Why I’m ending my short experiment with Gittip, or: why we can’t have nice things, part 2,039

June 20, 2014 § 11 Comments

I love doing teaching and research, but I also want to be doing more to engage and build communities outside of academia. Recently, I decided to start experimenting with Gittip as a way to support that. Gittip “is a way to give small weekly cash gifts to people you love and are inspired by. Gifts are weekly. The intention is for people to depend on money received through Gittip in order to pay their bills, and bills are recurring.” I like the idea, and I liked that the ‘top receivers’ shown on the front page included several activists working on diversity issues, which suggested that it wasn’t just a tool for programmers to use, and that it’s possible to make a decent (if far from extravagant) income doing public outreach and community-building work.

Then, someone on Hacker News criticised the site for supporting people who ‘yell on Twitter and demonize men’, saying the site had become ‘a joke dominated by professional victims’. Sadly, this is not unexpected. The level of daily vitriol directed at women who actively address sexism in tech culture (and in other spaces) is astounding. What was unfortunately is that Chad Whitacre, founder of Gittip, responded this comment by thanking the poster for his feedback.

When people called Whitacre out on this, he responded by saying that he was talking about the part of the comment that referred to the how ‘leaderboards’ were displayed: he was agreeing that perhaps the front page on Gittip shouldn’t focus so heavily on those who give and receive the most funds. I was hopeful that he’d follow this up with a simple and unequivocal statement along the lines of, “Of course we want diversity activists using Gittip! This is an excellent use for the tool and it’s important that we support them.”

Instead, Whitacre’s responses have both tacitly and explicitly supported the ongoing harassment that many of Gittip’s (previous) top users, including Shanley, Ashe Dryden, and Nóirín Plunkett face. Tacitly, by thanking misogynists for their feedback and not speaking up against misogyny, Whitacre supports a culture of harassment that pushes women out of geek communities:

gittippattingHNontheback

Explicitly, Whitacre has contributed to the ongoing harassment that women working on diversity issues in geek communities face by writing a blog post explicitly attacking Shanley, particularly for the tone of her criticisms of him. I am not going to link to the blog post. And just in case anyone wants to say that Whitacre would have responded better if only someone had explained it to him more politely, it’s clear that other people have been approaching these discussions in a gentler way, and haven’t managed to shift Whitacre’s approach. [Edit: also see Julie Pagano’s email to Whitacre.]

In response to this, many of Gittip’s users have been leaving or are going to leave, including Shanley, Ashe Dryden, Steve Klabnik, and probably many others that I’ve missed [Edit: including Skud]. For many, this comes at a huge cost: people like Ashe Dryden have spent a long time building up their support base on Gittip, and get a significant proportion of their income from the tool. This isn’t a decision taken lightly.

This is what builds homogenous communities. When privileged people fail to stand up for marginalised groups within their communities, those groups eventually understand that they’re not welcome and won’t be supported and leave. Initial shifts towards diversity are rapidly undone.

I’ve shut down my account, too. I don’t want to work to build support through a platform where key communities members are not only unwilling to support their top users, but are also willing to actively attack them.

[Edit: there’s now a page up about this on the Geek Feminism Wiki: Gittip crisis. I’m hoping that in coming days there’ll also be resources compiled around alternatives to Gittip, and about how people can support people who’ve stopped using Gittip.]

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§ 11 Responses to Why I’m ending my short experiment with Gittip, or: why we can’t have nice things, part 2,039

  • Skud says:

    Thanks, Sky — this is a great explanation. I’ve shut down my account too.

  • Ubiquity says:

    Ashe Dryden is still the top receiver on Gittip.

    • sky says:

      Yes, she’s said on her Twitter account that she’s going to be closing her account over the next few days once she’s worked out an alternative. This is perfectly reasonable given that she relies on Gittip for her income. I should also note that it’s understandable if some people don’t shut their Gittip accounts, even if they would like to, because they simply can’t afford to. This is part of the power imbalance here, and it matters.

  • Throughout the thread, from top to bottom, Chad is taking a recommended route of dealing with input — and that is finding the useful “bits” as Nichole Sullivan describes beautifully in her “Don’t Feed the Trolls” talk and dealing with it on that basis.

    In all of the years I have been involved in open source, I have only had one post on Hacker News. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7867378

    The only reason I am sharing that link is to rule out concerns that I, too, am unwilling to speak up against misogyny.

    Although I choose to say something, I’m not certain my response was useful or if it fueled the fire and I certainly am not willing to judge how others reacted to that ugliness. Maybe Nichole’s recommendations are better? Do we honestly know?

    I wrote a post entitled “Social Network Attacks On Women” a couple of weeks ago in response to posts like this where people were blaming those who were harassed for damage down to the attacker, something blamed on the victim because they responded in a public way. Most recently, someone called Shanley a “cunt.” That was the impetus for my post. Prior to that, it was “Donglegate.”

    http://amystephen.github.io/feminism/2014/06/11/social-network-attacks-on-women/

    My conclusion was someone who is attacked in public has the right to respond in public. The impact on the attacker is not their problem.

    Now, that’s either valid that victims have that right – or it is not valid. But, the same standard has to apply to everyone.

    If someone harasses someone in public, they picked the location. Denying the victim his or her right to object is wrong.

    In my opinion, having given this situation a bit of thought recently, this post and the supportive responses are nothing more than victim blaming. The only noteworthy twist is it has now happened to a man, something I said did not happen, but I guess it does.

    We need to work together.

    • sky says:

      This would be an entirely reasonable argument if the series of events was:
      1) Whitacre was innocently going about his business, was attacked, publicly, out of the blue, and
      2) chose to respond publicly.

      Instead, what actually happened was:
      1) Whitacre publicly supported and facilitated the ongoing culture of misogynistic harassment by thanking a misogynist for his attack on some of Gittip’s top users,
      2) People told him, both publicly and privately, why this was inappropriate, and suggested a reasonable way to take a better position (for example, saying, “I’m really sorry that I thanked that guy for his comment, I want to make it totally clear that we value the work our top users are doing and do not want to in any way encourage people who attack them”). Some of the feedback Whitacre received had an angry tone, because many users are understandable angry that the person running a platform they rely on is willing to thank people for attacking them. Other feedback to Whitacre was gentle, private, and supportive.
      3) Whitacre, rather than choosing to make a public statement of support for the top users on his platform who rely on it for an important proportion of their income, chose to write a public statement attacking one of the top users of Gittip (using heavily gendered language like ‘I resent you for leading me on’, which he seems to have deleted since the initial publication),
      4) I, and other users of Gittip, chose to leave the platform because we did not feel safe or welcome working to build a significant proportion of our income on a platform where the lead developing tacitly and publicly endorsed an attack on the activist women who are top users, and followed it up by a more detailed, personal, and gendered attack on one of his top users.

      If you get publicly criticised for both tacitly and explicitly endorsing a culture of misogynistic attacks, that is not ‘victim blaming’. If people choose to leave a growing community where they don’t feel safe or supported–despite relying heavily on that community for vital income–and where key community figures actively attack them, that’s not ‘victim blaming’. Victim blaming involves fundamentally different power structures.

  • I addressed why he took the approach he did. Please review the video and look at how he answered every single response — just the way the video suggests, not feeding trolls.

    His response was very short – but you shortened it to exclude the important element:

    “Thanks for the feedback! I’ve added a +1 w/ your comment re: the leaderboards to https://github.com/gittip/www.gittip.com/issues/1074.”

    Just like he said he did – he thanked them for the bit that was not troll-like – he addressed the leaderboard. Even on the github issue, nothing is said about the trollish elements.

    It is wrong to misrepresent the above as support for an “ongoing culture of misogynistic harassment by thanking a misogynist for his attack on some of Gittip’s top users”

    That is incorrect. That is inflammatory. That is an untruth. You are describing something that did NOT happen. Those words are not there.

    Now, you want more from him — you want him to make a stand. Maybe you think he let them down by not making a stand. Maybe you believe it’s his personal responsibility to make a stand. You have the right to that opinion and on a personal level I am more comfortable with that response — but for you to suggest a lack of activism is as agreement with misogynistic harassment suggests you have insight into his thinking that we do not have.

    We can’t judge people like that. I believe on some level that makes sense to you.

    +++

    Regarding Julie’s note – and that he was told, etc., that note came as a result of Shanley’s harassment on him in public. The notion that he’s ignoring wise counsel is just another brick in the wall of trying to turn this into his problem and avoid dealing with the one who misbehaved.

    And yes, even men can be victims. And yes, even men can be harmed in this way. Have we really reached the point that we are unwilling to see people as human beings, each of whom have rights, each with valued feelings?

    We are trying to pull tiny little threads of sexism out of the fabric of our lives – there are very few bad people. Sadly, the problem is much worse than that. It might feel like you caught another bad guy, but in this case, you produced a victim and harassed him and you protected someone who needs to learn that even she must treat people with respect.

    The decision Chad made to confront his harasser is no different than the decision Shanley made to confront hers. If she has that right, so does he. He will have financial consequences for making that stand. He will have criticism like this. I don’t have any problem with anyone making a personal choice to pull up stacks and leave gittip. That’s their right. But quote him accurately, please. Don’t embellish what he did with what it looked like he did to you – we don’t need another boogie man.

    If we are ever going to see meaningful change, it’s going to take all of us putting down the pitchforks, realizing we are all part of the problem, creating a safe environment for learning, and then figuring out how to change. This community is hurting. It’s divided. People want to address these problems. Let’s figure out how to work together.

    • sky says:

      I linked to Whitacre’s comment in my post so that people can read it in full, and I directly noted in my blog post that Whitacre had felt his thanks were not directed at the misogynistic comments (“When people called Whitacre out on this, he responded by saying that he was talking about the part of the comment that referred to the how ‘leaderboards’ were displayed: he was agreeing that perhaps the front page on Gittip shouldn’t focus so heavily on those who give and receive the most funds.”) My initial post not only represented what his position was, as you’ve described it here, it also linked to his comment so that people could read it directly.

      I don’t feel that it’s necessary to mispresent Whitacre’s words or actions in order to explain why this is a problem. What I think is a problem is that Whitacre simultaneously gave encouragement to the guy making the misogynistic attack (by thanking him for his feedback and tacitly endorsing the idea that it was a problem that diversity activists were prominent on the site) while not doing anything to make it clear that the misogyny was unwelcome (by, for example, saying “while we think there are good reasons to rethink the leaderboard, we wholeheartedly support the work of our top users”).

      At the time, several people pointed out that Whitacre could have taken alternative route, me included. I tweeted: ‘Wish @whit537 could have said something like, “no, women working to promote diversity are doing valuable work and we want them on @gittip”‘ This is not a howl of rage. It’s not a statement like ZOMG CHAD WHITACRE IS THE WORST WHAT AN AWFUL GUY, it’s just “hey, as a community leader, I wish this person had done this other, more supportive thing”. Pointing out that someone’s actions contribute to an unwelcoming, unsafe culture, and that there are alternative forms of action available to them, is a way to address these problems. And we can’t address them ‘together’ if community leaders aren’t willing to listen to people asking them to work towards safer, more inclusive communities.

  • I don’t want to disrespect you by going back and forth. So, I will leave this as my last comment to you. First, I wasn’t sure if you’d publish my comment and I thank you for your openness and willingness to hear a difference perspective. Secondly, there are common goals and I have a lot of respect for the work being done. Finally, my hope is to help close this divide we find in the tech community, to create a learning environment where people are safe to talk, and to help reduce the conflict and increase support for key players. Thank you.

  • […] warnings) I Resent You, followed by (trigger warnings)this horrifying post on Hacker News, then this article called Why I’m ending my short experiment with Gittip, or: why we can’t have nice […]

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