The last weeks and days have seen some erratic behaviour by Stack Exchange Inc., such as likely illegal changes to the content license and the firing of an upstanding community moderator with no explanation except copy-pasted responses (leaving many to believe it was for no good reason). It would be nice if those just were examples of ill judgement, but the disturbing alternative is that SE has given up on cooperating with the community.
An increasing rate of incomprehensible actions
There's a long history of Stack Exchange alienating more engaged community members (and I know many that have already left as a result). That neglectful approach is regrettable, but not outright malicious. This seems to have changed, to the worse.
On Sep 5, SE announced without prior discussion that the content license was being retroactively changed. Even though that change might be desirable, it was widely questioned as being illegal. It took three weeks to get any response from SE, and even that doesn't address any concerns the community raised.
On Sep 27, SE fired community moderator Monica Cellio from all sites for ... I'm not really sure, since I'm not a mod, but it seems to have been over an unrelated disagreement. De-modding isn't a proportional response to disagreements and goes against Stack Exchange principles. This is extremely concerning: is disagreement no longer allowed? Does SE now demand unquestioning loyalty from community mods? Really odd, since Monica was otherwise known for being a prolific and reasonable moderator. (Update: a community-maintained neutral accounting of events has been created in the meanwhile.)
The following mods have been fired or resigned in protest over the way this was handled:
fired: Monica Cellio on Judaism, The Workplace, Worldbuilding, Writing, Beer Wine & Spirits, and Meta Stack Exchange (provides background)
resigned: Jane S on The Workplace
resigned: Dennis on Code Golf
resigned: anonymous2 on Internet of Things
resigned: Ed Cottrell on Stack Overflow and Ebooks
resigned: DoMiNeLa10 on Emacs
(only one moderator left on Emacs)
resigned: Neil Fein on Writing
resigned: Glen_b on Cross Validated
resigned: Seth on Ask Ubuntu
resigned: Hohmannfan on Space Exploration (previously suspended activity)
resigned: Mego on Code Golf, with the request to remove all network content
Additionally, others have taken other actions:
suspended activity: Paul White on Database Administrators
suspended activity: James on Worldbuilding
suspended activity: Rand al'Thor on Science Fiction & Fantasy- Return to moderation on October 31. suspended activity: Null on Science Fiction & Fantasy- Return to moderation on October 31.
stopped activity before new election ends: Tensibai on DevOps
took a break ColleenV on English Language Learners
suspended activity: terdon on Unix & Linux, Ask Ubuntu, and Bioinformatics
suspended activity: anongoodnurse on Parenting- Return to moderation on October 27.
suspended non-critical activity: AviD on Information Security
suspended non-urgent activity: Anton Menshov on Computational Science– Return to moderation on November 14 with a very heavy heart. Supports the fundraiser campaign. suspended non-urgent activity: Thomas Owens on Software EngineeringReturn to moderation on October 12.
suspended activity: Kevin on Science Fiction & Fantasy and The Great Outdoors
(only one moderator active on The Great Outdoors
and Science Fiction & Fantasy)
taking a leave of absence: Cyn on Writing
(no active moderators left on Writing)
suspended activity: Xander on Beer, Wine & Spirits
(only one moderator active on Beer, Wine & Spirits)
suspended activity / resigning soon: Mad Scientist on Skeptics
suspended activity: jonsca on Web Applications and Chemistry
suspended activity: nicoguaro on Computational Science
(only one moderator active on Computational Science)
suspended activity: lois6b on Stack Overflow en español
suspended activity: eykanal on Academia
suspended non-critical activity: AJ Henderson on Photography, Video Production, Sound Design and Community Building. Same reasoning as Rory Alsop / Doktor Mayhem
(only one moderator active on Sound SE and Video SE)
suspended activity: Michael Hampton on Server Fault
suspended activity: Sven on Server Fault
staying away from queues and reduced activity: Bhargav Rao on Stack Overflow
Suspended activity: David on Blender
Suspended activity: Duarte Farrajota Ramos on Blender
Suspended activity: gandalf3 on Blender
Suspended activity: iKlsR on Blender (no active moderators on Blender)
Suspended activity: gung on Cross Validated
Suspended activity: Hatchet on Language Learning
Additional resignations that are related to the incident, but for their own reasons:
resigned: Keelan on Philosophy
resigned: PashaPash on Stack Overflow на русском
resigned: rolfl on Code Review
resigned: Tensibai on DevOps
resigned: Jack Douglas on Database Administrators
(only one moderator active on Database Administrators)
resigned: Diego on Spanish Language
resigned: Sklivvz on Skeptics
resigned: user58 on Literature
(only one moderator active on Literature)
resigned: Jon Clements on Stack Overflow
resigned: fedorqui on Spanish Language (only one moderator left on Spanish Language)
Finally, some moderators and community projects have written commentary or taken action as a result of the situation:
declared support for Monica: Cyn / Writing mod team
disappointed: called2voyage on Space Exploration and Astronomy
on the brink of being done: J.R. on English Language Learners
voiced support for Monica and stopping participating inside TL: yagmoth555 on Server Fault
disappointed: Mister Positive on The Workplace
Company and Community
I understand that Stack Exchange the company is under a lot of stress right now. They are transitioning to a new CEO and somehow need to finally become profitable, which might be the reason for odd statements about ad policies or aggressively pushing the Stack Overflow Teams product everywhere. But stress is no excuse for waging war on the user base.
Stack Exchange is not only a company but also a community. While the company provides the platform, the community provides the content that makes the platform valuable. Either party can only be successful by cooperating with the other. But at this point, it looks Stack Exchange Inc. has given up on communicating with the community and is taking an adversarial stance.
Is Stack Exchange Inc. still interested in cooperating with the community? What is the vision for this relationship?
If SE would like to start engaging with the community again, the incidents above are likely just regrettable mistakes. How will SE prevent this string of mistakes from continuing in the future? What will SE do to mend these issues?
If SE wants to continue on this path towards an unyielding Corporate Overlord role, the community will likely bleed engaged members at an increasing rate. How will SE ensure continued high quality of the network sites? Just trying to grow faster will only exacerbate those problems.
I for my part expect to stop writing answers or participating otherwise until I see a good-faith effort towards mending the rift.
2019-10-01: Comments to the press — The Register publishes an article about the firing with comments provided by a Stack Exchange employee.
2019-10-03: 2nd official response — An Update to our Community and an Apology (net score < -2k)
2019-10-05: Monica's Timeline of the Situation — As a blog post
2019-10-06: 3rd official response — An apology to our community, and next steps
2019-10-06: Open letters from moderators — Dear Stack Exchange: a statement and a letter from your moderators, and The second letter addressing more specifically the issues the LGBT+ community feels it is necessary to address.
2019-10-10: Official FAQ on gender pronouns and Code of Conduct changes (deleted at net score -1930 (+449 / -2379), archived version)
2019-10-18: Status Update from the Community Management Team
2019-10-21: Moderator process feedback post
2019-10-22: New pronouns FAQ
2019-10-22: New pronouns FAQ feedback post
2019-10-24: Monica posts a response to the situation Stack Overflow is doing me ongoing harm; it's time to fix it!
2019-10-28 Monica sets up a GoFundMe page to help pay for combating this issue. Defend Monica from Defamation by Stack Overflow
2019-10-31 Monica discussing current events in an audio interview. TTP #1 | Monica Cellio On The Fallout At Stack Exchange
2019-11-15 SE staffer JuanM states that under legal advice, there will be no further comment on the Monica situation; also direct links to her GoFundMe page are being actively removed by SE staff from posts and profiles. Community ads for the GoFundMe are also being removed. Why is SE removing links and community ads about legal issues?