcissist to swap out environments with no further consequence for the trail of damage they left behind.
The narcissist knows that serial campaigns detract from their credibility eventually so they tend to gravitate towards themes of social justice where their behaviour will not just be tolerated but rewarded and empowered by a culture that wants social justice for all but perhaps is not of a similar mind on what that looks like. As such, demographics that are not empowered by social justice movements make softer targets than others.
You don’t need to be out to ruin somebody’s life because of a poor comment they made 20 years ago; what you can do to help the community is to identify serial defamers, lynch mob participants, and exclusionist bullies in positions of authority and replacing them with people who want to foster a large community where anyone can participate — people who do not abuse the public trust.
A word of caution though — nothing enrages the narcissist more than being exposed as one. They are not able to process the dissonance between their self-perception and the reality being given light about them. When a group of abusers is suddenly in a reversed position of authority with their target, it is almost gauranteed that they will lash out desperately with increasing animus until they are exhausted, destroy themselves, or destroy you. The way you beat the narcissist is with self-reflection on how you contribute to their campaigns, exposing it, distancing from it, and in good faith. People who are not prone to their manipulation are likely targets, as are people who have been previously smeared, but almost nothing guarantees being targeted quite like them becoming aware that you know what they are. You will immediately be seen as a critical threat to them.
I hope that you are able to see through the visceral lies that brought you here enough to be able to read and understand what I have communicated to you here, today. I am less concerned over whether you believe what somebody told you that brought you here than I am that you understand this phenomena so that you can stop others from having to experience it. Who knows, maybe some of those “others” that you help by stopping the normalization of these behaviours might be someone you care about one day.
Abuse @ SILO
Some of the folks angry with the change, seemingly from the circles of the ex-staff, have been targeting the new staff online with vicious and predatory smear campaigns, which inspired me to use SILO GROUP’s infrastructure to launch an abuse reporting mechanism for the F/OSS community for those affected by cyber-lynching, group harassment, general exclusionary practices or other forms of bullying that has happened far too frequently by people who have made it to very high ranking roles in large F/OSS and/or corporate entities, who have targeted too many people who otherwise would have made great contributions to free and open source systems and software. I never want to see this kind of abuse again and I want to help people expose the malicious actors who engage in it.