Freenode IRC employees resign en masse after takeover by Korean “Crown Prince” | GeekComparison

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Freenode currently has a reach of about 75,000 to 90,000 users – that’s a long way from the 240,000 users of fellow IRC network QuakeNet in 2005, but it’s still quite a lot of people.

Freenode has been the largest IRC network in the world since 2013, with about three times as many users as its closest competitor, IRCnet. Last week, the massive IRC network was taken over by tech entrepreneur and “Korean Crown Prince” Andrew Lee — a move the network’s staff has apparently unanimously classified as a “hostile takeover,” though Lee himself claims these are just “rumours.” are and “just not true.”

On the surface, it’s tempting for an outside observer—one not already familiar with the history of network ownership and operation—to just shrug and say “well, who knows.” Lee explains several hundred words in a blog post currently on the front page of Freenode – most of which sound reasonable.

But the one question Lee never answers, let alone answers, is why at least 14 individual staff members would retire en masseall disagree with the story he tells.

A dubious contract

In 2017, Christel Dahlskjaer – who was the head of Freenode’s staff at the time – founded a company, Freenode Ltd., which she immediately sold to Lee. Dahlskjaer and Lee told Freenode staff and users that the creation was only done as necessary paperwork to sponsor a conference and that day-to-day operations would remain unchanged.

Contract or no contract, Freenode’s staff and developers argue that it wasn’t actually possible to sell the network – the staff are all volunteers and the infrastructure itself was not owned by Dahlskjaer in the first place. According to retiring Freenode developer Aaron Jones, “However, Andrew has more money than we do, so we can’t fight this.”

Although the contract in question was signed in 2017, executives only began to object this year, when operational changes began to appear without their control or consent.

A unilateral decision on advertising

In February 2021, Dahlskjaer placed the logo of Shells – a Lee-owned company that offers cloud-based virtual desktops – prominently on the front page of Freenode. On its own, this may seem harmless: FOSS projects accept sponsorships and advertisements all the time. But staffers, who supposedly still had control of the network, were not consulted about the scheme – and they did not approve.

One reason for the staff’s virulent disapproval is Shell’s CTO Mark Karpelès. Karpelès is the founder of the defunct bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox, which lost nearly 850,000 bitcoin (currently worth a staggering $33.4 billion – with aB US dollars) to attackers who exploited a massive security flaw. Karpelès was found guilty in a Tokyo court of intentionally tampering with data to cover up the exchange’s various losses, though he was found innocent of outright embezzlement.

As former staffer Aaron Jones explains in his lengthy letter of resignation — which links to similar announcements from other departing high-profile staffers — this wasn’t the only problem with the new ad. According to Jones, sponsorships can normally only be found at, which makes the prominent Shells logo in the top-right corner of Freenode’s front page more out of the ordinary than it appears.

Jones goes on to say that Dahlskjaer was unable or unwilling to explain the sudden new advertisement to staffers and chose to resign instead. (Lee alleges that Freenode’s staff “harassed” Dahlskjaer to resign; Jones and other outgoing staffers deny this characterization.) Freenode’s staff chose Tom Wesley (aka tomaw) to replace her.

Escalation in April

As of April 2021, Lee’s control continued to increase:

  • Staffers have created a blog post outlining changes in leadership and announcing a change in the newly developed back-end ircd software Solanum. According to Jones, Lee succinctly deleted the message and manually edited the website’s built-in history to give the impression that it never existed.
  • Later in April, a Freenode test network — which was in use to prepare for the infrastructure shift to Solanum — was shut down without discussion. Wesley (tomaw) carried out the shutdown and declined to say why; Jones and others believe Lee was behind the shutdown, using legal threats to compel Wesley, and issuing related gag orders to OFTC personnel.
  • Lee registered the channel #freenode-board without discussing it with staff — and, according to Jones, without proper authority (since only official group contacts are allowed to create channels in Freenode’s primary namespace and Lee was not an official Freenode contact).
  • Shane Allen (aka nirvana), an associate and associate of Lee’s, bragged about “turning” tomawand he tried to bribe prominent user Ariadne with promises of ops privileges, saying, “I’ll make sure you +oO in #freenode so you can kick people. My gift to you friend.”
  • On May 11, Lee began messaging staff as a group and directly to individual Freenode staffers. Everything came from “the board”—an entity that staffers say never existed, and even now is just a euphemism for Lee himself.

On May 12, Lee (aka rasengan) posted his version of events – in which he claims legal ownership of Freenode, along with a list of grievances – in a Github core. (The gist is considerably saltier than the version of events Lee posted on Freenode’s public blog a week later.)

Libera Chat

A week after Lee’s actual public announcement of ownership and… de facto dictatorial operation of Freenode, the staffers who resigned from Freenode created as a replacement.

Libera Chat was founded as a Swedish non-profit organization, owned and operated by volunteer staff members who are voting members of the organization. It has a small, member-elected board – currently consisting of Chair, Treasurer, Project and Community Representative, Technical Representative/Vice Chair, and Operations Representative. But most decisions have to be made by the members as a whole.

The membership also elects two auditors charged with auditing the actions of the board on behalf of the membership. A transparency report is published annually, describing the accounts and the findings of the auditors, together with the standard annual report of the board itself.

All of Libera Chat’s current board members and auditors are Freenode staffers who have resigned in protest at Lee’s recent actions and takeover of control.

List image by Roslan Rahman / Getty Images

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