It looks like we have far more serious problems than just following the CoC in every thinkable correct way.

enter image description here

The engineer from the machine room reports to the bridge:

The ship is sinking. Give orders.

Response from the captain at the bridge:

First of all you have to call me Sir. Also when asking for orders, you should always be polite and add a "please" to your request.

What I want to express with that example, is that there's no real benefit in polishing language without addressing the core problem (the sinking ship).

There are several sites in the SE network (let's say Stack Overflow is the flagship), where new users complain about feeling unwelcomed, and don't understand why their questions or answers are downvoted or closed.

These users tend to take it personally, and will resort for any kind of claiming to be bullied because of their gender, cultural background, or whatever reason to find they feel discriminated. Probably along with flagging comments or answers as rude or abusive.

Let's remind ourselves what is the primary goal of all SE sites: To have a repository of FAQ-like questions and answers that will be helpful for future research.

If it's not like that anymore, I'd like to hear a profound statement from the newly-installed CEO, and what are the changes taken and why.

I believe it's impossible to cover every possible personal concerns of every user in a neutral way. Regarding the recent hype about gendered pronouns, some will prefer they and others will prefer he or she, but in the end that doesn't affect the content of questions and answers, instead it only distracts from the goals I believe we have here.

Finally, I hope to have a concise answer from the captain as to what the course of action will be and where we are navigating.

All in all it's the main duty of a CEO to explain what the company policy actually should be, and where they think to steer to.

Prashanth Chandrasekar could fairly do better about that.

As some people were complaining in comments about unfairness against the new CEO:
Well, he's (I hope that's the correct pronoun used) here just for a few days now. Though it would have been a good behaviour to introduce themselves to the community via a featured meta post. Only seeing that change at twitter is a bit poor (at best).
Also a new CEO seeing that there is a crisis upcoming at their company as recently noticed, could simply jump in at least with a silly phrase like "This will be thoroughly investigated and discussed at a board meeting".


10 Answers 10


Funny thing is – a good chunk of the mods, admittedly not all, are aboard for what this is about. Some could have small or major reservations.

Simple basic courtesy – of treating people with respect is nice. We've always been about being nice back from the old days.

In most cases, it may never come up. Sometimes it really matters. I've always said the COC should be a shield. Some folks actually need this shield, and they're members of our community. We shouldn't be failing them - as we apparently have had a few times.

That's a huge tragedy here.

We've basically conflated something that's common sense, good neighbourly practices with well, something that's driven a wedge between people.

If someone asks you to use a pronoun in reference to them, it is correct, and you use the correct pronoun

If you think someone is abusing that for silly reasons, it's fine - let a mod know, and presumably it can be reviewed - possibly by someone in the company. We can deal with the excessively clever - but let's try to assume good intent in these situations.

If you have trouble with certain constructions - like the singular they as a generic, you can make a good faith effort to try. There's a few things that confuse me too (Is it “they is”? or “they are”?) but we can work that out in time.

I'll call you whatever you want me to call you

That works

Getting it right doesn't hurt your content quality either.

We do have bigger problems - in terms of the sheer amount of hostility and drama and the underlying causes of that.

We can try to work out ways to help folks or communicate better and build bridges between the company and people?

Why not both?

  • 2
    Thanks for that great backing up and clear statements, Commented Oct 5, 2019 at 11:42
  • 7
    Please explain further: where is the preferred pronoun data to be stored? In the user profile? Commented Oct 5, 2019 at 12:09
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    I'm pretty certain I've said nothing about storage. Only why it's important to listen to folks when they express what the correct pronoun is. Commented Oct 5, 2019 at 12:14
  • 4
    @JourneymanGeek Sure, so where will they express it? Commented Oct 5, 2019 at 12:18
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    "We can try to work out ways to help folks or communicate better and build bridges between the company and people?" That would need people are open minded and not receiving any kind of critique personally. People suffering of specially discriminated groups are often traumatized of their previous experiences. That's a big problem, though I don't believe we can solve that right here. Commented Oct 5, 2019 at 12:19
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    One would assume, where it matters. Conversation, comments, even edits (cause I totally got someone's gender wrong, and they were kind enough to correct my mistake. Never again ;) ) Commented Oct 5, 2019 at 12:20
  • 4
    @πάνταῥεῖ If the company can't communicate effectively, we have conversations like this. But I don't need some COC or rules to act if I know someone I'm around is hurt, or has the potential to be hurt. We cannot fix it all at once. But we can try to fix it a little at a time. Commented Oct 5, 2019 at 12:23
  • 2
    @JourneymanGeek Well, let's start with pumping up life vests ;-) Commented Oct 5, 2019 at 12:25
  • 1
    why not both
    – gnat
    Commented Oct 5, 2019 at 12:37
  • 2
    @JourneymanGeek I'll call you whatever you want me to call you That simple, but yet so much hype and drama. Still nodding ... Commented Oct 5, 2019 at 12:49
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    @gnat I prefer the way Fermi solved a problem - breaking it up into managable chunks, to the way systemd is written. Each individual problem is solvable. A great big merged one is not. Commented Oct 5, 2019 at 12:51
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    @JourneymanGeek "We do have bigger problems." That pretty much nails what my post here was all about. Commented Oct 5, 2019 at 13:04
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    For me, this describes a "be nice" policy, which I totally agree with. Us non-mods aren't privy to discussions in TL, and the new CoC hasn't been finalized yet. All we have to go on are descriptions from people who were present when the new CoC was announced in TL, and nobody has disputed the characterizations. What has been described is no longer a "be nice" to others policy, it's a hostile policy of "use these words or leave". 1. It's mandated language that violates sincere religious beliefs of some members. (cont'd)
    – fixer1234
    Commented Oct 5, 2019 at 18:51
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    The problem is with the implementation, not the objective. Those 3 characteristics turn something intended to be welcoming, and to avoid offending a particular group of users, into something offensive to a substantial group of other users. The implementation defeats the purpose. Yes, there are bigger problems, and a lot of hostility and drama, but it was largely unnecessary and avoidable. SE has gone from fostering communities, to viewing the communities as corporate resources, with the community members who make the community what it is as "consumables". GM did that with Saturn.
    – fixer1234
    Commented Oct 5, 2019 at 20:56
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    This post hasn't aged well. Now we're not communicating nor are they building bridges. If anything, the us versus them is getting bigger.
    – JJJ
    Commented Nov 26, 2019 at 0:29

I think the key point in this:

There are several sites in the SE network (let's say Stack Overflow is the flagship), where new users complain about feeling unwelcomed, and don't understand why their questions or answers are downvoted or closed.


Regarding the recent hype about gendered pronouns, some will prefer they and others will prefer he or she, but in the end that doesn't affect the content of questions and answers, instead it only distracts from the goals I believe we have here.

is the phrase "several sites" at the beginning.

There's a lot of truth in this answer. It's true that on, for example Stack Overflow, people usually feel unwelcome because their question got closed/downvoted as off-topic/duplicate/unclear, and usually because it really was. Given the size of Stack Overflow there probably have been pronoun issues somewhere, but it's a real edge case. The other 99.9% are annoyed just because their question got rejected.

Pronouns won't come into it much because it feels like there's barely a third person pronoun on the site. Most pronouns are along the line of "you need to give us more information if...". There's not much to wrong there, pronoun-wise.

However on other sites the situation is very much reversed. I suspect fewer questions are just rejected for being off-topic or meaningless. Some might be bounced between The Workplace and Law, for example, but I guess it's far less common than people being told they should have asked their computer question on Super User or Ask Different or ... one of the dozens of other confusing and partially overlapping sites. (For example, this kind of thing - in which, ironically, even the meta-question has been flagged off-topic.)

And more importantly the whole pronoun, personal identity and situation arises far far more. People's background and identity can be essential to the question on sites such as Interpersonal Skills and The Workplace. And there's a lot of talk about people. Using those pesky pronouns.

So for those of us that only really use Stack Overflow, seeing the company blow itself up over pronouns does seem bizarre. For Stack Overflow, improving the way questions are asked, how new-user expectations are managed and so on, directing questions to the right place first time, etc. is far more important. But that may not be true on other sites.

PS - it's also presumably the case that Stack Exchange didn't expect to spend anything like this effort on the CoC change. It probably seemed like a technical clarification of the "be nice", and wouldn't distract much from other issues. The fact there has been so much brouhaha over the issue isn't so much due to the actual (unseen) CoC, but the incompetence of the handling of the issue over the last few days (and latent user grumpiness from unrelated things such as the licence change).

  • 13
    I think one of the key issues here is that if you look at the profiles of the individuals involved in the initial argument, pronouns (and their use) is a huge issue for them personally. The fact that Monica was demodded over it was, in their minds, completely proportionate, and I suspect they're very very surprised at the strength of the backlash.
    – Richard
    Commented Oct 5, 2019 at 14:08
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    Let's not concentrate at the silly pronoun hype. These are edge cases. Most people complain regarding the voting system, and can't bear that minus is thrown into their (her, his) face. Commented Oct 5, 2019 at 15:18
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    Workplace, law and interpersonal are tyre fires. Law: All answers should be "Ask a lawyer who practices in the jurisdiction, don't get legal advice from strangers on teh internet. ... " Interpersonal? Should you take advice from top users? No! Because why are they there so much? ... Workplace Got issues? Ask people who constantly have issues! They'll know what to do!
    – Ben
    Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 8:42
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    @Ben I think it's Workplace: Every answer is to quit and get a new job. (Although based on the number of people with workplace issues, you should have no expectation of it being better, the problems will just be different if you're lucky).
    – Meg
    Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 14:56

Journeyman Geek is on to something here when he says that niceness should be a shield. More specifically, it requires a mutual adherence to good faith from all sides. Let's not be like a small number of students at the University of Michigan who abused the process of pronoun sharing to choose ridiculous bad faith options like "Our Lord", "Brother of the Night’s Watch", "TRUMP", and various attack helicopter designations. When we use any social justice issue (not just pronouns) as a sword, to make people conform to our egos rather than our needs, things break down.

Choosing a "ridiculous" pronoun, like abusing any process designed for social justice, does not demonstrate good faith. Rather, it demonstrates that you have no respect for the actual issues at play and that you just want to see others jump through hoops for your sake.

  • 19
    "When we use any social justice issue (not just pronouns) as a sword, to make people conform to our egos rather than our needs, things break down." Unfortunately, this can be said about many people pushing this whole pronoun business in the first place.
    – TheAsh
    Commented Oct 31, 2019 at 7:01
  • 1
    Should you remove your signature as a noice? Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 12:04

I've asked why this matters here, where what we do is intentionally separate people from the content. I've yet to get a serious answer, been mostly ignored, accused of not asking in earnest, and even had those comments deleted. It's a valid question. If you want the topic front and center on meta and in the CoC, you need to make a compelling case that it makes our Q&A better for the Internet.

Your gender is of exactly zero interest. We don't care. We shouldn't care. Make good content and contribute positively. If you must correct a generic "he" to something else, fine. Most people will try to remember it. It's a non-issue, so stop making this the hill you want to die on (and I'm talking to the detractors too, not just the requestors). We need only one thing from SE: a proper explanation with examples on why Monica was sacked, because the accusations are hard to believe. From everyone else, play ball or take it to chat. You can bitch all day long about pronouns there, and it's great that SE has been generous enough to build and maintain chat when it has close to exactly zero worth to all but its authors.

The ship's not just sinking. The sailors are making holes in it themselves.

SE is not about chat, though they happen to have the best chat engine ever made. I love it and spend a lot of time there. Since I understand it has almost zero worth to SE and is basically a concession to help keep discussion off main, I'll accept whatever rules they want there. I hope we're not soon handed a draconian thought-crime appendix to the CoC, but I'll accept whatever they do there and avoid it if it's no longer useful to me. I implore all others on this network to do the same.

  • 4
    On some SE network sites (like interpersonal skills for example, workplace, to some extent academia and maybe others) - people's gender matters a lot on various questions.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Oct 6, 2019 at 13:22
  • ... but regardless of the above: You're pointing your criticism at the people who are complaining about the various gender issues. That's the wrong target of criticism. The crisis is with how SE Inc. is handling things.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Oct 6, 2019 at 13:23
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    @einpoklum I agree, but I also think "We need only one thing from SE: a proper explanation with examples on why Monica was sacked." Out of probably 100-200 meta posts since this blew up, how many fixate on pronouns, instead of SE slapping us around like unwanted dogs? I'd say most. At least, with most mod resignations and suspended activity, they are fixed on the bad blood with SE.
    – user212646
    Commented Oct 6, 2019 at 13:40
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    Hopes are gone now Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 11:57
  • @LаngLаngС I can't believe it really it really is what it is ...
    – user212646
    Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 13:46
  • Is there an MSE post about how to flag twitter posts here? Staff in that position owning this says a lot. #But nothing of that is 'nice'. Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 13:51
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    "The day we stop censoring abusive actions and start censoring any words from people we label as 'abusive' is the day this all falls apart." – Shog9 ↵♦ May 17 '18 at 20:27" Inclusion project - Emphasize Stack Exchange's culture of inclusion Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 14:15
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    @LаngLаngС I'm trying to get SE to address exactly that. meta.stackexchange.com/a/334985/212646
    – user212646
    Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 14:32

With due respect, Panta Rei, I think you're mis-representing the situation, and using alarmism (especially with the visual of the sinking ship).

There is a serious crisis, but - the cause of the crisis is not the group of users complaining about feeling unwelcome. Users can complain more or complain less and no crisis would ensue.

The crisis is in the way this stream of complaints or experiences is handled by SE management, in conjunction with the authoritarian/unilaterialist way SE management interacts with the community in general and apparently moderators in particular.

You should not blame the latter on the former; and especially not blame the people who have complained about their experiences for how SE is run. And this is regardless of whether you find merit in the complaints/claims on being unwelcome.

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    "The crisis is in the way this stream of complaints or experiences is handled by SE management, in conjunction with the authoritarian/unilaterialist way SE management interacts with the community in general and apparently moderators in particular." That's exactly what I am talking about. Commented Oct 5, 2019 at 15:08
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    @πάνταῥεῖ: That's not how your post seems to present things.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Oct 5, 2019 at 15:11
  • People tend to prefer a little bit of drama ;-) Commented Oct 5, 2019 at 15:12
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    @πάνταῥεῖ: The drama is not the main problem, the problem is pointing the finger at the people who complain about feeling unwelcome.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Oct 5, 2019 at 15:17

SE is a sinking ship? Well, not literally, of course. You mean it is in a crisis that could destroy it. And what is that crisis? You think it's so obvious you don't really say. Because everyone knows what that crisis is, right? It is the poor relationship between SE and the veteran users.

Well, have you considered that your perception of what the crisis is could be wrong? That the crisis that could sink SE is something else? In fact, SE themselves have said as much. They think the crisis is that SO is churning through the available pool of programmers at an alarming rate. That many of them come to the site and are then driven away, by interactions that are unwelcoming or even toxic. That many don't come to the site at all because it has a bad reputation.

Someone who thinks that is the crisis might consider angering some of the oldtimers to make the SE sites more welcoming and "less toxic" was a price worth paying. That "grabbing a bucket" to prevent "the ship sinking" means being welcoming, mentoring beginners and being more sensitive to minorities.

If that is a correct characterisation of the perception of SE, further pleas for SE to do what the oldtimers want are a waste of time.

It amuses me that this answer is attracting downvotes, but perhaps it should sadden me. I didn't say SE are right; I suggested they might have a different perception and conclusion. I guess this crisis is now so toxic, to even suggest someone could perceive the situation differently is not acceptable to some. In a context like that, it is hardly surprising that SE is minimising its contact with the community.

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    A very plausible conclusion. Commented Oct 6, 2019 at 10:10
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    To many its not that SE is clearly thinking differently. That's obvious. It's that they aren't listening much to the community that made this site and now are actively hostile.
    – user212646
    Commented Oct 6, 2019 at 12:54
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    Is there an effort to drive away old timers? I hope not, but there's evidence there is.
    – user212646
    Commented Oct 6, 2019 at 12:54
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    A website with high standards will always have only the top programmers of every generation (including top beginners) taking part in it. The bottom 80% will benefit from it and complain about elitism. I think you are right SE probably do see this as the problem. But they can't attract mediocre programmers and maintain site quality at the same time. Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 19:43

I am grateful for this question, as that "sinking ship" metaphor did help me to focus my own thoughts. This answer thus outlines a different path...

So, maybe the ship isn't sinking. Instead, some ship has set course and left the harbor. And that "stack exchange dot com" ship left us (the community) behind. And after this week, and studying so many other questions here from the last 12, 18 months, there is only thing left: to determine where I, as some individual user on this network want to go to now.

Over here, I explained that expectation management is crucial for living an "intentional" aka happy life. Maybe, we have come to a point where the only realistic option is to stop expecting anything positive from the company. Well, besides assuming "they keep the servers running" (which sounds doable, because large parts of their revenue depend on doing so for the foreseeable future).

No doubt about that: using Stack Overflow adds plenty of good things to my life. Asking almost 100 questions most often led to extremely helpful solutions. Writing 4000+ answers was, most of the time, a lot of fun.

So, maybe just maybe it is time to accept: let's be part of the community, despite the company running the servers. Together with the company would be great, but if that becomes impossible, then ignoring the company it will be.

Sure, that means: just voting and flagging, and never ever writing comments to users I don't know. Sure, that is exactly what the company does not want, but bummer, they worked so hard to convince me that I really don't care about that any more.

And yes, that doesn't help the moderators regarding CoC and pronouns and whatnot. And maybe that problem will actually sink some ship some day, or maybe not. Nobody can say that right now...

  • 2
    GhostCat: Ordinary users may be able to ignore SE Inc; moderators probably can't.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Oct 6, 2019 at 13:20
  • I think that is what my last paragraph says...
    – GhostCat
    Commented Oct 6, 2019 at 16:15

I disembarked from college reading and referencing Joel Spolsky a lot, just sort of randomly started reading Coding Horror and Joel's blog at the same time. I wasn't a fanboy, but was trying to find what the purpose of my vocation as a programmer was and they helped a lot - I referenced Joel on Software frequently when asking about potentially fatal decisions or blind spots at my first programming job.

And I liked this Stack Overflow because it was the brain child of a couple of programmers, the site name itself was chosen by followers of Jeff's blog (I voted for something else), the logo was farmed out to a contest. I liked Stack Exchange because it was a clever pun that Joel came up with in the middle of a podcast.

This has probably been asked before, but how can the Code of Conduct be for a site that was essentially the product of us be foisted from on high. If it contains the hard-and-fast rules for living they shouldn't even need to be stated, and if it contains things that go above and beyond that, then they need consensus.

Barring that, I think Marc Gravell and company did all the hard work over the long wait to create the site and he's still working here. If anybody has any right to say how something should be used, it's him his fellow valued associates who remain. I'd respect Marc's wishes (and the wishes of any man or woman of the code before that of any MBA CEO type.

Heck I'd even respect Robert Cartaino's opinion (unless his opinion is deleting this post), if he'd give it.


Follow up: On January 21st, 2020 (108 days later), the captain spoke.

Here is what he said about the situation that touched this off (i.e., the firing of Monica Cellio, a highly respected moderator of six sites, without any process or explanation and seemingly without any actual infraction, a.k.a., "shipping on a Friday"):

... over the past several months, we had a lot of dialog with our community about how best to enforce and evolve our code of conduct. We learned that we needed much better channels to listen to our moderators and community members. We have not evolved the existing channels of engagement for power users in our community, like Meta, or articulated how we intended to make improvements going forward. This has caused friction as our user base and business have rapidly grown. We acknowledge these issues, apologize for our mistakes, and have plans for improving in the future.

Regarding your assertion that, "the primary goal of all SE sites [is] To have a repository of FAQ-like questions and answers that will be helpful for future research", it isn't clear that that's the vision for the future of SE.

He used inclus* 5 times, and welcom* 4 times1. If he alluded to creating and curating a list of canonical question and answer threads that address important issues authoritatively, I missed it. On the other hand, he did talk about how there are millions of people who visit SE (who presumably learn what they needed to know), and leave without starting an account. The vision for the future of SE is for these 'lurkers' to have accounts (boldface copied from original):

The key to Stack Overflow’s future and growth are the millions of developers from around the world who find the site useful, but who haven’t yet been welcomed into the community. We need to expand our reach and engagement to ensure these developers join the conversation and push their own learning to new heights.

If the idea is to have a permanent repository of high quality information, in the form of questions and answers, there is no problem with someone Googling a question, reading a thread, and going on with their day. Instead, I suspect the vision is to have SE evolve into a kind of social network site for (primarily) developers, with ever more users signing up and engaging regularly, without regard for whether that's necessary for them to complete their task at hand or whether that results in a more complete and concise archive of information for future research. (I must admit that this makes a lot more sense from a revenue maximization standpoint2.)

I'm left with the impression that the company's leadership believes that the many lurking visitors without accounts are being inhibited by current high-rep users and are thus an obstacle to the company's goals. Curiously, this parallels comments made recently by Shog9, George Stocker, and Jon Ericson. While quite indirect, I found this statement telling (the italics are mine):

We want to serve all of the millions of people who use Stack Overflow, not just those who know the most about how the site has worked in the past.

1. For what it's worth, I support the goals that we should be welcoming and inclusive, and I have no problem using 'they'.
2. I also don't object to the company trying to make a profit, or maximize their profits.

  • 4
    Forget inclus* and welcom*, the post uses grow* 10 times. That's the real "vision" here - get as many people on board as possible by whatever means, never mind that the ship might already be sinking.
    – l4mpi
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 14:51
  • @l4mpi, that's certainly true. What I infer from the post is that they believe inclusivity leads to growth, & the lack of it stymies growth. Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 15:03
  • Too bad that they don't seem to have realized that the lack of quality content and being inclusive to people who are unable to even ask a decent question leads to an exodus of everybody who is able to actually answer questions...
    – l4mpi
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 15:06
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    The only mention of "quality" that I see is an acknowledgement that the current community values it. Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 15:37

The boat is sinking, and that makes me think about what lead to that.

I sense a shame feeling toward us from some part of Stack Exchange staff (not CMs) when they come talk to us or just with the community as a whole. I don’t feel that feeling with our CMs (Shog9, JNat, Catija, Tim, etc.)

So I ask myself why?

This answer bring some evidences to me;

Stack Overflow employees have panic attacks and nightmares when they know they will need to post something to Meta. They are real human beings that are affected by the way people speak to them. This is outside of the CM team, who have been heroes and who I constantly see abused here.

With such feeling explained, I ask myself what brought that, as I never got that feeling from older developers like Oded.

As you use the Titanic, what if the iceberg is actually a part of Stack Overflow for Team?

  • I suggest that as last year Interpersonal Skills was removed from the HNQ without warning to prevent hot topics talk to appear for everyone.

  • The hot meta question was removed this year from Stack Overflow with that explanation;

We're removing Hot on Meta as I don't want to send new people to a place where people have these experiences. Full stop.

  • A lot of projects, like the mobile app were stopped for putting resources on Stack Exchange for Teams.

So in the end, to which eyes some Stack Exchange staff are shy to show the community? Stack Exchange for Team corporations that don’t want to see such contents, or from someone else?

I bring that discussion as it’s important to talk the issue and to be open, as a communication failure is the start of the end, so lets fix that please.


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