Request for Clarifications

Florian Snow floriansnow at
Mon May 6 00:14:09 UTC 2019

Hi Paul,

Thank you for asking this question.  Let me try to give you a summary to the best of my knowledge.  I am sorry this mail is going to be pretty long, but I need to provide some background here for this to make sense.

As far as I can tell the root cause of the issue with Daniel consists of two things:  He appears to understand the role of representative in such a way that it requires him to take opposition to the FSFE Executive (I sometimes see similar approaches to representation  in Anglo-Saxon countries), even when some Supporters/Fellows told him that they felt differently.  The second thing is an event that happened and felt personal to Daniel (I will get to that in a second).

So when Daniel was elected, he requested certain things and made suggestions, both reasonable steps to take.  Some of what he wanted, happened, some did not.  But there was always a debate about why or why not.  One of the things he requested was having access  to our Supporter database which we did not grant him because we heavily restrict access to that database for privacy reasons.  However, we told him he could send mailings to supporters via our system and we considered setting up a mailing list for that purpose.  However, we were trying to figure out how we needed to ask for consent  to do that.

During the same time, Daniel made many suggestions and part of the problem with that was that he never followed through on any of those things.  He would suggest something and move on to the next topic so in the end, there were so many things happening at the same time that it bogged us down.  Another issue with his suggestions were, that they were often half-baked and he showed no willingness to improve on them nor did he say he was willing to help with the work involved.  There were some instances where we just told him, ok, go ahead, do it (as we often do with volunteers), yet there was not even a response from him.  One such example was an inventory of all non-free software in FSFE use: computer firmware, printers, coffee makers, everything where non-free software might be involved.  We asked about the purpose and told him how much work it would be (we were afraid of spending supporter money on actions with potentially very limited impact) and his response was that it could be automated. I asked him to start working on such a system and then there was no answer anymore.  So it certainly looked as if he wanted to tell other people what work to do, but not participate.  That is not how we typically do things, though.  We usually just do the work ourselves that we think is important.  I think that makes for a strong community.

His communication style created additional problems.  He often avoided giving clear answers and he quoted us out of context over and over again when responding to us.  When we clarified his mis-quotations, he ignored those clarifications and continued to repeat his inaccurate statements.  And when we pointed out his hostile tone, he told us why his tone was just right.

The reason he felt justified in his tone was the event I referenced before.  Before Daniel was even on our screens as a candidate, the GA took a decision to restructure.  The idea at the time was that the elections should be replaced by a different path to membership.  When he became a GA member, Daniel repeatedly claimed that the vote scheduled during his candidacy was an attack on him.  Yet, in reality, it had nothing to do with him because the GA had taken a vote to take those steps before Daniel was even a GA member.  What further worsened the matter was the options put on the ballot:  There was an option to keep current representatives active to the end of their turn, but there was also an option to have the term end with the vote to remove the position.  He took the latter option personally and thought it was an attack on him.

Part of the issue for him with that vote is a step that I personally also was not completely satisfied with:  We had some delays in the implementation and then had a choice: Do we spend money on organizing elections just so we can take a vote on not having those anymore a few months later at our regular annual meeting or do we have a short extraordinary meeting and not organize elections?  At the time, we chose to go with the extraordinary meeting, but in hindsight, I wish we had done it differently because of the way it looks.  Even back then, some people within the FSFE disagreed to have this extraordinary meeting, but we cannot change that now.  The end effect would have been the same anyway, just a few months later.  There were people who had doubts about ending the elections and I tried to show Daniel that we were not opponents, but agreed sometimes and disagreed at other times. However he either did not see or ignored it when people agreed with him and wound up attacking those that supported at least parts of what he wanted.

Whenever he didn't quickly get what he wanted, he took things public, but in a very misleading way. Unfortunately, in those public debates, when multiple people from the GA contradicted his  misrepresentations, he (and some others) claimed we were not telling the truth and were just yay-sayers or puppets controlled by Matthias. Daniel must have known that that could not be true because he saw how many debates we have all the time and how some of us us question pretty much every decision. But because we have consensus oriented approach, in the end, most of us will be happy with a decision and be able to defend it. So it looks like yay-saying, but it really isn't.

Another big issue where Daniel misportrayed things, was with the whole Fellow/Supporter thing. This was just a naming change and we repeatedly told him that, yet he keeps on saying we "ended" the Fellowship, we downgraded people from Fellow to Supporter, or we subscribed people to a new program. He also conflates this with the change in our constitution about voting. It was very difficult to repeatedly try to untangle those things.

Another misrepresentation was about the vote on our constitutional change: He often made it sound as if he was the one who voted against it and we all overruled him. That is also not true: He did not participate in the vote and yet, he keeps on attacking even people who voted for keeping the Fellowship elections.

At the same time, he repeatedly accused other GA members of bullying and he claimed we never tried to clarify things with him.  When we pointed out that his tone felt like bullying and that he had not showed up at any of our meetings, he called that response bullying too because we should have assumed he had a family emergency or something (I still don't know).  He also called pointing out this hypocrisy bullying.

During all this time, I as a moderator having to occasionally set the list to moderated, let through all of his messages unfiltered because I felt they were always only borderline attacks if taken by themselves.  But things kept on getting worse and he kept calling people names.

At around that time, he requested a mailing to be sent to all Supporters.  At the time, we had a pretty informal policy of how those got sent out and even though we felt his mailing was inflammatory, we sent it out unchanged.  We installed a more formal policy for mailings afterwards which applies to everyone and he called that censorship.

At some point, Daniel started publishing internal information and again, he misrepresented the data and numbers in such a way that it damaged the FSFE and its reputation.  So we had to take action, remove private information and moderate Daniel himself.  He took this as another hostile step because in his opinion, a Fellowship representative should not have been moderated.  Then again, we moderators are independent of other bodies and moderate everyone in the same way. 

Also at around this time, we in the GA realized that we could not continue our work this way.  We were being bogged down with tons of suggestions without any resolution; we could not use our communication channels anymore because Daniel would publicly quote us out of context and so on, and so we decided to ask Matthias to remove Daniel from the GA.  This was by no means Matthias's decision as Daniel often portrays it.  A large majority of the GA requested this step and at this point I had given up trying to communicate with Daniel because he was unresponsive to any sort of reasoning.  Matthias was hesitant to take the step we requested and in fact I told him that he did not have all that much of a choice but to start a formal exclusion procedure because while the GA has no direct power over the president, the GA can elect a new president at any time.  So Matthias only performed his role as the executive branch.

The problem talking about these things publicly is that we tend to play by the rules.  Daniel on the other hand has no qualms misrepresenting information, publishing private information and so on.  But we did not and will not publish his threatening emails in return.  So the problem is that some of you don't know me or other GA members enough to believe me that Daniel blackmailed us repeatedly about partial sentences in emails that might have looked bad in isolation.  In hindsight, I think when this happened the first time, we should have kicked him out, made it public, and filed a police report because blackmail is a criminal offense.  But we gave him the benefit of the doubt and let him continue.  He kept on escalating and escalating, threatening us with legal action, telling us that he could afford drawn-out legal proceedings through his insurance while we would be wasting donations and so on.

Just before the deadline of the exclusion procedure, he stepped down and took a more friendly tone.  I was happy about that until I found out he had lied to us about certain things again.  He said he had removed some misleading blog posts, when in fact, he had only moved them to another domain.

We later found out that other communities had had similar issues with him and so we debated if there should be an exchange between communities when problems with a person arise.  The bottom line of that discussion was pretty much that is was ok to ask other communities about similar types of problems, but not necessarily about specific people and that we need to be careful how to go about it so people who might have problems with one community do not get excluded from other communities. But Daniel claimed there was a big conspiracy and we had him removed from all those communities. I am not sure what kind of powers he thinks we have over Debian and Mozilla (and possibly other communities), but I would have asked myself at that point if my behavior caused any problems.

After Daniel left, we had another regular General Assembly and we talked about how to move forward without elections and the idea of widening the membership base.  We noticed a couple of problems with that approach:
1. The GA does not deal with the day-to-day issues that most of our volunteers are interested in.  The European Core Team does.
2. The GA is built upon trust between its members; the kind of trust you cannot build by just adding more people, but by getting to know each other first while working together.  This lesson was especially enforced by Daniel's behavior.
So taking those two points into consideration, we wanted to stress membership in the European Core Team and widen its base instead of the GA.

I think that is a good way forward even though Daniel would probably say that that means we do not really represent the community.  After thinking about that for quite some time, I have come to the conclusion that not giving the community direct influence over the GA is not necessarily a bad thing.  First of all, there is no opposition here; we are all part of the same community.  Also, the reason why there is a wider community around the FSFE is because the GA has been taking good decisions over the past almost 20 years.  If the GA had not acted in the interest of Free Software, the FSFE would be a small, insignificant organization.  But it grew.  So the GA represents the community not because the community gets a vote, but because the community formed around the GA in (largely) agreement.

I find it sad that the way Daniel tried to force the issue on many of his suggestions and the way he bahaved have made it very difficult to implement some good ideas.  We have been busy chasing our own tail because this keeps on popping up and eats up a lot of volunteer time.  Also, many volunteers are exhausted from this whole thing.  I had to take an involuntary break for several months and I know many others who want to quit.

In regards to moderating our mailing lists: There have been more cases recently were we set our mailing lists to moderated because of our recent experiences with emotions boiling over and then having a hard time bottling that back up. But there are only very few messages, either with private information or with insults that we did not let through.  Usually, we also tell the author to resend the message without the problematic language, but most of the time, people do not do that.  It is interesting though that in the short time Daniel has been running his so-called unfiltered list, he already turned on moderation as well.  He claims this is to stop unsubscribe instructions, but that is still odd for an unfiltered list and also he filtered plenty of messages that had nothing to do with unsubscribing. So much for running lists without moderation.

I know some of the criticism that is popping up now might make it look as if there were generally massive problems within the FSFE, but I think that is not true in this general sense. What is happening now is that everyone who has ever had some frustration with us, is now popping out again. That does not mean the criticism is invalid, but it does not necessarily constitute a gigantic problem. Some of the criticism is now also coming from people who have not volunteered with us or not in a long time. Daniel for example never really engaged with us except for telling us what to do. I would urge everyone who currently has issues with us, to work with us on improving the situation. We are mostly volunteers and despite having many good ideas, we can only implement so many. With more help, we can do more and more different things.

I hope that explains a few things.

Happy hacking!

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