OpenStreetMap

OSM Provided Services Are Not a Safe Place

Posted by IknowJoseph on 16 December 2017 in English (English)

Quite a subject, I know, so please let me explain my feelings.

There's a news story that "Facebook admits it poses mental health risk"

The story includes a previously reported comment from an ex-Facebook executive saying: β€œThe short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works. No civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth.” In my opinion this applies directly to OSM provided resources, specifically the mailing lists.

Now, people will say straightaway "I'm not on Social Media, I don't do it; I've done emails since before you were born. Facebook is stupid and listserv is how we do it". The point is, many OSM provided services, including the mail lists, are, for all intents and purposes, Social Media. People are using the OSM services for the same dopamine hit that they use other forms of Social Media, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. The difference is we don't share photos of our lunch on the mailing lists. The end result, however, is the same; No civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth.

I am a long term subscriber to 3 OSM mailing lists (talk, since 2009, I think; HOT since day 1; OSMF-talk since 2012) and all three have recently been dominated by a very small group of people engaging in the short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops described above. There have been examples of racism, bullying, harassment, as well as a number of conspiracy theories and statements made that are bizarre to the point that they have to be outright questioned to make sure we're all reading the same words. Engaging with these comments only provides an opportunity for another instant dopamine hit, or opens the door for others to engage in the same behaviour. I am unwilling to post any links to demonstrate this; it shouldn't be too hard to think of recent examples.

OSM provided resources are currently unsafe: To the majority of users they provide an opportunity to be harassed or abused; the mailing lists are unwelcoming, nonconstructive and noisy. To a small number of users, the mailing lists are a place to develop a dangerous feedback loop of inappropriate behaviour. I can't see anyone currently doing well from being a mailing list subscriber.

My early New Year's Resolution is to ask two questions of anything I post to an OSM provided mailing list: Am I encouraging others? If I'm describing a perceived problem, can I propose a solution?

So then, to finish asking for help; if the above is accurate, can we improve this situation? What can the individual do to help?

Location: Abingdon on Thames, Vale of White Horse, Oxfordshire, South East, England, United Kingdom

Comment from Glassman on 16 December 2017 at 22:48

Engaging with these comments only provides an opportunity for another instant dopamine hit, or opens the door for others to engage in the same behaviour. I am unwilling to post any links to demonstrate this; it shouldn't be too hard to think of recent examples.

That is so true. I've been refraining from responding to the trolls for fear of the exactly that. Unfortunately then the trolls drive more people away from the lists and even OSM.

I don't have a good solution and I've been even searching for just that. The only sure way is to get the organization to support enforcement of a CoC. Getting OSMF to take that step is hard. Not all board members support a mailing list CoC. Worse, I'm not sure all list owners will cooperate. (I hope I'm wrong)

There is some interesting reading [Your Companies Slack is Probably Sexist]{https://work.qz.com/1128150/your-companys-slack-is-probably-sexist/) which discusses the differences in how we communicate.

Clifford

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Comment from Nakaner on 17 December 2017 at 16:42

IknowJoseph wrote:

I am a long term subscriber to 3 OSM mailing lists (talk, since 2009, I think; HOT since day 1; OSMF-talk since 2012) and all three have recently been dominated by a very small group of people engaging in the short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops described above. There have been examples of racism, bullying, harassment, as well as a number of conspiracy theories and statements made that are bizarre to the point that they have to be outright questioned to make sure we're all reading the same words.

Could you please point me to examples of racism on one of these three mailing lists?

What is harassement and bullying from your point of view? This email?

I would like to point out that the definition of harassment varies between different cultures. What an American might consider as harassment might be ok for people from Europe. The international mailing lists are multi-cultural and have lots of contributors who are not native English speakers. If a CoC forces them to express criticism in a very polite way, it will become more difficult or even impossible for them to participate in discussions.

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Comment from Glassman on 17 December 2017 at 17:33

@Nakaner - could you provide some authoritative data on which forms of harassment that European culture thinks is acceptable? I've seen this argument before but never with any data to back up the claim.

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Comment from IknowJoseph on 17 December 2017 at 21:05

@Nakaner - As I previously said, I don't want to be getting into specifics as I believe people will be able to find these themselves. You've managed that yourself with an obvious example, but there's plenty of more subtle (yet plenty offensive if you're on the wrong end of it) emails sent recently. As for racism, it's very present in an insidious manner on the mailing lists; I have previously emailed about this.

I am growing tired at the "different cultures" explanation for the negative behaviour seen on the mailing lists. This is an excuse that just doesn't fly anymore, if it ever did at all. In my daily life I communicate with people from a diverse range of cultures, almost all of this has nothing to do with OpenStreetMap; I engage with a people from a variety of cultures on a daily basis for both professional and personal reasons. Abusive behaviour as part of my life with these people does not happen and would not be acceptable if it did. The "different cultures" excuse is offensive not only because it is obviously untrue, but also because it assumes that I have no little experience with cultures other than my own: You cannot explain other people's abusive behaviour by claiming that I am naive.

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Comment from IknowJoseph on 17 December 2017 at 23:20

@Glassman - Thank you for the replies and the Quartz link, fascinating reading.

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Comment from rorym on 18 December 2017 at 16:54

could you provide some authoritative data on which forms of harassment that European culture thinks is acceptable?

I don't believe Euros & USAians have a difference w.r.t. harassment, but there definitely different levels of what is considered polite, and hence what's considered rude.

It's noticeable when I (a Euro) interact with American customer services, they seem to be overtly pleased to help you, in UK/IE there is a different, lower, expectation. I've found many other Euro countries to be like this too. I don't expect someone to hyper enthusiastic to help me. This is something that American immigrants to Europe mention. When looking at Trip Advisor reviews for a place in Europe, and you see an American complain about unfriendly service, take it with a grain of salt. πŸ˜‰

Summed up in this tweet:

Lovely culture clash moment in the London cafe I'm sat in. US man to waiter: Hi! Hey, what's your name? Waiter, with grave suspicion: Why?

There some other cultural differences, like "Free Speech". In many european countries Holocaust denial is illegal. In the US the ACLU will defend neo-Nazis marching in a Jewish area. Some Americans think this is an intolerable restriction on free speech, a form of harassment against unpopular ideas if you will. Many European states restrict gun ownership, which some in USA might view as infringement on rights. Not really OSM relevant though. πŸ™‚

What is harassement [sic] and bullying from your point of view?

This email.

It's a shame that stamping out hate speech is getting mixed up with "Let's require people to always be respectful like American PR speak". πŸ˜”

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Comment from woodpeck on 19 December 2017 at 11:04

If I may add a data point, I'm on two of the three lists you mention and I don't feel that I am either abusing or being abused, please let me know if you think otherwise. You make it sound as if one of the two was true for every person on the lists.

For as long as I can think there have occasionally been heated topics where there was a staccato of messages about something; think of the license change, or even before that the "let's eliminate poisonous people" discussion that was recently quoted. The "dopamine" thing you said certainly rings true but that in itself is not something If things get too heated I am inclined to tune out for a moment, just as I would leave a group at a party who's starting to shout. Doesn't mean I have to go all drama about "here look at me I'm leaving and I suggest everyone else do it too".

I think that hand-wavy accusations are dangerous. If you say "there have been instances of racism", you don't say how many or what they were but the whole context of your message makes it sound that OSM lists must be a place where racism is rampant. Personally I think (and I'm only on 2 of the 3 lists you mention) that you would have to have an extremely far-fetched definition of racism to find anything that warrants that accusation, and if you find something it will be an isolated case. Or else my moral compass is totally off.

Uttering unfounded accusations publicly also carries the danger of sabotaging what little gender and race diversity there is; after 10 diversity opinion leaders have publicly declared OSM lists to be a sexist place, will there (a) be any woman inclined to join the lists, or (b) any woman already on the lists and feeling ok inclined to say "actually I'm fine here"?

Everyone who feels the need to talk publicly about how bad OSM mailing lists are should really include a concrete pointer, so that (1) readers can judge for themselves instead of having to blindly trust the writer, (2) the majority of peace-loving, courteous, and respectful mailing list participants aren't unfairly accused.

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Comment from rorym on 19 December 2017 at 11:18

Important reminder: There can be massive personal costs to making specific accusiation of racism/sexism/etc, and this can cause people to not want to name names, and get specific. This can depend personal circumstances, e.g. an employee is less likely to accuse their boss, compared to a random person. If it's unsafe to make complaints. don't be surprised if there are no complaints. Likewise, privilege can blind people to seeing things. Just something to keep in mind.

On osmf-talk@, I've seen some homophobia & transphobia. I don't think I've seen any racism, and maybe seen things that might be misogyny. I'm open to correction, I might be wrong!

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Comment from IknowJoseph on 19 December 2017 at 11:52

@Woodpeck - thank you for your reply.

You're right that not everyone on the mailing lists has to be either engaging in abusive behaviour, or to be a direct recipient of it. I think it's getting to a point, however, where the level of vitriol on the lists is extremely discouraging for everyone, even if they're not a current victim. The current climate on the OSM lists is, I believe, corrosive to all.

A very recent example; will people express a belief on list A, when they could get abused for it there, or on list B? What's the use of 3rd party services if you're going to get harassed about your thoughts on the OSM lists? There's a chilling effect here that is damaging to everyone.

I think we're seeing a really dangerous process of harassment and abuse travelling horizontally across mailing lists and other platforms; calling people out for having an opinion is bad enough, but moving this to other platforms and being confrontational there is only harassment. Shutting this sort of behaviour down should be a priority for the OSMF; doing so would not count as "censorship".

I think racism is commonplace and insidious on the mailing lists I am a member of. As I've said, I don't want to name names as I don't think that's appropriate. As I've also said, this isn't the sort of racism I can grep out of conversations; I'm not here saying "there's bad words on the lists". A small number of mailing users will work hard to highlight differences between members, particularly along USA / Europe lines, and are subtlety, constantly, attempting to generate friction based on this issue of race.

I write this as a European living in my country of birth. That possibly wasn't made clear by the location link in my original post. I should probably say that I speak to Americans, and my fellow Europeans, on a daily basis about matters unrelated to OSM, geography, maps, etc.

I have not touched on a CoC on this thread (I'd rather deal with one issue at a time; this week's issue is identifying a problem), but I think this could be a useful point. I believe that mailing list moderation is good for dealing with the bad words I mentioned above, or obvious community rules: You can't use offensive language, you can't post on adult themes, you can't try to sell your Honda Civic. However, you can adhere to these rules and still engage in racist behaviour, if you keep it to an insidious level, and if you do it so much that it just becomes part of the background of the community. I believe a CoC would set expectations, not moderator rules, which would help with the racism I believe is engaged in on a near daily basis.

I don't like to say that I think the OSM lists are a harmful place, but as it stands I would not encourage people to join up.

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Comment from Alan Trick on 19 December 2017 at 19:13

I find it suprising that sexual orientation and gender identity issues would be a thing. I mean, how would anyone know if you were a homosexual or a transgendered person. I guess I'm probably being a little naive, but it should be pretty easy to hide behind the pseudo anonymous nature of OSM.

I mean, this should be true to a degree about racist and sexist issues too, though I could see those things being accidentally/intentionally made public a lot easier.

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Comment from Jochen Kern on 24 December 2017 at 12:06

We do not need a CoC, a newspeak dictionary will do.

Quote: "Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thought-crime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by eactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten. . . . The process will still be continuing long after you and I are dead. Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller."

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