Jorge Manrubia

November 15, 2022

What defamation looks like

Last Sunday a friend shared with me this Twitter thread by Kasper Timm Hansen:

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He confirmed later in the thread he was referring to me as the author of the Vanilla Rails article I recently published in the 37signals dev blog.

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Kasper starts by presenting a history of friction during PR reviews between us, where he was careful with words, but from time to time, I called him out on tone, making him feel guilty:

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What really happened was a single episode. I was pretty new in the company and was working on a very early Proof of Concept for Active Record Encryption. Kasper did a review; I took action on some advice and pushed back on some other. Kasper replied to my pushback in a rude and very condescending way. I didn’t say anything to anyone, but my manager noticed. He recommended that I talk to Kasper, so we didn’t send the message that this was an acceptable way of communicating in the company.

I agreed with his advice and sent this message to Kasper via a private ping. I am only sharing my words here out of respect for these being private conversations:

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I presented the problem with his tone privately, ensuring I showed my appreciation for his help, making it clear I didn’t consider this a big deal, and offering to talk about it if he preferred. The irony here is that I was a newcomer in the company, and I was treated harshly by him. I would never use abuse to refer to the way Kasper treated me in that PR, but, if there was one, I was the victim there. In over three years working at 37signals, this has been the only problem of this nature I have had with him or anyone. Again, it was a single episode; we went to work without any similar problem for over one year until he left.

The next episode he narrates to show how I was abusive is even more bizarre:

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This is what really happened: one day, Kasper shared privately this PR with me, pointing out he hoped it would help me with the encryption work. I didn’t reply with 👍, but with oh wonderful, thanks for the heads up, not that I think that matters much.

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I didn’t see a direct application for the PR at that moment. Four months later, I found a scenario where I could leverage that new system for attribute types to solve a problem I had. This is the commit where I used the system, which included a mention to Kasper. I then offered my appreciation to Kasper via private ping:

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That’s where the reference to Obi-Wan comes from: a metaphor from Obi-Wan’s spirit telling Luke to use the force. 

And I also showed gratitude to him in my public checkin in the company:

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To my perplexity, Kasper considers this interaction, where I only showed gratitude towards him, proof of my abusive behavior.

He then goes to link this older tweet with my persona:

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I think that tweet was referring to other person and other project, and that he recycled the tweet for me, to sustain the deceptive narrative. I never got to work with Kasper side by side on any project. He worked on product, I worked on infrastructure, and never got to collaborate closely on anything meaningful. He did a bunch of PR reviewing for me and for other folks. I always found those valuable and showed appreciation publicly and privately.

Through the rest of the Twitter thread he goes to refer to me as this asshole, calling me a mediocre programmer without ideas of my own, a parrot of stuff that comes from the top, and someone whose writings make him feel creeped out. All these are regular hateful Twitter comments and I can tolerate them without problem, as I think they speak more about Kasper than about myself. But that’s not the case with being accused of being abusive towards a colleague. That's a quite different story.

There are a lot of actual victims of abuse in the working place. Abuse can happen in a thousand of subtle ways, so while I can debunk specific episodes easily, being accused of being abusive in public causes a tremendous damage to my reputation. A damage I can’t fully undo. Someone that doesn’t know me, even reading what I have to say, can be left with fair concerns about how is my behavior when working with others. There is a reason why defamation is a crime in many countries. 

I would like to say that I am OK with all this, but the reality is that it has affected me deeply. I know it’s a false accusation sustained on blatant lies, and I have already received unconditional support from people who know me, but I am far from being OK right now. 

It’s evident that Kasper is in a bad place, and I can be compassionate about that. I hope he finds a way out of it, and I would be more than willing to have a private conversation if that could help in any way. I was very close to letting this slide, which was the advice I received from everyone. But seeing Kasper's behavior, I'm concerned that this will become a thing where he refers to that thread about how abusive I am whenever I do something relevant (the trigger here was writing a technical post).

My only desire right now is to put this behind me, but I won’t stay silent or quiet at this level of defaming. 

About Jorge Manrubia

A programmer who writes about software development and many other topics. I work at 37signals.