with lots of help from FrontDesk and MIA teams (big shoutout)
What DAM is not
we are not mediators
we are not a community management team
a list or IRC moderation team
we are not responsible for vision or strategic choices about how
people are expected to interact in Debian
We shouldn't try and solve things because they need solving
Over time, the community has grown larger and more complex, in a
larger and more complex online environment
Enforcing the Diversity Statement and the Code of Conduct
Emergency list moderation
we have ended up using DAM warnings to compensate for the lack of list
moderation, at least twice
contributors.debian.org (mostly only because of me, but it would be good to
have its own team)
except for rare glaring cases, patterns of behaviour / intentions /
taking feedback in, are more relevant than individual incidents
we do not set out to fix people. It is enough for us to get people to
acknowledge a problem
if they can't acknowledge a problem they're probably out
once a problem is acknowledged, fixing it could be their
then again it's not that easy to get a number of troublesome people
to acknowledge problems, so we go back to the problem of deciding
when enough is enough
I got to a point where I look at DAM warnings as potential signals that
DAM has ended up with the ball that everyone else in Debian dropped.
DAM warning means we haven't gotten to a last resort situation yet, meaning
that it probably shouldn't be DAM dealing with this at this point
Everyone in the project can write a person "do you realise there's an
issue here? Can you do something to stop?", and give them a chance to
reflect on issues or ignore them, and build their reputation
People in Debian should not have to endure, completey powerless, as
trolls drag painful list discussions indefinitely until all the trolled
people run out of energy and leave. At the same time, people who abuse a
list should expect to be suspended or banned from the list, not have
their Debian membership put into question (unless it is a recurring
pattern of behaviour).
The push to grow DAM warnings as a tool, is a sign of the rest of
Debian passing on their responsibilities, and DAM picking them up.
Then in DAM we end up passing on things, too, because we also don't
have the energy to face another intensive megametathread, and as we take
actions for things that shouldn't quite be our responsibility, we face a
higher level of controversy, and therefore demotivation.
Also, as we take actions for things that shouldn't be our
responsibility, and work on a higher level of controversy, our
legitimacy is undermined (and understandably so)
there's a pothole on my street that never gets filled, so at some
point I go out and fill it. Then people thank me, people complain I
shouldn't have, people complain I didn't fill it right, people
appreciate the gesture and invite me to learn how to fix potholes
better, people point me out to more potholes, and then complain
that potholes don't get fixed properly on the whole street. I end
up being the problem, instead of whoever had responsibility of the
potholes but wasn't fixing them
The Community Team, the Diversity Team, and individual developers, have
no energy or entitlement for explaining what a healthy community looks
like, and DAM is left with that responsibility in the form of
accountability for their actions: to issue, say, a DAM warning for
bullying, we are expected to explain what is bullying, and how that kind
of behaviour constitutes bullying, in a way that is understandable by
the whole project.
Since there isn't consensus in the project about what bullying loos
like, we end up having to define it in a warning, which again is a
responsibility we shouldn't have, and we need to do it because we have
an escalated situation at hand, but we can't do it right
get concern trolling
against margninalised people and accuse them of DARVO if they complain
example: assume good intentions vs enabling
example: rule lawyering and Figure skating
this cannot be solved by GRs: I/we (DAM)/possibly also we (Debian) don't
want to do GRs about evaluating people
Governance by bullying
How to DoS discussions in Debian
example: gender, minority groups, affirmative action, inclusion,
anything about the community team itself, anything about the
CoC, systemd, usrmerge, dam warnings, expulsions
think of a topic. Think about sending a mail to
debian-project about it. If you instinctively shiver at the
thought, this is probably happening
would you send a mail about that to -project / -devel?
can you think of other topics?
it is an effective way of governance as it excludes topics from
A small number of people abuse all this, intentionally or not, to
effectively manipulate decision making in the project.
Instead of using the rules of the community to bring forth the issues
one cares about, it costs less energy to make it unthinkable or
unbearable to have a discussion on issues one doesn't want to progress.
What one can't stop constructively, one can oppose destructively.
even regularly diverting the discussion away from the original
point or concern is enough to derail it without people realising
you're doing it
This is an effective strategy for a few reckless people to unilaterally
direct change, in the current state of Debian, at the cost of the health
and the future of the community as a whole.
There are now a number of important issues nobody has the energy to
discuss, because experience says that energy requirements to bring them
to the foreground and deal with the consequences are anticipated to be
This is grave, as we're talking about trolling and bullying as malicious
power moves to work around the accepted decision making structures of
Solving this is out of scope for this talk, but it is urgent
nevertheless, and can't be solved by expecting DAM to fix it
How about the Community Team?
It is also a small group of people who cannot pick up the responsibility of
doing what the community isn't doing for itself
I believe we need to recover the Community Team: it's been years that every
time they write something in public, they get bullied by the same recurring
small group of people (see governance by bullying above)
How about DAM?
I was just saying that we are not the emergency catch all
When the only enforcement you have is "nuclear escalation", there's nothing
you can do until it's too late, and meanwhile lots of people suffer
(this was written before Russia invaded Ukraine)
Also, when issues happen on public lists, the BTS, or on IRC, some of the
perpetrators are also outside of the jurisdiction of DAM, which shows how
DAM is not the tool for this
How about the DPL?
Talking about emergency catch alls, don't they have enough to do already?
Concentrating all responsibility on social issues on a single point creates a
scapegoat: we're blamed for any conduct issue, and we're blamed for any action
we take on conduct issues
also, when you are a small group you are personally identified with it.
Taking action on a person may mean making a new enemy, and becoming a
target for harassment, retaliation, or even just the general unwarranted
hostility of someone who is left with an axe to grind
As long as responsibility is centralised, any action one takes as a response of
one micro-aggression (or one micro-aggression too many) is an overreaction.
Distributing that responsibility allows a finer granularity of actions to be
you don't call the police to tell someone they're being annoying at the
pub: the people at the pub will tell you you're being annoying, and the
police is called if you want to beat them up in response
We are also a community where we have no tool to give feedback to posts, so
it still looks good to nitpick stupid details with smart-looking tranchant
one-liners, or elaborate confrontational put-downs, and one doesn't get the
feedback of "that did not help".
Compare with discussing https://salsa.debian.org/debian/grow-your-ideas/
which does have this kind of feedback
the lack of moderation and enforcement makes the Debian community ideal for
easy baiting, concern trolling, dog whistling, and related fun, and
people not empowered can be so manipulated to troll those responsible
if you're fragile in Debian, people will play cat and mouse with you. It
might be social awkwardness, or people taking themselves too serious, but
it can easily become bullying, and with no feedback it's hard to tell and
Since DAM and DPL are where the ball stops, everyone else in Debian can
afford to let the ball drop.
More generally, if only one group is responsible, nobody else is
Police alone does not make a community safe: a community makes a
DDs currently have no power to act besides complaining to DAM, or
complaining to Community Team that then can only pass complaints on to
you could act directly, but currently nobody has your back if the
(micro-)aggression then starts extending to you, too
From no power comes no responsibility. And yet, the safety of a
community is sustainable only if it is the responsibility of every
member of the community.
don't wait for DAM as the only group who can do something
people should be able to address issues in smaller groups, without
escalation at project level
but people don't have the tools for that
I/we've shouldered this responsibility for far too long because nobody else
was doing it, and it's time the whole Debian community gets its act
together and picks up this responsibility as they should be.
You don't get to not care just because there's a small number of people who
is caring for you.
What needs to happen
distinguish DAM decisions from decisions that are more about vision and
direction, and would require more representation
DAM warnings shouldn't belong in DAM
who is responsible for interpretation of the CoC?
deciding what to do about controversial people shouldn't belong in DAM
curation of the community shouldn't belong in DAM
can't do this via GRs, it's a mess to do a GR to decide how acceptable is a
specific person's behaviour, and a lot of this requires more and more
frequent micro-decisions than one'd do via GRs