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Earlier today I was involved in a conversation on Stack Overflow which resulted in one user, Julia Anne Jacobs, being suspended, and another receiving a warning from a moderator.

The timeline from my perspective is:

  1. Julia posted an answer to this question about Angular.
  2. Another user, who may remain nameless for the purposes of this conversation, posted a very similar answer to hers, a few moments later.
  3. Julia believed that her answer was plagiarized, and told the other answerer so.
  4. Another user, "Concerned Father" (note the gendered and quite literally patronizing name) posted an answer containing some obnoxious tone-policing comments about her frustration with this other answerer.
  5. A moderator then deleted that answer.
  6. Due to the fact that high-reputation users have different visibility into things like edit histories and deleted comments, a mutual friend asked me to have a look at the chat conversation.
  7. I joined the chat, and asked the original answerer to delete their answer because, although it was perfectly usable as an answer, he was high-reputation and she was low-reputation and if he honestly did not care about points, then he should be OK with paying that small cost to avoid the appearance of plagiarism. He conceded to this point and did so, but not without a significant amount of patronizing comments.
  8. Our mutual friend knows a stack exchange developer as well, and asked what to do about this, she was referred to a moderator, who she then asked to look at the conversation.

As a result of these events, Julia and our mutual friend both received warning messages from moderators, and Julia received a 7-day suspension. The message to Julia said "other users were merely trying to help", and that "no one is copying you", but it is not clear how Julia was supposed to know these things given SO's fairly opaque user interface when it comes to tracking provenance of edits for (relatively) low-reputation users.

This timeline raises a number of questions:

  • Why were there warnings issued at all? Based on what rules?
  • Why was our mutual friend given a warning about "bullying" when she got a moderator involved specifically to make sure things were being adjudicated by the rules of the site?
  • Where are the rules that say that summoning allies and colleagues to a conversation is forbidden?
  • Why was Julia given an immediate suspension rather than a warning and a reference to the relevant portions of the code of conduct?
  • How did the moderators know that the other account was not a sock puppet, and more importantly,
  • how was Julia supposed to know that without special moderator spectacles on?

Note please that in summoning me, Julia did not summon a horde of trolls to complain with a social-media cattle call, but rather a specific ally for a specific purpose (someone with high enough reputation to see what was going on in ways that she potentially couldn't). By blaming her for summoning help, the SO moderator in this case has denied that I have responsibility for my own actions.

Throughout the conversation, all of these interactions reeked of the kind of implicit sexism that pervades the tech industry. Then, two women participating were warned, apparently for accusing the other answerer of things, but my sternly-worded accusation of sexism apparently didn't even warrant a brief contact from a moderator. I am open to another explanation as to why, but the default "because I don't present as female in this conversation" is too obvious to ignore.

I feel like the rules here are poorly explained and inconsistently applied, so I don't think anyone deserves a suspension. Perhaps a moderator should have contacted Julia and explained how some of these site features worked, how to determine whether there was or was not plagiarism, and given other escalation channels to use in the future. However, if there is a good reason that she was suspended, I feel like I should have a similar length of suspension, or at the very least a warning from a moderator.

I want to be clear about this part - asking for a suspension for myself is not a rhetorical device. If I am given a 7-day suspension on SO as a result of posting this I will feel that SO is at least a little bit fairer; I won't complain. I will still be annoyed about an opaque and arbitrary moderation process apparently run by people with no knowledge of or sympathy for the average experience of women in the software industry, but at least there will be an appearance of fairness.

If Stack Overflow is not going to have a reputation for being the same sort of scummy, sexist and racist space as other internet forums, these sorts of problems need to be dealt with with far greater transparency and clarity. For example, another really necessary step here would be a clear explanation of what a low-reputation user should do in situations like this. If it's against the rules to call for allies, and "bullying" to summon a moderator, then what options remain?

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    Using kid gloves because the username sounds female is sexist – random May 11 '15 at 4:15
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    Glyph's question/concern isn't about using kid gloves selectively, it's about ensuring users that don't interact regularly with Stack Exchange sites aren't blindsided by opaque and arbitrary moderation processes that perpetuate existing social biases in the software development community. It isn't OK for high reputation users to receive special consideration beyond that baked into the site itself (and even some of that may stand to be challenged from the perspectives of transparency, fairness and accountability for our actions). – ncoghlan May 11 '15 at 4:24
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    @random - understanding that implicit bias against women is a part of our civilization and our culture and our industry, and compensating for that, is not sexist. this is not an issue of women-hating men, but an issue of the way we perceive things. in controlled psychological experiments, women are also biased against other women. So no, being aware that a female-sounding username may cause you to have harsher expectations, and then compensating, is not sexist. – Glyph May 11 '15 at 4:25
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    also that thing that @ncoghlan just said is very true. – Glyph May 11 '15 at 4:27
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    Sexism is actually using kid gloves on men when being called out on problematic behavior while banning women, and unlike what "random" is proposing is actually what's happening here. – The UNIX Man May 11 '15 at 4:45
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    +1 not related to gender, but because the way you put it, the user with display name "Julia Anne Jacobs" does not deserve a suspension. – Shadow The Curly Braced Wizard May 11 '15 at 4:49
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    I'm the friend. Anyone who wants to discuss, I'm in chat. – OpenSorceress May 11 '15 at 9:58
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    Whatever - I love how multiple people reached out to help a friend who felt wronged, but the person who felt wronged got banned, the friend got warned against actions she never took, and the one dude in the situation just gets -5ed for saying "why didn't I get any notice"... Y'all are way worse about this than you think you are. – gnarf May 11 '15 at 15:56
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    I object to the closure ("on-holding") of this question because I think it speaks to a lack of clarity about moderation, policy, and transparency on all SE sites. Much of the initial interaction and the confusion here had to do with the fact that Julia and satyrwilder had no visibility into things that higher-reputation users could see, and high-rep users don't even get a visual indication that this might not be visible to the plebs. However, I'll open a series of more focused questions and maybe link this one to continue the conversation further. – Glyph May 12 '15 at 2:18
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    As an apparent "sock", I'll add my 2c... 1. edit history is available to all (even non-users), 2. what was patronizing in "original answerer" response? The very first comment after being falsely accused of plagiarism was an explanation about edit times (followed by many attempts to explain). 3. your interjection was uncalled for - he should not have deleted his answer merely due to an accusation to avoid an appearance. Julia approached this with her mind set and refused to listen to explanations. (cont'd) – New Dev May 21 '15 at 6:26
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    All you have achieved was to deny the OP a better-explained answer. And, the end result is, the better-explained answer was deleted. My own answer was likely downvoted and Julia's answer was likely upvoted not based on the quality of the answer, but due to this meta post. I'll leave the suggested (and immediately assumed by Julia) accusation of being a sock. – New Dev May 21 '15 at 6:26
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    This whole situation is ridiculous, and could have been avoided at nearly any juncture by any of the 3-4 people involved. But to bring up things like sexism & racism is particularly bad form. – Omegacron May 22 '15 at 18:06
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    This whole issue is a complete farce. Two people disagreed. One person had proof to back up what they were saying. The other went on a rant and didn't back down even when evidence was presented. Was it handled well? As well as could be expected given the level it had got to. Was it anything remotely to do with gender? Absolutely not. All @Glyph has done is raise hell for no good reason. Maybe he wanted to create spectacle for some unknown reason? – Fogmeister May 27 '15 at 15:53
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    @Glyph the fact that you think you need the "educate me" about anything is just arrogant and speaks volumes about why this issue was created. You still haven't pointed out what it was about charlietfl's behaviour that made you accuse him of sexism. A man and a woman disagreeing about something is not sexism. The accuser in this case was wrong and didn't back down. It got to the point of ridiculousness. Benjol hit the nail on the head and you have proven them right with this reply. – Fogmeister May 28 '15 at 6:15
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    @Glyph wow. You really have proven me right on so many levels. This is awesome. Also, good approach there. "Your ignorant and need to learn but I'm not going to teach you." Great outlook on life. Sexism is wrong and is mostly everywhere. But calling out people who are not sexist is not a way to fix it. The fact that you are not able to back up your accusation is proof of everything I have said here. – Fogmeister May 29 '15 at 12:10
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To be completely fair, after my initial investigation into the matter, I was fully prepared to just leave everything be for the remainder of the weekend and finish looking into it the next day. I wasn't even planning to take any action at all, but just to followup and make sure the situation had died down and no one was still arguing. Then she started accusing the other user of sock-puppetry, for no other obvious reason than that user's answer was accepted and hers wasn't. At that point, it became very clear that the behavior wasn't because of a misunderstanding. She was actively throwing out accusations at users with absolutely no evidence whatsoever.

We get users who complain about other users "stealing their answers" more often than you might think, and I have to say that this particular case is probably the most dramatic that I have ever seen. Most cases end fairly quickly without much of an incident. Someone points something out, and the user realizes they were mistaken. That certainly didn't happen here.

Calling in other friends to side with you is definitely not the best approach to resolve a situation. All that does is create a one-sided argument and make the other user feel uncomfortable. Much better approaches would have been to:

  • simply flag the content for a moderator. Moderators can very easily see timelines of everything that happened and come to very speedy conclusions about what happened on a post.
  • come to Meta so everyone can give their input and explain why the person is or is not wrong.

But a three-versus-one conversation in a chat room hidden away in the depths of the site? Not all that constructive.

Now, why weren't you contacted? While your comments about sexism were pretty baseless and I didn't understand why you even brought that up, there was one fact that stood above everything: you were actively trying to defuse the situation. You came up with a logical solution to end the drama - great, that's our favorite thing for users to do. End it and move on.

Why was Julia suspended? Because suspensions are a quick and efficient way to put an immediate stop to certain behavior. Warnings can be ignored, or behavior can continue before the warning even gets read. The behavior being targeted here needed to end right away. I sincerely hope she will calm down and realize that she went off the rails here, because the conversation in chat actually did start off very pleasant and civil before evolving into a train-wreck.

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    So essentially your argument seems to be that she was upset someone was actually copying her work and claiming credit for it, Glyph wasn't upset, and since she was being hysterical it's on her, completely fairly and unsexistly. Good job bro. I think we can see why SO has the problems it does. – The UNIX Man May 11 '15 at 4:55
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    No one was "actually copying her work" - the answers were similar but were far from the same. And as I said in my first paragraph, the suspension wasn't even solely because of the you-copied-me accusations, but because she extended that and started accusing another user of sock-puppetry. – animuson May 11 '15 at 4:58
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    Another problem here is the placement of credit and blame. She receives negative credit for summoning colleagues who can give a more level-headed assessment of the situation and try to defuse it; but, simply because I'm not personally invested in the outcome, I receive full credit for being calmer about it and "defusing" the situation. When feminists talk about "privilege", this is exactly the kind of thing they're talking about: I had the privilege of emotional distance because it wasn't my reputation points on the line. – Glyph May 11 '15 at 5:03
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    As it happens, I say "colleagues" and not "friends" because I frankly don't know Julia very well and even the person who summoned me I haven't known for all that long. So while I'm not totally impartial here I also don't have a deep personal connection; what I see is a repetition of a pattern throughout the industry that makes me uncomfortable. – Glyph May 11 '15 at 5:07
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    @Glyph The situation was already diffused and everything was good and grand. Again, as I stated in my first paragraph, I was completely prepared to not take any action whatsoever. It looked to me like everything had calmed down and no one was arguing anymore. It wasn't until she started accusing another user that it became clear to me that was not the case. – animuson May 11 '15 at 5:08
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    @animuson The message about the suspension, which I am looking at a screen-shot of, pointed out the accusations of sock-puppetry but clearly put them on an even footing with "ganging up", accusations of plagiarism, and "appalling" discussions in chat. There is no reference to any objective rule or standard. – Glyph May 11 '15 at 5:13
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    @animuson So, if the threshold between "no action" and "immediate suspension" was the accusations of sock-puppetting, it seems like it would be pretty important to (A) actually write that down somewhere official, and (B) communicate that effectively in the message. As it is, this comes off as completely arbitrary, and arbitrary subjective judgements are exactly where implicit bias and subconscious sexism come through. – Glyph May 11 '15 at 5:14
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    @Glyph The threshold was that the situation was not resolved, that the user was still throwing out baseless accusations, and that the user did indeed need to be suspended so that the behavior would stop immediately. All the reasons given should be considered on even grounds, because they are inappropriate behaviors on our site. We have a very clear policy printed everywhere: Be nice. I would claim that accusing users of things they didn't do is a pretty clear violation of that policy. – animuson May 11 '15 at 5:20
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    @animuson, if your definition of "already defused" includes being OK with one of the parties still feeling that their concerns had not been taken seriously, you may want to revisit what the outcome of an effective arbitration process looks like. One of the keys is for every participant to agree the process was fair and impartial (even if they're not happy with the outcome), not just the "winners" and the arbitrators. "They didn't agree the process was fair to them, so I kicked them out immediately" is neither fair, nor impartial. – ncoghlan May 11 '15 at 5:35
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    The only person who was treated unfairly here is the user who was pressured into deleting their perfectly valid and not copied answer to appease a user claiming they copied from them. – animuson May 11 '15 at 5:39
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    But if your main concern is with a high reputation user deciding to remove their answer to avoid even the appearance of plagiarism of a low reputation user, then @glyph's right: he's the one that should have received a suspension, as the one who made that suggestion. – ncoghlan May 11 '15 at 5:47
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    Why would that be my main concern? My main concern is the false accusations that were made that started everything. Sure, deleting his answer isn't the #1 best option and it's pretty unfair he had to do that, but it was an attempt to end the drama and withdraw from the situation, and that's definitely better than just letting the argument continue on. – animuson May 11 '15 at 5:50
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    I've been a volunteer moderator (not on SO, though), and I realise it's emotionally draining to do it right. However, a neutral arbitrator's goal should not be to "end the drama". It should be to ensure that the perspectives of all affected parties have been heard, and that the rationale behind the actions taken in response are communicated to everyone involved. It doesn't seem like that happened in this particular case - one of the parties was judged to be "the problem" and removed (at least temporarily), rather than being listened to. – ncoghlan May 11 '15 at 5:58
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    (There's also a whole separate discussion to be had regarding the ethics of for-profit corporations expecting volunteers to handle emotionally draining tasks like community moderation for free without providing them with adequate training and support) – ncoghlan May 11 '15 at 6:00
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    I find this answer inadequate because it doesn't cite any useful sources, and I hope someone else will propose another answer. "I used my own personal discretion without reference to any formal set of rules, and there is no process to adjudicate this" is the same as "I used my own personal set of biases without reference to any formal set of rules to counteract those biases, and because I'm a moderator I can do this whenever I want with no repercussions". – Glyph May 11 '15 at 7:27
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2018 Update to this, from a personal level:

I'm not going to get overly specific, but there were some things going on at the time that prevented me from seeing something that was pretty painfully right in front of us:

We (or at least I) assumed everyone involved was a man, except in the case that the user visibly identified as not being a man. Had we not done that, we would have understood why folks involved continued to get increasingly upset as we continued to apologize for the wrong things.

While this is unfortunately quite late, I take responsibility for this personally, and can only offer the apology I should have offered some time ago.

I know there's an apology right under this, but I essentially stepped on someone's foot and then apologized for setting their couch on fire. Or the reverse of that. In any event, I didn't handle this as well as I could have, and I own that.

I'm sorry.


As I noted as an edit to my previous answer, some mistakes that I can only describe as bone-headed were made on our part in the course of handling a recent situation.

tl;dr; - we failed to realize what was right in front of us, and we mistakenly accused someone that was actively helping the situation cool down of being combative and ill-intended as we floundered in helping a very confused inexperienced user understand what was happening by blaming instead of teaching.

While everything surrounding this chain of events is a bit bizarre, it's our job as the overseers to get stuff like this right. We didn't, which let some people down and hurt them, which means we've got some apologies to make. Let's start there.

  1. satyrwilder was issued a very stern, and completely inappropriate warning for 'ganging up' - this user did nothing more than try their best to defuse the situation while mentioning our code of conduct, and kept reminding people to be nice. She was also not heard when she was trying to tell us that we had / did everything wrong.
  2. Julia Anne Jacobs was issued a suspension that was excessive in the context of being used to temporarily freeze the situation so that we could make sense of it. She needed our help as a very confused inexperienced user, and we didn't listen. Moreover, we told her she was doing bad things while she was just repeating what other seasoned users had suggested, which we should have seen.
  3. I'm pretty sure Glyph pulled out some hair as I remained dense in light of him trying his best to say I think you've got this completely wrong.

What bothers me the most is that several of us read the chat transcript and we still managed to get it wrong. We looked at every single letter, we just didn't get it.

To the three of you, we owe you an apology, and we hope that you'll accept it. You trusted us to do a much better job than we did, and we let you down this time. You have also been extremely gracious as we worked through this, and we very much appreciate that.

How in the heck did this happen?

Look back at Glyph's original question. Do you see the mention of a post by "Concerned Father"? Yes, a troll happened upon the confrontation as it was progressing, and took it upon themselves to 'get involved' by typing complete rubbish into a text box. Once we ascertained that it had no connection to either party in the argument, we set it aside as we continued to try and figure out what was going on. In doing that we completely negated the fact that people get harassed on the Internet far too regularly, and how the heightened state of anxiety folks could could have been feeling contributed to things.

We then looked at chat which was getting a little hotter near the end, looked at comments, and issued one suspension to stop things from escalating even more while we worked. That's not an uncommon thing for us to do when people are arguing quite heatedly, but what was really needed was a 'side bar' to explain some things about the system in a much nicer way.

To top that off, instead of thanking someone that worked really hard to keep things sane, we sent a very stern and cold warning, because reactions on our part started happening as the chat was being read.

I then took notice, looked into the situation, and only really understood half of it. 'Snow blindness' is the only term I can think of to describe it. 'Dense' equally applies.

What about going forward?

We, the community managers that oversee the workings of community moderation on our sites, must catch things like this, 'perfect storm' or not. We're going to be extending our training for employees on the community team based on what transpired, and look at existing guidance to fill in ambiguities.

We will also be sharing quite a bit of this with our community moderators, through our existing monthly email to them that goes over important things to know.

Is it possible to keep mistakes from happening in a network of our size? No. Is it our job to catch those mistakes with near-perfect accuracy? Yes, and we need to get better at that, which we're going to do - starting right now.

  • Sorry, this doesn't really fit here at all I guess, but I have to ask this. When you say "community moderators" in your last part, do you mean some kind of SE employee similar to the other "community managers" or do you mean the actual voluntary moderators of the individual sites? If the latter, then what is that "monthly email" you talk about and that I as a, what I think to be, community moderator never got? – Christian Rau May 18 '15 at 15:49
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    @ChristianRau He means SE employees. The chat he links to - that user is a SE developer, which makes it even harder to buy why he and animuson made this mistake consistently in the face of almost a half a dozen or more people stridently insisting that it was a mistake. It wasn't until a personal friend took him aside that he even considered that any of us might be right about any of it. There is a reason why two women were automatically demonized and disbelieved out of hand, and snowblindness ain't it. Also: Tim, Nothing about us without us – OpenSorceress May 18 '15 at 15:56
  • @satyrwilder So there are some SE employees that're called "community managers" and some that are called "community moderators"? Pretty confusing. – Christian Rau May 18 '15 at 16:00
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    @ChristianRau Yeah. Community managers, like Tim, run moderators like animuson. Or that's my understanding of it, anyway. Chris Jester-Young is a Stack Exchange developer who was assisting while we waited for a moderator to get in touch with us. – OpenSorceress May 18 '15 at 16:04
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    @satyrwilder: animuson was hired a few months ago and is now a SE community manager. Tim is talking about moderators, not employees. – mmyers May 18 '15 at 16:04
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    The mod newsletter (aka monthly email) that Tim mentions is publicly available here. – mmyers May 18 '15 at 16:22
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    @satyrwilder animuson works in our operations department, he is an employee that works on support requests that users send, and helps make sure that stuff we're doing doesn't get bogged down as we grow (quite rapidly) as a company. It was me that didn't get what actually happened, which is why I wrote this apology, as a manager on our team. – Tim Post May 18 '15 at 17:15
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    @TimPost Okay, and I feel like we all get that, which is why nobody is asking for animuson to speak for himself and letting you take the heat, etc. My visibility into Stack internals is as limited as any other outsider's - to the point that the only reason we're even having this conversation at all is that I just so happened to have an old friend who had a friend. There is no recourse, no visibility, and what gnarf said is the best synopsis I've seen so far. – OpenSorceress May 18 '15 at 17:20
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    I think for someone who's "just in ops" he's got a bit of a really bad attitude towards people who've made a measurable positive contribution here, and maybe having him as your front lines should be rethought, seriously. As I pointed out in another thread, his interactions here have been costing people job interviews, we've been completely unable to do anything about it for a week, and are still posted. This is a fauxpology, I'm afraid. It's hard to take it seriously. – The UNIX Man May 18 '15 at 18:09
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    @Misandrist animuson was a mod on SO for a few years prior to being recently hired. – Jason C May 18 '15 at 20:11
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    That doesn't justify anything he's done. – The UNIX Man May 18 '15 at 20:20
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    @JasonC I think Misandrist's core point is that... we weren't and aren't. Just look at who the system has awarded hundreds of rep points to: ironically, the only people showing net rep loss are the people who did all the work to get the problem raised. And even then, all the work in the world wouldn't have changed anything - Julia was 5 days into that suspension before a friend of a friend talked to Tim. That's what it actually took. That's when the turnaround started: not an accessible channel for most [users, let alone women]. – OpenSorceress May 18 '15 at 20:23
  • The training should be given to mods as well, because they have started treating network-wide suspensions as a joke. – Infinite Recursion May 31 '15 at 15:07
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    "I'm pretty sure Glyph pulled out some hair as I remained dense in light of him trying his best to say I think you've got this completely wrong." Perhaps Glyph should consider whether pervading his helpful intentions with accusations was really productive. – Radiodef May 31 '15 at 17:34
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    "Julia Anne Jacobs was issued a suspension that was excessive in the context of being used to temporarily freeze the situation so that we could make sense of it." I'm beginning to see a pattern. Remember the BalusC debacle? Maybe temporary suspensions to "freeze the situation" are just really bad and the team needs a new idea. – Radiodef May 31 '15 at 21:06
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Note

It's very important to see this chat transcript (all of it) for context. I'm going to be posting a follow up answer shortly, we got a few things very wrong when handling this.

Please see this updated answer


Some things here. Just things everyone can take away so this unfortunate chain of events can bear some moderately useful fruit.

although it was perfectly usable as an answer, he was high-reputation and she was low-reputation and if he honestly did not care about points, then he should be OK with paying that small cost to avoid the appearance of plagiarism.

Quick compromise is a great way to resolve a conflict that's escalating rapidly, another approach is to beat on a monotone drum. It's always a source of contention when two nearly-identical answers are posted in quick succession, but there are many, many cases where appropriate and useful answers will be very close to one another; similarity to another answer is no reason to abandon your composition or composure.

Deleting your answer, or 'yielding' is not the right thing to do if you feel that doing so is a tacit acknowledgement of the claims being made. There's essentially one good answer to this, I wrote mine at the same time you were writing your answer, I don't see a reason to abandon the work. Just beat that drum and ignore the rest. If you think retribution is afoot, involve a moderator.

Don't offer to pay for the chewing gum the security guard thinks you stole if you know you didn't steal it.

Throughout the conversation, all of these interactions reeked of the kind of implicit sexism that pervades the tech industry.

Reading additional malice in the apparent presence of an 'ism' into the actions others have taken can really make the problem at hand seem much bigger than it actually is, because that's what happens when you get really angry.

When diffusing situations like this, focus on the what before you focus on the why, or you give the what a significant advantage as it balloons. I am not negating the importance of the why, but that's something to analyze after the situation stops moving.

If the root of pathologically inappropriate behavior seems to be some kind of hate that is in no way relevant to the merits of the contributions that provoke it, we will happily let someone know that the site appears to bring out the worst in them, and that they need to find another place to participate.

I feel like the rules here are poorly explained and inconsistently applied, so I don't think anyone deserves a suspension.

Animuson did a good job of explaining his decisions and I don't think I would have done things any differently. Conflict implies a degree of chaos and there's no practical way of spelling out what gets a warning, what gets a suspension and what isn't found actionable in the context of moderation - it's all about the context and these 'spats' are famous for coming out of nowhere.

We intervene as minimally as possible, and only to the degree that is necessary to curtail disruption. You don't know ahead of time just how much intervention is required, because these conflicts have a nasty habit of never having existed before they become an urgent problem :) It's up to moderators (and employees) to use their training and experience to do the least amount that is needed. If we tried to make that into a flow chart, there would be a giant "... and a human being looks at everything and makes a decision ..." box.

As long as you try to be nice and try not to assume the worst in people, you'll probably never hear from a moderator.

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    Thanks for your explanation, Tim. This is better-sourced with links to the relevant policies, and your involvement tells us that this is site policy and not just one moderator, but unfortunately, what mainly it tells me is that the site's moderation policies are insufficient to deal with extremely subtle and nuanced problems of race, class, and gender discrimination. The most telling phrase is "Reading additional malice in the apparent presence of an 'ism'". Sexism requires no malice whatsoever. It is the default. It is the background radiation of the software industry. – Glyph May 11 '15 at 8:11
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    In this example, while the narrative of animuson's reasoning makes sense, an equally-plausible (to me, anyway) narrative could be constructed to justify sanctioning me and not Julia, warning but not suspending Julia, warning everyone, suspending everyone, or doing nothing. Crucially, by the point the suspension was issued, the last thing Julia said was that she needed to leave to do some food shopping, and "I see your point. Anger is a fatal disease and accusations can cause problems.". This hardly sounds like someone on an unstoppable rampage needing an immediate suspension. – Glyph May 11 '15 at 8:25
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    So how do we select between these apparently equally plausible narratives? We let our biases choose. Which means we take the psychosocial default template for the parties involved and make assumptions about them. It sounds to me like no steps are taken to mitigate this. If people in high-stakes professional situations like interviews are strongly biased - see for example princeton.edu/main/news/archive/A94/90/73G00/index.xml - what makes you think that this is not happening on SO? – Glyph May 11 '15 at 8:32
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    For what it's worth, based on the information available to me, I don't think the answer in question was plagiarized, but I also think it's very clear that Julia's accusation was made in good faith, and that said accusation was not taken seriously at all. By the time a moderator got involved, the comment was not "we investigated your claim of plagiarism and we do not believe that occurred because _", but rather, just a bold-faced assertion that she was the one in the wrong. – Glyph May 11 '15 at 8:56
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    The moderation message also ends with "do not ever do this again", where the antecedent to "this" is highly ambiguous and can easily be interpreted to mean "complain about another user's bad behavior". So is that the SO policy? Hopefully not, hopefully the right answer is "use the flag button", but if the use of the flag button will simply be dismissed by saying "pshaw nobody's copying your answers" with no explanation, this leaves the user feeling powerless. Definitely being told "you have no right to even report cheating" creates an environment implicitly hostile to new or low-status users. – Glyph May 11 '15 at 9:10
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    Since you managed "use their training and experience" - I have no idea what SO moderator training is like, but in his answer animuson specifically called out that "I didn't understand why you even brought [sexism] up" - I am confident in saying that anyone aware of the dynamics of systemic oppression in the industry saw this conversation they would immediately identify lots of telltale signs of implicit sexism. The fact that a mod can't, implies to me that the training is deficient about issues like this. – Glyph May 11 '15 at 9:42
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    @Glyph That's .. a lot to reply to :) Starting with your first point, we're quite adept at dealing with subtleties that tend to present themselves as a pattern through connecting what are (normally) isolated incidents. If it's clear to us that you're specifically targeting people for any reason, we take action. That could be because you don't like a certain race, another gender - whatever it is, we don't tolerate that sort of toxicity. That's why it's important to deal with these isolated incidents as swiftly and impartially as possible (continued) – Tim Post May 11 '15 at 11:11
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    @Glyph, I'm a bit confused by your apparent politicisation of all this. Your references to 'background radiation', 'bias', 'sexism' etc., makes me doubt whether there could ever be any circumstances where you won't be suspecting someone, anyone, of sexism for whatever reason. (cont) – Benjol May 11 '15 at 12:15
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    Honestly, if your username was 'feminine', wouldn't you currently be interpreting your own treatment here as sexist too? – Benjol May 11 '15 at 12:17
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    Hi, Julia Anne Jacobs here. There are a lot of assumptions being made by @animuson. One that the only reason I called New Dev out for being a sock is only because of the correct chosen answer. This was not the case. New Dev's answer referred to the deleted answer. Also there was the matter of "Concerned Father" who, despite only having 1 rep point was capable of creating an Answer and comments which I thought you needed at least 50 rep points to do. – Julia Anne Jacobs May 11 '15 at 15:23
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    I was perfectly willing to leave the issue of my suspicion of plagiarism alone. But when I saw New Dev's comment to my Answer and his reference to the deleted answer I asked one of the higher ranking people helping me if they felt I was being targeted. They suggested New Dev might be a sock. Because of this I accuse the user of being a sock. – Julia Anne Jacobs May 11 '15 at 15:23
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    Now that the chat is publicly visible, Julia asked who the user New Dev was and the answer the SO developer assisting us provided introduced the idea that this might be another sock. Julia did not "start making wild accusations out of nowhere" as alleged - note that she was initially skeptical herself. chat.stackoverflow.com/transcript/message/23216010#23216010 I am also keenly interested why the chat between me, Julia, and Charles has been completely omitted from this dialogue? – OpenSorceress May 11 '15 at 15:35
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    @Glyph, what I mean is that if you posit that sexism is everywhere, you will see it everywhere, which simply confirms your position. There is no negative feedback. In that sense, there is absolutely no point anyone trying to 'defend' themselves against charges of sexism, because the retort will be "oh, but you are, you just don't know it". Which is pretty much saying discussion, end of. – Benjol May 12 '15 at 4:40
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    I'm not saying that there is no sexism, I'm not even saying I have certain knowledge this case wasn't sexism. I'm saying that presuming sexism here was unnecessary and counter productive, because it is used like a 'trump' card with which one can't even reason. – Benjol May 12 '15 at 4:42
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    @TimPost The grace period for edits is usually the most annoying thing when accusations of plagiarism in almost simultaneous answers are made. I don't think anything short of mind-reading can solve the ambiguous cases, but it would help to make the timeline transparent. There is an old feature request about always keeping the very first revision of a post in the history, which I think might work. Though I'm not sure if the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. – Mad Scientist May 12 '15 at 8:41
17

If anyone needs to know how the other half experiences SO / SE / ME, etc. do the following as an exercise:

Create a new profile (low rep points) that can be recognized as female and participate. Take notice of how you feel with this profile and if your experience is different. Don't try to act like you think a woman would act, just do your thing and see if you get a different response.

I've done that on tech IRC channels and it's been an eye opening experience. In general I've felt much more confident and safer under a male sounding nick, was addressed less critically, more supported (as an equal, not condescended to) and my opinions seemed to have more weight (more influence over the conversation).

Having the actual experience is more evidence than screenshots, chat transcripts, interviews, data mining, user IP tracking, etc.

That should probably be part of the training Tim Post mentions in his answer.

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    kcoyle.blogspot.com/2015/01/… - "This is very interesting. But I need to see some proof." We are expected to furnish proof. Men are simply taken at their word. Treated differently. Nobody notices; nobody minds. – OpenSorceress May 19 '15 at 0:14
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    Yeah demanding proof is absurd considering online is probably the one place you can have the remote female experience. Not to mention dismissing the testimony of other women. The bar of proof just gets higher and higher. Ironically the more 'statistical' the data the further you get from the messy human social aspects of these sites; the workarounds women use to protect themselves, the gaslighting and methods of aggression from those who consciously or subconsciously just feel like women really don't belong. Even statistical data gets dismissed. The big dismissal. – Julia Anne Jacobs May 20 '15 at 1:14
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    Circling back, we've hired people never before on any of our sites, and the first thing we've asked them to do is just use them and capture anything they find awkward, intimidating or just crazy in a document. That worked out very well. I think we're going to add, for folks used to our network, pick any random site where they have some expertise, create a new anonymously-named account, and get to 500 rep, again - capturing everything along the way. Might also not be a bad idea to encourage seasoned employees to do the same, just for the experience. So yeah, added, more to come. – Tim Post May 21 '15 at 14:10
7

sigh I have felt this way at least once on SO, but didn't want to say anything to anyone (other than discussing at home) because I don't want to be "that girl" who's saying "Boohoo, they were snarky and treated me badly because I'm a giiirl" but at the same time...that's what it felt like...

It was as if I had asked a question and then was being encircled by sharks within a few moments of daring to ask anything while wearing makeup in the Hallowed Hall of Nerds. I am also a nerd, regardless of what my picture looks like, albeit I am FAR less skilled than many of the whizkids who post here - which is why I show up - to learn from people who are smarter and more experienced than me. I'm a noob. Sorry, weren't you once? No? That's pretty magical.

It wasn't just the question I'd asked that got picked apart, there were other, unnecessary comments and a lot of snark - BUT not from everyone. There were a few helpful souls who did their best to provide useful, evidentiary and legitimate answers to my question before it was closed, with no concern for some of the other impolitenesses occurring by a couple of other users.

I had actually wondered if I should change my profile picture (I have my account linked with facebook, so it's currently pulling that pic) to something more manly, maybe a big, hairy pair of....beards. Or something. It crossed my mind that then I wouldn't have to worry about (real or perceived) rudeness due to being a female, or looking like I don't have the right to be working in the tech industry.

I hate even playing this game, gender/identity/whatever shouldn't be a factor, and if the answers and reprimands I was given had been solely based on my content's lack of merit, I wouldn't feel so badly.

Don't get me wrong, getting told "Your question isn't cool"...never feels good, but hey - I'm not above trying harder to improve the quality of my postings, as some of the commentary in that thread will illustrate.

I felt like I'd asked a relevant question, followed the "no opinions" guideline by asking for all answers to be backed up with evidence, in hopes that I could learn from some real-world experiences that others have had...and I got put up for "Close This Question - Off-Topic", within five minutes or so.

The person who flagged it was full of veiled insults and snark, and two others came out of the woodwork (in the same five or ten minutes) to start criticizing my sentence structure and other irrelevancies. It's definitely not like I pulled a "Wut does my compuuterz do when I push teh butten?" or anything - I have decent writing skills. Good grief. The worst you can call me is long-winded, and that's just...true. :D

One of those users who stepped in to correct me and pick at the structure of my question did so politely - no problem there. That person provided valuable feedback on utilizing more paragraph spacing to make my question more reader-friendly, and I appreciated that.

The other...while I eventually pried some useful information out of him, was a jerk. And the high-rep user who flagged me as if he was sitting, circling, waiting, was a third.

I DID eventually get a better answer from another user later as to why my question may have been closed (he/she gave me some good insight as to the "off-topic" portion of the closure), but they still were not able to explain why or how asking for a fact-based answer with evidence...is considered "soliciting opinions".

I don't come to tech forums to ask legitimate questions and get answers from people acting like snot-nosed brats, and I was more than a little taken aback. I am glad you posted this question thread, as even though it's an old question...it's still relevant, and it still affects the Stack family of users. Now to go find a picture of something manly. Maybe a lumberjack.

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    As one who got things wrong, guess I owe you an apology - though I wasn't directly involved, I still feel bad. So... sorry! – Shadow The Curly Braced Wizard May 18 '15 at 19:38
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    Cheers, and hope to see you stick around here on MSE! (: – Shadow The Curly Braced Wizard May 18 '15 at 19:44
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    @DawnDeschain Your experience is exactly why I have never posted a question on SO. Same is true for so many women who can't join this dialogue, even if they would. – OpenSorceress May 18 '15 at 20:01
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    Thanks for sharing this - I think specific user experiences help a TON. Couple of thoughts (and no real conclusions): 1) Many users feel like you did after posting a question, regardless of gender - we can do better for ALL users, but... 2) I'm NOT suggesting bias wasn't at play - I don't know, but the science is pretty clear that most of us have strong implicit biases, and underestimating women in professional roles is a well-documented one. 3) Even if it wasn't bias in that case, when a bias is common, it's clearly hard NOT to wonder if seemingly unfair behavior is driven in part by it. – Jaydles May 18 '15 at 20:52
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    @satyrwilder, sorry - I probably wasn't being clear. (NOTE: The rest of this is not mansplaining; I know you know this, but want to clarify what I reluctantly have realized.) I agree 100%. It's tempting (at least for people in positions of privilege, like me) to bucket the world into bad, biased people, and good, unbiased people, like I want to be. But the painful reality we need to make any progress is recognizing that we are almost all biased, without realizing it, and worse, that despite my best intentions, I am sometimes part of the problem in ways I don't even recognize. – Jaydles May 18 '15 at 21:06
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    @Jaydles You weren't unclear. You were crystal clear, and I just articulated all of that for you as much as I could in the characters allotted because you are saying the same thing we are and you are not wrong. (I'm also counting how many of your comments get upvoted for saying in different words the same thing as mine that don't. ;) - watching women get punished for doing and saying exactly what men are very clearly being rewarded for. It's right in front of our faces :P ) – OpenSorceress May 18 '15 at 21:43
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    @DawnDeschain So, for the record Glyph wasn't being rhetorical and he didn't do it for cookies. There ARE actual trolls who really do sit around connecting ways to "get back" at women (oh hai Gamergate) but as for whether or not they're here on Stack? Oh, I'm sure there are some. (I know this because they send me hate tweets about this.) And yeah as for saying anything, I don't know how closely you've been following this but notice the trend of negging follows very closely mod and high-rep (male) users' expressed sentiment. – OpenSorceress May 20 '15 at 4:10
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    OHHH that vid was awesome, I thought Glyph was just another user, I didn't realize that it was someone who was...how do I put this, an upstanding and recognized member of the community. Bear with me, I just found out that Jeff Atwood wasn't somebody I had "discovered" lol – Dawn Deschain May 20 '15 at 15:04
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    @satyrwilder I agree wholeheartedly. I just ran into another wall with this - had my account banned from posting answers on another Stack site, with no feedback given. I posted in their Meta asking any mods who could see my posts about what I'd done that was so heinous it required me to be banned on my FIRST DAY of having an account on that site/forum, and was told that my answers were totally opinion-based. I reminded them that it is a forum for SciFi & Fantasy, and that factual answers are not always possible due to the nature of the subjectmatter... – Dawn Deschain May 20 '15 at 21:10
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    (continued) and was then told something along the lines of 'Yes you CAN give factual, canonical answers. If someone says "What year was this book published?" there is a factual answer for that.'.....and then I reminded them that the questions I was posting to where I didn't give those kinds of answers were questions which HAVE no factual answer - one question is regarding the Dark Tower and books which crossover into it. There IS no answer for that question, it's ALL speculation because the author has never cited his "reasons why". Whatever. I requested they delete my user account. – Dawn Deschain May 20 '15 at 21:12
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    (continued, last time I promise) Is it defeating the suffragette-of-the-Internet cause if I change my name and profile pic now? This is really getting frustrating and old. The person who banned me was not required to give me a reason, explanation, or feedback of any kind. Substantiation of allegations would be helpful, especially in situations like this. Another answer I'd posted WAS fact-based, although I didn't cite my reference, so that's on me...but still, a ban? Even the mod who responded to my question about "why did this happen?" said he wouldn't have banned me for it. – Dawn Deschain May 20 '15 at 21:15
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    @DawnDeschain Sounds arbitrary, completely subjective, highly typical and sexist as everything else we've seen. You might as well name names; they (the mods, high-rep users) can see this stuff. I've asked the reason for the speed-bump opacity. (Like most of my questions, no answer.) As for changing your name and pic, it's just become possible to not list connected accounts / profiles. – OpenSorceress May 20 '15 at 21:32
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    @DawnDeschain: For the record, the type of ban you got was automatically placed by the system based on downvotes and deleted answers. It wasn't a moderator. It is not even possible for a moderator to suspend someone without sending them an explanation at the same time. (I don't claim to understand SciFi's rules for factual answers, and I don't have an account there.) – mmyers May 20 '15 at 23:49
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    @DawnDeschain There's certainly room to debate what "factual" does or should mean in the context of fiction, but that debate has already happened on SF.SE and there's somewhat of a consensus. So when someone comes in and says "I'm right, you're all wrong," it's not going to be well-received. The "problem" you've had on SciFi.se is that you jumped into the site w/out spending the time to figure out how it works, what's normal, etc. You didn't even pay attention to the answers on meta.SF explaining that it wasn't a person that banned you, it was an automatic SE system. – Ward May 21 '15 at 0:11
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    @satyrwilder Your wild exaggerations are amusing but aren't helpful... It's not "out of the way" for people who are fairly active here and on another SE site where Dawn posted to comment. What's condescending or trivializing about trying to explain how an automatic ban works or volunteering to chat? – Ward May 23 '15 at 6:04
-13

This whole thing was an anomaly. And it is so because evidence was able to be gathered and employees actually showed up. I have seen this happen many times but never before with clear documentation of it happening. The man acted in a very threatening manner and was able to create a burner account that could do things with just one point of reputation and acted in a way that was clearly against all common decency and kindness yet the ones punished for this where women. The only people making threats where men. The whole thing was so disturbing that it actually set off my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For a while there I was so freaked out that I tried to contact several moderators including animuson because I genuinely felt that Julia was in real and imminent danger. However all but one of my cries for help fell on deaf ears. Here is the reply I got:

Chango,

I went through the user's history, including all comments made in the last week, and I see no evidence of anyone coming unhinged. I saw a bit of a debate which (in the grand scheme of things) was probably one of the more polite discussions that flare up in comments from time to time. I served as one of your elected moderators for years prior to ultimately becoming one of the senior community managers, and I'm frankly not seeing what you're seeing.

It could be that three of us now have just missed something painfully obvious, that can happen in the enormous swath of information one can dig out of a profile; a link to a specific comment or incident or even a place to start would be really helpful if you think someone is coming unglued.

What I'm not seeing is the trolling, which is why I'm not getting the vibes that you're getting.

Was the actual trolling itself present in chat, not really comments? I took a cursory glance at the transcripts and nothing jumped out at me.

In short, links help, this user is extremely active - there are many haystacks here, which one is most likely to contain the needle? :)

I am a United States Air Force vet I was stationed in Turkey. This whole incident has left me severly affected and it has proven 3 things with out a shadow of a doubt

  1. Systemic sexism is clearly happening in Stack Overflow
  2. The men in charge of Stack Overflow clearly do not care that this is the case
  3. When forced to deal with it they will mercilessly attack women

If you do not see this, there is something very wrong with you. I beg you to open your eyes, have at the very least a molecule of human decency and compassion. What good can there be of alienating women and minorities from the tech? A woman birthed you, cared for you, loved you and you thank that kindness with cruelty and spite. You are destroying your very humanity and you do it with such glee!

I would write more but I need to curl up into a ball from how sick this whole torture session has left me. And may something have mercy on your souls.

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