-312

I’m David Fullerton, Stack Overflow’s CTO, responsible for the product, engineering, and community teams.

I joined Stack Overflow in 2010 because I believed in the vision and mission of Stack Overflow. I wanted to be a part of building a community where programmers come together to help one another learn and share their knowledge with one another. I loved how the site was run in the open, in collaboration with its community, and moderated by members of the community.

I’m here nearly a decade later because I believe we can continue to build this community together and make it an even more welcoming and inclusive place than it is today.

In the last few weeks, we made a series of mistakes, both in our actions and in the ways that we communicated those actions. In doing so, we hurt people who believe in that mission and who want to help us make the community welcoming and open to all. While Sara and others were on the front lines of that, I was personally involved at each step along the way and ultimately responsible, and I’m deeply sorry for the hurt that we’ve caused.

First of all, we hurt members of our LGBTQ+ community when they felt they couldn’t participate authentically and we didn’t respond quickly or strongly enough in supporting them. Worse, through our handling of this situation, we made them a target for harassment as people debated their right to express themselves and be addressed according to how they identify.

I am responsible for that, and I am deeply sorry. We absolutely support the LGBTQ+ community, and we’re committed to making our community a place that is open and welcoming to everyone. We’re working on an update to our Code of Conduct which we’re sharing with moderators for feedback tomorrow and the rest of the community later this week. We’ll also work on making more resources and materials available to our moderators to help them support members of the community as we all learn together how to be more welcoming and inclusive.

Second, we hurt a longstanding member of the community and an important volunteer moderator. She deserved the benefit of a private, comprehensive process. In the absence of a clear process for handling this kind of situation, we should have taken inspiration from our existing Moderator Action Review Process. We made a decision to act quickly, which I personally approved, but in doing so skipped several critical parts of the process. In acting quickly, we also acted at a time which coincided with a Jewish holiday which she and many other members of our community observe, and we should have taken that more into account in the process.

I’m responsible for that, and I’m sorry. We’ll be reaching out to her directly to apologize for the lack of process, privacy, and to discuss next steps. We’ll keep those discussions completely private unless we both agree to share any of it with the community.

We’ll be sharing with our moderators this week our proposed processes for handling situations like this in the future. This includes a process for handling moderator removals, and a process for reinstating moderators who wish to be reinstated.

Third, we hurt the moderators and members of our communities. Community moderation is the backbone of Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange, and our moderators are a vital part of us creating a more welcoming and inclusive place. We need to be working with our moderators and community, rather than working against them, in order to create the kind of community where everyone feels welcome and able to share their knowledge.

I’m responsible for that as well, and I’m sorry for the hurt that we’ve caused. Going forward, we will be working with the community to overhaul how we gather input and feedback from our moderators and members of the community to make sure that your voices are heard and involved in the process, not just informed after decisions have been made.

Finally, I want to apologize again for all of the pain we have caused. I am more committed than ever to creating a welcoming and inclusive community across Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange, and the mistakes we made over the past few weeks made that worse, not better. I know we have lost the trust of many of you, and that trust must be re-earned over time by more than just words. That starts this week with some of the concrete steps we are taking with the moderator removal process and the Code of Conduct changes, but the hard work will continue for years. Those first steps are:

  • On Monday, October 7, we’ll be sharing a second draft of an update to our Code of Conduct with all moderators for feedback
  • On Thursday, October 10, the update to the Code of Conduct will be announced publicly
  • By Friday, October 11, we’ll share the processes for moderator removal and reinstatement with moderators for their feedback

Looking forward, Stack Overflow is just beginning this new stage in its growth as a company. One of our top priorities across the entire team is to continue to make the community more inclusive and welcoming. We recognize that the community is the heartbeat of Stack Overflow, and we deeply appreciate all that you do. We know that our moderators care deeply about the future of our community, and we’re committed to involving you more as we evolve. We have an incredible opportunity to impact the world, and we hope that you will continue to join us on that mission.

Thank you for listening, and thank you for your patience with us as we continue to work our way through this.

This post was written with the input and support of Sara Chipps, Tim Post, and the community management team.


Email was sent to Monica on October 8.

This question has an open bounty worth +200 reputation from Mari-Lou A ending in 5 days.

One or more of the answers is exemplary and worthy of an additional bounty.

Over a month ago, I said I would award this user a bounty of 500, but I want to reserve that for someone else. Instead, the 200 bounty goes to einpoklum - reinstate Monica's answer who was among the first, to see through the fake apology, which was written on 6 October, and tell it like it is; e.g. “Mr. Fullerton apologized for Cellio having been hurt; and for the process of her termination as a moderator having been flawed; but he did not indicate she will be reinstated. That means SE Inc. is doubling down on the legitimacy of the termination, flaws or no flaws. This is saying "we should have kicked you out more nicely".” Rarely has there been a clearer analysis of the situation, and if many users tentatively expressed hope, Mr Fullerton's ongoing silence has succeeded in quashing it.

  • 76
    What happened to all the comments? – Bart Silverstrim Oct 22 at 19:57
  • 129
    @BartSilverstrim Openness happened. – Sébastien Renauld Oct 22 at 20:46
  • 150
    @SébastienRenauld Openness, sure, but don't forget inclusivity. It makes people feel included when their comments are deleted. – Fabio says Reinstate Monica Oct 22 at 23:15
  • 8
    Technically, talking about the gradual but steady descent of the question score might have been off-topic. It might have been unique in that it first reached several hundred positive before diving under zero. – Gloweye Oct 23 at 8:16
  • 42
    @DavidFullerton did you delete the 115 comments that were here before? Can you comment on why? – logos_164 Oct 23 at 21:09
  • 68
    @DavidFullerton: How many downvotes would it take before a message gets through to you guys? Do you have a number in your mind personally? Is it smaller than infinity? – Mehrdad Oct 23 at 23:43
  • 14
    @Mehrdad You can delete posts and comments and the downvotes never happened! It's great! – Sébastien Renauld Oct 24 at 9:24
  • 13
    Man, this is going to end up more negative than it ever was positive. – Jo King Oct 25 at 3:54
  • 8
    Those ones who thank this post immediately after it's asked, what do you think now ? It's really ironic ! – Eric Wang Oct 25 at 5:34
  • 7
    This gives a whole new meaning to censored. – Another vote for Monica Oct 25 at 13:59
  • 17
    is it time to slowly transition to a new platform? let's not forget that SE does not exist without "us", right? hell, they are not even get paid! – Eugene Oct 26 at 4:08
  • 44
    @DavidFullerton: I use the Internet since 1996 and I've seen many preposterously unjust actions and many preposterously hypocrite "apologies", but this one and Sara Chipp's one are undoubtedly in the Top5. But since I can't help being polite even to people who may or may not deserve it, I'll use the "please" word in << Please, retract this - and reinstate Monica ASAP >> – Teem Porary Oct 26 at 18:11
  • 55
    Notice how this post is now at -134 despite originally having positives in the hundreds. There is a reason for that. You have to actually followup your talk with actions (or, at the very least, more talk). Hopefully it's evident by now that we aren't playing along with this game any longer. Too bad: I was one of those whose now-deleted comments were positive and optimistic and thankful. Way to totally ruin a brief moment of goodwill between us all. – Lightness Races with Monica Oct 28 at 13:00
  • 22
    @Shadow If you think that SE has only offended one person and/or only made one mistake, you have not been paying attention! – Lightness Races with Monica Oct 28 at 13:13
  • 21
    Your words still mean nothing, even if you delete mine. Reinstate Monica. – Catch 44 - Reinstate Monica Oct 29 at 22:02

71 Answers 71

1337
+500

Before "apologizing", you need to come clean: did you lie?

Earlier, you (Stack Exchange) wrote:

We removed a moderator for repeatedly violating our existing Code of Conduct and being unwilling to accept our CM’s repeated requests to change that behavior.

However, Monica disputed that she had received repeated requests to change her behavior.

Clearly one party here is lying, and much of the community believes that party is Stack Exchange.

So—did you lie, or not? Your "apology" is meaningless until you clean this up.

  • 194
    Well said. Sadly, I doubt the company will say a peep on this, on the advice of their corporate legal team. – faintsignal Oct 7 at 3:28
  • 86
    Given the unwarranted nature of making a press release about a community moderator without having first followed the appropriate steps for removal of said moderator, and the completely unwarranted step of publicly using the moderator's real name in that press release, I would suspect that the lawyers will be advising that SE make a retraction in order to minimise their exposure in the event that they are sued. Having attempted to make good SE's negative remarks about Monica prior to any suit against them being filed by her would go a long way to reduce their chances of being found liable. – Monty Wild Oct 7 at 3:36
  • 70
    @aparente001, well... Monica has claimed mental distress, as well as harassment from some of those who have read the press release, amongst other things. I am not a lawyer... but I believe that these are actionable wrongs that SE has committed against her, should she choose to file suit against them. Still, even if they issue a retraction, harm has still been caused, so if they do issue a retraction, it had better be sooner rather than later. – Monty Wild Oct 7 at 4:01
  • 45
    @aparente001, actually, my reading of US law is that under certain circumstances, the plaintiff need make very little effort to successfully bring a suit of defamation - consider en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defamation#Defamation_per_se. If this case meets any of the criteria, and Monica chooses to sue... SE's chances aren't too good, IMO... – Monty Wild Oct 7 at 4:19
  • 144
    "Clearly one party here is lying" - No, it's also possible that there's a misunderstanding and both parties believe they are correct. Maybe SE staff gave warnings but were never explicit enough for Monica to realize that's what they were. I still think that SE handled this in about the worst way they could and refused to even consider that Monica may have not perceived things the same way, but I find this answer to be needlessly antagonistic. – David K Oct 7 at 13:10
  • 251
    @DavidK: You realize virtually all the evidence available is stacked (hah..) against SE? Like (a) those who were in the Teacher's Lounge dispute SE's account, (b) Monica is not oblivious and she's pretty damn sure, (c) her entire character and past history also back her up, and (d) SE has refused to back up its accusations or even respond, to name a few. Yeah, it's not physically impossible that there's a misunderstanding—and do note that I asked it as a question —but if you feel both sides sound similarly credible.. you've got to be kidding me. – Mehrdad Oct 7 at 14:01
  • 19
    @DavidK IANAL, but I've always seen courts using the reasonable person test. (I've done Jury Duty.) Would a reasonable person conclude this was just a simple "misunderstanding" or would a reasonable person reach a different and more likely conclusion? It's not about whether something is or isn't possible, even in principle; it's about whether something has been shown to be true beyond reasonable doubt. For ex: Is it possible for a tornado to go through a junkyard and produce a working space shuttle? Sure, there's an infinitesimally small but non-zero chance. Is it likely? Not at all. – code_dredd Oct 7 at 18:48
  • 122
    I'm with Mehrdad here. I simply won't trust or respect SO, Inc in general and Sara Chipps in particular until something definitive is said about Monica's case. While the apology is a positive step there is definitely an element of pro forma in it. To me it is not a resolution of this crisis. – James Reinstate Monica Polk Oct 7 at 20:07
  • 41
    Part of the problem is these statements beeing out there, uncontradicted, is continued and unneeded harm against a real person that has not only not been rectified, but it looks like no rectification is forthcoming. – mag Oct 8 at 8:26
  • 20
    how ironic would it be that Monica find someone to help her pro-bono on law.stackexchange.com – user148287 Oct 8 at 18:24
  • 81
    It’s much easier for me to trust and believe someone who has been effectively communicating and moderating for ages, and harder for me to trust people who copy and paste non-apologies that insult my intelligence on several stacks. Basically, we know Monica. We’ve seen Monica post and moderate and chat in several contexts and that’s why we trust Monica. When Sara Chipps started posting, I had to click on the profile link to have any idea of the context, and in a “Monica-said/SO-said” situation, I’m going to believe Monica. – Todd Wilcox Oct 9 at 17:05
  • 106
    SE has yet to tell me what specific things I said (presumably in TL on Sep 18 during the CoC-change discussion) were violations of the current CoC. I found the leaked transcript, reread everything I said (those leaks contain everything I said that day, and for that matter that week), and I still can't see it on my own. (Plus there's the question about those alleged warnings/requests from CMs.) – Monica Cellio Oct 10 at 1:58
  • 58
    @Mehrdad if they hadn't libeled me, I'd probably have walked away by know and let the bullies win. But reinstatement is a necessary first step toward clearing my name, here in the land of "guilty until proven innocent", so here we are. If they'd shown some restraint and acted in accordance with what they say, things would likely be very different now. – Monica Cellio Oct 13 at 17:57
  • 53
    @Mehrdad I've been publicly smeared, including being listed on some "modern villains" site (!) and being discussed on hate sites. It's disgusting. A lot more needs to happen to clear my name, but a first step is reinstating me, which has the effect of reversing SE's action. – Monica Cellio Oct 15 at 3:03
  • 28
    There's a "real-life villains" wiki (serial killers, mass murderers etc.). Someone had created an entry on Monica, that has now been deleted. But when google searching, you find remnants: ... "is a Moderator that had to be removed as she violated the Code of Conduct. She misgendered people and this is not okay. Also we're notified to..." More can't be found, but it's indeed scary and shows how the lies spread about Monica are perceived outside of SE (i. e. as the truth). – Anne Daunted GoFundMonica Oct 15 at 12:43
1142
+500

I was optimistic when you made this post; this was a much more positive message than the "apology and update" that preceded it. The test of your will to address these problems would have come in the actions that follow and in their timeliness. Acknowledgement of errors is important but incomplete. Unfortunately, the follow-through was severely deficient.

We’ll be reaching out to her directly to apologize for the lack of process, privacy, and to discuss next steps. We’ll keep those discussions completely private unless we both agree to share any of it with the community. (October 6 21:00 UTC)

I received email from David Fullerton on October 8 at 15:10 UTC. The email repeated the accusation that I violated the code of conduct, again without specific citations. David also claimed that I was warned and quoted two messages from Sara Chipps in TL which do not sound like the warnings David says they are. The message referred to an upcoming reinstatement process and said I could apply following that process.

That same day I asked, since that email repeated the assertion that I violated the current CoC, to be told what specific actions did so. I have asked this question several times since September 27 and have yet to receive an answer.

Having heard October 11 as a target date for the new policy and having heard nothing further, I sent David email on October 13 at 19:30 UTC asking for the process and how to trigger it. Two days later, on October 15 at 22:30 UTC, I received a reply from David, saying that they were finalizing the process that week after receiving feedback and would send it to me when it was final. Given the ongoing harm being caused by Sara's public, defamatory accusations, I asked if things could be expedited. I received no reply.

On October 21 at 20:00 UTC, I received email from Tim Post (not David) alerting me that the new processes would be posted soon and I could apply for reinstatement. I still have received no answers to my questions about what the specific charges are. There are serious flaws in the reinstatement process that call its fairness into question for my case.

I had hoped SE would prioritize resolving this matter, especially since this post admits to serious failures of process (and also because of the ongoing harm to me). Given those serious failures, I still think the correct thing to do is to reinstate me now and then discuss whatever the problem is, but SE says their due-process-lacking decision stands and my only recourse is to apply for reinstatement under a flawed process and a presumption of guilt. Meanwhile, the defamatory statements continue to do me harm.

I am not satisfied by the followup from this post. It has now been more than a month and SE has taken no actions to mitigate the harm they have done me.

  • 92
    sigh It would have been really nice for you to wake up with something in your inbox. "We are reaching out to Monica" sounds a lot more proactive than "We will reach out to Monica", indicating an awareness of the priority in addressing this failure of communication... – Snow Oct 7 at 13:51
  • 171
    @Magisch I will be very disappointed if they wait days before even contacting me to apologize and talk about plans. It would call David's sincerity into question. I think his intentions are sincere and I look forward to seeing them backed by action. First steps ASAP will go a long way toward rebuilding trust. The whole problem won't be solved in one conversation, but we can start. – Monica Cellio Oct 7 at 14:33
  • 87
    @aloisdg Yom Kippur starts tomorrow evening. It's also a big holiday. By analogy, scheduling a meeting late in the day on Christmas eve with a devout Christian (who has obligations that night and not just the next day) would not be ideal. Today would be much better than tomorrow; trust me. – Monica Cellio Oct 7 at 15:48
  • 48
    @MonicaCellio Sorry that this happened to you. I hope everything is resolved in a manner that helps address the hurt that you've experienced and enables you to continue your wonderful participation in the communities you've been such an important part of. – Joe Friend Oct 7 at 17:57
  • 63
    I would hope they would at least reach out to Monica and say, "I apologize for us not following our process and for how we publicly responded to your dismissal. I recognize that hurt you. I apologize. After the holiday, would it be amenable for us to sit down, have a meeting about this, and see if there's a way forward?" – George Stocker Oct 8 at 12:47
  • 67
    @GeorgeStocker that would be a good start, and something they ought to be able to do without lawyers. So far there's been no contact at all. – Monica Cellio Oct 8 at 13:08
  • 70
    @GeorgeStocker “stated pronouns” includes neopronouns, not just “they”. Monica was demodded for suggesting that some of us can write well enough to avoid pronouns altogether and not make it seem weird in a chat room full of people already hurt by SE’s ham-handed handling of LBGTQ+ issues. There have been mods that have said unequivocally bigoted things directly to individuals in that room who weren’t demodded. – ColleenV Oct 8 at 16:46
  • 149
    To amplify what @ColleenV said, people in that room said things to and about me that clearly violate the current CoC. They remain mods. – Monica Cellio Oct 8 at 16:53
  • 195
    I don't want to go to court. I want SE to talk with me. – Monica Cellio Oct 8 at 17:54
  • 45
    I'd appreciate it if the legal discussion could migrate elsewhere. I'm getting pinged on all of this. Thanks! – Monica Cellio Oct 8 at 18:47
  • 160
    Everybody, including Stack Overflow Inc.: Yom Kippur will start very soon for me. Can we please all try to make Yom Kippur a less-evil day for me than Rosh Hashana was? Let's not have another day of defamation, personal attacks, and the like when I can't object, ok? – Monica Cellio Oct 8 at 20:56
  • 46
    The point is, that you are not helping and both Monica and Catija have expressly asked people to rein in the unhelpful negativity on comments to this answer. Cease and desist. This is not the time or the place to be a keyboard warrior. – Lightness Races with Monica Oct 8 at 23:31
  • 49
    @JonH if this needs repeating, the right move is not to shrug it off and say good riddance. Although Monica has the overwhelming support of her communities and of Meta, where she participated with great enthusiasm and equanimity, her character has been tainted. Her future income might be affected (if it hasn't been already) whenever a future employer Googles her name. Reinstating her as a mod in at least one community (IMO) would do a lot to repair that damage. – Mari-Lou A Oct 10 at 7:34
  • 216
    The longer Monica goes here without any kind of satisfactory response, the more I'm convinced this apology was entirely insincere, and just a "let's pretend to be a bit humble to sweep this under the carpet" post. – berry120 Oct 10 at 21:45
  • 93
    Monica, thank you for keeping us updated. @DavidFullerton, I assume you know the community is following this post to see how this is resolved, but if not -- I at least have it bookmarked and am checking back regularly, and I'm sure I'm not the only one. – Aaron - Reinstate Monica Oct 14 at 16:00
616

As a user who goes by ‘they’, I appreciate your acknowledgment that despite your intent to make users like me more welcome, your actions backfired:

Worse, through our handling of this situation, we made [members of the LGBTQ+ community] a target for harassment as people debated their right to express themselves and be addressed according to how they identify.

But you are responding only to the straw that broke the camel's back. Between the many words of apology, the only specific actions you're offering here are reinstating the moderators and publishing the code of conduct update. These are good steps to rectify SE Inc.'s mistakes around the CoC and Monica, but they don't address any deeper issues of governance and respect for community behind many of the other issues fueling the blaze that this one spark set off:

  • Mandatory binding arbitration—an abuse of the contract of adhesion that Stack Exchange, Inc., requires all users to sign.

    Incidentally, according to your own statements, you require anyone opting out to provide their legal name up front, which is not very friendly to queer people like me who write only under a name that is very much not my legal name—the very people you say you're trying to support with the CoC changes.

  • Animated ads—in July you tell us animated ads are against your policy, and then three months later you backtrack without explanation.
  • Fingerprinting users for tracking—no matter how many laws or industry standards the practice doesn't break, profiting from mass surveillance is morally wrong, and when we asked you about it, you gave us only a condescending response about audio. If you must display more relevant targeted ads, you should limit them to be relevant to the questions and answers on the page.
  • License changes—in 2016, when you wanted to change the license on source code published here, you asked for our input, and you listened and responded to it. But this year, when you wanted to make a much more modest change from CC-BY-SA 3.0 to CC-BY-SA 4.0, you quietly changed the Terms of Service, possibly in violation of your own license to the content, without explaining the process or making an effort to consult us, the users who granted you a license to use our writing in the first place.

Perhaps if you actually want to establish legitimate trust in the company, Stack Exchange, Inc., should have some elected representatives of the moderators and of the users on the board of directors—or perhaps if a welcoming community and a living repository of knowledge is incompatible with the commercial goals of the venture capital funders, the Stack Exchange network should be spun out into a different governance model altogether.

  • Thanks for the summary, I was unaware of many of these and knowing makes a big difference to me. I will follow this and the other issues closely. Thanks again – fr_andres Oct 23 at 13:35
564

tl;dr: I believe CTO Fullerton is mostly candy-wrapping, not back-tracking from, SE Inc.'s problematic conduct.

To my fellow Meta.SE users: I am surprised at those of you who view this post as a proper apology and worthy of gratitude. I will try to explain why I believe Mr. Fullerton has apologized for the wrong or the minor things, while in fact doubling-down on the more serious problems or transgressions.

Continued over-hyping of the inclusivity issue

Mr. Fullerton apologized first and foremost to "members of our LGBTQ+ community" – not to the entire community, or to Monica Cellio and the other affected moderators, as though the recent upheaval has been due to how "they felt they couldn’t participate authentically and we didn’t respond quickly or strongly enough in supporting them."

This repeats the claim of there being a non-inclusivity crisis that requires forceful urgent action (i.e. sky-is-falling type of situation). Mr. Fullerton is indicating SE Inc. will find for itself the same legitimacy for inappropriate actions as it has over the past few weeks.

Now, I do not want to dismiss the issue of LGBTQ+ inclusivity on SE. It's not trivial and should not be ignored but it, and they, have been used in a rather insidious fashion to legitimize and morally-enforce conduct on SE Inc.'s part which is authoritarian, unilateralist and dismissive of broadly-held perspectives of the community. Much of the non-inclusivity or non-welcoming aspects of SE at this moment are the result of that, irrespective of any LGBTQ+ related issues.

Also, when Mr. Fullerton described the undesirable consequences of SE Inc.'s actions, he emphasized hurting:

  • those... who want to help us make the community welcoming and open to all.

Well, the community is open to all (OK, to be fair: to English-speakers who are able to browse websites). Different SE sites are more welcoming, or less welcoming, but there is an ongoing debate regarding the extent, severity and justifiability of the non-welcoming aspects; Fullerton's choice of words re-enforces a fixation, or at least an excessive focus, on this issue.

If you think I'm exaggerating, just note the same phrase being written again and again:

  • we [will] all learn together how to be more welcoming and inclusive

  • our moderators are a vital part of us creating a more welcoming and inclusive place

  • I am more committed than ever to creating a welcoming and inclusive community

  • One of our top priorities across the entire team is ... to make the community more inclusive and welcoming

The incessant repetition of this mantra is a definite sign IMHO of an artificial focus or over-hype.

No justification for more CoC commandments

Mr. Fullerton writes SE Inc. intends to amend the Code of Conduct. Why? I mean, personally, I believe it should just be rescinded, but what is this supposed to even help with? I'm not a moderator, so maybe I missed it, but I have not heard any argument in favor of a further tightening of the code of conduct.

Thus, one of the key actions that's supposed to improve the situation is at best mysterious and of unclear benefit, and at worst – expected to worsen things on SE even further than with the original Code of Conduct.

Cellio's dismissal still in effect.

(I don't know Ms. Cellio, and I don't think I've even interacted with her as a mod and probably at all.)

Mr. Fullerton apologized for Cellio having been hurt; and for the process of her termination as a moderator having been flawed; but he did not indicate she will be reinstated. That means SE Inc. is doubling down on the legitimacy of the termination, flaws or no flaws. This is saying "we should have kicked you out more nicely".

That won't do. When you skip due process, your resultant actions should be null and void, or at least canceled.

Mr. Fullerton seems to indicate that Monica will have to undergo a process for being reinstated. That too is inappropriate. Maybe that process is reasonable, maybe it isn't – but it certainly shouldn't apply to her, now that it is agreed that her termination process was fundamentally flawed.

No retraction or justification of the claims against Ms. Cellio.

Despite Mr. Fullerton's apologetic tone, he has not retracted the claim that Monica Cellio had broken the (existing) Code of Conduct repeatedly. If she hasn't – please acknowledge that, Mr. Fullerton; that's definitely something worth apologizing over. If you insist that she has – and you should know, since by your admission you were personally involved in her dismissal – you now owe it to the Meta.SE public to list those breaches and explain why you found them sufficient for a dismissal.

Planned actions not essentially different than before apology

Even before Mr. Fullerton's post, we all knew SE Inc. was planning an updated/expanded Code of Conduct; and Sara Chipps has also talked about a "moderator removal process" (although we already got one, so apparently an amendment). This was the plan when SE Inc. was "riding the high horse". How is it different now?

Mr. Fullerton could have said SE Inc. has reconsidered the changes it was planning to the CoC and the moderator removal procedure, and will now present different documents than they had planned before. He could have explained how those differences are to help curtail SE Inc. excesses – like his own, and how they would be binding in a way which prevents such arbitrary unilateral actions in the future. That may have helped to restore trust.

  • 42
    Yes, there needs to be more. We are left reading between the lines, parsing every sentence ad infinitum for clues, etc. Monica's and Sara's descriptions of what happened are not reconcilable, even taking misunderstandings into account. – James Reinstate Monica Polk Oct 7 at 21:02
  • 45
    @JamesKPolk: TBH, I didn't need that much parsing to smell something off about the post. I gave it the once-over to look for what's actionable and went "wait, I thought he was apologizing here..." – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Oct 7 at 21:21
  • 35
    I rather appreciate this analysis. When I first saw this and the overwhelmingly "positive" responses to the OP, I was a bit confused myself. I'm not saying the apology is completely trash, but it still feels a bit contrived. Yeah, I'm sure it was contrived to a large extent, but my point is that I'm not so sure about its overall sincerity in apologizing for a wrongdoing. This helps to crystalize some of the things I wasn't able to identify myself - possibly because of my lack of substantial connection to SE in general. – G_Hosa_Phat Oct 7 at 21:50
  • 67
    @G_Hosa_Phat Sara made such a hash of things, folks were probably just relieved to see a more measured and thoughtful response, even if it had some issues. There are a lot of people who are very invested in SE and really want to find a way to make things work. – ColleenV Oct 7 at 21:56
  • 12
    @ColleenV: But aren't you saying most people will just be content to hear some compliments and soft words regardless of the material content? :-( – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Oct 7 at 21:57
  • 14
    @einpoklum Yes. It's human nature that when you're really hoping for something, you will see anything that hints that it might happen as a positive. I have usually regretted hanging on to something too long due to nostalgia, but I think it's only fair to wait to see what steps the company will take. But, I'm not going to wait too long before I make a decision about what I'm willing to put up with in exchange for being part of the community moderate. – ColleenV Oct 7 at 22:06
  • 29
    Indeed - I think people are relieved to be able to stop sounding like bitter ingrates for just a moment, and have a genuine moment of human empathy. Whether history ends up showing that the post was genuine or not, I think it's good for all of us to take a moment and be nice over it. There's no need for further vindictiveness. Let's stop chewing each other's ears off, give David the benefit of the doubt for just a second, and take it from there. We want it to be a signal of positivity, so let's not ruin that from the outset by automatically being negative. – Lightness Races with Monica Oct 7 at 23:08
  • 134
    To be clear: timing aside, I agree with what you've said here. If the world ever needed a perfect example of how going 500% too far out of your way to pander to every possible need of the minority results in actual, real, practical hurt for the majority, this incident is it. Of course nobody will learn from it; that's not in vogue. – Lightness Races with Monica Oct 7 at 23:13
  • 15
    I might just have to upvote this post and award it a 500 rep bounty if we don't have any confirmation that the Stack Exchange team kept their word regarding the first two bullet points. As for my comment in bold–now deleted–calling users not to downvote the letter of apology, I was thinking of Monica's delicate situation. She's being incredibly patient, smart and diplomatic, so I didn't want users' angry raw emotion to influence negatively the team's decision. Yes, sometimes a little sugar-coating is necessary in life, e.g. the ends justifies the means, but my patience is wearing thin. – Mari-Lou A Oct 8 at 4:48
  • 69
    This is right: "When you skip due process, your resultant actions should be null and void, or at least canceled." The meaningful apology begins with reinstating Monica Cellio and unambiguously and publicly retracting all unsubstantiated defamatory accusations made publicly against Monica. Then we can progress to next steps. – Rounin says Je suis Monica Oct 8 at 8:53
  • 63
    "Mr. Fullerton apologized for Cellio having been hurt; and for the process of her termination as a moderator having been flawed; but he did not indicate she will be reinstated." Curiously, her name is never mentioned. For someone who followed the events, it's clear that it can only be Monica (also because he mentions a Jewish holiday and uses the pronuns "she" and "her"). Sara mentioned her actual last name to The Register to confirm it was her, yet in this "apology" published on MSE, her name is omitted. – Anne Daunted GoFundMonica Oct 8 at 12:14
  • 18
    This is exactly what I thought when reading this. "We stand by everything we did, sorry it hurt you, we'll improve the messaging/timing next item." is the message being promulgated. The problem is the actual actions; the messaging and timing are totally ancillary. – BradleyDotNET Oct 8 at 18:16
  • 19
    This answer really needs more attention. It is calling out the CTO for trying to sweep all this under the rug without actually changing or fixing anything. – GreySage Oct 8 at 18:37
  • 6
    Update: They emailed Monica. She isn't satisfied with their email. – Mehrdad Oct 8 at 19:52
  • 63
    This answer provides a great summary of why I didn't click the upvote button on the CTO's post. More than anything, it seems like an instance of internal coaching: Let me show Sara how to issue a public apology. So yes, the language of this apology is much, much better – but we're still not any closer to righting the wrong. – J.R. means 'Just Reinstate' Oct 8 at 21:26
542
+100

I'm a quiet (now resigned) moderator who just sits in her corner in The Workplace, keeping flag queues under control, trying to maintain a community that I care for. I don't spend time in meta.stackexchange, I just do - or did - what I was elected to do by my community four years ago.

I was one of those who resigned in the wake of the terribly handled situation that started bad and got worse. My resignation had nothing to do with not supporting the intent behind the new CoC; I have used the preferred pronouns for LGBTIQAP+ folk for years, be they new terms, existing terms, or terms that traditionally are used in other contexts. This had nothing to do with my decision.

What I objected to was the way in which the whole thing was enacted. For something that was private, it got very public and no doubt felt very, very personal for Monica. She was held up as the bad guy, she was slapped down when she was offline for days for her religious holiday. I honestly don't know what happened in private, nor do I even want to know. What was publicly visible was bad and placed a very poor light on SE and their ability to manage people. Which is all the more ironic to me, being a mod for "The Workplace," which by its very nature is about workplace conflict resolution.

So I will say that this apology is the very first attempt to address that poor behaviour honestly. It's a start. I hope that the promised behind-closed-doors arbitration with Monica is done with proper intent to a real resolution, not just lip service. If that means that both parties agree that Monica remains un-modded, then I can live with that decision. But please, take the time to do this right, because so far nothing has been.

And until such time as there is real, public visibility of addressing what was done badly, my diamond shall remain in the drawer.

  • 149
    She was held up as the bad guy ... that sentence +1 – rene Oct 7 at 6:16
  • 30
    I wish I could upvote this multiple times, but a +1 is all I have. This is extremely well-written, thank you. Using the pronoun that someone asks you to use seems like common decency to me. It's the least I can do and I will happily agree with any Code of Conduct that requires it. Firing someone because they violated the "intent" of a yet-unpublished CoC is another matter that has nothing to do with pronouns or grammar. – Nate Barbettini Oct 7 at 15:22
  • 10
    Nicely written Jane. I don't personally participate in the workplace but interpersonal conflict ends up being a large part of my day job (project manager/scrum master) and watching all this unfold has blown my mind...none of the basics of dealing with problems like this were done. – James Oct 7 at 18:10
  • 29
    Thank you :) I'm the most apolitical person you'll find, but wrong is wrong. While many have perceived my actions as only being because Monica is a moderator, my stance would be exactly the same irrespective of who they are. My actions are for my community and its members, not in spite of them. I never want to see this happen to anyone again, and SE must accept that they need to address this properly and do better in future. Don't let there be a next time. – Jane S Oct 8 at 0:14
  • 37
    I am one of those letters and I find what happened to Monica outrageous. It has been like watching a train derail in slow motion and made me not want to participate on the site. I doubt I am the only "regular" user who feels that way. This is a start, maybe even a good start, but there ought to be real consequences and real change. Monica ought to get her diamond back as a matter of course before any process starts. – thebjorn Oct 8 at 7:04
  • 10
    @NateBarbettini: Just to be clear, I think Monica also supported the intent behind the new CoC: to make sure nobody is misgendered by using the wrong pronouns for them. But Monica as a writer objects to singular "they", and wanted to honour intent the CoC by never using any singular pronouns, including "she" or "he", when moderating. The debate that got her fired was apparently over sentences that could have been phrased to use a pronoun: the new CoC apparently implies they must. See her comment – Peter Cordes Oct 9 at 21:39
  • 9
    Thanks, @thebjorn. I'm at least one of those letters ("LGBTIQAP+" is new to me, but my sexuality and gender are all over the place, so I must be in there somewhere!), and I'm horrified by what happened to Monica. So are other ... um, gender-nonconforming? ... users who have commented. You're not alone. By abandoning anything resembling the legal notion of mens rea - which, although admittedly difficult to apply, is firmly based on common sense and natural justice - this Code of Conduct inevitably becomes unjust and arbitrary, and succeeds only in fuelling the bigotry it pretends to oppose. – Calum Gilhooley Oct 11 at 0:40
369

This apology seems to be sincere but leaves me with questions. I am not overly cynical and believe people can decide to do better and move on from there. This appears to be doing that.

One elephant left in the room:

The real concern is dealing with the gravity of statements made to the press against someone working for SE voluntarily. Specifically, as of now, the top google search item for Monica's name is an accusation from SE "the company" about Monica being unwilling to comply with a code of conduct against bigotry. That's not going to look so good in a job interview.

For the foreseeable future Monica will have to face questions that come with being "the person SE accused of being a bigot" resulting in her having to explain how this really wasn't the case and to please see so-and-so additional reference that clarifies it.

Even in the (inconceivable) event that SE upholds Monica's dismissal, for the sake of current mods and for anyone else considering becoming a mod and volunteering their time and energy for SE, please notify all users how this public statement against Monica is being handled so that we know it's safe to invest our time and energy here and if something like this slips it can be handled.

I trust that it probably won't happen again but just want to make sure.

EDIT (11 Oct 19):

After recent sentiments forwarded by the Director of Community and the prior two weeks of poor community interaction, I am really starting to wonder if this is some kind of (very mis-guided) technique to increase exposure for SE... it's getting pretty old, and it's a real shame Monica is dragged into it.

Based on some SEDE analysis it seems this whole shenanigan isn't really going to produce much difference to warrant this HUGE, dramatic network wide policy change anyway. On SO there are 0.658% of comments in a month that use a non-neutral pronoun and the VAST majority of these arguable could have been used correctly.

Can't we just keep flagging things we find offensive? Do we really need to lose a significant portion of our moderator power to pre-emptively handle 0.01% of posts that a flag can handle anyway? (providing there are still mods to handle flags)

Well I guess we do if we want to increase SE exposure as being the "vanguard" of "inclusion and respect".

Personally, the CoC change hardly effects me, I have used a non-neutral pronoun twice in the last 8 years, woops. (If you're curious you can check yours here). So I really don't have a problem complying. I just can't credit this violent change and heavy-handed treatment of this issue as anything other than a public relations campaign. It certainly couldn't be a "mistake" as Mr. Fullerton says above.

Not to mention a campaign that is still being pushed heavily on other platforms despite all the collateral damage.

  • 27
    "I am not overly cynical and believe people can decide to do better and move on from there." They can but will they? Only the future can decide how sincere that was. I like to judge people by their actions not their announcements. – Trilarion Oct 7 at 8:38
  • @Trilarion very true. The huge delay for even initial contact mentioned by the OP is not looking so great right now. Elephant is bigger than I thought or maybe tied up with the CoC feedback? – Geronimo Oct 7 at 23:20
  • 4
    "For the foreseeable future Monica will have to face questions that come with being "the person SE accused of being a bigot" resulting in her having to explain how this really wasn't the case and to please see so-and-so additional reference that clarifies it." I think this comment says it all. Apparently people hoping to avoid misgendering with the backing of a written Code of Conduct are "trolls with a disgusting cause". – Renan Oct 8 at 1:29
  • 37
    @Renan Are you sure you interpreted that comment correctly? I took it to mean the complete opposite. – Pixel Elephant Oct 8 at 2:37
  • 39
    @Renan I also read it as Monica is now being harassed by far-right trolls who want to hold her up as a martyr of their cause. – sgf Oct 8 at 10:10
  • 2
    I can't agree that the timing of reinstatement is "inconsequential". To reinstate her now, even if it meant firing her again later, would be the real admission of wrongdoing on SE's part. Reinstating her later, after some review would appear to be doubling down on their initial response. It's a matter of huge consequence. – Auspex Oct 8 at 13:29
  • 3
    "I ... believe people can decide to do better and move on from there" As Bertrand Russell wrote, the definition of "belief" is "that for which there is no evidence". – alephzero Oct 8 at 18:25
  • 2
    @alephzero thanks, and yes I mean it in that sense – Geronimo Oct 8 at 18:26
  • 45
    @Renan incorrect. I'm being targeted by extreme bigots who want me to join their cause to make the world safe for straight white American men or the like. (Those folks tend to hate Jews too, but I guess they overlooked that.) I moderate anonymous comments on my blog (didn't need to before!), so trust me when I say that you are not seeing what I'm seeing. There have also been comments on SE (now flagged and deleted). – Monica Cellio Oct 10 at 21:08
  • Really? People use their status on SE on their resumes? – Kristopher Oct 11 at 13:00
  • 2
    @Kristopher If you're applying for a Developer position, and your interviewer is a developer themselves, then it's quite common for them to request links to your Github or StackOverflow profiles – forresthopkinsa Oct 14 at 19:23
  • 1
    +1 and that database lookup you linked is some kind of magic to a simple folk like me. – KalleMP Oct 19 at 19:51
253
  • On Monday, October 7, we’ll be sharing a second draft of an update to our Code of Conduct with all moderators for feedback
  • On Thursday, October 10, the update to the Code of Conduct will be announced publicly

Is that really enough time to gather and iterate on feedback? If you have a "release date", and somebody finds a "bug" on Wednesday, the 9th, what then? Do you publish the new CoC anyway? What's the rush?

  • 108
    Exactly. It was just this sort of haste that caused the last, um, little hiccup. – Andrew Leach Oct 6 at 21:50
  • 3
    Presumably the implementation date will be somewhat after the 10th, and as the pseudo-MIT licensing fiasco showed, they can react quickly to objections by delaying the implementation. – Mark Oct 6 at 21:51
  • 2
    Indeed. The CoC was not the actual problem, the underlying issue has been afoot for years. Afaict, management ought to think about what they can do to make SO employees successful again. – Uphill Luge Oct 6 at 21:54
  • 90
    I don't understand the rush, either. Sara Chipps posted her infamous "apology" in the TL for the moderators there to see it ahead of time, but for some reason only waited 6 minutes before posting it for the public. If she'd waited a little longer for feedback maybe it wouldn't have been quite such a disaster. – Null Oct 7 at 1:54
  • 57
    That was my immediate reaction as well. The timing suggests moderator input is a formality, not a genuine attempt to integrate feedback. And the fact that this is the only actual action in the post makes the whole post seem like appeasement rather than genuine apology. – T.J. Crowder Oct 7 at 7:19
  • TL;DR I'm staying – Jean-François Fabre Oct 7 at 12:32
  • Sonic the PRHog Says: "Gotta post fast!" – Justin Time 2 Reinstate Monica Oct 7 at 18:04
  • 11
    The obvious answer is that there will be no changes to the CoC. It will be posted to meta for people to feel involved but nobody will care about the responses. It's been made clear before that the contents of the CoC are not up for discussion in any way. – sth Oct 7 at 18:35
  • Agreed. Danger of too fast. And were the people from communities supposedly protected by these new CoCs who volunteered to work with SO (for example during the annual survey when asked if would help SO going forwards) engaged with? I haven't seen mention of this but haven't scanned all the traffic on this subject. – QHarr Oct 7 at 20:23
  • 1
    @Null Fully agree, though the word disaster is a understatement - that poorly phrased 'apology' was rather a infernal cataclysm.. – iLuvLogix Oct 8 at 12:28
  • 2
    Remember also that Yom Kippur lasts until midnight on the 9th. To highlight (to me at least) think of this like SE announcing major changes on Christmas Eve and will release their decision on Boxing day. Might sound like it makes so difference except the lady at the heart of this is a practicing Jew. – gbjbaanb Oct 8 at 17:42
  • 1
    if you know beforehand that you will not amend the CoC as a reaction of community feedback then yes, it is enough time. There is nothing in SEs past behaviour that makes me think that there is the slightest chance that they will listen to us this time. – Michael Oct 9 at 21:31
  • @sth You've been proven right by today's series of events. – March Ho Oct 11 at 2:41
  • Thank you for the generous bounty you awarded an answer of mine yesterday and for acknowledging its small role during this era of conflicts. The bounty was totally unexpected. – Mari-Lou A 19 hours ago
220

Thank you.

  • 8
    To the mod(s) that completely cleaned up this comment thread: that was a poor move... – code_dredd Oct 10 at 20:28
  • @code_dredd There was stuff that should've been got rid of, and it's difficult to selectively clean up threads whilst continuing to appear impartial. That aside, I do miss some of them. – wizzwizz4 Oct 10 at 20:55
  • 9
    "it's difficult to ... appear impartial" Not deleting the comments is also a valid option, especially if there're concerns about partiality, such as this question. Also, if they wanted to "appear impartial", then they would've had to not only delete the comments, but also your "answer", b/c we've known since at least as far back as 2011 that "thank you"s posted as "answers" have always been frowned upon. (Im)Partiality is revealed by the rules, when/how they're applied, and by being consistent (i.e. no double-standard). – code_dredd Oct 11 at 19:23
  • @code_dredd That's talking about thank you answers posted by the user who asked a question, to thank an answerer. And I don't doubt that, if the comments were deleted by a mSE mod, it was an impartial action. Can we take this to chat? – wizzwizz4 Oct 11 at 19:41
  • I'm fine taking that to chat if you feel so inclined. My response times may vary, though. – code_dredd Oct 11 at 20:09
  • 7
    @wizzwizz4 "if the comments were deleted by a mSE mod, it was an impartial action" Umm, what? After everything that's happened, how can you say that with a straight face? – user76284 Oct 12 at 4:07
  • @user76284 Because moderators take their duties seriously in general, and I know that both the current mSE moderators really take their duties seriously. Plus, I can't say I wouldn't have done the same, and any bias they possess is probably different to the bias I do. – wizzwizz4 Oct 12 at 9:05
  • I thought changing ones answer/question like this was not allowed? Should the original answer be restored? "It's fine because Joel Spolsky did it that one time. meta.stackexchange.com/a/116918/404278" – user159789 Oct 14 at 6:01
  • 3
    I'm going to have to replace my upvote with a downvote here, as it's been over a week with no significant results... Sadly, this has been yer another instance of empty words. – Cerbrus Oct 16 at 6:55
  • @Cerbrus They're designing the process for removing moderators, and actually asking for our input before making it public this time – ironically, that's serving to hurt their image even though it's a better process and good precedent. (I'll be honest, though; I'd prefer it if they'd done more than what they've done by now. But these words aren't entirely empty, at least.) – wizzwizz4 Oct 16 at 16:50
  • For reference: meta.stackexchange.com/q/334900/337495 – code_dredd Oct 18 at 0:18
  • 6
    -1 because after seeing the two tier reinstatement process, I cannot possibly allow Fullerton &Co to even grasp at any numbers that appear to even marginally support them. I encourage others to downvote this “Thank you.” message too. – Mari-Lou A Oct 22 at 5:38
  • @Mari-LouA I understand that sentiment perfectly… but why do you say "two tier"? As far as I can tell, there's only one tier to the process, since everybody's treated the same. – wizzwizz4 Oct 22 at 9:37
  • Ironic, do people still want to thank and up vote now? Or, they just want to down vote this twice now? – Eric Wang Oct 25 at 5:44
  • 1
    I will retain my upvote since this was one of the rare occasions where these words made perfect sense and should be considered on-topic. I won't let SE's further (in-)actions influence my vote in retrospect. EDIT: thinking about it, these words now get a whole different and cynical meaning. – dfhwze Oct 29 at 21:39
215

From this post you've clearly shown that you still know how to engage with the community so I'm genuinely interested regarding why this sort of statement wasn't drafted originally and you opted to go with the original one which caused further controversy?

Did you really think the original one would go down better (sort of testing the waters so to speak to see how compliant people are)?


If you are in an answering mood, to quote Sébastien Renauld:

There's something that still doesn't sit well with me; you said you wanted to act quickly on a moderator removal. What was the risk that required fast action?

(emphasis mine)


This is not me bashing, I'm genuinely interested in the thought process (or lack thereof) behind it.

  • 26
    In the worst-case scenario, this apology could be an attempt to cause a cover-up of that earlier, more controversial post. I'd like to assume that's not the reasoning. – connectyourcharger Oct 6 at 21:33
  • 29
    That "risk that required fast action" almost certainly isn't something they can say in public. They haven't even told the mods, and there's plenty us mods can't tell the rest of the community. – wizzwizz4 Oct 6 at 21:35
  • 29
    @wizzwizz4 Still, something about this apology doesn't sit right with me - it took them well over a reasonable amount of time to post this. You can't sit here and tell me that's not even the least bit suspicious. – connectyourcharger Oct 6 at 21:39
  • 9
    @connectyourcharger I've been drafting something similar to just parts of this letter, and I haven't managed to get it finished. Just writing the damn thing would've taken hours and hours, and a corporate bureaucracy known to be terrible at making decisions on top of that? – wizzwizz4 Oct 6 at 21:45
  • 6
    Just to clarify - I'm not looking for the specifics for this case. I'm looking for causes that'd force a break in flow and procedures. – Sébastien Renauld Oct 6 at 22:12
  • 34
    Because this one required a professional consultant to write it and is not cheap. They didn't know how bad things were until after the first update flopped. Once the C-suite is involved and needs to make a statement, you pay money to make sure you don't screw up. – StrongBad Oct 7 at 2:08
  • 6
    @StrongBad Good observation. Every bit of the post smells of pro work. Even the timing and the lovely family picture is suspect. – berendi - protesting Oct 7 at 3:17
  • 1
    @berendi "suspect"? I'm pretty sure that has been David's avatar for awhile now. I can't tell if you're being sarcastic here. – Geronimo Oct 7 at 3:42
  • 8
    @StrongBad well if it is pro work, George should get a cut – Geronimo Oct 7 at 4:08
  • 7
    @connectyourcharger Never ascribe to malice what you can ascribe to mere negligence and ineptitude. – user212646 Oct 7 at 7:25
  • @StrongBad Do you have any basis for thinking this was written by a paid outsider beyond thinking it'd be the sensible thing for them to have done and/or how the text of the post itself feels to you? Given that you're a mod, it's hard to tell whether you're going on inside information the rest of us can't see or are judging from the same surface appearances visible to the rest of us. – Mark Amery Oct 7 at 11:06
  • 3
    @MarkAmery no mod info. I also didn't mean my comment to be an insult or take away from the apology. It still takes work from SE to come up with the themes and solutions. The pro only guides and process and polishes the text. – StrongBad Oct 7 at 11:10
  • 3
    @StrongBad Roger. My take, for what it's worth, is that this is unlikely to be an outsider's work. There are skilled writers on the CM team, and no reason to bring in someone else to do their job. – Mark Amery Oct 7 at 11:39
  • 25
    Most writers (who have any substantial body of work) have certain "tells". They're hard to describe explicitly (usually you don't notice them consciously), but I see a couple SE folks' hands in this message. I don't think they farmed it out. – Monica Cellio Oct 7 at 14:05
  • 4
    @berendi That's a rather cynical accusation. See web.archive.org/web/20190331035403/https://… - that photo is months old. – Tim Oct 7 at 19:58
197

I was a moderator, who's just resigned due to the erosion of trust I feel has happened as a result of this issue.

But, there are some things to note as it relates to the above apology...

This apology has come not a moment too soon.... for the past days, almost a week, now, moderators from across most sites have collaborated on communicating our concerns to the SE staff. We have been working "in plain sight" of the SE staff (using the TL to collaborate).

The apology above addresses most, if not all the concerns that we have raised as a group effort.

The timing of this apology appears to have been in a race to beat our statements about the issues.

Note that the SE staff have not been collaborating, corresponding, or feeding back in any way on our collaboration, but appear to have just been observing.

While the apology above indicates the desire to collaborate with mods again, there has been nothing of the sort in the past few days, so I expect there to be an interesting discussion tomorrow .....

Update: ArtOfCode's meta post sharing the statement signed by many moderators

  • 11
    +1 for linking to ArtOfCode's meta post. That's helpful to know about. I like the quote from the letter: "Ultimately, we want to feel that we are safe to disagree with Stack Exchange, even on matters of major policy." – mbomb007 Oct 8 at 14:35
  • This didn't age well. :-( – Monica Cellio Oct 28 at 14:33
  • “the apology above indicates the desire to collaborate with mods again“. A month later, do you still believe in “the desire to collaborate”? – MiFreidgeim SO-stop being evil Nov 1 at 21:54
  • 1
    @MichaelFreidgeim - I resigned a while back, and I am out of the loop (or as much or as little as I was in it at the time). I don't know what's happening. I am still active on Code Review site, but for the most part, I am ignoring Meta for my own sanity :) It has been nice to not have to worry. – rolfl Nov 2 at 0:32
171

While this apology is a good first step, there are still some serious issues that remain unresolved.

  1. Monica Cellio should not have had her moderator status removed without due process. I believe that she should have her moderator status reinstated wherever it was summarily removed, pending action to be initiated by SE by the appropriate channels to have it removed , or pending Monica's request that it be removed once more should she no longer desire to be a community moderator. Should neither party now desire that Monica's moderator status be removed, she should not have to apply to have it reinstated.

  2. Monica was mentioned by her real name in a statement to the media made by a SE employee. As the nature of this statement was negative, there may be further-reaching consequences to Monica than her alleged infraction (whatever it was) likely warranted. Certainly, no-one has accused Monica of any wrongdoing other than a supposed breach of SE's code of conduct, so, since using her name in a negative fashion in a press release was unwarranted, Stack Exchange has a duty to issue a retraction and apology to Monica via the same media outlet through which they made their first, unwarranted press release.

  3. I believe that this entire matter was caused by the hasty, ill-considered and unilateral actions of a single Stack Exchange employee, or at most a small number of employees. I would hope that the employee(s) will be disciplined appropriately, and if their employment with Stack Exchange continues, that they will not remain in a position in which they may repeat or compound their recent mistakes. I would also hope that whatever action Stack Exchange takes with respect to the employee(s), it will not be publicised... a mere "We have taken appropriate disciplinary action against the employee(s) responsible," from SE will be sufficient; there is no need for this shameful matter to receive any more of a public airing than necessary. However, the employee(s) responsible have caused a great breach of trust between SE and the community upon which it relies, and the continued involvement of the employee(s) in question with the community is unlikely to help to restore that trust.

EDIT

  1. The Stack Exchange platform needs to be modified so that it does not allow community-elected moderators to be removed from their post(s) unilaterally by any one person, even an employee of Stack Exchange. The only mechanism by which a moderator should be able to be removed is by the established process for removal of a moderator. Of course, a person with database access could override the user interface's restrictions, but in my experience as a software developer, no developer would have any legitimate reason to alter live data in such a manner without orders.
  • 6
    I presume a process to remove a mod should involve a suspension of mod powers during an inquiry. It makes more sense that Monica should be placed there, then the process continues as it should have originally. Kind of like being arrested, then you have a trial. – user212646 Oct 7 at 6:33
  • 170
    Stack Exchange has a duty to issue a retraction and apology to Monica via the same media outlet through which they made their first, unwarranted press release. YES – Mari-Lou A Oct 7 at 6:48
  • 2
    @fredsbend, at present there is no such mechanism, though it seems to be a reasonable feature to add in order to prevent a genuinely misbehaving mod from doing any further damage. However, I would add the suggestion that the mod so affected would still appear to be a mod until voted out of office. – Monty Wild Oct 7 at 7:14
  • 4
    Point 4 seems like a moonshot. – Richard Oct 7 at 7:48
  • 2
    I'm not agreeing with this post. Whatever happens to Monica should be discussed between Monica and SE. I agree that SE should comply with (1) and (2) if she so wishes, but that kind of follows from the apology as well. Similarly, I think that how this is handled internally is up to SE. We don't know how this was handled internally before this and how hard people have been affected - even if that was (at least partially) their own fault. SE must of course avoid repetition of the incidents, but how this is done is internal policy, not something we should try and dictate. – Maarten Bodewes Oct 7 at 10:03
  • 4
    They didn't "issue a press release to a media outlet", The Register reached out to them for comment and they provided one. Quite different things. – TylerH Oct 7 at 14:02
  • 27
    @MaartenBodewes re "I agree that SE should comply with (1) and (2) if she so wishes": she so wishes. We can then discuss further changes, but as I said in a post on Friday, we need to roll back to the last good state before the process failures. Then we can talk about how to proceed from there. – Monica Cellio Oct 7 at 14:20
  • 8
    @MaartenBodewes there has been no communication from SE yet. All I can do is make my wishes known here. (I also sent in a "contact us" form about this, though I've no idea if anybody looked at it. All of my attempts to contact them in the last two weeks have met with silence.) – Monica Cellio Oct 7 at 17:44
  • 8
    I don't agree with point 3. Stack Exchange is responsible, Mr. Fullerton as CTO is responsible, and acknowledges this. If an employee took a wrong decision, that may be due to many different causes: too much workload, insufficient or improper training, insufficient internal procedures, etc. If SE would proceed with "we've fired employee X" and then then they'd be trying to shift blame to an individual employee where the company is responsible, again seeking a scapegoat. In my opinion, that would only make matters worse, not better. Stand up for your moderators and your staff, please. – gerrit Oct 7 at 19:13
  • 1
    @phyzome, also speaking as a programmer, point 4 is by no means impossible. Not necessarily easy... but not necessarily all that difficult either. – Monty Wild Oct 8 at 1:26
  • 7
    @gerrit, All I ask for in Point 3 is that Stack Exchange discipline their staff. I don't care - or even want to know - whether they fire, reassign or re-educate... but the events in question have shown that at least one employee showed poor judgement that has endangered another person, and has brought disrepute to the company, and such actions typically attract disciplinary action. For SE to fail to do so would be indicative that such behaviour is condoned... and if they condone such behaviour, do any of us want to be involved with them any more? – Monty Wild Oct 8 at 1:33
  • 21
    @TylerH So what if The Register reached out to them? "No Comment" is a valid response, as is (to a lesser degree) "We removed moderator status from a person whom we will not name for reasons of privacy...". To give a response which named the de-modded person was irresponsible at best. – Monty Wild Oct 8 at 1:39
  • 2
    @phyzome, The DBA should not be a person who interacts with the community, so any request for a direct data change with respect to one user would have to come from another employee whose responsibility is community interaction... and a good DBA would be asking "Can't you do that through the UI? No? Then why should I do that on your say-so?" Additionally, many companies make live data off-limits to manual modification, in order to change live data, all sorts of hoops must be jumped through to push a change from a dev environment, through testing, to production. – Monty Wild Oct 8 at 1:45
  • 1
    As to the cost/benefit of my Point 4, had such a feature existed, Monica would not have had her name publicly dragged through the mud in direct contravention to SE's own protocols, a great many community mods would not have resigned or gone on strike, and SE wouldn't have suffered a great reputation hit. If it were up to me, such a feature would be top priority right now... SE can't afford a repeat of this debacle. – Monty Wild Oct 8 at 1:51
  • 10
    @TylerH, That's completely irrelevant. Regardless of who reached out to whom, a statement was made to the press that included Monica's name in a negative light. In pretty much every company in which I have worked, it has been drummed into every employee that unless your job description is "Press Liason", you never say anything to the press other than 'I can't comment, you should talk to X'. where X is whoever is responsible for that. – Monty Wild Oct 8 at 13:48
133

While the whole thing is a breath of fresh air, I wanted to underscore one of the points

Third, we hurt the moderators and members of our communities. Community moderation is the backbone of Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange, and our moderators are a vital part of us creating a more welcoming and inclusive place. We need to be working with our moderators and community, rather than working against them, in order to create the kind of community where everyone feels welcome and able to share their knowledge.

I really wish this had been said sooner. As I said elsewhere SO has been really heavy on the "smack moderators down to make new users feel welcome". Curators and moderators should not be your enemy (least of all a top contributor who is well respected) and this week we've been close to that.

  • 29
    Speaking as a moderator who felt personally betrayed these past days, I don't care how long it took, I'm just happy it arrived. – terdon - stop harming Monica Oct 6 at 21:26
  • "smack moderators down to make new users feel welcome". Both provide the same number of clicks. Same number of ad impressions. So to an idiot investor, they are worth the same. They are trading moderator good will for a broader userbase which will give them a short term boost in revenue. – Ambiwlans Oct 7 at 15:49
  • 2
    It's not that we wanted it said sooner as such. We wanted it said instead of Sara's post. Now, it has arrived. That's good. Let's give them time to do as they have said. – Tim Oct 7 at 20:01
130
+50

This is a plot of the total score (upvotes minus downvotes) of this announcement. The difference from the previous day's total score is shown in green (positive, above the y-axis 0) or red (negative, below the y-axis 0).


On the left, we believed your apology. We thought you were sincere and wanted to fix this.

On the right we realised you were just saying this to pacify us again, and do not care about the community. Your words were empty, and simply there to get our guard down and then spring the CoC changes on us.

This is not how to handle a community. If you're going to make promises like this, stick to them.

  • 1
    I think it's backwards and upside down. – Scott Hannen Oct 17 at 21:35
  • 14
    -5 pts – no axis labels. Also, without freehand red circles, I have no idea what the text is referring to :P – divibisan Oct 17 at 21:42
  • 13
    @divibisan just for you: i.stack.imgur.com/Wsbn4.jpg – Tim Oct 17 at 21:47
  • It took me quite a while to figure out what this plot is. Please include an explanation. – Thomas Oct 17 at 22:06
  • 5
    @Tim Oh! It's so much clearer now! You'll have my upvote once 5pm rolls around – divibisan Oct 17 at 22:07
  • I feel like a waterfall chart could be a better visualization. – Giuseppe Oct 19 at 15:15
  • 5
    @Giuseppe i.stack.imgur.com/i1fQg.png perhaps – Tim Oct 20 at 16:26
  • 1
    I don't understand what the blue color mean – wada Oct 24 at 0:44
  • @wada the blue in the graph is the overall score of the post. Eg, if you have 100 upvotes and 10 down votes, your score is +90 (the upvotes minus the downvotes is 100 - 10 = 90). At first there were significantly more upvotes than downvotes, hence a positive score. After a few days this turned into a rapid downvote trend until eventually there were more downvotes (and hence a negative score). – cegfault Oct 31 at 21:42
  • 4
    Time to update the chart.... The downvotes continue to flow. – Mari-Lou A Nov 10 at 11:26
126

This is the third time now SE has failed in gathering feedback from the moderators on this topic.

The first time was when you dumped the announcement into the Teachers' Lounge.

The second time when you posted the previous non-apology to TL, ignored all feedback and just posted it on meta only 6 minutes later.

The third time started very well, the draft of the CoC change gathered a lot of feedback, and that feedback actually was incorporated and the language was changed.

What we didn't know at that time was the content of the FAQ that was published along with the actual CoC change, we didn't even know there would be one. And that one contains all the meat of the change, all the controversial details that we already discussed in thousands of messages in the chat.

None of the feedback of the moderators changed anything about the actual rules that SE wanted to enact, as those are not actually encoded in the language of the Code of Conduct. All the feedback SE actually asked for was entirely about the language and the packaging of the changes, the substance remained entirely untouched.

  • 7
    Spot on. I didn't get to see behind the scenes for what wording changed when, but no matter how much language they dress it up in or sugar coat it to be easier to swallow the fundamental thing they are trying to accomplish is unchanged. Even if it's harder to see in the "letter of the law" of the final CoC wording the spirit that produced it hasn't changed as evidenced by the faq. – Caleb Oct 11 at 13:08
  • 6
    Exactly. All the bad parts just went from the CoC to the FAQ. – Loong Oct 11 at 13:09
  • 7
    And the helpful comments SE staff made in chat didn't make the blog or the FAQ. Really quite bewildering. – curiousdannii Oct 11 at 13:13
  • 12
    Very much this. This whole thing started with a decree from SE to moderators. Eventually, we got back into a collaborative mode. I think the actual, textual changes to the CoC reflect input from a good number of mods from different communities with different backgrounds. We were aware that there would be a blog post introducing it, but not a FAQ. I'm sure we could have identified major gaps or questions that people are most upset about and given SE a chance to clarify or correct or reconsider before dropping it on the world. – Thomas Owens Oct 11 at 13:14
  • 5
    To top this off, the amount of rude comments and chat messages has gone significantly up compared to "normal". this was apparently mishandled in multiple ways. Again. – Zoe Oct 11 at 15:51
  • 20
    When the director of q/a personal kpi is how much people they can ignore, there's no much hope twitter.com/SaraJChipps/status/1182650441882058752?s=09 – Tensibai Oct 11 at 21:25
121

Whatever that you do with the new CoC, just:

  • Don't be heavyhanded or take offense from things that most users think are normal behaviour or that could be done out of cluelessness instead of malice.

  • Making everything peaceful and nice is more important than making a war just to stand an argument, regardless of whether the argument is right or not.

  • Doing it right is more important than doing it hastily.

  • Don't forget that many people don't speak English well, and we even have a few sites that aren't on English after all.

  • Listen to all your moderators and users. Even when they disagree or defend what it seems to be strange for someone be defending, there are valid points worth considering.

119

You look to be owning your statements here. You look to be owning what happened here. You look like you wish to improve or make improvements to this somewhat broken system already.

This is a positive step in the right direction, so I'll play nice and share about what you're going to expect from me as a power user, and one of the users who has been hurt by this.

You don't have my trust because I don't have any patience to wait for these communication improvements anymore. The good will and credit that Stack Exchange has been exercising has already dipped negative, and yet again the expectation here seems to be that I should take your word that things will get better and I should be patient while you work through these changes.

By and large there have been earth-shattering events that have happened between the Welcome Wagon and all of this mess, which have widened a rift between how power users see the company listening to their feedback/pleas/cries for help and the overall goals of the company itself.

To put it bluntly, while a lot of the angst over the last week or so has been about the way y'all dismissed a moderator (which you own and are making amends for now), there's been a brewing tension over how users just don't feel like they're being heard, and I wonder if some of this boiled over into the whole circumstance.

But I call it out here and now because I see shades of the same. The power users of the Stack Exchange Network definitely deserve a seat at the table to help understand how the changes to the CoC would impact their site.

Your timeline for rolling out the new CoC is incredibly aggressive. So much so that I'm genuinely unconvinced that there hasn't been enough thought or input to how technical Exchange sites are going to be assisted with this. Put another way, on Stack Overflow (where I'm primarily based), I would edit out any mention to another user's orientation or sexual preferences as noise; when you're programming, the compiler/interpreter which is giving you a bewildering error doesn't care who you are, and I see no value in doing so either in that context.

Note that I don't have a problem with the alleged rule change at face value. I'm perfectly fine with ensuring that people of all walks of life are respected and treated with dignity here.

But I take extreme umbrage to edits which pertain to gender made unnecessarily on a technical Exchange site.

With that said...I'm going to make this brutally clear.

I will permanently cease participation if I cannot help cleanly enforce this new CoC.

If applying the rules can no longer be consistent on the site I'm most familiar with, then participation with my reputation level becomes fundamentally impossible.

  • 12
    Yes, the new CoC timeline is aggressive, but they don't really want questions about it or any feedback other than "looks good and I fully support that." When Monica had questions, you can see what they did to her. They aren't undoing that. Her experience remains a warning against anyone else trying something similar in the future. A few days is plenty of time for what they are actually looking for. – WBT Oct 8 at 21:54
  • 5
    If you don't want an answer, don't leave enough space/time for anyone to question it. Then you can respond to criticisms with, "why didn't you speak up before we implemented it?" – GreySage Oct 9 at 18:36
101

Update 6.11.19:

(Related update, 30.10.19)

For those of you who either don't pay attention or missed it, someone leaked info about a future change announced on the internal moderator team. It was initially posted here on the network, but currently lives on through the internet archive and Reddit (r/stackoverflow).

While I'm not going to link it directly (or mention any details aside the existence of a leak, because I'd like to keep this answer alive), I believe this change would've been received about as badly as some of the other major changes in the current environment. Presented later, it might've been fine, but presenting it without resolving the existing issues is basically pouring gasoline next to a spreading fire, thinking "it won't come here!"

The change is likely to spark another controversy, and once again risk the targeting of another underrepresented group in tech. SE's intentions are good, but once again, the execution is (would've been, technically) awful.

The CoC update - intended to protect LGBTQ users - sparked events that made it less safe for us. SE was once the safest place on the internet, and I really liked it because it wasn't a safe space. It was a place where different beliefs, opinions, and not to forget identities could live together - differences aside. At least on technical sites (samples from SO, SU, AU, vi.SE), but also meta (samples from MSO and MSE).

Unfortunately, the CoC change brought out the worst aspects of people because it turned into a complete mess of multiple problems that were bundled up into a massive ball of frustration and anger. Off the top of my head, Monica's removal (central aspect), the problems Aza mentions, the (at one point) "future, mysterious, unannounced CoC change", as well as ads, and the underlaying frustration caused by a lack of communication, and for many at least core users, frustration with old, unscaled systems, the change of the SO front page to what can only be described as a paywall for people who aren't users, and probably more I've left out. Throwing more onto this pile of crap isn't in anyone's best interest at the moment.

Moreover, SE isn't responsive and I'm starting to doubt many of their statements. There are still a few staff members that interact with the community in an outright exemplary way - and I need to mention this because, in spite of a lot of things being crap at the moment, not all the people are awful. This is speculation, but I believe some form of management order is messing up a lot of the communication.

But to the point: Shog and Yaakov are the employees I'm talking about. Yaakov is taking point on the post notice rollout - a rather major change in a heated climate, but it's still handled fantastically. Shog generally has an ability to calm down heat, at least in my experience. Additionally, posts involving Shog (notably the 3 close vote experiment) rarely gets ignored. The research results were delayed, but when people asked about a status, they actually got answers. It's not like with the deadlocked open letter situation, in which it appears SE is ignoring the letters, mainly because the person involved (Sara) is unresponsive. There's been multiple requests on a status, all of which have been ignored.

I'm not trying to hang out Sara here, but on another post where she was involved (in all fairness, along with Tim Post - but a recent comment has made me doubt whether he actively ignored comments or not. The comment is completely unrelated, but it established some trust), concerns were ignored. For those who aren't aware, this is the question, well, specifically change I'm talking about.

We can only speculate why this happens. Automatically blaming management isn't a good idea, nor is it constructive, but when there's a clear difference in responsiveness depending on which employee, I do get suspicious.

My weirdly phrased point: On the 30th, I decided leave within the next two weeks. I'm still here for the next week, because the network has become a slight addiction I need to manage. The reasons for that are mine alone, and I won't discuss these.

I've tried being nice, I've tried being provocative, I've tried expressing frustration, and I've helped create pressure - none of these things have worked so far, and I'm getting tired of it. The only thing that can turn the situation around is SE, but I currently have no belief they'll take the situation under control.


Note: Since this answer was posted, things have taken a different direction. Feedback from moderators on the CoC got ignored, communication is still broken, lots of critical posts go unacknowledged, a tweet from the director of public Q&A caused further drama, communication between Monica and the company has allegedly broken down, and the situation has overall gotten significantly more heated. To top this off, a shortage of moderators let the worst people continue because things simply cannot be handled fast enough. This isn't the moderators' fault - the problem lies in fewer mods and an ever-increasing stream of content.

I still stand by what I've said in this post, but the situation didn't go the way I expected. This is also why I added this note. The CoC release was handled about as horribly as the problems leading up to this situation, which has caused significantly more hate and toxicity, not just against LGBTQ, but against users in general. The apology seems pretty pointless now, because they did the exact same thing again with no regard for consequences, and without thinking about all the people on the other end of their actions.

It's time for this to end, and it appears that the only way to get you (Stack Overflow, Inc) to listen is by applying pressure. I'll be continuing my strike until I see real, good-faith attempts to resolve this situation, as well as attempts to restore communication between users/mods and the company, preferably before the community gets damaged beyond recovery.

And I'm going to say it a last time; you still have a chance of recovery, but you need to start taking action. If something is delayed and you know it is, say so publicly. And try to listen to people suggesting alternatives to improve the CoC further - you can still refine the details to allow users to survive if they make mistakes, make it technically possible for mods to enforce, and let users help without losing the intent behind the change. We want to help you, so please talk to us before everything starts collapsing. Until you do, people will continue to be angry, and either intentionally or without knowing it in a pure venting mode hurt real people. Regardless of who the CoC update aimed to help, it doesn't help anyone when the community turns on itself.

Old answer:

This announcement earlier would've saved a lot of drama. Nevertheless, thank you for this.

The two initial attempts and rumors about the CoC did spark a lot of unwelcoming behavior against LGBTQ. I came out a couple years ago thanks to a user here on SE, and even after I came out with a name and avatar change, and when I (unrelated) later changed my avatar with a trans flag overlayed, no one reacted in an unwelcoming way.

I honestly expected a lot worse back then - as in some of the comments posted around this massive drama surrounding CoC discussions. But even in spite of that, most of the people I've run into on meta on my posts have actually been supportive (as in asking if they have questions and in a way that's, well, perfect). Hopefully, this will calm down now. And thank you for acknowledging that the way it was handled caused damage not just to LBGTQ, but to users and anyone else caught up in this. It might not undo what happened, but this is hope SE has a future.

I need to say this though; this announcement was a lot more than I expected. Fantastic apology aside, you laid out a schedule for future events, including the heavily debated CoC change. I'd love to see more of this in the future too. And hopefully, this is the beginning of an era with working communication between users and the company.

And, again (and I cannot say this enough):

Thank you!

  • 28
    Thank you for having the courage to be publicly engaged throughout this process, which must have been difficult. I've appreciated the posts & comments I've read from you over the past week. – gung - Reinstate Monica Oct 7 at 2:50
  • 2
    Thank you indeed. Your engagement and feedback helps educate and give a more rounded view. – QHarr Oct 7 at 20:35
  • 1
    I've got a few (some very vocal!) trans friends and never knew there was a specific trans flag, thanks for educating me. Also want to reiterate @gung's comment above. – DavidG Oct 8 at 12:09
  • @DavidG you're welcome :) If you're interested, there's actually a bunch of flags for other identities too (not just gender-related). I have no idea if that's a complete list or not, but it covers quite a few of them. – Zoe Oct 8 at 12:16
  • 5
    The moderator reinstatement procedure has not been posted - This is false. It has been shared with the moderators and we have provided feedback. Some of this feedback has already led to revisions and more clarity in the process for both removing and reinstating moderators. This is exactly what was promised in David's post. – Thomas Owens Oct 13 at 18:03
  • Whatever you're referring to seems to have been deleted from /r/stackoverflow as well. – Nate S - Reinstate Monica Nov 8 at 18:09
  • @NateS-ReinstateMonica nope, it's still there. I'd link it, but last time I did (but to the internet archive though), it got nuked. – Zoe Nov 8 at 18:53
  • @Zoethetransgirl, was it quite old? I assumed you were referring to something recent, and I didn't see anything within the last couple weeks that was moderator-only on SE. – Nate S - Reinstate Monica Nov 8 at 18:58
  • @NateS-ReinstateMonica it was posted 3 days ago by u/LookWhatIFoundOnMeta – Zoe Nov 8 at 19:15
  • @Zoethetransgirl, oh now that's weird -- I can see it when I go to that user's profile, but r/stackoverflow/new doesn't list it -- it jumps straight from a post 13 hours ago to one seven days ago. And moreover the link on the post to the screenshot seems to be broken. – Nate S - Reinstate Monica Nov 8 at 19:45
  • @NateS-ReinstateMonica eh, that's new reddit screwing up. Log in, or use old.reddit.com instead. No idea why that happens – Zoe Nov 8 at 20:47
  • 1
    @Zoethetransgirl, ah that did the trick, thank you! I'm not much of a redditer so I didn't know that old/new reddit was a thing. – Nate S - Reinstate Monica Nov 8 at 21:16
  • 1
    @gung-ReinstateMonica answered. I'll definitely have to revise it tomorrow, when I'm more awake than now :] – Zoe Nov 12 at 22:39
  • 1
    @Zoe, thank you. Upvote this when you see it, & I'll delete it. – gung - Reinstate Monica Nov 13 at 1:34
88

A move to welcome, but I wonder if any of it would have occurred without a massive community backlash.

It shouldn't take a moderator mass-exodus and overwhelming criticism to set things straight. If the staff truly has the community's interest at heart, they'll do it right the first time - or at least not massively betray claimed principles. Whether or not staff acted out of fear of loss or genuine regret isn't straightforward, but props to the community for not putting up with executive abuse.

86

I see apologies for:

  • hurting members of the LGBTQ+ community
  • hurting Monica Cellio
  • grossly offending many other mods and regular users
  • stirring up a firestorm of drama

I see no apologies for:

  • firing someone for merely asking clarifying questions about a planned CoC change
  • publicly accusing that person of repeatedly violating the current CoC (seems libelous to me)

While you seem sincere about improving the things you apologized for, I get the impression that the things you didn't even mention - publicly denouncing someone's character after punishing them for merely questioning a potential policy change - are working as intended and will be par for the course from now on. You just want to do those things without anyone raising a fuss, like a child apologizing not for hitting their friend but for leaving a bruise that could be shown to a parent. You're not promising to stop hitting. You're promising that next time you'll use a sock with a bar of soap in it.

But hey, judging by all the praise this question is getting, it looks like your strategy is working beautifully, so... full speed ahead!

84
  • On Monday, October 7, we’ll be sharing a second draft of an update to our Code of Conduct with all moderators for feedback

Given what happened to the last moderator who provided feedback... what exactly do you hope to accomplish with this? Your past actions will inevitably have created a powerful chilling effect that will choke off honest feedback and discussion. What guarantees can you provide that this will not happen again?

  • 40
    Nothing. Fullerton is telling us SE is going to do what they were planning to do anyway. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Oct 7 at 20:58
  • 8
    Can one of you brave mods ask whether writing in a gender-neutral fashion, so as to not misgender anyone, is acceptable under the new CoC? I'm curious :) – Ask About Monica Oct 8 at 5:34
  • 1
    @kbelder since they still haven't answered Monica's questions (and have not contacted her as promised)...well, we'll see. I think that this answer at least shows enough awareness of how it will be received (i.e. opposite of tone deaf) that I doubt they will follow through with a Thursday publication of the CoC changes, simply because of how bad it would look. But, we'll have to wait and see. – Wildcard Oct 8 at 7:07
  • 7
    @kbelder: As best as I can determine, it was asking that exact question that led to the firing in the first place, which seems to point to "No" as an answer. – Jörg W Mittag Oct 8 at 11:32
72

After reading through all the (good) answers, I would like to point out a (to me) scary part of this apology:

We’ll keep those discussions completely private unless we both agree to share any of it with the community.

Translating this into normal language, this means: "We will talk to Monica in private, but only if she agrees to an NDA to keep it secret unless we give express permission."

This secrecy smells more like an attempt to silence Monica rather than an attempt to make right - I would be very careful to accept this if I were Monica.

The honest thing would have been to either reinstate Monica and let her decide if she wants to resign and (very) publicly retract any disparaging remarks about her and explain why she didn't get due process, or to come forward with proof why breaking the process was warranted, at the very least in private to Monica, without any conditions attached.

The fact that this hasn't already happened simply means this apology isn't one.

70

Thank you. Better late than never. I just want to point out one thing about the new CoC:

we’ll be sharing a second draft of an update to our Code of Conduct with all moderators for feedback

Shog9 has mentioned it in Teachers Lounge (TL), but how will the discussion process be going relatively to international sites? Will we have a chance to participate in this? Will we be able to discuss it on our local Meta sites?

  • 71
    International feedback is essential if there's anything related to pronouns in it. More than two-thirds of the languages used on SE (French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Latin, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Ukrainian) have a feature called "grammatical gender", while Japanese pronouns are very different from English ones. It's very easy to accidentally write a code of conduct that requires non-grammatical or insulting writing in another language. – Mark Oct 6 at 22:04
  • 1
    This. This has been a question I kept meaning to ask during this whole hullabaloo. Thanks for bring it up. – Tieson T. Oct 7 at 1:51
  • @Mark maybe a bit off-topic, but how are Japanese pronouns so very different? I see the usual ones: 私・私達 (I/we), あなた (you), 彼 (he), 彼女 (her), 彼ら (them). The usage conventions might be different (omitting most instances of first person or second person pronouns, for example). (Unless you're talking about gendered first person like 僕・俺, etc.) – muru Oct 7 at 2:37
  • 10
    @muru, the usage conventions are rather different: not only can you drop pronouns in many situations, you switch pronouns based on the relative status of the speaker and the audience, and on the desired level of formality and/or contempt, not to mention dialectical differences. – Mark Oct 7 at 3:00
  • 8
    @Mark So what your saying is that pronouns in Japanese can actually be offensive. – user212646 Oct 7 at 6:51
  • 2
    Just an idle thought about cultural and language differences: I'm pretty sure that native Japanese speakers aren't offended by being referred as 彼女 (if not misgengered, of course), which is literally translates as 'he-woman'. While some foreign Japanese speakers may probably find it offending that the "base" pronoun is "he", while "her" has a "woman" part added almost as an afterthought. – Yaant Oct 7 at 13:14
  • 2
    Whatever is enforced about pronouns should be extended to names and adjectives when writing in Spanish, where they are usually gendered. The problem is that they don't have a neutral form. Well the grammatically masculine form used to be considered appropriate for neutral style but that seems to be no longer the case. – Stop harming Monica Oct 7 at 19:06
  • @Yaant, I'm pretty sure that native Japanese speakers would be offended if that's the wrong pronoun for the level of formality involved. Japanese pronouns can be translated into English as "I/you/he/she/it/they" (with some loss of meaning), but blindly translating English pronouns into Japanese is likely to be ungrammatical, offensive, or both. – Mark Oct 8 at 1:27
  • @fredsbend: That's not just Japanese. Both French and German have polite forms for pronouns (vous/Sie). From what I understand, not using those forms when it's called for can be reason for dismissal in Germany. – MSalters - reinstate Monica Oct 8 at 10:56
  • 1
    No, they're also pronouns. Unlike he/she/they, vous/Sie are second-person pronouns - like the English "you". All the gory details: T-V distinction. The equivalent of "Mister" would be "Monsieur/Herr", but none of those are pronouns, they're honorifics. – MSalters - reinstate Monica Oct 8 at 15:23
  • @Goyo in English the masculine used to be "inclusive" non-gendered style (as in "mankind" means women too) but this seems to be forced out of favour these days. – gbjbaanb Oct 8 at 17:59
  • 5
    @gbjbaanb, "mankind", like most English-language words that include "man", comes from the Old English "mann", which was gender-neutral. The masculine "vir" has nearly vanished from the language, surviving only in words like "werewolf"; the feminine "wif" survives as "woman" ("wif-mann", female human). – Mark Oct 9 at 0:22
  • I think that, if the new CoC includes anything specifically about pronouns, it would be quite easy to make it language-neutral. The rule could simply look like this: When using gendered pronouns about another person, use ones that in your language are correct in regards to that person's stated gender. I've noticed that people often overcomplicate matters of gendered pronouns, which creates more problems than it solves. – Meeep Oct 9 at 16:37
  • @Meeep rus language doesn't have neutral pronouns at all. We have "оно", which literally could be translated as "it". And that's it. – Suvitruf says Reinstate Monica Oct 9 at 16:38
  • 2
    @Suvitruf I'm Polish, and it's similar here. With my rule suggestion, a Russian (or Polish) speaker would simply use pronouns normally, like they normally do in Russia (or Poland). If someone says he is male, use the male pronoun. If someone says she is female, use the female pronoun. In any other case, write in a way that people typically write when gender is unknown/unclear. Basically, my rule suggestion says that you should speak the way you normally do in your language. – Meeep Oct 9 at 16:45
66

Honestly, even as a conservative Christian with firm beliefs on sexuality, I haven't spent enough time thinking through how I can best speak with truth and love to those with a transgender or queer identity. I need to do that, and I'm grateful that this debacle is reminding me of that.

But here's what I do know:

  • I will not compel speech.

  • I will not enforce a CoC that compels speech.

  • I will not agree to moderate a site if I am expected to compel people to use specific language that they are morally or otherwise unwilling to use.

If you don't want people like me moderating your sites – even if we have no personal objection to using "preferred" pronouns – that's fine. Your site, your rules. But you must realize that for some of us, this is about much more than how you mistreated Monica and others in the community.

64

This apology is meaningless, and Stack Exchange Staff is lying to the community again.

So first, you mess up. Badly. You hand out a half-handed apology where you slander Monica even though she has not violated the old or the new CoC. Then you issue a new apology while still clinging to the lie that Monica did anything wrong.

But then there is yet another problem: we have one staff member "apologizing", but another staff member appears to be doubling down by retweeting this tweet.

This apology is a bald-faced LIE to try and cover SE, as evident by the fact that SE is publicly retweeting stuff like this.

  • 29
    The lack of professionalism all the way up the chain is what gets me. It's appalling. I've got to assume some SE employees are internally cringing at this behavior, but what are they going to do? Express disagreement, and get Monica'd? – Ask About Monica Oct 11 at 21:58
  • Why would SE forbid staff their own oppinion? – eckes Oct 22 at 2:25
62

This letter, while addressing the community at large, has precisely 0 mention of Monica's name. There better be a good reason for that.

Consider the effects of negative press already released outside of the Stack Exchange network sites. Consider how that affects her public-facing reputation when someone does a google search of her name in the future. Now consider that at the time of this official apology posting, there has been no retraction/amendment/refutation of the previously issued negativity which reaches a similar or greater audience in an attempt to restore Monica's public-facing reputation.

Posting an apology on just this site to quench the rage of just this site's nameless crowd is one thing, but fixing the mistake which had, and will be continuing to have real effects outside on a single named individual, is a more important step, which has not been yet made.

  • 31
    An apology without restitution for the wrongdoing is purely lipservice. Is SE apologizing for their treatment of Monica, or not? If they aren't, this means nothing. If they are, they need to fix the issue... or this means nothing. – Ask About Monica Oct 7 at 16:18
  • 15
    Yeah - don't do better "next time," do better this time. – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Oct 7 at 17:53
  • 8
    There is a very good reason for it: The fact that Fullerton is telling you they're doubling down on their decision, and in fact, not changing anything much from their previous plans. See my longer reply below. Anyway, +1. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Oct 7 at 21:49
  • 1
    I took it as they're finally respecting the privacy she deserves and that they should have given her in the first place. – Xander Oct 7 at 23:48
  • Publicly naming her once was wrong, and probably illegal. You don't fix that by repeating it. However much input anybody other than David Fullerton had in creating this apology, you know legal counsel has gone over it before it was published. Naming her again is the first thing they would have vetoed. – Auspex Oct 8 at 13:55
  • @Xander and Auspex yeah that makes some sense in a legalese way even but it does not explain why they have not even made hints that they will be addressing the mistakes they made. They mention her gender and religious affiliation to confirm who they are talking about when they make no offer to correct the situation. Not nice at all. – KalleMP Oct 19 at 21:40
  • +1 for "....but fixing the mistake which had, and will be continuing to have real effects outside on a single named individual, is a more important step, which has not been yet made." It's disastrous how long this (process) is taking. – John aka hot2use Oct 23 at 5:33
60

That looks more like an apology. Thanks for writing something that is not canned and does actually give info on what to expect next (dates, at least). I feel like we're a little bit less in the mud there.

I can't guarantee October 7, 10 and 11 will be all peaceful, but people might have calmer minds when they know when to expect, if not what to expect.

Not all is forgiven but there's improvement.

  • 31
    This doesn't look more like an apology. This is an apology. – Andras Deak Oct 6 at 21:45
  • 7
    @AndreasDeak it's a way of wording. Had I said that aloud I'd have made an approval sign as I did. (Meaning: yes, it is an apology) – Jenayah Oct 6 at 21:55
  • 14
    @AndrasDeak This looks like a professionally written apology. Includes all required parts of an apology, repeated, as if it were written by a committee, using an apology textbook. But is it sincere? – berendi - protesting Oct 7 at 3:26
  • 5
    @AndrasDeak - Time will tell if it was sincere and if it is part of an effort to fix the immediate and also underlying problems. I choose to be optimistic -- but when I've been let down so colossally, I temper that with a bit of caution. – aparente001 Oct 7 at 3:33
  • Yes, we can argue whether the apology is sincere and if we trust the company. It's still an apology though :P – Andras Deak Oct 7 at 6:53
  • 2
    @AndrasDeak yeah, after so many replies to the other post they figured it out how to write one :P – shiny-metal Oct 7 at 11:37
  • @AndrasDeak This "looks more like" in comparison with the previous "apology." Whether or not it is one depends on SO.Inc – Draco18s Oct 7 at 14:22
  • @AndrasDeak not from my reading (its corp speech...almost to the point where I had to re-read it to see if its wasn't something like the few programs I've made which auto-generate stuff like this). But then, I've had this conversation with them before (SOD, 2 posts here, chat) and read their apologies before so maybe I'm just too jaded anymore to ever believe them. – LinkBerest Oct 8 at 2:35
  • 10
    This is a not an apology, Mistakes were made, I approved them, my bad ... is not an apology. It is just placating those that want something they can claim is an apology. Notice he never actually lists what he thinks the mistakes were. At least Sara let the cat out of the bag with Sorry for doing this on Friday, which was the non-apology for not sorry for what she did, just when she did it. This is a non-apology, I am really sorry this causes me all this trouble I was not expecting apology. – user148287 Oct 8 at 15:07
59

Doubling-down on your already quadrouple-down of going forward with exclusionary changes to CoC and complete lack of admitting wrongdoing for the actual problems at hand are enough for me to see it's time for me to go.

You apologized for not going far enough in the wrong direction.

I can not trust a man that will not admit when he's wrong. You've just let on that this is a core problem at SE including the very top, and that no amount of user feedback will change the direction.

I had hope. This killed it.

To quote some sharks, "And for those reasons, I'm out."

58

David,

While I appreciate this response and believe it is a good and necessary start to begin repairing the relationship between SE and the community—assuming the words are followed up promptly with concordant actions—I'm still concerned about the underlying motives for the whole thing and the implications of that for us moderators. After reading Monica's relevant post in the mod stack and the relevant portions of Monica's and Sara's activity in the TL, especially the original and newly updated CoC changes and Sara's (lack of) response to Monica's questions, I don't see how a reasonable person with access to that information could conclude anything but that it was a direct personal attack to force Monica out. How can the moderators believe SE will never treat another one of us like this again?

57

Thank you.

Thank you for what you said.

I'm not a moderator, so most of your word don't directly impact me, but, as a non-binary person this does:

First of all, we hurt members of our LGBTQ+ community when they felt they couldn’t participate authentically and we didn’t respond quickly or strongly enough in supporting them. Worse, through our handling of this situation, we made them a target for harassment as people debated their right to express themselves and be addressed according to how they identify.

So, thank you for acknowledging that. I will be able to sleep in peace tonight knowing that I have still a place here. Knowing that I'm still welcome, knowing that the higher authorities still have my back (or at least, they are trying to).

Thank you.

  • 39
    How exactly has SOi hurt members of our LGBTQ+ community? – RonJohn Oct 7 at 2:22
  • 27
    @RonJohn I haven't seen much hate against LGBTQ+ on here until this whole mess happened. In the past week, I've seen more than in the past two years. See also the last sentence of the quote: Worse, through our handling of this situation, we made them a target for harassment as people debated their right to express themselves and be addressed according to how they identify. – Zoe Oct 7 at 5:10
  • 31
    Don’t all people here refer to each other by username mentions anyway? – Mabedan Oct 7 at 5:43
  • 3
    @Mabedan - Based has on the hundreds of comments that was one of the concerns. If specifically asked by a user to address them a specific way, could another user continue to address them by their chosen username, instead of respecting their wishes to be addressed differently. – Ramhound Oct 7 at 5:48
  • 10
    @RonJohn I have seen really transphobic stuff in the last week. Thankfully most of it has been deleted, but I still saw them and it still hurts. I also felt like I had to defend my rights. I hadn't felt mike that here before. – BelovedFool Oct 7 at 6:42
  • 4
    I was completely unaware of any drama happening on StackExchange and after reading this apology, some of the comments and some other posts about the incident that were linked here, I honestly still have no idea how actions taken against a moderator by the staff have caused (or could possibly cause) harm to the LGBT community. What exactly did SE do that was inherently harmful LGBT people specifically? – Lawyerson Oct 7 at 9:24
  • 7
    @Lawyerson It's a good question that could us a details answer. Unfortunately, I don't have the energy to answer you. If you care enough, you could ask a separate meta question. Otherwise, let just say that the way they deal with all of this put a big red target in our (LGBTQ+) backs and unleash a lot of transphobic stuff on us. (sorry for the repost, my comment add several grammar error that made it hard to properly understand) – BelovedFool Oct 7 at 10:23
  • 8
    While I myself am not LGBTQ+, my understanding is that this entire incident over pronouns has called attention to the fact that there are LGBTQ+ users on the site. The increased visibility has brought out latent queerphobia from some other users. As a result, LGBTQ+ users have faced increased harassment because of the attention called to them due to recent events. – rlee827 Oct 7 at 13:21
  • 5
    Even if how someone self-identifies is irrelevant to the technical matter at hand, if someone wishes to be identified in a certain way (e.g. using "they/them/theirs" pronouns), respecting that person requires respecting that choice. – rlee827 Oct 7 at 13:21
  • 31
    @dimitarvp their bungling of the whole situation, starting from declaring a policy that could not work as written, then over-reacting to questions, then doubling down with public accusations, has emboldened the haters and invited malicious compliance and just generally made life ugly for the LGBTQ community SE was supposed to be protecting. It's ugly and painful. See this message from a queer mod. For every mod who's been hurt by this, hundreds or thousands of users probably have. – Monica Cellio Oct 7 at 14:13
  • 9
    @rlee827 I have no problem respecting anyone's self-identify. My point was -- and I didn't elaborate, please accept my apologies for it -- that in the regular Q&A setting in the StackExchange network, the communicational exchange is, at best, 2-3 replies between two people. This really leaves no space and time for inserting self-identification and its deserved respect. It's like this: "How do I do X?" -> "Try Y or Z" -> "Thanks, that works". In such an exchange the LGBT aspect of a participant is irrelevant (or it should be; I realise there are a lot of unreasonable haters out there). – dimitarvp Oct 7 at 15:04
  • 7
    @dimitarvp 1 Sure, on the technical sites, matters of gender identity rarely arise, although you should be aware that on those sites many women intentionally use gender-neutral or even masculine user names because they feel they won't get fair treatment otherwise. 2 Following on from Monica's remarks, over the last week there has been a lot of anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment expressed on MSE (& I expect also in many chatrooms), ranging from mildly disrespectful remarks through to blatantly nasty transphobic / homophobic stuff that is against the old "Be Nice" policy and the current CoC. – PM 2Ring Oct 7 at 15:32
  • 7
    @dimitarvp (cont) Some of the anti-LGBTQ+ stuff has been said in a diplomatic way, so you have to read between the lines to see it. But the worst stuff is as plain as day. That bad stuff is now deleted, but due to the huge amount of activity & the scarcity of mods, some of the bad comments persisted for hours, and received upvotes. – PM 2Ring Oct 7 at 15:40
  • 8
    There was even a "question" posted here on MSE by a member who primarily posts on science sites (where he has several thousand rep points) which was basically a proclamation that he henceforth refuses to interact with any trans members. It was deleted in under 10 minutes, but it was still very unpleasant while it lasted. – PM 2Ring Oct 7 at 15:45
  • 15
    As a member of the Lavender aka Queer aka LGBTQ(etc) community who is not trans or nonbinary, I did feel personally attacked in the aftermath of this. No one said anything personal to me (almost no one) but I felt it all the same. It was enough to send me into panic attacks and needing a leave of absence from my moderator position. The hate is real. Having Monica back as my co-moderator will help tremendously. – Cyn says make Monica whole Oct 7 at 21:08
54

Much better.

We have a long way to go, and I still want to see licensing addressed (at least acknowledged), and some of this post kinda goes into "you guys are harassing people" territory which seemed a bit like the wrong time and place…

…but, nitpicking aside, this is the response that we hoped for and that should have been given to begin with.

Although it does not in itself undo anything that's happened, I absolutely thank you for it, and hopefully it's the start of improved relations to come.

  • 16
    Heh, someone's going around downvoting every post that says "thank you". Person, you are not helping. – Lightness Races with Monica Oct 6 at 23:28
  • 3
    Have an upvote for the great off-site writeup. Btw I wasn't aware of the data breaches at all. – Marc.2377 Oct 7 at 2:29
  • 24
    For what it's worth, I received a mod message from "moderators", who were actually employees — it couldn't have been an elected mod, since they made claims based on data they don't have access to. They straight up accused me of mass-downvoting people and twisted my own words to try and make it sound bad. This all comes very soon after I ask for clarification on the license change. If that's not harassing, I'm not sure what is. – jhpratt Oct 7 at 4:28
  • 6
    @jhpratt - I would agree that would be harassment. I suspect I will be silenced for making that statement. – Ramhound Oct 7 at 5:31
  • Excuse me, @LightnessRacesinOrbit, but I disagree. Saying "thank you" for an apology that is too little, too late, and makes absolutely no promise to set things right, deserves a downvote. – Auspex Oct 8 at 13:48
  • @Auspex You haven't explained how you're helping by casting it. – Lightness Races with Monica Oct 8 at 15:25
  • 4
    @LightnessRacesinOrbit I assume the intent is to promote the answers that say a fair bi more than "thanks" so they rise to the top. As is the intention of the voting system, the "noise" gets downvoted to the bottom. Its not about popularity, its about useful content. – gbjbaanb Oct 8 at 18:12
  • @gbjbaanb The intention of the voting system is not tactical voting by casting downvotes on undownvote-worthy material to "cheat" your way to making your upvotes count double. – Lightness Races with Monica Oct 8 at 23:34
  • 2
    @LightnessRacesinOrbit No one said anything about making votes count double. They simply explained to you how downvotes are helpful: they push down the low quality content, allowing the higher quality content to rise up. Like it or not, some people find your comment to be low enough quality to downvote. I personally do not find your comment to be helpful, as it brings up a completely different issue, and does not note any of the flaws in the apology. – trlkly Oct 9 at 7:03
  • 1
    I will also add that I sometimes include comments when I decide how to vote. If I see someone doing something to mess with the system, I downvote to discourage such actions, as it is my only means to do so. If you try to tell people they are bad to downvote you, I see that as an attempt to influence the vote. It not only tries to make future voters feel bad for wanting to downvote, but also encourages people who agree with you to feel outrage and thus want to upvote what they wouldn't otherwise. It's not helpful to the purpose of SE to do anything like that. – trlkly Oct 9 at 7:09
  • @trlkly I reserve the right to make a comment on this page that doesn't "note any of the flaws in the apology". That's not all we're here for. Frankly it's not at all what we're here for. Also your rambling about "outrage" is just ridiculous. – Lightness Races with Monica Oct 9 at 10:28
  • What we're here for is Stack Exchange: where the principle is high-quality answers are upvoted, poor quality answers are downvoted. I haven't downvoted anything that said "thanks" but provided real substance. And in any case, SE's own system "doubles" my votes. Not having enough rep on Meta, my downvotes don't get reported, so only my upvotes are visible. – Auspex Oct 9 at 14:19

You must log in to answer this question.

protected by Lightness Races with Monica Oct 7 at 22:42

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .