-14

1. Stack Exchange has a Problem

There's been a commotion on Stack Overflow since the latest blog was posted.

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

This question Does Stack Exchange really want to conflate newbies with women/people of color? (the title is self explanatory) raises some important issues. Although the blame is placed firmly at the feet of the new comers to the site posting crappy questions, in typical Stack Overflow meta style.

Now it comes (probably should be no surprise, as Stack Overflow is the flagship site) that this type of hostility is not limited to Stack Overflow.

It's been receiving a lot of public attention:

enter image description here

Now bear with me for the next paragraphs, this is leading to somewhere relevant to the site.

2. The Blindness of Discrimination

There seems to be a displaced and disturbing degree of community outrage on the Stack Overflow when Stack Exchange or any users speak about Social issues on the site. There also is a strong dismissive air about acknowledging that anybody on the planet does indeed suffer from discrimination, but we cannot convince nor educate everyone to take a walk in someone else's shoes and most racial discrimination, wherever it is, is pervasive, ingrained and sickenly insidious. It's something that many people point blank do not want to deal with. In fact, I live in a country where the Aboriginal people have completely different life expectancies as the rest of the country, and in fact were not recognised as human beings until recent history changed that, and yet much of our country dismisses the inbuilt discrimination and disadvantaged faced by this group of people.

Dealing with discrimination is difficult, as human beings seem attached to the idea that if people are in a rotten position it's their fault, the world doesn't owe them a living and there's a complete and rotten blind spot in comprehending that institutional discrimination is actually real.

3. Stack Exchange does not Exist Separately from the Rest of the World

Stack Exchange does not exist as a microcosm separated from the rest of the world. It's a reflection of the world, but a shinier reflection, as we do have standards, despite the criticism, we do pretty well, considering much of the internet is basically a free for all to abuse one another. We are far from perfect and there's areas that need improvement, most of us agree with that and clearly the site is doing something about that.

Does Stack Exchange have an Ethical or Social Responsibility to Address Discrimination?

Clearly the network has a Be Nice policy, although it would appear that we're failing to employ that to it's best practice. So bigotry is clearly not allowed on the site. But it does beg the question.
If 1, 2 and 3 are true. Does this mean the network has a responsibility to address discrimination, as an issue in it's own right, with or without blame?

Does the network have a responsibility to educate the community?

Where is the line between what Stack Exchange does as a site and a community and social justice?

It's time to determine if these conversations are on topic for the site and how they're addressed if they are. Frankly, as it stands a free for all brawl on Meta Stack Overflow is not helping our public profile, it's not helping to make hesitant or burned users like participating on the site. In all honesty, management needs to take some clear control over this situation. We can live in the allusion that the site if for the community and run by the community, but this isn't the case. The company runs to make money and the bottom line and decision making ends there. Yes community consultation is a good thing, but it's time management cleared some of these areas up, before we tear each other to shreds on meta.

For clarity, I'm not pushing one way or another for whether these discussions are on topic, I'm genuinely asking that management takes control.

  • 3
    @apaul you're one of the reasons I did post this. I got very upset to see your post. I'm so glad you're here. I've always liked you and understand the stress and tbh I'm starting to realise a lot of us are feeling that stress, even the people I think stress me! There is a lot of push for change globally, people are fed up and speaking out, this site is in for a hard time if the reins are not taken in and clear direction given to the community. – anon Apr 29 '18 at 20:07
  • 2
    Just to be clear, are you talking about discrimination in the world in general, discrimination on the Internet, or discrimination on Stack Exchange itself? – HDE 226868 Apr 29 '18 at 20:34
  • @HDE226868 the point 2 is the world generally. – anon Apr 29 '18 at 20:37
  • 2
    I think it's important to recognize that this may vary per site. For example a Psychology SE site would need to encourage ethical and responsible behavior as part of research. SO should encourage ethical and responsible coding. But I don't necessarily thing there is cross over in all cases. I think this can only be answered on a site by site basis. – Mgetz Apr 30 '18 at 15:27
  • 5
    "especially newer coders, women, people of color, and others in marginalized groups." I am wondering specifically not only how but why anyone would be aware of these things? We are in fact an anonymous community (with options to reveal demographic info). How is it that anyone could possibly know something to be bias about in the first place? Afaik, they simply can't and therefore cannot show bias for those reasons. I am in no way refuting that it happens, just that I'm not sure how and that it is certainly possible to make us all identical to each other in this network. – Jhawins Apr 30 '18 at 23:17
  • 4
    @Jhoverit in what way exactly is this pertinent to the question asked here? I don't understand why this question has to be pulled into the same discussion space as other questions that are related to the blogpost. There has been ample evidence provided by Stack Overflow Inc. (e.g in Developer Surveys over the last years) that Stack Overflow (the site)'s userbase does not match a representative cross-section of programmers. The only useful explanation after controlling for all other factors is that the site is less welcoming for the mentioned groups. Can we now move on to something productive? – Vogel612's Shadow Apr 30 '18 at 23:38
  • 1
    @Vogel612'sShadow Cool, where is the evidence to read? – Thorsten S. May 1 '18 at 0:04
  • 1
    @Vogel612'sShadow No, it's not the only explanation, in fact it makes no sense because there is absolutely no evidence to the claim. See the following for a much more reasonable explanation: cseducators.stackexchange.com/a/2894/2149 meta.stackexchange.com/questions/309513/… and "controlling for all other factors" please, nobody did any actual research here, SO got some mean tweets and took them as gospel. – Oleg May 1 '18 at 0:07
  • 1
    @ThorstenS. e.G: survey results 2018 ("[..]such a low percentage points to problems with inclusion in the tech industry in general and Stack Overflow in particular."), similarly 2017 and 2016. Each time coupled with the observation that this doesn't match quantcast stats on gender for visitors... – Vogel612's Shadow May 1 '18 at 0:17
  • 7
    @Oleg "nobody did any actual research"? Quite the contrary: stackoverflow.blog/2017/01/19/…. Furthermore there's a few academic papers that I can't be bothered to look up now, which are from researchers unrelated to Stackoverflow. Note that the post I linked uses data from 2016, was published in 2017 and thus predates the "mean tweets" you cite by something about a year. – Vogel612's Shadow May 1 '18 at 0:21
  • @Vogel612'sShadow How does it follow from that post that "the site is less welcoming for the mentioned groups"? If you can't bother to look them up I can't respond to them, I suspect they have as much(none) relevance as the blog post you referenced. – Oleg May 1 '18 at 0:30
  • @Vogel612'sShadow Thank you very much. – Thorsten S. May 1 '18 at 0:35
  • 1
    @Vogel612'sShadow thanks for injecting those links and thoughts, upon reflection, I should have taken more time to lay out the history for this question. It's been long coming and increasingly public - off the SE sites. – anon May 1 '18 at 3:11
  • @Vogel612'sShadow I do not understand your implication that my comment is irrelevant. Maybe I can assume you dismissed me because of one of these attributes about me. Adding to the pile... – Jhawins May 1 '18 at 15:31
  • 1
    @Vogel612'sShadow My question was specific to this post. I do not have context of other posts on the network. This noise is quite bogus. Thanks for the input – Jhawins May 1 '18 at 18:34
33

First, I must note that I do not speak for the management of Stack Exchange / Overflow in this response; these are my opinions and beliefs, put forth in good faith - any resemblance to those of Stack Overflow, Inc. are entirely coincidental.

That out of the way... You kinda answered your own question:

Stack Exchange does not exist as a microcosm separated from the rest of the world.

This is self-evident: every participating member of these sites has a part in their larger society in addition to their role here. If nothing else, it's really hard to get Internet access without interacting with the the world around you in some form.

So if we want to address a problem that occurs on these sites, it is inevitable that we will also change the larger society in which our members operate in some small way.

This has already occurred. When Stack Overflow first opened its doors to the public in the fall of 2008, the notion of discussion-free publicly-accessible publicly-editable Q&A was, if not unknown, decidedly controversial... Today, I frequently find myself gently explaining to folks that these aren't accidental or unfortunate behaviors that we blindly copied, but rather intentional choices - the Stack Overflow model of Q&A has become in many ways such an expected way of doing things that a generation of programmers assumes that the Internet has always worked this way! Indeed, Joel recently began a series of articles with the intent of explaining how these sites came about, lest folks continue to assume this was all just a big accident...

The notion that you can somehow take action in the world, in public, involving thousands of people... And not change society in some way... Is thus naive; what we do here does have an effect, for good or for ill.

Ethical responsibility

With that in mind... Let's consider your titular question:

Does Stack Exchange have an ethical responsibility to address global discrimination and marginalisation?

No.

...We have an ethical responsibility to address discrimination and marginalization within the communities that we serve.

That may sound like splitting hairs, but I think it's important to recognize the distinction because of what I stated in the previous section. We cannot have responsibility for that which we have no influence over; such responsibility is meaningless. But by the same token, we cannot ignore the responsibility over that which we do influence; that can be catastrophic.

In short, we'd all be wise to remember the serenity prayer, and look for opportunities for improvement that lie within our purview.

Final thoughts

I find the proliferation of responses like those from Thorsten S. rather perplexing; while I sympathize with a reluctance to expend effort trying to change minds and guide behaviors, the entire history of Stack Overflow is one of doing precisely that: every day, we squelch discussion and debate in favor of facts and practical solutions, a constant struggle against the tide. Yes, it's a lot of work... But the outcome is usable answers in place of the clouds of hot air that pollute the rest of the 'Net. I think that's worth a bit of effort.

  • 1
    You asked me to provide an example how an online community can be destroyed. Please look what someone commented: "No gaming is better than bad gaming. No community is better than a bad community." Translation: If I have the opinion something is bad and I cannot fix it, I will work to destroy it. Do you need it more direct? Still having the idea it's only concerning cranky atheists? – Thorsten S. May 4 '18 at 3:15
  • If we all went and hid under the bed every time someone threatened to rage-quit, stack overflow wouldn't have seen 2009, @thorsten. Come on, man. I know you can do better than this. Why in this one thread are you so... timid? – Shog9 May 4 '18 at 3:22
  • Use your browser function to search the cited text here and read all of the comments. It is not a threat of rage-quitting. – Thorsten S. May 4 '18 at 3:43
16
+100

Stack Exchange has been through similar episodes of turmoil throughout the years, many before my time. To make a long story short, we've been here before - with see SOPA, net neutrality, #LoveOverflow and more. All of those cases saw plenty of discussion about whether or not Stack Exchange is the right venue to promote/talk about/stand up for these. We've been here before.

Discrimination, marginalization, etc. is a general social issue at heart, not a technical one - and so it's tempting to file it away with #LoveOverflow and the decision to recognize a United States Supreme Court ruling, as something that doesn't directly impact the site1. On the other hand, the reception a user gets on Stack Exchange is very relevant to the existence and life of the site itself - and so, like SOPA, like net neutrality, it becomes a problem that, to some extent, we have to think about.

Let me quote Joel for a second:

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

. . .

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

Yes, there is discrimination and barriers to entry against certain groups on the Internet. Yes, some of these same obstacles exist on Stack Exchange. Yes, it is in the interest of us all to resolve them insofar as they pertain to Stack Exchange - not just from an ethical standpoint, but a practical one, because if parts of the userbase don't feel welcome here, that's hurting the community as a whole. That means we're doing something wrong.

I'll make this a bit more concrete, and talk about, as an example, harassment. Street harassment - including, but not limited to, catcalling, following, etc. - is a global problem, especially for women. I think, in fact, that many of those (myself included) who have not experienced it directly might underestimate its severity2. It's a problem, period. Does it affect many users of Stack Exchange? Yes. Is it an issue directly related to Stack Exchange? No.

Now switch the venue to a post on a Stack Exchange site. Say a user who appears to be female writes a question or answer and receives comments of a sexual nature (yes, this happens; yes, I've seen it). Just as in the case of catcalling on the street, someone who uses Stack Exchange is affected by harassment. The difference? Because this behavior happens on the site, SE (both the community and Stack Overflow, the company) has facilitated it, indirectly and likely inadvertently.

If you make and run a platform which some people use to harass or put down others, then yes, I'd argue it's your ethical duty to fix it. If you use the platform, then I'd argue that you have some skin in the game, and while you shouldn't feel obligated to fix it, you should absolutely help if you can. As I said before, it's an issue that affects the community, and Stack Overflow (again, the company) should indeed step in to fix it.

I know that Stack Overflow's efforts are just beginning, from what I've read and heard from Community Managers and others involved. There was the blog post that kicked this all off, and the Stack Overflow Inclusion Project (official survey mentioned in the blog) will take further steps. Efforts to solve the problems of discrimination on Stack Exchange might take an array of forms - and I don't know what they'll turn out to be. Maybe that includes educating users somehow; maybe that includes . . . whatever. We'll see.

I tried to justify acting to solve problems based on (for instance) harassment in comments, but I kinda skipped over saying why something like catcalling isn't, in my opinion, a job for Stack Overflow, even though it affects Stack Exchange users. That's because I'm struggling to put my argument into words. At the moment, it's basically that catcalling isn't something Stack Overflow can fix. Can we educate users about it? Yes. Could we try to galvanize mass action? I suppose (though I'd oppose it). But in the end, it's something that exists in a separate sphere, a sphere in which Stack Overflow has little control. Stack Overflow is the authority, the head honcho, on what happens on Stack Exchange. But they're not when it comes to problems that exist off the site, in a different sphere of life entirely.

Maybe efforts to fight, say, sexism on the network will inadvertently spill over and do some good offline. It could happen. I'd be happy if it does. But sticking to what we know and can control is a strategy that will, I think, get us far on issues affecting the Stack Exchange network.

In the end, I think that Stack Overflow should avoid trying to galvanize folks when it comes to issues - political, social, cultural - that don't affect the site. But I think that when it comes to social issues on the network itself - well, yeah, there's definitely a moral imperative there.


1 Though it certainly has indirect effects, on many of those who use, moderate and run the network.
2 This is a case where looking at statistics and, more importantly, listening to those who have experienced it can paint a fuller picture.

  • Good answer, I understand the cyclic nature of the arguments. It borders on chicken and egg, yet I think we need to focus on how we react and communicate as a community as opposed to specific social justice issues. Unless of course there's empirical evidence that the site does perpetuate these problems. It's too hard. It goes full circle and I'm not sure what the answer is. – anon Apr 30 '18 at 7:05
11

Not an employee so everything I write will be so much irrelevant but here goes anyways:

I think this ... won't work over here. You've seen what happened with your past posts on SO meta, even if they've been almost aggressively unoffensive and deferent. You've seen what happened with the last MSE post about Trump's executive order. You'll see what'll happen with this post.

It is clear to me that there is a very sizable contingent of the active and vocal userbase that has absolutely no interest whatsoever in entertaining social causes. They don't want this on their Q&A site, and they'll fight tooth and nail to not have it there.

Where is the line between what Stack Exchange does as a site and a community and social justice?

This is where the sad state of affairs of current broader societal discourse will become apparent. By using that word, you've just made hundreds of enemies. The current climate is so charged that you'll probably find a lot of people who are desperately seeking for somewhere where social issues aren't a topic and will fight to keep it that way.

Ultimately I think that it isn't stack's place to be an activist entity out to fight injustice. It is a Q/A site, and the only way to maintain the contributor base in all of its viewpoint diversity (even if a bunch of the viewpoints in that are those you despise to your core and want nothing to do with) is to strictly not discuss it.

  • Noteworthy - SE brought up the issue of marginalised groups and the site... which I don't think was cloaked well... but that's my opinion and that is worth precisely that. One opinion. – anon Apr 29 '18 at 20:44
  • 1
    When an environment is implicitly barring certain viewpoints (or even explicitly barring them, in some sites here) those viewpoints won't remain present. The diversity will be reduced because that's what competition over an environment does. Neutrality is not neutral - it is biased towards the status quo - and therefore biased towards the existing powerful and privileged. By strictly eliminating any opportunity to recognise, address and resolve conflicts in an open debate, you force the conflict to be resolved in favour of the existing power base, because they already have the power. – Nij Apr 30 '18 at 4:08
  • @Nij you raise good points that would make a good answer. Care to write one? – anon Apr 30 '18 at 7:06
  • 1
    I wasn't going to, but I'm tired of dealing with commenters elsewhere that just don't engage with arguments, so a statement is as good as an ignored question. @YvetteColomb – Nij Apr 30 '18 at 8:19
  • 2
    People are so quick to be defensive whenever these topics come up, it becomes really draining to have to spend the whole time trying to help them cope and calm down that seriously discussing issues and ideas becomes impossible. It's not just here, it is pervasive in the tech community. And there is no welcoming of other voices or experiences, hence the assumption most of the commenters are making is that the women (and men) leaving are new posters or inexperienced developers. – Elin Apr 30 '18 at 16:58
  • 3
    @Nij For one I disagree with the premise that institutional privilege is in effect on stack exchange. Not sure about the wider field of tech, but Stack exchange is as close as a meritocracy (i.e the ideal system) that you can get on a question and answer site. Outside from changes to the new user experience that have been in discussion for years prior, I do not believe changes are in order or possible without the community tearing itself apart – Magisch Apr 30 '18 at 17:15
  • You say that like it's a bad thing. There's a refrain on several sites: no gaming is better than bad gaming. And no community is better than bad community. Which is what we have when users are put down for the same reasons they get denied jobs or homes or freedom of expression. – Nij Apr 30 '18 at 19:12
  • 1
    @Nij I (and I suspect most people) would rather have stack as it is then no stack, thank you. – Magisch Apr 30 '18 at 22:09
  • 2
    @Elin it is draining. Honestly there's so much argument around semantics and being pedantic, we're practically bound from speaking - as human beings generally. Debates are hijacked and derailed by issues not related to the heart of the topic at hand, and thus nothing is achieved and the status quo remains unaffected. It shouldn't require a revolution to state a view point and for people to think - maybe that person has a point. – anon May 1 '18 at 4:06
  • Yeah, that's part of the problem. Too many people are so afraid of losing the nice things they have, not that the lost things are nice anyway or that nice things would be lost at all, that they refuse to change themselves and let other people have nice things as well. At least you're candid enough to admit it - the majority of the status quo proponents hide behind rhetoric and semantics and technicality and outright denial that they have any involvement in the issue or that there is an issue at all. But regardless, that is the solution they use: they stop bearing it and just leave fullstop. – Nij May 1 '18 at 9:00
  • 1
    @Elin The reason people get defensive is that there is no sense in discussing with social justice people because either you are 100% for them or you are evil™. There is no middle ground, no "Let's agree to disagree" and it is always, always emotional. My feelings are hurt, my person is attacked, you are hiding something, you are condescending. Because they are on the right side, they have no qualms to "win" their discussion by any means, so sooner or later you simply give up. – Thorsten S. May 4 '18 at 2:56
9

There have been several excellent responses here, but there is one point (excellently addressed by @Shog9 as well)

Does Stack Exchange have an ethical responsibility to address global discrimination and marginalisation?

No, except in the sense that we are part of the world, and if we allow our little portion of the world to devolve into a cesspool then we are failing. I don't care if this is supposed to be a place of cut and dried factual answers to questions, you cannot remove the human element of it.

I suppose you could say "humans are humans, you can't control what people think/feel". Maybe true, but would you apply that logic to a toddler? Hate is a learned concept. While we may not be able to combat and educate people differently worldwide, we can certainly combat it in our own part of the world.

I spend a large portion of my free time both learning and teaching people how to defend themselves from physical assault. If I can do the same for an online community that I enjoy being a part of, then I am a happy camper. If I can show a user that they matter and they are welcome no matter their particular difference, I have done my job. If all I can do is change the attitude of one person, that is a success. If we all do that, it spreads. Why spend time worrying about what our "global duty" is, when we can spend that time helping to change the parts we can change?

Will it be easy? Probably not. But the best things are never easy.

  • Great answer - it sums it up from how I see it also. The only confusing part Why spend time worrying about what our "global duty" is, when we can spend that time helping to change the parts we can change? you're saying - "don't worry about the larger issues, fix what's in front of you"? – anon May 1 '18 at 2:54
  • 2
    @YvetteColomb in essence, yes. Do I know that there is injustice in [insert non US country]? You bet. Can I do anything about it? No. But, via circle of friends, butterfly effect, whatever you call it, if I can correct my immediate area, then I can affect a larger audience and so on. But if I can't really even get my own house in order, worrying about another place reduces the energy I can spend locally. – JohnP May 1 '18 at 3:33
5

Does the network have a responsibility to educate the community?

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will guard the guards themselves?

Be nice as policy has one distinct advantage: Everyone understands it and it is very hard to argue against it. It does not depend on religion, skin color, gender or whatever distinction humans are able to think of.

What exactly should be educated? Is that by any chance your own very personal view about what is right and that you think is self-evident? And you also think just by coincidence that other people are somehow uneducated (why else educate them) and are doing the things they are doing because nobody else taught them otherwise? If people are getting told what they are supposed to do, they will accept it gladly and think: "Man, that idea never came to me?"

You very rightly said that Stack Exchange is a reflection of the world. Did you ever research what happens when such changes are demanded in the real world and what history tells us about it?

We seek an order of things in which all the base and cruel passions are enchained, all the beneficent and generous passions are awakened by the laws; where ambition becomes the desire to merit glory and to serve our country; where distinctions are born only of equality itself; where the citizen is subject to the magistrate, the magistrate to the people, and the people to justice; where our country assures the well-being of each individual, and where each individual proudly enjoys our country's prosperity and glory; where every soul grows greater through the continual flow of republican sentiments, and by the need of deserving the esteem of a great people; where the arts are the adornments of the liberty which ennobles them and commerce the source of public wealth rather than solely the monstrous opulence of a few families. In our land we want to substitute morality for egotism, integrity for formal codes of honor, principles for customs, a sense of duty for one of mere propriety, the rule of reason for the tyranny of fashion, scorn of vice for scorn of the unlucky; self-respect for insolence, grandeur of soul for vanity, love of glory for the love of money, >>>>>> good people in place of good society.<<<<< We wish to substitute merit for intrigue, genius for wit, truth for glamor, the charm of happiness for sensuous boredom, the greatness of man for the pettiness of the great, a people who are magnanimous, powerful, and happy, in place of a kindly, frivolous, and miserable people—which is to say all the virtues and all the miracles of the republic in place of all the vices of the monarchy[..]

Does that not sound good? A vision of mankind to be followed?

The text comes from "On Political Morality" from Maximilien Robespierre during the height of the "Reign of Terror".

Now Stack Exchange does not chop heads off...this example must be surely an excessive exaggeration? Fine, tell me one single successful attempt where the people finally got rid of their vices.

Where is the line between what Stack Exchange does as a site and a community and social justice? [...] In all honesty, management needs to take some clear control over this situation.

Absolutely, the very first thing people are calling for when something does not run according to their view is a leader. This leader should finally lay down the law. If parts of the community does not act as it is good for the community(!), we need rules for the community against those parts of the community.

Reasonable, isn't it? So those rules and education take place.

What happens next is that some people are still making trouble. Because trouble invites drama, and those people are silently removed or people committed to the cause give them the silent treatment. So those people go away. Nice. What is irritating is that the members are dwindling...

This happened with Atheism Plus. It was an attempt to introduce feminism, anti-racism and social justice into the skeptic community. How could this be failing? PZ Myers was a driving force, he had one of the most visited sites, he set up his very own community, and he removed everyone who he did not see fit for the task.

As the article demonstrates, the whole responsibility for the failure are misogynistic assholes. While it may explain that those never joined the community, isn't it strange that the majority of skeptics did not remain and embraced Atheism Plus? Easy to explain: Too many skeptics are misogynistic assholes. It is not our fault, no, no, no: We had the very best intentions. It could not have anything to do with our movement and our urge to teach people. Our conscience is clean, and those are valuable goals.

Why does this remind me of so many real world incidences? Those socialist states were workers' paradise; how could people want to leave that? Go over the border? There is only one explanation: they are either spies or traitors. Bad, bad people.

Fairness and treating people well is one thing. You can demand that users do not show unacceptable behavior to each other. But trying to change minds and impose own worldviews by force always, always backfires.

A personal note:

I am hearing frustration in your voice. It is the reaction of people which believe that humans desperately need to follow a specific path; they only...need...a nudge in the right direction. I am disappointed, so other with more power should repair the situation. When this fails (and it will fail), they are always growing bitter and resentful. Their vice is that they have too much trust in humans.

The cure is working for changes and to be happy if changes occur. In a former version I added: "but to never expect or demand them", but as Nicol Bolas pointed out, this falls definitely too short. So I state more precisely that you should avoid a hard-set goal to avoid the feeling of failure if this goal is not reached (but the situation moved in this direction).

  • 8
    The problem with this "cure" is that if nobody has the passion of expecting changes, nobody will work hard enough to actually get those changes to occur. The US Civil Rights movement of the 50s&60s was made of people who both expected and demanded equality (and yes, that required "change minds"). They wouldn't have been able to overturn the existing order without such vehemence. I find it unreasonable to expect people who feel that they have been wronged by society to not demand that society change to undo that wrong. – Nicol Bolas Apr 30 '18 at 1:06
  • 5
    @YvetteColomb Clarification: apaul left the site and wrote the reason for his decision. This stimulated you to write this question, tell us that in your impression the community does not enough or is not able to solve this internally (tearing themselves to shreds here), so the management should now intervene and also be aware of their responsiblity about global discrimination (hint, hint, hint)? Is anything about that misunderstood? – Thorsten S. Apr 30 '18 at 10:54
  • 4
    Really not sure what your point is here. You got a lot of tangential commentary and personal notes, but I'm not seeing where you ever address the question even as you quote it at the start of your answer. – Shog9 Apr 30 '18 at 16:21
  • 6
    Also... Using the atheism / skeptics communities as examples here may not be the best choice. I'll try to avoid sweeping generalizations here, but I will note that our own Skeptics site has one of the strictest moderation policies on the network precisely because the topic attracts a never-ending stream of cranks and jackasses; the cost of having a useful Q&A site dedicated to skepticism is that we have to turn away a lot of folks who just won't follow the rules. Compromising on that would certainly make for a lot more... engagement... But at the cost of producing anything useful. – Shog9 Apr 30 '18 at 16:26
  • 1
    You explain this and call for the management to take action while assuming that everyone should just agree on the principles already. This isn't the case. Stack overflow isn't a social justice focused company. I'd wager that if you did a poll on it, a large part of the current contributors reject the notion of american style social justice entirely and not only want nothing to do with it, but will fight any attempt at instituting it in any capacity. I think that stack exchange will rather tear itself apart then become more useful if the company leadership starts pushing it. – Magisch Apr 30 '18 at 17:11
  • 3
    @Shog9. Abbreviated: The question here asks for SE bosses to implement policies which are identical to social justice focus groups. Vision: A better SE. Reality: Every time someone from an aggrieved group feels miffed, a shitstorm on social media ensues. SE has no choice for a middle ground (either for or against us, see below), so the offending people are removed. People who are not interested in the social stuff, but want questions answered, feel more and more watched and patronized and leave. SE dead, the end. Confirmed again and again: Impose good behaviour good, impose ideology bad. – Thorsten S. Apr 30 '18 at 18:19
  • 3
    Ok, lemme try this again... If you could state your answer without the dripping-with-hypocrisy Robespierre quote and atheism circle-jerk politics, what would it be? You're making a bold claim here; maybe you could list some examples of online communities where your observation is "confirmed again and again"? – Shog9 Apr 30 '18 at 19:12
  • 1
    @Shog9 Sorry, what is not understandable? Ok, different approach: I had a socialist dictatorship before my doorstep which thought they were the good guys and their goal was to develop the "fully-developed socialist personality"...and they needed a wall to hold their citizens. After reunion, surprise: They are still the same people. My answer is simply: Beware of ideologies, especially well-intentioned and world-improving ones, because people stay the same and do not want to be "teached". So if someone suggests, hey, let's implement a specific worldview: Don't. do. it. [continued]. – Thorsten S. Apr 30 '18 at 20:24
  • 5
    I really don't want to have to research the history of Atheism+ in order to understand your answer, @Thorsten; if you're trying to draw a parallel, it'd help considerably to explain how that community was in any way like this one. Right now, you seem to be arguing against communities having any sort of defining principles or precepts or perhaps even rules... Which flies in the face of everything we've built here on Stack Exchange. – Shog9 Apr 30 '18 at 21:09
  • 2
    @Shog9 Be nice as policy has one distinct advantage:[...], You can demand that users do not show unacceptable behavior to each other., Impose good behaviour good, impose ideology bad. Did I write that above, yes or no? How do you come to the conclusion I want no rules?! Are you just sweeping your eyes over my text and search for keywords? Sorry, does not work. I understand that you have much to do and time is limited, but if you are not really interested and prefer to rely on what others tell you because my text is too heavy or bores you to tears, why the discussion? – Thorsten S. Apr 30 '18 at 22:09
  • 1
    I give up. Can anybody explain what Shog9 was parsing? My troubles on Atheism+?? Wut? – Thorsten S. Apr 30 '18 at 22:57
  • 1
    Let me try to explain @Shog9 though it appears you don't want to understand. 1. People create something together because they have a common goal, in this case SO 2. Some people don't think it's enough and try to promote their political agenda within that something, in this case Yvette(it's her question) but it also applies to SO the company with the blog post. 3. That something gets destroyed. 3 is inevitable, the beginning of 2 is were we currently at. Thorsten backed up his answer with examples were it happened, I don't know why mentioning the french revolution and atheists triggered you. – Oleg Apr 30 '18 at 23:57
  • 3
    Citation needed, @Oleg. Go ahead and post your own answer if you can provide a relevant example of anything you're claiming. Maybe start with how Voat completely took over Reddit's place on the 'Net? Oh wait, that didn't happen. Well, not here to make your argument for you; good luck. – Shog9 May 1 '18 at 0:35
  • 7
    Both of those are, uh, essentially politically-driven protest offshoots of Wikipedia, @Oleg. And they're both tiny by comparison to either WP or Stack Overflow. I'll worry about whatever factors drives them right after I finish worrying about PhysicsOverflow overtaking Physics (which itself is larger / more active than RationalWiki). – Shog9 May 1 '18 at 0:56
  • 1
    @Shog9 You asked me to provide an example, I did. If you are going to add additional constraints after the fact and claim that I didn't we are not going to get very far. – Oleg May 1 '18 at 10:35
1

When an issue divides a community, the power base in that community must make a decision of which side (or sides, as issues can have many sides and some or most may overlap or differ in a variety of ways) it will support.

Whatever Stack Exchange, its community moderators or official blog or Meta FAQ, may say, the power base is Stack Exchange the company. The user community is not the highest rank on the ladder at all. We can say we want and need and dislike all manner of things, but the decision rests with Stack Exchange.

The power base cannot be neutral on a topic, because neutrality is to support the status quo, whatever it happens to be. When the issue is that this status quo has negative impacts, many on individuals and some quite significantly on groups and a few on the whole community, the sides are a variation on "change the status" or "leave it as it is".

We've already got questions and discussion galore about the existence of the issues. Suffice it to say, there's a lot of evidence of the problems and it is met with varying levels of acceptance or attention. I'm not going to explain (yet again) how the ability to deny the existence of a privilege is one of the benefits of that privilege, or why people get upset when they're called sir despite obviously being non-male/non-gendered at all, or why using cultural references to make fun of someone who won't recognise the reference and therefore that they're being insulted is definitely Not Being Nice, or the problem behind not just using formatting which is actively harmful but arguing against the use of a better alternative.

There are hyperbolic posts already that put not just action against these problems, but even the idea that something should said and done about them on the level of fascism. If you're thinking that, you're being a dick. Nobody is forced to use Stack Exchange. Anybody can leave whenever they want - even users with years of posting and tens of thousands of rep, even users with moderator positions, can just stop coming here.

And yes, that does cut both ways. When a community is divided by an issue, there will be a conflict between the many sides. Without intervention by the power base, one of those sides (or a loose collection of similar sides) will eventually come to dominate; the others will be pushed down and out. And without intervention by the power base on behalf of the weaker side, that dominance will continue to be in the favour of the sides which already align with the status quo.

Stack Exchange doesn't need to do anything to address discrimination, no. But it does need to recognise the effect that will have, and it does need to accept the consequences of that choice. Because it is a choice. To do anything except take the side of those who already get pushed down is to let them keep being pushed down, or worse, join in the pushing themselves.

It is going to come to a choice between which groups of users they want to keep. The ones being pushed down or the ones who do the pushing? I think it's not obvious which of those they should pick, because I'm not their accountant or lawyer or business manager or sysadmin or PR agent, but I think it is extremely obvious what will happen based on the one they do pick, because it's already happening now.

  • 2
    I think the problem with your argumentation is based on differences of permises. I think a lot of people don't really buy the privilege narrative in general, and as a result you and they are talking about different things. This leads to a lot of anger because for either side, the other isn't reasonable. – Magisch Apr 30 '18 at 15:25
  • 1
    They don't need to buy anything, they get the privilege for free off the back of societal history. That they get to pretend otherwise is part of that privilege, as already pointed out. @user5389107 – Nij Apr 30 '18 at 19:08
  • How pithy and vague as to be pointless. Try again when you have some substance, for example giving the dichotomy and explaining what the additional choice would be. @ThorstenS. – Nij Apr 30 '18 at 19:09
  • 3
    Thank you for posting this. Honestly it is exhausting expressing any views that go outside the norms on SE ror anywhere online. It causes people to give up. – anon Apr 30 '18 at 21:23
  • 4
    @YvetteColomb Which is why (although no one is listening) we keep saying that the issue is not really new users it is losing existing users who get tired of watching it and not being heard. I'm at this point done with hearing people speaking as though they speak for all long term users. They do not speak for me and they should acknowledge it. – Elin May 1 '18 at 4:20
  • 1
    @Elin I'm so drained by it. I was initially excited by the prospect of change, but there's such a backlash to any type of criticism of the site. It's insane. Any functional business will critique itself, that's how they improve. I thought people did the same of themselves, but I'm not so sure now. – anon May 1 '18 at 4:23
  • 1
    @YvetteColomb There seems to be no capacity for self-reflection or questioning assumptions at all. – Elin May 1 '18 at 4:45
  • 1
    @Elin BUT that's human beings, not exclusive to SO and I make that clear, because I get misquoted. I do think there's some amazing, intelligent and forward thinking people on the site.. shame we don't hear more from them – anon May 1 '18 at 4:56
  • 1
    @YvetteColomb Definitely lots of amazing people, a small group has a disproportionately large impact on how the site is experienced. – Elin May 1 '18 at 4:59
  • 1
    I feel like there are so many good, constructive conversations that could be had but it's just impossible to even consider trying to start one. I find it very sad.I don't mind people disagreeing with me at all, that's why discussion is good, but the other people have to be willing to engage in discussion (not just shutting down people they don't agree with) and that's just not something that seems possible here. – Elin May 1 '18 at 5:05
  • 1
    @Elin I totally agree about the small group that doesn't give anyone else a chance. meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/366665/… and yes they shut people down with personal insults and generalisations that dismiss people as being "snowflakes" and extrapolate to false arguments, that will lead from acknowledging an inch of someone elses point of view. I only stayed on the site to show people you can do it. A small portion of SO meta detest me and I stay in spite of them. – anon May 1 '18 at 5:49
  • 2
    @Elin Stick around, occasionally you get a small win that makes a small difference: meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/367091/… – apaul May 2 '18 at 1:59
  • 1
    @apaul :) That's so great, good way to start my day. – Elin May 2 '18 at 9:44
1

This seems to be the source of your primary complaint:

This question Does Stack Exchange really want to conflate newbies with women/people of color? (the title is self explanatory) raises some important issues. Although the blame is placed firmly at the feet of the new comers to the site posting crappy questions, in typical Stack Overflow meta style.

Now it comes (probably should be no surprise, as Stack Overflow is the flagship site) that this type of hostility is not limited to Stack Overflow.

However, you have not actually attempted to state why this is bad behaviour on SO's part. If you want to declare that SO has an ethics problem, you must be at least able to disagree with what it's currently doing. Enforcing good standards of question is not an ethical issue when it comes to a Q+A site, the tech industry, or the rest of the world in general.

And for the record, the reason why "Social (justice) Issues" are held in so low regard is because how hypocritical they are.

If you declare that a certain group must be allowed to post low quality questions, then you are asserting that said group is less capable of asking high quality questions. With new users this is obvious- they simply don't know the rules. With all the "minority group" rubbish, it's surrendering the soft bigotry of low expectations. Don't fall for it! SO's standards don't change based on the poster's race or sex or whatever the next fad is.

  • You seem to be mixing issues in order to evade a pretty glaring problem. Conflating quality control with open rudeness is a different issue. I'm pretty sure the issue being addressed here, was whether SE has a moral/ethical obligation to do something about issues related to the communities represented on the network. – apaul May 7 '18 at 20:50
  • @apaul I can understand where you're coming from, but the question is worded such that it is only the first and last sections that are directly relevant to SO. Hence why I addressed the root of the problem- the primary complaint: SO is hostile to poor questions. I have no problem with this and I don't believe anyone here does either. – Izzy May 7 '18 at 21:28
  • You seem to have some strong opinions about another issue, perhaps you could answer that question on Stack Overflow's meta. Pretty sure it's been discussed at great length there, and the specific question you tried to answer here was actually asked there. – apaul May 7 '18 at 21:38
  • @apaul I don't know pal, I'm just a guy with a zoid as an avatar. – Izzy May 7 '18 at 21:42

You must log in to answer this question.