7 min read

On Thursday last week, Twitter account @heydonworks posted a tweet that “Vue developers like cooking/quiet activities and React developers like trump, guns, weightlifting and being “bros”. He also talked about the rising number of super conservative React dev accounts.

This was met with disapproval from people within both the React and Vue communities. “Front end development isn’t a competition,” remarked one user.

@heydonworks responded to the chorus of disapproval by saying that his intention was to  highlight how a broad and diverse community of thousands of people can be eclipsed by an aggressive and vocal toxic minority.

He then went on to ask Dan Abramov, React co-founder, “Perhaps a public disowning of the neocon / supremacist contingent on your part would land better than my crappy joke?”

He also clarified how his original tweet was supposed to paint a picture of what React would be like if it was taken over by hypermasculine conservatives.

“I admit it’s not obvious”, he tweeted, “but I am on your side. I don’t want that to happen and the joke was meant as a warning.”

@heydonworks also accused a well known React Developer of playing “the circle game” at a React conference. The “circle game” is a school prank that has more recently come to be associated with white supremacism in the U.S. @heydonworks later deleted this tweet and issued  an apology admitting that he was wrong to accuse the person of making the gesture.

This conversation then developed into a wider argument about how toxicity is enabled and allowed in the React community – and, indeed, other tech communities as well.

The crucial point that many will have to reckon with is what behaviors people allow and overlook. Indeed, to a certain extent, the ability to be comfortable with certain behaviors is related to an individual’s privilege – what may seem merely an aspect or a quirk of someone’s persona to one person, might be threatening and a cause of discomfort to another person.

This was the point made by web developer Nat Alison (@tesseralis): “Remember that fascists and abusers can often seem like normal people to everyone but the people that they’re harming.”

Alison’s thread highlights that associating with people without challenging toxic behaviors or attitudes is a way of enabling and tacitly supporting them.

Web designer Tatiana Mac quits the tech industry following the React controversy

Web designer Tatiana Mac’s talk at Clarity Conf (you can see the slides here) in San Francisco last week (21 August) took place just a few hours before @heydonworks sent the first of his tweets mentioned above.

The talk was a powerful statement on how systems can be built in ways that can either reinforce power or challenge it. Although it was well-received by many present at the event and online, it also was met with hostility, with one Twitter user (now locked) tweeting in response to an image of Mac’s talk that it “most definitely wasn’t a tech conference… Looks to be some kind of SJW (Social justice warrior) conference.”

This only added an extra layer of toxicity to the furore that has been engulfing the React community.

Following the talk, Mac offered her thoughts, criticizing those she described as being more interested in “protecting the reputation of a framework than listening to multiple marginalized people.”

She adds, “I don’t perceive this problem in the other JS framework communities as intensively.  Do White Supremacists exist in other frameworks? Likely. But there is a multiplier/feeder here that is systemically baked. That’s what I want analysed by the most ardent supporters of the community.”

She says that even after bringing this issue multiple times, she has been consistently ignored. Her tweet reads, “I’m disappointed by repeatedly bringing this shit up and getting ignored/gaslit, then having a white woman bring it up and her getting praised for it? White supremacy might as well be an opiate—some people take it without ever knowing, others microdose it to get ahead.”

“Why is no one like, ‘Tatiana had good intentions in bringing up the rampant racism problem in our community?’ Instead, it’s all, ‘Look at all the impact it had on two white guys!’ Is cuz y’all finally realise intent doesn’t erase impact?”, she adds.

She has since decided to quit the tech industry following these developments. In a tweet, she wrote that she is “incredibly sad, disappointed, and not at all surprised by *so* many people.”

Mac has described in detail the emotional and financial toll the situation is having on her. She has said she is committed to all contracts through to 2020, but also revealed that she may need to sell belongings to support herself. This highlights the potential cost involved in challenging the status quo.

To provide clarity on what has happened, Tatiana approached her friend, designer Carlos Eriksson, who put together a timeline of the Reactgate controversy.

Dan Abramov and Ken Wheeler quit and then rejoin Twitter

Following the furore, both Dan Abramov and Ken Wheeler quit Twitter over the weekend. They have now rejoined.

After he deactivated, Abramov talked about his disappearance from Twitter on Reddit:

“Hey all. I’m fine, and I plan to be back soon. This isn’t a ‘shut a door in your face’ kind of situation.  The real answer is that I’ve bit off more social media than I can chew. I’ve been feeling anxious for the past few days and I need a clean break from checking it every ten minutes. Deactivating is a barrier to logging in that I needed. I plan to be back soon.”

Abramov returned to Twitter on August 27. He apologized for his sudden disappearance. He apologized, calling deactivating his account “a desperate and petty thing.”

He also thanked Tatiana Mac for highlighting issues in the React community. “I am deeply thankful to @TatianaTMac for highlighting issues in the React community,” Abramov wrote. “She engaged in a dialog despite being on the receiving end of abuse and brigading. I admire her bravery and her kindness in doing the emotional labor that should have fallen on us instead.”

Wheeler also returned to Twitter. “Moving forward, I will be working to do better. To educate myself. To lift up minoritized folks. And to be a better member of the community. And if you are out there attacking and harassing people, you are not on my side,” he said.

Mac acknowledged  Abramov and Wheeler’s apologies, writing that, “it is unfair and preemptive to call Dan and Ken fragile. Both committed to facing the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy head on. I support the promise and will be watching from the sidelines supporting positive influence.”

What can the React community do to grow from this experience?

This news has shaken the React community to the core. At such distressing times, the React community needs to come together as a whole and offer constructive criticism to tackle the issue of unhealthy tribalism, while making minority groups feel safe and heard.

Tatiana puts forward a few points to tackle the toxic culture.

“Pay attention to your biggest proponents and how they reject all discussion of the injustices of tech. It’s subtle like that, and, it’s as overt as throwing white supremacist hand gestures at conferences on stage. Neither is necessarily more dangerous than the other, but instead shows the journey and spectrum of radicalization—it’s a process.”

She urges, “If you want to clean up the community, you’ve got to see what systemic forces allow these hateful dingdongs to sit so comfortably in your space.  I’m here to help and hope I have today already, as a member of tech, but I need you to do the work there.”

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Content Marketing Editor at Packt Hub. I blog about new and upcoming tech trends ranging from Data science, Web development, Programming, Cloud & Networking, IoT, Security and Game development.