Github Nukes Repository Over Use Of The Word 'Retard'
from the stupidity-ensues dept
There’s nothing censorious about a private company deciding what it does and doesn’t want littering its platform. Let’s just get that out of the way. However, things change a bit when you’re considered to be a central repository of open-source projects, like Github is. Open-source generally conjures visions of freedom and a more “hands-off” approach. On top of this, would it kill these services that suddenly decide to crack down on one person to at least be consistent in their actions? (h/t Andre)
Currently, there’s an all out gif-and-snark-war going on in this trainwreck of a thread over at Github, below a small change made in the fork of a repo. A change where the word “Retard” – “delay or hold back in terms of progress or development”- was removed and exchanged for the word “Git” – “an unpleasant or contemptible person”. Why? Github wants to remove the word “retard” from code.
[A word of caution: further text and images quite possibly NSFW, so scroll yourself accordingly.]
That’s “Dabitch‘ writing for Adland. The word “retard” has its legitimate uses, as noted above. It’s also used in a pejorative sense far more frequently. It’s insulting and terrible and generally Not Acceptable Usage, but it’s still deployed in code instructions for idiots while idiot-proofing software.
The word is problematic in this context. So are Github’s actions.
Github had already deleted the original repo, and suddenly all forks from this repo were affected, ie; also gone from public view and use on Github.
This is a problem because it affects more than the person who childishly decided to use the word “retard” in his/her code comments — comments, it must be noted, that would probably be read by others who would be unoffended by this usage. But Github became its own heckler’s veto. And in the laziest way — by deferring to its terms of service.
This was ultra-lazy because the takedown came first and the notification second. So, not only did Github tank the repo and its forks, but it couldn’t be bothered to ask nixxquality (the person behind the offensive code comments) to make the changes first before moving on to more drastic tactics.
Here’s the post-facto explanation that was given to nixxquality. (Which, it must be noted, only came into being because nixxquality demanded to know what happened to the project.)
We may, but have no obligation to, remove Content and Accounts containing Content that we determine in our sole discretion are unlawful, offensive, threatening, libelous, defamatory, pornographic, obscene or otherwise objectionable or violates any party’s intellectual property or these Terms of Service.
The content in question was the use of the words “retard” and “retarded.” We’d like to give you 24 hours to remove or change the content in your own repository.
This being said after said content was already
disabled made inaccessible.
The email went on to state that the content would be re-enabled after these words were removed. This seems to be the sort of thing that could have remained up while it was sorted out, with Github’s email preceding the takedown, rather than vice versa.
So, nixxquality changed “retard” to “git.” As in “Github.” As in just another word for the sort of “retard” targeted by code notes meant to dissuade others from screwing things up.
Git is a mild pejorative with origins in British English for a silly, incompetent, stupid, annoying, senile, elderly or childish person. It is usually an insult, more severe than twit or idiot but less severe than wanker, arsehole or twat.
Github’s email makes it clear it can arbitrarily enforce its code Code. Good for it. But inconsistent policing looks like laziness or hypocrisy. At its very best, it only looks incompetent. So, Nixx’s “retard” was nixed (I apologize for nothing!) but hundreds of thousands of other occurrences live on — some of which are far, far more offensive than nixxquality’s.
The last one is part of an insult generator that pulls from the following list of words to ensure users are properly verbally smacked around.
Offensive/obscene/objectionable? You bet. And yet it lives on unaltered.
This would be a nightmare to police. And it would be equally pointless. So, why target one use of “retard” when the rest of Github is littered with absolute filth? Even if this inconsistency is forgiven, why take down first and notify later? That just exacerbates the problems of an arbitrarily-applied “policy.” As it stands now, the only way anyone will truly know if they’ve run afoul of Github’s content guidelines is when their project disappears.
As was stated at the opening of this post, Github can police its site however it wants to. It can be strict but fair. Or it can do this sort of thing. Neither option is wholly incorrect, although one option is far more correct than the other. The public has options. If it doesn’t like Github’s cherry-picking of projects to dump, it can take its “business” elsewhere. Except, in cases like these, there’s sometimes not a lot of “elsewhere” available.
By doing this, Github risks alienating their core users, though at least one user in the trainwreck thread insists that they should all “shoo”. As in “You all lose. Just leave. Go form your own git hosting service that’ll wither and die. Shoo.”
Not quite as easy to do when a single service has become a large, centralized repository (with its users’ assistance, of course). When it comes time to talk or walk, the “walk” needs to be well-attended to be effective.
The thing is, the core users can literally do just that, and where would that leave Github the business? Will it be worth $2 billion after 224,477 repos are arbitrarily locked down or deleted?
This assumes Github will commit commercial suicide. It won’t. Its enforcement of this policy indicates it knows better than to apply the rules in anything more than a haphazard fashion. You can’t dump 224,000 repositories because they contain the word “retard.” The manpower spent to sort out the legitimate uses would provide no ROI. Very few people are going to stop using Github because it has “failed” to eradicate slurs and insults. But a greater number will abandon the site when they see the so-called rules are whimsically applied, and not in the way an eccentric uncle with a flair for the amusingly dramatic does.
The problem is that Github has also become indispensable for so many people. Given this power, it can deploy its rules stupidly and capriciously and still get away with it. That’s what pains users of large, centralized services the most. Smaller, agile platforms with multiple competitors need to carefully consider their terms of service and the consequences of arbitrary enforcement. Those with more power and market-share are far more likely to use supposedly strict rules as nothing more than guidelines subject to moderators’ moods and shifts in the ideological winds. In doing so, they allow hecklers to control the veto power… even when the heckling is coming from inside the