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Open Source Software

KWin Maintainer: Fanboys and Trolls Are the Cancer Killing Free Software 406

Posted by Soulskill
from the also:-language-arguments,-phone-debates,-console-wars dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Martin Gräßlin, maintainer of the KWin window manager, writes an informative blog post about his experiences with the less favorable pockets of the Free Software community. Quoting: 'Years ago I had a clear political opinion. I was a civil-rights activist. I appreciated freedom and anything limiting freedom was a problem to me. Freedom of speech was one of the most important rights for me. I thought that democracy has to be able to survive radical or insulting opinions. In a democracy any opinion should have a right even if it's against democracy. I had been a member of the lawsuit against data preservation in Germany. I supported the German Pirate Party during the last election campaign because of a new censorship law. That I became a KDE developer is clearly linked to the fact that it is a free software community. But over the last years my opinion changed. Nowadays I think that not every opinion needs to be tolerated. I find it completely acceptable to censor certain comments and encourage others to censor, too. What was able to change my opinion in such a radical way? After all I still consider civil rights as extremely important. The answer is simple: Fanboys and trolls.'"
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KWin Maintainer: Fanboys and Trolls Are the Cancer Killing Free Software

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  • Huh? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Brett Buck (811747) on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @05:13PM (#44044051)

    What the heck does this have to do with civil rights? Is some governmental agency preventing him from voting or serving on a jury?

  • by stenvar (2789879) on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @05:14PM (#44044061)

    I don't know either Gräßlin or KWin. But I get the impression from his blog post that he is unable to separate his personal and political opinions from his role as software maintainer. Perhaps that's the reason he experiences problems and has abuse targeted at him? Or maybe it's just his personality.

  • by csumpi (2258986) on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @05:14PM (#44044065)
    Democratic elections are also decided by "fanboys and trolls". Campaigning is the art of getting most of them on your side.
  • by optikos (1187213) on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @05:14PM (#44044067)
    Open source is Ayn Rand's 1949 movie & 1943 novel The Fountainhead: be your own independent architect, do what you love to do, put it out there, see if anyone else loves it too, find your birds of a feather, flock together, and f— everyone else, especially your competitors on similar projects.
  • The idea of free speech is that the state can't outright ban certain kinds of speech. It does not mean that every bit of speech must be included in every possible discussion forum. In some, you might want to be as open as possible in order to allow the widest range of unmoderated discussion. That was the goal of many of the early discussion fora like the WELL. But in others, you might want to restrict discussion more narrowly. This could be based on topic: on some Usenet groups, mailing lists, and webforums, there are ranges of topics considered on-topic, and others considered off-topic. How narrow the on-topic range is varies, and how strictly it's enforced varies (do you politely ask off-topic discussions to knock it off, do you axe them outright, etc?). It also could be based on behavior standards: do you ban people for personal attacks, for aggressive behavior, for doxxing, or any range of other activities? It depends on the community and their goals.

    But the point is that these are all tradeoffs that vary by community, and don't have much to do with civil rights. It is your right to publish a shitty book of poems, but that doesn't mean you have the same right to email every poem you write to the Linux Kernel Mailing List. This is a pretty basic distinction, no?

  • by RLBrown (889443) on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @05:20PM (#44044125) Homepage
    In the quoted blog, Martin Graesslin is basically asking if censoring zero-content hate speech from fanboys and trolls is a compromise on supporting full freedom of speech. It is not. In the USA, we make this differentiation. You are free to express any opinion, but may not do so with "hateful" language. "Fighting words" are forbidden in public forums. In addition, advocating illegal action is not the same as expressing an opinion. Saying something like "The bums in Congress should be removed from office, one and all" is okay, whereas "grab your gun, we march tonight" is not.
  • Yes but... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by countach (534280) on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @05:22PM (#44044139)

    Censoring other people in your own domain IS A FORM OF SPEECH!

    The Neo Nazis can go spout their nonsense, but it doesn't mean I have to let them do it in my own home. Neither does Martin censoring his own blog mean that he is against free speech. He is exercising his own free speech in his own domain by censoring trolls.

    There are any number of reasons to censor people in your own domain that doesn't indicate that you think their ideas are dangerous in themselves. You simply are telling them to take their ideas somewhere else, which we all have a right to do.

  • Re:Wow, just wow. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @05:38PM (#44044287)

    It's simple.
    In the wake of the NSA scandals, you have all sorts of people who want to support their side (aka the good guys) and make sure the other side (aka the bad guys) don't score political points on them.
    So you see all these new and interesting mental gymnastics: "I supported free speech, but honestly it's over-rated. It's no big deal really. Illegal search and seizure?It's been going on for a long time now and we're safer! People are happier with fewer rights!"

    And then because these thoughts become a total mess in their minds, they start making arguments that make no sense - like TFA. If it's your server, feel free to say whatever you want and let speak whoever you want. You have a right to to say whatever you want - but you do not have the right to force yourself to be heard. If you say something dumb on another person's server, it is their property and they can expunge it. If you say something dumb on your server, feel free to do so - no one can stop you - but there's no one who will be forced to visit your site to actually read it.

    The point of the free speech amendment is make sure THE GOVERNMENT cannot decide that YOU will say whatever THEY want on YOUR servers.

  • Re:Wow, just wow. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @05:40PM (#44044307)

    There wasn't one rational reason stated why censorship is a good thing

    That's because he doesn't understand that "censorship" is a vague term which he failed to properly define.

    I am a civil rights activist. Your right to be free from government sponsored censorship is, IMHO, a fundamental pillar of Liberty. That is not at ALL the same as a non-government entity choosing what comments it wants to display. Don't get me wrong, in many cases I despise the way server and forum owners try to regulate discussions and information... but it's their right to choose what is said in their name, or hosted on their forums.

    And if you're going to be hard-line like you seem to be, you'll browse slashdot at -1 and never rate comments.

  • Re:Wow, just wow. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Z34107 (925136) on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @05:42PM (#44044337)

    Except he doesn't give two shits about trolls. He's worried about fanboys:

    I can tolerate trolls as itâ(TM)s much easier to handle them. But fanboys are only there to harm you to diminish your work so that their world view doesnâ(TM)t break.

    His point is that fanboys take as a given that their favorite software is perfect, and then engage in rabid apologetics to justify their position. In the face of change, they will quite literally invent reasons as to why their worldview is still correct.

    Put another way: To someone who thinks "GNOME rocks => KDE sucks", nothing you can do to KDE will change their mind--it's still not GNOME, therefore it still sucks, and they'll create another justification as to why that is, forever and ever.

    Since whatever purported problem isn't a real flaw, and fixing it won't make the fanboy happy, fretting over their posts is probably the worst thing you can do as a developer. And if listening to a fanboy can only do you harm, why let them derail all discussion and rob you of your chance to hear from those who can help you?

    TL;DR--fanboys don't help discussion, and that's a problem if you depend on that discussion. It's not just butthurt.

  • Re:Wow, just wow. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Nyder (754090) on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @05:48PM (#44044379) Journal

    OR, the lame-ass trolls need to grow up.

    Sure, trolls need to grow up (I know i need to grow up and I like to do my fair share of trolling), but to expect everyone else to change is stupid. This is the internet, this is how it is. You get trolls, fanboys and corporate shrills in forums. If you want to moderate your forums, cool, have fun. But to bitch about it ruining stuff? Really? You just told the trolls that they won by publicly bitching about them.

     

  • Re:Wow, just wow. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by icebike (68054) on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @05:52PM (#44044405)

    Look, I get it. You're 14, you live in your parents' basement,

    Way to improve the level of discourse.

    On the other hand, you've pretty well proved your own point about trolls and moochers causing drama.
    Well played sir.

  • Re:Wow, just wow. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by I'm New Around Here (1154723) on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @06:02PM (#44044471)

    And if you're going to be hard-line like you seem to be, you'll browse slashdot at -1 and never rate comments.

    I browse at -1 (damn that goat.cx bastard, that lame posting is over a decade old), but I use the mod points I receive. Just a few days ago in fact. I modded up 3 posts I don't agree and 1 I do agree with, because they all made good arguments for their position.

    The fifth one was a mod down for a crap argument. I debated whether I should let it pass, but it was a really bad argument. I didn't mod it down just because I disagreeed, I modded it Overrated in the hope the writer will improve his rhetoric down the line.

    Even for civil rights activists, I think rating comments is fine as long as you mod up or down based on the post itself, not on your own views.

  • Re:Wow, just wow. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Grishnakh (216268) on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @06:13PM (#44044571)

    In the wake of the NSA scandals, you have all sorts of people who want to support their side (aka the good guys) and make sure the other side (aka the bad guys) don't score political points on them.

    It's older than that: this is exactly how so many Obama supporters went from being pro-transparency, anti-wars, anti-Guantanamo, anti-torture, etc. to anti-transparency, pro-wars, pro-waterboarding. They have to support their "side" at all costs, even when it means reversing their opinions.

    The point of the free speech amendment is make sure THE GOVERNMENT cannot decide that YOU will say whatever THEY want on YOUR servers.

    Exactly. Free speech is something we should uphold, but it doesn't mean that any private party has a responsibility to provide a platform for someone they don't agree with. If I have a blog, I can say whatever the hell I want on it. If people make comments on it, and I agree with them, I'll let them stand. If some troll (or anyone else I disagree with) says something I don't like, I'm free to delete it, because it's my blog, not theirs. If they want to exercise their free speech, they can do it on their own blog. It's only censorship when the government prevents you from exercising your free speech rights.

  • Re:Wow, just wow. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by causality (777677) on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @06:20PM (#44044635)

    I don't get it. What does free speech have to do with censoring comments on a website? He seemed to be talking about government censorship being bad, and then he said that.

    If you believe that censorship is fundamentally wrong then you have two choices: 1) Be a hypocrite and pretend it's different when you do it, or 2) don't censor content on your own Web site either. This KWin maintainer is choosing the first option. What he doesn't seem to appreciate is easy enough to understand: if the trolls can cause him to abandon one of his core beliefs and make a hypocrite of himself, then that's a victory for the trolls and a defeat for himself. It reminds me of how certain nations respond to terrorism by eliminating freedoms -- if the terrorists want to do as much lasting harm as possible, then they must be delighted by that.

    This near-obsession with treating government as a special case even when the discussion is about abstract principles is why you were confused. Government is only a special case when the discussion is about censorship via the legal system, because government is the only entity legally allowed to use force or threat of force to achieve its goals. A Web site operator isn't going to arrest a troll and throw him in jail so that just doesn't apply here. Said operator might, however, delete certain posts or ban certain users to effect censorship.

    I think our society in general is losing the ability to think in terms of abstract principles (part of why privacy is eroding). This is why we have to rehash the same old "but but .. government!" discussion every single time censorship is mentioned regardless of context. It's a nearly indestructible meme it would seem. You will probably be fired if you tell your boss to go fuck himself and that, too, is a form of censorship. Anyway, this is like a GPL vs. BSD license discussion -- check the Slashdot archives and you'll find that every conceivable point and counterpoint has already been debated ad nauseum.

  • by Animats (122034) on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @06:42PM (#44044795) Homepage

    If you have some system like Slashdot's which moves junk comments to lower rating positions, this isn't a problem. Everybody should get to blither, but nobody should have to read or listen to their blithering.

  • Re:Wow, just wow. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Darinbob (1142669) on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @06:45PM (#44044817)

    Wrong attitude. One may grow a thick skin naturally due to the harshness of the environment, however it should never be a requirement to grow a thick skin to get on the internet, or join a video game's forums, or to become a free software developer. And why should being a free software develooper be such a difficult job when you don't need to grow a thick skin to be a proprietary software developer? If someone wants to spend their own time and their own money to make a product better why should they have to grow a thick skin first? If someone wants to go to a conference and learn more about some computing technology they shouldn't have to grow a thick skin first.

    And why aren't pansies allowed to be free software developers? I'm not saying Martin is, but we shouldn't restrict people from contributing or scaring them away because they're too nice. Everyone body should be joining in here, not just just the rude people and those with swagger.

    The very premise of "grow a skin" or "grow a pair" is wrong headed.

    This isn't censorship anyway. It's his personal blog. Censorship is something that someone in power does, like governments or corporate bosses, or people who act as gatekeepers of information, such as letters to the editor of a newspaper. The trolling opinions are not being squelched, they can be spoken loudly and clearly on their own blog if they like, or on KDE mailing lists, and so forth.

  • Re:Wow, just wow. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jedidiah (1196) on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @07:55PM (#44045243) Homepage

    > I am a civil rights activist. Your right to be free from government sponsored censorship is, IMHO, a fundamental pillar of Liberty. That is not at ALL the same as a non-government entity choosing what comments it wants to display.

    You are a piss poor civil rights activist.

  • by rahvin112 (446269) on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @07:58PM (#44045269)

    I agree and the thing that struck me about the quote that he believed free speech meant tolerating other speech. Free speech means prohibiting government from retaliating. It absolutely has nothing to do with people "tolerating" speech of others. As you said the Nazi's can (in my words) go fuck themselves. I'm not going to listen to them and I'm NOT going to tolerate their speech. That doesn't mean I support government censorship or physical violence but I'm NOT going to give their comments equal weight, I'm NOT going to allow them to speak hatred from my property and I'm not going to listen to them spouting hatred in public.

    Free speech doesn't mean tolerating speech you find offensive. It is strictly about government trying to restrict speech. I'm entirely confused by this idea that's arisen in the last decade or two (primarily with Millennials in my experience) that free speech means tolerating speech. It doesn't. Being forced to "tolerate" speech you find offensive is IMO abusive and completely against the intent of free speech.

  • Re:Wow, just wow. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Benaiah (851593) on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @08:16PM (#44045383)
    Slashdots moderator system is a form of censorship.
    Its just an open, and free form of censorship. The only way to make it more open would be to say who modded you up and down and why. But this might lead to reprisal voting and politics so as far as I'm concerned peer censorship works.

    Additionally the -1 comments are still there, they are just out of the way and can be read if you want to have a laugh about goatse and frosty piss.

  • Re:Wow, just wow. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by brantondaveperson (1023687) on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @08:25PM (#44045433) Homepage

    Why is it ok to be extremely rude on the internet, but not ok to react to the extreme rudeness by deleting people's comments?

    It takes a certain amount of maturity to express differing opinions on a public and largely anonymous forum in a constructive and polite matter, but I think that maturity should be expected - and people who fail to show it should be censured appropriately. Having your comments removed from someone's personal blog because they are rude and immature is perfectly acceptable.

    I noticed at least one person in the linked comments owning up to their rudeness and apologising. That is the short of behaviour that should be encouraged, not the development of a 'thick skin'.

  • Re:Wow, just wow. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by EricTheGreen (223110) on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @09:36PM (#44045797) Homepage

    Criticism is one thing. Premeditated bashing by zealots who have no interest in honestly critiquing, but seek simply to bash your work to pieces because it is not part of their holy canon or is perceived as commiting some sort of cybernetic lese majeste is completely another. I saw no reference to the former in the article, and plenty to the latter.

    He's under no obligation to give the latter a podium simply because he's written software.

    Acquiring an open, informed opinion can require no small amount of work. If he sets that work as his bar for critique and commentary, I have no problem with it.

  • Re:Wow, just wow. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by wisnoskij (1206448) on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @09:54PM (#44045901) Homepage

    "If you say something dumb on another person's server, it is their property and they can expunge it."
    And that is how governments feel about their subjects, saying things they do not like on their land.

  • Re:Wow, just wow. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wisnoskij (1206448) on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @10:08PM (#44045969) Homepage

    In my experience it was the developers of FOSS software who yell at you and tell you that they are not going to fix the documentation because they do not have to.

  • Re:Wow, just wow. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @11:29PM (#44046359) Journal

    No shit, just go to a site like HuffPo and see how many of them will, cheer and make excuses no matter how jackbooted Obama gets because "he is OUR guy". Its fucking ballclub mentality and frankly is what is killing this country.

    As for his bit about "censoring trolls"? I have found faaaar too often the word troll means "I do not agree with you". Its the same as shill which means "You like something I don't like". in both cases its total bullshit, and it works to promote groupthink which is great if all you want is a room full of yes men, again go to something like Fox or HuffPo to see a group that trips all over each other to agree.

  • Re:Wow, just wow. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Pfhorrest (545131) on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @11:54PM (#44046491) Homepage Journal

    The problem in that case is that it's not the government's land. The problem there is the government thinking it is their land, rather than them being employed by the people to enforce their (those peoples') rights to that land.

    Someone exercising their rights over their own property is perfectly fine. Someone else attempting to claim rights over someone else's property is a problem. Government censorship is a problem in principle (consequential problems aside) because it claims a right for the government to control what other people can do with their own property.

  • by schnell (163007) <meNO@SPAMschnell.net> on Wednesday June 19, 2013 @12:32AM (#44046695) Homepage

    he was making real complaints pointing out real problems and people thought it was funny.

    And - as much as I loved George Carlin - it was also real bullshit. George would have been the first to admit that he was just a comedian and didn't really lift a finger to try to effect real change - it wasn't his expertise or his interest. It's much easier to make fun of the world's absurdities than it is to actually wrangle them into real-world change.

    If you never vote for anyone, then you can just complain about everyone forever. That's a chickenshit stance. If you want a real moral high ground to fight from, start with the person(s) you actually did something to get elected, and complain about the delta from there.

  • Re:Wow, just wow. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ttucker (2884057) on Wednesday June 19, 2013 @04:12AM (#44047589)
    At first, I thought, is this guy talking crazy to himself?!? Slashdot needs a better font for usernames (maybe something with serifs), this whole problem is kinda circa 1995 AOL Instant Messenger.
  • Re:Wow, just wow. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TheRaven64 (641858) on Wednesday June 19, 2013 @05:21AM (#44047817) Journal
    There's no hypocrisy if your distinction is one of scale. I regard censorship as only being bad when it has an impact on an individual's ability to speak freely. There is no problem with a single newspaper refusing to carry something, as long as there are other newspapers that are willing to run it or some other (relatively easy) mechanism for publication. There is a problem if a government or an industry body says 'no one may run this story'. There's a difference between saying 'you may not post this opinion on my blog' and saying 'you may not post this opinion on any blog'. The latter is dangerous censorship, the former is exercising free speech - the thing that rules about censorship are supposed to protect. It only becomes a problem when everyone with the infrastructure to host blogs says 'you may not post this on a blog that I run', at which point there should be government intervention.

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