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I am completely uninterested in being badgered about social causes when I visit a site for expertise. I literally do not care what the cause is. I don't care which political groups support it even if those are the same as political groups I personally agree with, and I am disinclined to spend time here if on every page I have to scroll past some kind of social/political guilt trip.

I am disgusted by the recent Internet trend of people scrambling whatever platforms they have access to to win votes for some political stance, and I hate that Stack Exchange is doing this now too.

(Alternately, please add some additional class to the system message's HTML div, so I can reliably userscript it out of existence.)

Edit: Here's a general cause argument:

+1 just because this sort of thing can get out of hand, and then SO is covered in awareness-ribbons of various colors. – ಠ_ಠ Won't♦

Bingo. Where does it stop on the Stack Exchange network? "Just this once, because this cause is the important one (but the other causes aren't)" is terrible logic.

Edit: To be clear, this point of this post isn't a pro/con on SOPA, but SOPA is the latest case in the

  1. Abuse of the non-closable system message for non system status messages and

  2. Use (arguably abuse) of of the popularity of StackOverflow to drive traffic to some social cause

I disagree with both of these points. Your vote on this question should reflect the merit of these points for discussion.

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You do realise that if SOPA is successful you might not even have Stack Overflow to reference or even Meta to whine on, right? – random Nov 29 '11 at 16:29
@random take the cause somewhere else. Also, I don't view this as a 'whine' as much as a plea to stop the trend of platform abuse – Factor Mystic Nov 29 '11 at 16:30
Yes, @FactorMystic, that's one option - what country do you suggest SO and SE sites should be migrated to? – Oded Nov 29 '11 at 16:31
@FactorMystic: +1 just because this sort of thing can get out of hand, and then SO is covered in awareness-ribbons of various colors. – Won't Nov 29 '11 at 16:31
I think you'd be more successful if you performed the StackOverflow equivalent of overturning a car and setting in on fire...I wonder what that would be? – user7116 Nov 29 '11 at 16:32
@Oded a discussion of the server locale the site runs on is entirely separate (...meta?) to any individual Q/A page I have to suffer a notice on. Also, this comment is again badgering me to engage in social/political causes. Stop. I don't care what the cause is. Stop platform abuse. – Factor Mystic Nov 29 '11 at 16:33
See my answer here for a greasemonkey script for temporarily hiding the system notification bar. May not apply to use if you don't use grease monkey, but it's what I use. Been of much use lately with Steve Jobs, SO Moderator elections, and now this.… – Kibbee Nov 29 '11 at 16:36
@Kibbee I don't mind actual system status messages. It's the ones advocating non-SO related causes I'm troubled by (platform abuse). – Factor Mystic Nov 29 '11 at 16:42
What the hell is "platform abuse"? You're clearly guilty of exactly the same sensationalism that you're accusing the site owners of. – Aarobot Nov 29 '11 at 17:05
@FactorMystic This is what is great about my greasemonkey script. It hides the message for at most a couple days (or until you delete your cookies). After that point, the system message will be shown again. So when you get something annoying, you just hide it, and then a couple days later it's reinstated. Usually just long enought for the status message to disappear. – Kibbee Nov 29 '11 at 17:31
Surely StackOverflow should have the ability to defend itself. This bill gets passed then websites across the planet have a much harder time. This is an international issue that affects every single internet user, and there. It's such a small banner, just ignore it if you don't like it, at the end of the day it's not you're site and the people who run it can do what they like with it. As a long time member and active user of the site, I would have thought you would want this site to stick around, without threats and blocks. – Jonathan. Nov 29 '11 at 18:25
This is an SO related cause and the bill will impact the site, it just so happens that it will impact a lot of other sites NOT JUST IN THE US! If you don't like it go an use another site to answer your programming questions, or to provide answers to other's questions, but there isn't another one like StackOverflow on this planet, so good luck! – Jonathan. Nov 29 '11 at 18:27
"I literally do not care what the cause is" - I bet if the cause were 'Oppose the passing of a law prohibiting Factor Mystic from owning property' then you would care. First they came for etc. – AakashM Nov 30 '11 at 10:20
@AakashM regardless of the merit of the social issue, the SE network is not the place for that kind of promoption – Factor Mystic Nov 30 '11 at 13:45
We need a channel for non-system-level site announcements. – Isaac Moses Dec 12 '11 at 15:27

13 Answers 13

I am sympathetic.

Nevertheless, there is a difference between promoting "all kinds of awareness ribbons of various colors" (which I wouldn't want) and opposing a law that threatens the very site itself.

This particular law is threatening to Stack Exchange itself. It is so badly written that we think that if it passed, a determined copyright holder could close down this site. (See this question for why we think this.)

This is not a random social cause that we happen to support -- this is the internet we're trying to defend. Making the internet a better place is the #1 goal of Stack Exchange.

There is a risk of a slippery slope. You don't want to see banners advertising every political cause. There are very, very few situations that are important enough to try to get your attention. I hope that we continue to make the right call as to what's really important and what's merely nice to have, but it's always a judgement call.

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The blog is the right place for this, not a banner, IMO. – tvanfosson Nov 29 '11 at 16:56
The SOPA banner seems like an appropriate judgement call since it directly affects the existence of everything here. I think it was the Steve Jobs banner that opened this can of worms of arguments. – LarsTech Nov 29 '11 at 16:57
@LarsTech so, what if it's the healthcare law or some NY tax law that threatens the existence of SO, do we get a banner then? The blog is the right place to expression the opinions of the company and advocate for positions they feel are important. Banners should be reserved for operational messages. – tvanfosson Nov 29 '11 at 17:00
@LarsTech I have trouble buying that argument. If pollution destroys the earth we won't be around to use Stack Overflow -- should we have a system message promoting good environmental practices? – Michael Mrozek Nov 29 '11 at 17:00
@tvanfosson I think an argument can be made that the SOPA banner is an operational message. :-) – LarsTech Nov 29 '11 at 17:02
@LarsTech - I'm not arguing that its a good law, I just think that banners should be used for news about the system, not viewpoints on legislation, causes, eulogies, etc. In my opinion, the right place for SE, the company, to comment on these types of things is the blog, not the banner. – tvanfosson Nov 29 '11 at 17:05
@Joel, I support the SO/SE decision to get our attention to this cause. Thanks for nice explanation - SOPA threatens the site and the very goal of internet being better place. These are pretty firm reasons for the decision you made. – Tomas Nov 29 '11 at 17:24
@FactorMystic: Did you post this question because you made a (negative) value judgement of SOPA and this stance will help promote your view? – Jeremy Banks Nov 29 '11 at 17:40
@JeremyBanks nope. I explained as much in my original post. Please try not to be snarky. – Factor Mystic Nov 29 '11 at 17:49
We used a feature that was never designed for "dead people tribute" to give out a tribute and now are suffering the consequence. System messages were meant for emergencies, stuff like ... the website is going down in 5 minutes, be warned. That is why they can not be dismissed; that is why they are so prominent. – tvanfosson Nov 29 '11 at 17:57
@tvan In that case, how about "The website will be down indefinitely due to SOPA" [that is only somewhat tongue-in-cheek]? – jadarnel27 Nov 29 '11 at 18:07
@tvanfosson This IS an emergency. StackOverflow might be in maintenance mode permanently if this bill passes. – chown Nov 29 '11 at 18:21
You guys are taking things to extreme, please do research the topic at hand. No one is going to close the place down. – JonH Nov 29 '11 at 18:26
(a) I'm not defending the proposed law (b) the message is of a completely different character than "the website is going down in 5 minutes." I don't disagree that SE has reason to be concerned or that they are wrong to encourage people to oppose it, but the blog is a better tool for that. Banners should be about system operations, nothing more. – tvanfosson Nov 29 '11 at 18:45
And apparently the legality of homosexual marriage was also threatening to Stack Exchange / Stack Overflow itself? – Paul Draper Jun 27 '15 at 21:43

Time for me to break out my favorite generic response: "I think the answer lies in the middle ground between the two extremes."

Here, the extremes are "never promote social causes" and "promote all kinds of social causes." In general, I agree with you. Stack Overflow very clearly defines what is on-topic — as does each Stack Exchange site — and social causes are definitely off-topic.

However, in the specific case of SOPA, I think the message is valid. The admins are putting up a legitimate claim that SOPA could cause serious damage to Stack Overflow, or even shut it down. That makes the SOPA system message relevant to SO. And every organization behaves differently when its very survival is at stake.

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Does SOPA stop stackoverflow moving to the UK if the US bands it, bit not what is the big deal? – Ian Ringrose Nov 29 '11 at 17:03
And then the corporate lobbying groups would target the UK? NO! I say we make a stand. – PeeHaa Nov 29 '11 at 17:07
+1 "in the specific case of SOPA, I think the message is valid". SE never spams us with this sort of thing; this is important. – Andrew Barber Nov 30 '11 at 2:17
@IanRingrose: Yes, because moving an entire website, along with all of the personnel and staff that run it, is just that easy. – Nicol Bolas Nov 30 '11 at 10:51
@IanRingrose: SO would ONLY be impacted if it did move. By staying a US company and site it is not impacted by SOPA. – NotMe Nov 30 '11 at 14:43

Sopa? This... is... Interneeeet!!

Now that I have your attention, let's get to the point. The very fact that this picture exists illustrates why free Internet is important. The fact that I could mash up a picture using a well known meme to convey a message and the fact that memes exists at all is thanks to the gears and cogwheels of the established web communities.

It's not the 'ordinary' web sites that will be first hit by this new law. The first ones on the line are web communities, especially those with user generated content. Because if it's user generated, it's not supplied and sold by a big company. If you can get amused by watching web series over YouTube, you (supposedly) won't pay as much for Hollywood ones. So, it's not just Stack Overflow, it's also Wikipedia, redit, etc. Basically, it's the creative part of the Internet, which is at a highest danger.

To break or even just risk breaking that network of people is more that just to take away another source of amusement from them. It would mean breaking our lines of communication and setting us back decades ago, when most of web was read-only and it wasn't all that different from other media like TV, where you would get only what you've been served.

To more specifically address some of the concerns being named:

Q1: Should Stack Overflow display social/political awareness campaigns?

A1: In general case - no. It shouldn't be a social/political platform any more than it should be an obituary page. It this specific case though, it is clear that the issue may severely affect both the site and its community.

Q2: Should non-Americans have to see that? Should we even care about American laws? We certainly can't influence them...

A2: It will affect us, so I say we should care. At least enough to talk about it even if we cannot influence anything... or can we?

Q3: But, my country X doesn't have such laws!

A3: If USA enacts it, the rest will follow. At least some of them, and some is too many.

We can either bury our heads in sand, pretending that we don't care for the bill, and pretending that we are not just waiting for the same to happen in our countries.. Or we can spread the word about the dangers and what is at stake. Will it make a difference? Maybe... maybe not... probably not. Is it worth at least trying? Yes!

share|improve this answer
WRT Q3, the mere fact that other countries don't have similar laws to the US doesn't mean much. The best example is the Patriot Act, which has affected Canadians to a large degree. Many Canadian companies have policies against storing data on US servers because that data is essentially easily accessible to US law enforcement. There's a data centre in Nova Scotia specifically for European companies that need secure intercontinental off-site backup, but don't want to risk using a US service because of the Patriot Act! Something that breaks the internet in the US will break it world wide. – MBraedley Dec 12 '11 at 17:23
Wow. It looks like the Sparta guy is yelling "THIS. IS. SOOOPAAAAA!!!!!!!" and the earth is quaking, and dust and debris flies around as the battle for the Greater Internet takes place at the Black Gates of Congress. – Mateen Ulhaq Dec 25 '11 at 8:51

Just as a quick summary:

  • Within minutes of the notice being posted there are already scores of political arguments going on in Meta
  • As a non-US citizen there isn't really anything I can actually do about this, nor do I feel that it is my place to do anything about the internal affairs of another country because its none of my business, just as its none of anybody elses business whenevery non-UK residents stick their noses into UK politics
  • The banner is really annoying and doesn't go away (how long is it going to stay there?)

Look at what happened the last time the banner was used for (essentially) random chit-chat

I know that this issue affects Stack Overflow, and like others on the site I am sympathetic but I'm not sure this is really the place (on the face of it it does seem to be a bad idea, but I haven't really looked into it - because its none of my business!)

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As much as I'm not really for getting certain points on Meta (seeing as, technically, dealing with SOPA itself isn't actually in our technical scope), I don't really think it's fair to call 3 questions "scores". – Grace Note Nov 29 '11 at 16:52
nor do I feel that it is my place to do anything about the internal affairs of another country because its none of my business Well you really should since it will also effect you if this gets passed. – PeeHaa Nov 29 '11 at 16:54
I think your definition of scores is an order of magnitude off (if there is one thing a US Public School education is good for it is knowing the first 5-6 words of the Gettysburg Address). – user7116 Nov 29 '11 at 16:55
@PeeHaa Every law every country ever passes affects me in some way, does the "it affects me" argument really give me a right to get involved in (for example) the US policy on abortions or stem cell research? – Justin Nov 29 '11 at 16:59
That doesn't directly affect me now does it (since I'm not from the US)? However I do have some .com domains for example and I do use several different site / services which are either hosted in US / has an US registrar tld or is otherwise tied to the US. The internet is not the corporations it's the people's. – PeeHaa Nov 29 '11 at 17:03
"Annoying" isn't really a good reason. – Robert Harvey Nov 29 '11 at 17:11
@RobertHarvey True, but it is a reason :-) – Justin Nov 29 '11 at 17:12
You forget how much UK governments clamber over themselves to "stand shoulder to shoulder" with the US when it comes to policy. Despite the European parliament adopting a resolution against SOPA there are no guarantees that our own government wouldn't pass a similar bill in the face of Europe's opposition. This is a worrying disruptive bill that will impact internet users far beyond US borders. – Kev Nov 29 '11 at 17:33
You can actually do something other than raise awareness. You can sign the petition mentioned on this page for non-US folks. – Mateen Ulhaq Dec 26 '11 at 9:35

It depends on the situation being promoted. I for one think the Jobs status bar message was totally unnecessary, but if you read about what this is about I can very much understand why this is important.

Beyond making noise there is not much I can personally do to help, but I'm prepared to put up with a 10px banner for issues than genuinely do affect a site I use in my professional life every day.

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I don't live in USA either, but that only makes me regret I cannot "call my senator" (not that I really believe it would change anything, but still). And I fail to see how this little bar can really annoy someone so much. I think its real purpose is to make people look around to see what's going on and think a little. I hope that message just does it.

Bottomline: if you are

completely uninterested in being badgered about social causes,

why do you care so much?..

share|improve this answer
This post is not a discussion of pro/con on SOPA, it's about whether it is appropriate to leverage SO traffic to promote social issues, and now also whether the system message should be abused for that funnel – Factor Mystic Nov 29 '11 at 18:51
You can actually do something other than raise awareness. You can sign the petition mentioned on this page for non-US folks. – Mateen Ulhaq Dec 26 '11 at 9:37

I agree 100% percent with you. However on this specific case I really don't.

Just this once, because this cause is the important one (but the other causes aren't)

Well if others have the same possible implications I wouldn't mind seeing it.

The implications of this can be really really bad for the internet as we know it.

As one of the sites / organization with a huge influence (hopefully) I expect them to do it!

It will be the big tech companies who may be able to prevent such draconian measures.

And we will all benefit from this.

This isn't just any social cause you know. It's the future of the internet (sounds pretty hard but I really think it is like this). At least untill we find a way around it and we will:

every one knows this quote:

The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.

And it's true, but it is not necessarily a good thing.

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(Alternately, please add some additional class to the html system message div, so I can userscript it out of existence reliably)

You should be able to use #system-message, but you really shouldn't block them; occasionally system messages are actually important (my position has softened somewhat from my original "SO would never abuse system messages"). There was a longer discussion about it here, but it was deleted

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At the time, the request got massively downvoted since everyone got touchy-feely because Steve Jobs had just died (even though system messages should've never been used for "memorial" purposes). But it got deleted at my request since it's a dupe of:… – NullUserException อ_อ Nov 29 '11 at 16:48
@NullUserExceptionอ_อ Oh, there was a comment explaining it; I didn't notice – Michael Mrozek Nov 29 '11 at 16:57
Huh, I thought you just ignored the comment because "It doesn't explain why the deletion was requested" – Grace Note Nov 29 '11 at 17:03

Let me first say that I agree a 100 % with your cause. I have strong feelings about censorship in the country that hosts 9 out of 10 web services that I use and, if your senators would at all about an alien's opinion, I would inform them that I do.

Your idea of creating awareness certainly worked out as the posts on meta alone have over 10k views.

I also found the news about Steve Jobs passing away interesting and I was certainly pleased to be informed about the Moderator election.

But please add an option to hide these banners after reading them.

I have no problem seeing them once, but I certainly do not need to see them every time I visit any site on Stack Overflow. The color is so different from the rest of the interface that the banner immediately captures my attention, distracting me from the things that I actually wanted to read.

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Please do use StackOverflow to promote causes like SOPA, if you feel it can help a good thing and protect our freedom!

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Fake devil's advocate counterpoint: What if my "dream and freedom" is that this 'Palestinian' nonsense should be eliminated and sought a banner for Jewish Life and Living SE? No social cause is exempt. None should be allowed on the SE network. – Factor Mystic Nov 29 '11 at 16:41
I trust the SE team as an authority (as a "enlightened dictator" :-)) that it can select which cause to promote and which not. – Tomas Nov 29 '11 at 16:49
There won't be an SE network if SOPA goes through. It's less a social cause and more one that threatens the very existence of these sites. @fac – random Nov 29 '11 at 16:51

For all those system message haters - I've made a quick chrome extension which just applies a bit of css to hide the banner - download it here.

To get the banner back, simply uncheck the enabled box in chrome://extensions. Hope this helps.

share|improve this answer
They can also just click on the crx in the git – amanaP lanaC A nalP A naM A Nov 29 '11 at 20:22
added as a direct download now... – Alex Coplan Nov 29 '11 at 20:23

There's one very important point - the issue is not social and is not political, it is legal and legal means it will influence everyday lives of real people.

An adopted act of law (any act - not only SOPA) will not be an inert piece of paper, instead it will have the Power of Law which means courts and law enforcement and government agencies - the bodies of power - and also state and private companies will act upon that law.

Government adopting a law is not politics as in "some crap noone cares about", it is life as real as it can be. Since this specific act affects (or even just looks affecting) SE functioning it is only reasonable to bring it to SE users attention.

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What has SOPA got to do with me, as I don't live in the USA?

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Do you use any of the Stack Exchange sites?… – random Nov 29 '11 at 17:03
Or any other site with a US registrar domain or servers hosted in the US? – PeeHaa Nov 29 '11 at 17:05
@random, yes but the internet can heal it's self by bepassing the USA if needed, a new site could setup in the UK using the cc-wiki data damps if needed. (Whats good for China is also good for the USA....) – Ian Ringrose Nov 29 '11 at 17:06
The Internet won't need to heal itself if it doesn't get damaged in the first place. – Pops Nov 29 '11 at 17:13
Today it's in the US, tommorow it can be in EU! We must not be indolent and support each other. If you want to take it strictly economically, cooperation pays off. Moreover, if the website concerned is located in US, it affects EU also! – Tomas Nov 29 '11 at 17:20
@TomasT. EU has no Hollywood. – bestsss Nov 29 '11 at 18:21
@Ian, you won't be able to use .net and .com domains for instance, though. – bestsss Nov 29 '11 at 18:22
@bestsss, the domains are irrelevant this effects every domain, even ones like, .de, .fr etc. This bill is not taking down a site, it's blocking access to that site, that means that they can block the entire US population from accessing a site, hosted in the EU or anywhere else, outside of US juristriction. – Jonathan. Nov 29 '11 at 18:56
@Ian, the problem is huge amount of internet users are from the US, bypass the US, and the people who visit most sites decreases considerably, this means less people who view ads/pay for the site. This means the site becomes less commercially viable, and is much more likely to shut down as it can't sustain itself, for everyone, across the ENTIRE PLANET, not just the US. – Jonathan. Nov 29 '11 at 18:57
btw, the thing with the China firewall, is they've had it from pretty much the beginning, there was no sudden drop in users, at least not on the scale as there would be with the US, overall the number of people using the sites from China is increasing, and the wall is 'weakening'. – Jonathan. Nov 29 '11 at 18:59
@Jonathan. the remarks is that if you own a .com/.net/.ca etc. domains governed by an US company, the domain itself can be shutdown. There will be always a way to bypass the domain restriction but if your domain doesn't map to an IP and you're already outside US jurisdiction, it's quite an appalling case. – bestsss Nov 29 '11 at 18:59
@bestsss, the vast majority of users have no idea, nor any intention of knowing how the internet works, let alone what an IP Address is/means. So you can't just say "oh well they can access it directly via the IP Address and skip out the DNS entirely". Under current laws any site inside US juristriction can be shut down, the new bill allows them to block access to (effectively shutting down) sites outside US juristriction. Also this bill will only lead to future bills allowing the blocking of any communication with certain IP Addresses. – Jonathan. Nov 29 '11 at 19:05
@Jonathan. I didn't mean straight use of an IP address, there will be some DNS servers (free?) to do the mapping. IP addresses are fluctuating (prime reason why dns exists) so blocking must be on larger networks. – bestsss Nov 29 '11 at 19:08
@bestsss Side note: .ca is actually owned and managed by the CIRA, a Canadian organization. You cannot register a .ca domain if you're a foreign (i.e. not Canadian) individual or organization. – Adam Lear Nov 30 '11 at 0:29
You can actually do something other than raise awareness. You can sign the petition mentioned on this page for non-US folks. – Mateen Ulhaq Dec 26 '11 at 9:37

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