Removing toxic emailers

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"Removing toxic emailers" is a mailing list message by Eric S. Raymond that addresses the use of strict rules and censorship within free software communities.

"Eric S. Raymond
Wed Apr 14 13:18:43 GMT 2021

Nathan Sidwell <>:
> Do we have a policy about removing list subscribers that send abusive or
> other toxic emails? do we have a code of conduct? Searching the wiki or
> website finds nothing. The mission statement mentions nothing.

I'm not a GCC insider, but I know a few things about the social dynamics of voluntarist subcultures. You might recall I wrote a book about that once.

The choice to have a policy for ejecting jerks has serious costs. One of those costs is the kind of rancorous dispute that has been burning like a brushfire on this list the last few weeks. Another, particularly serious for hackers - is that such a policy is hostile to autists and others who have poor interaction skills but can ship good code. This is a significant percentage of your current and future potential contributors, enough that excluding them is a real problem.

Most seriously: the rules, whatever they are, will be gamed by people whose objectives are not "ship useful software". You will be fortunate if the gamers' objectives are as relatively innocuous as "gain points in monkey status competition by beating up funny-colored monkeys"; there are much worse cases that have been known to crash even projects with nearly as much history and social inertia as this one.

Compared to these costs, the overhead of tolerating a few jerks and assholes is pretty much trivial. That's hard to see right now because the jerks are visible and the costs of formal policing are hypothetical, but I strongly advise you against going down the Code of Conduct route regardless of how fashionable that looks right now. I have forty years of observer-participant anthropology in intentional online communities, beginning with the disintegration of the USENET cabal back in the 1980s, telling me that will not end well.

You're better off with an informal system of moderator fiat and without rules that beg to become a subject of dispute and manipulation. A strong norm about off-list behavior and politics being out of bounds here is also helpful.

You face a choice between being a community that is about shipping code and one that is embroiled in perpetual controversy over who gets to play here and on what terms. Choose wisely.

Eric S. Raymond"


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