Debian & Open Source volunteer suicides: who pays compensation?

The comparisons between the Debian Day suicide and Amnesty International suicides have resonated with many people. We see similarities in the way these people died but dramatic differences in the way organizations respond. Amnesty commissioned a public report about each case. Debian fought tooth-and-nail to keep the details secret.

After the Amnesty suicides, somebody leaked details about a €1 million (£800,000) compensation payment to the family of one victim.

Debian financial backers like Ubuntu and Google may not want to make a similar payment. Could this be the reason some Debian people want to maintain secrecy about the suicide? Over the last twenty-four hours, they have launched an unprecedented pestering campaign to have moderators purge references to Frans Pop from online forums, Reddit and social media.

When the misfits start one of these pestering campaigns, forum owners only see one side of the story, the five or six misfits clicking the "report" button over and over again. Even if this noise comes from less than one percent of the community, if the other ninety-nine percent are simply passive then the moderator might be duped or might simply remove a post as a result of fatigue. There is no button for people to click to "un-report" a post so the majority of people who value these posts are largely invisible.

Many Debian Developers work for small companies, universities and some non-profit organizations. Yet a lot of the pressure in Debian today clearly comes from Ubuntu and Google. Ubuntu renewed their push for the mind-numbing DEP-5 copyright files on Friday, 13 August 2010, forty-eight hours before Frans Pop told us enough was enough.

In such a situation, where the pressure was delivered by this external company, Ubuntu, on a Friday and the suicide decision came on a weekend, it would appear unfair to ask the victim's employer to compensate his family. On the other hand, given the enormous amount of work the victim did for Debian, it would seem unfair for his family to receive nothing at all.

Due to the way so much of Debian activity is conducted through electronic channels that are not visible to employers and families, his family may be completely unaware how much unrelenting pressure Frans Pop experienced.

More blogs about Frans Pop, the Debian Day volunteer suicide.