While the timing of this post coincides with us expressing some serious concerns around how we're not doing a good job of helping and guiding Stack Overflow to remain a welcoming place for everyone, this is something that's been weighing heavily on our minds for quite some time, and applicable to any site that's wired into chat (AKA, all of them).
Sometimes you have problems that stay dormant for months, heck, even years, but when they flare up — it's really ugly. I'm going to make a very firm statement that I'm super proud of 97% of our chat rooms that remain some of the safest places to hang out and 'talk shop' on the Internet; you folks are doing an amazing job of helping us prove that groups of responsible people tend to bring out the very best in one another given loose rules that are often open to interpretation (see linked and related posts, too).
Unfortunately, I need to take a moment and talk about the remaining 3%1.
Those of you that regularly use chat have probably noticed that each room has a rather distinct culture. In some rooms, a little off-topic 'fun' is not only permitted, but also encouraged, and generally serves to make the culture of the room brighter, and the experience of spending time there more rewarding. In these rooms, troll-like behavior or other things that don't reconcile well with our code of conduct are quickly flagged and removed.
Other rooms prefer to keep the conversation more on-topic, with a focus that's more like a laser than a campfire. Our guidance has always been to essentially go with the flow, as long as that flow isn't something that doesn't appear to belong on our chat system, or doesn't easily come to terms with our code of conduct.
And that gets us to the hard part. It's terribly difficult and ineffective to write a list of things you can or can't say in chat.
First, you just invite a lot of rule-lawyering (the Internet version of but I'm not touching you!! I'm not technically touching you!!!) and second, new people see this oddly specific list of things like "Please don't talk about what monkeys really mean by farting" and wonder what kind of crazy people might be lurking behind the door. I could give more real, concrete examples - but let's not go there.
What positively has to function in order for these rooms to exist with our branding behind them is:
- Stuff that doesn't belong, or that doesn't reconcile with our code of conduct is flagged.
- The culture of our rooms must be welcoming above anything else to anyone that puts forward a good-faith effort to join and interact.
So, if we see rooms where:
- Offensive stuff that violates our CoC isn't flagged
- Offensive stuff that violates our CoC isn't just allowed (however tacitly, through nobody flagging it), it's encouraged
- People are berated, kicked or otherwise harassed for holding a room's culture to our code of conduct
We're going to shut the room down permanently. And this isn't the first time we've done this.
None of this is new, and as I said earlier, problems sometimes pretend to go away while they secretly find ways to bite you even harder - I put the blame for needing to come here and reiterate all of this yet again squarely on us. But that doesn't absolve folks from the responsibilities that go along with the privilege of using chat.
Chat is a great tool, and we are really proud of the caliber of discourse that flows through our systems every day. We want to keep it available because we're really proud of what most folks do with it.
But we can't have self-policing break in the face of flagrant violations of our Code Of Conduct, and we'll be enforcing that with calm, steely-faced smiles going forward.
Questions? Observations? Anything else? Please leave an answer or a comment. We love leading when it mostly means gently guiding people to do what's good for all of us, and we really don't like it when we need to do it more deliberately. But, we're the custodians of the reputation all of you helped us to build, so we must.
1: Percentages are derived from Tim's brain via the Anecdotal3000 percentage generator implanted by Stack Exchange, Inc.