91

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.


Initial email was sent to Monica on October 8.

This question has an open bounty worth +500 reputation from Tim ending in 4 days.

This question has not received enough attention.

I'd like to point out just how much the score of this question has dropped since the CoC FAQ. SE: take note. We are not happy.

  • 382
    This is good. But if you (SE) had posted a third of that one week ago, there would have been less than a tenth of the drama, I think. – Daniel Fischer Oct 6 at 21:05
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    @DanielFischer They've done it now, though. This is almost unprecedented in the past year and a half; I think this is the start of Stack Overflow earning back that trust. – wizzwizz4 Oct 6 at 21:10
  • 129
    Upvoted; thank you for what feels like a sincere and heartfelt statement. I'll wait to see the changes (trust, but verify), but this is leagues better than the previous announcements. – Sébastien Renauld Oct 6 at 21:11
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    @wizzwizz4 While appreciated, it's not entirely unprecedented really. We've seen CMs apologize for the company and promising they'll do better left and right over the past year. – Christian Rau Oct 6 at 21:18
  • 308
    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? – Sébastien Renauld Oct 6 at 21:26
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    What @SébastienRenauld said, and even more: why are you in such a hurry to release the new CoC? The only urgent (overdue, actually) thing to do is talking with Monica. But what's the problem if the new CoC is released in a week or two? You are giving moderators 3 days to provide feedback. Can't you give them one week, or even longer? We need a good CoC, not a hasty one. Haste and quality are normally mutually exclusive. – Fabio Turati Oct 6 at 21:33
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    I am glad to see progress. That conversation with me is essential, and the sooner the better. (Today would be fine. I'm available right now.) I will let the community know when I have been contacted. – Monica Cellio Oct 6 at 21:39
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    This response is light-years better than the last one. However, I'd feel better if there were a clearer picture about how this managed to so thoroughly run off the rails. It suggests... I don't know. Lack of oversight maybe? Too much overtime on your part? Too many trips to Starbucks? – Robert Harvey Oct 6 at 21:42
  • 340
    @RobertHarvey we don't have to finish the conversation in one go, but I want the beginnings of closure. SE has damaged my reputation (personal and professional), my health, and my safety. They have made me literally sick and have set in motion harassment from trolls who want me to join their disgusting causes. I want us to start mending this ASAP, well in advance of Yom Kippur. – Monica Cellio Oct 6 at 21:53
  • 55
    @ZevSpitz if they're sharing a draft with mods on Monday, they're going to need a few days to allow for comments anyway, especially since all the other Jewish moderators will be unable to participate in that during Yom Kippur. A public release on Thursday sounds optimistic, actually. – Monica Cellio Oct 6 at 22:08
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    I think it's worth pointing out that this answer was posted (and was most likely worked on) on a Sunday. The people involved in drafting, reviewing and publishing this answer have families, lives, etc, and generally other, non-SE related things to do on weekends. Yet they took the time, for the benefit of the community. As someone who greatly values work-life separation, I can notice and appreciate the effort. – Aurélien Gasser Oct 6 at 22:23
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    Sorry but this conflicts directly with other non-apology posted only few days ago. To me it looks like a forced apology posted only because the mod resignations started to cause you real trouble. Otherwise you'd never even think to apologize. I can't believe this is real and sincere effort until I see actual actions being done, first of all bring Monica back or let her resign by herself. – Shadow Oct 6 at 22:38
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    @Shadow so once someone has issued a non apology and messed up, they can never realize they were wrong and do better? They have to stick to their hugely unpopular opinion forever instead of listening to those who said "that's not good enough"? Of course it conflicts with that earlier statement. It's an attempt to replace that with what should have been said in the first place. – Kate Gregory Oct 7 at 0:11
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    Please do not edit this post: we should all see precisely what the CTO wrote. Edits, even if well intentioned, can be interpreted as putting words in his mouth. – Raedwald Oct 7 at 11:46
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    They scrupulously avoided saying they made a mistake in firing Monica. They did not commit to retracting the accusations of intolerance they made, by name, about a volunteer, to an international news outlet. This is a pseudo-apology. It's just not as incompetently-phrased as the last one. I truly hope the discussions with Monica go well, but I have my doubts. – kbelder Oct 7 at 22:18

69 Answers 69

12

Ok. Thanks for the apology. I'm not too sentimental like that, so I wasn't seeking it in the first place. All I really wanted from SE was a clear explanation with examples why you fired Monica. In this post, you say you'll only do that if you both agree? That's not reasonable. The only circumstance where keeping that information private would be if Monica admits fault and concedes her removal was just. Monica is equivalent to a public figure on SE. We deserve answers.

  • 6
    Think you misread: "unless both agree" only refers to future actions? / Moreover: Firing was 'shipping' a mod-removal. Violating the existing processes and expectations, and now admitted as 'mistakes'. Fine. In a working version-control system, one rolls back (posts on SE have that very feature). As firing was a fruit of the forbidden tree: why not reinstate M 'immediately?' That's what I wonder about. I only see that SE sees that as waste of time, as they still want "to stand by that decision"? – LаngLаngС Oct 7 at 6:55
  • @LаngLаngС Why not immediately? Because they apparently did already consider firing her, now they agree to review that decision. That puts Monica somewhere in the process. More thoughts on this. – fredsbend Oct 7 at 7:00
  • @fredsbend: But they considered firing her on what is apparently false cause. And got outed about it. And still double down on the termination. – einpoklum Oct 7 at 21:06
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    @fredsbend: Would appreciate your thoughts on my own reply. – einpoklum Oct 7 at 22:13
12

Thank you, albeit: the journey hasn't even started. And of course, one wonders, what took you so long? Is it truly the outcry in the community that caused this move, or rather the damage to the public reputation/image of the company?! But I am not here to rant.

As all the other answers, and so many other postings here, and on other META sites have reminded us: the rift goes deep, and it grew over years. Every time the company made mistakes and just moved on, ignoring the breakage that decision created, every time, that rift grew deeper.

When we honestly look at the situation, there are easily 30, 50 "work items" that worry many members of the different communities.

Thus: that schedule about CoC updates and next steps: give us more like that.

Meaning:

  1. I am asking the company to compile a list of "work items" that they think need to be addressed (MSE should give you plenty of inspirational input).
  2. Then they should put up some kind of poll that allows to the community to give its priorities on these points.
  3. Then align that input with the business plans and come up with an outlook/schedule when and how each "work item" will be addressed.
  4. Every quarter or so, repeat that exercise.

Walk the talk. Now. And for the months to come!

And sure, that is a lot of work. But we will be with you, as long as we can trust you that you are with us.

  • 8
    The journey hasn't even started because they're not changing what they planned to do. It's just flowery rhetoric. – einpoklum Oct 7 at 21:09
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    @einpoklum I agree. Maybe my point is more like: I dont care that much any more what "they" do. I made up my mind what is important for me, and this answer here just expresses what I hope and wish will happen. I didn't say I consider this hope very realistic. – GhostCat Oct 8 at 7:09
11
  • 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

This seems like a poorly chosen order - the code of conduct should be reviewed by the moderators (including reinstated ones) before being enacted. How can that happen if the reinstatement is last?

  • The COC changes triggered off all of it. And honestly, looking at all this drama, I think the mods need some time to decompress. I know I do – Journeyman Geek Oct 7 at 4:12
  • 8
    Actually, I think this is the proper order, allowing mods to see the new CoC before having to decide whether to seek reinstatement. – Jeffrey Bosboom Oct 7 at 6:45
  • @fredsbend Actually, an elected (as opposed to appointed, which happens on beta sites) moderator who has stepped down in good standing can request to have their moderator position reinstated. To allow that has been the policy of SE for a very long time. Moderators step down from time to time for a variety of reasons, far from all of them in protest of any action taken by SE. Stepping down is not a rage-quit. Also, nothing prevents a moderator who stepped down in good standing from a position as appointed on a beta site from running in a moderator election on that same site at a later time. – a CVn Oct 7 at 11:33
  • 11
    My issue is not with the order but the duration. There's no way that SO.Inc can incorporate feedback over a 3-4 day period. – Draco18s Oct 7 at 14:41
  • Who said they're reinstating anyone? – einpoklum Oct 7 at 20:58
  • I guess I assumed they would be reinstating moderators that were removed or that left voluntarily based on the fact that they are planning an official reinstatement process. – Charlie Oct 8 at 0:02
  • @JeffreyBosboom Non-reinstated ex-mods likely won't be able to see the new CoC revision to inform that decision. There's no sign yet of reinstatements coming. Also, it's unlikely that they are actually looking for any disagreement feedback or questions, because you can see what they did to Monica for asking questions, and they are mostly standing by that so far. – WBT Oct 8 at 22:04
10

Thankyou David for this genuine apology. It was sorely needed.

And thankyou to all the diamond mods and other users who took a principled and caring stand, without which this apology would not have appeared.

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.

This acknowledgement is, appropriately, listed third in order of importance, but I'm glad it's been said. Our diamond mods certainly do the heavy lifting, but I'm one of the thousands of regular non-diamond users who contribute our time and effort in helping keep SE running. Flagging spam, abuse and CoC violations; voting on review queues to close bad questions, delete non-answers, approve suggested edits, and reopen worthwhile questions; editing posts to improve them; adding comments to provide useful guidance (and a positive welcoming message) to new contributors; putting thought into site management and improvement, via site meta; and doing many more generally unnoticed little things that keep our favourite sites humming along.

I have been "on strike" since last week, withdrawing from all the community moderation tasks I would normally do on the four sites I'm most active on. I'm on strike both as the best statement of support that I could give to Monica and to the mods who had resigned or taken other action, and as a response to my own feelings of discouragement and vicarious abuse as a SE volunteer.

Your apology is a significant first step towards rebuilding my trust, but I need more than words: owning your mistakes is necessary but not sufficient. There are important actions you need to take, some of which I expect to happen urgently - your direct communication with Monica being one.

I'm hoping these actions over the next few weeks will be enough to demonstrate to people like me that there really is a genuine intention by the company to improve its game and to treat our community with real respect. I am, cautiously, looking forward to ending my strike action and returning to "normal duties" in community moderation. But you need to entice me back, and if you don't do so quickly and decisively, there's a real risk that I won't come back at all.

It's important for you to know this, not because I'm a key user, but because there are dozens - perhaps hundreds - of other users like me: passionate about our SE community, deeply disillusioned with the company, and on the verge of walking away.

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.

A key test will be the new CoC. Will you involve us ordinary users in reviewing the draft, or will you simply inform us of the new rules we must abide by "after decisions have been made"?

I desperately hope we can take you at your word.

  • @Mari-LouA I can't see any edit that changes the reason for my original vote: are you suggesting the post no longer warrants an upvote (if so, why?) or that it should be downvoted (again, why?)? – Chappo Oct 14 at 7:16
  • When a post has been edited, knowing you can retract a vote anonymously can be useful to know. That's all. P.S I'm sure I deleted my comment yesterday, so how did you find out? – Mari-Lou A Oct 14 at 7:26
  • @Mari-LouA Oh, I get it: the new COC and the way it's been implemented might be cause to reconsider how I voted on this post, and the edit allows me to change my vote. Yes. Thankyou. – Chappo Oct 14 at 7:50
10

Every time I look at you I don't understand

Why you let the things you did get so out of hand.

You'd have managed better if you'd had it planned.

Why'd you choose [a delay in] time [with] such a [bad hand]?

– Andrew Lloyd Webber, Tim Rice, Jesus Christ Superstar (1970)

9

This response is long-awaited... But it feels heartfelt and meaningful.

As just another Stack Exchange community member: Thank you.

I'm certain I speak for many members when I say that I'm satisfied knowing that this event is being taken seriously, and my faith in Stack Exchange is starting to become restored.

In the future... I hope that it doesn't take this long to address an uproar of this magnitude. However, I think we should focus on forward movement with regards to the past.

I still hope SE becomes more transparent, but that's a conversation for a different location, and a different time.

By Friday, October 11, we’ll share the processes for moderator removal and reinstatement with moderators for their feedback

Is there going to be any specific focus on the most recent moderator walkouts? Will those moderators be contacted privately to discuss possible reinstatement, assuming they're interested? If so, can you elaborate?

  • 4
    "Will those moderators be contacted privately to discuss possible reinstatement, assuming they're interested? If so, can you elaborate?" - This is just speculation on my part, but assuming SE handles it like they handled the situation on the Workplace, it'll likely be up to the mods to request reinstatement, but SE will probably reinstate them if they do request it. – V2Blast Oct 6 at 22:00
  • 2
    Would you mind bolding the whole last paragraph, please? – aparente001 Oct 7 at 3:59
  • 1
    @aparente001 Good idea. Edited that. – Spevacus Oct 7 at 12:03
  • 3
    You've been misled. It might feel nice, but it's mostly a nothing-burger. Specifically - there is no reinstatement. – einpoklum Oct 7 at 21:02
  • @einpoklum that's not true, moderators who did ask to be reinstated have been, the door is open. – Tensibai Oct 8 at 22:28
  • 1
    @Tensibai: That's not what I meant. I was talking about a reinstatement through a nullification of the invalid dismissal - not a "kiss the ring" reinstatement upon penitent request. – einpoklum Oct 8 at 22:41
  • @einpoklum I've no will to be reinstated. So that's doesn't sound a good idea from my point of view. – Tensibai Oct 8 at 22:55
  • 1
    @Tensibai: Fair enough, but Monica Cellio is who we're talking about here. – einpoklum Oct 8 at 23:02
  • @einpoklum your comment doesn't sound talking about Monica specifically, specially not when the answer talk about the moderators who walked away. I can understand you think your answer address this, but it does not imho – Tensibai Oct 8 at 23:17
  • you have drunk the kool-aid ... – Someone Who Used To Care Oct 11 at 15:59
7

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

This is great, really. Coming from one of the Moderator's who resigned, and then changed his mind and came back -- before this was issued BTW. I do believe this should go a long was to prevent future events like this.

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.

This is as much as you could ask for at the moment, and took a ton of courage to post. Admitting, apologizing, owning, and attempting to rectify. This make me very hopeful that our big community will survive and thrive.

I do believe there is a road back for Monica as I still believe her heart is always in the right place, and I hope that path back is acceptable to all involved.

  • 1
    I may not fully agree with you (the jury will be out for a while yet on any attempts to rectify), but this post lives up to the moniker it is posted under! – Caleb Oct 7 at 12:21
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    @Caleb I don't know for sure, but I feel as though SE will try to smooth this over with Monica. She used her real name here and her reputation suffered a hit when this all went down. – Mister Positive Oct 7 at 12:46
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    "This is as much as you could ask for at the moment, and took a ton of courage to post." I can't agree with that. They even went as far to have an SE employee speak to a media outlet to name and shame Monica ("Cellio (she/her) would not use stated pronouns, which violates our current CoC."). This is at best hinted at ("privacy"). The accusation was made public, the apology (once they actually reach out to Monica) will be private ("unless we both agree to share any of it"). It's a step forward, but only a small one. – Anne Daunted Oct 7 at 20:45
  • 6
    How is this "great"? It's the same thing they were going to do before this apology post. It's we're sorry, but nothing changes kind of a thing. – einpoklum Oct 7 at 21:08
  • 1
    @AnneDaunted based on my past experience this is a great step forward. With a C level responding to this, I hold out hope for a resolution. – Mister Positive Oct 7 at 22:53
  • @einpoklum Time will tell. – Mister Positive Oct 7 at 22:53
  • 1
    It's been a week since we last heard anything official from SE. I think time told. I guess they're waiting it out till people accept that the old SE is dead, long live the new SE, and the ones who can't get cozy with the new one leave. – Pascal Oct 14 at 18:05
5

I am pleased to see this message from the CTO of Stack Overflow; it goes a long way toward correcting things. However, while what has been done so far is necessary, it is not sufficient.

It is critical to realize that certain important decisions should not be rushed, even if one has good intentions. I have to second what others have said that the moderators should have more time to review and respond to the new CoC before it is published. Another week would not be an excessive amount of time and would far better provide adequate time to respond and for any needed changes to be made before the new CoC is made public.

After publicly naming Monica as having been fired they need to publicly post a retraction and apology.

There have been several other issues, besides Monica's firing, that have upset the community, and rightly so. These other issues also need to be addressed.

Although Stack Overflow has made some reassuring statements, which certainly are good steps toward correcting their errors, we will have to see what they actually do over the coming weeks. It is their actions, not just words, that will show their true intentions.

4

Hey David and Stack Overflow,

This is a good step and thank you for this. It is great to see you acknowledge where you went wrong and what process you're going to work on to fix this.

One thing I've been trying to mention in posts but haven't seen addressed is getting proper training for your volunteer moderators.

There are courses in non-violent communication, conflict management and other areas of moderation you can pay for.

I think you are being unkind towards yourselves when you don't train moderators at all and then expect them to endure the empathy fatigue community moderation involves while behaving in a welcoming empathic way.

I think you can benefit from actually investing in moderators and community members. Issues like dealing with people from different cultures are not something people are born with.

  • 20
    Which side of this was looking for a way to co-exist in spite of disagreement in the first place? Which side kept actively reaching out for a resolution after it went sideways? I don't doubt training is something volunteer moderators could benefit from, but this is suggesting a solution to the wrong problem. – Caleb Oct 7 at 8:57
  • 1
    @Caleb both sides were reaching out for resolution after it went sideways and both sides could benefit from better communication and conflict resolution tools. Both sides were side of the conflict and both could benefit from said training. – Benjamin Gruenbaum Oct 7 at 9:01
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    We must have very different versions of what qualifies as "reaching out". Even the still active moderators have been protesting in droves for weeks now over the lack of reaching out or any serious engagement of the issues from SE's side. – Caleb Oct 7 at 9:31
  • 8
    In this particular matter, IMHO, it seems like SE staff should get those trainings you mentioned. I feel from this answer it somehow illustrates that moderator(s) are the guilty party in this occasion. – Vishwa Oct 7 at 10:34
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    @Vishwa to be clear, I do not believe that moderators are the "guilty" party in this occasion. I believe that Stack Overflow needs to invest a lot more into their moderators and how seriously they take the content quality and inclusiveness on this network. – Benjamin Gruenbaum Oct 7 at 11:40
  • 2
    The bigger elephant in the room is yet SE being very lax on drive-by-users creation to inflate user numbers. This is being clearly abused by droves of people who do not agree and do not want to follow SE rules and policies, who do not need to be nice to moderators or longtime users, who just want a quick fix and do not want and need to invest on quality content. And that is undermining things much more than dealing with "different cultures". IMO, that ought to be dealt much sooner than "proper training". While that is not dealt with, I would not want to be on any moderator' s shoes. – Rui F Ribeiro Oct 7 at 17:15
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    Where is the actual "good step"? It doesn't look like they're planning to do something concretely different than before. – einpoklum Oct 7 at 20:59
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    @BenjaminGruenbaum if that's what you mean, you should say it clearly I think. you said One thing I've been trying to mention in posts but haven't seen addressed is getting proper training for your volunteer moderators.. Matter at hand occurs basically because the SE staff has no such training, discipline nor integrity. (not all). I agree that SE needs to invest more in not only moderators but all contributors alike. – Vishwa Oct 8 at 4:37

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