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Gerrymandering in Free Software Communities

Posted in Debian, Deception, Free/Libre Software at 5:49 am by Guest Editorial Team

Reprinted with permission from Debian Community News

One of the revelations from the expulsion of Dr Norbert Preining is the role of Laura Arjona Reina (larjona) sending him nasty emails a few days before Christmas.

Drawing attention to an email chain like this inevitably encourages other victims to ask for help. We now know that Dr Preining isn’t the only recipient of harassment and abuse from Arjona. With that in mind, we are doing a more thorough analysis to see if other victims of the Anti-harassment team will come forward.

Dr Preining has contributed many years of effort maintaining the LaTeX packages. Debian records show that Arjona is only a novice, non-developing Developer who has been present for a much shorter period. Unlike Dr Preining, Arjona never contributed a single package.

Let’s see how Arjona interacts with Dr Preining:

From: Laura Arjona Reina

Date: 27 Nov 2018

Subject: Blog disabled on Planet Debian

… snip …

we believe the recently published post


has a tone that is inappropriate for Planet Debian.

Maybe it’s written with no intention to do harm, but it seems it’s not written to *not do harm* either

Tone policing at its worst. Dr Preining didn’t do any harm but maybe he was thinking about it so trigger-happy Arjona censored him just in case. Beware the Thought Police!

Dr Preining replied politely to Arjona and after a week of radio silence, re-enabled his blog without that particular post being visible.

From Dr Preining’s perspective, the radio silence continued for another couple of weeks. Rather than trying to establish a dialogue with Dr Preining in a professional manner, Arjona was sneaking around in the corridors of the palace, trying to get support for a drone strike.

Out of the blue, days before Christmas, without any warning or any professional attempt at communication whatsoever, Dr Preining received:

Subject: Debian Developer status

From: Debian Account Managers <da-manager@debian.org>

Date: Mon, 17 Dec 2018

To: Dr Preining

… snip …

We do not believe that you currently

have any intention of being a constructive member of Debian, and we see

little hope for improvement as it is.

Therefore, we are revoking your status as a Debian Developer with

immediate effect. You remain a Debian Maintainer for a minimum of 6

months, after which you can apply for getting your Debian Developer

status back.

How could they make such a conclusion about somebody who has done decades of work for Debian and free software users? It is completely out of touch with reality.

Imagine for a moment that you were a novice female developer and you want to have this level of influence to call these drone strikes and expel people high above your pay-grade. How do you get that power?

Most answers to that question are really degrading to women but this is what people say about Debian when they see the emails certain women are sending to the developers like Dr Preining. Nonetheless, there is at least one other possible explanation.

It appears that this was some kind of gangster’s initiation ceremony. For example, low level gangsters in London are challenged to prove themselves by sneaking into the backseat of a woman’s car while she pays for fuel.

Debian community team, anti-harassment, code of conduct

In northern Italy, not far from the Debian Snow Camp, police secretly filmed an initiation ceremony of the ‘Ndrangheta mafia (alternative link to video):

Send in the Clowns

Yet the case closest to Laura Arjona Reina’s right-of-passing may be the Carnival Mafia murders in the USA.

One of the workers at the carnival convinced more junior colleagues that he was a representative of the carnival mafia. He offered them the opportunity to join this fearsome group if they would volunteer to snuff out some more senior carnival associates who operated a rival food van. It is a tale remarkably similar to the plot to snuff out the more experienced and respected developer Dr Preining. (alternative link to video)

Carnival novices followed their orders to the letter, just as Arjona may have been manipulated into this plot by those around her.

Detecting Thoughtcrime™

Arjona’s initiation task was to expel somebody for the evils of thoughtcrime™ and Dr Preining was the random victim she picked.

Unfortunately, one of the carnival victims was able to put in a call to the police before they had completed the killings and disposed of the bodies. In much the same way, Dr Preining was able to raise the alarm and now we can all see how Debian is propagating the most vulgar aspects of Debian culture to junior members like Arjona.

The non-developing developers

Our emphasis on gender is no accident. We believe in diversity.

Let’s have a closer look at where Laura Arjona Reina sits in the non-developing developer keyring.

debian non-uploading developer, women, statistics

The main developer keyring has less than two percent women. The non-developing developer keyring has thirty-one percent women. Why this huge gender disparity?

If you randomly select somebody from the non-developer keyring, they are almost sixteen times more likely to be female than somebody randomly selected from the main Debian Developer keyring. These people are permitted to vote and to participate in the debian-private (leaked) gossip network but are not trusted to do anything else.

Whenever a system of segregation like this appears, the same pattern emerges.

debian non-uploading developer

There are various Debian-specific explanations for this disparity.

One suggestion is that they’ve been given these honorary titles to help them get jobs, such as the title that former Debian Project Leader Chris Lamb gave to his girlfriend, Molly de Blanc when she had to leave her job at FSF. Shortly after, she was given a job that was never advertised at GNOME Foundation.

Another theory is that this disparity represents and perpetuates mistrust of women. Being on the non-developing keyring implies that the person is not trusted technically to modify an operating system and furthermore, it implies there is no point trying to train these people. As females appear so much more likely to be shunted away there, it gives us an insight into the way Debian’s stalwarts perceive women’s future potential. In other words, most women will never be trusted, so they should not set their sights higher than non-developing developer status. This behavior in Debian is entirely consistent with practices in industry: for example, a recent study (Birminghamton University, State University of New York) found that 34 percent fewer women receive pay for college internships.

The most compelling theory is that the non-developing developer keyring is simply a giant gerrymandering exercise. Incumbents have created this inferior status which allows their wives, girlfriends, male partners and a few political allies to vote in project elections, diluting the votes of people who do the real development work. These votes act as a buffer against calls for accountability and reform.

When serious female developers recognise a barely-disguised system of segregation like this and they see the former leader’s girlfriend being catapulted into keynote speaking opportunities, they run a mile. Gender disparity is therefore perpetuated.

Call for witnesses

Have you experienced harassment and abuse from Laura Arjona Reina or anybody else in Debian’s Anti-Harassment team? Please email the Debian Community News Team so we can investigate and assist you.

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