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This is specifically regarding updates to the new CoC (Official FAQ on gender pronouns and Code of Conduct changes) addressing personal pronouns.

The point, up front

With Internet hackers, bots, and miners collecting data and metadata on whatever content users put around the world, personal pronouns should be limited as a matter of security on any social media site (including forums like this).

The best solution would be to formalize the vernacular use of "they" for social media. Stack Exchange could be a leader in this.

Background

This update to the CoC has been a source of division in the SE community; I started this when the vote count was -666. (I have not voted on it because I want to remain objective when writing this.)

Personally, I live by the rule that division and controversy indicate that there may be a more important question somehow overlooked. So, I reviewed my own beliefs about what I was reading...

  1. I genuinely believe in the good will of both SE users and staff.

  2. I have every intention to follow the new CoC; I'm not a "rebel".

  3. I want a CoC that is a source of unity and not division because I want what is best for SE as staff, a company, and the community it celebrates.

  4. Most of all: I want useful online tools to keep users safe.

Personal safety takes precedent

I live in Asia and often meet people who are concerned about being put in harm’s way, either due to governments that violate human rights monitoring their social media and tracing their information back to the user or from angry mobs and hate groups seeking to beat up people with a different opinion.

I think it is better for all user's safety if we encourage the good habit of not using personal pronouns in Internet discussion other than "they".

I think we all overlooked this, myself included.

Possible ways to implement

  1. It could be a rule in the CoC to only use "they" for users' safety, with the disclaimer that safety and security must always come first and if safety leads to personal offense, that no offense is intended, but safety must be first, even when inconvenient.

  2. Eventually, an AI could be written to rewrite personal pronouns in the discussion. But, the problem with that is that, if we agreed to this value of "safety-via-pronouns", the goal would be for users to develop good habits to use elsewhere. An AI would make it so that the habit wasn't developed, being too dependent on technology to keep us safe without responsibility.

  3. I don't know that users would need to be penalized, only reminded and have content corrected. This would be soft-handed.

...But, any good idea needs vetting from the community first. So, I'm posting this for vote and discussion.


I am posting this genuinely to receive input from the community, not just to opine. Please, I genuinely invite answers that address better alternatives or reasons this would not be feasible or any other discussion.

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    I developed this idea during the controversy and a number of users kindly suggested that it deserved to be discussed elsewhere. Hence, this was the most respectful way and the most likely to be useful. – Jesse Steele Oct 11 at 23:59
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    So, no "aps" pronoun anymore? – Tom Oct 12 at 0:09
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    @Tom Sadly, yes. My Question was deleted. I may pursue it elsewhere, but won't crash the party here. – Jesse Steele Oct 12 at 0:22
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    This feels like a step in the complete opposite direction. It’s another mandate compelling speech. A person with security concerns would most likely not have anything identifying on their profile, and as such, they/them would be the only way to refer to them anyway. The users who lack these concerns and prefer to use third person pronouns other than they/them, should be able to do that too. The issue that you’re addressing is really with compelled speech when it comes to personal pronouns, and we all get that something must be changed here, because the community is torn, but this ain’t it. – Kyle Fairns Oct 12 at 1:19
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    Please, don't call me as "they". – Victor Stafusa Oct 12 at 7:02
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The communication around the COC has often been messy and confused.

The simple answer to why "they" isn't the universal is that, for some folks, using the appropriate pronoun is important, and even the 'neutral' "they" can be hurtful and feels like misgendering.

If you're a transgender or nonbinary person (or anyone else I've missed out) struggling for folks to accept you for who you are, having people use your correct gender pronouns means a lot.

The COC doesn't seem very kind. This is being actually kind, and accepting. Do the right thing.

When in doubt, and talking about a generic person in general, "they" is better than "he or she" 'cause it doesn't assume a specific gender. Whether you choose to use a singular they, or plural they, can vary.

If someone needs a gender pronoun for safety reasons, they can express it appropriately, and I'd expect people to respect that.

  • @JourneymanGreek, Pleasant memories with you. Your answer addresses social concerns, not privacy and users safety. – Jesse Steele Oct 12 at 0:51
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This tries to solve a problem that does not exist

The so-called "security/privacy" concern over personal pronouns doesn't have any cited sources to prove the nature of the problem or that it even exists. It may seem good in theory, but it needs metrics in order to develop a policy to address it. Anecdotal wisdom can't guide a security-driven ToS.

The only two answers, one of them deleted, echo that same sentiment from the community. Journeyman Geek writes:

If someone needs a gender pronoun for safety reasons, they can express it appropriately, and I'd expect people to respect that.

Obviously, this mod does not take the security problem as seriously as the OP. The mod probably has more access to real information.

The other post (from a comment) took a more controversial direction:

This feels like a step in the complete opposite direction. It’s another mandate compelling speech.

Comments on both ends reflect similar sentiment. All the same, the security concern was not so dominant.

In conclusion:

The supposed reality of this "security/privacy" concern lacks evidence. There is no research cited to prove either its behavior or its existence. And, both those who support the CoC and those who dissent also believe that it is not a dominant issue.

It is best to solve problems that are proven to exist.

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    Would you mind explaining what is the purpose of asking a question and writing an answer that is against your own suggestion? – Christine H. Richards Oct 12 at 9:02
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    @ChristineH.Richards I asked this genuine question, truly wanting what is best. Once I read the valuable input from the community, I truly, genuinely arrived at this conclusion. Thank you, upvoting your comment – Jesse Steele Oct 12 at 9:04
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    One more thought: The whole idea of asking a question is to be open to the answer being contrary to what one initially thought. I would hope this would not be surprising. – Jesse Steele Oct 13 at 21:09

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