It’s starting to seem like there’s another post about bad behavior within the “WordPress community” every time I turn around. There have certainly been too many to list, some of them very thoughtful, but the one that made me decide I had to say something was James Dalman’s “Goodbye WordPress” post.
Because yes, there have definitely been instances of bad behavior in various of the communities of people who use WordPress. And no one who encounters discrimination, harassment, personal attacks, or mistreatment should put up with it. If you see it happening in any group you’re part of, whether or not it’s happening to you, then you should confront it, and that’s what many of these posts are attempting to do.
But if you expect to be able to avoid any of these things by leaving WordPress behind, you’re in for a very unpleasant surprise.
In any substantial group of people—people who work in the same industry, or belong to the same church/synagogue/temple/ashram/whatever, or live in the same neighborhood, or support the same political candidate, or are bound by any other commonality—you will inevitably find
- People who discriminate against you because of something outside your control, such as race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation
- People who receive, or appear to receive, special treatment
- People who have more influence than you think they should
- People who become financially successful and get accused of “selling out” (like every indie artist who’s had a Top 40 hit, ever)
- People with a massive sense of entitlement who think you should do everything for them
- People who want something for nothing
- People who complain like its an Olympic event
- People who get drunk and do stupid things (especially at conferences)
- Creepers (of whatever gender or sexual orientation) who make unwanted sexual advances (whatever your gender or sexual orientation)
- Popular products or services that change hands or get discontinued, creating a storm of complaints
- Trolls who make trouble for the fun of it
- Otherwise smart people who are not very socially ept, possibly for a very good reason like autism
- People who are only out for themselves
- People who lie
- People who steal
- People who cheat
- People who don’t want to give back
- Elites, in-groups, and cliques.
You will see all this even in groups of people who “should” be better because they share or claim to share your values. All of us should be better, but we aren’t. Even when we are trying very hard to live up to a set of ideals, we frequently screw up. And sometimes we aren’t trying.
This is not a problem with WordPress. It’s a problem with humanity. It will follow you wherever you go.
Since we’re not going to escape it, what do we do about it?
Just because people everywhere do these things doesn’t mean we should put up with them. Jonathan Perez rightly points out that the “WordPress community” is not monolithic. Every WordPress-related Facebook group, Slack team, meetup, Twitter list, or WordCamp is a community. So are regular readers of, and commenters on, WP news (or other) blogs. If you’re reading this, you are probably part of some WordPress community, whether or not you’ve ever met any of the core team or hung out with an A-list WordPress blogger.
It may be that in your own micro-community, you’ve never seen any of the awful behaviors referenced in these posts, and are shocked to hear that such things happen. I’ve observed some of it, but very rarely encountered it directly, and I’ve interacted with hundreds, if not thousands, of WordPress people. I’ve been the organizer of the East Bay WordPress Meetup since 2009, and I don’t recall anyone ever doing anything worse than posting something spammy to the discussion list. (And most of that was done by people who had just joined in order to spam, rather than to participate…at least some of them bots, before Meetup.com got better at screening them out.)
But maybe you have experienced the bad stuff firsthand at a WordCamp or in a group. What do you do? And if the “WordPress community” is not all one thing with a central authority, whose responsibility is it when people act out?
Guess what? It’s everyone’s responsibility to treat others with respect. That’s not a “WordPress community” responsibility. It’s our responsibility as human beings.
If you manage a WordPress community, create and enforce guidelines for acceptable behavior.
The WordPress Foundation has developed a code of conduct for WordCamps and a set of good-faith rules for WordPress meetups. Even if you don’t run an official meetup and aren’t organizing a WordCamp, it’s a good idea to read these and to present some version of them as an expectation of members of your own community, such as a LinkedIn or Facebook group or a Slack team–or even as a comment policy for your blog. Make it clear to people what’s expected of them, and don’t hesitate to block or ban people who won’t stop when you ask them politely.
I’m happy to have people disagree with me all day long in my comments, and to tell me when my code is wrong, as long as they can do so without reference to race, gender, age, sexual orientation, marital status, ethnicity, and so forth. If you can’t make an argument without referring to those things, it’s not worth making, and it’s certainly not worth listening to. No obscenities, no personal attacks, and no spam. I won’t publish the comment if it contains any of those things. Neither should you, if you have a blog or a forum.
If you’re not the organizer or admin and see unacceptable behavior, report it.
In many online groups, you have the option to flag a post as spam or otherwise inappropriate. Don’t hesitate to do this. Maybe the moderator is offline for the day and hasn’t seen it. At a WordCamp, you can make a report to any volunteer, who will see that the organizers know about the problem. (You don’t need to wait for someone else to ask an offender to stop, but you may not feel safe confronting the person yourself, and even if you do, the organizers should know what happened.)
Police your own behavior.
We all have bad days when something that wouldn’t ordinarily bother us really sets us off. It’s all too easy to run off at the keyboard at such times–much easier than it is to be mean to someone else’s face. (Flame wars and trolling pre-date the World Wide Web.)
So if you hear, for instance, that X company just bought Y product and you’re outraged—stop. Ask yourself why this bothers you so much. Are you afraid that the new owner will take the product in a direction you don’t like? Are you afraid there will be a dramatic price increase? Are you afraid the product will disappear entirely? Are you, just possibly, jealous that the creator of that product has just made a lot of money, because you have a competing product that didn’t get bought?
You’re a lot more likely to be listened to if you say “I really hope the new owner keeps X feature” or “I hope this doesn’t get priced out of my range because I really like this product” than if you start predicting doom or accusing the creator of selling out. The new owner (no matter how profit-driven) wants the product to succeed, so self-interest dictates paying attention to the features that current users really like or the price that they are willing/able to pay.
Likewise, if you read a proposal about a new core feature, saying “I don’t think this is a good candidate for inclusion in core, and here’s why” is going to get you a lot farther than “It’s a conspiracy by the core team to make my life more difficult.” People may not follow your advice, but at least they’ll listen to what you have to say instead of dismissing you as a troll.
Recognize the difference between people who disagree with you and people who are trolling you.
We should encourage people to disagree with us—as long as they can do so in a way that’s civil and helpful. Sometimes our great ideas really aren’t that great, and it takes someone else to point that out to us. Personal attacks are never acceptable, but not all criticism is a personal attack, even if it makes us bristle. If we’re going to be as good as we can be, we need to listen to the people who say “I don’t think that will work. Try this instead,” or “Have you thought about this possible consequence?”
Criticism can be worth listening to even when it’s not as polite as that, as long as it doesn’t descend to the level of “Shut up, you stupid n00b.” It doesn’t actually take long to distinguish someone with strong opinions and not much tact from a troll who escalates the situation no matter what your response. Shut down the trolls, but grit your teeth and check to see whether the person with no tact has a point before responding.
So what was my point again?
The problems that get tagged #wpdrama aren’t unique to WordPress. You’re going to encounter them wherever you go. There’s no reason to put up with certain types of behavior anywhere, online or off. If you belong to a group that doesn’t have explicit guidelines for acceptable behavior, create some—and then abide by them.