In the Depths of the Cloud, Open Source and Proprietary Leviathans Fight to the Death
Jono Bacon Asked Google Home ‘Who Founded Linux?’ You Won’t Believe What Happened Next!
Red Hat's Women in Open Source Award Winners, 2017
Imagine an Android Phone Without Linux Inside
Linus Torvalds Talks to Debian Users
Mozilla Relents, Thunderbird Can Stay
Heed the Prophet Stallman, oh Software Sinners!
August 18th, 2015

The Wages of Online Disrespect

To some, I am a Linux Guru because I have been using Linux as my only operating system since 2005. To others, I’m the oh-so-adorable-cheek-squeezing newbie who thinks his basic bash skills are a massive achievement. For those who first installed Slackware via a Dagwood sandwich pile of floppies, then I suppose the latter is right. I think we all carry a bit of each within us. But in the end, it doesn’t matter at all — that isn’t even in play. But let me tell you what is in play.

Tux skeletonRespect.

I’ve been a member of the Slashdot community since 2002. My sig line for helios17 is, if I may say so myself, pretty cool. Wanna know what it is? I mean without having to go look it up? Sigh…if you insist.

“Windows assumes you are an idiot…Linux demands proof.”

There’s a lot of implied stuff in those few words. On the surface, the main things are fairly clear. Most Windows systems I’ve used will ask at least three times if I am sure I want to complete the action I just requested.

But Linux isn’t without sin in this, although to a much lesser degree. The thing that bothers me most about my Linux install is really just picking nits. When I click the button to shut down my computer, I mean for it to shut down my frickin’ computer. I don’t need for it to ask if I am sure I want to do this. Well yeah, I want to do this. I went out of my way to specifically click the shutdown button. I don’t need any meaningful dialogue or long, dramatic goodbyes beforehand. We don’t need to discuss how doing so will impact our relationship, amid the swirling fog stirred by the propeller wings of an awaiting airplane. Just turn off my frickin’ computer. Sheesh.

Sorry…my asides can get lengthy.

Linux on the other hand will allow you to do anything you want as long as you know the root password. I make it a point to tell everyone I introduce to Linux that root is a powerful thing that can do horrible things if you don’t know what you are doing. It won’t ask if you are sure you want to do this. If you don’t know, stop right there and ask someone. Linux assumes you know what you are doing and loyally follows your commands.

But about those commands and the whole respect thing…

It happened on Reddit a few years ago. In a Linux sub Reddit or what ever they are called, somebody new to Linux asked about a particular command line syntax for a particular command. He was directed to type in the following command and then let the command run, and then type his command in just the way he had done it before.

rm -rf /

Reddit blew up. Thousands upon thousands of comments streamed in, hundreds a minute for the first twenty minutes, condemning the asshat who wiped out some kid’s computer. It slowed the Reddit servers to a crawl. And condemned he should be. There is nothing short of national security that should allow that sort of behavior, and even then I am hesitant to condone it.

It appears that the person who gave the kid the command to wipe his drive didn’t take the hint from a couple of years before.

It was 2006, if I remember correctly. I’m having trouble finding any information to which to link, but I remember it clearly. In the Reader’s Digest version, one person insulted another person’s religion and inferred that he was a terrorist. Within that week, the guy who did the insulting answered his door bell, only to have his throat slashed on his doorstep. He died within two minutes and the “terrorist” was arrested just blocks away from the crime scene. I suppose it was a sort of self fulfilling prophesy.

angry eyesRegardless, it all comes down to one extremely simple rule: When in doubt, respect.

It’s already been proven that our anonymity online is a myth. Even with tools like Tor and anything else short of a high quality VPN, finding who we are and where we live requires just a little bit of work. The Internet is forever, up until the movement for “the right to be forgotten” came about. But even with that, none of us are really safe from discovery if someone wants to find us.

Me? Hell, I’m an open book. My online presence will lead you right to my various doorsteps with little effort and in minutes, so maybe I’m a bad example. But you aren’t that much more difficult to find.

Here’s my point. Six weeks ago, I re-established the practice of including a number of links on the desktops of our Reglue Kid’s computers. Those links would take them to various places online if they needed assistance with anything pertaining to their computers, including the operating system. I had previously discontinued the practice after several of our kids had been treated harshly in various forums. Some were cursed, or treated as if they were idiots for not knowing proper forum protocol. Given that was a few years ago, I re-initiated the practice, thinking things might’ve changed.

That wasn’t smart of me at all. Even after having communicated to some of the forums that our kids would probably visit to seek answers, the same thing happened. They were scalded with criticism for not knowing how best to present themselves and ask their questions. Keep in mind, some of these kids are only ten to twelve years old. Harsh words hurt…and you’re a frickin’ asshat for picking on a child.

Am I going to hunt you down and beat you up? LOL. No. At my age and in my physical condition it would be a short fight. But while I will not beat you physically, I will shred you online and without mercy…if I so choose. I realized just how brutal opinion can be online in 2008 when I excoriated a school teacher for not knowing the smallest bit about free and open source software. That was my first official “slashdotting” and after all was said and done, I am deeply sorry for doing what I did.

These days, I am a bit more mellow and much less apt to rally support against anyone or anything. I apply “Ken’s 24 hour rule” to most everything in my life. I look into my crystal ball to see if the present thing on my mind will be important in 24 hours. In 95 percent of cases, the answer is no, so I don’t worry over it any longer. I let it go. It’s a good rule to follow.

But so is remembering to be civil when speaking with someone online. You never know who they are or anything about them. Sometimes just looking at that person’s profile can temper your response or comments. In 2006, a man died because he insulted someone’s God in a forum. That’s extreme, of course, but just remember that’s a flesh and blood person you are communicating with. Just because you cannot see them doesn’t mean your words won’t impact them in a hurtful or horrible way. How do you suppose those responsible for the suicide death of Audrie Pott feel? There’s a special place for people who do such things. Anyone who mistreats someone online, in my opinion, is terribly and unconditionally flawed. A bully of most grotesque nature.

And while it’s a long shot to happen, if you’ve bullied or hurt someone online, you might want to peek through the hole in your door before you open it. Some folks aren’t as slow to anger or as easy to get along with as I am.

Help keep FOSS Force strong. If you like this article, become a subscriber.

The following two tabs change content below.
Ken Starks writes and publishes The Blog of Helios, a finalist in our Best FOSS or Linux Blog competition. In addition, he's the person behind the Reglue project, which refurbishes older computers and gives them to disadvantaged school kids in the Austin, Texas area. Follow him on Twitter @Reglue

19 comments to The Wages of Online Disrespect

  • Mike S.

    I really believe in free software and why free software is important, which is why I am saddened that so many user forums are hostile to novices. I want us to take over the technology world, and we can’t do that if we drive away so many potential allies.

    As an aside, with all of the things Microsoft did wrong and does wrong, they got one thing right with PowerShell – consistency across commands as much as possible. In a shell on Linux, what does the “-a” input flag mean? It depends upon the command you’re using. It saves on typing for veterans, but it’s bewildering for novices.

  • kksheth

    To make your article strong and meaningful, you should atleast give some example of abuse.

  • Mike

    So the guy really was a terrorist.

  • Colonel Panik

    Mellow? Ken Starks mellow?

  • eMBee

    so can we find a forum for those kids where they can get help without being hurt?

    do we need to create one?

    in such a forum any form of hostility should lead to an immediate ban. no second chances. this should be a safe space for kids. no offtopic chats, no sharing personal details. (any threads like that should be closed with a friendly note and personal details removed)

    i’d be happy to volunteer to answer questions in such a forum, and if needed help moderate too.

    if there are enough moderators then new signups could be moderated too. and possibly signups by kids could be vetted by reglue (if they sign up while the computer is set up, it could be completely anonymous. it’s enough that reglue knows which accounts are reglue kids. alternatively reglue could pass out some signup code, or create the account on the kids behalf and send out an invitation)

    this could be started with a small number of kids at first, and new kids added as more helpers join.

    what do you think?

  • gus3

    Why not right here on FOSS Force or Reglue’s site?

  • > So the guy really was a terrorist.
    No, just a murderer.

  • Somewhat Reticent

    “I re-established the practice of including a number of links on the desktops of our Reglue Kid’s computers” even though you still hadn’t made sure they were “safe” for newbies. Shame on you. “That wasn’t smart of me at all. ” Indeed. It was foolish, lazy, and inconsiderate of your customers.

    So how long before your links go to kid-friendly fora?

  • Mike

    >> So the guy really was a terrorist.
    > No, just a murderer.

    There’s no difference.

  • skelband

    > There’s no difference.
    Really? So any instance of pre-meditated killing is terrorism?
    Silly me. There was me thinking that terrorism was about terror.

    Murder can be used for that purpose, but I think you will find that most murders are crimes of passion or plain old crookery.

    Terrorism is all about changing the behaviour of people through fear.
    Unfortunately, particularly in the US, terrorism has become such a hot button political topic that everything under the sun is now “terrorism”.

    Even is someone commits murder because their beliefs have been offended, it is not terrorism unless their intention is to instill fear in others, which may be the case, but equally may not be. If not, then it is just murder.

  • Mike

    >Really? So any instance of pre-meditated killing is terrorism?

    Rather the reverse. Terrorism has become a meaningless buzzword.

  • goto 10

    eMBee

    >what do you think?

    Sounds awesome!

    Setup an IaaS and install ‘GNU Social’.

    But…

    There are huge liabilities in dealing with information exchange and storage with young people under 13 in the US. All the big ‘social’ providers have age restrictions in the TOS agreements.

  • eMBee

    goto 10:

    you are right about the problems with children online. but these problems apply to any site that the children would use now too.

    so this is really just a question of who takes on the responsibility.

    is reglue going to be liable for what happens on the sites it recommends? if yes, then no solution will fix that. it could either not recommend anything or run the site in order to be in control.

    if they are not liable for other sites, then maybe it is just a matter of making sure that reglue is not the one running the site.

    and to escape US restrictions, the site could be run elsewhere, by people outside the US.

    (about GNU social, i haven’t looked at it, but i don’t think a sotial network is the right solution. we don’t want the kids to share and talk about themselves. they have plenty of other places for that. we want them to be able to ask questions about their computer in an environment that welcomes any question, no matter how dumb. it should be easy to search for questions and answers, as well as post your own in the right category. so i am thinking something more like stackoverflow, with accepted answers and keyword tagging. (not sure about the reputation system. could be good, or not.))

  • goto 10

    @eMBee and/or Reglue and/or Ken:

    I’d gladly donate one of my spare IaaS servers as well as a domain and run/manage the site, if someone else could figure out the legal end of managing a site for kids.

    This is a serious offer… However, the server is nothing fancy and won’t be able to handle tons of traffic or lots of storage – but certainly should suffice for a few hundred kids.

    Proposed:

    1x IaaS [USA, 40GB storage, 32bit, 1GB mem]

    Config:

    Base: Apache,Postfix,Courier,Horde
    SSL: StartSSL, free cert means flat domain
    Social/Forum: TBD

    Contact me: details can be discussed somewhere else if interested.

    I am *not* willing to:
    1. beautify website
    2. accept legal responsibility for the content, postings, ramifications because kids are using it.

  • goto 10

    Correction on specs:

    25GB storage.
    64bit 2.8 GHz CPU
    1GB mem

  • “” Indeed. It was foolish, lazy, and inconsiderate of your customers.”

    Really? Foolish and lazy? I spend 50+ hours every week of the year to include all holidays to make sure that disadvantaged kids have a computer in their home.

    Please…I didn’t roll them into honey and leave them on a fire ant pile, I made arrangements with a forums moderator and that safeguard failed. End of story, end of recommendations for forum support.

    Our legal counsel has advised that we let the parent or guardian best decide where or with whom to seek assistance. Many of you have made generous and good ideas to fix this, but in the end, our litigious, knee-jerk society is unforgiving even if one little hair is mussed out of place by anyone we don’t like, trust, or know.

    No good deed goes unpunished. Only a cliché because of it’s ever-bearing truth.

  • eMBee

    ok, ken, so that effectively confirms my suspicion that any recommendation reglue makes may end up biting you.

    so any effort for a kid-friendly forum would have to be not only independent of reglue, it would also have to find its audience on its own. not having reglue vet the kid-registrations also means that everyone needs to be moderated because we can’t distinguish between real kids and fake ones. and then a stackoverflow type point system would probably really be a good idea.

    i am still willing to contribute to such an effort and i’d even be willing to take on legal responsibility (i am outside of the US, so i am not worried about getting sued) (and technically i could even do building and hosting (also outside of the US), but i can’t afford the time for the building at this time. unfortunately, unless we can find a way to get some funding. hmm, kickstarter?)

  • Two things: a big plus; I had to dig deep in my memory to remember the reference “Dagwood Sandwich”. Minor minus; from your use, you appear to belong to a slight majority/significant minority of people who confuse the words infer/imply. One draws an inference from an implication.

    Keep up the good work, and thanks,
    CW

  • goto 10

    @CW Petersen and many other word corrector peoples:

    Language changes over time. Sometimes words lose meaning. Sometimes words are forgotten and lost. Sometimes words mesh meanings.

    As long as the majority understand the text, there is no need for correction.

    This from: your pet peeve meets my pet peeve.