The FOSS Community, Anxiety, and Social Hell

Posted on Fri 26 March 2021 in Opinion

I was going to write a little about my efforts to get into more advanced shell scripting. I’d recently gotten a copy of the O’Reilly Media sed & awk book to help in that endeavor. But… The last few days have been mentally wearing on me. To the point that I shoved that post to the side to write this one.

I’ll be honest, the last few days have reminded me of just how toxic social media can be. I’m not just talking about the rift forming from the Stallman Wars, but from just how bad people can act even on the best of days. And I mean it. As a member of the LGBTQA+ community (I’m trans-enby), I’ve seen just how hateful people can be on both sides of the equation. Throw in an almost naturally toxic enviornment like the tech community, and it’s absolute hell. The FOSS community tends to add another level of vitrol and spite as well, and it gets to be almost untolerable.

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that my time in FOSS has made me somewhat jaded and numb, but much of it is also the extreme anxiety that I almost always feel from the LGBTQA+ as well: I never know when someone’s going to shove a knife in my back because I accidentally say the wrong thing. And these days, people have almost no forgiveness in them. One strike, and they’ll try to ruin your entire life, with zero remorse for their own actions. Many of them will use a mob to help in their beatdown, and if you’re on social media, you’re more likely to suffer from site admins than you are to get them to enforce their own anti-abuse rules. This goes for many Fediverse instances as well.

And they won’t just go for you. Guilt by Association is a common theme among these mobs, and they’ll attack anyone remotely connected to you as a form of vengence. If those people don’t denounce you, they’ll be targeted as harshly as you, regardless of whether they’ve actually done anything.

I should know. I’ve been through this hell. Multiple times. From mulitiple communities. For doing nothing more than blogging wrong, and dressing differently. For just being myself, or existing as someone’s friend or loved one.

It’s why I’ve come to resent social media so much. And the Stallman Wars have done a good job at ripping open some of my old mental wounds. It’s why I have such a strong opinion about moderation, both against abusive users, and against mod/admin teams that don’t even follow their own CoCs and rules. It’s why I freak out any time this sort of incident happens, as I did the first time RMS was tossed out.

It’s why I have such a strong resentment toward cancel culture, whether it’s used for good or evil. Because I’ve been there. I know the kind of mental place it can put someone, and that dark alleyway has a tempting bottomless pit just waiting for someone to fall into. One that not everyone can climb their way out of. One that not everyone can survive.

Social media, whether it’s the data silos of Facebook and Twitter, or the decentralized/federated systems of the Fediverse, brings out some of the worst in all of us.

I don’t want to be a part of that hellscape. Not anymore.

The Stallman Wars saga started me down my own dark alley again, bringing back painful memories that I’d hoped I wouldn’t have to deal with anymore. I’m not going to let myself walk that path again.

I’m ashamed of the tech community at large for what it has become, but I’m more ashamed at what the FOSS community has done to me over the last 20 or so years. It’s not a healthy environment for anyone, and after this debacle, I’m not sure if it ever will be.

Update (21:00): I will clarify that I’m not leaving the FOSS world. I’m still going to use *nix, and I’m still going to use Free/Open software. I just want nothing to do with much of the toxic community that controls so much of the narritive today.

I still want to learn how to do some programming of my own, but I’m going to be extra picky of who I ask for help.