- Starting last week and over the weekend, a series of heated online events known as #Reactgate unfolded on Twitter.
- #Reactgate centered around the React community, a community of developers and users of a popular open source project that started on Facebook.
- Several users, including designer Tatiana Mac, called out the racism they have seen in the React community and faced harassment online.
- During #Reactgate, open source library author Ken Wheeler and Dan Abramov, a React software engineer at Facebook, temporarily deactivated their accounts.
- Facebook’s React team has since adopted a code of conduct focused on being more inclusive and plans to set up ways to prevent harassment.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Facebook is adopting a new code of conduct and vowing to combat harassment after one of its most popular open source projects was rocked by days of heated Twitter feuds and accusations of racism in an incident now known as #Reactgate.
Reactgate is a reference to Facebook’s React open source project, a framework that’s used for building user interfaces (UI), which is to say, what an application looks like and how people interact with it. Starting mid-last week and through the weekend, several React community members called out the racism and harassment they have seen in tech, triggering a wave of dismissive comments and online harassment.
When it was all over, Tatiana Mac, a designer who had initially raised some of the issues, announced she was leaving the industry as a result of a barrage of harassment she suffered. And two influential members of the React community, including a Facebook software engineer, temporarily deactivated their Twitter accounts.
Dan Abramov, the React software engineer at Facebook, eventually returned to Twitter to apologise on behalf of the React team for not being as “loud and clear about it as we should have,” while Ken Wheeler, an open source library author, also returned to Twitter to express remorse for his role in the affair.
The incident points to the broader turmoil reverberating across the tech industry, as employees raise uncomfortable issues about inclusion, discrimination and problematic behaviour ingrained in the male-dominated engineering world.
In response to #Reactgate, Facebook’s React team plans to adopt the Contributor Covenant, a code of conduct that focuses on being more inclusive to women, people of colour, and other marginalised populations. It also plans to set up a way for people to anonymously report violations of the Contributor Covenant and step up diversity and inclusion efforts in the React community.
“Hateful rhetoric or behaviour have no place in the React open source community or any Facebook community,” Yuzhi Zheng, engineering manager of the React team, said in a statement. “These behaviours are abhorrent to everyone on the React team and we are committed to working with the wider community to address them and ensure we create an inclusive environment where everyone is welcome and empowered to thrive.”
Here’s how #Reactgate unfolded.
A ‘much broader problem with white supremacy’
Last week, Mac gave a talk at Clarity Conf, a design conference in San Francisco, about designing in a more inclusive way. During the talk, she covered the “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy,” which she says affects much of society today.
A conference attendee tweeted a photo from Mac’s presentation, and the next day, the user @itsreth1nk replied to the tweet saying, “Most definitely wasn’t a tech conference,” and “Looks to be some kind of SJW conference.” The acronym SJW means “social justice warrior.”
— Ethan Marcotte (@beep) August 21, 2019
“There’s a much broader problem with white supremacy in general because of a lack of education of this concept in tech,” Mac told Business Insider. “It’s a React problem and a framework that’s much larger in tech.”
Another user, designer and writer Heydon Pickering, tweeted a joke suggesting that users in the React community were obsessed with lifting weights, guns, Trump and free market ideals.
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Several people commented, saying that Pickering was generalising the React community. Jordan Walke, who created React, tweeted the following:
React is for anyone who likes the programming paradigm of React. It’s really that simple.
— jordwalke (@jordwalke) August 22, 2019
Wheeler also chimed in, tweeting, “TFW you ridicule other devs for weightlifting.” That tweet has since been deleted. He also retweeted Pickering’s tweet with this response:
— react js type beat 2021 – FREE DOWNLOAD – (@ken_wheeler) August 22, 2019
Wheeler says that originally, he felt like Pickering’s tweet was “a little bit of a reach,” which was why he posted those tweets in response.
“I probably took it a little bit lightly at first because I couldn’t believe what I was being accused of,” Wheeler told Business Insider.
‘People care more about protecting the reputation of a framework’
Mac called out the React users on Twitter for focusing more on protecting React’s reputation rather than listening to its users.
TIL: People care more about protecting the reputation of a **framework** than listening to **multiply marginalised** people that you have actual **white supremacists** in your niche community and our broader community.
I’m not going to ignore that fact; my safety depends on it.
— Tatiana Mac (@TatianaTMac) August 23, 2019
Many Twitter accounts, including users in the React community and Wheeler’s followers, started harassing her for “hours at a time.”
“It was an entire mob attacking you because they’re upset their inspiration or leader deactivated their Twitter account for hours,” Mac said. “It’s hard to filter out the hateful messages you get especially when you’re a queer woman of colour.”
Tae’lur Alexis, founder of CodeEveryday.io, defended Mac on Twitter. Alexis says that she’s seen “toxic” behaviour in the React community firsthand.
“Coming from someone in the React community, I’ve been in it for over a year,” Alexis said. “I’ve been knee-deep in it. People express harmful views and behaviour, and they’re defended. People don’t want to believe someone they look up to could be problematic.”
The OK sign
Adding to the controversy, images surfaced from a conference a year ago in which Wheeler is seen flashing an upside down OK sign. When the presentation from the React Rally, conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, was posted online, a YouTube user questioned if Wheeler was flashing the OK sign that has become linked to the alt-right and white supremacists.
Wheeler said he was flashing the sign because he was playing the “circle game,” a schoolyard ritual in which anyone who looks at the sign gets a punch in the arm. He said that he made a joke at the beginning of the presentation, saying that now everyone gets a punch in the arm. At the time, he says he had no idea that the OK sign had become a white supremacist symbol.
On Twitter, he also posted a thread, where he said he didn’t know what the sign meant at the time and apologised.
Hey gang, I want to clear something up.
— react js type beat 2021 – FREE DOWNLOAD – (@ken_wheeler) August 23, 2019
“Perhaps it was my own privilege that prevented me from being aware of that being used,” Wheeler said. “I wanted to go ahead and just apologise to anyone who might have been hurt from that. After finding out, I wanted to be clear and say, ‘Hey, I didn’t know.’ I don’t think I did anything wrong but the impact was still there and I”m sorry if I cause anyone pain or harm.”
‘I’ll be the one who calls out bad behaviour when I see it’
During #Reactgate, both Wheeler and Abramov temporarily deactivated their accounts. Wheeler says he eventually deactivated his account so that his followers, who were using his replies to harass people, would not have the ability to continue doing so.
“I saw a lot of harassment taking place,” Wheeler said. “A lot of it was either on my behalf or on behalf of what they would construe my side to be. I felt like it was necessary to come out and say, ‘If you do this on my behalf, that’s not welcome and you’re not doing me a favour. You’re not doing me a favour by harassing people.'”
Wheeler says moving forward, he’s committed to holding himself, as well as other followers, more accountable.
“If I see something going on, that’s work that I have to do. I’ll be the one who calls out bad behaviour when I see it,” Wheeler said. “I’ll use my position and privilege and my standing in the community to do that.”
Both Wheeler and Abramov had since tweeted apologies.
I want to take responsibility. I want everyone to know that Tatiana never directly accused me of anything.
— react js type beat 2021 – FREE DOWNLOAD – (@ken_wheeler) August 27, 2019
Hateful rhetoric has no place in the React community. That includes misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, racism, and white supremacy. These behaviors are abhorrent to everyone on the React team. It is our fault that we haven’t been as loud and clear about it as we should have.
— Dan Abramov (@dan_abramov) August 27, 2019
A ‘move fast and break things’ mentality
Still, Mac says she’s leaving the industry because of the harassment she faced online, and she’s not sure what she’ll do next. She’ll continue working on the design contracts she already has, but does not plan to take on any new ones.
“I’m the one who’s leaving the industry and it gets washed under,” Mac said. “It’s illustrating the problem. Women in tech and women of colour are completely marginalised in this industry. Even when stuff like this goes, people don’t notice that I’m the one who’s most impacted by this.”
Mac says that this problem isn’t just isolated within the React community, but also tech as a whole. However, she says there are aspects of the React community that do not make it inclusive.
“React has a very specific kind of culture associated with it, which is difficult for people who work in the React space,” Mac said. “React has a very pro-bro culture, to put it lightly. React being a derivative of Facebook has a lot of the Facebook ‘move fast and break things’ mentality, which is inherently coded as masculine.”
Mac also says that many of these members may not necessarily identify as white supremacists, but she feels that harassment and gaslighting often gets tolerated.
“People who speak out like I did get harassed until we shut up and leave like I did,” Mac said.
Since #Reactgate, Abramov has reached out to Mac, and she plans to talk more to the React team about how the community can do better. The React team also met to understand what happened during #Reactgate and decide what to do next.
However, Mac says the community needs to “put in the work.”
“That work is hard,” Mac said. “I do hope that this unfortunate series of events leads to something better for the community and makes a safer space for minoritized individuals in tech.”
Mac and her colleague wrote a document detailing what happened during #Reactgate. You can view the whole document here.
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