This is hardly an isolated incident, and Stack Exchange, Inc (ie, the actual company) has re-iterated time and time again that this is their platform, and when they choose to do this the community really has no recourse but to bear with it, though they justify it with some pretense that it's actually on topic.
The list will doubtless grow.
Much has been written both for and against these situations, but there's only one thing that appears to be missing from the conversation: honesty.
In the early days of Stack Overflow I used to play a game I liked to call "The Hamburger game." There were all sorts of questions programmers could ask each other beyond what we get today. For instance, "Programming on a boat?" or "What's your favorite hamburger, as a programmer?"
Ultimately it was determined to tighten the focus even further, and the primary reason was because we wanted to retain experts who didn't have time or interest in wading through crap.
I enjoyed, therefore, the challenge of creating a "hamburger" question which passed muster with the community, and several similar questions at the time. Rather than asking "What hamburger is the best" I had asked for algorithms to track hamburger toppings and how to manage complexity for invalid situations (seeds on buns for a bunless hamburger, for instance).
It's fun taking an off topic question and reasoning a way to make it just barely on topic enough to justify its inclusion in an area where it doesn't belong.
The reality is that of the issues above, only SOPA ever posed an existential threat to Stack Exchange, LLC, and even that was unlikely - there were many paths SE could have taken had the proposed legislation gone into effect.
The other social, political positions are just that - social and political positions. They are calls to action, and in every case save SOPA, they were decided upon by Joel Spolsky, co-founder and CEO of Stack Exchange, Inc. Not everyone on the network agrees with them. Not everyone wants to be involved.
Further, even many of those who are interested in them agree that they shouldn't be on the network.
But worse than all that is the pandering attempt to justify them as somehow on topic.
They are, at best, hamburger questions.
- Abortion, but for programmers.
- Terrorism, but for programmers.
- Immigration, but for programmers.
- Gun reform, but for programmers.
- Small business grants, but for programmers.
- Scouting, but for programmers.
- Animal rights, but for programmers.
- Race, but for programmers.
I'm not going to argue against inclusion. That's already decided, and the decision is that Stack Exchange, LLC may, from time to time, inform all users of issues that Stack Exchange, LLC and/or its leadership finds noteworthy and they will attempt to turn their users into activists for causes they feel compelled to act on.
We, as a community, simply have to accept that we will be called on to act in Joel's favor from time to time, and in return he will continue to provide the service he's always provided.
What I'd like to stop, though, is the false pretense deployed, the justifications that suggest that these are somehow magically on topic.
They aren't - and you can tell because each time this happens we lose experts. If we cannot maintain our laser-like focus on issues that are appropriate and topical we will continue to do so, but that's social capital spent, and I'm sure it's an expense Stack Exchange, Inc is happy to spend if it obtains the desired results on their social or political issue.
However, if Stack Exchange, Inc and its officers and spokespersons come clean, accept and explain that these are not on topic, and that the company will occasionally do this and the community simply has to accept this, then we may at least stem the loss of some experts, but more importantly, we won't be encouraging dishonesty and having to suspend our disbelief when such things come our way.
This policy should be well articulated in a FAQ so we don't have to have a "should question X exist?" each and every time this line is crossed. Draw the line, and when another similar issue comes up, cross it, explain that you're crossing it, refer to the policy, and then we won't have so much side discussion.