[hackerspaces] New Member Vetting

Matt Joyce matt at nycresistor.com
Wed Sep 19 03:25:07 CEST 2012

> those that Matt Joyce, who is still welcome into our terrifying little
> enclave in the Mission, but, as openfly, is one of the few people
> actually banned from the #noisebridge IRC channel for his repeated
> dull and misogynistic trolling -- documented. The difficult challenge

Dunno why you brought that up.  But it does raise a good point.

Before I start, I like noisebridge, and I am friends with many of its members.
I've supported it in the past and will continue to do so.  But I'm not
a huge fan of the space as a hackerspace for me.  Just isn't better
than my own apt.

I do however believe that the best question a hackerspace community
can ask itself is what do we suck at?  If you can openly ask yourself
that, and honestly put forth a best effort to reconcile the response
you are doing alright.

As to the IRC thing, that is what reminded me of this issue.

ani- is a rather extreme example of one of the more destructive types
of hostility in the noisebridge community.  I'd consider her to be
what I like to call toxic membership.

I'm glad to discuss in private with any current noisebridge member why
I think ani- is 'toxic'.  But for the rest of you, it would be
unhelpful to all and thus pointless.  ( trolls, we know restraint )

So a definition of toxic membership :

Toxic members, are members who have become a part of the community
through active participation and over time proved themselves to be
good or average members.  But, as time progresses, they manifest
themselves or produce in the culture of the space a hostility torwards
visitors and potential new members ( or outside influrence )

One of the less easy to spot examples of this is cronyism.  A bit of
the "well we've all been here for five years, who are you to want to
do things differently?"

One of the more easy to spot examples might be brogrammers.  Imagine
walking into crushspace and finding a bunch of frat house rejects
doing keg stands and crushing code on their airbooks.  Immediately
they begin to rate your cleavage.

Toxicity.  When your community has beef with the rest of the world,
you have lost.

Examples of toxic hackerspace members:

At NYCR we had a frequent visitor we asked to leave because they were
incredibly hung up on their belief sept 11 was a conspiracy and they
would bring it up continually.  This was a good person, who honestly
meant well, and was involved in the community.  But over time we had
to decide whether or not we could let him keep coming to events.   The
critical factor was that he was keeping others away.  And that wasn't
cool.  He tried to fix his own issue, but even by his own admission it
was just not something he was ready to get over yet.  Clean break.

At HackerDojo there was a person whom was homeless and unstable, and
was caught basically repeatedly lying to people about themselves and
growing violently agitated when questioned at all about that.  A
similar albeit far more brief discussion played out and they were

These aren't folks who are obviously a problem.  And in both cases had
been around long enough to start to become a trusted member of the
community, but had they lasted they could have caused internal
problems driving membership away, or worse changed the community
culture into an insular paradigm.

At Noisebridge there have been some rather infamous cases of insanity,
but the cases of toxicity are not really addressed:

One member several months ago, attempted to ask a chronic problem
visitor to leave because they were harassing other visitors.  This
person whom was asked nicely to leave locked themselves in a bathroom
and refused to leave until police were summoned they had grown very
mentally unstable at that point.  Following that a group of
noisebridge members attacked this long time member who had initiated
the event on a number of levels making insinuations and outright false
claims.  Some of them very hurtful.  For some folks it was simply a
matter of acting based of third party descriptions of events, but for
others it was a matter of self preservation.  If one person can be
removed for being hostile many can.  So hostile members formed rank
and attempted to dump on a good person who had done nothing other than
take on a great deal of personal risk to improve the quality of
noisebridge for others.

Noisebridge has a number of toxic members today.  Folks who come in
just to use the kitchens and the couches and have no desire at all to
hack.  People who come in to peddle whatever their personal beliefs
are to whomever will listen, and when that fails even the people who
would rather not be disturbed.  Folks who will react with vicious lies
about anyone they see as being different from them, or unaccepting of
their beliefs.  Sometimes these are otherwise good people, whom simply
cannot grok that their opinion isn't the only one in the room.

I have a friend whom will remain nameless who said something along
these lines:  Our hackerspace is next to the LGBT community center, so
some folks don't visit.  We don't want those people anyways.

That's a great example of prevent toxic membership.  At the same time,
there's the problem of subjective morality being a double edged sword.
 If you have a group of folks sitting in your hackerspace voting down
members because they aren't diverse enough, or aren't in line with
their own group think on LGBT issues then you again have a small group
that's actively hostile towards the external community.

When it comes down to it, a default allow is difficult to protect if
your membership is acting against it.  Even in a space like
nycresistor where there is a default deny, if a member was purposely
attempting to enforce an unfair bias on potential membership, they
would be toxic.

It's one of the biggest issues in terms of long term survivability for
hackerspaces and small communities.  Formalized rules go a long way to
stopping it, but ask any CCC member about their own internal politics
and be prepared for a litany of complaints that can all trace back to
toxic characters.

 - Matt

More information about the Discuss mailing list