I've debated writing about this for awhile, and with Android and Kotlin communities flocking to new platforms I think it's important to write it now.
Like any other field with a large online community, vocal personalities emerge over time. Most of them are good! It's usually people that have earned respect through good work in open source, blog posts, public speaking, and other valuable contributions to the field.
The Bad Eggs
However, there's small category of people within that that solely* do it for influence and attention. They may contribute or have contributed in some capacity in the past, but now largely focus on trying to be "thought leaders". They largely prey on junior developers that don't know better and gravitate to spicy takes and cults of personality. We are simple, tribal creatures at the end of the day.
Spotting these types is easy:
- They're usually sneering contrarians seeking to "well ackchyually" threads about oft-bikeshedded topics like DI/architecture/etc, substituting substantive debate with misplaced confidence.
- They actively reply to more visible developers and Googlers to boost their own reach. They seek debate to appear on equal ground.
- They usually think themselves as teachers (or even have learning content to sell you), further raising their unfortunate exposure to junior developers.
- Most of their tweets are aphoristic, trite, or incendiary takes on whatever the topic of the day is.
- They never ask questions, only profess things. They could learn a thing or two from Ted Lasso.
- And, of course, they're all men. Often with varying degrees of toxic masculinity issues.
These kinds of traits may appear dumb-but-innocuous early on, but if only it stopped there. In the past few years, these personalities have added extreme and harmful views to their online persona, further exacerbating the damage they do to junior engineers that mistakenly look up to them.
Some examples of how this has manifested in harmful ways, with the first two being particular fixations for some reason:
- Incessantly tweeting COVID vaccine conspiracy content.
- Transphobia, weirdly centered around coming to the defense of JK Rowling.
- Racism in the form of disparaging black lives matter and denying the existence of systemic racial discrimination and bias (in tech or elsewhere).
- Sexism in the form of denying systemic gender discrimination and bias in the tech industry.
- Doxxing pro-choice coworkers (doesn't matter what your opinions are on abortion, endangering the lives of women you work with is never ok).
- Decrying "cancel-culture" and other general right-wing rallying cries when they are disagreed with or shunned.
- Youtubers with large followings giving the above people a platform on their channels because spicy takes get their channel more attention.
What Can We Do?
In these new communities that form with the scattering of Twitter, it's important that we continue to make them safe and inclusive spaces. Here's how you can help.
- Be mindful and intentional about content you endorse, especially if you have high visibility. Actively promoting harmful content for the sake of some "let's hear all sides" isn't an act of free speech advocacy, it's just boosting harmful content 🤷♂️.
- Don't engage with bad-faith replies directly. Even if it's just to call them out, they're looking for your engagement and attention then validates them.
- Moderators need to be diligent and fair in their implementation of codes of conduct/server rules. Also – adopt a code of conduct!
- Where appropriate, there should be paths back to the community with the right actions. People can learn from their mistakes and should be encouraged to do so. I'm a big believer that people should have open doors to return as long as they publicly show contrition for their past behavior as a condition of it. We had a good policy for this in a couple subreddits I moderated once upon a time – permabans just mean "come back when you're sorry". Most banned users eventually figured this out, though not all. This is crucial, because these people don't necessarily become radicalized because they're attracted to those beliefs: the far right just becomes the only place left that lets them in.
Twitter incubated some of the very best and worst parts of the Android and Kotlin communities, let's learn from mistakes there when growing new ones. I've been impressed with how well communities like androiddev.social and hachyderm.io operate and think they set a good example.
You can find me on Mastodon at https://hachyderm.io/@ZacSweers.
*doing it partially for attention and influence is natural. I get the same dopamine hit as everyone else when someone likes my tweets. Doing it exclusively for it is different.
Special thanks to Flo and Christina for reviewing this.