In today's blog post "Stack Overflow isn't very welcoming" Jay Hanlon writes:

Too many people experience Stack Overflow as a hostile or elitist place, especially newer coders, women, people of color, and others in marginalized groups.

I can perfectly understand why newer coders might feel this way, other sites probably have similar problems (e.g. Wikipedia "Please don't bite the newcomers").

What I'm curious about is why "women, people of color, and others in marginalized groups" also feel this way.

  • Is there more data regarding this (in case someone from Stack Exchange Inc. reads this)?
  • Since (in my opinion) few users use their actual name or picture in their profile, I would have assumed that active discrimination should be less of an issue here. If my assumption is correct, why do these groups still feel unwelcome?
  • If it is not active discrimination, are there identifiable other reasons?

I do not want to kick off a gender or race discussion here, please keep this civil.

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    Comments archived - post an answer if you have an informed option here. – Shog9 May 2 '18 at 1:51

19 Answers 19


I'd like to take the opportunity to hopefully shed a little light on what the blog post is referencing by bringing up a couple meta posts from some of SO's sister sites and bring forward some voices detailing the issues described:

  • From Interpersonal Skills: Apologies and parting notes

    I've given this a lot of thought over the last month or so. Initially this was going to be a heated rant about how awful the minority experience on Interpersonal Skills is, and how that's the reason I'm leaving, but if I'm really honest with myself, there's a lot more to it than that.


    I guess the TL;DR is that Stack Exchange has a culture problem, the experience for minorities who dare to talk about the minority experience is often pretty terrible. I don't really know how to stop fighting when presented with those situations, so untill the situation improves, or I learn to better deal with it, I shouldn't be participating here.

This question is unique in that it's a particularly well written explanation on what the blog post was discussing, almost word-for-word, but there are a lot of other meta posts from SO's sister sites where it's posited that new users and users of different backgrounds are treated poorly:

  • From Politics: Do we really want to tolerate personal attacks and antisemitism here?

    We have a user here who frequently engages in personal and antisemitic attacks against other users. They have very few answers or questions, their only purpose on this site seems to be to spread hate and to insult and troll people.

  • From Workplace: Let's try to work with users before chasing them off

    Our new users are like interns or perhaps fresh grads. They have some basic skills and knowledge, but they're going to get it wrong sometimes. Quickly deleting their questions is like firing them. Requesting clarification, closing, editing, and allowing time to fix it is like your supervisor's corrective action.

  • From Academia: Why are we challenging the premise rather than answering the question (question on potential sexist remarks)?

    I find the reaction to this question quite unreasonable. The responses were overwhelmingly negative and focused on trying to prove that OP is wrong in assessing whether a given situation was possibly sexist or not. The reaction was similar to what happened to an older, very similar question. That one was much better received, and the meta post about it also indicated questioning the premises in the question was not the right way to go.

  • From SciFi: Why did our primary chatroom get nuked?

    There are a few areas where you should generally anticipate problems however. For instance, if you're bringing up a topic that large groups of people have physically marched to protest in real life, then you should not expect a calm conversation from random folks on the 'Net.

  • From Skeptics: https://skeptics.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/3843/non-notable-claims-made-only-on-hate-and-or-conspiracy-sites-should-be-deleted

    The question Did Benjamin Netanyahu say this about Christian Zionists? cites as the sources of the claim sites/blogs which are straight up from the darkest corners of the web. All those sites are antisemitic, they have claims that Jews rule the world, that Barack Obama is a communist coming to take the money and civil liberties of the American people. One of the sites even has a screen grab of Netanyahu "shape shifting" which means that they think he's a lizard person. One of the sources is a Facebook post, the comments to which are a strange religious argument between two people and the rest are "proofs" that Jews control the economy. And the profile that posted the FB post is just... wow... Zukerberg is a secret grandson of Rothschild, and uses FB to control something, and Jews faked the Holocaust to take control of the media.


    We shouldn't allow the site to become just a dumping ground for racist and bigoted ideas.

I grabbed a few questions from sites I frequent that I had off the top of my head, but you can go to pretty much any semi-popular exchange site's meta, sort by votes, and find some kind of allusion to this issue on the top page. Rest assured, whether there is a problem worth fixing is a different question entirely, but there is a good pool of individual cases where Stack Exchange has led minority users and new users to feel that they've been poorly treated, or lead to situations where a reasonable person would feel that a minority/new user would have been poorly treated had the situation persisted.

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    If this is about SE in general, then why does the blog post cite Stack Overflow specifically? – Robert Harvey Apr 27 '18 at 16:28
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    @RobertHarvey from the blog: " ¹ This post focuses on Stack Overflow, but most of it applies to the broader Stack Exchange network as well." SO is by far the main draw and earner for the SE network, I'm not too surprised they're focusing on it. I don't use SO as much as most of the posters here, so I didn't feel comfortable to claim expertise on it. – GGMG-he-him Apr 27 '18 at 16:31
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    +1. The reactions to my question on the Workplace about men in the women's bathroom made me feel like some special snowflake for wanting a 'female only' bathroom. Just read the comments. I also received many downvotes on that question. (workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/106260/…) – Belle-Sophie May 1 '18 at 7:58
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    @Belle-Sophie: I'm not entirely sure +18/-4 is exactly "many" downvotes, but it is more than I would normally expect. The "snowflake" bit seems to be criticizing an answer you yourself (I think rightly) criticized as well. Maybe you could clarify your meaning a bit more? – Nathan Tuggy May 1 '18 at 9:17
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    @NathanTuggy You mean my comment or the question? I don't want to go edit that question at this point. There's already a storm brewing and I fear for the storm moving over to my question if it gets to the front page. If you want some more insight, the last comment on the currently lowest scoring answer says: "And, TBH I'd also avoid "women-only"-space as a word. It reminds me of these ridiculous demands of "safe spaces"". They make me feel like I have to defend myself for wanting a space where I am not an outsider. – Belle-Sophie May 1 '18 at 10:08
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    @Belle-Sophie: Your comment, not the question. That last comment seems to support your desire for a women-only bathroom but recommend changing the phrasing to avoid unfortunate connotations. I don't know how far the "safe space" virus has spread, but if it's mostly confined to US colleges at present, I can see why someone in the Netherlands would not need to worry about that particular aspect. – Nathan Tuggy May 1 '18 at 10:18
  • The example from Academia is a poor one. It was a discussion of a question in which the poster described somebody's behavior; characterized it as sexist, despite there being essentially no indication of that; and asked how to best respond that sexist behavior. The poster was then surprised by people telling her she was misconstruing the situation. See this answer on the Meta.Academia.SE page on that matter. – einpoklum yesterday

Preface: everything here is something that I have experienced, or seen others experience, in general both. In all cases, I've experienced/seen it both on SE and in general in life (SE is made up of real people after all).

I'd keep in mind that a lot of the folks you might like to hear from may not be comfortable posting here, because they're very likely to have their experiences questioned, and possibly worse. You may get a better sense of these things later, when SE shares additional data or notes from their conversations with folks.

One specific thing: even if somehow there's absolutely no bias, and all of the unwelcoming behavior is completely fair, that can easily affect some more than others. If someone has already faced more of an uphill battle against others' expectations through their education and career, as women and people of color (in particular in tech) often have, then the likelihood they're willing to put up with more of it for the sake of Q&A is reduced.

And of course, when you get beyond SO, the subject matter of the questions can bring out all kinds of ugly behavior. Some topics attract more hostility and judgment, and that hurts even if it's eventually flagged and deleted.

This question actually provides a couple great examples of this:

  • Just because you're asking about this topic, you have to worry about debates devolving into incivility, and you were aware enough to put a footnote in your question.

  • You asked why members of marginalized groups feel this way, and you've gotten answers from people who aren't in those groups explaining how they don't see any problems. This isn't surprising to me at this point, but it's still disappointing, and certainly doesn't make me feel welcome.

Finally, I'd like to address this:

Since (in my opinion) few users use their actual name or picture in their profile, I would have assumed that active discrimination should be less of an issue here. If my assumption is correct, why do these groups still feel unwelcome?

I generally agree with the first part: users often do not provide the opportunity for others to actively discriminate based on gender or race. However, this doesn't mean things are fair. If for example men are more likely to feel comfortable using an obviously male name, perhaps even their real name or part of it (which I've seen plenty of), while women are more likely to use a nongendered pseudonym, that's already a sign that those women feel less welcome.

Also, think about the experience of a person using the site with a nongendered name. Everyone will likely assume they're male, and call them "he" in comments. To the users who are male that's no big deal, to the ones who aren't, maybe they don't care, but maybe it's one more little reminder that they're not what the site expects, that they're passing as someone they're not in order to smooth things out.

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    "when you get beyond SO, the subject matter of the questions can bring out all kinds of ugly behavior." That's a nuance that's lost here I think, in the focus on SO – Journeyman Geek Apr 27 '18 at 14:50
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    @Patrick On pronouns: many, many people have grown up using "they" as a neutral-gender pronoun, so hearing "he" sounds far more like an assumption than a neutral choice to them, especially if it's consistent (i.e. likely to be coming from some people who would use "they" if they weren't assuming). It happens, it's not the biggest deal, but it's just one more of those little things that adds up. – Cascabel Apr 27 '18 at 15:25
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    @Patrick how about "Sir"? I actually get that more than "he". – Catija Apr 27 '18 at 15:33
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    "Sir" bothers even me for some reason. – Kevin B Apr 27 '18 at 19:47
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    @Patrick Annoyed. Mostly. This usage of "sir" is generally tied to users from South Asia - generally India - where honorifics are a standard part of their speech patterns. I recognize that it's an attempt to be polite but, on the internet, there is a different expectation and I'd rather they use my username (or nothing) than try to use a gendered honorific - particularly as the default is always male. I don't really want to be called "ma'am" either... it's unnecessary. – Catija Apr 27 '18 at 22:46
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    @RuiFRibeiro The suggestion (not exactly enforcement) here was simply to use "they" for people of unknown gender, instead of "he", which to many people is not neutral but rather indicates an assumption. Is that what you're saying is nonsense? If so, why? – Cascabel Apr 28 '18 at 15:39
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    @RuiFRibeiro If you're saying "he/she" already, then you're doing far better than most; the discussion here was about people only saying "he", even if "they" is even better than "he/she". That said, you seem to be suggesting that trying to respect all users is a waste of time, using rather dismissive language. That is in and of itself not terribly respectful, and while you can spend your time on what you like, you could probably at least let others talk about how to be inclusive without telling them it's nonsense. – Cascabel Apr 28 '18 at 15:58
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    Obligatory: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singular_they Singular, gender-neutral "they" has been used at least since the 14th century, and despite prescriptive attempts to stop it (which is why some today have been taught "he" is correct), "they" is still in widespread usage in spoken English among native speakers. – Cascabel Apr 28 '18 at 16:20
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    @Cascabel: You missed an opportunity there: "There's not a man I meet but doth salute me/As if I were their well-acquainted friend", The Comedy of Errors, Act 4, Scene 3. There are nuances to usage: a lot of people are happy to use "they" to refer back to non-specific antecedents, in speech & writing; but balk at using it for an identified individual, preferring "he or she". – Scortchi Apr 28 '18 at 17:27
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    @Cascabel I am just expressing my point of view. However, when people expresses opinions contrary to what you believe, they are being dismissive. For me, it is nonsense. That is my very personal opinion. Depending on the forum, it can be distracting focusing on these themes, instead of the bigger issue at hand, like SO embarking on politics at our expense. Kind of sad. – Rui F Ribeiro Apr 28 '18 at 18:33
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    @RuiFRibeiro When I wrote my reply, your contained something about not having time to deal with "snowflakes", which is definitely not a particularly respectful way to refer to people. (Categorizing gendered pronouns as a "false dichotomy of 'political correctness'" is also not particularly respectful of what people are actually saying here.) – Cascabel Apr 28 '18 at 19:04
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    @Izzy The question specifically asks for things besides data (that's only one of the bullets and there's a general "why"), none of this is speculation, and the parts which are personal I've heard from others as well and are relevant regardless: this is entirely about people's experiences. – Cascabel Apr 28 '18 at 22:33
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    I've had my experiences questioned, and I've seen the same happen to others. I've decided not to join discussions because of it, or bowed out because of it, and I've seen others do the same. You are literally dismissing my experience right here. It's not speculation. – Cascabel Apr 29 '18 at 15:13
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    The scope of this question was why certain groups might feel less welcome. Data about exactly who is affected and how much is a bit out of scope here. – Cascabel Apr 30 '18 at 17:30
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    @TheAsh Realistically, different people react differently. Some manage to just not care about obstacles, as you say, but many only have so much time and energy and have to choose where to spend it. And again, that's one of the things I know from personal experience and from talking with others. – Cascabel May 1 '18 at 15:57

So... Hi.

I'm not sure if I count as a person of colour (as you Americans would say it) or a BME (as I suppose the Brits do?). These are labels that aren't actually universal. I'll probably go with "minority" and well, general experiences.

I'm not going to talk solutions - I'm not sure what I can do, but rather share my own experiences.

I'm one of the folks who have used the network as a whole and it's a place that has a good deal of my spare time and emotional energy. I'm ethnic Indian, Singaporean (and not many of us here!) and male - so I hope as a minority (in my country), a minority in terms of the overall user base and well, ok, I cannot help my gender, but 2 of that list isn't bad. So I'm a very small representation of the folks we're talking about in terms of inclusiveness.

I joined Super User at a pretty dark point of my life - and it helped me find the very confidence that people seem to claim Stack Overflow causes them to lose. I did spend a little while, as I do with any community I engage in, to try to get to learn the way we do things. This is probably a pain point for many.

It's worth remembering that ideally Stack Exchange is a meritocracy - and the changes we need is how we act outside the core of our site. We need to be more mindful of how we interact with anyone on a platform designed to minimise social interaction.

It's really easy to feel guilt over the "other", that women, or minorities or something. Some folks are really vocal about it, but the key's really trying to find that balance that gets new users the help they need, while keeping more established users engaged and happy.

As a moderator, and part of the community that's sprung up around Super User - I'm often telling folks to see what we can do to make our site a better place. And well, sometimes it feels like the rest of us are an afterthought. Many of the other sites do feel very diverse, in terms of, well all these things.

And sometimes people are... not as nice as I would hope. This is not acceptable - and I don't care to who it is. We try to deal with it but we need to know when and how.

I feel in no way excluded by my community, and many others I've engaged in. Others may feel differently but we really do need people to talk to us, rather than stay completely on the sidelines and try to talk to us from way over there if we are to change anything.

And that's what it's really about. If anyone walks in and actually makes an attempt and leaves thinking "what a terrible place", we've failed.

But here's the thing. If someone's going to tell us they have issues due to their gender, or their ethnicity, and say "your site is terrible" - we need to know where to start. Show us you get how things work a little. Show us what's broken. We'll take a look and try our best to fix it.

Considering how most sites run - we're surprisingly independent most of the time. Any change in how we behave's not going to be at a corporate level. I mean, let's consider what's changed since the summer of love. There are still many of the same notes we heard years ago. More or less, blog posts on the topic feel a bit like fluff.

It's tempting to go, "someone has failed" and assign blame and say oh "we need to be more inclusive". In a practical sense - most Stack Exchange communities run themselves, and we rely on our lovely Community Managers only when there's stuff that's outside our optics.

At the end of the day, to me the end goal is to be excellent to each other, regardless of country, gender, race, or as the old joke goes, species. It's worth keeping that in mind.

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    If nobody walks in and actually makes an attempt and leaves thinking "what a terrible place", we've also failed. – Martin James Apr 27 '18 at 9:56
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    If no one walks in, that's a different problem. – Journeyman Geek Apr 27 '18 at 10:07
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    As a Brit, we tend to call people what they actually are; (e.g. black, asian, Indian etc.) although BME seems to be gaining favour among those who're trying to demonstrate their inclusivity. – Richard Apr 27 '18 at 11:41
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    Thank you for your thoughtful answer (and for being a volunteer moderator!). I agree with the "show us where it's broken" part: I think it's a deficiency of the blog post that there is little actionable information for us as a community, except maybe: Let’s shift from “don’t be an asshole” to “be welcoming.” But this actually is rather hard: I'm not aware of a good method to help a new user with a poorly-worded or formulated question (chat? comments?) before it is closed, downvoted or deleted... Maybe a "you're new - let us help you!" chat - but that is beyond the scope of this question. – Patrick Apr 27 '18 at 11:43
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    I'm very on-board with this post - only thing that doesn't quite chime with my SE experience is "We'll take a look and try our best to fix it." My experience is that in most SE 'meta' communities there's a much greater resistance to change than in many other organisations/companies/communities I've been involved in. – topo morto Apr 27 '18 at 11:55
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    To me, these changes have to come from within the sites and the users. I've been making an effort to do the sort of concrete community engagement I talk about on SU as well as following up where time permits. If someone pointed out something that was obviously a sign of toxic behaviour - say rudeness, you'd deal with it, right? – Journeyman Geek Apr 27 '18 at 12:00
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    @JourneymanGeek ...say rudeness, you'd deal with it, right? Many of us do our best, but a lot of rudeness is tolerated and seemingly accepted as part of the culture on a lot of SE sites, so sometimes it seems like you're blowing against the wind. – topo morto Apr 27 '18 at 13:59
  • To me, these changes have to come from within the sites and the users - ideally they would, but sometimes certain behaviours that might be viewed as undesirable have some real justifications, and those justifications might hinge on something else that can change, but only if something else changes... which makes it hard to really change the MO of a site incrementally from within. – topo morto Apr 27 '18 at 13:59
  • Well, as a community moderator, we're the best placed to actively influence folks into better behaviour, either through meta posts, comments, or other more serious actions. If everyone waits for someone else to do something, nothing happens. – Journeyman Geek Apr 27 '18 at 14:01
  • Sure, but moderators can also frequently fall below normal (real-world) standards of pleasantness IMO! Sometimes, understandably so - it's quite a skilled job that takes a fair bit of time and energy, and for which they're not getting paid. – topo morto Apr 27 '18 at 14:22
  • Heh, we do. But I try to hold myself up to higher standards. – Journeyman Geek Apr 27 '18 at 14:23
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    Yanno? That's fine. I'll see if I can word that better. I'm sorry about that but that is precisely the sort of input that lets me see better where I'm not that good. Let me know if the current edit works better. I'd like to say I speak for at least myself when I say - its fine to point out when I've got room for improvement – Journeyman Geek Apr 27 '18 at 22:29
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    @1006a: I can sympathize very strongly with the intense internal debate on whether to even risk speaking up for fear of the inevitable backlash from those "on the other side" (who usually, but perhaps not always, actually are on the other side in a real sense, if only by tribal affiliation). For me, at any rate, the fear comes from an awareness of just how legitimately controversial the topic is: that people have plausible arguments that are really hard to counter, and even harder to emotionally neutralize. But it would help us all to realize that this applies from both sides. – Nathan Tuggy Apr 28 '18 at 8:03
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    be excellent to each other. This. We have a Be Nice policy, but honestly, a Be Excellent policy would be even better. We don't just need to be not-hostile; we need to be welcoming. The absence of hostility isn't the presence of friendliness. – HDE 226868 Apr 29 '18 at 1:10
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    @Patrick why the need to help "before" a question is downvoted or closed? SO documentation - and the close text - says questions are put on hold because they are low quality, and they can be edited and then upvoted or reopened afterwards. i.e. closing and downvoting are explained as if they are the indicators of low quality, which should be addressed after they have been applied, then they get removed. Although it seems that 'closed' is perceived as approximately the same as 'permanently banned', it isn't described/intended that way. – TessellatingHeckler May 1 '18 at 21:45

What I'm curious about is why "women, people of color, and others in marginalized groups" also feel this way.

One thing that I think the blog post kinda dropped the ball on was being a little more direct about Stack Exchange being more than Stack Overflow, or even more than just the technical sites.

If your only experience on the network is on the technical sites, it's almost understandable that you don't see the problems described in the blog post. I say "almost understandable" because, I seem to remember more than a few discussions about gender inclusion on Stack Overflow's meta.

I'd like to invite those that haven't visited the network's more subjective sites to do so. Where issues of racism, sexism, LGBT+ issues, xenophobia, and etc may be on-topic, things have certainly crossed the line from the implicit bias mentioned in the blog post to some pretty shocking explicit bias.

From my own personal experiences on the network, I can understand why so many people are hesitant to accept that there's a problem. I started out on Stack Overflow and found it to be leaps and bounds better than most online communities. I even felt a little insulted when users claimed that SO had a gender discrimination problem, because I hadn't seen that happen on Stack Overflow.

But then I branched out onto other network sites, more subjective network sites, like The Workplace, Worldbuilding, and eventually becoming the top scoring user on Interpersonal Skills... It was really hard not to see it.

While on Interpersonal Skills, I created the lgbt+ tag because it looked as though we had a subset of questions related to the LGBT+ experience. At first I thought this could serve as a great resource for members of a community that is very near and dear to my heart, (I am a cis pansexual man who is happily married to a pansexual trans/gender-fluid person.)

I really honestly believed that the Stack Exchange model would work for LGBT+ related interpersonal skills questions. I really honestly believed in the Stack Exchange model. Full stop.

What I was shocked to see was the often nasty responses that many of these questions received. Worse than that, I was shocked to see that many of the users who were posting these awful responses weren't new users. Most were coming to IPS with the association bonus, some of them were even moderate to high rep users on other sites, certainly not users who didn't know how the Stack Exchange model was supposed to work.

Granted, the majority of the IPS community was trying their best to flag these awful comments and answers, most of the worst posts and comments would eventually be deleted.

At this point you may be asking:

So... What's the problem? The crap was deleted, that's how the system is supposed to work!

The problem is that the crap shouldn't be posted to begin with. And... Well... New crap gets posted under nearly every question using the tag, more often than not, by somewhat established users who should know better.

Beyond that, the very worst cases seem to happen when a question hits the Hot Network Questions list. The IPS community seems to be able to keep things on track pretty well, for the most part, but when things hit the HNQ things tend to get really awful really quickly.

Some of it is implicit bias, users who seem well meaning, yet behave in somewhat tone deaf ways. On the other hand... I've witnessed and been targeted by some really ugly explicit stuff as well.

As a network, and as a community, I would like to think that we can do better. The first step is being willing to acknowledge that we're not as great as we would like to think we are. There are some very real problems, and if we can't even agree on that, we're unlikely to solve them.

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    Very insightful. I had not thought of the different communities in that light. – Félix Gagnon-Grenier May 2 '18 at 13:36
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    +1 for mentioning the negative effects of the association bonus and the HNQ. It is based on the assumption that when someone knows how to behave on e.g. SO, they know how to do elsewhere. Clearly, this reasoning is flawed, as many users with the association bonus don't know how to (or at least don't do) behave. The hot network questions bar in particular invites a lot of unnecessary and often inflammatory bikeshedding. Perhaps there should be more limits on the association bonus, although I have no idea what. – Discrete lizard May 9 '18 at 10:00
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    @Discretelizard - I don't necessarily think having more limits on the association the bonus is the answer. Actions such as these without the "anonymity" of the internet can lead to serious legal consequences. We should immediately ban someone from StackExchange as a whole for any discrimination like this. That would then show the inclusive nature StackExchange wishes to have. – Chris Rogers Jun 23 '18 at 6:13

I was very confused at first as to why the blog post decided to bring gender and race into this. After all, so many people here have generic profile pictures and nondescript names—it's impossible to guess at a glance what demographics they fall into. And, unlike some other sites, race and gender are irrelevant for nearly all topics, so it's pretty rare to see it come up in the first place.

However, I finally found the one answer that makes sense: statistics.

Stack Overflow has some idea of what the demographics are (on Stack Overflow) for one reason: the yearly Developer Survey. For example, the most recent one found that 92.9% of survey respondents were male, 6.9% were female, and 0.9% were "non-binary, genderqueer, or gender non-conforming".

While the proportion of women to men varies from country to country, a quick search shows that the United States is generally considered lagging behind the rest of the world when it comes to women in tech. But even in the US women earn 18% of the Computer Science degrees and 26% of computing jobs, so I think I can see why the stats from the Developer Survey are a little low when it comes to women.

I suspect that this same pattern will show up in other demographics, if you look at the numbers.

The why of this is a lot harder to answer. From what I've read from other people (and also some of what I've experienced myself, as a woman), Stack Overflow doesn't seem to have too much of a problem with sexist or racist comments. It's something else, and I'm wondering if it has anything to do with the fact that:

While some research has found that impostorism is higher among women than men (Clance and Imes 1978; McGregor et al. 2008), other studies have failed to produce gender differences (Cokley et al. 2013; Cowman and Ferrari 2002). However, there is some evidence that higher levels of impostor feelings are associated with GPA for women but not men (King and Cooley 1995). We speculate that given differences in gender socialization, men may be less impacted by impostorism than women. When research has found differences, it usually indicates women being more susceptible to impostorism.
The Roles of Gender Stigma Consciousness, Impostor Phenomenon and Academic Self-Concept in the Academic Outcomes of Women and Men

I think the connection that that the blog post wants us to make is that hostile or condescending comments, even when they contain otherwise factual information, can make people feel like they don't belong (and if you're already having those feelings, it hits you harder).

Lastly, I feel the need to quote Cosmo:

And if [programming] doesn't sound like women's work—well, it just is.

Note: parts of this answer were blatantly plagiarized from my other answer here.

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    Cutting off the conversation there. Laurel tried to back up their answer with citations; if you're going to disagree, providing sources that back up your assertions should be considered basic courtesy. – Shog9 May 1 '18 at 2:14

I can't personally think of reasons why 'people of color' (I hate that phrase btw, if it's supposed to imply that a white person is somehow a special 'neutral' or 'non' colour) would feel marginalised, and I'm not personally sure what other marginalized groups are being referred to.

However I'm pretty confident in saying that in most of the cultures I've known, women tend to value a bit of positive friendliness in interaction much more than it's valued here on SE. There's a culture in tech where it's the norm to be neutral, and OK to be negative. That will exclude.

Felienne in her NDC London talk (from about 11:00, or from 12:30 if you have less time) talks about how this culture is accepted in the tech community, but not so much in others.

It's not specific to the tech community - it's a macho thing that's common to all sorts of male-dominated communities... and there's the exclusion of women, right there.

EDIT - here's a random quote from one of my friends in tech who is both female, and a mixture of quite a few ethnic minorities:

Stackoverflow - lol. I don't care about that sort of thing. I don't think it is racist or sexist, I just think they are greedy for those gold and silver medals (or badges?) and are hostile like vultures.......

Just one data point - make of what it you will!

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    I don't like the "people of color" thing either. And I don't buy the "exclusion of women" thing. IMHO it's used an excuse for blatant patent discrimination against men. Can you imagine the furore that would ensure if some guy proposed men-only shortlists? – John Duffield Apr 27 '18 at 8:00
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    @JohnDuffield I think there are all sorts of different specific issues when it comes to different areas of life, but I agree that solutions are rarely found by playing two 'sides' off against each other. – topo morto Apr 27 '18 at 8:12
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    Related: anecdote in question, research in answer. – Monica Cellio Apr 27 '18 at 14:51
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    @MonicaCellio the bit about adversarial discourse rings especially true to me - I think it's fair to say that's something that's often not discouraged (and sometimes positively encouraged) on SE. – topo morto Apr 27 '18 at 15:17
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    Adversarial discourse is a part of the foundation of SO. Downvoting, voting to close and delete votes all foster that. – Magisch Apr 27 '18 at 15:39
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    @topomorto It took me a bit to get around to watching the video, but Felienne does make some excellent points (and painfully true examples) of how newfound enthusiasm can be slowly but surely crushed by community behaviour. And I do have to (painfully) admit, I'm guilty of saying "Excel is not programming" too. What I still don't understand is why the mentioned groups are supposedly impacted more by this (frequency? cultural upbringing? ...?). In any case, thank you for sharing the video! – Patrick Apr 27 '18 at 22:20
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    I am a child from ,that terrible decade where "guys given computers and girls dolls"...and whilst my computer and my friends was in the living room, my sister and all the girls did not have the slight interest in using them.. if it were because "of my atitude", after outgrew and lost interest in it, it was stored away. – Rui F Ribeiro Apr 28 '18 at 10:30
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    @MonicaCellio What a fantastic discussion thread. – Elin May 2 '18 at 10:22

Since (in my opinion) few users use their actual name or picture in their profile, I would have assumed that active discrimination should be less of an issue here. If my assumption is correct, why do these groups still feel unwelcome?

If it is not active discrimination, are there identifiable other reasons?

Yes, a lot of users do use their actual name, whether it's the first name or a part of their own name, or their own profile picture. Though a large amount of users still use usernames. Whether a username is used or not, it may, or may not lead to more discrimination.

Though, to be honest, I don't think gender and ethnicity drives much action here on Stack Overflow. That'S (O|E) can be considered hostile to newcomers, that honestly wouldn't surprise me. There are a lot of people who post without reading the FAQ's the tour, etc., and misunderstand how the site works. I.e. posting comments as answers is something that, on Stack Overflow, happens possibly hundreds of times per day, and most of these posts (saying posts because they're posted as answers, while they're comments, or votes depending on the type) get downvoted. Duplicates get downvoted, (on Stack Overflow) tool requests get downvoted, TB questions get downvoted, etc.

Though I honestly don't think this is a group-related problem; this is a lack of user education. Most new users don't know what they can and can't post on Stack Overflow. Though the topic of user education and that is a separate topic for another time.

Anyways, as far as I can see, the Stack Exchange network moderates by content. There are, as with everywhere else, exceptions, but that's my general opinion of it. From what I've seen in general related to reviews and downvotes, gender, ethnicity, religion, etc. doesn't matter1.

Though, it's worth mentioning the blog post:

Too many people experience Stack Overflow¹ as a hostile or elitist place, especially newer coders, women, people of color, and others in marginalized groups.

As I already mentioned, new coders doesn't surprise me. As for women, people of color, and other marginalized groups, is there really any data to back that up? I've never experienced any of it (I might of course have been "lucky" or whatever it's appropriate to call it), but in the end it boils down to the quality of the post, not the poster. And I'm not saying "discrimination never happens on the basis of the poster being in a marginalized group", but downvotes are rarely cast because of the poster being who they are. In my opinion, the hostility some people experience isn't because they're a part of a marginalized group, but more because of post quality. A good post gets upvotes and generally positive responses, independently of who posted it.

Racism and sexism is, in my opinion, not a big problem. I'm not saying it never happens, but it's far from common that a post gets downvoted because the OP is, e.g. a woman. In my opinion, it looks like a majority of new users in the Stack Exchange network think downvotes are personal (that downvotes symbolize "you're wrong", "you suck", etc.). See this related MSO discussion. The problem also created a feature request for hiding scores under 0 for low-rep users.

TL;DR For most users, with extremely few exceptions it's the content of the post that gets judged, not the OP's gender, ethnicity, religion etc.

Although I do agree Stack Overflow (and the rest of the Stack Exchange network) has some problems with the handling of new users, these problems are usually caused by the post. If the OP posts a low-quality post regardless of rep, how the community responds is usually the same (downvotes, closevotes or delete votes (depending on which applies), and few comments).

There are cases where there are people who actually try helping the poster improve their post (where such applies; there isn't as much to fix on clear duplicates, but if there's missing code there's a possibility that other people try helping OP creating a good post. And the reason I again mention post quality is because I believe this is where Stack Overflow could improve. If new users are "trained" better, they might learn how to post better. Better post quality would mean fewer downvotes, getting upvotes, and the OP not feeling as "badly received".

On a related note, there was a recent comment on a downvoted and now closed answer where OP thought their profile picture was the reason for the downvotes. Again using the marginalized group card. The post should be closed (No MCVE, not here to discuss that though) but the original poster took the downvotes and closing personally and thought it was on the grounds of their gender. Or at least they tried saying the person in their profile picture wasn't them.

So yes, there are people who feel their post gets judged on the grounds of them being the poster, but (in my opinion), the poster isn't actually what gets judged about a post.

As for hate in general, there are of course actual hate posts (and hate messages in chat), but these generally get deleted. They exist, but there aren't a lot of them (all though there are exception on sites that are directly targeted by hate posts. For an instance Hinduism.SE is currently seeing a heavy wave of R/A posts from the same poster).

1: With the exception of hate posts targeted at specific groups. These are, however, removed, and their existence is an exception to the network in general.

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    What do you mean by "That'S (O|E)"? – Peter Mortensen May 12 '18 at 23:05
  • "That S(O|E) can be considered..." = "That Stack Exchange|Overflow can be considered...". @PeterMortensen – Nij May 13 '18 at 0:43

My personal opinion is that this blog post simply boils down to a fine example of virtue signalling. It was a painful wall of text to read. I'll try to be brief in my explanation as to why I feel this way.

Full disclosure if you can't tell by my pic: I am a white male, but I am also cishet. I got super privilege, but it doesn't stop me from getting my fair share of snarky comments on all sites in the SE network. I've actually once considered proposing a feature to allow blocking users after this one guy with 8k+ rep would make a constant effort of leaving jerky comments on my questions. Another guy with an astounding level of rep (he's now at 38k and an ADMIN) actually once told me he was going to come and slap me. I reported it only to later see him chuckling in the same comments about how he got reported, yet the original comment still remained. Both the original and his reaction comment garnered a good number of community upvotes as well. This tells us a few things:

  1. There is collusion between the site staff and certain high-ranking users
  2. that being being cishet white male doesn't shield me from abuse
  3. there is mob mentality where users rally around harrassers which further encourages them

Why do I bring this up? Yes, there are a lot of bigoted folks, but there are a lot more people who just want to be d*cks (that's not ducks, either). SE is no exception. The message in the blog in question could have easily been conveyed without including women and POC. SE could have just taken the egalitarian approach and instituted general guidelines regarding being mean-spirited, but they wouldn't be able to signal their virtue hard enough with just that alone. Now they've stuck yet another divisive wedge in the SE community that's just going introduce polarity rather than solving a problem that most likely isn't even as severe as they're claiming.

As for the point you made in your OP, you're mostly correct. Unless you use your face in your profile pic like mine or your name is BlackProgrammerGuy or UterusHaver2096, there's not really any way to determine someone's ethnicity or sex. Now you can obviously use their grammar and sentence structure as a general clue as to their ethnicity, but I am on the side of, "You need to be reasonably fluent in the language you're speaking in order to convey your message". I would never be an outright total turd to someone with bad English, but I will at least call it out with something like, "I can't understand your question enough to provide an answer".

Anyway, I wish SE would stop utilizing their network as a platform to execute their political activism. I wish it could just be a Q&A site and nothing more.

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    It's sometimes hard being a straight cissexual white male because life is generally sometimes hard. Now imagine the general hardness of life being multiplied by the hardness that comes with being gay, being trans, being black or Asian, being female or any of the many other groups on the receiving end of it. We've already got general guidelines and principles about being nice to everybody - it's even called The Be Nice Policy! But you ignore the fact that many people don't see this group disparagement as not being nice, and that we systemically protect this not being nice. – Nij Apr 28 '18 at 2:29

What I'm curious about is why "women, people of color, and others in marginalized groups" also feel this way.

Largely, I believe that the issue is that there are people who strongly believe that attempts to highlight, address, or redress any perceived imbalance is implicitly an attack on them.

This issue is much more visible on SE sites that aren't focused on technology, where it ranges from "practically invisible" to "a major issue that has caused major and repeated debate".

However, it can be seen here, in this thread, where multiple comments have been made about "social justice advocates", "politically correct" and "social justice warriors". Where comments like:

Didn't you get the memo? You're a white male, nobody cares about our feelings. Gratitude for contributing quality content? Nah, in this new world how people(and white males are of course not people) feel about things is much more important.


I don't like the "people of color" thing either. And I don't buy the "exclusion of women" thing. IMHO it's used an excuse for blatant patent discrimination against men. Can you imagine the furore that would ensure if some guy proposed men-only shortlists?

are not only made, but are well supported by the community.

Maybe there is discrimination against white males. But that's not what is causing friction here. The friction occurs because some people in majority groups feel that there's so much attention focused on minority groups that people in the majority groups get labeled negatively as a result.

Some of them get defensive. An even smaller portion get offensive, attacking what they perceive as society treating them unjustly.

As a result, frequently when someone brings up perceived bias against a minority group, someone who is not in that minority group tries to change the conversation. Sometimes the intent seems to be to change the conversation to become about site policy. Sometimes it is about making a valid frame challenge. But frequently it is about how the person bringing up the issue in the first place is wrong, even if it is an otherwise valid, on-topic question for the community it was raised in.

All it takes is acknowledging that the other groups may be being marginalized, and you get statements like:

What I do find more tantalising is instead of SO thanking us for our non-paid efforts and investment of time, it goes with the political correct flow of other projects of saying the feelings of a perceived 8% user base are more important than the 92% of the user base here.

It's an overt case of members of the majority feeling like even mentioning these issues somehow detracts from them, personally. Not only should the smaller group not be explicitly acknowledged, but the larger group deserves active praise for... well, presumably not behaving worse.

This leads to instant debate, and because these are controversial topics, moderators are hesitant to step in until the Be Nice policy is fairly clearly being violated.

In the meantime, comments that are blatantly disparaging of entire populations, such as

Or maybe, just maybe, women(generally speaking) just don't love programming enough to use their free time to participate in SO?

are made, and remain visible for hours or even days, attracting upvotes.

Regardless of whether you believe the groups mentioned in the blog post are truly marginalized, or even if you just dispute how marginalized they are, its very clear that a significant portion of our community does not welcome certain topics that are of particular relevance to members of these groups.

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    Comments purged. Good lord what a slog this thread is! Advice for future would-be commenters: if your authorship credits are approaching half the comments on the page, you might consider letting someone else talk for a bit. – Shog9 May 1 '18 at 2:31
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    @Shog9 Glad I took a full Nimbus screencap of everything on this entire page. The author of the original blog should have well known this was going to turn the SE community in on itself. Every time SE embarks upon one of its annual political activism episodes, it turns into a total network-wide sh!tfest. If SE would just leave identity politics out of the mix, this would not happen. – oscilatingcretin May 1 '18 at 4:08
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    Spare me the lecture, @oscilatingcretin - the blog post didn't make this political, you did. If you feel you have something useful to say, put it in your answer. – Shog9 May 1 '18 at 4:11
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    "the larger group deserves active praise for... well, presumably not behaving worse" That's a very interesting interpretation, since I read the quoted passage to mean "We've done a whole lot for SO, but SO is not expressing gratitude for that, instead going off and trying to woo groups of users that are relatively small and uninvolved in SO by taking their side when disputes arise about the proper way to ensure site quality." This post appears to assume that the various SO regulars that object to That Blog Post have in fact done literally nothing but refrain from active bad behavior. – Nathan Tuggy May 1 '18 at 9:09
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    @NathanTuggy SO has thanked the community on many occasions. Do you expect every discussion,no matter what the topic, to involve active praise for the people who contribute? And no, I am not saying that everyone who objects to the blog post has done nothing. That's a rather blatant strawman. I'm quite clear about who is trying to change the topic, as well as my suspicions why. – Beofett May 1 '18 at 10:52
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    @Beofett: Every discussion? No, obviously. Discussions that specifically bring up which groups of users are considered most valuable and sought-after, and which groups of users SO is going to work on pleasing? Hmm. I'm gonna have to get back to you on that one. – Nathan Tuggy May 1 '18 at 10:56
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    @NathanTuggy Did I miss the part of the blog post that says "minority groups are more valuable than ciswhitehet contributors"? – Beofett May 1 '18 at 11:20
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    @Beofett: The post mentions several times the importance of allocating company resources and prioritizing competing concerns properly. So yeah, by definition, it raises the issue of which groups are more important even if the post tried to avoid outright saying "oh well we don't care about XYZ anymore". (I don't actually think Jay Hanlon, or SO, actually care so little about long-term quality-oriented SO contributors.) As the quote you objected to mentions, though, the post also talks about the "feelings" of minority groups as being unquestionable, which does imply "more valuable". – Nathan Tuggy May 1 '18 at 11:33
  • @Beofett: I'm also a touch concerned by your seeming insistence that the only folks who could object to the blog post are a simplistic set-inversion of simplistic "minority group" definitions, when there have already been multiple meta posts and highly-upvoted meta comments by women, "people of color", and so forth raising their concerns with the blog post in various ways. I don't want to be the guy that says "did you just assume our gender??!?" but you almost seem to be going out of your way to ignore the preferred group identity — namely, SO contributors who care about quality. – Nathan Tuggy May 1 '18 at 11:36
  • @Beofett: Also, I'm surprised you didn't mention the fact that the blog does thank existing contributors and does try to compliment them. – Nathan Tuggy May 1 '18 at 11:43
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    @NathanTuggy So, because it says that its important to address concerns by the minority, you feel that somehow detracts from the majority. Thanks for demonstrating my point (also, you may want to check on the difference between implying and inferring; you're conflating them). – Beofett May 1 '18 at 12:13
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    @NathanTuggy However, since you're seemingly insistent on repeating the same strawman argument that I'm broadly categorizing every person who objects to the blog (despite clearly saying things like "some people in majority groups feel", "Some of them get defensive", and "An even smaller portion get offensive", and despite clarifying it further in a response to your comment), it seems clear you're not interested in discussion, and instead are also merely looking to lecture. – Beofett May 1 '18 at 12:14
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    @Beofett: When you use the term "ciswhitehet" (derogatory, by the way) to stand in for "people who object to the blog post", how is that not an insulting overgeneralization? You probably didn't mean that, but it does seem perfectly fair to raise it. (I have no idea what you mean by "imply vs infer", since I used neither term.) I don't have time to correct "because it says that its important to address concerns by the minority, you feel that somehow detracts from the majority", but for now I'll just say that's a misreading of me, and probably also of the quoted answer. – Nathan Tuggy May 1 '18 at 20:51
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    @NathanTuggy There's very clearly a miscommunication here. You keep seemingly putting words in my mouth, or interpreting things that I've said in a completely different fashion from how I perceived them to be used, and you are saying that I'm doing the same to you. I do not believe "ciswhitehet" is derogatory. Its short-hand, in a format that has a character limit. However, I apologize if I offended you. As for infer vs imply, you did indeed claim that the blog implied that the feelings of minority groups are "more valuable", which is your inferrence, not an actual implied message. – Beofett May 1 '18 at 23:49
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    @NathanTuggy That's a rather poor litmus test for whether a term is derogatory. By that arbitrary use of hypothetical statistics, "Democrat", "Republican", "Conservative", "Liberal", "Christian", "Muslim", "Jew" and "truck" are also likely derogatory words. Context is important, and, in your example, "scum" would be the derogatory modifier. But we're far from being on topic here. At this point, shall we just agree to disagree? – Beofett May 2 '18 at 12:49

@apaul and @FélixGagnon-Grenier suggested that I put my comments above into an answer, so I am (even though I suspect it is asking for trouble). I'm going to edit a bit since I have paragraphing and more space here.

Thank you for pointing out the Wikipedia situation; I have been thinking for a few days that everyone has been acting like this is unique to SO/SE, but it is actually not. Of course, each platform has distinctive features (non profit versus for profit is a big one), but there is much to be learned from their experiences. That said, given that no one attacked white males, why do you think they feel so attacked and respond so defensively and loudly when the experiences and perceptions of other groups are discussed? This is an honest question, for example you are not asking for data about that group.

I want to give you another perspective to consider in terms of your three bullet points. In my observation, and it was more complex than this, there were two important things that led to the changes in treatment of LGBTQ people in the United States that are relevant to your post.

First, there really was a movement that encouraged people to reveal their sexual orientation. Things like "coming out day" but more important tens of thousands of family and friends interaction meant that lots of people knew people who were impacted by hate and discrimination. This made it public and personal so that even conservatives would say "my son", "my niece", "my neighbor."

So, the fact that you don't know genders actually may be contributing to the problem. Maybe if you realized that people you like were subject to some of these issues would mean you could ask them about it or make you more aware.

The second thing was that people talked about the ways in which having hide their identities impacted them in large and small ways. Not being able to put their partner's picture on the desk at work or bring a partner to a family or work event or not being able to visit a partner in the hospital or to plan a funeral. Many of us never had thought about these concrete issues and how they would wear away at people and when we did, we knew it had to change. This is one of the themes that President Obama mentioned in discussing his "evolution" on gay marriage. This is also one reason why "don't ask, don't tell," which sounds so neutral on the surface, was so demoralizing for so many LGBTQ military people in their daily lives.

When people on SO/SE say everyone should have a "neutral" identity that reflects a combination of idealism and naivete. When 90% of users are male (based on the data SO purchases) then neutral is going to be assumed to be male. And that has all kinds of implications of perceptions and experiences, such as when a new user comes to a site or when a female user wonders whether her experiences are related to gender. Or when a male user wonders whether his experiences are related to gender ... except probably it wouldn't occur to him to wonder about that except perhaps if these kinds of discussions come up. I don't see a lot of that but maybe those people are just not posting.

I'll add some extra links and observations here about data and that get at the complexity of this a bit more, but won't do a deep dive on the strengths/weaknesses of each citation. But I think if you read them there is a great deal worth thinking about. Also if you read the comments on the non-scholarly (i.e. popular) articles or Twitter threads discussing them they are telling. Finally, all three of these have downloadable data so that you can re-analyze and explore your own hypotheses.

Women in the 2016 Stack Overflow Survey

This is Julia Silge's dive into women's survey responses from 2016. It is important for a few reasons, one of which is that women in 2016 were under-represented in the survey even compared to their representation on SO itself. For this answer, though, the more important thing I believe is the places where there were large differences. First, the gender make up the different technologies (and therefore I assume people posting on different tags) is very different. I, overall, have had good experiences on SO, but I hang out on the R tag, and R is number 3 in female representation. My experience might be very different if I was mainly on the F# tag, I don't know. Similarly, the experiences of men in those tags might be different than other tags. What I do know is that there is not a single, uniform SO experience.

There is so much that is interesting in this data set.

Github Open Source Survey

This is a very interesting survey done on Github and involving a number of academic investigators. They have one of the best thought out sampling designs and do a good job explaining the limitations. Yes, it is focused on open source contributions, but I think there is a pretty clear analog to SE/SO, particularly the technical sites. What I find particularly interesting is that "negative interactions are infrequent but highly visible" because in this whole series of discussions about the blog post there is not enough attention being paid to this distinction. One bad meal, at one branch of a chain restaurant, if it goes viral can damage that restaurant for years.

Another interesting finding is that women express a preference for clearly documented policies, procedures, and guidelines. SO/SE has an abundance of these, and, although they can sometimes be hard to find or confusing, the desire to document these seems very positive.

Gender differences and bias in open source: pull request acceptance of women versus men

This is the published, final revised version of a study for which an earlier version made a big splash and got some criticism and, as should happens, that criticism resulted in a better final paper. This study illustrates why it is that despite the toll that hiding your identity can take, women often assume male or gender neutral identities when attempting to make technical contributions. I recommend this article also because it has a good literature review and because they consider numerous alternative explanations and additional variables.

(Your post is not low quality, the following is more of a response to this whole blog-related discussion. I want to say that I find it disturbing that on M.SO/M.SE people keep asking "where's the data?" and no one is asking "What research have you done?" especially when some of those people are complaining bitterly about "low quality" and "no research" questions. It was not hard for me to find these sources of data I want to be clear that it is not our job to do your research. If there is something that you don't understand after doing the reading, that's a valid question. I feel people have been remarkably restrained about pointing this out, but that's also part of the issue.)


I have no reason to support nor dispute the claim of unfriendliness toward women or “people of color” but all of the examples in the blog apply to newbies of any gender or race. Or to put it another way, I agree with all the complaints, but none of them indicate gender or race discrimination. Even the mention of “sweetie” without context could be interpreted many ways.

To put it another way, I've experienced unwarranted snarkiness on ___.SE but that does not mean SE is hostile to white males.

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    It could but it's much more likely to be targeted at women, I unfortunately can't upvote your answer because of that. – Oleg May 1 '18 at 0:06
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    Perhaps. I (a male) have often been called “hon” by people not related in any way. – WGroleau May 1 '18 at 10:24
  • I'd say a lack of evidence is a reason to dispute a non-obvious claim. – Izzy May 1 '18 at 14:44
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    I disagree. "I'm not convinced" is very different from "This is why you're wrong." – WGroleau May 1 '18 at 15:04

What I do find more tantalising is instead of SO thanking us for our non-paid efforts and investment of time, it goes with the political correct flow of other projects of saying the feelings of a perceived 8% user base are more important than the 92% of the user base here.

In the two years I have been here, I have not seen much discrimination based on races, and none on sex at all, at least on technical forums...As others say, due to our anonymity in the Internet, how can SO make such affirmations about "discrimination".

There is indeed the so called discrimination of "bad English". However, as a native Latin guy and EFL speaker that often does hundreds of multiple edits to my posts to strive for a better English.... I think that I might more than qualified to wonder: why should I be obliged to entertain questions from countries where English is an official language, and people that just want a quick fix and do not want to invest time composing questions, or even often, just dump logs at us. However, I am far more lenient often when I see posts from countries where they struggle with English, especially when I see an effort was put in the question.

Nonetheless, at which point, what prevents people participating in forums of tongues where they are more proficient? If they are by choice in an English forum, where do we draw the line into trying to salvage a question or close it?

Why not opening more forums in their respective languages? For instance, we already have Spanish and Portuguese forums here. What would prevent opening forums in another languages? Case in point, we have an onslaught of bad quality and repetitive questions about Kali Linux. What would prevent anyone doing something positive and opening a forum in Hindi for Kali Linux, instead of always complaining questions about Kali Linux in bad English are not particularly welcomed?

Furthermore, what does it prevent anyone doing more work and investment, in a profile and also be a slight more high ranking user instead of using discardable users? We are all users of all walks of life, nationalities and different backgrounds - as anything in life, to achieve something you have to work for it.

What the SO blog post is forgetting is the thousand of man-work hours many of us have put here. We do indeed have many complaints about moderation here. Many of them are genuine. Many of them are also about people that feels entitled that we have to entertain them wether they are willing or not to put any effort in the question or answer, and wether they make an effort to write a coherent post, which do takes an investment of time and effort. Some people even are clearly abusive in demanding their God given right for an answer to non-paid people. I am not their paid serf.

All in all, I am writing this to remember we are here providing what has been a good service and reference for thousands of professionals for free.

Despite the though love from the users side too...I have posted here hundreds (or thousands?) of posts. I do not affirm I have been the more patient and correct person. However, if SO also wishes to embark in a politically correct crusade at the expense of people basically working for free here, and telling us a small percentage is more important than we are, and that we ought to entertain them for free... I will be (re)considering wether it is worth keeping contributing here.

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    Minor nitpick about English moderation: my British English also gets frequently corrected to American pronunciation in my posts, and I do just ignore it. People will be people, we are not machines. – Rui F Ribeiro Apr 28 '18 at 11:41
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    I think your idea of who is the "us" who put work ("man hours" -- that was a self-mocking joke right?) into the site, is a bit distorted. "We" are not all alike in our views. – Elin May 1 '18 at 12:15

No, there's no evidence that they're made to feel this way.

First, there's a claim which is undoubtedly true:

Too many people experience Stack Overflow¹ as a hostile or elitist place, especially newer coders, women, people of color, and others in marginalized groups.

There's no question people feel marginalized. This can be proven many ways, but as the blog post says:

Many people, especially those in marginalized groups do feel less welcome. We know because they tell us.

But afterwards, an insidious word change comes in. Although the undeniable truth is that people feel marginalized, the author makes an unwarranted jump; one that is surprisingly subtle:

He assumes that since people feel marginalized, it's because they were made to feel marginalized.

He makes this logical leap, not in a user-critical paragraph, but in a sanctimonious psychoanalysis allegedly aimed at himself:

It was hard to accept some of the (valid) criticism, especially the idea that women and people of color felt particularly unwelcome. There’s a weird paradox with bias. Those of us who have privilege, but care deeply about reducing bias should be uniquely positioned to help, but we struggle the hardest to recognize that we are (unintentionally) biased ourselves.² As it happens, making people feel left out is a deep personal fear of mine.

Now, there is zero evidence that someone who feels marginalized was made to feel marginalized due to racism or sexism or ableism or any other exclusatory ism. It's quite possible the user felt excluded due to newbie status, dupe asking, or many downvotes due to low-quality questions. Or it's possible the user simply has a complex. To quote the article, maybe they have a 'deep-rooted kickball phobia' as well.

In fact the only available evidence points to Stack Exchange and Stack Overflow as being inclusive environments, one which is not racist by any means.

So I focused on what we were proud of: We are one of the only large sites where it’s practically impossible to find a single slur – our community takes them down in minutes. We don’t tolerate our female users being called “sweetie” or getting hit on.

I am not racist. I suspect the vast majority of the users on this site aren't racist. And I deeply resent being told that I am racist.

It's not that I feel resentful; It's that that blog post made me feel resentful.

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    Nothing in the blog said that you are racist. If someone says "people feel like there is racism in this community", there's no valid reason to hear "anyone who isn't in a racial minority is a racist". – Beofett May 6 '18 at 19:58

Please refer to this question and its answers, especially mine:

Sexism in conversation moderation, or, why wasn't I suspended?

The entire chain must be read, as there are multiple answers from moderators, and especially Tim Post's initial answer and subsequent walk-back.

Also, in this answer, I included a link to an actual study assessing the sexism on Stack Overflow followed be attempts at detailing the nature and impact of it on users:

Measuring the participation of women on Stack Overflow

  • This answer actually started me down a path towards "getting it" I'm ashamed that it took me as long as it did, but the experiment there led me to talk about this stuff with a few people in real life, which in turn led me to see my own biases... Introspection is painful, but it's worth it. Thanks for playing a part in that process for me, and forgive me for being a bit of a knuckle dragger back then. – apaul May 9 '18 at 18:07
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    That Q/A shows that there are definitely people who discriminate against women, and women who have experienced that. But again, the blog post does NOT show it. Nor does hiding one's identity for fear of discrimination prove that the discrimination exists. Yes, it exists. I don't deny that. I only object to today's widespread practice of expecting people to believe something just because it's stated. – WGroleau May 10 '18 at 8:11
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    @WGroleau So the blog said that some people in minority groups feel unwelcome, you agree there are things here that would make them feel unwelcome, but you object because the blog post itself doesn't provide proof? – Beofett May 10 '18 at 12:14
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    What I objected to was saying this happens and trying to persuade us it's true by listing examples of things unrelated. (Though perhaps "object" is too strong a word.) – WGroleau May 10 '18 at 21:07
  • Noteworthy: which comments are are being upvoted. Also noteworthy: which are not. Here's a comment from a diamond moderator where he openly acknowledges discriminating against women or profiles with avatars implying they are women. Providing this for additional background. This sort of thing is hiding in every nook and cranny of SO. Again, this is coming straight from a diamond moderator. meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/254891/… – OpenSorceress Aug 9 '18 at 23:59

Someone here said

[I]n the end it boils down to the quality of the post, not the poster. And I'm not saying "discrimination never happens on the basis of the poster being in a marginalized group", but downvotes are rarely cast because of the poster being who they are. In my opinion, the hostility some people experience isn't because they're a part of a marginalized group, but more because of post quality.

This may or may not be a correct observation. The fact is that fairness is not given to those new to coding or StackExchange/StackOverflow.

What would a newbie consider to be a "post of good quality"? A question which outlines what they are after? This is how I started. Plus I was new to the kind of coding I was posting about when I was made to feel my questions were invalid.

The problem here is not new. My experience stretches from 3 years ago.

As an example, one of my very early questions posted on StackOverflow (and I was new to StackExchange too) was Using PHP, how do I link a page and load it with a variable when clicked? which got 2 downvotes with to my mind at the time no valid reason given in comments. The first comment was a sarcastic

"Yes, this is certainly possible."

and then there was a comment following that stating that

This question is off-topic because it is asking about possibilities and is not a concrete coding question. If you want to know if something is possible you should research it and attempt to implement it

This comment was upvoted 6 times and I was confused. I asked a coding question and it was a valid question which I did try to research without any real way of indicating that I did.

Thankfully I got an answer but not without feeling that I am not welcome as a newbie, especially seeing others being lambasted for falling foul of "the elite", and the elitism felt was shown in my comment afterwards thanking the answerer.

Isn't it interesting that we get responses like this when the person responding has a reputation figure which is astronomical to the point that they feel that they can run those learning the fine art of coding down. How do you know I haven't tried researching? I knew that the coding I had in my head was not going to work so I put the question out there after I couldn't find out elsewhere. Thankfully we have people like @mareckmareck who is willing to help.

even though I am now a more seasoned StackExchange member, although I have posted 3 questions this year (the first one being the first for 3 years) I am still a bit apprehensive of asking in StackOverflow. I have to really struggle first and it isn't a nice feeling.


I have just had 2 more downvotes on the question I highlighted and I also have a downvote on this one with no comment indicating reason.

Is this project going to make any difference? I am not holding my hopes up.

This whole problem, as indicated in the original blog, is not just about colour, creed, race, sex, or anything like that. It is about the fact that there is elitism.

Questions relating to complicated scripts of code are upvoted a lot and when a basic question is asked by someone, it is downvoted and considered invalid, even though someone else who is new to coding may find that question helpful.

That is the elitism I have seen. The air this gives is

This question is so basic that it has no place on this site

Is this helpful? Is this welcoming? Is this inclusive of all who come to StackExchange?



OP, you are absolutely correct to criticise that point in the article.

The author provided some anecdotal evidence for new users feeling intimidated which I think no-one will disagree with, even if SO is well within its rights to ensure new users learn the rules.

The author has not, however, provided any references or sources for the claim that "women, people of color, and others in marginalized groups" "experience StackOverflow as a hostile place", I'm guessing because the data simply will not exist to support such a ridiculous position.

Perhaps the most troubling section:

Those of us who have privilege, but care deeply about reducing bias should be uniquely positioned to help, but we struggle the hardest to recognize that we are (unintentionally) biased ourselves.² As it happens, making people feel left out is a deep personal fear of mine.

"Those of us who have privilege" is a typical social justice warrior reference to white men, and not people with a high reputation score. This is made explicit with the reference to the "implicit bias test." It's absolutely useless, not repeatable, guarantees nothing, and is not even supported by the creators.

Is SO difficult for a high-rep user? No.

Is SO a difficult place for the average low-rep new user? Sure.

Is SO any more difficult for [group]? Only if you're willing to argue for that group being inferior to the average new, low-rep, user. There is nothing about SO that forces [group] into a bad situation and people who are abusive are dealt with by the mods.

So in short; This article argues for "making people feel included" while at the same time alienating "Those of us who have privilege;" who are either white men or high-reps, neither of which have done anything wrong.

  • 2
    Being abusive to new users (not in language, but by action: rejecting edits, banning users, etc. for having the temerity to try to improve the site in ways that are Not How We Do Things) is not merely encouraged, but policy on SO. Add that on top of wired.com/2016/07/physical-damage-racism-inflicts-brain-body and why should a person of color bother? SO's run by cliques, the in-crowd, and the in-crowd happens to be predominantly white and male. That behavior would be just as unacceptable if it was black transwomen doing it, but it's not. – Clement Cherlin Apr 29 '18 at 0:48
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    @ClementCherlin Your comment would be absolutely great if you'd just left the identity politics on the doorstep. Yes, it's probably a safe bet that SO (not necessarily SE as a whole) is predominantly white and male, but you have not demonstrated how these white males are in any way a detriment to the experience of non-whites and non-males. All you're doing is just sputtering forth with generic links that have nothing to do with the blog post upon which this entire discussion is predicated. – oscilatingcretin Apr 29 '18 at 3:48
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    @ClementCherlin Let's assume you're right about the "cliques" running the show and also about those "cliques" being predominantly white and male... If you immediately assert they do it because they're white males then you just made a fundamental attribution error, the same as the blog post. And that other demographics aren't doing it is a non sequitur. – user381003 Apr 29 '18 at 3:50
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    @ClementCherlin You've not provided a shred of evidence to support your view. If you believe white men are being collectively x-ist against everyone else, post your evidence or you are the social justice problem. And great job for agreeing with me about new users; no-one is contesting that it's difficult for newbies. – Izzy Apr 29 '18 at 11:11
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    I've undeleted this answer, but please try to address the fact that the way it's worded isn't leading people to see another perspective, it's just making people from many perspectives quite angry. Note, the community can vote to delete this answer, and if they do, I'm not going to override them. – Tim Post May 7 '18 at 16:10
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    Making people angry is not a justification for censorship. – artem May 7 '18 at 17:21
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    You seem to be arguing that there's not a problem with implicit bias, even after a few others have given clear examples of such bias. "Those of us who have privilege" is not a jab at white men, and putting it that way is in it self a demonstration of bias. Privilege, like most things, is more of a spectrum. – apaul May 7 '18 at 20:38
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    @apaul Implicit bias is not a problem. The idea behind it is that it's bias one doesn't even know they have... it's total rubbish. If you think the author meant something different to "White men," when referring to "people with privilege" please feel free to tell me of who he was referring. – Izzy May 7 '18 at 20:45
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    I tend to think that explicit bias is more of a problem than implicit bias, and both have been demonstrated in the backlash to the blog post. – apaul May 7 '18 at 20:53
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    Also the question seemed to be "What I'm curious about is why "women, people of color, and others in marginalized groups" also feel this way." and it doesn't seem like you fall into any of those groups, yet you felt the need to answer... – apaul May 7 '18 at 21:00
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    Maybe, just maybe, that's a symptom of the problem you're claiming doesn't exist? – apaul May 7 '18 at 21:10
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    Explicit bias (...that is an actual problem...) is something I'd expect the mods to deal with. Implicit bias isn't a problem. But be careful not to simultaneously hold a moral position against certain actions, while also exercising it. – Izzy May 7 '18 at 21:19
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    And I did answer the question: why is the OP still curious? Because the author provided no sources to support their position. – Izzy May 7 '18 at 21:21
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    Hmm... Why is implicit bias not a problem? Also, my bias is pretty obvious I don't feel the need to hide it. I'm unashamed to have a bias against people who act in racist, sexist, and homophobic ways. – apaul May 7 '18 at 23:33
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    The problems come from interfering with people's rights Um... what rights? This is a web community owned by a private company, and run by a set of rules. The only "rights" you have are to leave the community if you do not like the rules it operates by. Assuming you're American (because we're generally the only ones to bring up rights at the drop of a hat), your rights to free speech, peaceably assemble, bearing arms, etc., do not apply here. Funny how the people who are the quickest to complain about their rights being infringed don't actually understand what the rights are. – Beofett May 9 '18 at 1:25

This is a screenshot of a Stack Overflow post I saw today; it was deleted by its author soon after:

Enter image description here

What struck me here was the content of the comments, which were all posted by the same person. Was the commenter really expecting the author to reply to each and every one of these questions? Why reference the "Minimal, Complete and Verifiable example" link three separate times? Why would this commenter, a person with SO reputation exceeding 274,000, feel it necessary to respond so sarcastically to anyone, especially to someone with SO reputation of 1? And how did these inappropriate comments escape the notice of the five moderators who put this question on hold for being too broad?

The author, whose name and profile photo indicate a young woman of east Asian descent, might very well be asking herself these same questions.

Certainly, any single post can't be alleged to represent the entirety of Stack Overflow, but this particular data point does seem noteworthy.

  • 1
    This looks like something you should be flagging on SO. Considering the brief time between comments, I'm guessing that they're either auto comments or they're scripting adding the comments to the post, so it's likely there are dozens or hundreds of such comments from this user. Any one comment alone would have been more than sufficient. Posting all three was what makes it problematic. – Catija May 6 '18 at 21:51
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    Also, worth noting that "moderators" isn't really the term you want to use here. We have a special meaning of moderators, the diamond mods, and it doesn't take five of them to close a post, only one. These are just five normal users who happen to have over 3K rep each. Only the diamond mods can delete comments, plus, you can see from the timeline that the comments were posted 20 minutes after the question was closed, so none of the close voters ever saw them. – Catija May 6 '18 at 21:57
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    I must be missing something, I don’t see how any of those comments, are sarcastic. All I see is a question, with a lot of problems, and a user who probably shouldn’t have even attempted to help the user who submitted the question due to the numerous issues with the question. – Ramhound May 7 '18 at 2:56
  • 3
    I think everyone agrees that SO is difficult for newbies, the contention here is that her sex or race or creed (or whatever) plays a part. – Izzy May 7 '18 at 16:23
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    The comments are unjustifiably hostile, but to assume that the commenter has something against a "young woman of east Asian descent" is also unjustified. – WGroleau Jun 23 '18 at 10:45
  • @WGroleau. No such assumption was made. You're reading things that aren't there. – TRiG Oct 8 at 21:37

In many other industries management releasing a mea culpa admitting to failures and oversights of the self-described magnitude outlined in the blog post (and by self-admission extended to the entire SE network) would be a prelude to resignations/terminations - whatever their reasons may have been for feeling they were not living up to a certain self-defined standard, or releasing a document detailing the ways they feel they didn't, to the public.

They say:

As of last week, we’re prioritizing this and staffing it with talented employees from our Executive, Community, Data, Design, Research, and Engineering teams. We’re listening to our community and those sharing their experiences.

I see.


You didn't do your research, put minimal effort into answering your own question, but because your level of ignorance (note that I mean this in a literal, factual sense, not as an insult), intellectual laziness (OK, this one is an insult, but one which is intended to jog you out of your familiar patterns of thought and get you thinking about your own behavior. No offense, bro) and implicit bias is one shared by the majority of the readership of Meta, your question will not be closed. In fact, it is considered on-topic, interesting, and worthy of discussion. It has also attracted numerous commenters who wish to allege that there is no problem, that "gender bias" is fake news, and that things are Just Fine How They Are.

So to answer your question, all you need to do is look at the conversations it has sparked. Lots of people outside the groups you asked about answering for the people inside those groups. And why should the people inside those groups expend precious time and energy answering your questions when you have made no effort to answer them for yourself?

  • 8
    Purging comments as they'd long ago become an irrelevant conversation between two 3rd-parties. Clement, your answer strongly implies the asker here isn't behaving in good faith, which is somewhat rude; I recommend either revising it, or removing it and posting one that strives to be informative rather than inflammatory. – Shog9 May 1 '18 at 2:29
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    I don't think gender bias is fake news, but the blog post offered no evidence other than the fact that someone used the word "sweetie" (which is not very strong evidence, as it might be interpreted many ways depending on context. – WGroleau May 1 '18 at 11:06
  • @Shog9 My answer stands as evidence for the phenomenon it documents. I accept the downvotes as though they were upvotes. – Clement Cherlin Jun 25 '18 at 16:37

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