Every once in awhile, someone in the security community says something on Twitter that ignites emotional discussion (some call it drama). This past weekend, it started with a comment about hugs.

Someone commented that some security cons involve a lot of hugging and that it makes her uncomfortable.

Someone responded with a comment about the benefits of hugs.

Then all hell broke loose.

Why, the first person asked, do people get offended for not wanting hugs at these events? After all, isn’t it well proven that our industry is loaded with people who suffer from social disorders? Some people don’t like to be touched. From there, the inevitable pile-on ensued. The woman was suddenly a messed up kid with daddy issues and a flare for drama (other people’s words, not mine). The discussion quickly got labeled Hug-gate, or something like that.

Another industry practitioner — someone who has been at the center of similar firestorms in the past — commented that “Infosec sure does have a way of making me feel like I don’t deserve to live.”

A well-known hacker and security conference regular known for hugs took the whole thing pretty hard, worrying aloud if he’s ever offended anyone or caused pain.

I’m not going to take sides, because I really don’t think anyone was particularly wrong here. That’s the absurdity of the whole thing: As crazed as people got over this, no one necessarily disagreed. Everyone agreed that:

  • Hugs are fine and even welcomed, but only if the recipient wants one.
  • If someone wants their personal space, their wishes should be respected.

I didn’t see a single person on the Interwebs disagreeing with those two statements.

So what happened, and what does it say about our community?

What happened is that people used Twitter to explain feelings you can’t properly articulate in 140 characters — not even a string of 140 characters. Twitter is a rushing river of commentary that moves so quickly that misunderstandings are inevitable. Many of us in Infosec use Twitter all day, every day, making us easy prey for the unforgiving currents. It’s one of the reasons I mostly limit my Tweeting to content distribution. You can hate what I write, but at least you can click the link and hate an entire blog post rather than a quick 140-character statement.

The whole affair captures another problem in our industry — when someone is disagreed with, a pile-on ensues. People are accused of drama for expressing themselves. They become villains.

I know the woman who expressed misgivings about hugs at conferences. She’s a talented, respected infosec practitioner. The things she was called do not accurately reflect who she is.

I know the person she got into the argument with as well. He too is a respected member of the community. He’s a hell of a nice guy who has done much to build consensus on many of the topics we in infosec grapple with daily.

No one deserved the verbal beatings that took place this weekend. It was one of the most ridiculous misunderstandings I’ve seen in a long time.

Let’s try to forget the whole thing happened.


  1. i agree with a lot of what you said, and I agree that the originator’s comment was blown out of proportion. But it should have never been stated in the manner it was in the first place and directed as it was. The original post that started all of this was not merely to pose a question, it was to stir the pot, and as much as I love the peeps in this industry, there are too many drama queens who like to garner attention and go all “woe is me” every opportunity they get. Before it was all said and done and allowed to die sooner than it did, it turned into an attack on several people, one of which is the most kind and caring person you’d ever care to meet. It hurt this man so much that he is contemplating leaving an industry he has dedicated most of his adult life to. It should have NEVER been allowed to get to that point, but people piled on and kept pushing and slinging hurtful remarks for their 15 minutes of attention, once again.

  2. Twitter: where people argue even when they agree. For the record, my relationship with my father is one of the few issues I *DON’T* have. 😛

  3. Matt: my comment was a generalization and not referring to a specific person or conference, so I am befuddled that it ended up becoming about one. As far as my “stirring the pot” goes, it was intended to be a singular gripe and my having to defend it was wholly unexpected.

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