Saturday, 2021-06-05

Death of a channel

This is a short write-up of how a channel on Freenode was hijacked by staff, and how it was effectively deleted.

Background

The channel #photography was founded on Freenode in 2001, as a channel to discuss photography. Its single-hash status was challenged by Freenode staffer lilo, and it was changed to #photogeeks to comply with the requirement for single-hash channels to be associated with a project.

In 2006, the channel #photo was registered to discuss photography per se, and not gear. Quite soon the channel became social in nature, and it was hidden and a password set.

Over the years, about a dozen people used this channel as a social space to discuss everything under the sun.

Hijack

When the takeover of Freenode by Andrew Lee occurred, the channel was registered on Libera.chat, and on 2021-05-21, the topic was updated to say

09:07  -!- gustaf changed the topic of #photo to: this channel is now up and running on Libera.chat (same pwd), but this place is still the primary! | Discord bolthole - https://discord.gg/XXXX

On 2021-05-26, the channel was hijacked:

05:02  -!- freenodecom <~com@freenode/staff> has joined #photo
05:02  -!- mode/#photo (+o freenodecom) by freenodecom
05:02  -!- freenodecom changed the topic of #photo to: This channel has moved to ##photo. The topic is in violation of freenode policy: https://freenode.net/policies
05:02 <@freenodecom> This channel has been reopened with respect to the communities and new users. The topic is in violation of freenode policy: https://freenode.net/policies
05:02  -!- mode/#photo (+o freenodecom) by OperServ
05:02 <@freenodecom> The new channel is ##photo
05:02  -!- mode/#photo (-s+t) by ChanServ
05:02  -!- mode/#photo (+spimf ##photo) by freenodecom
05:02  -!- freenodecom <~com@freenode/staff> has left #photo ()
05:02  -!- mode/#photo (+f ##photo) by freenodecom
07:37 < gustaf> <abbr title="what the fsck">wtf</abbr>
07:37  -!- #photo Cannot send to nick/channel

(all times are in CEST).

A few hours later, Andrew Lee (rasengan) sent a network-wide wallop informing users that an attempt to enforce newly instituted rules against advertising other IRC networks had been overly broad and targeted more channels than intended.

It’s clear that our channel was included in this.

Users were encouraged to submit a request to Freenode staff to get their channels back.

Aftermath

The “regulars” of the channel were contacted via PM and informed that the Freenode channel was now closed. Most moved over to Libera. A few mentioned that they were permanently leaving Freenode.

As a good faith effort, prompted by Freenode promoters, I attempted to regain control of the channel at Freenode, but was informed that having a single-hash channel was not according to policy. The request was denied.

Discussion

I’ve written this post to present my side of the story. Over the last weeks, I’ve been told on Freenode that the widespread channel hijacking of 26 May 2021 (some reports say that 700+ channels were affected) was either not as widespread as reported, or “justified” to stem the flow of users to Libera.

I’m also a member of the channel #lobsters, which suffered the same fate. However, in that case, the project had officially moved, and the Freenode channel was locked. Based on Lee’s rationale, I actually find the hijack justified, as there were presumably people who would prefer to remain on Freenode and discuss the site there. However, note that there very little warning before this happened. There was no attempt to contact the project to present Freenode’s case as a better IRC host than Libera. Freenode instead unilaterally decided they knew better than the project’s themselves.

When Libera was announced, I did not feel that the urgency presented by the staff there was entirely justified. Never would I imagine that Andrew Lee would, within a week, exceed those warnings by a wide margin.

He and the current Freenode staff have proven that they cannot be trusted to be stewards of communities, by hijacking channels and disrupting them. They have proven to be incompetent, by affecting more channels than intended. They have proven to be discourteous, by requiring channel owners affected by their incompetence to apply, hat in hand and papers in order, for their channels to be reinstated. And finally, they’ve proven to be bad business people, by alienating their future customers and torching their future income stream.

Future

I’m nostalgic for my almost 17 year old Freenode account. But the more time passes, the more bitter I become. I’m going to hang around in some channels to see how things work out. I’m open to a more humble approach from Freenode staff and boosters. But if I feel I can’t be a part of a network that treats its users as peons to be exploited, I’m out.