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I can understand that as a for-profit and venture backed corporate entity, Stack Overflow Inc. has to make money and/or make a nice exit, even if it means ... antagonizing the very community that forms the bedrock of its success.

But recently, watching all the dramas unfolding, I have the feeling that Stack Overflow the company is hell bent on antagonizing the community for the sake of... antagonizing them, no other purpose. Its recent actions certainly don't help them winning more sales and money. It's as if the Company has been taking a perverted pleasure in inflicting as much pain as possible on the community, even at the expense of its own self.

The first and foremost example is, of course, the firing of a very popular moderator, and steadfastly refused to explain to her or anyone the reason while at the same time, pouring dirt on her in the public.

What could Stack Overflow Inc. hope to gain from this?

And then, a few days after the incident, a Stack Overflow employee came out with a non-apology "apology" that "promised to do better next time", which I (and maybe a lot of other people also) interpreted as another veiled attempt to justify the firing ("we did the right thing but chose the wrong timing"). Considering that this was the first post five days after the incident, one can conclude that the management had thought long and hard about the issue. The post is just a summary of their stand.

But again, I don't see the purpose except to just inflame the community.

The whole brouhaha started because of the gender neutral pronunciation issue; apparently Stack Overflow Inc. deemed that the issue of misgendering on the sites are serious enough to demand an action (why Stack Overflow Inc., a network of Q&A sites mainly focus on technical questions, should even care about gender pronunciation, is completely beyond me) . And then mod firing controversy arose out of it and to many (including me), it became a much bigger issue that the Company should tackle, if the Company has not lost a sense of priority.

But before the Company had conclusively resolved the burning issue, it came out with a change in the Code of Conduct; the Company should know full well that it would generate a lot more questions because it was done without proper consultation with the community, despite its earlier promise to do so. Unsurprisingly the announcement garnered a lot of downvotes.

Why push out a change in Code of Conduct so hastily?

What is happening to Stack Overflow Inc.? Can the management explain what is going on in their mind, so that we are better prepared next time for the whatever that come may?

Note: this is not a question with opinion-based answer—because all it takes is that one definitive answer from the management.

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    Also, there are earlier and parallel related events, like licensing changes, removal of IPS from HNQ, listening to people in twitter while simply ignoring people on meta, min-reprex, abusive ads, few to no feedback in all those meta questions and answers about the CoC other than deleting stuff, etc. – Victor Stafusa Oct 13 at 8:38
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    I think this question rehashes a half dozen others that have been asked in the past week. No individual question matches this one exactly, but collectively this has essentially already been stated. I'm VTCing as a duplicate of any one of them for that reason. – Aza Oct 13 at 9:28
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    Possible duplicate of Dear Stack Exchange, it is time for a change – Aza Oct 13 at 9:28
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    It would have helped if Fullerton et al had kept their word though. I don't see a way out of the mess, after a while the team has just grown used to ignoring users. – Mari-Lou A Oct 13 at 9:53
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    How constructive was saying I have the feeling that StackOverflow the company is hell bent on antagonizing the community for the sake of... antagonizing them, no other purpose. […] It's as if the Company has been taking a perverted pleasure in inflicting as much pain as possible on the community, even at the expense of it ownself.? You're not actually inviting dialogue by saying that SO take pleasure in inflicting pain, are you? None of the more recent posts have helped to resolve the dismal situation and the various injustices. It's become an open battlefield. – Mari-Lou A Oct 13 at 11:08
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    I posted an answer that said meta was becoming divisive, but the question got deleted along with my answer, which basically said: "Let's show a bit of love for one another ❤️" – Mari-Lou A Oct 13 at 11:14
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    This is not a "opinion-based" question-- because all it takes is that one definitive answer from the management. There can be no multiple definitive or subjective answers from the management, unless, of course, the management is suffering from Schizophrenia ( which I don't believe). So I vote to reopen. – Graviton Oct 15 at 2:54
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    Well put, seems like insanity to me. (Might be an offensive term in the future – gdoron is supporting Monica Oct 16 at 6:19
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    Downvoted due to things like "losing its sanity" which aren't very nice, but voted to reopen as well since SE staff can indeed post an answer. – Shadow The Princess Wizard Nov 3 at 8:32
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    @dfhwze - SE management seem obsessed with the user survey. It said that transgender people didn't like the site, hence it needs fixing. Simples – Richard Nov 3 at 9:01
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    My guess is that this isn't really about the ads, the licence, the CoC or any other issue. It's about establishing a New Order. Stack Exchange evolved as an organisation in which the community represented a substantially respected constituent. Now we see Stack Exchange attempting to transform itself into a hierarchical, top-down governed, suited corporation. It needs to hammer home that it will not brook any questioning of any of its actions from any quarter. Management aspires to become the archetypal unapproachable, unquestionable God Emperor. – Rounin says Je suis Monica Nov 3 at 19:09
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    "There can be no multiple definitive or subjective answers from the management, unless, of course, the management is suffering from Schizophrenia ( which I don't believe)." It sounds like you're confusing schizophrenia with disassociative identity disorder. That's a very common misconception, but indeed a misconception. Schizophrenia is, roughly translated, "split from life", but has nothing to do with split personalities. – Lightness Races with Monica Nov 4 at 12:19
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    This sums it up: - Great managers make the right decisions. - Good managers sometimes make the wrong decisions, but upon realizing this seek to correct the problem. - Bad managers make bad decisions and don't even realize it. - Very bad managers make bad decisions, realize they were wrong, but stick to the decision anyway. – Lundin Nov 4 at 16:32
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    La la la la la! We can't hear you. Everything is fine. La la la la — SE management – faintsignal Nov 5 at 1:35
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    Wasn't Sara hired about a year ago? Ironically, in the last year there's been a change in non-communication, conflict and turmoil, and it seems Sara, of all people, refuses to listen. I don't wish her any harm or ill will, but it'd be great if she looked for another position. – sfors says reinstate Monica Nov 7 at 18:55
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+150

The new CoC did not happen suddenly. It's been a priority for the company since April 26, 2018, when Jay Hanlon posted Stack Overflow Isn’t Very Welcoming. It’s Time for That to Change, and has probably been brewing long before that:

Our employees and community have cared about this for a long time, but we’ve struggled to talk about it publicly or to sufficiently prioritize it in recent years. And results matter more than intentions.

There's nothing inconsistent about the company's behavior. (well, except for one detail. More on that later). It can be summed up in a single sentence: the company has lost touch with its communities. I've provided a detailed treatment of this phenomenon here, and suggested ways they could fix that. Unfortunately the company seems to have lost interest in engaging with the communities in this way.

Stack Exchange has definitive goals. It may not seem that way, but they do. I've been watching this for awhile now, and while they say that they want Stack Exchange to be a friendly and welcoming place, what I believe they really want is inclusion, and the way they define that inclusion is "the site surveys shall demonstrate a distribution of marginalized groups in its user base that reflects the general population." In other words, half of all participants on Stack Exchange shall be women, 10 percent shall be LGBT+, and so forth.

What could Stack Exchange hope to gain by firing one of its most respected moderators? It's possible that they wanted to make an example of her. That's certainly how it has come across. But I think it's simpler than that. One employee in a position of authority made a snap decision over a conversation, invoking the "removal for any reason" clause in the moderator agreement. That was a mistake. Stack Exchange certainly has the right to do it, but doing it this way trivializes the moderator position, undermines their moral authority, and sends all sorts of bad signals to the communities they serve. They haven't corrected the mistake because they can't see a way to do it without losing face and without their lawyers having a conniption.

Of course, this is all just speculation, and in the absence of further communication from corporate, that's all you're going to get. But don't think that there is an absence of rationale for this corporate behavior just because you find it bizarre.

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    This aligns with what I think is going on. It was a decision made rashly, likely over the objections of the CMs (if the CMs had wanted to let her go it would have been done long before that day), and there is either 1) The leadership doesn't think they made a mistake, or 2) they recognize they made a mistake but as you said can't backtrack. – George Stocker Nov 4 at 15:42
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    'And results matter more than intentions.' - Ouch. Isn't that what folk here have been telling SE? Stop telling us that you'll be better in the future and start being better now. – Script47 Nov 4 at 15:42
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    @Script, one aspect of this conflict is that being better may not mean the same thing to the SE staff and to the rest of us. And I mean this in good faith -- there are signs that the staff genuinely believes they're doing the Right Thing™. – Frédéric Hamidi Nov 4 at 15:48
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    If they'd merely fired me for, I dunno, having a blue avatar or asking questions or being the first person Sara saw when she came into TL, this would have gone differently. They're allowed to fire us for any reason; it's just that they haven't been arbitrary before. A few moderators would have resigned in protest but it probably wouldn't have blown up like this. The real problems arose when they started making public accusations. – Monica Cellio Nov 4 at 16:15
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    Your speculation on the goal and definition of inclusion is certainly plausible on one level, but one another level it creates more questions than it answers. What "general population" is in view? It's not the general population of the world, because otherwise the English language priority would be the biggest problem they'd be trying to tackle. It could be the general population of the US or of New York, but in that case the goal can only be met either by driving away the rest of the world (surely undesirable) or by effecting major change in the rest of the world (insanely overambitious). – Peter Taylor Nov 4 at 16:24
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    @PeterTaylor "insanely overambitious" -- you've never met a New Yorker, have you? ;-). – Heretic Monkey Nov 4 at 16:34
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    @PeterTaylor "by effecting major change in the rest of the world" Yeah because the USA has never attempted to do this, and has never felt that it has the right to do this... – Lightness Races with Monica Nov 4 at 17:18
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    One employee in a position of authority made a snap decision over a conversation, invoking the "removal for any reason" clause in the moderator agreement. I think it's even worse than that. It's one thing to remove a mod, it's quite another to announce it in the TL, then on several meta sites across the network, then in one public apology, and gloating about it in a retweet. While the Director's friends outside of SO were probably patting her back, making her feel she did the right thing, the Director completely lost sight of the harm her action caused to another human being. – Mari-Lou A Nov 4 at 18:31
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    I also thought that they wanted "to make an example of her". Saying this sounds like a conspiracy theory. But darn, a frighteningly convincing one. Firing a highly regarded mod for (what could, with some contortions, be perceived as) "questioning the (decisions of) the authority" will intimidate others (not only mods), and have a chilling effect that we can already observe. I could phrase this more clearly. But I'm ""afraid"" to do so. – Marco13 Nov 4 at 20:10
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    @MonicaCellio: "For any reason" clauses are "escape" clauses; they are there to give parties the ability to perform "emergency actions." There was no emergency here; certainly, there was no mandate for taking any sort of preemptive action. Implicit in the existence of escape clauses is the idea that those who have them use them judiciously, exercising them only under the most severe and egregious of circumstances. They must not be used arbitrarily or capriciously, and certainly not to satisfy anyone's personal sensibilities. – user102937 Nov 4 at 21:29
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    @RobertHarvey they shouldn't be used capriciously and arbitrarily. I was just pointing out that the mod agreement allows them to do so; we just never expected it from a company that used to care about how it treats its users and volunteers. – Monica Cellio Nov 4 at 21:39
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    Maybe I'm just cynical at this point, but I don't think it was a "snap decision." This was a deliberate and planned sequence of events (with the possible exception of the holy day part). The wording of the original statement in the TL was quite clearly a direct personal attack on Monica, and the total refusal to answer any questions about it—from Monica or anyone else—only shows they never intended for it to be the final version, just a pretext to boot Monica. – Kevin Nov 4 at 23:56
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    I believe they are still tiptoeing around the real issue SO is and has been criticised for. It shines through in Jay's post you quoted and what potentially triggered it: Curation (Closing, Downvoting, Editing etc.) That's the bull they have to take by the horns. It's what makes SE useful in the first place and helps attract and keep experts. But I fear that they will eventually abandon it. – Anne Daunted GoFundMonica Nov 5 at 13:56
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    @AnneDauntedGoFundMonica We'll not be able to sort this out in the comments (as we can only speculate anyhow). But I think that, beyond the pure traffic, it's also the image that is relevant. Being "welcoming" and "inclusive" and whatnot trumps not only plain observations of the truth, but also any concerns about quality. Originally, SE had the policy of discouraging low-quality content. Now, low-quality content has to be accepted, because otherwise, SE would not be "welcoming" (Sure, that doesn't make any sense, but that's how it appears to be...). There's more, but that's one point. – Marco13 Nov 5 at 22:45
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    they say that they want Stack Exchange to be a friendly and welcoming place, what I believe they really want is inclusion. Nailed it Robert. If it was "unwelcoming" before, it's downright toxic and hostile now. – sfors says reinstate Monica Nov 7 at 19:19
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I'm guessing, only.

Stack Overflow has had a reputation for nastiness and elitism for a long time. Whether that reputation is justified or deserved is for others to discuss, but I don't think anyone can disagree that it's been there.

This is a corporate problem. Now that the company is trying to make itself profitable, after a period of financial issues, and with a need to repay its investors, it is strongly focusing on its commercial offerings (Teams, Jobs). That in itself is not outrageous; it's practical.

But, to drive more customers to the commercial offerings, you have to fix the image of the site. To fix the image of the site, you have to make it more "welcoming". And it's become clear from the reaction to the whole welcoming process that some of the most prolific contributors feel victimised by this, like they're being blamed for the ineptitude of new contributors askers. This in turn leads to a level of toxicity on meta that the newest company leadership decided was not worth the effort.

So, what does a company do next, when its community hates it, but it still needs to make money from its non-free offerings? Why, of course, you bring in somebody who is, on paper, all on-board with nice, modern, inclusivity drives and such like (whether or not they actually know how to accomplish that, or even really what "inclusivity" actually means in reality).

Then, taking your new forward-thinking team, you do everything possible to get that toxicity off the most visible offering (public Q&A), even if that means leaving the public Q&A users disillusioned. Not that it matters any more, right? Thousands of drones are still pouring in, driving up ad views. It doesn't really matter any more whether the content is of any quality, because the goal of the site is no longer to produce quality public Q&A. It's to make money from the commercial offerings. They just need the public side not to look so toxic. That's it. Besides, all the interesting questions have already been asked, right? We already have our repository now. We've made our contributions. We did so freely. The company has no obligation to be "grateful", particularly not at their own expense, so they're not going to be.

The original mission is not the current, or future, mission. If you're looking for that Stack Exchange, it's in the past. It was idealistic, and it was wonderful, but it was loss-making. That's just the nature of it. We now exist only to serve as a platform for neutering, declawing, so as to repair the company's reputation in the eyes of anyone who may one day choose to become a paying customer.

Of course, even this process has not been without bumps. It's easy to see that recent efforts at increasing "inclusivity" have gone horribly wrong, not because inclusivity is bad but because the company went about it in completely the wrong way, applying stereotypically offensive enforcements rather than actually being inclusive themselves. But I'm sure that wasn't the intention. It's just what's in vogue in certain corners of society in certain countries (mainly the one in which the company is based). This community is just the most recent victim of that. Too bad.

All that being said, I still cannot work out for the life of me where forced relicensing of all our content fits into all this.

Addendum: quite aside from all the SE drama, I am genuinely concerned that — much like how social media led to a socially handicapped younger generation, that people like Facebook's cofounder and the inventor of the web think are a serious issue — all this coddling is just making a big problem in our industry even worse. Younger coders do not know how to research, because their default first step now is to ask somebody to solve their problem for them, and we're supposed to be happy about that and cheer them on with it, to be "welcoming". Is that really going to improve the world? Is it? Something else the company isn't really concerned with, apparently. So much for not doing any evil.

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    This. So few users seem to understand that our treasured Public Q&A (i.e. all the Stack Exchange sites) is simply a store window dummy for them to display their real business service: private corporate Q&A. Their "real" services are projected to earn $90 million this year. Stack Exchange is dead, we just haven't realised it. I think it's time for the defibrillator. Hit them with a huge jolt! Put their revenue streams at risk: ask their advertisers & investors if they want to be associated with a company that is brutally unfair and treats their core base with contempt? – Chappo Says Reinstate Monica Nov 4 at 13:01
  • @ReinstateMonica At best, you'll take the commercial offering down with the old, dead, public offering. – Lightness Races with Monica Nov 4 at 13:05
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    The Eternal September event happened for Stack Overflow a loooooong time ago (2010?). Perhaps there is still time to innovate and add something new for the beginners and keep the Q&A part as it is (though the documentation project is not a good precedent). – Peter Mortensen Nov 4 at 13:15
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    @LightnessRaceswithMonica No, at best it would jolt them into settling with Monica. I think it's worth trying, even if it fails. At worst, it costs them a few tens of million and a sacrificial exec +/or CM, and their Wikipedia entry might expand considerably. Either way, the public Q&A "business" will continue on, active yet dead, populated by genuine and caring Martin Crowes. – Chappo Says Reinstate Monica Nov 4 at 13:25
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    @ReinstateMonica That ship has long, long sailed. – Lightness Races with Monica Nov 4 at 13:55
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    The forced re-licensing means, that the posts are now illegal to copy for everyone. Stack Overflow can still use them, because the ToS allow them to, but if you copy a post and say it is under the CC BY-SA 4.0 you commit copyright infringement! (unless posts completely created after the illegal re-licensing). They prevent the community from creating a non-profit alternative this way. – Josef Nov 4 at 16:13
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    @Josef: Interesting timing 😂 – Lightness Races with Monica Nov 4 at 16:52
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    There’s a crucial difference between Jobs and Teams. For Jobs, the expert community at SO, however toxic, is basically the product. Jobs can’t work without community and can’t work without experts on the site, the opportunity to hire them is what is being sold. On the other hand, Teams doesn’t need the Public Q&A community at all. It is pure software. It exists with or without people on the public part. But a toxic public part leads to complaints from the paying Teams. So the change of focus from Jobs to Teams naturally leads to change of focus from experts to inclusivity. – Vasily Alexeev Nov 4 at 17:07
  • @VasilyAlexeev Yep. – Lightness Races with Monica Nov 4 at 17:17
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    @VasilyAlexeev so, if we push SO back to Jobs from Teams, they'll let us play on their backyard for a little longer? – John Dvorak Nov 5 at 15:27

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