Friday, July 19, 2013

Individual Accountability: Even Linus Torvalds Needs to be Civil

by Dietrich Schmitz

It runs counter to common sense.  Bad behavior is bad behavior.

How you conduct yourself on the Internet should closely parallel what you do in the physical world.

When you meet a person in a public setting, if you cast insults, the likelihood that 'face meets fist' increases proportionally to the degree to which you engage in such activity.

Internet users, on the other hand, seem to think that they are not accountable for their bad behavior.

And it was put to the test by one young developer, who in an on-line exchange stood up to none other than the Grand Poobah, Linus Torvalds.

Linus has earned a reputation for being quite caustic, if not insulting, in his style of communication with his Linux kernel development community peers.  While many of his exchanges have reached the news with sensationalistic reaction, it points to how one should not act.

Finally, someone with some moral fibre stood up to Linus in a LKML mailing list exchange [<==<< Edited link to point to LKML source].  A relative 'newbie' developer, Sarah Sharp, took issue with Linus' communication style.  In his usual intimidating, uncalled for manner, Linus shot off an insult-laden rebuke to which Sarah fired back her candid appraisal of his behavior:

"Seriously, guys? Is this what we need in order to get improve -stable?Linus Torvalds is advocating for physical intimidation and violence. Ingo Molnar and Linus are advocating for verbal abuse. Not *fucking* cool. Violence, whether it be physical intimidation, verbal threats or verbal abuse is not acceptable. Keep it professional on the mailing lists. Let's discuss this at Kernel Summit where we can at least yell at each other in person. Yeah, just try yelling at me about this. I'll roar right back, louder, for all the people who lose their voice when they get yelled at by top maintainers. I won't be the nice girl anymore."
Three cheers for Sarah.

It's gotten so this kind of behavior is incorporated into the arrogant swagger of many developers who think it is 'appropriate' to be less than polite in communicating anything.  It has gone too far.  Linus Torvalds, you are a role model, like it or not.

Sarah Sharp was interviewed regarding her LKML exchange with Linus by The Wired and had this to say:

"You can be direct without being aggressive. You can give negative feedback without cussing people out. 
There’s a fine line between showing your displeasure and verbally tearing somebody apart. How do you tell someone that their code is crap without making it into a personal attack? This discussion is going to be ongoing. I don’t expect Linus to change overnight. He’s been this way for 20 years. The only thing is: I just want to open a discussion channel and have a frank discussion with this, and have it among kernel developers."
Sarah went on record following her exchange with Linus in her own blog story No more verbal abuse.
I am glad she stood up to Linus.  He is no different from anyone else and it doesn't matter what the issue is at any point in time -- one can get their message across in a polite way and still be an effective communicator.  
What the world needs is more Sarah Sharps to maintain civility and reasonable discourse.
There is no place for verbal abuse whatsoever on the Internet.  
So Linus, please take note: Do the mature thing, tone down and get your act together.
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