Lennart Poettering - Open Source Not A Nice Place
Written by Harry Fairhead   
Tuesday, 07 October 2014

In a blog post Lennart Poettering, the main force behind the controversial systemd Linux configuration system, explains that any dislike of his software spills over to him personally - and not just hate mail, but hit men. It is a shocking document.



No matter what you think of the systemd revolution that Lennart Poettering is associated with, could your feelings get so personal that you organize a Bitcoin fund to pay for a hit man to "take him out"? It seems totally at odds with the general programming community and far away from the open source spirit. Or is it?

Before you claim that I'm exaggerating here is what Lennart has to say:

"I get hate mail for hacking on Open Source. People have started multiple "petitions" on petition web sites, asking me to stop working (google for it). Recently, people started collecting Bitcoins to hire a hitman for me (this really happened!). Just the other day, some idiot posted a "song" on youtube, a creepy work, filled with expletives about me and suggestions of violence. People post websites about boycotting my projects, containing pretty personal attacks. On IRC, people /msg me sometimes, with nasty messages, and references to artwork in 4chan style. And there's more. A lot more."

What is really surprising is that differing Linux communities seem to be associated with the attacks:

"...there are certain communities where it appears to be a lot more accepted to vent hate, communities that attract a certain kind of people (Hey, Gentoo!) more than others do. (Yes, the folks who post the stuff they do usually pretty clearly state from wich community they come)."

Lennart puts the some of the blame on the aggressive attitude fostered by Linus Torvalds. I've always found Linus' comments to be rude, but amusing and certainly not threatening. This is, of course, a very personal decision and Lennart has a quote:

By many he is a considered a role model, but he is quite a bad one. .. he posts words like

 "[specific folks] ...should be retroactively aborted. Who the f*ck does idiotic things like that? How did they not die as babies, considering that they were likely too stupid to find a tit to suck on?"

Lennart places the blame with a one-liner:

"In other words: A fish rots from the head down."

He then goes on to discuss the fact that he appreciates that open source communities are for grown ups and that some bad language and roughness are to be expected, but he notes

"... what actually is happening is so much worse, and and so much more hateful."

His solution to the problem?

Basically community leaders should take control of their communities and moderate what is said in mailing lists. Lennart cites the way the systemd community is run as an example,

"Also, in our own project we are policying posts. We regularly put a few folks on moderation on the mailing list, and we will continue to do so. Currently, the systemd community is fantastic, and I really hope we can keep it that way."


OK the bad attitude could be mostly the fault of poor leadership, but this sounds a lot like a similar situation in the gaming community. When Anita Sarkeesian started making videos about the way games treated the stereotype of women, the result was an aggressive virtual attack that resulted in Sarkeesian having to leave home and stay with friends for her own safety.

In the UK a recent case of threats against a woman MP and campaigner for Jane Austin to be on the currency resulted in a jail sentence.

It seems that the ability to communicate with people with a high public profile in a way that is semi-anonymous and detached allows the darker side to rule. It is as if the fact that there is another human on the receiving end is forgotten. It is a sad fact that on the internet the id is set free.


More Information

Lennart Poettering

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Last Updated ( Tuesday, 07 October 2014 )