Reflections on XOXO

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I want to take what remaining energy I have after an amazing week to put some thoughts on paper – to talk about how the gathering of new friends has put some recent events in my life into perspective. This isn’t a review of the talks, how great the food was, and what new thing I learned about. Maybe that will come later. For now, I want to reflect the honesty I saw on display with a few things that have been happening in my life as of late that I have not talked about.

I was impressed by how many presentations challenged the status quo. Speakers asked us to not just think and talk more about these hard things (working independently, relying on others, racism, sexism) but to actually do something about it – making an effort in hiring, getting involved in what is happening locally, calling out assholes, and whatever else gets your ass out of a chair.

At XOXO I was able to see people I admire stand in front of a huge group of people – total strangers – and tell the most honest and open truth there is: one full of vulnerability and openness that is both overwhelming and welcome.jsj

I wanted to do something to echo the outpouring of humanity I saw at XOXO. So, here are a few things that are on my mind at the moment. This is the first time I’ve written about any of this. I see my time at XOXO, the sharing of information, the connections being made between people, and the bravery in talking about how things really are – even when it’s not glamorous – to be a call-to-action.

Instead of ignoring injustices and being comfortable we need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and stand up for what we believe in. To keep moving forward. Writing this is extremely uncomfortable. I freely admit it is not a giant leap, but a small step. Writing this down and sharing it holds me to figuring these things out, to taking action.

Enjoy, or whatever the appropriate reaction to this is.

The Reflection

Earlier this year I had a small blush with Gamergate. Nothing personally threatening, but rather quite sad. It’s not resolved in my mind. I’m still not sure what to do.

I was reading Twitter one day when an author I admire made a reference to some GG’ers surprisingly making a positive comment about him in one of their forums. Out of curiosity I went to the forum to see what was being said. I was immediately struck with the headline of a thread. There would be a presentation on Gamergate hosted by an active GG’er at a local convention near my home.

I was like, “What the hell!? Who is actually giving someone in this group a literal stage to talk about their shitty tribe?” So I did what any normal human would do: I Googled the crap out of this person to learn as much as I can about them. Totally not creepy, right?

What I found was a local young dude with a similar background as I, but 10 years apart: same neighborhoods, same school, same college, male, white, young and lonely. I found an old Twitter account, where he gushed about his girlfriend at the time, family life, and his emotions and feelings. It was beautiful and all too familiar.

I thought, “Here’s a local young man with a similar background who was suckered into the fold of GG and their ideology. Why didn’t I? What could I say to him? How could I reach out to him?” 1

I created an account in the forum, and reached out to him. I asked if we could meet to talk before his presentation, if I could better understand where he was coming from, and what he was trying to do.

We met in person and chatted for an hour or so. He genuinely seem concerned with video game journalism and “censorship” of imported games. I asked him why use the Gamergate banner? Why identify with a group that has a terrible reputation? His response was that it wouldn’t matter. That the Gamergate he was part of was not the harassing part.

He was very dismissive of any arguments I brought up. It was frustrating. I kept my patience. I paid the fee to go to the conference and see his presentation. It was focused on the history of Gamergate (smoothing over all the false accusations and harassment) and restated the same rhetoric about bias, censorship, and journalism. No citations, no research, just more of the same Gamergate rhetoric.

All I heard was a scared lonely young man who found a sliver of power and self-worth in a group.

I reached out. I tried to understand. I am still thinking about this young person. I don’t have a clue what to do, if anything. I want him to be successful and happy. I worry that he won’t be.

The Parents

My in-laws recently bought a handgun. My wife and I are against guns. 2 My wife and I expressed this to her parents months ago. We did not want a gun around our children when they visited or stayed the night. They assured us they would not get a gun.

They got a gun. Months later we found out.

Two of the most compassionate, helpful, and loving people have been driven by fear to carrying a gun for “protection.” Since their retirement they rarely leave the house, they do not meet new people, they do not explore. Instead they watch 24/7 news that has led them to believe that ISIL is going to attack our small town, and that the terrorists are among us.

My father-in-law has taken to wearing camouflage now. In the past 15 years he has never talked about his experiences in the military, now he is “prepared.” He is now talking about ‘them’ coming to get ‘us.’ He’s supporting Trump. He carries a gun to the grocery store: a Dierbergs that’s literally across the street from where they raised two daughters and their grandchildren.

He says he has a gun in case someone breaks in or he needs to act. It’s in a locked safe, unloaded, and he, frankly, has terrible vision. He’s more likely to shoot himself or a loved one accidentally than be the good guy with a gun.

They lied to us. Their actions are worrying us. They have not seen their grandchildren since that day months ago.

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WTF does this have to do with XOXO?

I don’t know how to fix these things. My heart wants to make things right. Whatever that means in each. Maybe I can’t. Maybe I shouldn’t. I just can’t fucking figure it out. It’s wearing on me.

I have not lost as much as others. I have not struggled for as long. I’m aware of my fortune and privilege.

When I was young we were on food stamps. I was embarrassed at where I grew up. 3 My poor grades. Old, unglamorous jobs.

Then I get the chance to go to this amazing and scary event. Where I’ll be meeting people who I find to be inspiring. I thought maybe they’d have it figured out.

The individuals creating and sharing  in this space – each with a new sense of honesty, intimacy and connectedness. They all came together and I was fortunate enough to be among them: my heroes.

Being at XOXO was cathartic. It made me feel like I was not the only one struggling with these types of issues. Hearing from other people – the humans of the Internet – working to make things better. That we’ve collectively figured that much out.

XOXO, the people and their stories give me hope. We are not alone. The world is getting better. We are in this together. We are doing good. It is making a difference. It is important. It is hard.

The world is getting more inclusive. It happens frustratingly slowly, but it is happening. We are on the right side of history – I have no doubt now.

We will be ok.

 

More reflections from XOXO:

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  1. At the time I was also worried about revealing too much about myself as Gamergate folks don’t have the most rational reaction to folks inviting criticism.

  2. Generally. I grew up in rural Missouri and was raised around guns. I am proficient in firearms thanks to my experiences as a youth and as a member of the Boy Scouts of America. I have an understanding of their practical operation and use. I do not see the need in the context of my life. [anyone else in suburban America.] I don’t hunt, live in the wilderness, or subscribe to the terrible excuse of a ‘bad neighborhood’.

  3. Still am. Which is why when folks ask me where I live I say St. Louis. I actually live in Fenton, a small town 20 minutes outside of St. Louis City known for nothing.

Be Informed

You have a computer that can access all of human knowledge within seconds. Please don’t remain ignorant. Do a little research, read opposing views, learn more about something you’re not familiar with.

“Now, we are caught in a series of confusing battles between opposing forces: between truth and falsehood, fact and rumour, kindness and cruelty; between the few and the many, the connected and the alienated; between the open platform of the web as its architects envisioned it and the gated enclosures of Facebook and other social networks; between an informed public and a misguided mob.

What is common to these struggles – and what makes their resolution an urgent matter – is that they all involve the diminishing status of truth. This does not mean that there are no truths. It simply means, as this year has made very clear, that we cannot agree on what those truths are, and when there is no consensus about the truth and no way to achieve it, chaos soon follows.”

How technology disrupted the truth – The Guardian

Surveillance Self-Defense 101 Notes

On Friday I attended a free workshop at SLU Law hosted by the National Lawyers Guild – St. Louis Chapter and the Electronic Frontier Foundation titled Surveillance Self-Defense 101: A CLE Workshop for Lawyers, Students & Activists. It was a pretty cool event and I learned a lot about not only how to keep oneself secure when it comes to surveillance, but also some of the issues and concerns activists and lawyers face when working with complex technology and law.

Here are a few of my notes. These are a bit ramble-ly, but I hope useful for anyone who couldn’t attend or a refresher for those that did.

Three rules of security.

1. No such thing as total security – just shades of more or less secure

2. We didn’t ‘go dark’. We were dark for many years, until folks started using technology they thought was secure, but wasn’t. Our ‘going dark’ is just returning to a state prior. Encryption, as a form of security, is one way we ‘go back’.

Security vs convince vs money – if you have more money you can pay someone to make something that is convenient AND secure. Less money often means less security at the cost of convince.

Https was an example that was secure, but not convenient and it cost money. Newer programs help to make the net secure, convent, and inexpensive.

3. Think about security as understanding your weakest link in a circle of security. You can have secure independent systems, but the weakest tool/service/avenue can undo all of that.

You might not have anything to hide, but those you work for (clients) or with (peers) might. Making yourself vulnerable puts them at risk. you can become the weakest link.

“Threat Models” can be grouped into three general types – personal, political, legal.

Personal – how our personal life is interacting with the world. Using personal email addresses for affairs(!) or political activism. Overlapping your personal and other areas of your life puts your assets at risk!

Again, look back to the weakest link. Who might be acting against you? What might they do if they can connect your personal life with your activist/professional/legal, etc.?

Example: Twitter accounts – influential accounts like FEMA, could have a higher threat model than say an individual, given that access to their account could cause serious damage – like a large-spread panic (Emergency flood warning for New York City!)

Assets – what do you have to protect? Rosters, client lists, strategy documents, SSN of family, medical history, finances, etc.

Federal government can’t keep the addresses of CIA agents secret – for 6 months the Chinese government infiltrated the portion of the government in charge of personnel records.

What we know of the NSA is only the tip of the iceberg – what Snowden revealed 3 years ago is only a small part of their capabilities.

Subversion (especially with minorities) by governments of communities (threats or promises (green cards)).

Not just federal, but local as well. Stingray devices – we only knew because someone who was being prosecuted found references in court documents. License plate readers and intersection light cameras as other venues of surveillance.

The fight against surveillance is at multiple levels (just like the focus – dragnet, targeted, on the street)

Street – cameras on street corners – fight with a local ordinance

Alderpeople have a discretionary budget where these street cameras are coming from!

Local – police department license plate readers – fight with laws, protest

Federal – ??? [I was sucked into an interesting story and didn’t take good notes here.]

Facial recognition does a poor job on darker skinned people – resulting in more false positives! Look for research this summer coming from Georgetown.

[We then broke into small groups and talked about our threat levels and assets]

Workshop questions

These are questions to ask yourself when determining your threat models for the various tools, software, services, hardware, you use and the data and information contained within.

  • What are your assets?
  • What do you need to protect?
  • What are in your communications?
  • What are the threats to those assets?
  • Who would want it?
  • How bad would that be (if they got access)?
  • How badly do they want it?
  • How high on the dial do you need to wrap your security?

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https://theintercept.com/2016/02/12/not-so-securus-lawyers-speak-out-about-massive-hack-of-prisoners-phone-records/

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Tools

Signal for Mobile messaging – encryption from end-to-end. Can be your default txt app on Android.

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[I was able to ask a question to the hosts.]

Media, both fictional like TV shows and movies, and uh, factual like news reporting often poorly conveys the nuance of technology – especially around hacking, encryption, privacy etc.

What recommendations do you have in combating this skewed interpretations of reality?

[The answer was to advocate knowledge to people you work with, help educate others, and keep learning and sharing your knowledge.]

 

Two Months at the Wikimedia Foundation

Today marks the anniversary of the two months I’ve been at the foundation. What a whirlwind. I’m still in the honeymoon phase. I still feel like I’m moving too slow, making too many mistakes. Still don’t know who holds the institutional knowledge. 1 I’m enjoying the work I’m doing and am excited to be here.

A lot has changed, for the positive, in the last few weeks, but we’re not without our struggles. Folks have been leaving, budgets are tight, and there’s still a tension in the air within the relationship between the foundation and the rest of the communities. 2 I do my best and most folks I work with seem to appreciate me being there, so that’s good. 🙂

I have been taking notes, mostly at random, about the role I now embody, culture, and relationships. I thought, here at two months, now might be a good time to share some of them. They’re half-formed and through the lens of a person new to this corner of the world. Take them as you will.

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A Few Random Thoughts

I left my stable career in IT (and healthcare, which, while going through the a lot of changes here in the US, is not going anywhere for the foreseeable future) to dedicate my time to improving the community aspect of the movement. I wanted to do more in this community, but was limited by time and energy. I’m now able to dedicate time and make a living. That’s incredible. I’m incredibly grateful to the people who interviewed, and ultimately hired me. I hope that as they look back years from now I keep that decision as “a good one” in their minds.

Ignorance is the biggest challenge our species faces. Education, even if shallow in new areas leads to better individual and group decisions. If you know X you’re more likely to not do Y. Empathy, again is critical to our future.

Individual contributors have motives, beliefs, concerns. These are amplified by the vocal members and can some times be misinterpreted as ‘what the community feels’. It’s hard to balance the voice of a few with the silence of many. Who do you listen to? Who do you trust?

On Writing

Oof, writing for a diverse audience is much harder than I thought. Even little things I would include in my writing, like contractions, throw me for a loop. I plan on writing more on this, but for now a few bullets.

  • Be mindful of gender (“Hey guys!”)
  • People-first language (“a person with disabilities”, not “a disabled person”)
  • Avoid acronyms and abbreviations, even super well-known wiki world ones.
  • Assume nothing
  • Avoid the word ‘user’ 3
    • prefer readers or editors, contributors, volunteers, folks, people
  • Avoid cultural references
    • “Like that guy in that one movie”
  • Use simple English, translate whenever you can
  • Don’t be ethnocentric
  • Be mindful of age and experience levels
  • Use statistics to back up claims that can benefit from data
  • Use stories and examples, from the people you are talking about (not just yourself) to back up claims about experiences and human relationships.
  • Remain positive – even if the news is bad, don’t be dreadful.

Finding people and getting them involved is incredibly challenging. Where can I go to get folks involved? How do I get the feedback the team needs? How do I channel the feedback from many sources to the team? These are still messy to me. I know folks keep saying “it doesn’t scale”, but part of me really wants to just pick up a phone and give someone a call.

Transparency

Be aggressively transparent. It’s hard. Transparency is important to pretty much everyone involved in this crazy endeavor. So is privacy. So is civility. Sometimes the three come together and do not mix well.

I am concerned that issues with a lack of transparency stem from issues of civility and fear. Folks are afraid to share something because last time it was not pleasant to hear the sometimes painful (intentional or not) feedback. So they hold back on sharing until later in the process. Then more anger is released for sharing late, which causes distress, assumptions and mistrust. Which causes folks to be hesitant to share again in the future, which…you see where this is going.

Sometimes transparency is demanded. That’s not cool. It shouldn’t be. It should be something we lead with, not react with.

Bullying

We are peers. No more, no less. Like your peers at school or work, some have more experience and skills in a given area – some have less. Like working with others outside of the wiki world, being a team brings together those strengths and weaknesses to balance one another. All boats rise with the tide.

Be civil. Be hard in the problem and soft on the person. We’re all rowing in the same direction. Let’s see if we can improve our sync and get there faster with less friction.

We, everyone in the movement, should do better to speak up to bullying. This will be the one thing that tears us apart. The beginning of the end will not be marked with a terrible software update, a lack of funding, a poor hire, a want for  contributors.  Not software, not bureaucracy, not money – the root lies within our community to be effervescent in welcoming people and treating long-timers with dignity and camaraderie. The movement has a bad reputation here and no one can fix that with a patch. It’s something we have to get better at. All of us.

There’s a strong correlation with bully=loud, targets=quiet.

I think it’s really terrible that we tolerate terrible behavior within our communities. That we turn a blind eye to those that harass, demean, and otherwise act like jerks to folks within our community – especially those that are traditionally underrepresented. We have a bully problem and instead of addressing it we let it fester. To be clear, I’m not talking about people who insert nonsense edits, revert changes they don’t like, etc, but those that use an unpleasant edge and uncivil tactics to claim victory, demand entitlement, or otherwise ‘get their way’.

We have to stop making light of and ignoring these problems areas. For example,  wikimedia-l is a room in the house we all share. If it’s on fire you don’t ignore it.

It only helps perpetrate the exclusion of those without a voice. If we keep letting it happen we’re complacent with that behavior – toward anyone.

“there are active members of our community that can be unforgiving and unempathetic.”

“not be worried of having others answer with the passion that can sometimes be perceived as being lashed out against”

These are quotes from conversations not about civility, but transparency. There is a close association here though, as I mentioned earlier.

Instead of addressing bad behavior head-on we avoid it, work around it, make excuses, and – up to a point – tolerate it. 4

How much of this power we let jerks have over or emotions and energy drives a lot of the decisions – or decision paralysis – we have to deal with. We lead too many of our decisions with fear and uncertainty, not confidence and prosperity.

It’s a downward spiral of repetition.

We need to fix it.

I know it’s freaking hard. That’s why I joined the WMF, because I want to tackle these big messy issues while they’re still young, while there is still a chance.

Our Code of Conduct needs to be finished and encouraged by as many community members as possible. We need to show overwhelming support from all levels within the foundation – ED, Arbcom, Jimbo, C-level, Liaisons, etc. It needs to be taken seriously and enforced just the same.

We have to turn this ship around when it comes to our communities’ reputation.

We don’t have a ‘comments’ section, but this is close to what we see in comments elsewhere in our lives. It erodes our projects reputation and the incredibly amazing work of everyone involved.  You know when someone mentions a terrible corner of the web and you’re all like “Yuck”? That shouldn’t be the reaction when you tell people you’re a Wikimedian.

On Being Bold

One of the tenants of the movement is the idea to “Be bold”. To make decisions, to jump into the fray, to take action.

What does “Be Bold” mean to those that are underrepresented, marginalized, or otherwise dismissed by large swaths of a society? What does be bold mean to those who are introverted or those who are often sidelined when they are bold?

Some approach (wrongly) a woman being bold as “bossy” while a male counterpart would not.

What is bold for me, a young(ish) white male, is not the same as someone else. Notice the bold in everyone.

Fundraising

I know nearly nothing about how the foundation handles fundraising. It’s a different area, but I am acutely aware of its importance. Helping my wife run the comparatively small pet rescue make it apparent that it’s a constant balancing act.

It costs money to run one of the top 10 sites in the world. Storage and computing power need increase, hiring talented people to support the movement. Funding programs and initiatives to empower contributors and expand the movement

We need help, not just to keep the lights on, but to continuously improve Wikipedia and all Wikimedia projects. In the span of human history there has never been such a place where so many can come, freely, to learn and help others.

We also have to be fiscally prudent and make sure Wikipedia will be around long after we’re gone. Like planting a tree knowing you’ll never sit in its shade, it’s the right thing to do for the future.

We fight against entropy and ignorance. Two things that have no face, no agenda, no goal. Folks who contribute could be spending their limited time elsewhere – they choose to help projects instead. That’s pretty amazing. Money helps. 🙂

Projects

I really got lucky that I’m on both the liaison team and the Discovery team. Two areas that interest me greatly. Maps are cool. In fact some of the other interactive stuff like Pageview Graphs, the Wikipedia.org Portal, and other ideas for improving search are all pretty exciting. Even more, I’m excited to see how the communities can use these new capabilities to enhance and improve the discovery of  knowledge.

The teams I work on are made of some great people. Smarter, funnier, and far more gracious that I could have imagined. I’m humbled to be able to say I work alongside them.

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I’ll end this now giant post with a few links I keep returning to.


  1. I do know it’s not one single person!

  2. I was in a planning meeting to work on something totally unrelated to Wiki and someone mentioned hearing of issues with our board, ED, editors, etc. 🙁

  3. This is personal pet peeve, not any sort of hard wiki rule.

  4. Eventually burning out and becoming cynical husks of our former selves.

Full-time Freedom

“Freedom without responsibility is certainly tempting, but there are few people who will give you that gig and take care of you and take responsibility for your work as well.

Responsibility without freedom is stressful. There are plenty of jobs in this line of work, just as there are countless jobs where you have neither freedom nor responsibility. These are good jobs to walk away from.”

– Seth Godin on Freedom and Responsibility

“Contributing full time provides a ton of freedom to work and iterate on any aspect of the community you can dream up. Sounds good right? It is if you can sustain it.

Here’s the thing: burnout is a real struggle. And when you’re working on something full bore, 100 percent of the time, and you burn out, there aren’t a lot of good options to help combat that except to keep pressing on and try to get your groove back.”

– Drew Jaynes on contributing full-time to WordPress

When I joined the foundation I never thought I’d lose a super power – the ability to ignore things. 🙂 1


  1. Don’t read too much into this. I’m enjoying my new job. Boy is it interesting and sometimes stressful in ways I had never thought of.