Re. OpenCon Code of Conduct Committee Statement

This article represents the outcome of a series of correspondence between myself and OpenCon. I am posting the full and original letter here sent to them on November 28th for the sake of transparency and honesty.

I've provided a summary timeline here first for clarity about the series of events:

Nov 03, 2018: OpenCon notifies me privately that I have been banned from their events following some sort of 'investigation'.

Oct 31, 2019: OpenCon make public statement to the same effect.

Nov 08: I have a private call with OpenCon to clarify the timing of this statement and with other specific questions (see below).

Nov 12: I make public response to their statement. OpenCon do not respond to this statement in public, or acknowledge receipt when I sent it directly to them.

Nov 15: OpenCon respond by email to the the requests I made during the call. No answers to the questions or additional information are provided. There is still no acknowledgement of my statement.

Nov 28: I send the letter, provided in full below, to OpenCon, reiterating the original questions and highlighting the impact of their statement. This includes a lawful Freedom of Information request, made as a UK citizen, with a recommended deadline of 30 days.

Dec 05: OpenCon respond by email saying they will respond later.

Dec 13: OpenCon again email saying they need more time.

Dec 24: OpenCon again respond by email asking for more time. I grant them a week extension to the FOI request.

Jan 4, 2020: Despite the extension, OpenCon have failed to respond to my lawful requests within the recommended time. I post the original letter now.

In the time since drafting and sending the letter below and posting this as an article, due to OpenCon's continued delays in answering my simple questions (see below), the negative consequences of their actions have continued. It has now taken more than 2 months for them to respond in any meaningful way to me, during which each day I have had to cope with a shocking lack of information about these events. The consequences of this have been increasingly psychologically challenging with each passing day. They have also failed to respond appropriately to a lawful Freedom of Information request, even after I granted an extension to the recommended deadline.


Demand Notice, 28 November 2019

WITHOUT PREJUDICE

This email is confidential and cannot be shared beyond the intended recipients without the express consent of the author.

Dear Nick, Heather, Nicole,

Many thanks for taking the time to respond to the questions I raised on the call with you on November 8th. I appreciate that this continues to be a difficult situation, and I want it to be dealt with fairly and expeditiously. I still stand by my words in my response to your statement.

However, in your latest response by email on November 15th you have not addressed the key questions that I asked, despite your assuring me that you would. You also did not extend the courtesy I paid similarly to you of acknowledging receipt of my response statement after I sent it directly to you. Furthermore, since our call, circumstances have dramatically changed.

To reiterate, the questions I asked you on the call were:

  1. Why did you make the public announcement now? This is noting that you formally banned me just over a year ago now (November 2018), based on incidents 1-2 years before that, as far as I am presently aware.

  2. What was your intention in making the public announcement?

  3. Did you take prior advice on the consequences and material risk of public incitement in making the statement?

  4. Did you plan to do anything about the libelous claims members of the OpenCon community have made as a direct consequence of your statement and its ambiguity? I believe that many of the claims would also be in violation of your Code of Conduct (CoC). Many of the more aggressive statements have been directed not just to myself, but also members of the wider community.

In your email you did not respond directly or indirectly to any of these questions, despite me emphasising their importance. I want to make it clear that the direct impact of your statement has been quite severe. It has had a number of direct consequences, whether you intended them or not:

  • A lack of transparency and specificity has resulted in exploitation and speculation to fill in the gaps. Members of the OpenCon community, and non-members, have used the statement opportunistically and made vicious, unfounded, and even libelous and false criminal accusations from rape to predatory behaviour.

  • I have lost every professional engagement I had booked/planned for the next several months (Defamation Act).

  • I have had my professional reputation destroyed (Defamation Act).

  • I have stepped down as the founder of the Open Science MOOC and paleorXiv, causing substantial disruption to their operations. All other projects I have been working on or leading in "Open Science", and otherwise, have been permanently disrupted or put on hold for an indefinite period of time, until I and others involved can recover from this situation.

  • My personal relationships have been negatively affected.

  • I have suffered an incredible amount of stress and traumatic psychological damage since your statement, largely as a result of the ensuing social media attacks and ‘mobbing’. This includes at least one physical breakdown so far, and frequent thoughts of self-harm and suicide. So much so that I am now immediately seeking professional therapy to help recover, and am having to take leave for an indefinite period of time at the present.

  • My family members and friends have suffered personal attacks on Twitter and Facebook, even about their religion (UK Harassment Act).

  • My family members have been stalked on social media and police have been called when someone physically turned up at my sister’s house following threatening behaviour on social media directed at her (her address was on her Facebook account); we suspect it may be linked to this.

It is unfortunate that the above impacts are a direct result of the public OpenCon statement and its vagueness. While I understand that you were unable to ‘to share this information publicly (reference: your email)’, it would have been possible to both protect the person/people who had reported the allegation(s) while also making a statement that did not promote speculation. It would also have been possible to have notified me in advance this statement would appear online, rather than after the fact. This announcement was written and posted without my knowledge or consent, and relating to events from at least one year prior. Your reasoning for this level of privacy is to avoid potentially re-traumatising victims, which I respect; however, it would have been possible to make some details public while protecting the anonymity of those involved. Furthermore, you seemingly give little or no consideration about the trauma inflicted when you make such public statements, without giving those involved any chance to defend themselves. In doing so, you further violate certain civil rights, such as the right to a fair and transparent trial, and a chance to defend oneself against evidence and accusations made; things which you never granted to me.

I also respect your desire to follow your own Code of Conduct processes: ‘carefully considers reports, and takes action according to the process outlined in the code of conduct, reference’: your email); however, I am at a loss to see where in your current CoC sanctions it states that you will publicly post or announce on social media in any way a ban, especially in a public forum like Twitter with a global reach. In fact, your own public statements clearly indicate that you removed this element of your Code of Conduct in October 2018, one year before you made the public statement. This is why I explicitly asked questions regarding relative timing, as I am currently confused as to why this might be. Furthermore, a number of people from the OpenCon community (and further) publicly raised multiple very serious concerns about this announcement, and none of these concerns have yet been publicly addressed by OpenCon officials.

I have further respected your privacy policy as a matter of professionalism, despite being under no obligation to do so, and have not made any details beyond what you have stated public. I communicated to you in our call on November 8 that I have no wish to exacerbate this situation by taking further legal action. I did this as a matter of courtesy and respect to you, and under the belief that these situations can be resolved with civility. However, you avoided answering my very simple questions, and the continued consequences of this have been devastating, both personally and professionally to me, for the wider ‘open community’, and to my friends, colleagues, and family.

I would like to note that your privacy policy states:

‘Your Choices About Your Information

You may, of course, decline to submit personally identifiable information through OpenCon2016.org, in which case SPARC may not be able to provide certain services to you. You can review and correct the information about you that OpenCon2016.org keeps on file by contacting us directly at Nick@sparcopen.org’.

  • I am therefore formally requesting that OpenCon, inline with their privacy policy, release to me electronically (by email) within the next one month all information that they hold on me, including that of your investigation(s), allegations against me, and any other personal information you hold. You may of course anonymise any individual’s names that you need to.

  • The Freedom of Information Act and the UK GDPR regulations 2018 requires you to release all personal data that you hold on me upon request, in a format that I request, and by not doing so you would be in breach of this. Please note if the information is not given with one calendar month, as specified by GDPR, I will formally make a complaint to the Information Commissioner's Office.

Because you made an announcement on the World Wide Web about this regarding a UK national, your activities fall under UK jurisdiction. Due to your presence in the District of Columbia, we are also discussing this case now with a US-based law firm about how best to proceed, if needed. Please note also that any Code of Conduct is not a suitable replacement for, or defense against, legal proceedings.

My legal counsel have advised me to consider action under the following Acts:

The subsequent comments around your statement on Twitter themselves fall under a number of categories and break more than a few Acts in the cyberbullying sphere:

  • Malicious Communications (Act 1988)

  • Harassment (Act 1997)

  • Communications (Act 2003)

  • Defamation (Act 2013)

As a citizen of the UK I appreciate these laws are put in place to protect the public. I am currently pursuing further legal action directly against those members of the OpenCon community, and those who are not, who made the most serious false allegations online. I did not wish to exacerbate this issue but the severe and criminal allegations made against myself on Twitter as a result of your statement are untrue and I will not stand for that. I have gathered enough direct evidence from social media to support each of these claims against certain individuals, and will be following relevant laws as a UK citizen to address this.

In addition to the data requested above, I further politely request that you:

  • Apologise publicly for the vagueness of your statement and for the subsequent harm you have caused to myself and the wider community. Any further statement released about myself or this incident I would like to see prior to public release.

  • Privately respond to this email with answers to the questions raised on our call on November 8 and reiterated above.

  • Respond to further breaches of your Code of Conduct (online bullying and harassment) where you can see they have occurred on Twitter.

As far as I am currently aware, your public statement (and my apology) relates to:

  • One violation of the Code of Conduct at OpenCon 2016 in Washington DC, of which I am aware of and agreed to. This constituted dancing with and unwanted physical contact with another participant of OpenCon at one of the public social events while inebriated. I note that the only reason I am aware of the actual details for this is because the issue was privately raised and resolved between those directly involved shortly after the event, and without the intervention of OpenCon, which was almost 2 years subsequent to said incident and its resolution.

  • In November 2018, you then you informed me that you were undertaking an investigation of some sort, seemingly retroactively imposed due to updates to the CoC, and which I co-operated with in full. Here, the details you told me comprised other allegations made at subsequent satellite events that I organised, presumably in London (2017) and Berlin (2016), which constituted grinding or dancing with other participants, based on my memory of your words; but with no further details of where, when, or who, or who even reported me. You were also unable to confirm whether any of these accusations involved my girlfriend at the time, who was also in attendance, or whether it was someone reporting an interaction involving someone else.

  • Because of the vagueness of your comments from your investigation, I could neither confirm nor deny whether these further incidents actually took place or not, and yet I accepted your judgement consequences in spite of this, at the time (i.e., the ban). Irrespective of this vagueness, I also included these incidents in my apology letter.

  • If there are other incidents relating to the timing of your statement, I remain unaware of any details of these. As I know you are aware, I like to seek to make amends for and learn from my behaviours and mistakes, directly when possible as a form of conflict resolution. Sadly, this is virtually impossible with the level of information you have provided to me. If such additional details do currently exist and require further action, I will comply with any such actions to the fullest extent that I am capable of.

That being said, I remain deeply concerned about the motivations behind the timing of the statement. I am further saddened about the hypocrisy embedded within the OpenCon community about creating a fair, healthy, and welcoming space, and then driving and allowing (by not acting) the sort of toxic behaviours and culture inherent to the present incidents. This includes making libelous claims about a previous member of the community (i.e., me), of which I hope OpenCon will treat with similar severity to how you have treated me. This further includes facilitating the widespread social media activity around this incident, in which a number of OpenCon members (and non-members) again have behaved in incredibly aggressive ways against anyone who did not unquestionably join in the ‘mobbing’. I would happily share the evidence that I have gathered on such individuals if you wish to similarly take action on these matters. Please note that many others have also raised a number of questions about this, both indirectly and directly towards OpenCon, which still remain publicly unaddressed. I do not believe that ‘mob justice’ is an appropriate replacement for justice.

If you do not respond to this email with an acknowledgement of receipt and consideration of my reasonable requests made above within 5 working days, I will tacitly assume that you have no intention to discuss matters further as you previously indicated to me, that you have no intention of fulfilling my four requests (including the one month to release all personal data you have on me to me, as detailed above), and I will be forced to take alternative actions. One of these actions includes posting this email in full in its present form on my personal website, 5 days after sending this email (on 6 December, 2019).

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your families/loved ones, and kind regards,

Dr. Jonathan Tennant


Jan 4, 2020, response from Nick Shockey:

Jon,

Thank you for your responses. I note what you say about the impact on you, but I'm afraid that imposing an arbitrary deadline does not assist. I think you are significantly underestimating the amount of work that is required to comply with what you call a “simple” request. You will be aware that not only are we obligated to make searches for every reference to you in our files, but also to review those documents in order to ensure that our response does not violate the rights of others.

We will be taking legal advice on that review.

Therefore setting an arbitrary date accompanied by a threat is not productive to achieving the request you have made for documents. As noted previously, we are taking your request seriously and working diligently to provide you with the information you've asked for. We aim to provide you a preliminary response by the end of next week, and we will let you know if that timeline changes.


Jan 04, my response:

Nick,

Thank you for your email.

The 30 day guideline for information provision is recommended by the ICO (Information Commissioners Office) for individuals asking to receive information from an organisation, so is far from arbitrary. Additionally, the data I have requested is no more than is outlined by Chapter 3 of the Data Protection Act UK 2018 as being within my right to access, and under ICO guidelines to receive said data within 30 days It is following due legal process as a UK citizen, clearly outlined in my letter. That deadline has now passed by one week.

I have so far allowed more time than this recommendation and have not yet passed this matter over to the ICO. If I did they would impose the same 30 day limit, rather more strictly than I have. I have now given you more than enough time to process this - a period now of two months, and periods to consult with your lawyers as you deemed necessary. You denied both of these courtesies to me during your process. One result of this was the ‘threat’ of legal action, which was only necessary when you declined to provide the information initially.

The end of the next week is fine for the information.