Thoughts on Community
Another day dawns in the world of Information Security and along with it new controversy and drama. If you haven’t been watching Twitter lately then you’ve been missing out.
It all starts with a tweet and ends with a cacophony. Essentially irongeek is a guy that films and hosts said video of multiple conferences including BSides Las Vegas. The guy has a long history of making snide comments so the joke McGrew mentions shouldn’t be a huge surprise. What happens next borders on the insane.
The whole thing takes on a massive public commentary which ultimately leads to BSides severing the relationship with IronGeek. By severing I mean quite simply he isn’t allowed to volunteer his time and hosting resources to their con. In response a couple of the BSidesLV board members quit and a handful of sponsors have stated they will not support the con moving forward.
All of this because of a sophomoric April Fools prank.
Now this all comes from a community where a person in a furry costume carrying a Yagi antenna array war driving is great. Gimp suits are hillarious. Bad jokes about penetration testing (guffaw) abound. The dress code is black and the culture is one that emphasizes individual, unconventional, and often unpopular speech and thought. Yet we are absolutely offended that someone on the internet would ridicule a degree offered by a university.
It was a dumb joke. It was immature. IronGeek’s handling afterward could be considered sexist by some, reasonable by others, and ignored by most. This is why you can’t cross the streams. There was once a culture where people earned trust and respect with their thoughts and ability. There was once a community capable of policing its own ranks, handling disagreements, and able to steer itself. When someone crossed the line they were confronted and that was that.
What Mcgrew did is what I expect from our hacker culture. He saw something that he felt crossed the line. Something that he didn’t agree with. Then he and IronGeek entered into a dialogue. No consensus was gained and it dropped. Yet still it rang on in the echo chamber until nearly 5 months later we have public statements from the con organizers and people isolating themselves from the community.
To IronGeek, grow up. To McGrew, move on. To BSidesLV and all those still clamoring about this issue and calling for censure then I leave you a warning. When you start barring unpopular speech in a community founded around unpopular speech you are standing upon a slippery slope that threatens to eliminate whatever community still remains.
About the author
Brooks Garrett is a dedicated technologist who specializes in information security. Brooks has spent over 10 years implementing security programs for both the public and private sector including some of the biggest names in the Fortune 500. When he's not managing risk in the corporate environment you can find him at the local firestation where he is a volunteer firefighter.