Four weeks ago, I posted about Who We Are and How We Should Be. I wrote:
As I see it, the principle behind the [Community Participation Guidelines] was, in regard to non-mission things: leave it outside. We agreed to agree on the mission, and agreed to disagree on everything else. And, the hope was, that created a safe space for everyone to collaborate on what we agreed on, and put our combined efforts into keeping the Internet open and free.
Is that CPG principle still the right one? Are the CPGs the best expression of it?
Following on from Who We Are, here is my answer to How We Should Be.
I think the principle is still the right one, but the CPGs could express it better.
The CPGs have many good things about them, and I think that they did a good job of defusing the difficulties in our community at the time they were written in 2012. But they still very much bear the marks of the worldview of the person who wrote them. (This is not surprising or in itself worthy of criticism; it’s very difficult to write in a way which does not show one’s own worldview.)
The world the CPGs conjure up is one where there are two groups of people. There are those who are wholeheartedly for “inclusion and diversity” in every way – let’s call them group A. And those who “identify with activities or organizations that do not support the same inclusion and diversity standards as Mozilla” – let’s call them group B.
The CPGs seem to have the following assumptions:
- Attacks on Mozilla’s inclusivity and diversity will only come from group B;
- Anyone who supports exclusionary practices in some other sphere (i.e. those in group B) is likely to want to see them in Mozilla;
- The key thing is to keep support for exclusion out of “Mozilla spaces”, so they remain safe for people who would otherwise feel or be excluded.
Therefore people in group B need constraining, such that “support for exclusionary practices in non-Mozilla activities [is] not … expressed in Mozilla spaces”. And so that is what the CPGs say.
However, in the recent series of unfortunate events, the attacks on Mozilla’s inclusivity and diversity came from people who would self-identify with group A (not matching assumption 1) and were directed at someone who, by long example, clearly did not match assumption 2. Support for exclusion (or, at least, for restriction) was expressed by some Mozillians in a very public way, but it was not in a specifically Mozilla space – yet it clearly resulted in exclusion, and in damage to the project and its mission. So assumption 3 didn’t really hold either.
It is true that the CPGs also restrict people in group A, in that they are conditionally asked to “treat [support for exclusionary practices outside Mozilla] as a private matter, not a Mozilla issue”, and that was not done in this case. That is a matter of deep regret. But I don’t think the consequential and conditional statement here gives full and clear force to the strong need for both sides to understand that disagreements of this kind within Mozilla are deeply damaging to our unity and capability as a project.
So, I think we would do well to redefine our alliance as a community. This would involve rewriting the CPGs in a way which expresses the principle of “agree to disagree on non-mission things” more evenhandedly and broadly, and making it clear that it applies to everyone, in all the Mozilla-related communications they make, wherever they are made. I think we must abandon the distinction between Mozilla and non-Mozilla spaces. It clearly wasn’t useful in staving off the damage in this case, and as a definition it always had boundary problems anyway. On today’s internet, it doesn’t matter where you express something – it can be around the world in an instant. And if we move to that model, in order to avoid unfairly restricting people’s speech wherever they may be talking, we would also need to change our attitude to the content of what people say. Instead of “don’t talk about that here”, we should instead affirm the principle of “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.
That is not to argue for carte blanche for people to fill up Mozilla communications channels with political advocacy of one sort or another. Most of our channels have a concept of “off-topic”, and that would not change. But only a project dominated by a small group of people from a single consistent political ideology could ever hope to have and maintain a policy of “do not ever even expose me to ideas with which I disagree”. And, as an international project with big growth ambitions, Mozilla is and should not be such.
Respectfully expressing opinions – in any space – should be fine; calling for exclusion from or demotion in Mozilla due to those opinions – in any space – should not be.