I like to think of the WordPress community as a family. The kind that you used to see on TV sitcoms. One where everyone is kind and misunderstandings are comical. Everything’s resolved within 30 minutes. Nice and tidy!

You see it in those happy WordCamp photos. And even online gatherings have an idealism about them.

But real families have struggles. They fight and sometimes hold grudges. Some members behave poorly and even abusively. Others run off and are never heard from again.

The WordPress community isn’t immune from this reality. Don’t get me wrong. The good still outweighs the bad. But it’s still disheartening to hear of bad behavior.

Frankly, I don’t enjoy thinking about the negatives. But glossing over the issues we face is a disservice. And a few recent incidents are too important to ignore.

Thus, I’m stepping into the shark tank. I don’t claim to have all the answers. But I hope to spark a productive discussion about who we are as a community. All without losing an appendage. Anyway, here goes nothing…

Bad Behavior Has a Real Impact

It’s not hard to find examples of bad behavior on the internet. Just spend a few minutes on social media. You’ll either see it directly or hear of various incidents. So nothing new here.

But I was a bit dumbfounded at a few recent events within the WordPress community. These went above and beyond your standard trolling:

Abuse of the WordPress Plugin Review Team

Mika Epstein spent 15 years as a member of the WordPress Plugin Review team. She has recently retired from that role.

Epstein has been candid about her experiences. She previously detailed abusive behavior from plugin developers. Some were unhappy with being told that their plugin didn’t meet WordPress guidelines. They decided to take it out on the messenger.

A recent blog post details how one such developer went to extremes. It’s scary and irrational. And according to Epstein, these incidents became commonplace.

These team members have a tough job. They must review mountains of code. And they also face a variety of insults and threats. Oh, and it’s worth remembering that this is a volunteer position.

A Plugin Developer Cuts off Free Support on WordPress.org

WordPress developer Raiber Cristian has multiple plugins listed on WordPress.org. Popular titles like Strong Testimonials and Download Monitor have over 100,000 active installations.

But offering support on the site’s forums has become too much. Cristian plans to stop free support due to abusive behavior.

Users have threatened to leave 1-star reviews if features aren’t updated quickly enough. Meanwhile, Cristian says his team has been “called names, accused of ‘stealing,’ (and) threatened”. But that’s not all. A Twitter thread lists a litany of transgressions.

Supporting a free product is challenging. The task becomes even more difficult at scale. So, do more users mean more abuse? It’s hard to imagine anyone signing up for that.

The Cancellation of a WordCamp

WordCamp Dhaka was scheduled to take place on August 5, 2023. It was supposed to mark the post-pandemic return of the event in the Bangladeshi capital. That’s fallen to the wayside, unfortunately.

The event was canceled due to concerns about corporate influence. Some local community members allegedly tried to favor specific companies or individuals. This goes against the WordPress Community team’s “Five Good Faith Rules.”

According to an incident report, these community members faced pushback. Subsequently, “the individuals aimed to undermine the organizing process and event success.”

This impasse ultimately led to WordCamp Dhaka’s cancellation. Here’s hoping the community gets another chance in 2024.

Accountability Is Rare and Hard to Enforce

I’m not a psychologist (although I play one online). Still, I wonder what drives people to act this way. Is it specific to WordPress? Or is it just the way of the world?

Perhaps it’s a little of both. The world is full of bad actors. There is no shortage of disrespectful people.

And the WordPress community may be an easy target. It’s decentralized, diverse, and often relies on volunteerism. Those in charge have limited power. Thus, consequences are rare.

There aren’t a lot of rules governing behavior. And how would we enforce them? It doesn’t take much for a “banned” person to skirt accountability.

Epstein faced this when rejecting a plugin developer’s stolen code. The offending person created new accounts to continue their campaign:

“For the next three weeks, Liam made a new account every other day or so, and resubmitted variations on the plugin. I rejected them all and would email his first address, explaining he needed to stop.

He didn’t. We ended up banning first his email domains, then his IP, and there was a time he couldn’t even visit .org.”

From Mika Epstein’s “Plugins: When It Changed

Legal action may be possible. Yet that places a burden on victims and local authorities. Therefore, it may only be worthwhile in extreme cases.

How Can the WordPress Community Help?

The overwhelming majority of community members act appropriately. But when incidents like the above happen, what can we do?

I don’t know if there’s an easy answer. Maybe more concrete rules are part of the solution. A repeatedly abusive developer, for example, could be kept from participating in official events. In practice, that means they can’t speak at or sponsor WordCamps.

But there can only be so many rules. And only so many people are available to enforce them. It also brings up the question of fairness. Who gets to make those decisions? What are their criteria for making them?

For now, the community must police itself. It’s not an ideal situation. Because calling out bad behavior can sometimes lead to more of it.

We can be vocal in supporting fellow members. And we can stay informed regarding abusers. We can choose to avoid their products and services. We can unfollow them on social media.

As difficult as it may be, we need to differentiate between an abuser and someone who disagrees with us. Respectful discourse is acceptable. Hurtful behavior is not. That line is sometimes blurred, however.

None of this is simple. We’re inevitably going to make mistakes. Still, that shouldn’t stop us from trying to do right. It’s what family is all about.

That’s it for today’s episode, don’t forget to share share share this episode with others and jump on the mailing list 👇

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