1. 43
    No Gates, No Keepers culture rant soatok.blog
  1.  

  2. 38

    I wonder what folks think about the irony of this being the top post on a site which requires an invitation to join.

    1. 13

      I wish we could flavor our upvotes instead of only our flags (because this was funny).

      1. 14

        I’m glad it came across that way; that was the main intent. But it was also somewhat of a serious question because the post talks about how gatekeeping isn’t an all-or-nothing binary and that it can be useful in some situations, but the criteria it uses are not the same criteria that this site uses.

        I honestly feel very conflicted about the site’s policies because while it does seem to be quite successful at what it aims to achieve (avoiding turning into a reddit-type shitshow over a period of nearly a decade running!) I know it does have less-visible downsides of excluding people whose input would make the site better. It’s easy to ignore those downsides that don’t affect you but …

        1. 4

          I’m conflicted too. I make a conscious effort to check my biases when it comes to invitations, but I’m not always successful.

      2. 4

        As with many things in life, toxicity is determined by the dose. I’ve previously posited that any group has a minimum gatekeeping threshold necessary for maintaining group identity

        I think that applies here

        1. 2

          There’s a parallel with animal cell walls: The organism can’t survive unless its cells can allow nutrients in, exude toxins, and keep pathogens out. Without those calls, the organism would lose coherence and die. The same goes for communities.

          1. 11

            I don’t want to say you’re wrong, but I’m suspicious of this line of reasoning because it’s exactly what I would say if I wanted to dismiss the concerns and not think too hard about it. It seems like too convenient of an answer to me.

            “You need the right amount of gatekeeping” sure “which just happens to be exactly the amount we currently have” now hold on a minute… (I’m not trying to put words in your mouth so please imagine that both sides of this conversation are me!)

            1. 5

              I’m with you on this. Analogies can be really useful for generating quick understanding, but many of them are sort of coincidentally true. I catch myself making this mistake often. I doubt this is what the OP meant at all, and I also don’t want to put words in their mouth, but to illustrate the point, one can imagine the same cell wall analogy used to make cruel political arguments (and in fact many such arguments were made using reductive nature-based analogies as reasoning). Just because good phenomenon X can be argued an analogy to phenomenon A, doesn’t make A transitively good.

              1. 1

                I appreciate the concern about potential misinterpretation. Conversely, these replies feel like a lot of specific projection onto a general observation. Such critiques work the best when applied to arguments that were actually made. :)

                1. 1

                  Analogies are very dangerous, because people often think they’re tools of reasoning. However, analogies are wildly inappropriate for reasoning, they’re only good for communication. If two subjects have 60% of their structure that can be mapped to each other with an analogy, that’s a great tool if you want to describe that structure. But with only 60% commonality, there’s 0% chance that any reasoning can be transferred between those domains. I.e it’s a type error to use an analogy after “because”.

          2. 2

            The problem I see is, problems and solutions in gatekeeping aren’t technological, they’re more sociological, and that is out-of-scope for Lobsters. While there’s a lot of overlap (which OP discusses in their post), Lobsters’ technology restriction has always made it difficult to “peer behind the curtains” of governance here. Ironic in that, this position is itself gatekeeping.

          3. 18

            I’ve marked this as off topic as about half of the article is a rant about reddit moderation (?) which is not really computing-related.

            1. 23

              I’m not sure what the point is of even having the “culture” tag, if this post is off-topic for the site. How does this not count?

              1. 8

                Can you find me another culture tagged submission that’s about the mods of a subreddit being assholes? Most of the recent ones I’ve seen are about computing.

                1. 22

                  No, but neither is the thing I wrote about the mods of a subreddit being assholes. It’s about toxic gatekeeping in the tech community.

                  1. 4

                    It’s not about these mods in particular but moreso the fact that a place like r/netsec could be like this, and this is used as a starting point to have the reader think about technical gatekeeping issues as a whole. Correct me if I’m wrong though @soatok.

                2. 6

                  Oh, sweet irony…

                  1. 6

                    aha, I see what you mean, but (as stated in the post) gatekeeping is important to most communities to maintain quality. r/askhistory may “gatekeep” bad history takes, but it makes the sub so much better for it.

                    1. 1

                      It depends on active definitions. In recent years, people seem to critically invoke “gatekeeping” in order to describe needlessly controlling access to a social system based on some sort of arbitrary social measure. That’s the definition used in this post as far as I can tell.

                      So filtering out ahistorical takes from a history forum is not something I’d personally be reaching for “gatekeeping” to describe. And I think that mixing up good-faith content moderation with bad-faith social gatekeeping does harm to both definitions. That is for example, unless the moderator were to post a rude comment attributing the quality of the post to a perceived lack of a college degree. Then that would be gatekeeping. Definitions are fluid though, and the use and connotations of this word have changed over time.

                      1. 7

                        Restricting access is categorically gatekeeping.

                        I chose to contrast this with toxic gatekeeping (two word noun), and describe how gatekeeping can become toxic gatekeeping, rather than e.g. narrowly define gatekeeping for the purposes of the blog post.

                        1. 2

                          This might be one of those rare times more words is better. Something like “the specific kind of gatekeeping that becomes toxic.” A lot of people seem to have trouble parsing phrases without considering each word independently, especially when it comes to identity and interests.

                3. 6

                  Trust is a funny thing: It’s easy to lose and hard to gain. Once trust has been lost, it’s often impossible to recover it. Security professionals should understand this better than anyone else, given our tendency to deal with matters of risk and trust.

                  To expand on this essential view, the security-minded approach to trust is to treat “to trust” as a synonym for “to be vulnerable”. It’s not hard to understand why, once somebody has decided to stop being vulnerable to a certain probe, the probe becomes useless.

                  1. 4

                    Isn’t that everybody’s definition of “to trust”?

                  2. 11

                    There’s a good discussion to be had around gatekeeping (and I think that anybody with a little experience should be able to make a reasonable case for either position), but most of this essay seemed to be about either Reddit drama, furry drama, or Reddit drama involving furries. It’s not good for the signal to noise ratio.

                    1. 16

                      but most of this essay seemed to be about either Reddit drama, furry drama, or Reddit drama involving furries. It’s not good for the signal to noise ratio.

                      Put another way: Most of this essay about toxic gatekeeping behavior was about my lived experiences with toxic gatekeeping behavior.

                      I can see how you’d view that as an SNR depletion, but without some personal experiences the essay would just sound like the typical ivory tower pontificating that’s common to tech blogs.

                      1. 6

                        Grounding things too thoroughly in lived experiences can make it hard if others don’t share those same experiences. A lot of folks probably have some experience with some isomorphism of the “X years of PHP experience” that you mentioned in the beginning of your essay–furries are a sufficiently small subset of the population of even technical people (themselves a small subset of the general population) that your lived experiences just aren’t as compelling a rhetorical point as the stuff you led with.

                        It should be possible to avoid “typical ivory tower pontificating” without grounding things so thoroughly in a niche experience that others have trouble relating.

                        1. 15

                          You have a fair point, but I do worry about the structure of the argument (“this is too niche to be relatable” is also true of any minority experience).

                          I’ve added a small aside to clarify that the point isn’t about being a furry, and that a lot of people face similar or worse treatment for other reasons (especially trans people!), but rather about the “punish the victim” reaction being commonplace in tech forum moderation (although I’m happy to say that Lobste.rs has been a sterling counterexample).

                          1. 4

                            Thanks for the update!

                            And indeed, the argument itself leads to some interesting and weird places, but further exploration is off-topic for here.

                          2. 8

                            Grounding things too thoroughly in lived experiences can make it hard if others don’t share those same experiences.

                            I gotta say, describing the context of a niche or marginal experience is something that writers do specifically in order to communicate more readily to a wider audience.

                            1. 9

                              Grounding things too thoroughly in lived experiences can make it hard if others don’t share those same experiences.

                              It’s only hard for people who lack empathy.

                              1. 4

                                If you want to maximize your audience, you have to communicate in a way that minimizes the bar that must be cleared in order to receive your message. This might mean picking simpler vocabulary, using more general lived experiences, code-switching, or giving affordance to people who may not have the same experience, intelligence, or empathy.

                                Doing otherwise excludes people–gatekeeping, if you will.

                                1. 7

                                  You would hopefully agree, though, that right now we are communicating in English, which excludes a fair amount of the world, and using the Web, which also excludes a fair amount of the world. So clearly we don’t always want to maximize our audiences, simply by accounting for our current behavior.

                                  Rather, we want to communicate in inclusive ways; we want to maximize the insight that can be gained from aligning our concepts. We can clarify our language, pick common examples, or reach out to marginalized cultures, but we must always do it in the service of inclusion.

                          3. 12

                            The term “drama” implies a value judgment on the importance of whatever issue is underlying the conflict being dismissed, namely that it’s unimportant or silly. The phrase is often used when discussing issues in niche communities or communities predominantly populated by minoritized people.

                            When you have a minoritized identity or are in a niche community, there often are not many substitute forums for discussion and interaction. The rules, norms, and practices of those communities directly affect the degree to which people feel safe and are able to participate and express themselves.

                            These issues are not “drama,” and claiming they are is an exclusionary rhetorical move which says to people with those identities or in those communities: “your problems are not important here,” or one step further “you are not valued here.”

                            1. 15

                              As an aside, if we could go one whole Soatok blog post discussion without someone maligning or dismissing furries, that’d be great. Soatok’s coverage of furry culture here is incidental to the core topic of this post, and it’s already been an issue (as mentioned in the post!) on previous Lobsters threads.

                              1. 9

                                One cannot help but notice how that charity is never extended to, say, Urbit discussions.

                                1. 22

                                  Urbit is literally a technical manifestation of Moldbug’s belief in a return to feudalism. Moldbug’s ideology is central to the design of the system. Not to mention that his ideology (Neoreaction) is an extremist ideology which advocates for authoritarian feudal or fascistic (depending on who you’re reading) control over individuals, anti-feminist subjugation of women, white supremacy, and (again, depending on who you’re reading) the re-institution of slavery. Supporting the techno-political projects of supporters of this violent extremist ideology serves to legitimize and promote their stature and thus their ability to spread their beliefs. Supporting a furry writing about cryptography and gatekeeping in programmer culture is not even a little bit the same thing.

                                  1. 12

                                    I believe your analysis is incorrect, but I know I won’t convince you (or the other folks upvoting you) otherwise. Good day.

                                  2. 7

                                    Moldbug and his ideology are a clear and present danger to me and to the people I love, whereas furries are no threat whatsoever. If you want no-holds-barred free speech, there are places on the net for that, like 4chan. As for me, I refuse to be tolerant of intolerance.

                            2. 4

                              Very much on topic here on Lobste.rs

                              If you’d like see gatekeeping first hand, I invite you to the moderation log here - filter domains only. I was about to mention only dataswamp.org because of Solène’s blog but now noticed that Drew DeVault’s blog got a banned!

                              1. 4

                                Hi Soatok! I am sorry you were treated like that, there is no excuse. I wear a black hat with a pink pony to a Parliament building around here and I have yet to hear a comment, so I was rather surprised that the Internet would be bothered by a couple of custom emotes.

                                I understand that gatekeeping can be toxic. I have recently experienced the other extreme twice, though.

                                1. A person with zero qualification and serious personal issues was almost slated for the House of representatives. Most of our members did not enter the primaries themselves, because they either know that they are not qualified, have high chances, or they suffer from the imposter syndrome. Since this person applied, most assumed that they feel competent enough and did not want to block a person they knew a little of. I feel that some amount of formal verification of their competence would be nice to have. Might even help those scared to apply to gain some confidence if they see that they are way above the requirements line.

                                2. We have received comments on our election program regarding information security. We were told, and I am not kidding here, that improving supply chain security for our critical infrastructure is too much of a hassle – we should concentrate on smart contracts instead. This happened because the person asked to comment on the program had no opinion, so they have contacted another person who felt that they should add at least something to the discussion. No harm done, but I feel that explaining that smart contracts have rather limited use will only strengthen my point of view and won’t advance the discussion much further.

                                But as I read this again after myself, it seems clear to me that any gatekeeping measures must be as transparent as possible and it must be possible to openly discuss their change if the need arises; especially when someone feels that they have been wronged.

                                1. 7

                                  These examples highlight a point I probably didn’t emphasize enough in this post: Professional qualifications still matter.

                                  Earlier this year I wrote about crackpot cryptography and security theater. Crackpot ideas should be resisted because if they aren’t, people will get hurt. The risk of real world harm can outweigh the downsides of tougher boundaries. I’d hesitate to call that toxic gatekeeping though.

                                  1. 6

                                    Seconding. The problem isn’t professional qualifications per se. We need to know whether a given qualification process is a useful filter in practice (e.g. multiple-choice questionnaires vs. real-world demonstrations) and whether the population at large (especially its marginalized members) have equitable opportunity to qualify themselves for such certification in the first place.

                                    I wouldn’t want an uncertified doctor performing surgery on me. It’s wild that we allow uncertified developers to handle our health data and medical device software in such a relatively cavalier way. And I say this as someone working on a medical app even now.

                                    1. 4

                                      Certification comes about to force an underclass to stay in its place.

                                      Knowing a person is capable is more useful than knowing if they have the latest Cisco cert.

                                      1. 2

                                        Yeah, it makes sense to want for person who is going to cut into me to have been trained before.

                                        But certifications for medical devices often raises prices insanely high (triple HW costs for regular PCs) with no obvious benefits, often even to the detriment. Typical example would be Windows XP as the only system to interact with medical imaging systems. My dentist is unable to upgrade without replacing the whole (rather expensive) roentgen that only works with ancient OS while Ransomware attacks on medical infrastructure dominates the news.

                                        You are required to certify when introducing the thing into the market, but then it becomes basically abandonware, because it’s much more profitable to introduce a new device than to support the old one.

                                        Reversing what is probably a simple serial interface with a couple of commands and image download is a no-go, because you’d be held liable for the whole setup.

                                        Verifying professional qualification tends to quickly devolve into credential hoarding and regulatory capture for some reason. A programmer friend of mine have been mentoring a degree holding engineer of the same age, but unlike the engineer, they wouldn’t even be considered if they applied for a national-level public service IT position. And even as a MEP (or even as a minister, if that ever comes to happen), it would be nearly impossible for them to change the rules because it would mean publicly saying “degree does not imply quality”, which would anger everyone who holds a degree and who wants to be granted some benefits for spending their time earning one.

                                        By the way, having a furry persona probably irritates mostly those who were forced to comply with society’s expectations by wearing a suit and a tie and allowed it to become part of their identity as adult professionals (whatever that means) and now expect to reap the benefits of preferential treatment based on their appearence themselves.

                                        1. 2

                                          Certification of medical devices and the like are a rather different beast than professional certification for individuals so I’d want to discuss that separately.

                                          I think we largely agree on those implementation concerns, which is why I included those two qualifiers about efficacy and accessibility.

                                  2. 7

                                    I agree on the object-level question that @soatok’s blog shouldn’t have been banned from a cryptography-related subreddit - it’s clearly topical and relevant content to people discussing cryptography online - and that there’s nothing wrong with putting furry artwork or mentioning that you’re a furry on this kind of cryptography blog.

                                    On the other hand, this essay makes the point multiple times that only “toxic” gatekeeping is bad, and non-toxic gatekeeping is perfectly fine. “In a similar vein, content moderation is a good thing, but necessarily involves some gatekeeping behaviors.”, etc. So I’m inclined to think that @soatok doesn’t really believe in the ideal of “No gates, no keepers” at all, but just wants to fight the existing gatekeepers on the specific stuff he likes.

                                    I myself have been warned or banned from online spaces for reasons similar to the ones @soatok describes - namely, that content I’ve posted causes other people to react angrily because they find it offensive, causing a perceived moderation headache. So I’m all for creating both technological innovations and social norms that work against moderators in online spaces gatekeeping away people and content they find offensive or headche-inducingly controversial. But I have no particular interest in specifically trying to protect furry cryptography content, and not the things I find interesting or important, that other people would like to see kept out of spaces I’m a part of.

                                    If you need a (rather poignant) example of the above, the gatekeeping behaviors against women in tech even apply to the forerunners of computer science:

                                    So, in this book about compilers, Grace Hopper who CREATED THE FIRST COMPILER is a one-line mention and her contribution is diminished to “coining the term” 😑 pic.twitter.com/tY4AxssUQD

                                    Neither women as a class, nor Grace Hopper specifically, are being gatekept from anything because one particular compiler book didn’t write more about what she did with early compilers besides coin the term “compiler”. In fact, it’s only because Hopper was a woman that anyone feels the need to claim that the accurate and topical statement in that book about her coining the word compiler is a problem. If one of the early male pioneers of compilers, say John Backus, was only mentioned perfunctorily as “the Backus in Backus-Naur form” in a compiler book (and for all I know, Crafting a Compiler itself does this), no one would find it at all remarkable.

                                    1. 2

                                      I have been happily reading all of @soatok’s posts in the past, but I don’t quite follow this one. I completely agree that there is a lot of gatekeeping in tech, which is not always great, because a lot of really good people are self-taught and there are massive differences in skill levels. The amount of experience with something is not always a good qualifying factor for someone.

                                      But what’s really happening here is actually sinister: Toxic gatekeepers in tech are people with internalized cognitive distortions that either affirm one’s sense of superiority or project their personal insecurities–if not both things.

                                      This is almost always directed towards the end of excluding women, racial or religious minorities, LGBTQIA+ and neurodivergent people, and other vulnerable populations from the possibility at pursuing lucrative career prospects.

                                      I don’t think it is fair to reduce these things to matter of race or identity because they affect all of us. I have been writing code since I was 12 years old, and I need to go through the same steps that everyone else does (get a degree). And yes I agree that some of the requirements companies have are stupid. But just because something is stupid doesn’t mean it’s stupid only to keep a certain subset of people out. Maybe it is just stupid in general.

                                      1. 2

                                        Does anyone have useful resources about good hiring practices? Hiring soon at work and I’m involved in the process, and we’re trying to do the obvious–not list a ton of mandatory formal qualifications, avoid the prototypical algorithms-hazing interview since that’s not very relevant to the job–but I would especially like anything that’s more “do do this” than “don’t do this” to help us be able to look in a bigger pool/not miss good folks that don’t fit the typical mold.

                                        1. 4

                                          The sockpuppet.org hiring post I linked to from mine is a good resource for what worked for them if you need an affirmative, positive argument.

                                          1. 3

                                            That is helpful. On the bias towards the confident and subjective qualities, I did revise our job description to emphasize that we want people who can help us implement X, Y, and Z priorities where before there was more-generic stuff about smart disciplined people etc. We did use a work-sample test last time (though also learned some bits were not clear or predictive enough in that round). One new, doable thing I took from that post is to tell people in precisely what to expect to minimize surprises so the process isn’t just testing how candidates handle surprises (or whether they’ve done this enough not to be surprised).

                                            I also liked this recent post about red flags from the perspective of a candidate who had done a lot of interviews, and this earlier post by the same author might also have material. It’s not specifically about gatekeeping and not phrased as a set of things to do, but worth reading about how it looks from not-my perspective and thinking a bit.

                                            1. 2

                                              One new, doable thing I took from that post is to tell people in precisely what to expect to minimize surprises so the process isn’t just testing how candidates handle surprises (or whether they’ve done this enough not to be surprised).

                                              My neurodivergent and anxious friends will seriously thank you for this. Let me know if you want me to point candidates your way, btw!

                                          2. 3

                                            How about “do lean towards over-clarification in your interview questions so as not to advantage candidates who happen to be well practiced at the game of technical interviews”.

                                            1. 2

                                              Well, technically this is not a good practice, because I believe research has shown that people like to hire people that resemble themselves, but seeing all the shitty recruitment processes out there I’d like to coin the method of… actually talk to the candidates.

                                              My process has always been very simple. The first thing you must remember is that an interview is a lot more stressful for the candidate than it is for the hiring party. The second thing you must remember is that people will show more of their true self when they feel comfortable with the situation. So with that in mind, your goal is to let them feel comfortable and let them just talk. Ask about a project they liked working on. Ask them why they liked it, what they would different in hindsight, etc Just get them to talk about something they are enthusiastic about. The rest will come naturally.

                                              You just have to trust yourself that you will recognize that someone is a good fit. You need to have the confidence that you will come up with some tough questions that push the candidate into the technical details far enough to detect whether they are actually smart, or that they are just blabbing out some buzzwords. Whatever the topic is. It is something they brought up themselves, so if you are the interested, curious person that likes to know more about it, there is no other way than that they tell more and more about the intricate details of this particular problem. And in doing so, it will become clear if they match the way your team works or not.

                                              Hiring people is.. a people thing. So there is not “system”, or “set of rules” that will guide you to the right answer. It is about people working with other people. So you can be genuinely interested, or you can be a robot. My experience tells me that being genuinely interested yields better results. It does take some time and energy though.