Earlier this week at the PyCon conference (the largest annual gathering for developers using the open-source Python programming language), a woman named Adria Richards overheard a joke presumably between two men sitting behind her during a crowded presentation.
Richards was offended and took a picture of the two men who were allegedly making jokes. She tweeted, “Not cool. Jokes about forking repo’s in a sexual way and “big” dongles. Right behind me #pycon.” She also attached a photo of the two people making the jokes.*
Problem: Richards’ Twitter account has 12,000 followers. So she blasted an unfounded accusation of two strangers out to 12,000 people. Then she blogged about it later. Reddit and Hacker News picked it up, so soon it was all over the internet.
Fired Over False Accusations
To make a long story short: one of the men in the photo was fired because of what he supposedly said, based on Richards’ tweet. Later, however, Adria Richards was fired because the company she worked for didn’t like what she did. This was reported all over the internet, too.
Actually, “reported” is too mild a word: people have been taking sides and yelling at each other for more than a week now. Women supporting Richards are claiming that the alleged joke-tellers were engaged in “sexual harassment”. While others, who support the two men, are telling the Richards-supporters to back off.
Harassment, no. Defamation, yes
Were the alleged joke-telling men committing sexual harassment, as was suggested by the supporters of Richards? No, not by the legal definition of harassment. On the other hand, did Richards commit defamation of the two men? By legal definition, yes.
All other arguments aside, here’s what really matters: Do YOU want to live in a world where a stranger can take your photo, Tweet it to 12,000 people along with an accusation, and you could lose your job because of it? That’s scary. The last time we had citizens getting innocent people in trouble based on vague allegations was during the Nazi regime…and I’m sure we don’t want to return to that era.
The guy who was accused of making the statements has a very good case against Richards. If he doesn’t sue her and her company for losing his job, I’ll be very surprised.
This is a warning
More importantly, you might want to see this as a warning: be prepared for this sort of thing. There’s no telling when you could be laid off just because somebody snaps your photo and then Tweets it to all their followers.
Therefore, if your boss calls you into a meeting and demands to know why you “said” something, deny everything. Unless there is an audio or video recording of you saying that, then there’s no case. Also, it’s against the law to record you without your permission. So be aware and be prepared.
*P.S. For those of you who have never heard the terms “dongle” and “fork”, a “dongle” is a small piece of hardware that attaches to a computer, TV, or other electronic device and enables additional functions such as copy protection, audio, video, games, data, or other services that are only available when it is attached.
“Forking”, as it relates to software, is defined as when developers copy a bit of source code from one software package and start independent development using it, creating a distinct piece of new software. (In other words, they “fork” it out of the original, like you would use a fork to pull one potato out of a pot that contained several.)