Bonum Certa Men Certa

Debian's Network of Gossip and Gossipmongering in Debian-Private

Reprinted with permission from Debian Community News

On a daily basis now, people ask questions that remind volunteers about the leadership problems in Debian. When we visit free software events or any other free software community, it comes up frequently.



It is a horrible situation. When people remind us about the vindictive emails sent by Chris Lamb in September 2018, there is nothing positive to say. It puts us in a position where there is no response other than asking them to question Lamb's credibility. As Lamb was leader of the project at that time, this inevitably rubs off on Debian as a community.



When people realize issues like these relate to volunteers' private lives and have nothing to do with their competence as Debian Developers, they quickly apologize for intruding. On those occasions when Lamb's victims have explained the situation to people in any detail, the colour of their faces has visibly changed, demonstrating an acute combination of sadness and anger at the way certain people in the Debian community, including the former leader, have behaved.



People have asked why nobody tried to speak to Lamb. In fact, people tried. He lives in London, some Debian Developers are visiting there regularly. At least one has written to him numerous times to suggest a meeting: it is Lamb who always refused.



Between September and December 2018, attempts were made to set up a meeting with other volunteers. They either didn't respond or declined. Yet more and more reports of Lamb's gossipmongering came back to us.



In an earlier blog, we revealed that one of the challenges faced by a volunteer was the death of his father. People simply can't understand why Lamb and his sidekicks would be undermining another Debian Developer, involved in the community for more than twenty years, at such a difficult time.



It is not easy to reduce a subject like that to a blog post. More details of volunteers' private lives can't be disclosed without violating the privacy of third parties. Yet one of Lamb's missed opportunities as a leader is that he expected everything to be reduced to email or IRC. So he remained completely out of touch.



Nobody chose to have their private life and professional life interconnected in this way. It was imposed on them by somebody who had the title of leader in an organization of 1,000 Developers but had dedicated more time to covering up his girlfriend's blunders than anything else.



That brings us to another point: is everybody who has a public profile in the free software community going to be subject to similar attacks and criticism at a time of personal tragedy? GSoC and Outreachy mentors frequently observe the challenges newcomers go through making their first commit on a public repository or their first post to a mailing list. Many of them would never have done so if they saw what volunteers have been put through by rogue elements of the Debian community.



Ultimately, as the leader created a state of hostility through inappropriate gossip, the only real solution is for the current leader of the project to publicly and unconditionally denounce the gossip and put these issues to rest for once and for all.






Also reprinted with permission from Debian Community News

Many people noticed Debian Developers have started making wholesale leaks of material from debian-private.



This finishes off the same year where we saw the death of Lucy Wayland, the cover-up of a controversial $300,000 donation from Google and the blackmailing of Norbert Preining.



What these divisions demonstrate is a maturity gap. The cabals running the project have never really grown up. Like a 15-year-old who receives a Ferrari for his birthday, the Debian Account Managers are not mature enough to handle the power associated with their positions.



Anybody familiar with the content of debian-private can see this is true: some leadership figures who have been in the project for decades are still behaving the same way that they did in the nineteen nineties yet we are about to begin 2020.



Another key reason for division is the rise of the Mollies. There is a hidden message in Molly de Blanc's fateful FOSDEM talk, where she boasts about humiliating people just days after the death of Lucy Wayland. The missing piece of the puzzle, leaked during DebConf, is that Molly was dating the Debian Project Leader, Chris Lamb. Lamb had become frustrated with day-to-day leadership responsibilities and wanted to stick to more prestigious things, like the invitation to the Cambridge University Dept of Computer Science. When other members of the community ran into problems, Lamby had simply handed them off to his girlfriend, de Blanc, for her sinister social experiments, which she was gloating about at FOSDEM. The Mollies used other volunteers in Debian like lab rats, refining nefarious techniques like misquoting people and gaslighting. They subsequently applied these skills to take down Richard Stallman, founder of the FSF.



Many organizations invest significant time and money preparing their managers to handle the responsibility of a major leadership role. Debian doesn't. Lamb and de Blanc's handling of certain situations demonstrate the consequences.



Many of us have been to leadership seminars organized by our employers from time to time. Nobody can ever recall one where the presenter delves into whispering networks, demotions and expulsions, mocking people present at the event itself. The human relations philosophy espoused by de Blanc can be summarized in one word: cyberbullying.



Yet as developers mature, some were able to see this maturity gap and either became frustrated with the project or quit. The cabal leaders haven't listened to these people, even continuing one of their experiments on a volunteer who's father recently died. With such extraordinary arrogance, it is no wonder that some people have gone beyond quitting and started to make those wholesale leaks.






Also reprinted with permission from Debian Community News (partially reproduced)

There is a thread about impeaching Bruce Perens although it is not nearly as gripping as the impeachment of Donald Trump.



At the time, Perens had publicly stated:



That's our little private mailing list where the package developers make fun of you without your being able to see it :-)


That comment was probably not intended to be taken too seriously. Unfortunately, it has come to define the Debian organization for over 20 years since then.



In a more recent episode on debian-private, somebody made an unpleasant remark about another free software developer who isn't in Debian. When challenged about this backstab, another Debian Developer dismissed the concerns:



They won't see these comments, that's the whole point of -private. People can talk more freely in here than usual.


debian-private is a mailing list including over 1,000 Debian Developers who all work in different companies around the world. To pretend this is a private means of communication is a farce.



The former Debian Project Leader's girlfriend, Molly de Blanc, promotes whispering networks in her talk at FOSDEM 2019. Feminists have worked hard to eliminate terms like toxic woman. Sadly, de Blanc's antics have given the term a new lease on life.



Debian's public mailing lists include huge threads preaching about codes of conduct, such as this in December 2019. The mentality of operating debian-private and the things that leadership figures write there contradict all of that.



When the leaders of the organization and key figures in the cabal behave abusively in what they consider to be a safe space, it is completely unreasonable to be upset at other developers for the tone of things they write anywhere else. Human behaviour is often a good reflection of the leadership.



Improving leadership standards and diversity both require real acts of leadership and transparency, not Molly's call-to-gossip. The leaking of this particular material, if it is intended to undermine confidence in debian-private, could be classed as a leadership act.



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