It seems that the precipitating event was not just that David Weingart posted once in a public forum that the other staffer came into while he was posting there. The post he showed a screen shot of was him replying in a thread that the other staffer had originally made, and he continued to post a total of five times in that thread, presumably four of them after that first post which he maintains he regretted and would have deleted if he could?
It’s not clear if the one comment he shared on his blog is the first or last one, or one in the middle, but either way, these are salient details he left out of his account, and that’s troubling.
His defenders—possibly not knowing these details, as they heard his side of the thing first—have chosen to focus on the fact that it was a public forum (at least, public within Worldcon staff) and a fairly trivial, lighthearted post, wondered at what they see as the absurdity of expecting him to know that this would constitute contact.
Well, call me kooky, but replying to a post made by the person he’d agreed not to contact seems like a pretty clear-cut instance of contact to me?
I mean, with a lot of forum software, that generates an automatic notification (meaning even if the person hadn’t been active in the thread lately, they would have received a notice that the person they wished to avoid was apparently talking to them), and even in the absence of that, I think it’s generally understood that when you reply to someone’s post, you’re jumping into a conversation with them even if you’re not speaking to them directly?
Maybe he doesn’t understand that netiquette. Maybe he didn’t know who made it. There’s no point guessing about what he knew when or what he meant by it. It’s entirely possible it was done in all innocence, of course, and Worldcon in their communications with him (as divulged by him) acknowledged that the contact may have been accidental. They just wanted him to take responsibility for it. The salient portions of the email exchange, listed on his blog, is this (bolding mine, italics indicate David is quoting Worldcon’s emailed question):
1) Do you acknowledge that you broke your agreement not to interact with [name redacted] (even if accidentally)?
No. I acknowledge that interacting in that thread at that time gave the appearance of such (and, as I said previously, if there was a way to delete the comment, I’d have done so the moment I noticed). I realize this may seem like hair splitting, but I think it’s important to note the difference between accident and breaking an agreement. The latter has (and should have!) consequences. The former, not so much.
David Weingart is rejecting the framework where an accidental breach matters and insisting that accidents should not have consequences (i.e., punishments, to his thinking). He, like a lot of his defenders, seems to be treating this as a criminal matter rather than interpersonal one. Worldcon 75’s concern here is that their staff are able to function and get along, not to see justice done. Even the code of conduct they have been preparing for the con itself (and are now reprotedly prioritizing finishing ahead of schedule, to address issues like this) is about safety, not justice.
But accidental conduct can certainly have consequences for others, and there’s no reason it should not have consequences in the sense of changes made to prevent the accident from reoccuring. These consequences are not a punishment; they are consequences, but they’re not a punishment.
A lot of people are responding to Worldcon 75’s statement and clarification demanding, in effect, that they prove the charges they have made if they are going to punish David Weingart and drag his name through the mud. But he, not them, put his name out there and attached it to this mess. They can’t retract his post. They have made no accusations except that he had (possibly accidental) contact with someone he had promised not to have contact with, and the bare facts of that are not in dispute. They have levied no punishment against him; letting him go was not a fine or penalty they handed down, but the consequences of his unwillingness or inability to do the work he’d volunteered to do under the general circumstances necessitated by the situation.
And while his defenders want the con to prove that the “no contact” rules were justified, he himself had agreed that they were necessary. As he points out repeatedly, he went to the con leadership to make sure it could be arranged in the first place. He seems in his public posts to be pretty confident that it’s only because he did this that there were any rules, but I don’t think we have sufficient information to conclude this is true. Nor do we have any need or any right to be privy to what concerns the other party might have brought to the con, or what arrangements they requested for their safety.
Regardless, though, he had agreed to abide by the simple principle of no contact. He broke that in a very direct way, accident or not, and reacted defensively (bordering on hostilely in my opinion) when asked to take responsibility for that.
His defenders are saying “ALL THIS FOR A VIDEO” and “ALL THIS FOR A PUBLIC POST IN A PUBLIC FORUM” and “ALL THIS FOR A CONVERSATION ABOUT MEATBALLS”, but it seems shocking to me that they can’t understand that no contact means no contact, that he agreed to no contact, and that… well.
Again. He’s not on trial for harassment. He’s not on trial for anything. There’s no need to quantify what his apparent attention to this person was beyond the fact that it was unwanted, and that he agreed not to give it.
But when someone is accused of stalking or harassment, there’s this semantic game that they often play, where they were just. If someone is stalking someone by following them home, they are just walking on the sidewalk, and there’s not a law against walking on the sidewalk now, is there? Of course there isn’t. People walk on the sidewalk every day.
If someone is sending harassing emails… why, are we saying it’s against the law to send emails? There’s no law against sending emails. Everybody sends emails. You can’t call sending an email harassment, can you? I’m just sending emails.
The thing is: there’s no such discrete, distinct action as “stalking” or “harassment”. These things, they are patterns of behavior, and the individual behaviors that make up the patterns may be benign in a vacuum, certainly may be legal, and absent the context of them being unwanted and/or repeated and/or in some way menacing, there’s nothing wrong with them.
I’m sure some of David Weingart’s defenders are parents of children, or have themselves been children. Well, surely we have all encountered the child who, when told to keep their hands to themselves, plays the game “I’m not touching you, I’m not touching you, I’m not touching you,” right?
And we all agree: there’s no rule against not touching someone.
But we all know: you can not touch someone in a way that is distinctly annoying and jerky.
None of this is to push any kind of motive on David Weingart’s specific conduct. I don’t know his heart. I don’t know his mind. I don’t know him.
But I find it ridiculous that grown adults are employing the rhetoric of “How can you kick a man out over meatballs?”, as if they honestly believed that was the issue.
In my previous post, I said Worldcon 75 has been very even-handed in their post. With the extra context they have since clarified, I will say that they have been remarkably even-handed. He replied five times in one day to a post made by the person he’d promised not to contact, on a forum he had otherwise ignored completely the whole time? That’s. Okay. They acknowledge it could have been accidental. I know stranger things have happened. But let’s be honest… that sounds deliberate, doesn’t it?
Doesn’t mean it is deliberate, of course.
But in this year of all years, no one on the internet can pretend they don’t understand the concept of “bad optics”. It looks deliberate.
And deliberate or not, it had consequences.
When he was not prepared to accept them, that, too, had consequences.
It’s a sad, unnecessary end to a sad, unnecessary story, but he has no one to blame but himself for it.