Why I Won’t be Speaking at OSCON

As you may have seen recently on Twitter, some problematic language was slipped into OSCON’s Code of Conduct that added “political affiliation” as a protected class. In addition, there was language in the speaker agreement that stated:

8. In keeping with the O’Reilly Code of Conduct, I agree to refrain from any political or religious commentary while I am on stage.

Sage Sharp and Coraline Ada Ehmke have both wrote extensively on why this is problematic, and I highly encourage you to read Coraline’s blog post and Sage’s Twitter threads. I specifically want to highlight this point that Coraline wrote:

You might think that politics don’t belong at a technology conference, but I would argue that politics and software are so tangled that they cannot be reasonably separated. Consider the GPS software that tells you how to get to a restaurant, that is also used to power military drones. Or the facial recognition software that unlocks your phone, being used to record, track, and target the activities of political dissenters. Or even simple things, like he/she pronoun selections on sign-up forms. Or health and wellness apps that assume that all women menstruate, or that none of their users menstruate. All of these technologies are inherently political. There is no neutral political position in technology. You can’t build systems that can be weaponized against marginalized people and take no responsibility for them.

All technical decisions are political.

Everything we build in tech has political ramifications. Any claims that “I don’t get involved in politics” is just another way of saying “I’m ignoring the harm and impact that my technical decisions make.”

As a Gen X queer atheist from Texas, I am keenly aware of the harm that politics inflicts on the underprivileged and marginalized. I’m sure Tim O’Reilly has good intentions and does not intend for this marginalization to occur. However, as I recently wrote, intentions are irrelevant when your actions result in the oppression of marginalized groups. It does not matter if you intended the opposite.

Tim O’Reilly’s response on LinkedIn does nothing to convince me that he and others will effectively enforce OSCON’s Code of Conduct, as they removed the language but stuck with the intent of the language. This is not effective action, this is trying to PR your way out of a crisis. In addition, OSCON has already failed to effectively enforce their Code of Conduct against a serial abuser in the past, further illustrating how their words and actions do not correlate:

This is completely unacceptable. I will not support or speak at any conference that is unwilling to make privileged folks uncomfortable to ensure the safety of marginalized individuals.

As such, I am withdrawing from speaking at OSCON.

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Bryan Hughes

Bryan Hughes

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Software is written for people, by people. Without people, software would not exist, nor would it have a reason to exist.