WordPress: Community, Code, Conduct

We pledge to act and interact in ways that contribute to an open, welcoming, diverse, and inclusive community.

WordPress Community Code of Conduct


I had been using WordPress for nearly two years, but I became a member of the WordPress community on a cold, clear day on February 2009 at the Denver Art Museum.

I attended a presentation by Alex King and laughed at the talk by Ben Huh, the guy who created I Can Haz Cheezburger. But that was also the day I met Matt Mullenweg, co-founder of WordPress.

Matt presented a mini “State of the Word” and, after, I went up to him and stumbled on my words, saying “Thanks for making WordPress. Code…um…is Poetry!” He graciously chuckled and said thanks, nice to meet me, and I moved on.

I felt that I was now a community member.


Responding to a business criticism with personal insults

As a business owner, it’s hard not to take criticisms of my products personally. I need to be in the right state of mind and, if I’m not, I can respond defensively.

My wife, Juniper, and I co-own the business, but I run it. Sometimes, when we discuss issues or I share decisions I made, she disagrees with my choices. It can be hard—so hard!—for me to hear what she says, to receive it as feedback (not as an attack), and to respond to the content of her message. Criticism can feel personal.

When growing up, I took criticism deeply personally as well. When I did something wrong, it felt like it was because I was wrong. Through therapy, I have worked on internalizing that criticizing something is not criticizing someone. Not liking what someone does is not the same as not liking someone.

Kindness, forgiveness, caring

I recognize my privilege in having a positive experience of the WordPress community and being in a place where I feel safe publishing this post.

My impression of the WordPress community is of people who want to be positive and support each other. Beneath all the drama is a group of people who share a common belief: we can improve. The increasing awareness and care given to accessibility and diversity reflect the core values of the project. I feel that WordPress is on a path bending toward love and inclusion.

Is it wrong to use words such as “love” when describing the WordPress community? No, it is not wrong: WordPress is more than software. WordPress is people.

[WordPress is] people. It’s created by people. It’s used by people. It relies on people to move it forward, to modify it, to moderate it, and to build community around it.

John Donne said “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.” The same is true about WordPress. Each of us is part of it. WordPress is you and me. It’s us.

Michelle Frechette

Calling out abusive behavior in the WordPress project

Retaliation against those who raise concerns or make reports in good faith will not be tolerated.

WordPress Community Code of Conduct

Without enforced rules, any society or community will rot. When a person engages in abusive behavior, the community must call them out. By being made aware of their negative behavior, the person then has the opportunity to recognize, change their behavior, and apologize. If the community rules are not enforced, the community itself recognizes that rules don’t apply to everyone equally or that the behavior in question was acceptable.

This is a common theme recently in the world today: norms being shifted. The gradual decline of an ideal, society, or an open-source project is formed through a series of events over time. We are what we allow.

So, what is unacceptable behavior in WordPress?

Examples of unacceptable behavior include:

  • Insulting or derogatory comments, taunting or baiting, and personal or political attacks
  • Public or private harassment

WordPress Community Code of Conduct

The WordPress Community Code of Conduct states that its guidelines apply “…within all community spaces (virtual and in-person) and applies when an individual officially represents the community in public spaces.” I argue that when Matt discusses WordPress-related topics, on any platform, Matt is representing the community. He is the co-founder and often the project lead. He gives the State of the Word. Whether he likes it or not, Matt represents WordPress.

So when Matt violates the community code of conduct, that is a serious breach of our ethics and norms. It rewrites the actual community rules.

Mika Epstein, long-time head of the Plugins team, wrote a Mastodon thread that summarizes this perfectly:

When you rep a ‘thing’ (like being the ‘face of’ a project, or even just the captain of the chess team) you lose your individuality.…It will forever remain on my shoulders the RESPONSIBILITY to watch my mouth when I communicate and how, lest it impact WordPress.…The flip side is that it’s ALSO my responsibility to LISTEN TO PEOPLE. Even if I hate what they say.…You don’t get to be you anymore, so watch your step and shut up more.

Mika Epstein, @ipstenu@tech.lgbt


A visionary can make mistakes

Over the years, I have been impressed by Matt’s passion for open source. He seems to truly believe in the idea of growing the internet through free and open source software.

Mullenweg’s 2015 interview on The Matt Report podcast convinced me to make the GravityView plugin public on GitHub.

I’ve always been a fan of businesses that grow with ubiquity, that become more powerful the more ubiquitous they are, more valuable. WordPress itself is one of these. Akismet is one of these. Jetpack is certainly one of those.

His message then—and still today—is one of the internet being a garden of hope and opportunity. That, by working together and growing a community, a new world of openness and interoperability may prevail.

He speaks clearly and confidently. Sometimes, upon being asked a question he hadn’t considered, he often pauses to reflect, then—in a soft, measured tone—answers a different question. Matt appears to turn the problem over, seeing the many different shapes of it, then he responds with an answer. The answer may not directly address the question, instead often expounding upon higher-level concepts.

Matt’s vision is valuable. Having someone at the top of the WordPress project and Automattic with this philosophical bent is, I believe, part of the reason WordPress has been so successful.

But every now and then, Matt reveals his vindictive side. The most recent example is related to another flare-up of WordPress.com vs WordPress.org debate. Matt responded to criticisms by—over the course of multiple days—belittling the careers and accomplishments of multiple community members and blocking a WordPress team lead.

I am reminded of my favorite Steve Jobs video where, shortly after returning to Apple, he was criticized on-stage for shutting down OpenDoc, a nascent technology that showed lots of promise.

Jobs transformed the criticism by acknowledging it. By recognizing that he isn’t perfect. By absorbing the insult and reflecting back the core beliefs of the company and what they were trying to do. If you haven’t seen it, watch it. It’s beautiful:

Steve Jobs may be an apt comparison. He was a visionary but also was someone known to be abusive.

To Andy Hertzfeld, an early Apple engineer who stayed friends with Jobs, this didn’t make sense. As he told Walter Isaacson “The one question I’d love Steve to answer is: ‘Why are you sometimes so mean?’”

Why Was Steve Jobs Sometimes So Mean?


Is it okay that Matt can be so mean? No.

The WordPress community is clear about what is expected from its members:

The Code of Conduct is clear about what is expected when someone has erred. Under “Examples of behavior that contributes to a positive environment for our community” is this:

“Accepting responsibility and apologizing to those affected by our mistakes, and learning from the experience”

My largest concern is not when Matt has outbursts (he is human). My greatest concern is the lack of a public apology or statement about his behavior.

I believe an apology is in order because I believe Matt Mullenweg violated the WordPress Community Code of Conduct.

I hope Matt chooses to reflect, accept responsibility, apologize, and learn from his behavior. WordPress needs Matt. And as a community member, Matt needs to uphold the Code of Conduct.

What next?

When a community member violates the Code of Conduct, there is a process:

Instances of abusive, harassing, or otherwise unacceptable behavior may be reported to the Executive Director and Community Deputies responsible for enforcement at reports@wordpress.org. All complaints will be reviewed and investigated promptly and fairly.

If you believe any member is making the community less open, welcoming, diverse, and inclusive, reporting that behavior—in accordance with our Code of Conduct—seems like a good place to start.

Love,
Zack Katz

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