Fanboys in Free Software

Years ago I had a clear political opinion. I was a civil-rights activist. I appreciated freedom and anything limiting freedom was a problem to me. Freedom of speech was one of the most important rights for me. I thought that democracy has to be able to survive radical or insulting opinions. In a democracy any opinion should have a right even if it’s against democracy. I had been a member of the lawsuit against data preservation in Germany. I supported the German Pirate Party during the last election campaign because of a new censorship law. That I became a KDE developer is clearly linked to the fact that it is a free software community.

But over the last years my opinion changed. Nowadays I think that not every opinion needs to be tolerated. I find it completely acceptable to censor certain comments and encourage others to censor, too. What was able to change my opinion in such a radical way? After all I still consider civil rights as extremely important. The answer is simple: Fanboys and trolls.

When one starts to have a blog in free software one learns the hard way that being a relatively good developer means that you get hated. If you achieve something you get attacked, you get insulted, you get called a dictator [1], you get compared to Hitler [2], etc. etc. People say that you need a thick skin if you want to work in free software. I disagree. There shouldn’t be a need to have a thick skin. We are improving the world, we donated lots of our spare time to work on free software, we donate the source code we write for the public good and we are thanked by insults. This is not acceptable! Even if people dislike some specific software or are a great supporter of another software there is no reason to insult the people or the products. It never is! Not even if it is Microsoft or Apple or Google. There is no reason to attack them.

One of the first experiences I made in this regards was blogging about performance improvements. We can see that most users are thankful for the improvements but that there are also direct attacks. These are irrational, why would one attack the person who improved the situation? Why kill the messenger? People tend to discard it as “haters gonna hate”, but is that the answer to the problem? Do we have to tolerate such comments? Do we need to be hated just because we improve software and blog about it? Nowadays I would just delete such comments, that’s the change in my reaction to handle such situations. My skin became thicker over the years, but overall I prefer to have a thin skin as I used to have – it fits my overall character better.

Over the years I started to observe the behavior of the “haters”. For example I noticed that in the time after the release of GNOME Shell and Unity the hate against KDE increased. This was irrational, especially the reasons for the hate. KDE’s software had matured at the time when GNOME Shell and Unity did their release, so why attack KDE then. Yes after 4.0 that was kind of rational, but the attacks had mostly stopped. So why did they start again? I’m nowadays quite sure that if we would go back we would find an increase of attacks against GNOME at the time of 4.0/4.1.

Free software users are very enthusiastic about their used software. One could even say that they are religious about it. Not only that they also create a kind of split between mostly GNOME and KDE community. The decisions to use either KDE Plasma or GNOME Shell are hardly rational. There are emotions involved and used at the rational for why one uses KDE Plasma or GNOME. The software of the other projects is evil and one cannot use it. We tend to call users with such opinions as “fanboys”, but I find this word unsuited, I call them “religious fanatics”. I will explain in more detail why I compare to religion later on.

Now we all know the irrational reasons on why to not use GNOME software. GNOME is removing features, they are “interface Nazis” and don’t care about their users. KDE software on the other hand is ugly, too complex, slow and unstable.

When basing your decisions on irrational reasons it is inevitable that you will face cognitive dissonance. The introduction of GNOME Shell and Unity at the same time are good examples for triggering cognitive dissonance. The fanboys are convinced that GNOME is the best software in the world, but now they are transited to at that time incomplete software breaking their existing workflows and requiring to relearn. Many things are no longer possible. The belief that GNOME is better than KDE software is seriously challenged by the new experience.

One of the solution to solve this cognitive dissonance is to make KDE software worse in comparison to GNOME Shell or Unity. Being convinced that KDE software is still worse than the other software the dissonance is resolved. That is a blog post about performance improvements is a wonderful way to be confirmed that KDE software is slow, a news about fixed bugs is a wonderful way to show that KDE software is unstable. This explains the strong hate against KDE starting with the releases of GNOME Shell and Unity. Fanboys are trying to resolve their cognitive dissonance.

Obviously GNOME Shell and Unity are only an example. We can observe the same kind of cognitive dissonance with KDE fanboys. An example I can observe in regular intervals is that “the next version is much better and solves all problems” whenever a user is reporting about instabilities or other problems. The fact that another user is experiencing problems is challenging the beliefs of the fanboys which can be resolved by stating that the next version resolves it. We can see these comments for each version since 4.1.

Quite recently we could observe the same kind of cognitive dissonance with the Ubuntu fanboys. Mir was a real challenge to anybody who deeply believes that Canonical is doing the right thing all the time. Given that I wrote a few blog posts on that topic I was able to observe how fanboys tried to resolve their cognitive dissonance. My favorites were that I am the reason why free software is failing because I don’t support Mir. Canonical made it quite difficult for their fanboys to resolve the created cognitive dissonance. Of course reasons were provided but those had been shown as wrong very fast. Fanboys tried to resolve the dissonance by coming up with reasons like “development was too slow, someone had to do something”, which didn’t really resolve it as it’s obvious that the development power would have also helped Wayland. Just yesterday I was able to observe a fanboy in my blog comments. “Please re-read it and make it logically sane and spelling error free.” A wonderful example of adjusting the reality by making my arguments invalid because I had a typo in a reply. My argument that we cannot support distro-only solutions got discarded because there is also YaST which is also distro-specific. On a rational view this argument doesn’t make any sense but under the light of resolving cognitive dissonance it makes all the sense in the world. The fact that distro-specific software is a problem is diminished by pointing out other distro-specific software even if doesn’t matter for the argument (we do not depend on YaST).

I consider these fanboys as a threat to free software. By being irrational they harm everyone. They use emotions for something which should not have emotions. They make it difficult to work in free software. In fact it’s not a problem specific to free software, but can be observed overall in IT. Apple is also a good example for such fanboys. But only in free software fanboys can interact directly with developers and spread their harmful behavior. In the proprietary world they are blocked at the marketing department which is trained to work with such situations.

We need to find solutions to the fanboys and one of the solutions I came up with is to block them on my blog posts. I can tolerate trolls as it’s much easier to handle them. But fanboys are only there to harm you to diminish your work so that their world view doesn’t break. And that’s why I call them religious fanatics. They behave exactly the same. Just compare that to Intelligent Design to resolve the cognitive dissonance caused by evolution. I dislike any religious fanaticism whether it’s a crusade, jihad, IRA or free software. Any religious motivated fanaticism is harmful and needs to be fought, even if it is free software. Yes one can grow a thick skin to handle the fanboys, but that just shouldn’t be needed. Being compared to Hitler hurts no matter how thick your skin is. And if a GNOME developer stops work because of KDE fanboys it’s not GNOME who lost a developer, it’s free software who lost a developer. It’s one of us. We are also GNOME!

Final remark: please don’t come and tell me that I’m the same by criticizing Mir. It’s not the same. Criticizing decisions and having discussions is important, but of course critic has to be constructive. I have never attacked any of the Mir developers or have attacked the software in any way. I criticized the decision and the reasoning and pointed out the problems it causes for us, but I have in no way attacked Canonical, Ubuntu or Mir.

[1] Yes there are free software developers who are called a “benevolent” dictator. I disagree. There is no such thing as a benevolent dictator. Every dictator is bad and one shouldn’t define dictatorship down by calling someone a benevolent dictator.

[2] Yes all of that happened to me. Someone even compared me to one of the worst mass-murderers in human history because I do free software and have an own opinion.

110 Replies to “Fanboys in Free Software”

  1. Your dislike against strong, mind numbing emotions sounds like you’re not into football either 😉

  2. “after the release of GNOME Shell and Unity the hate against KDE increased” and “increase of attacks against GNOME at the time of 4.0/4.1” – many people when they feel insecure they try to attack. The big releases that bring with them bugs and problems creates insecurities into the “religious fanatics” and they feel the need to “defend” by attacking. The reality is not met by the expectations…
    Or, yes, you are right, this might be called simply as “Cognitive dissonance”.

  3. I think you are still not in favor of censorship.

    I don’t think it’s censorship to manage what is said within your space (e.g. on your blog comments). Censorship is when you fight against people’s right to say things at all. People are free to say whatever they want, but not necessarily in my yard.

    1. well, what I didn’t mention in the post: I’m nowadays also in favor of the German law which forbids right-radical speech and think its OK that Google is forced to censor such content. That’s how it changed my opinion and that is sad.

        1. The opinion doesn’t make me sad, but the fact that those hurtful comments over the years changed my opinion. I normaly stand to my opinion

            1. I agree wholeheartedly with Amehaye. “Changing an opinion in the face of Reality/new evidence is a *good* thing.”

              This is relevant throughout history – if we don’t learn by our mistakes or others then we will never advance. Keep up the great work Martin.

      1. Given the ability to censor to the State is fucking stupid. Once they have that ability there is NO guarantee that the composition of the government will not change and the power be abused. NONE. Anyone telling themselves otherwise is delusional. To those who seek to wield it over others, power always corrupts.

  4. I have to say I don’t agree that much, neither the premises, nor the conclusion. I have different feelings and experience about the whole matter.

    But I don’t want to quarrel about it, instead I think it’s a good moment to say something your deserved since a long time: THANKS for your hard work, Martin! 🙂

  5. Or you could see it as being a part of something important that will change the future and this always creates tensions…

    New version of KDE or GNOME or Unity or something that will replace Xorg… this are always groundbreaking events… and probably it makes sense to enjoy being a part of this process and to accept 90% of hype created is usually a bit off. Personal insults should always be non acceptable yes i agree but you hold important position and you do/will feel the heat sometimes. That is what separates you from us the regular crowd. 🙂

    About comparison to Hilter it’s probably easy to deal with this as long you personally know you are not doing the stuff Hitler did. Then you can easily say OK there is somebody on the other side that actually has no argument to prove you wrong and you can easily disregard the comment. You should grow thick skin for this kind of attacks to ignore them but stay soft/thin skinned person for the rest of the bunch you actually care about. Personally insulting comments should be deleted yes because somebody that has something to say can always be polite and address the anger toward KDE not individual developer and that shouldn’t bother you too much. It’s FOSS and if somebody knows better it always can do something about it…

  6. Do you think fanatism is a sign that the person hasn’t given anything or contributed himself? Quite possible. I myself have become less of an idealist or fanboy with time. Maybe one contributing fact is also realizing how complex the world is we live in.
    I wonder how we could turn the religious fanatism into positive energy?

  7. I probably speak with a silent majority when I say that I truly admire and appreciate your work with KDE and KWin. KWin is one of KDE’s highest quality pieces of software.

  8. Is this any different than real life? If you support a soccer team or another, if you went to a university or another, if you are from a city or another, if you have some ideas and values or others, if you work in a job or another… The only difference I see is that in Internet the amount of people you deal with grows exponentially compared to face to face relationships.

    Usually in real life we don’t spend too much energy in thinking oh why there is all that people criticizing me. We just recognize one cannot make everybody happy and rather focus on making happy oneself.

    Also, not all developers get the same amount of strong criticisms. This can be due to developers avoiding talking about conflicts that raise them, or due to the way they talk about the conflicts. Sometimes, even if mostly being in agreement with what you argue (and appreciating your contribution to KDE so much), I have the feeling reading that text can seem a bit arrogant or insulting for some people. This is not to justify any irrational comment, and I hope you don’t feel personally attacked. I recognize this sometimes myself from others reactions (partly based on me not being a native English speaker and partly given by strong personality).

    1. Is this any different than real life?

      Yes, in real life I don’t get insulted. Also in real life I’m not confronted with such strong opinions like in free software. Perhaps I try to get out of the way, perhaps it’s the anonymity of the Internet…

      1. To me it’s all about conflicts. Some people gets very irrational with them. One very dissimilar example with similar reactions (Hitler comparisons included): people that defends Catalonia’s independence from Spain gets rapidly insulted in very similar ways, even without anonymity, actually insults like this can be watched in spanish TV channels all the time.

      2. Martin,

        If you are not insulted in real life, you must live a sheltered real life. Insults come and insults go. There are many who have very objectionable opinions and when they are “challenged” in any way respond only with swearing and ad hominen attackes.

        However, when you go out and legislate against various “hate speech”, you (over time) get to the point where any speech that “offends” anyone in the slightest becomes hate speech. This is what has happened in my own country.

        There are various methods to handle these issues that do not involve enforcement and the first can be “just to listen” to what the underlying problems are.

        Most people who end up with “extreme” views have had something happen that has led them to this. If the “infrastructure” problem is not first sorted out (that is fixing the cause) then all that happens is that “enforcement” will cause the problem to get bigger.

        In the case of “trolls” and “fanbois”, most can simply be ignored or even laughed at. But sometimes, they can (in their strange little ways) be higlighting some fundamental problems in what is going on.

        In blogs and commenting sytems, take a leaf out of the “techdirt” book. Other than reading it and occasionaly commenting on it as an AC (Anonymous Coward), I find its comment policies and the community surrounding it handles “trolls” etc in a well ordered many.

        The community can vote a comment down to the extent that it doesn’t show in the normal sequence of viewing, but if you want to see it, it really is just one click away from view. Anyone is free to comment without registering their email or real names (you just get the tag Anonymous Coward), but many who are anonymous create their own tags (without identifying who they are) as a matter of course. This even applies to some of the “trolls”.

        This occasionaly leads to the comical situation where a “troll” makes an insightful, valid comment and they get “trolled”.

        What it boils down to is that whether or not we are “offended” by someone elses speech is a personal responsibility and this is what we need to be teaching the next generation.

        Unfortunately, we don’t teach personal responsibility now, all we teach is entitlement. Every level of our civilisation is infected by this very insidious disease.

  9. Hi Martin,

    First, let me thank you and all the other developers of free and open source software for all their effort. Many reap the rewards of your labor, most by no paying or donating, for them to complain for the sake of complaining. I see your point and agree 100%. There is never a good reason to compare anybody, espcially a German, to that man.

    I love KDE and used just because I like it. No too logical reason but I don’t bash those who use something different, is their choice. That is the same reason that when anybody aske me why I used Linux I never answer ‘because is better than either Windows or Apple”. That is the answer a fanboy would give.

    Again, thank you for all your effort.

    No a fanboy.

  10. Moderating a blog comments section is not censorship. Society and government needs to be able to take the critique, not individuals. It’s up to you what you allow or disallow on your web page. IMHO getting rid of obvious troll or destructive comments is nothing like censorship and more like telling the badly behaving kid shouting obscenities to passer-bys to shut up.

    I (apparently) hold a similar political views in the aspects you mentioned as you do, and see no contradiction here.

    1. I agree, there is a difference between censorship and moderation and you definitely shouldn’t feel like you’re compromising your free speech convictions by deleting blog comments.

      If haters want to hate then there is nothing stopping them setting up their own blogs (lets see how many readers they get).

      1. traveler,

        The problem is that they do get readers and the infection continues to grow.

        If you have an infection, you can treat it early or you can treat it late. If you treat it early, you may need to lance it and drain the poisen by publically showing where the view is wrong, But if you just try to hide it, it will only get worse and this may result in the infection spreading and more drastic measures are then required like removing limbs.

        Agreed, you don’t have any requirement to allow any comments or opinions contrary to your view on your blogs. But allowing them can have more benefits than you may initially recognise.

        There are many sites that I no longer look at simply because they do not allow anomymous comments or comments that differ from the “owners” viewpoint. Some of these have had quite interesting articles but it is no longer worth the effort to look at them.

    2. bzar,

      I have made comments on particular sites that have led to me being “censured” for being too pointed (accused of ad hominen attacks). I have responded to such by pointing out (quite fairly) that the comments I have made have “called out” the falacies of the views of the other person and that they have been “insulted” by this calling out.

      There has also been many occasions when my own views have resulted in others calling me all sorts of names etc. my general response has been to logically deal with each of their “arguments” without getting caught up in their “venom”.

      What I have found is that others who are diametrically oposed to me with their views have been supported of me. We then can at least continue the discussion as appropriate.

      Just remember that their is a difference between censuring someone and censoring someone.

      Too often, moderation can mean the latter and not the former. As I said above, the “techdirt” commenting system is a useful model to follow.

  11. Sorry, but I disagree with you. Censoring is evil! Always!

    But since I like KDE very much and very very appreciate your work there I keep quiet.

    Besides, I don’t want to be banned from using KDE, because I have a different opinion. Thats not worth it. 😉

    1. Besides, I don’t want to be banned from using KDE, because I have a different opinion. Thats not worth it. 😉

      Luckily the GPL doesn’t have exceptions for different opinions 😉

    2. “Sorry, but I disagree with you. Censoring is evil! Always”

      This is such a naive statement. Like any freedom, speech’s use has to be bounded by it’s ability to do harm. You can’t yell “fire” in a crowded cinema with impunity. You can’t publish lies that damage other’s character.

      Unless I missed something, nowhere did Martin say that having a different opinion was bad, what he said was that the unbridled vitriol that some bring to otherwise open discussions is the issue. You can’t be “banned from kde” for harboring a differing opinion, just try not to call someone hitler when you express your differing opinion (maybe swapping out the hitler reference for a well reasoned, empirically supported argument might be one way you could go)

      1. To me censorship means that people with power decide what other people can hear, see or notice from someone else. It’s not about truth, nor well behaviour, nor style. It is about information. In this case you don’t have the possibility to form your own opinion, because you don’t get the whole picture. Your opinion will be manipulated. By that people will be incapacitated (entmündigt).

        But let’s not drive it too far. I agree that there must be rules to organize a community. But the rules should be clearly stated (in advance) and discussions about the rules should also not be censored. A lot of professional managed forums of greater conmpanys have a code of conduct for this purpose.

        And finally everyone who runs a blog/forum/press product must find a way to continue his work without being discouraged by people whose only possibilities to express their feelings is trolling, insulting or hitlering.

        After all we all are only humans. On both sides.

      1. TobiSGD,


        Many years ago, a mate of mine was kept alive because we insulted him. Up until we did, we were not getting enough of a respose to keep him going. The insult got his blood moving and him moving to the extent that he survived till morning.

        He forgave us, though I am not sure his mother ever did for getting her son into such a predicament.

        Insults can be an effective means of getting a person to stop and take notice of what is happening about them. Not by any means the best method, but it can shake you enough to get you out of your stupor.

      2. “Insults are also evil. Always.”

        That fine sounding, but what’s an insult? Is it insulting to call someone a big, fat slob if in fact they are large, obese and slovenly? Or is it “just” rude? Is it ok if family says it, to point out deficiencies or because they can’t stand being around him?

        Who judges what’s an insult? If it’s the receiver of the speech, where to draw the line when one person might take a comment as the joke it may intend to be and another go whining to the teacher?

        Also, maybe the person is a right rat bastard and *deserves* to be insulted.

        Bottom line: social interactions are rarely if ever black and white.

  12. Thanks Martin for all your hard work. KWin is the best thing that could happen to KDE. Trolls are trolls and one should get over it, Show them the middle finger and don’t get easily offended, don’t get trolled – that’s what feeds them! I can understand though how it may be emotionally stressful. Remember that you have our support!

  13. i can understand if developers get upset with other developers: either because they’re in favor of a different way of doing things, or because they are part of a rival project. that makes sense, and if sometimes the criticism gets more emotional than constructive, well, we’re all human.

    what i can’t understand at all is when users of free software who contribute nothing but their opinion (and even the occasional bug report perhaps) get all angry. what the f*** is wrong with you? you get something for free and don’t like it? too bad, don’t use it & shut up.

    trolling or flaming from non-contributors should be punishable by law.

    1. phanisvara,

      You last line (I hope) is meant as a joke. Because if you believe it then there is a real problem brewing and it is not in the trolls or non-contributors.

      I have been in software development for over 30 years now. When I get “trolling” or “flaming” from the users then I know something very drastic has gone wrong. Invariably it has been the developers/designers who have caused the problem.

      Many years ago, I was the chief developer for an internal project at a particular technology company. One day I got kicked in the head by the comments from the engineers about how bad the system was for them. In their eyes, I was the cause of the bane of their lives. The particular part of the system that was causing them grief had been written six months before I came on board by a developer who had left.

      My view then (and it is still the same now) was to sit down with them and find out what the probloem was they wanted soved and how they wanted it to work for them. I even helped them create the change request to be passed up through their management for approval.

      I then went away and looked at the problem, found and developed a solution and when the request came through, implemented it immediately. I went back to the engineers to get their feedback and they where as happy as Larry.

      So the upshot, listen to the users of the software because utimately they are the ones who matter. We have the expertise to build something for them but they have to live with it. So let’s keep them happy. Put our pride to the side it just gets in the way. This is irrespective of whether or not the software is free or not.

  14. If this were an ideal world there wouldn’t be such trolls as how you describe them, but this is not one. As a free software developer in general one indeed doesn’t need – and shouldn’t need – a particularly thick skin, though as an user of the Internet it kind of becomes mandatory. The Internet has become the absolute medium of free speech and I cannot see that changing. That comes with the purest of values… including the irrational ones.

    It all comes down to who has power. With enough power one could quell free speech entirely (see China or North Korea). One can at least moderate one’s own comment section in their blog, since they have power over that, though the same doesn’t really apply to Internet in general.

    Personally I view censorship as evil, since it either is machine-controlled (thus ineffective because strict rules are not flexible), or human-controlled which tends to trip to the dark side too easily.

  15. Martin, can’t you see those trolls are coming from a world lacking any citizenship values as exemplified by politicians too? In the end they also have the perception you’re more vulnerable to attacks as they don’t have to show their faces

  16. Hi Martin,

    I must say I disagree with your political view (that there are cases where censorship is a good idea), but I strongly agree with your way of handling unwanted comments on your blog.

    In my opinion this has nothing to do with censorship, the fact that people have the right to say or write whatever they want, doesn’t mean you have to stand for it being said in your living room, nor that you have to publish what they write. Let them say it in their own home, out in the street or publish their own blog.

    I take the view that this is your blog, and you have the absolute right to edit it any way you want. A reasonable way to edit it would be to only let through comments which further your cause (and be open about that). It appears your ’cause’ is to make KWin awesome, so I don’t see why anyone would object to that…

    1. My problem with martin’s political view, is *who* decides what sorts of speech and ideas should be tolerated? The state? society in general? Nether have ever shown very good judgement in what constitutes “acceptable speech”

      If you yourself want to censor something on your blog, that’s your prerogative. It’s your forum, and you are the king of your domain. But what if “the state” forces you to censor your blog? The idea makes my skin crawl.

      Here in the US, we have huge diversity of dumb view points, the westboro baptist church, the KKK, Communist Party USA… I disagree with everything these groups stand for, and their infantile ideas. But I would fight to the death for their right to say them.

      Not a thing wrong with choosing what YOU want to publish, but when the state crafts laws about what sorts of ideas are acceptable, you’ve surrendered your liberty.

      Unfortunately, there will never be a shortage of idiotic views and ideas. The best way to fight speech you disagree with, is with more speech, not less.

      1. ” the westboro baptist church, the KKK… But I would fight to the death for their right to say them.”

        In private, that’s great, they can do or say whatever they want. If they want advertise, promote, and publicize their cause, that’s fantastic; good for them. But crafting messages to publicly humiliate and emotionally scar others is wrong, no matter how you look at it. If they have an opinion, they are free to express it, but to do so with the intent of hurting someone else is cruel. You can give up your life fighting for this if you please, but I for one will pass.

        1. Again, who decides what is hurtful or offensive? If I say something deemed hurtful and offensive about nazis, should I be thrown in jail? After all, maybe they’re really “hurt” but what I say. Whose offense is greater? Where do you draw the line?

          The notion that only “non-offensive” speech should be tolerated renders the very definition of free speech completely meaningless.

          1. I agree with you that there is no clear line. But when the line has been crossed, it is obvious. When people intentionally harass and ridicule women walking into an abortion clinic, the line was crossed. When people stand outside a solder’s funeral and ridicule those who walk inside while insulting the deceased, the line was crossed. That’s not free speech. That’s public humiliation.

            1. Difficult. I think both would be acceptable forms of protest in Germany – especially the last one. Though the first example is of course a non-issue in Germany. So the culture defines what is acceptable and what not. Which is causing problems, like in Germany completely normal content gets censored to get into app stores.

                1. It would be up the court to decide – if it is considered as political opinion I’m quite sure it would be allowed (c.f. “Soldaten sind Mörder”)

    2. Tom Gundersen,

      I’ll point out the fallacy in your argument. A blog is a public space not a private space. It cannot be likened to your living room. In your private spaces, what you allow or tolerate is your responsibility. You don’t have to allow anything that “offends” you or disagrees with your views.

      However, Martin has created a public forum for his views. He is fully entitled to do so, he is even entitled to block, censor or anything else with those who comment on his articles. But he does have to be careful calling the kettle black.

      This is a public forum (that is the nature of a blog), and he will get those who disagree with him (that is the nature of making public statements). How he handles himself in managing this to and froing will show all the kind of man he really is.

      The question for him is “What kind of man do I want people to see?”

  17. What you describe is an unfortunate part of any kind of public life that causes any controversy. When people say “just ignore them and don’t feed the trolls” they don’t understand how it is like to be a visible figure who has to take much of the hate. I agree that there may come a point when something has to be done, other than just shrugging your shoulders. I believe that bystanders have the power to help, just by showing they are appalled at the tone of the aggressive comments. It’s a way of saying to the haters “you don’t belong here”.

    You are experiencing it here in the free software community because it’s the only community where you are a well-known public figure (as far as I know).

    Keep your head up Martin! The vast majority of us have nothing but respect for you!

    1. > The vast majority of us have nothing but respect for you!

      I couldn’t say it better! A very applicable sentence.

      Thank you, Martin

    2. Tuukka,

      You make an assumption (and a bad one at that) that those who say “don’t feed the trolls” don’t know what it is like to be attacked.

      The metal of man is found in the testing of the fire. If you are making an impact in the lives around you, expect to have resistance. If you are doing well, expect that attacks. This is a normal part of life.

      Yes, it can be draining, it can be disheartening. But there is always support for you somewhere and that is where you need to keep focus.

      Facing a few nasty comments from “trolls” is trifling compared to what many people face every day of their lives because of their colour, disabilities, religion. People make may choices in their lives, some of these lead to others hating them. Other attributes about them they are unable to change and these lead to other attacks.

  18. Definitely, don’t be overwhelmed by the trolls and haters. A lot of people misunderstand free software and they really don’t know what they do.

    Plus, the people who are positive about the software or enjoy working on it may come out in the same force as the haters.

    As a user of KDE software, I can say I am very enthusiastic about it. Keep up the good work and don’t let the negativity get to you.

  19. There are two things i would like to comment :

    Censorship : I dont really think deleting comments on “YOUR” blog is censorship. Censorship is you not allowing the person in question to say its mind nowhere. If i am in my house, i get to say how everyone there behaves. So unless you are following the people that you ban comments from here and prevent them from ever speaking their mind in other places and on their places, you are not censoring.

    GNOME ( and others ) : I really love KDE. There is no point to it, no matter what GNOME does … it has to be KDE for me to use it. Same goes with Ubuntu. ( only use gentoo/funtoo and openSUSE ).
    But please, Gnome dev’s are doing what they think its right, and good luck to them. When i try GNOME, i can see people liking it. I dont, but i am not like most people 🙂 . They are free people and they are human beings like everyone , so good luck and stay well.

  20. Very good post!

    The right of free speech is not paired with an obligation to listen. The best way to deal with trolls and hate merchants is to ignore them and walk away. They’re looking for an audience, so let’s not give them one.

    When you write for this blog, you are a writer and an editor, not a developer. You have the right, and the obligation. to control how this blog presents itself to the public. That includes editing out comments from trolls and insult artists.

    I find it sad and dispiriting to see how much vicious unthinking emotional and self-serving vitriol is served up on the web. I have to question the emotional health of people who are so involved in the software created by other people and delivered to them at no cost that they feel the need to attack the character and intelligence of anyone who uses anything else. Are their lives so empty that the difference Ths between, say, Gnome 3 and Gnome 2 become critical?

  21. Trolls and fanboys will never understand that one software/project cannot cater all the needs and wishes of everyone. We all have different needs and interests, that’s why we have the choice, and that’s even more true in the Free Software world. Ignoring of removing the non-constructive comments from them shouldn’t need a debate especially when it’s on your own personal blog.

    “And if a GNOME developer stops work because of KDE fanboys it’s not GNOME who lost a developer, it’s free software who lost a developer. It’s one of us. We are also GNOME!”

    Martin, not only you are an extremely talented developer (I can see it by how KWin from the 4.11 beta rocks on my desktop) but you are also a true man of wisdom. The free software ecosystem and this world would be so much better with more people like you.
    Immense respect for this.

    Thanks so much for everything. Just don’t let these clueless idiots reach you.

  22. I personally believe that everybody does have the right to say whatever they want. Of course, I also believe that if I don’t like what they say, I can politely tell them to leave and take their crap with them.

    I’ve actually read a number of blogs where free software developers get too much heat on their own sites, and some of it doesn’t even have anything to do with their software. I remember Bryan Lunduke decided to disable comments to his blog because he was getting tired of deleting real, legitimate Nazi hate mail – which just seems wrong on so many levels.

    Censorship is difficult because it’s full of grays. Sometimes it is fine to delete comments, and sometimes it is easy to go over the edge. Sometimes it’s reasonable to leave every comment untouched because there really isn’t enough reason to intervene on a regular basis, and sometimes it’s reasonable to disable comments entirely because they are so polluted with irrational hate. As long as it is considered carefully, censorship is not inherently evil.

    PS: KDE is currently my desktop of choice. Keep it up!

  23. Martin, this time you are approaching my real field of expertise (civil law), and so, I see that you are right, and I think you shouldn’t give up your membership in the Pirate Party. It’s a consensus among all Constitutional Law professors that rights require limits useful for the preservation of those rights. Absolute rights are useless rights, because they can cancel themselves.

    About trolls and fanboys: those guys act like that because they are immature, and they deserve some sanctions. A detention, a slap on the wrist, or a comment deletion, will actually enable them to use their freedom of speech in a better way. This is your blog, and as a mature developer you MUST discipline them, and you also MUST show them how to behave.

    1. And BTW, speaking about Hitler, me, you, and every law student knows how the most dramatic example of what happens when the self-preservation mechanisms of rights fail was the downfall of the Constitution of Weimar, So, please, don’t even think that you are betraying your political beliefs censoring trolls and fanboys ;).

  24. Haters : Hi Tux, you are Hitler.
    Tux : What?? Hi Guys, These Fanboys Religious Fanatic talk bad about me! That hurt! I dislike any religious fanaticism whether it’s a crusade, jihad, IRA or free software.
    Some Guys : Hi Haters, just shut up!
    Some another Guys : Hi Haters, you are troll, middle finger for you!
    Some Guyz : Hi Haters, you are F***** Idiot.
    Haters : What?? That hurt!
    Innocent Readers : Tux talk bad about crusade/jihad/IRA, that hurt!

  25. Hi Martin, I think you are a little mixing things up here.
    The first is “real” censorship (ie. forbidding freedom of speech) vs. blocking some anonymous troll comments on your blog. This is not all the same! (as other also pointed out). With regard to the troll comments, normally best way is just to ignore them. But of course this only works if everybody does this (and thats why it doesn’t work always), otherwise useful resources is spent on these commets which ofc is a waste of time. So I think it is completely reasonable to block these comments.

    Second thing is, judging from your statements KDE fanboys are insulting GNOME devs and vice versa. I’m not so long/deep into these FLOSS projects, but still I must say I find this hard to believe and it sounds a little conspirative to me. I’m a KDE fan and I can hardly find the time to follow all the blogs about KDE. Where would I (or anyone) take the time to follow all the KDE *and* GNOME blogs (not even talking from commenting on all these…)?
    IMHO these are probably more KDE fans themselves, who are unsatisfied (but only with certain aspects of some random program/functionality/etc.) and take there unsatisfaction to some random (ie. you and others) KDE devs.
    Or: since there is no reasoning in troll comments, it is only reasonable to assume that there is no reason at all behind this hate. So in the end I “Haters gonna hate” is probably still the closest match … 🙂

  26. I’m slightly worried by your conflation of civil rights and free speech issues with the power to moderate private discussion on your own blog. You are not morally or politically obliged to make your private blog a venue for people to exercise their free speech rights.

    Go look on Youtube. Comments comparing the video’s author or another commenter to Hitler are par for the course. Most comments on YouTube are made by guys between 13 and 27 years. I would hazard a guess the same holds true for hateful comments in the Free Software world. These people are at the margins of the discussion, but have the loudest voices. You can’t talk with them because they treat conversation like war. Their only aim is the complete capitulation of the other side–there is no compromise, and so there can be no worthwhile conversation with them.

  27. Martin,

    I an sorry that a blog post like this was necessary. The idea that you experience such religious fanaticism in regard to your work in the free software world is simply appalling. I am embarassed and ashamed of those that do these kind of things, both to you and others.

    I am not a KDE user (nor GNOME or Unity), but instead choose a simple tiling window manager. I love the simplicity of my graphical interface, and have no reason to leave it. But you are the only DE developer of any project that I actually follow on G+. This is because your work on Wayland is impressive to say the least, and I really do enjoy your blog posts (though this one just kind of made me sad). I have briefly used KDE in the past, but with each new blog post you put out, I am getting closer and closer to installing it on Arch Linux. (We actually have 3.11 beta in the unstable repo… though I am unsure about whether the wayland support is enabled.)

    Anyway, I just want to say thanks for all you do. I may not use your software directly, but I haven’t a shadow of a doubt that your efforts make the overall Linux ecosystem a much better place.


    PS You are Hit… no wait… nevermind.

  28. Freedom does not mean licentiousness, allowing anyone to do what they want. Democracy sets limits with the laws and punishments. Not everything is Freedom in democracy. It is well that you establish rules of conduct for your blog, and limit the freedom of those with inappropriate behavior, in the same way that democracy limited to those with inappropriate behavior.
    Thank you very much for everything Martin. –

  29. Many already pointed out the difference between censorship (as the limitation of freedom of speech) and moderating your own space, be it your living room or your blog.
    I’d only like to add that, in a political/civil sense, an unnecessary but welcome move would be to have a set of rules for your moderation, in principle as simple as “Comments with insults and references to dictators will be deleted”. That at least would welcome a public discussion (guessing that’s part of the goal of your blog posts), clarifying the limits in which it can take place. It’s an extra effort, but it makes the difference between your arbitrary judgement (which, anyway, would be totally allowed and acceptable in your own blog) and a regulated “talk place”. If people know the rules, they might even start thinking before posting – not many would write something just to see it rejected and go complain about your censorship, I suppose.

    This is only a humble suggestion, for the rest I can only thank you for the work on free software and KDE especially, and for your not-less-important attention to all the community around that as well. It is a great value. 🙂

  30. As many others have already mentioned about censorship, but I want to mention about it to just encourage you. “Don’t mind too much. Don’t feel crushed. Be easy. I really thank you.” 🙂

  31. I hate to say it… But honestly I had exactly the same feelings reading some of your comments lately…

    The way you bitch about canonical here makes you look like a wayland fanboy just like you describe them here. And there are more examples out there…

    I really do appreciate your work, but keep in mind, there’s always two sides of the medal. You should not do yourself what you hate in others.

    1. Please read my blog post and not the article on golem. The article of golem had not much to do with the blog post I wrote in the first place. So yes the article on golem might make me look like a Wayland fanboy, but when you read my blog post you will see that there are serious concerns on my side.

  32. Since many of your correspondents are Young Americans, they have no idea how to conduct a reasoned debate. They have been conditioned by the ridiculous political theater of US politics, and base their arguments on impugning the motives of, and personal attacks on their opponents.
    Please excuse them from being young and stupid. They do not know any better.

  33. You wrote:
    But over the last years my opinion changed. Nowadays I think that not every opinion needs to be tolerated. I find it completely acceptable to censor certain comments and encourage others to censor, too. What was able to change my opinion in such a radical way? After all I still consider civil rights as extremely important. The answer is simple: Fanboys and trolls.

    You are confused, you mix opinion with the tone in their expression. Also, you moderatig your blog comments, doesn’t have anything to do with cencorship. They still can express their opinions in their own blog or in some other forum. I have had quite interesting threads on G+ about nationalism and rasism, topics that will attract quite a lot of agressive trolls. I was quite clear that people were free to comment as long as they had a nice and civil tone. I had to remove a few comments, and then most of them re-phrased the comment and the discussions could be kept in a civil tone.
    I allow any opinion and idea in my comment fields, as long as they are nice and polite. If someone wants to be an asshole, they can be that in some other forum. I still don’t think any of that restricts any freedom of speech.

  34. Sorry that you’ve had to take such crap.
    Well i do recognise myself in your text a little, when GNOME 3 and Unity came around i was not happy.
    I was new to Linux and had just came to love GNOME 2.
    As much as i didn’t like GNOME 3 and Unity i did try to offer some constructive critisism instead of bashing them.
    Hatred doesn’t belong here, keep up the great work 🙂

  35. Not sure you’ll read this post, but I wanted to say that I know what you’re feeling but censorship isn’t the solution. I think you should _moderate_ your blog instead of deleting comments. If a hater let a comment, I really think it’d be better to “flag” the message as “irrelevant” (so everyone can see that you, the owner of your blog, disagree with this comment) and answer that the comment just doesn’t help at all and that it is *your* blog and so he should show some respect.
    And maybe even point to an article of your blog where you explain why some comments are flagged as “irrelevent”.

  36. In the old days blogs and comments on the internet were more interesting.

    Nowadays any anonymous moron can feel like a somebody by posting big words.

    I hate it when these anonymous morons discourage the people who create free software.

    And no matter how great any blabla is, you can’t get people to change their minds,especially the minds of non-contributing little morons.

    I don’t think you should feel bad about deleting wantever comments from anonymous little morons you want,including my own. Or not,if you want to try the suggestions from the non-morons.

    Just thank-you(and all the free software coders) for the software.

  37. 1.Censorship is bad for freedom because the ruling power can silence the voice of the less powerful.
    However you individually are not powerful enough to silence internet discussion, so I agree with others that censoring your blog does not present that danger, and your social conscience is spared.

    2.Fanboy attacks take away your enjoyment and enthusiasm, so you must find an effective way to stop them, if you are to continue enjoying to code and inviting discussion on your blog. Censoring comments obviously does the trick of discouraging agressive posters(or forcing them to moderate themselves,as suggested previously). But if all free software developers adopt such censorship policies, then it might seem to newcomers as if there were, in fact, a suppression of free speech by the rulers of the free software community. So I agree with the suggestion of posting a disclaimer along the lines of “Like many free software developers, my blog has in the past been flooded with sustained agressive and unconstructive posts that over time actually sap my enthusiam for free software,forcing me to decide between censoring posts or giving up . If your post does not get published here, please try one of the many great free software sites who have more time to deal with large numbers of posts”.

  38. To all,

    All of you who have the view that any blog is a “private” space fail to recognise that a “private blog” requires “personal invitation” to view.

    Martin is publishing his comments publically. All blogs are set up as public forums for your views. How you manage the comments (from allowing none to a complete free-for-all) is entirely up to you because of the media controls.

    Do not make the mistake that this or any other blog is private. What you say and how you manage your public performance simply shows what kind of person you are.

    There are responsibilities and choices involved in running a blog or any kind of forum. If you want if private then you have to invite people to read it and you are responsible for keeping it private, away from the view of the public.

    In this case, Martin has chosen to create a public forum for his views and statements. He is welcome to them but everyone should understand that public statements will generate all kinds of responses from extremely bad to extremely good. That is the nature of the game he has chosen to play.

    Whether I agree with his views or not is irrelevant in this comment. My comments are about about correcting the “illogical” view that this forum is private and that he has a “right” to control it in the same way as he would any private space that is his. He does not have a “right” to control it as he would a private space. However, he does have a “privelege” to control it as he sees fit. “Rights” and “Priveleges” are not the same thing.

    Again, the metal of the man will be shown how he manages the responses to his public statements.

  39. Trolls and fanboys are a consequences of mass adoption. I keep reading the posts about Linux being ready for mass adoption which means any ordinary fellow can pick and use it. Linux no longer for elite class only. Masses are invited to participate, bug triaging, providing feedbacks etc. The code of conduct and tone of culture will take some time to be imbibed by the masses. Probably tutorials on such things also need to be organised alongwith more important things like bug triaging and squashing.

    A way to look things positively is to accept that you are dealing with masses, people of diverse background and upbringing. Be happy that naïve people are using what you have produced. This is where commercial companies were running their business and now FOSS is getting noticed.

  40. To all,

    I have just read my comments and when composing them, I thought I had got rid of the spelling and composition mistakes. But I see that I had not. My apologies to you for the various mistakes and I hope that they did not detract from the various messages that I was trying to convey.

  41. Martin, I just want to add to the list of “thank you” comments for all that you do. Kwin is a great Window Manager, and KDE Plasma Desktop is a great desktop environment. I’m not a fanboy, I like KDE because I like most of the defaults, I like most of the default applications (Kate is always going to be one of my all-time favorite GUI editors), and most of all I like most of the people I have met online, around the KDE community.

    That being said, I have an old laptop that struggles with KDE, that runs Xfce quite nicely. Do I like it as much? No. I also have a laptop that for whatever reason doesn’t like KDE 4.10; I think it’s a display driver issue. It works fine with effects disabled. Right now it has Unity on it because I don’t have time to muck around with it.

    I also have a Macbook Air, which I also love – I think the MacOS is a good system, although there is a lack of freedom.
    I use Windows at work (I’m currently working as a .NET developer). And you know what? It’s really not that bad. Is it my favorite system? No. But it works, it doesn’t crash, and I can actually get weeks of uptime out of my (heavily used) dev box.

    In my younger days I was pretty extreme about my feelings for Linux, I felt it was better than anything, and felt somewhat elitist about being a Linux user. Those views have waned with time, and I feel it’s best to use whatever tool or piece of software that does whatever job best and most efficiently.

    With all of that said, I hope that there is some resolution around the Kubuntu/Mir/Wayland discussion. Although I love Debian, I also love the convenience of Kubuntu, especially the ability to easily add non-free bits I might need, whatever the heck Ubuntu does to make font rendering so nice, and most especially the PPA’s. If not, perhaps Tanglu can ramp up and provide an alternative to those of us who would like a KDE based Debian system that is perhaps more cutting edge than running pure Debian. Who knows.

    Anyway, sorry for rambling on, but again, Thank You and all of the other Open Source developers in other projects for everything that you do. Nobody deserves to be insulted.

  42. Gnome user here, though an infrequent reader of your blog (keep it up!).

    It’s your blog, do whatever *you* want, it’s your turf, your kingdom. You make the rules.

    Elsewhere on the web, you have to play by the rules of someone else.

    Do what you enjoy doing, enjoy what you do. Don’t listen to the trolls.


  43. Martin, I don’t buy your argument.

    You make some good points, but I do not agree with your conclusion. And while you do mention fanboys being a problem, you don’t seem to recognize that many of YOUR supporters, whose comments you like, are probably trolls in other areas (like maybe Gnome or Unity).

    The essential problem with censorship is that it never works one way for long. Once you give someone (or assume) the power of censorship, you abdicate any right to complain when it is used against YOU. Whether you realize it or not, your attitude about censorship is hypocritical. (As censorship ALWAYS is.) And while you might say it is acceptable for your own personal blog (and that might be true), you say you also approve of the use of censorship against one area of political opinion. But you do not seem to expect that it will backfire and be used against you next. This is myopic vision.

    It does no good to protest that YOU are only using the censorship for “good”, because your good is someone else’s evil. Further, you know very well that there are others who will not use it for good. So by tacitly accepting it at all, you lend legitimacy to evil forces. As history clearly shows, that’s how the real world works. Remember the old treatise: “… Then they came for the trade unionists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for me…”

    Here are a couple of other historical quotes about the subject that you might find interesting:

    “It behooves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others: or their case may, by change of circumstances, become his own.” — Thomas Jefferson

    “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” — George Orwell

    1. you don’t seem to recognize that many of YOUR supporters, whose comments you like, are probably trolls in other areas

      Of course I did.

      And of course the intention of this post is not to say censoring is OK, it’s quite the opposite. I want to point out the issue and that currently only censoring makes it possible to work at all. We need better solutions.

  44. After trying both GNOME Shell and KDE Plasma, I find it easier to work in GNOME Shell. However, Mr. Graesslin, I wanted to thank you for your work on KWin. KDE might not be for me, but you and your work still deserve respect.

  45. Hi Martin,

    I was saddened to hear that you’ve had to wrestle with such issues. People (including myself) sometimes get quite hyped-up on things and forget that this is free-as-in-beer software and we take it for granted. I have been known on multiple occasions to make harsh statements about projects without actually knowing all the facts. (I can safely say I’ve never personally attacked any one person over my false-beliefs though).

    I agree with another commenter above (sry, not sure who it was) about the Internet being worse for criticism because anonymity is so readily available to protect people when they’re throwing stones at you. Fanboys came about on forums as a result of the anonymous nature of the Internet. They can run their mouth and have a tantrum in public, and no one can stop them. I bet none of them would ever talk like that to your face (probably why /. calls them anonymous cowards :P).

    I know a guy who trolls reddit just because he can. His sole purpose is to make inflammatory posts and get the OP upset and the sit back and giggle. (Just to clarify… he’s a d*ck). What I mean to say is, although it would be nice not to have to put up with troll and fanboy comments, in reality we have to grab our leather duster-jacket every time we jump online, just so we have an extra layer of protection from the serious amounts of trash/rubbish/obscenity that the Internet stores.

    Thank you for posting your feelings within the community and thank you for all your hard work on FOSS.


Comments are closed.