The Toxicity Dance

Sun 14 April 2024 by R.L. Dane

There's been some kerfuffle today on the fediverse over the issue of toxicity in the Linux and Open Source community. "Toxic" is one of those trigger words that immediately gets fingers a-pointing. The great irony is that just to mention the word "toxic" can in itself be a toxic statement, and it can be very tricky to distinguish the difference between a genuine and warranted complaint of toxicity in others from a false one, or even a "crybully" tactic of purposely besmirching someone's viewpoint by labeling them toxic as an attempt to shut down meaningful discourse.

I have no interest in assigning labels (regarding the above) on the specific interlocutors I've heard from today, but I do hope to send everyone a "cool off" signal and hopefully bring some perspective to the discussion.

Given the subject at hand, I'm going to label this post Part III of "Don't use what's good for you." You may wish to read Part I and Part II, but they're not necessary to read before this one.

So, what qualifies as a toxic reply, and how do we deal with it? Let's try a matching game. I'm going to give some examples of hypothetical posts/toots and hypothetical replies, in no particular order. Let's see what we can learn from them:

  • Original posts:

    • "Man, these ads in Windows are getting ridiculous."
    • "Why is my MacBook so slow all of a sudden?"
    • "How do I disable these new start menu ads?"
    • "Man, I just don't have time to learn Linux. I've got a life, already."
  • Replies:

    • "Dude, why are you putting up with that enshittified OS? Linux is so much better, lol!"
    • "Windoze drools, Linux rules!"
    • "Man, I'm sorry to hear what you're dealing with there. I know not everyone is ready to try something new, but running Linux has really changed things for me, and I'd love to help you learn more about it if you think you're ready to invest some time into it."
    • "FREEEDOOOOOMMMM!!! Join the revolution, lol! Whooo!"
  • Replies to the replies:

    • "What?!? Get away, nerd!"
    • "Sounds interesting, but man, I've got way too many irons in the fire already. Enjoy your RevolutionOS. ;)"
    • "Do you even have a job? Some of us have more to worry about than re-compiling our kernels and posting neofetch screenshots."
    • "Man, I hear so many people on here talking about it, but I'm not sure I'm ready to jump into all that. Can you tell me some more?"

You can read the above in any random order, and experiment with mixing and matching replies. What story do they tell? What is the attitude of the original poster, and of the replier? How does your view of the original poster change when you add on the final reply? Are all of the original posters good guys? Are all of the repliers toxic? Is everyone toxic? Is everyone trying to seek the betterment of something bigger than themselves? Is anyone? Are they all just haphazardly throwing out opinions from an egotistical place, or is there any genuine cry for help / attempt to help in these hypotheical dialogues?

There's obviously no right answer, but I hope it's useful to give some fodder for circumspect consideration.

When in doubt, look upon your interlocuter as someone who slogged through mud and razor wire to deposit a word of wisdom on your thread, and who probably failed to do so well for a multitude of reasons.

So maybe let's all chill out a tad and celebrate one another, instead.

Note: This article has a Part IV !