Richards tweeted a picture of two men near her who joked about “dongles” and “forking repos” during the conference. She informed conference staff, she said, after seeing a picture of a girl who took part in a coding workshop during the event made her worry about the environment created by the “forking” jokes.
The situation degenerated when one of the two men — neither of whom she identified — was fired by his company. As TechCrunch reported, the unnamed employee apologized for the original joke on Hacker News, but also noted Richards’ platform:
Adria has an audience and is a successful person of the media. Just check out her web page linked in her twitter account, her hard work and social activism speaks for itself. With that great power and reach comes responsibility. As a result of the picture she took I was let go from my job today. Which sucks because I have 3 kids and I really liked that job.
Shortly thereafter, Richards was the target of a string of personal and professional attacks against Richards, including the posting of her personal information onine, death threats, slurs, accusations of “misandry” and even attacks against her employer, Sendgrid.
Later, Sendgrid CEO Jim Franklin announced that the company had terminated Richards, saying, “her actions have strongly divided the same community she was supposed to unite.” The original incident was glossed over, and the attacks against both the company and its own employee were not addressed at all. Franklin closed comments on his post on Monday.
The conference also altered its Code of Conduct to forbid public shaming, requiring future disputes to be reported to PyCon staff. There is no mention, however, of what happens if there are conflicting accounts of an incident, or if convention staff disagrees with a person’s assessment of something as offensive or triggering. Is what happens at PyCon supposed to stay at PyCon from now on?
By now you’ve probably heard at least one version of the story about Adria Richards, the black technology evangelist who was fired from her job at SendGrid last week for tweeting a picture of two white guys who were sitting behind her making sexually charged jokes at a major tech conference.
Richards’s tweets from PyCon, which bills itself as the largest annual gathering of Python programmers and users, immediately drew the ire of trolls and their attacks intensified after the “big dongles” jokesters were canned.
Individual social media-related firings always make news, but the bigger story here is how Richards became the target of a very particular kind of harassment. Social media trolls repeatedly called Richards the n-word and threatened to rape her. Some scoured the Internet for her personal information and put it on blast (“doxxing”). One particularly disturbed individual even tweeted Richards a photo of a dead woman’s decapitated body laying on a bed. (Thankfully, Twitter intervened, the image has been deleted, and the account in question was suspended.)
So far, the onslaught of hate has had the intended effect on Richards. At press time, the technologist—usually a prominent online voice—hasn’t tweeted since March 20 and her popular blog, But You’re a Girl, is silent. She emailed VentureBeat’s John Koetsier a simple message on March 22: “I’m staying safe.”
The Richards incident is a reminder that the tech world is very similar to the outside world when it comes to calling out sexism or racism. It’s a frightening and often thankless task.