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This is an article that has been in the works for a couple of weeks, but unfortunately made all the more timely by the terrible incident that Kathy Sierra is going through right now. Sadly, though, she is far from alone in this problem. I personally know several other bloggers and community members who have been struggling with online threats and stalking behavior in the last few months. I’ve had to deal with (relatively minor) versions of it myself, mostly just by being a female tech early-adopter and conference organizer.

As the ever-expanding blogosphere reaches a more mainstream audience, prominent bloggers and community members attain celebrity status, and thus, they begin to draw anti-celebrity backlash. Add in the research showing that people find it easier to be, well, completely reprehensible online because of the perceived anonymity, and it should come as no surprise that we’re suddenly having to deal with a surprising number of trolls, stalkers, and worse. We’ve hit critical mass.

And while entertainment industry and political celebrities seem to have developed the means of protecting themselves against these people, the tech industry is rather poorly prepared for it. Think of the differences in security between, say, the Oscars, and ETech. This leaves conference planners (and especially un-conference planners) with the very uncomfortable task of figuring out how to screen for this – and how to protect speakers (and all barcampers) without completely destroying the sense of community we’ve all worked so hard these past 18 months to foster.

Sadly, we had to deal with a similar issue for BarcampLA-3. An individual who had previously been a respected and contributing member of our community took an unfortunate turn at BarcampLA-2. At our event in November, we had to deal with extremely disruptive behavior during sessions, harassment of female barcampers (to the point where they felt unsafe), and flagrant alcohol and drug abuse on site. Since then, the same individual has also been exhibiting online stalking behavior towards local (female) community members, as well as making public calls for violence against specific individuals in our community in San Francisco.

And then, he signed up for BarcampLA-3.

Obviously, this is was not ok, but it’s a difficult decision to un-invite someone to an un-conference. Even more difficult was figuring out how to enforce it if we did. On the other hand, it was paramount that we keep our attendees safe. In light of this challenge, we drafted the following:

Code of Conduct

To ensure that BarCamp is a safe, enjoyable event for all comers, we have devised the following baseline code of conduct.

The following will not be tolerated and will result in immediate dismissal from BarCamp. Please review these rules carefully, there will be a zero tolerance policy in place at the event:

  1. Excessive Alcohol Usage, or ANY alcohol usage outside of the venue. This is disrespectful and the possible legal ramifications could jeopardize the event for everyone.
  2. Use of illegal drugs in or anywhere near the venue. As in #1, not only is this disrespectful to other BarCampers, it could also lead to the event being shut down. This is unacceptable.
  3. While healthy, participatory discourse is encouraged, we will not tolerate abusive, badgering, or baiting arguments, whether during a session or otherwise. Likewise, disrupting the presentation of any individual, either through excessive interruptions, loud talking through a session in close proximity to a session, or attempting to take the stage (or similar presentation area) during another individual’s presentation will be grounds for immediate dismissal.
  4. Aggressive behavior towards other BarCampers, whether physical or verbal, will not be tolerated. This covers, but is not limited to:
    • Threats of violence
    • Excessive personal insults
    • Sexually aggressive behavior
    • “Stalking behavior” of any sort
    • Harassment of any person present at BarCamp

We want to make BarCamp a safe and comfortable environment for everyone involved, which is why we believe these very basic ground rules are necessary and non-negotiable. Feel free to contact any of the organizers if you have any questions on this matter and we will be happy to address your concerns.

Roughly a week before the event, we posted this Code of Conduct in the BarcampLA section of http://barcamp.org. We also sent the text directly to the individual cited above, not formally uninviting him, but letting him know that yes, we were watching, and yes, we were talking directly to him. We had an unofficial security force lined up for the days of the conference (essentially, a small group of very large geeks willing to serve if needed) and a small cash fund to call a taxi for any individual who needed to be ejected from the event.

In the end, our event went off without any of the problems experienced before and, hopefully, the majority of campers never knew that these issues were at hand, which was our goal. We want people to feel safe at BarCamp, and not because there’s a security guard at the door.

But as our events become larger and ever more publicized, these issues will continue to crop up, and most likely, even to grow. As organizers, we have a distinct challenge in front of us – to protect the spirit of our community while also protecting our community members. While it’s far from pleasant, I believe we must be proactive about calling out the behaviors that will not be tolerated at our events (and ready to take action if needed). Please feel free to amend and re-post the guidelines above. I hope this begins a discussion, and I’m really looking forward to getting feedback from the community on this matter.

And lastly, please do not be complacent about the issue of online stalking. NO ONE in our community deserves to live in fear.

-CRW

Ah, those Hollywood sequels… Here’s one you really don’t want to miss. It’s hard to believe it, but BarCamp Los Angeles #3 is upon us in just six short days from now.

I _heart_LAWe’ve once again got the fabulous Little Radio Warehouse for a venue, a whole pile of fantastic sponsors, and the session topics that have already been posted look fantastic. More than worth a two hour train ride up from San Diego (and close enough to cab it from Union Station).

Details:
March 24-25, 2007.
Begins 10am, March 24 and rolling right on through 7pm on March 25.

Little Radio Warehouse
1218 Long Beach Ave
Los Angeles, California 90021

Go add yourself to the wiki now! Hope to see you there.

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