Welcome to freenode

3 minute read

I would like to welcome everyone to join the largest IRC network called freenode. It is a great place for FOSS projects as well as for off-topic channels.

As a large project it has a set of well-thought-out General Expectations for Conduct, mandatory general policies, as well as some channel guidelines and a philosophy.

While these policies and guidelines seem to be long to read I strongly recommend everyone to read them and maybe even use them as a source of inspiration for documenting guidelines of conduct for other projects as well.

I will not try to argue here on why I find these policies and guidelines well done but I will quote from the “General Expectations for Conduct” the 2 bullet points which I believe summarize them:

  • We expect all users to act in good faith at all times, and this includes assuming the same of others. Where another user’s behaviour admits several interpretations, work on the basis of the most charitable one until you have strong evidence to the contrary.
  • freenode aims to be welcoming, inclusive, and non-discriminatory and we encourage everyone to be tolerant and respectful of others.

Based on that it is natural to expect that freenode would be “inclusive, non-discriminatory and tolerant” of a small channel such as ours. After all it is owned by Private Internet Access, a VPN provider that positions itself as an enabler of free speech. Their VPN service is advertised as a technological solution to “Unblock Censorship Filters” and their blog is updated continually with new articles about the importance of freedom of speech. Additionally freenode is run by a person who blogs and tweets about the very same idea.

Unfortunately, despite what freenode’s documentation and PIAs marketing suggests, it seems that there is a difference between what is documented and communicated, with what actually happens.

I was contacted by a freenode staffer that our small channel would be censored. I found that quite odd and I asked why?

there are cases where political views overlap with sentiments that we’d rather not see expressed on freenode

we’re not really concerned with specific users here – if that were the issue, we’d hopefully be able to resolve things another way

but there are topics – e.g. when it comes to legislation regarding LGBT rights – where there’s a thin line between political discourse, and sentiments we might consider as hateful

Of course I was surprised not so much by the act of censoring the channel (as there were rumors beforehand) but by the justification provided to me as well as by the lack of any communication before that. The staffer wanted to reassure me that

we’ve indeed tried our best to collaborate with you

we all have our individual minds, of course, but we do avoid getting personal opinions mixed up with what we say in our staff roles in an official fashion

Even though I asked for postponing any action on our 4 year old channel the staffer was eager to add a censorship filter, just 2 hours after contacting me, resulting with no one being able to speak. Later on the action was justified for having “major internal challenges”.

Of course the world will not change from censoring a small channel such as ours but people who want to change the world are currently using freenode and PIA. If freenode and/or PIA are facing “major internal challenges” from the mere existence of our small channel I can not imagine what kind of challenges they must be facing from authoritarian governmental entities trying to identify people who use their services to remain anonymous.

From my personal experience I can only derive that there are some unwritten rules which override the written ones. Because of that I do not feel comfortable being part of freenode.

— palasso