49

All the guidance that a self moderated community should need:

Be respectful.

With the instructions to the elected moderators on enforcement, use your best judgment.

This is respectful to the community and those trusted in enforcing the code.

The elected moderators are just that, they are elected by those that they will be moderating. They should know their communities better than anyone else.

If they are trusted to be fair and equitable by the community and make sure the communities are perceived in the best light possible they should be respected and trusted by the company.

This is reasonable, it scales, this allows for handling anything, this allows for mistakes and corrections.

My experience has been,

If someone needs more than two words to know how to behave, a thousand more is not going to make a difference.

Why can we not just have this as our Code of Conduct?

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    The alternative is to get rid of the volunteer community moderators and put in paid enforcers that enforce the rules as written with no room for judgement across the board. – user148287 Oct 20 at 15:06
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    How can this be a duplicate of something that explicitly states Actually, I think the CoC itself is fine as is ...? – user148287 Oct 20 at 15:54
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    @Mari-LouA within the past few weeks, many users have made similar posts like this which weren't closed. I think we should remain consistent and not close this one either. – Script47 Oct 20 at 17:04
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    "within the past few weeks, many users have made similar posts like this which weren't closed." and my local super market has things stolen from it daily, that doesn't pave the way for me to do it... – James Oct 20 at 18:06
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    @JJJ I thought this was a Q&A site? Where is the discussion exactly? The OP even posted an answer to themself. I know, it's not against the rules to post a question followed by its answer. – Mari-Lou A Oct 20 at 18:09
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    @JJJ That doesn't mean just making a statement and letting people discuss at will. That in the MSE tour is to distinguish the fact that things are a little less strict than the main sites where it should be tight Q & A. There should still be something here that say "do you think" or "what about...". There is literally just someone's opinion posted on the page. /shrug – James Oct 20 at 18:15
  • @JJJ I can't find any from the first page from clicking the tag, other than this one here. There's a few non-questions but they set the floor for discussions. I mean if I post "I love this website" is that ok? I mean people can easily discuss that. There's a line somewhere. – James Oct 20 at 18:26
52

Works in real life

I worked for a CEO that saw a dress code that was 10 pages of what men and women could and could not wear.

She changed it to this instead:

Dress appropriately.

That was it; managers and HR were told to use their best judgement on when to correct what someone was wearing. Dealing with each incident on a case by case basis.

Here some excerpts from the article about this:

"The HR department ironically posed my first hurdle. They started arguing with me, saying, it can be ‘dress appropriately’ on the surface, but in the employee manual it needs to be a lot more detailed. They put in specifics, like, ‘Don’t wear T-shirts that say inappropriate things, or statements that could be misinterpreted.'”

“What does inappropriate, in the context of a T-shirt, even mean,” she asked the audience, half-jokingly. ”So I finally had to say, ‘No, it’s two words, that’s what I want.’

What follows is what has been removed from by SE on every update:

“What I realized is that you really need to make sure your managers are empowered—because if they cannot handle ‘dress appropriately,’ what other decisions can they handle? And I realized that often, if you have a lot of overly prescriptive policies and procedures, people will live down to them,”.

she continued with ...

“But if you let people own policies themselves—especially at the first level of people supervision—it helps develop them. It was an eye-opening experience, but I now know that these small little things changed our culture powerfully. They weren’t the only factor, but they contributed significantly.”

the article goes on to state

By simply stating “dress appropriately,” Barra does exactly what she asks of other leaders: She avoids assumptions, instead choosing to trust her employees’ judgment—and has found the experience remarkably liberating.

The Dress code has never been a point of contention as far as I know.

It this works at a company of that scale, then the same approach would work here.

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    The comparison does not work. When told to "dress appropriately" in a customer-facing white-collar job, peple won't show up with a tank top and bermuda shorts. If they did, they'd be forced to adapt - otherwise, it could be escalated up to the point where they could be fired. The comparison would start to work if they then said that refusing to let them wear what they want was oppressive and "invalidating their identity", and they could successfully sue the company. (Sure, it is oppressive, and people are reflecting their identity in their clothing - so... this may be worth a try...) – Marco13 Oct 20 at 17:10
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    The article you linked has all kinds of good advice in it. Now there's a leader. – Robert Harvey Oct 20 at 23:55
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    "Dress appropriately" doesn't really mean "dress appropriately" though; it means "dress according to what your manager considers appropriate" or maybe even "figure out how to dress based on a bunch of unspoken norms and/or vague complaints from your manager." And that may be reasonable as corporate policy—lots of companies do something similar and the standards of dress vary too widely across positions and countries to otherwise regulate—but the equivalent here doesn't really make sense: do you want every individual moderator deciding what's appropriate or respectful from first principles? – onetothrowaway Oct 22 at 1:39
  • @onetothrowaway Yes, I do. I trust moderators to provide good guidance when needed. That is way better then having my speech micro-managed by a corporation. – Stop harming Monica Oct 22 at 11:32
4

All the guidance that a self moderated community should need:

Be respectful.

That doesn't work. Why? If we all agreed on what "Be respectful" meant, all of this wouldn't be happening.

But it's obvious that we don't all share a common definition of "Be respectful." Some people think it's respectful to use "he" as a default pronoun, while others do not. Some people think it's respectful to use the singular "they" in place of a known pronoun preference, while others do not. Some people think it's respectful to write answers and comments saying that transgender people are mentally ill and should seek treatment, while others do not.

And that's just for this one issue. Some people think it's respectful to copy/paste their entire homework assignment into the question box or to ask vague questions with no research, while others do not. Some people think it's respectful to write "don't be lazy just google it," while others do not.

We could do this all day, and basically have been for a couple weeks now. A system in which individual moderators take action based on their personal judgements is not a coherent system. Moderators exercise a great deal of judgement, that's what we elect them for, but there has to be some guiding document that goes into at least some detail on the norms we're all going to adopt, even if we don't entirely agree on all of them. Otherwise every moderation decision is just subject to the personal whims of whoever happens to see it.

As other questions have noted, a number of members of the community are on the spectrum. For some, it is more difficult to intuit social norms and culture, and clear social rules may be more helpful than vague principles. Similarly, we're a widely international and culturally diverse community, and social norms differ, so even among the vast majority of people here who aim to act with respect, everyone has a bit of a different interpretation of "be respectful."

Finally, "be respectful" opens up the giant question of intent: "well I didn't mean to be disrespectful, so surely I wasn't violating the code of conduct." The code of conduct puts the focus on the content, not on assessing whether the user posting it was trying to be respectful.

If someone needs more than two words to know how to behave, a thousand more is not going to make a difference.

If someone is determined to misbehave, then sure, no policy document is going to stop them. That's what the enforcement tools are for. But a code of conduct serves other purposes. It provides guidance to those who are genuinely unsure what is allowed and some sense of due process to those determined to break the rules. As the Contributor Covenant, adopted by many open source projects, states, a code of conduct is a statement that allows us to be "overt in our openness, welcoming all people to contribute, and pledging in return to value them." As such, a code of conduct is a public statement of the community's norms, which serves as a signpost to someone considering joining.

-1

TL;DR

Why can we not just have this as our Code of Conduct?

I think your "Be respectful." can be a good start, but it lacks a lot of specifics. Respect means different things to different people so it's not very useful to explain what you expect from users. As a result, you will end up having arguments on specifics and that will lead to new rules and then the Code of Conduct grows larger.

The full version

There are a ton of examples where rules on how to act are in the order of books. As an example, the criminal codes of many countries are very verbose with amendments and exceptions. Furthermore, these codes are subject to change when the leadership thinks it needs to change. Of course, in healthy democracies most of what's in these codes should have the support of many citizens and be mostly self-obvious (so you don't accidentally break the law).

That said, I would reject your assertion that the number of words used to lay down the rules says much about how well they can work. I do agree, however, that a good set of rules, large as it may be with exceptions and nuance, should be in a way that it can be concisely summarized in a number of simple sentences.

I think your "Be respectful." can be a good start, but it lacks a lot of specifics. Respect means different things to different people so it's not very useful to explain what you expect from users. As a result, you will end up having arguments on specifics and that will lead to new rules and then the Code of Conduct grows larger.

Generally, I like the style way of laying out the rules as users can be pointed their to read in on their questions about the rules. Furthermore, it's concrete enough to discuss in detail and it can be added to if and when needed.

A different approach based on your question would be to start with a simple more ambiguous rule (on specific subjects) and elaborate them as needed. The best way to do this would be to engage with the community to ensure that the whatever is agreed upon is supported by many. After all, if many users can't accept the rules there will be friction between user's conduct and rule enforcement.

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    so you are explicitly comparing the violations of the Code of Conduct, a social contract, to criminal acts? Well, I guess that settles it. – user148287 Oct 20 at 19:18
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    Hard to figure out what you are actually advocating in this answer. Whole thing seems ambiguous – charlietfl Oct 20 at 19:44
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    @JJJ The snarky tone is not appreciated. I wanted to post the same question as charlietfl did above. Your answer is long, ambiguous and unclear. Your response to charlietfl is short, concise and clear. That is ironic, as you argue against less being more. Should be noted that this is not a critique of your answer, let alone your person. Just a funny observation. – Inactive - avoiding CoC Oct 21 at 3:51
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    @JJJ No community can be inclusive to all the groups SE aims to be inclusive of, in their proactive sense of inclusivity; there are many mutually exclusive groups of people active on these websites. Previously they could practice 'live and let live'. Now they should actively acknowledge eachother. (Actually only one group needs to be actively acknowledged, the rest doesn't.) Either way, both situations are obviously untenable. – Inactive - avoiding CoC Oct 21 at 4:04
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    @JJJ You seem to have missed the recent actions against users using gender neutral language instead of specific pronouns. See also here. – Inactive - avoiding CoC Oct 21 at 4:10
  • @JJJ That I can agree to. Unfortunately I can't upvote any more comments today. – Inactive - avoiding CoC Oct 21 at 4:18
-5

We count on everyone to be respectful. Most people are respectful, even if they sometimes stumble on the nuances of participating and communicating in a pretty global community. What's important is that many people show the effort by being polite, even if they're occasionally misunderstood.

The original CoC document was written knowing that most people naturally follow it, while being clear enough for others who struggle a bit to clearly understand the rules. "Be respectful" isn't easily and objectively distilled into things you need to watch out for if you're unaware that your idea of respectful deviates from what we endorse as the bar to entry.

So, we went on to specify some things to try our best to create a shared understanding of what we expect, and set expectations for enforcement so folks can decide if we're the kind of place where they might want to participate. We knew we'd have to tweak the document a bit, probably ~6 to 12 months past shipping it, to address cases that it didn't make intuitive enough. And, to that, we're essentially following the same kind of philosophy you mention:

  • Start with what you think is exactly enough to create a shared understanding of enforceable rules, and,
  • Add to it only when we feel like more specifics are needed.

We see respecting people's right to exist and participate while being afforded the same consideration as everyone else without additional struggle as something very fundamental, which we thought was pretty squarely covered by the original version. It's a perspective thing, we wrote it, we intended the use of stated pronouns to just be obvious there, but because we were so close to it, we didn't realize so many wouldn't see the same.

So we added it, because it's a disconnect. That's it. We don't anticipate many changes to the document. We're not going to start a bulleted list of arbitrary things we deem off-limits because for bad actors that just reads like a tempting obstacle course to pursue.

But "Be respectful" won't work, because you'd be very surprised when people say "Well, I respectfully said go to hell" -- see? At some point you have to just put the most complete and abridged guidance out that you can, and help those that lead pursue the intent of the document primarily.

And that's exactly what we're putting training together for moderators to help them do.

But there's no way we can go back to just "Be nice" or "Be respectful" or something like it, because it was failing to adequately protect way too many people by default. Part if it is because we have so many cultures here, and part of it is because the madder people get, the more open to interpretation ambiguities become.

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    Part of the problem here is that users that don't give two hoots about gender are suddenly "disrespectful". Users that don't care if there's a guy, a girl, or anything in between or completely unrelated to the two, on the other side, are now the "bad guys". Those users are now blamed, or even verbally attacked for "assuming gender", while I can assure you that gender is the last thing they care about. How respectful is that CoC addendum to those users? – Cerbrus Oct 21 at 13:10
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    It's basically the same thing with the "Welcoming" blog post earlier. Well-meaning users are suddenly the bad guys. – Cerbrus Oct 21 at 13:11
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    @Cerbrus Nobody said users that don't give two hoots about gender were disrespectful and I'll challenge you to show me where that was said. What was asked is that we use people's stated pronouns if they're known, and use gender-neutral language if unknown. That is it. – Tim Post Oct 21 at 13:19
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    Yes, that's what the CoC asks. But in the past, I have been accused of being a sexist, verbally attacked for it, and even called out on Meta, because of a third party telling me to use a different pronoun. If you want a link, I'm happy to provide it, but I don't want to draw much more attention to that specific SO Meta question. – Cerbrus Oct 21 at 13:22
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    My personal goal when answering questions on SO and the few other sites I used to answer on was to be as impersonal and factual as possible - address the question, not the person, because the question and answer remain even after the people asking or answering are gone. It feels like you're trying to drive that out. It's working. – hatchet - Reinstate Monica Oct 21 at 14:05
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    If "Well, I respectfully said go to hell" -- see? is a problem, then you ban those people, very simple, punish the bad actors on a case by case basis. This is a straw man argument that ignores reasonable judgement and assumes bad faith and fosters it because it expects it. It appears to me that the only reason you can not go back, which seems is because someone(s) at SE has an agenda they want to pursue or an ego(s) to protect or both, because professional leadership could recognize bad decisions and revert them. Thanks for the time to post this but it is just more of the company line. – user148287 Oct 21 at 14:27
  • If the word respectful is up for weaponization then thousands of more words just means thousands of more weapons in this environment. Make it Behave appropriately then. The words are not the focus! and Trust and Empowerment is! you missed the entire point that she made. “What I realized is that you really need to make sure your managers are empowered—because if they cannot handle ‘dress appropriately,’ what other decisions can they handle? And I realized that often, if you have a lot of overly prescriptive policies and procedures, people will live down to them,”. – user148287 Oct 21 at 14:32
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    "Well, I respectfully said go to hell" is specious, and the person saying it already knows that. – Robert Harvey Oct 21 at 14:59
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    Also, I dispute the "way too many people" bit. I can count the number of people involved in this original dustup on the fingers of one hand. – Robert Harvey Oct 21 at 15:02
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    "So, we went on to specify some things to try our best to create a shared understanding of what we expect, and set expectations for enforcement so folks can decide if we're the kind of place where they might want to participate." This needs another update informing folks that the company itself pays no respect to them and may actively try to destroy their life, even if they did nothing wrong. The prime example is the former moderator Monica, who actually did nothing wrong and that's why the company just claims she did but cannot present a shred of evidence, not even privately to her. – Anne Daunted GoFundMonica Oct 21 at 15:15
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    Until you do something meaningful about Monica's dismissal, it's difficult to take any of this seriously. Gender discrimination is effectively a non-issue on the main sites; every moderator that I know is 100 percent willing to remove it immediately when it occurs, and has the tools to enforce it. And yet the mods apparently need to be re-trained. Really? The moderators are all being thrown under the bus, and you don't even see it. – Robert Harvey Oct 21 at 15:23
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    But "Be respectful" won't work, because you'd be very surprised when people say "Well, I respectfully said go to hell" -- see? WAT?? You can't respectively tell someone to go to hell, even if you say you are. This is a very bad example and trying to justify this. Be respectful should be all we need. Yes, I should not intentionally call someone a name I know they aren't. If I do, then the old CoC would have brought a mod down on me and it gets fixed. – NathanOliver- Reinstate Monica Oct 21 at 15:23
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    Forcing someone to interact in a specific way, that is not respectful. It doesn't take into account the feelings on the one you are forcing. What is disrespectful of being gender neutral? – NathanOliver- Reinstate Monica Oct 21 at 15:23
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    @divibisan that answers your question. But i wasn't complaining about pronouns. I was pointing out that the growing CoC seems to be another step moving stackxxxx from a Q&A to a discussion forum. – hatchet - Reinstate Monica Oct 21 at 16:02
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    because the madder people get, the more open to interpretation ambiguities become. -- So more anger begets more rules begets more anger and therefore moar rules are better? This is why we can't have nice things here. – Robert Harvey Oct 21 at 16:49

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