Monday, 01 April 2013 10:17

Ada Initiative's use of threats backfires

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The use of threats by a non-profit organisation to get a talk at a security conference cancelled has had at least one negative side effect.

The Ada Initiative, which aims to increase the participation of women in open source technology and culture, got a talk, scheduled to be given at the BSides San Francisco security conference, cancelled, by putting pressure on the organisers.

Reacting to this, the organisers of a security conference in Belgium have decided to drop the anti-harassment policy they had drafted, which was based on a template created by the Ada Initiative, and draft their own instead.

One of the claims by the Ada Initiative about its achievements in a little more than two years of existence is: "Made conferences safer for women: Wrote and encouraged adoption of policies preventing harassment of women, now in use by hundreds of conferences and organizations (sic) in open tech/culture as well as science fiction conventions, fan conventions, computer game conferences, and skeptic/atheist conferences."

The Belgian conference is known as BruCON and is scheduled to be held on September 26 and 27. There are security training courses offered from September 23 to 25.

Ada Initiative executive director Valerie Aurora was the person who got the talk cancelled, because her organisation did not agree with its presentation at a technical conference.

The talk, by well-known presenter and writer Violet Blue, was about the interactions of drugs and sex.

Asked for comment, the BruCON organisers told iTWire: "We do not feel that the current atmosphere in the community lends itself to an open and frank discussion. It is our opinion that all parties involved should take some time and reflect on the problem and the undesired outcome of their actions. We are supportive of the BSides initiative and any and all volunteers that choose to make a huge personal investment by organizing (sic) a BSides event.

"BruCON is dedicated to fostering an environment that is inclusive and supportive of every single community member that desires to participate in an event intended to enable knowledge sharing regardless of gender, race, age, physical appearance,...

"To enable knowledge sharing we first and foremost have to create an environment that allows our attendees to participate in the manner they desire, with respect of fellow attendees but more importantly unrestricted in their right to freely express themselves.

"As our anti-harassment policy was based on a sample policy supported by the organisation that, in our opinion, has acted against those exact values we try to encourage, we do not feel that we can give the impression to support those actions. It is therefore that we are currently working to rewrite our policy from scratch. This will be done with help and support from community members, of all genders, familiar with the matter and familiar with the BruCON values.

"We do not wish to partake in public mud-slinging. Applying Darwin's law of natural selection to the tech community, we can only hope that this  episode leads to all of us becoming better peers and not better mud-slingers."

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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