Freenode IRC staff resign en masse, unhappy about new management

Karl gmkarl at
Sun May 23 16:06:48 PDT 2021

This is a random article on a current issue I bumped into.  The
article content appears slightly biased or misleading to me.  I did
not look for a less biased article.


Freenode IRC staff resign en masse, unhappy about new management

Wed 19 May 2021 // 21:50 UTC

Crown Prince and network boss Andrew Lee disputes claims made by those
leaving the internet chat community

Most of the volunteer staff of Freenode, an internet relay chat (IRC)
network dating back to 1995, have resigned in protest over what they
describe as a hostile takeover of the chat service.

And many have launched an alternative service, Libera Chat.

Freenode, which has focused on serving as a real-time communication
channel for free and open source software projects, currently has
about 76,000 users and 42,000 chat rooms.

In a resignation letter, a staffer called Christian, who is also known
as Fuchs on Freenode, said after 10 years helping with the network, he
is leaving because he disagrees with the direction being taken by
Andrew Lee, founder of VPN firm Private Internet Access (PIA), who
acquired a controlling interest [PDF] in Freenode's holding company in

Christian said that at the time of the 2017 transaction, the terms of
the deal were not disclosed to staff, although promises were made that
Lee would not have operational control over the Freenode IRC network.

That apparently has changed. "The democratically elected heads of
their respective teams, development, infrastructure, projects and
communities were removed by force and have been informed that they are
not entitled to act in their respective capacity," said Christian. "As
a result, Mr Lee wants and partially has operational control over the
Freenode IRC network now."

In addition to Fuchs, Freenode volunteers amdj, edk, emilsp, Jess,
JonathanD, Md, mniip, niko, njan, and Swant have all published
resignation letters citing concern over the service's new direction or
how the transition was handled.

Lee, Crown Prince of the Imperial Family of Korea, told The Register
in an email it was unfortunate the former Freenode staffers resigned,
and took issue with various claims by former staffers that he
characterized as false.

Christel Dahlskjaer, the former head of Freenode's staff who
transferred her interest in Freenode Limited to Lee, resigned in
March. Dahlskjaer, with the help of Richard “RichiH” Hartmann, took
over Freenode after project originator Rob Levin (lilo) died in a
traffic accident in 2006 and Levin’s brother tried to turn the project
into business. She was an employee of PIA at the time of the Freenode
Limited transaction.

Lee in an online post has attributed her resignation to "persistent
harassment" from a team overseen by tomaw, who subsequently become
embroiled in a legal dispute over administrative control of the
Freenode domain name.

Aaron Jones (amdj), a Freenode staffer who just resigned, disputes
this in his resignation letter.

"I was a first-hand observer to her departure," Jones wrote. "This is
entirely false. She left us with a 14-paragraph e-mail about it, and
signed off with us on good terms at the time."

It's been suggested that Dahlskjaer, just prior to her departure,
supported adding a affiliate link to Freenode's website,
steering affiliate ad revenue to a company co-founded by Lee, and that
other Freenode staffers disagreed with that decision.

Lee however said that claims by some departing staffers about the
Shells links are incorrect. "I have had logos for my companies on
Freenode since 2013, and the staff was absolutely in approval of it,"
he said.

In his note to The Register, Lee said:

I have been providing financial and infrastructural sponsorship,
through one of my companies, to Freenode for the past 8 years. While
it had been discussed previously, Christel reached out in 2017 asking
if I would be willing to acquire the company and fund it more
dramatically. Given the fact that I love IRC and have been supportive
of Freenode for so many years, I obliged.

Unfortunately, Christel resigned from Freenode in March and we did not
appoint a new head of staff immediately after. Thus, the most senior
staff member took the role and asked us for ownership of the domain.
My response, to this, was a suggestion to decentralize Freenode, as I
felt it was too important for the community. However, immediately
after this, my access to the domain account was revoked. As such, I
began to request access back to no avail, which some former staffers
perceived as me attempting to make a hostile takeover. I'm not sure
how this could have been the case however, because I was listed as the
owner both on the Freenode website, on blog posts and on the UK
Companies House list.

This subsequently ended up becoming a slander campaign toward me. It
is unfortunate, but I also appreciate the passion toward the free and
open source software movement.

Since then, we have regained control (as we always had) of Freenode
and are planning to have a productive discussion with the most senior
staff member sometime this week, as we have both agreed to speak.

The Register spoke with a resigned Freenode staffer who suggested
Dahlskjaer's departure may be attributable to other life priorities,
given that she'd been with the project for years.

The Freenode volunteer who spoke with us said that something like 20
to 30 of the network's volunteers have resigned, though tomaw has not
at this point.

The former staffer we spoke to described the dispute as a consequence
of the unexpected shift from self-governance to being under active
management. When people are given autonomy and "someone changes it and
says the land you're standing on is mine, that's very jarring," the
individual said. "This is about control and a person who didn't have a
role in the community."

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The departures come at a difficult time for Freenode, one of the few
IRC networks to have survived so long. The former Freenode staffer
said that while the network managed to thrive over the years as other
IRC communities lost users, it's no longer growing because recently
chat services like Slack and Discord have hurt Freenode participation.

The Register understands that Libera Chat has had about 150 requests
from projects to establish IRC channels on the network. These won’t
necessarily end the presence of these channels on Freenode — projects
may be hedging their bets about Freenode's long-term survival.

Having said that, the Ubuntu IRC Council has voted to migrate away
from Freenode.

Lee, however, sounds undaunted.

"Freenode is back in control of Freenode Limited, where it always
was," he said. "In the end, what's most important to everyone is the
survival of Freenode and the FOSS community – and I think since that's
where we are all aligned, it will survive." ®

Updated to add
Lee has now added a more detailed explanation, including messaging
content [PDF] of his side of the story. He says he wants to correct
some inaccuracies that came out and hopes to woo people back to

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