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Abuse and Free Software

People in positions of power can get away with mistreating other people. For any organisation to operate effectively there have to be mechanisms to address bad behaviour, both to help the organisation to achieve it’s goals and to protect people who work for it.

When an organisation operates in the public interest there is a greater reason to try to prevent bad behaviour as hurting people is not in the public interest.

There are many forms of power, in the free software community a reputation for doing good technical work or work related to supporting software development gives some power and influence. We have seen examples of technical contributions used to excuse mistreatment of other people.

The latest example of using a professional reputation to cover for abuse is Eben Moglen who has done some good legal work in the past while also treating members of the community badly (as documented by Matthew Garrett) [1]. Matthew has also documented how since 2016 Eben has not been doing good work for the free software community [2]. When news comes out about people who did good work while abusing other people they are usually defended with claims such as “we can’t lose the great contributions of this one person so it’s worth losing the contributions of everyone who can’t work with them“, but in such situations it’s very common to discover that they haven’t been doing great work. This might be partly due to abusive people being better at self-promoting than actually doing good work and might be partly due to the fact that people who are afraid to speak out when they are doing good work might suddenly feel ready to go public if the person’s work (defence) is decreasing.

Bradley Kuhn’s article about this situation is worth reading [3].

I don’t have as much knowledge of the people involved in these disputes as Matthew, but I know enough about what is happening to be confident that Matthew’s summary is accurate.

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