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Dear friends across the Stack Exchange network.

Can we please calm down a bit about the Code of Conduct update?

As of 2019-10-21, the Code of Conduct Update had 424 upvotes and 2229 downvotes. The post was later deleted. An awful lot has been written about it already. Highly upvoted posts are speaking of coerced speech and users resigning.

Apart from the fact that nobody is coerced into participating in Stack Exchange and that for that reason alone there is no coerced speech, apart from the soft coercion that is universal in society, can we please separate the Code of Conduct update from the way this has been handled?

Whether this is coerced speech or not and whether this is good or bad, let's not make a storm in a teacup out of this update.

Yes, there are decisions by Stack Exchange that many are unhappy about, in particular about the handling and communication surrounding the demodding of a moderator whose work many users were happy with. That issue, although related to the CoC update, is distinct from the handling of the demodding. The CoC can be bad while the demodding is fair, or vice versa. Please judge the CoC update on its own merits, rather than on the context. Worse things have happened.

  • 6
    If you wish to call to the general public to calm down about one specific issue, perhaps it is worthwhile mentioning it by name in the question's title. Or mark a relevant sentence in bold. As it is now, it might seem like you're asking everyone to calm down about everything altogether, which is, evidently, impossible. – user1306322 Oct 13 at 8:42
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    Maybe it's a storm in the teacup, but, who started it? – scaaahu Oct 13 at 8:45
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    Context matters. My read of the situation is that SO Inc. has a problem with creating and maintaining a culture of inclusivity with respect to gender identity (among other areas). The fallout caused by this problem started long ago and in part has led to the drive for a new CoC. The problem has not been solved by the CoC, rather the poor execution of the CoC and the confusion around it are both symptoms of the larger problem, as is the situation with Monica Cellio. To only think about the CoC and ignore the larger problem will not help with the larger problem. – Todd Wilcox Oct 13 at 8:52
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    I doubt people are going to calm down until either they've felt like their concerns have been heard or they're exhausted and leave. So far it seems like SE is just waiting for people to "remove their problematic selves" from the community, so you're going to just have to suck it up a while longer until those folks have finally gotten the message. – ColleenV parted ways Oct 13 at 9:36
  • 1
    The unhappiness of some people motivated change and action on SE. Now other people are unhappy as a result. Why should the feelings of the latter group be downplayed and left unresolved? – reaanb Oct 13 at 9:46
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    I will say one thing - every time someone tells people to calm down when SE hasn't taken any positive action to actually address the causes of all this, I get closer to signing off and never coming back. I have no problem enforcing the current CoC and I do think that some clarification on what being welcoming to trans and NB people means was long overdue. I think that the company has once again failed that community. – ColleenV parted ways Oct 13 at 10:00
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    If it's a storm in a tea cup, I would say we're dealing with a fricking 20-km wide, 2-year long tea cup. Issues have been piling on for quite a while, not just this week. It's no surprise that this was the last straw for some of us. – E_net4 is unsafe Oct 13 at 10:01
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    @ColleenV I second your assertion of failing the lavender community and raise you complete ignorance that they’ve failed the lavender community and even belief that they’ve helped simply by releasing a new CoC. My deepest concern right now is the things that they are proudly touting as helping are not helping (or hurting), are distracting from things that would help, and are evidence of how clueless they are about what to actually to do to help the lavender community and actually fix the culture problems on SE/SO. – Todd Wilcox Oct 13 at 10:24
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    Also depends on the size of the teacup .... – rene Oct 13 at 10:58
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    This is like (to continue the tea metaphor) calling the Boston Tea Party "just a tea party". – heather Oct 13 at 20:03
  • If it weren't so much of an issue, they wouldn't have needed to fire Monica Cellio over it. It's kind of connected. And the overall context, all the actions together, amount to multiples of thousands of downvotes over the course of say the last year. It seems at least for the moment like the tea chinaware has been broken and no teatime together is possible anymore. – Trilarion Oct 14 at 9:02
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    @Trilarion IMHO we should discuss CoC updates on their own merits and not on any mismanagement on SE's side considering discussion between a moderator and SE before those updates. – gerrit Oct 14 at 10:13
  • @gerrit Yes, I understand your argument and I agree but I find it very hard to actually implement. I would reject the CoC changes even on its own merit but I find it very hard to ignore the offset of say -100 I have towards the company for all the other actions. You are right, but I still can judge them only cumulatively. I'm sorry. – Trilarion Oct 14 at 10:31
  • @Trilarion Somehow it reminds me of how a referendum on topic X is used by the general population to express their dissatisfaction with the government overall. Perhaps Stack Exchange would do good in holding three sets of anonymised surveys (one for everyone, one for moderators, one for staff) with a wide selection of questions related to satisfaction. – gerrit Oct 14 at 12:24
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    If you want people to calm down, it isn't a good strategy to frame their issue as making a big deal about something minor. If it was minor to them, there wouldn't be a storm. Characterizing it as something minor destroys your credibility as someone who understands the issue and has an opinion worth listening to. Just an observation about process and tactics. – fixer1234 Oct 27 at 19:28
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Most of the reasons why people won't calm down are:

  1. Some people think that SE seems to not care anymore about the community. As if we are an obsolete product that they need to get rid of or as if our whole role now is to just click the ads that they push to us.

  2. Many people see SE as an entity that keeps telling lies to the users.

  3. Many people think that SE are simply ignoring any input or feedback from people on meta. This would mean that the meta simply would lose most of its purpose of even existing.

  4. Many people think that the new CoC is a minefield. There are a lot of gray areas and uncertainties.

  5. People are afraid. Nobody would like to get suspended or banned in a witch-hunt just for asking for some clarification, for committing some silly mistake or even for not saying something.

  6. People tend to value free speech more than self-determination. Even because there can't be true self-determination if there is no free speech. However, the new CoC seems to compel people to tell things even if they don't believe in it, so there is no free speech anymore. Of course that free speech is not an excuse to be rude or to say horrible things, but it is definitely subverted if people are forced to voice something even if they really don't believe nor agree on it. No honest person likes to be forced to tell a lie.

  7. Most people think that the way that SE fired Monica was definitely unethical and unfair at best. And most users don't think that SE sincerely care anything about that.

  8. Some people think that SE presents its community as a place full of bigots and fascists that should be expelled and purified by force. Definitely, that is not how the community is.

  9. Some people argue that the new CoC is a hell for moderators and a heaven for trolls. It opens the doors for trolls use gender and LGBTQI+ self-identity stuff to induce other people to do things that they otherwise would not do or else force them get into trouble.

  10. There are hundreds of questions in meta about the CoC, but it is very rare to see any feedback from SE staff or CMs other than deleting stuff and suspending people. It is very hard to build trust in that way and this tends to just produces even more frustration, fear, anger and mistrust.

  11. For years, people were complaining about SE's lack of transparency. Most people thought that this was due to laziness, negligence or lack of organization. Now, many people are thinking that they are consciously choosing to not be transparent and that they are hiding something really nasty.

  12. Many people wonder why SE is in such a hurry to put on that new CoC with so little input from the community. Normally, they are very slow into implementing new stuff. Why is this so urgent?

  13. Moderators are people that work hard to SE for free and without them everything would fail. So, people expect that at least, SE treats moderators in a friendly way. However, many people see that SE is acting in a very hostile manner to at least part of their moderators.

  14. Some comments and answers have been deleted on some places. If that was limited to rude, offensive and trolling stuff, there would be no problem. But at least in a few cases, it was not limited to that. Some dissenting honest and reasonable answers and comments (at least in my opinion) were simply silently deleted. Almost nobody likes censorship (which should not be confused with removing nasty stuff) and that further erodes free speak.

  15. Some people think that this is either a smokescreen that SE made up to pretend that they actually care about LGBTQI+ people or that perhaps they really care, but in an insane and unrealistic manner. Either way, they actually hurt those people and thrown them against the rest of the community for no good reason.

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    even for not saying something is my reason. I don't understand why keeping quiet can be banned. – scaaahu Oct 13 at 9:34
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    My upvote is especially for Nos. 7, 8, 10, and 12. I'm willing to let bygones be bygones, but not if SE continues to stonewall on these matters. – J.R. means 'Just Reinstate' Oct 14 at 12:12
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    "Many people wonder why SE is so rushed" - yeah, they did not even wait for UI support for pronouns. – Piro says Reinstate Monica Oct 21 at 17:48
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99% of posts being completely unaffected

This network lost a huge chunk of good and very active moderators, who have either resigned or ceased activity. The Workplace went without any moderators at all. To say that this does not affect the network is a stretch.

Monica was fired over the suspicion that she may commit a "thought-crime" in the future. That means the same can happen to anyone else. A precedent has been set, and just because that precedent hasn't been acted upon on a wide scale yet, does not mean that "nothing changed".

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    Those moderators did not resign in response to the CoC update, but in response to SE mishandling of the discussion between a moderator and SE before those updates took force. – gerrit Oct 14 at 10:13
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    @gerrit Which in turn was caused directly by the CoC update (which had not even happened yet). Besides, a portion of the mods have indeed cited the new CoC changes as their primary reason, including Nathaniel and Awesome Poodles. – Hugo Zink Oct 14 at 10:36
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An apology was issued. It flopped. A (hypothetical) alternate apology was drafted; it received resounding support.

An "official" FAQ was issued. It flopped. An alternate FAQ was drafted; it received strong support.

However, these alternate versions were drafted by rank-and-file members, not community moderators. As such, they remain unadopted wishful dreams.

I believe this whole "tempest in a teapot" could die down in an instant with two simple steps:

  1. Admit that Monica's firing was a bad move, and reinstate her moderator status. (If SE still feels like she is still not qualified to moderate, fine – just proceed with the already-established process.)

  2. Concede that the so-called Official FAQ on gender pronouns and Code of Conduct changes is still a work in progress, and announce that they will continue to release future versions until they come up with something that receives much broader support.

I have seen a few comments here and there, claiming that SE appreciates our feedback, and that getting this right is "super important". Thus far, however, I've seen little evidence that these are anything more than empty assurances. As the days turn into weeks, I've seen no indication that SE is planning to implement any meaningful changes: they are neither willing to budge on Monica's unjust firing nor interested in softening the language of the "official" FAQ.

Perhaps I'm wrong; maybe they are working overtime to fix this mess in a way that will show they indeed value the feedback we have given. If so, I'll be more than willing to let it go and move back into my quiet little corners of the Stack Exchange.

As I wait for that day to arrive, though, all I sense is obstinance, so I'll continue working on the draft of my resignation letter.

  • 1
    I agree that there is a problem with communication and actions from Stack Exchange, but I have the impression that people are using the CoC update post to express their disagreement with SE overall moreso than with the small wording update of the CoC (although both exist). A bit how a popular referendum is sometimes used by the electorate to express disagreement with the government overall rather than answering the actual question asked. – gerrit Oct 14 at 12:42
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    @gerrit - You're welcome to look through all of my comments & answers thus far in this ongoing debate. I have tried to be level-headed, expressing my concerns, but not using this as an excuse to vent about perceived past grievances. In fact, I have been a staunch supporter of the SE model for several years, and rarely got involved in any kind of political stance here until this current fiasco. – J.R. means 'Just Reinstate' Oct 14 at 12:46
  • @gerrit As I see it, this issue is 90+% not about the CoCs, which (if anyone trusted SE to enforce them fairly and accountably), are clunky but really not all that bad. It's about SE staff ignoring the users and abusing their powers to squash discussion and criticism. Rushing out these CoCs in the middle of all this (instead of pausing until trust was regained) appears to be a breathtakingly cynical attempt by SE to throw the LGBT+ community to the wolves as a "divide and distract" technique. – user56reinstatemonica8 Oct 14 at 13:35
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    @user568458 I agree — yet it's the post announcing the CoC update that is getting a record number of downvotes. – gerrit Oct 14 at 13:53
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    @gerrit Not quite: it's still +600 ahead of the now-infamous "sorry-not-sorry" for sacking Monica: meta.stackexchange.com/questions?tab=votes&page=1816 – user56reinstatemonica8 Oct 14 at 13:57
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    @gerrit - Had that post merely announced a CoC update, I don't think it would have been heavily downvoted. I think the accompanying FAQ (and the dictatorial, unapologetic tone of it) is what's attracting a good portion of those downvotes. – J.R. means 'Just Reinstate' Oct 14 at 14:01
  • The upvotes on the alternate apology are in decline btw. – dfhwze Oct 15 at 18:43
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    @dfhwze - Are you referring to David Fullerton's Apology 2.0? I was referring to George Stocker's "Here's what I was hoping for", left as an answer under Apology 1.0. It currently sits at +1123/-21. – J.R. means 'Just Reinstate' Oct 15 at 19:00
  • Yep I referred to the former. – dfhwze Oct 15 at 19:10
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    @dfhwze - Well, then, thanks for giving me the chance to clarify. I've already made my opinions on that other apology known in this comment, under a response that has now garnered close to 500 upvotes. – J.R. means 'Just Reinstate' Oct 15 at 19:18
  • The root of the problem is not a few mis-steps. It's in the very heart of the CoC; it's in the norms/culture of SE Inc. or at least some of it; and it's possibly also in the business directions of SE Inc, – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Nov 4 at 10:02
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despite 99% of posts being completely unaffected

You could argue that 99% of people were totally unaffected using normal English language pronouns before the CoC change. The point of this discussion, either way, is not the 99%.

13

I suspect that one of the reasons this question has been downvoted is the attitude that appears to belittle the concerns raised in the recent FAQ. ("Storm in a teacup" implies overreaction, i.e., that those who are legitimately upset about the FAQ are going overboard.) I would strongly recommend that the question be reworded to avoid belittling those with concerns.

I am someone who has been active on SE for many years (and has contributed many, many hours of my time), but I knew nothing about this situation until I clicked on a link to the new FAQ when it came out and was profoundly disturbed. I knew nothing of Monica at the time, but the more I read, the more disturbing things became. I joined the Meta community for the first time because I wanted to give feedback on this issue.

To be clear, I am a very strong advocate in real life for acceptance of everyone. I never knowingly or deliberately refer to people by pronouns they do not prefer. However, there are still serious concerns raised by the FAQ's wording, as well as the fact that (if Monica's and other mods' account are to be believed) merely asking questions and trying to obtain some clarification about it resulted in the summary dismissal of a moderator.

There have been some recent edits to the FAQ question that appear to clarify some items based on what staff has said in comments, but the general attitude seems to be to push through a set of guidelines will little community input on the details. I am heartened by some of the clarifications that have been made in recent hours, but many of the fundamental wording problems remain. I suspect that they remain partly because to remove or reword those statements in the FAQ would undermine SE's position in firing Monica.

The trans community has been treated poorly in the past by some people on SE. It is therefore incumbent on the management of SE to get things right in setting appropriate guidelines on inclusive language and pronoun use. Instead, they have created a debacle that has alienated many users and inflamed tensions that likely have made SE a less welcoming space for trans folks and others in the short run. This is NOT a small matter. It most certainly is NOT a "storm in a teacup," and I think many people who have these concerns could be insulted by such a characterization.

The fact that we still have a few dozen moderators who have resigned and/or are taking actions like temporarily reducing activity is also not a small matter. I have no doubt that some mods have reasons beyond the release of the FAQ for their actions, but that doesn't mean that the continued existence of poor wording in the FAQ is irrelevant or merely a minor concern. I myself have refrained from downvoting the FAQ, hoping that the community's concerns will be appropriately addressed and the problematic language changed. I grow less hopeful about that with each passing day, and if things have not changed by the end of the week, I shall have to seriously consider leaving SE.

We (at least non-moderators) are not privy to all the facts. But what I do know is that a moderator of this site claims to have been apparently fired and defamed in the press for merely questioning some of the wording in the FAQ. How am I to know that I, as a user of SE, will not be similarly defamed if I unintentionally run afoul of the new guidelines? I tend to avoid all pronoun use in responding to most questions, simply because I realized years ago that it's impossible to tell gender for most users here, and I prefer to reword things just to use "OP" or the name of the user. I don't have objection to singular "they," but at times it can create confusion about a singular vs. plural grammatical structure, where again I would tend to reword a sentence simply to avoid pronouns.

So far, some of the mods in the threads on the FAQ have implied that such behavior is not against the CoC, but I need to hear that from SE, very clearly. I need to see that the FAQ is reworded to avoid clauses that could lead to my defamation in the press and revocation of privileges simply for behaving in a manner that Monica claims she was asking about.

There have been some users that have suggested that Monica's account is incomplete or has some misunderstandings; I need SE to address that publicly and release details if they want to justify what may in fact be libel again a moderator. I also need to have confidence that SE is serious about dealing with discrimination and addressing issues in a way that doesn't actually inflame tensions and then ignores them hoping they will just go away. Without such actions and explanations, as I said, I will seriously need to reevaluate my continued presence on this site.

7

despite 99% of posts being completely unaffected

So, since it doesn't affect me I shouldn't care?

I remember a short poem about that, I would include it in the answer but apparently it's too offensive.

Whether this is coerced speech or not and whether this is good or bad, let's not make a storm in a teacup out of this update.

If it is coerced speech, then the storm is not big enough. To defend the concept of coerced speech (not limited, that's different) is incredibly intolerant and totalitarian, and they are doing so while preaching inclusiveness, tolerance and respect.

Maybe you don't care because as long as you agree with them, it won't affect you. But as soon as you dissent from their opinion you will find out how important this issue is.

  • No society in the world is without coerced speech. – gerrit Nov 5 at 10:08
  • @gerrit how is every society coercing speech? – Luis Reinstate Monica Nov 5 at 10:23
  • For example, many languages have polite and informal ways of addressing; society coerces us to use the polite address to people we don't know. We are coerced to greet each other or risk being ostracised as impolite. In some cultures we are expected to address (young) women in a particular way. The list goes on. – gerrit Nov 5 at 11:39
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    @gerrit society coerces us to use the polite address to people we don't know I choose to be polite because I don't want to be rude. But I am absolutely free to use informal language. The fact that my choices have consequences do not equate to being forced to choose one particular option. – Luis Reinstate Monica Nov 5 at 12:00
  • If we're going to be philosophical, you have free will and are free to violate either the social norms of society (and face the consequences, which depend on the society, but can quite reasonably include losing your job) as well as the code of conduct on Stack Exchange (and face the consequences, which include removal from the platform). Fundamentally there is no difference, except that coercion in society is not limited to speech but also to dress codes and other aspects of our behaviour that are not applicable on an online/virtual platform. – gerrit Nov 5 at 12:40
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    @gerrit Social norms are not enforced, every action has consequences but that does not mean you are being forced to do anything. Nobody is threatening you with punishment. Coerced speech means somebody is forcing you to say something you don't want, punishing you if you don't comply. I fail to see how these situations are even comparable – Luis Reinstate Monica Nov 5 at 15:38
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    @gerrit It demonstrates how thoroughly you don’t understand why people are upset if you think something like saying “please” to be polite is coerced speech. I don’t have to say please. I could say “would you be so kind”. I’m fairly certain I could never say “please” again and not be ostracized from society. That’s not coerced speech. A example of coerced speech is a rule that you must use “please” in every request directed at me if I tell you to and if you refuse to do that or avoid making requests so you don’t have to, you will face escalating punishment until you comply. – ColleenV parted ways Nov 5 at 17:00
  • @LuisReinstateMonica You are also not forced to participate in Stack Exchange. You are not forced to be employed as a Walmart Greeter, but if you are I'm quite sure your employer will coerce you to particular speech. You're not forced to work as a police officer, but I'm quite sure police officers are coerced to tell suspects certain things, probably including a specific formulation. – gerrit Nov 5 at 17:07
  • @ColleenV I conjecture that far more people are reasonably upset about the dismissal of Monica Cellio and subsequent public comments Stack Overflow Inc. has made (which is a reasonable thing to be upset about), than about the "coerced speech" in the code of conduct (which is a silly thing to be upset about). The point of my meta "question" here was that we should treat the Code of Conduct update on its merits (good update!) and not on the separate mishandling that Stack Overflow Inc. has engaged in (which remains unresolved). – gerrit Nov 5 at 17:12
  • @ColleenV I’m fairly certain I could never say “please” again and not be ostracized from society. — ostracised perhaps not, but some people may not like you and some clubs may not welcome you if you decide to be rude on purpose. – gerrit Nov 5 at 17:14
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    @gerrit That’s fine. Why are you arguing that all polite speech is coerced speech then? And, I didn’t say I would be impolite. I said I would avoid using “please”... – ColleenV parted ways Nov 5 at 17:14
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    @gerrit Thank you for reaffirming my point, which was that you don’t understand what people mean when they are talking about coerced speech in this context. – ColleenV parted ways Nov 5 at 17:25
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    @gerrit Exactly, being a member is voluntary, speech is (now) forced. Of course it is just within the community, what does that change?. Should I do the same if I disagree with the government? Why protest? Nobody is forcing you to live here. People have invested time and effort in this community. A community they joined before speech was coerced, they accepted different rules and most importantly goals, they have now changed the goals and rules and people are forced to choose between abandoning the community or obeying rules they disagree with. – Luis Reinstate Monica Nov 6 at 9:28
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    @gerrit an explicit clarification of older implicit rules on friendliness and politeness. This is false, pronouns were not policed. It is a new rule, because it was not enforced before. Nobody was banned before for their religious or moral beliefs. Besides, how can you say it is a storm in a teacup and then say that people that disagree should just leave? – Luis Reinstate Monica Nov 6 at 10:14
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    @gerrit Referring to a transgender woman as he is not the only thing that the new CoC prohibits, avoiding using pronouns because you don't believe in transgender identities but you don't want to offend anyone is no longer an option. – Luis Reinstate Monica Nov 6 at 10:54

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