When my friend, who had volunteered to be the coordinator for the buses from McGill to Hack the North, asked me if I could take his place, I reluctantly accepted. It was my first time ever being a bus coordinator, and the thought of being in charge of some 75 people scared me a little. Although we arrived a bit late, the bus ride to Waterloo was just fine, and I was proud of not having lost anybody on the way. Instead, something much worse transpired at Hack the North.
Last week at MHacks, my team and I wrote a compiler for an all-emoji functional programming language that we designed called Crystalball Knife Bomb, and our hack this weekend was to develop a web IDE for it. We started working on it Saturday morning, and I intermittently checked out the Hack the North Facebook group, commenting here and there on posts. In the context of Ahmeds clock, jokes about clocks and bombs had been tossed around on the bus and while we were working. I participated in the fun, but got the short end of the stick. Heres the thread that wound up ruining my weekend, and my experience with Hack the North.
The first comment is by me, and the second is by Tommy Luo.
Anyway, around noon on Saturday, Mike Swift from MLH called me and requested to meet with me to ask me a few questions. I headed down to the volunteer headquarters, completely unaware of why I was being called. I thought it might have something to do with the McGill buses that I was in charge of. I couldnt have been more wrong. I was first told that my comment violated the MLH code of conduct, and that I would be reprimanded. Swift then left for about fifteen minutes, and upon returning announced that I would be expelled from Hack the North. I couldnt believe my ears. I can still hear the Hack the North head of Security saying, You guys dun goofed.
Once it has been decided that Tommy and me were being sent home, bus tickets were purchased for us, we were given some lunch, and Swift walked us to a nearby coffee shop. We waited some three hours for our bus, jumped on, and started on the long ride back to Montreal.
Out of context, my comment is a bomb threat. I think everyone would agree on that. But everything happens in a context, and when we cast judgements, we need to understand that context.
First, it was obvious to everyone, except maybe whoever reported me, that what I said was a joke, and not an actual bomb threat. If at any time, it was actually believed that I was making such a threat, then the building would have been evacuated. Thats the standard procedure. Since there was no evacuation, my comment must not have been a bomb threat. So I was not thrown out due to a bomb threat; I was indeed thrown out over a joke.
Second, some participants felt unsafe due to my comment. No one should ever feel unsafe at a hackathon; thats clear, and I agree 100% with that. Of course, my intention was not to make people feel unsafe. I wanted to make people laugh. So why was I sent home? Because someone misinterpreted my joke, and felt unsafe. Indeed, the MLH code of conduct states the following.
If a participant engages in harassing behavior, Major League Hacking may take any action MLH deems appropriate, including warning the offender or expulsion from the event.
On one hand, MLHs reaction was permitted by their code of conduct. On the other hand, was one of the most drastic reactions, throwing me out, really necessary? Would it not have been enough to simply reassure whoever felt unsafe that my comment was just an instance of topical humour? I would have also been ready to delete my comment at MLHs request, but I was never given that option.
Some say that my joke is in poor taste, and perhaps it is. On the other hand, many people found it funny, as seen by the likes on the comment and the many responses Ive received over the past day. The conclusion then, is that I was thrown out of the hackathon for having a sense of humour incompatible with at least one other hacker, and perhaps whoever was involved in the decision to throw me out.
As for the decision-making process that resulted in throwing me out, it is still unclear who was involved. There are conflicting statements regarding this, and I hope that Hack the North will issue an official statement with the full picture from their point of view. All I can say is that from my perspective, it appeared that MLH was calling the shots, not Hack the North.
All in all, instead of responding in a measured way, appropriate to this situation, MLH chose to expel not only me, but also the other commenter Tommy Luo from of Hack the North, over a joke. Again, I stress that I wasnt thrown out due to a bomb threat. I was thrown out over a joke. Swifts official statement is titled When jokes go too far, but frankly, what went too far is the reaction to the joke. Heres Tommys account of what happened, and heres MLHs official response. I encourage you to read both, and to wait with me until Hack the North officially explains their side of the story.