EDIT: Comments on this post are now locked. Some jackhole came onto MY blog and insulted my wife. I cannot be fair, impartial or unbiased about that.
Full disclosure: I am a former Permanent Member of the Drupal Association. While I am no longer associated with the organization, I do have reasonably good knowledge of its inner workings and maintain contact with many people within the structure.
First, let's set the stage. Right now, the open source community is dealing with many high profile issues of sexism and gender discrimination, some of them more serious than others. In particular, O'Reilly Associates recently was forced by community pressure to enact a sexual harassment policy at future conferences after a community member was sexually harassed at an earlier conference and the organization gave no official response. It is notable that this was achieved through community pressure, much of it angry and bitter over both the treatment that happened but also over ORA itself doing nothing to prevent this in the future. O'Reilly was forced to acquiesce, and I personally believe that this has worked out about as well as it can for everybody, given the circumstances. It would've been better if ORA had reacted better up front, but as communities, we are able to enact change through group pressure.
Yesterday afternoon (late evening in the UK) an inappropriate tweet went out from the official DrupalCon twitter account that is controlled by the Drupal Association. The tweet itself was reasonably innocuous, but it was mostly inappropriate. It said:
"Want to reconnect with that attractive #drupal designer/developer you saw at last year's #DrupalCon? Check out [url redacted]"
(The above URL led to the DrupalCon UK 2011 attendees page).
First, just how inappropriate this was has been a matter of some debate. In particular, some people think it's cultural, and that this kind of joke is acceptable in the UK, where the upcoming DrupalCon is to be held. I have had conversations with several very respectable people who don't really understand what the problem is. I don't blame them. It can be difficult to perceive how this kind of thing will be received by others who exist in a different climate.
Let me be blunt: I don't think this tweet was sexist, per se, nor do I think it was seriously telling people to judge DrupalCon attendees based on their attractiveness. It was clearly an attempt at a pub joke. The problem is, given the environment I earlier described, some portion of the community is feeling very raw about issues of sexually predatory behavior. And this tweet can be easily read as inviting creepy, predatory behavior by suggesting people look over the DrupalCon attendee page based on attractiveness. I realize the exact wording isn't saying that, but twitter, especially, ends up subject to interpretation.
But I live on the internet. I've worked in an industry where personal internet safety has been an issue, so it's something I end up thinking a lot about even though it's no longer part of my job. I've seen things escalate from simple arguments to personal attacks to threats of rape. Sure, this isn't that. That said, DrupalCon is a professional conference put on by a professional organization made up largely of volunteers. It is important that professional behavior be maintained, and to distance themselves from the current charged environment. As an open source community, we are about contribution, creativeness, inventiveness. Had this tweet used the word "interesting" rather than "attractive" it would've been a fun marketing bit.
Alas, to many, it came off as creepy and inviting stalkery behavior. It is not something that professionals should have said. But let's be fair, professionals make errors, too. But, and there's my giant but, there are ways of addressing these errors and there are ways of exacerbating these errors.
After a bit less than an hour, the tweet was deleted, replaced with a much more innocuous tweet, and Jacob Redding offered an explanation from his personal account, not the account that made the tweet. Unfortunately, the explanation was tepid.
"Today was a fun day at #drupalcon HQ as we gear up for DrupalCon London. A mistweet and we're back to normal"
It was referred to as a mistweet, and no apology was made, nor was there any real explanation given. After the community responded with criticism, another followup:
"A bad tweet went out on @drupalcon, it was caught early on and taken down. It was not sent out as sexist but rather a mistake of language."
At this point, community consternation began to grow. For many, it's difficult to see what the problem is here. The problem is, in my not-so-humble opinion, that Jacob Redding is the Executive Director of the Drupal Association. This is a paid position, funded primarily by sponsorship of DrupalCons and to a lesser extention, donations from the community. In a very real sense, he is paid by the Drupal Community and in a sense, he is our employee. Or at the very least, he should be our representative.
But instead of offering an apology and leaving it at that, he offers excuses. Several of us pointed out, in varying levels of criticism, that the community deserved an apology. This is the response:
"@nugoat @walkah @emmajanedotnet @merlinofchaos, it's 7:30pm and past midnight in London. We're reacting as fast as we can."
"The @drupalcon team meant no ill will with the bad tweet today and we're adjusting internally. I apologize if people were offended."
There are two problems. First: he had time to tweet. The time needed to write an apology is no more than the time needed to engage us and tell us how little time is available. Second: an official apology should not be so tepid. Why should this apology be qualified? There is no apology for what actually happened but instead only an apology if you were offended. In fact, I wrote what I thought would be a perfect apology, and that is the reason I'm mentioned in this earlier tweet:
"Hey @jredding, I think what you meant was: "That tweet was in poor taste and I apologize on behalf of DrupalCon and the Drupal Association.""
I can't speak for other members of the community, but for me, things should end right there. We have an apology, albeit a tepid one. But the weakness of the apology has left an unfortunate taste in some people's mouths.
This morning, Jacob posted on the official Drupal Assocation blog. There are some high points and some low points.
The high points: A proper apology is made, though some have indicated it could be better. For me, I'm happy with this apology. It's correct: the tweet was out of bounds for the kind of conference our community should be running, and it works. But...oh and here's the but. It does kind of miss the point.
It then proceeds to attack the community for responding. But why? We've proven that's how the internet works. Perceived bad behavior is piled on. Sometimes this is good, sometimes this is bad, but it is effective and it is all people have. The criticism of the criticism can actually be problematic, because it is a silencing tactic. But also, and this is the galling part, it demonstrates that Jacob doesn't really get what was wrong, and thinks that the community itself, or at least the part that responded, is more wrong. (Disclosure: He does attempt to separate constructive response from destructive response. I agree with this separation; destructive response is, well destructive. That said...)
For my part, I don't know that this would've gone anywhere like this far if the first, or possibly second tweet out of @jredding or @drupalcon or @drupalassociation had cut & pasted the apology I provided. What more can people on the internet really ask for? An admission of guilt and an apology, and an attempt to do better in the future, right? This is the failure, here. Jacob needs to lead, and he leads through actions. I know he didn't make the initial tweet, but that doesn't matter. He's the one in charge, he was the one taking control of the situation, and he blew the opportunity to defuse it, right then and there, by taking responsibility.
I think this is important. Because as a member of the community, money that I helped funnel into the DA by promoting Drupal with my open source software goes to Jacob, and I have no real control over him or his actions. And I want that community to be strong and I want its leaders able to take charge and take responsibility. This affair should not have ended with Jacob Redding sending recriminations to the community. This affair should've ended with an admission, an apology, a promise to do better and nothing more.