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I've been a Stack Exchange user for over five years, and a moderator on one Stack Exchange site for three and a half of those years. In that time, there have been occasions when I've entertained the idea of quitting, either leaving SE altogether (before my moderatorship) or at least resigning as a moderator. Right now, many users and moderators are stuck on the horns of a dilemma: they disagree with recent directions or decisions taken by the Stack Exchange company, but they still feel some loyalty to their communities and some of the people within. Some have already made their decisions, quitting or continuing, but others are still torn. I'm hoping that this post may help them.


How do you see your role on the site?

This is mostly for moderators: I've seen the moderator role described as representing SO Inc to the sites and communities, or representing the sites and communities to SO Inc. Are you the face of company policy, enforcing it as the moderator rules require, or are you the face of your site's community, fast-tracking their issues and concerns to the company for resolution? The same question can hold for non-moderator contributors: do you see yourself as helping to build and refine the company's stock of knowledge, or as creating something valuable for other people on the internet?

If you feel that you're mostly helping SO Inc with their stuff, at the expense of your own time, then it may be time to quit if you can no longer support the company. If you feel you're part of a better cause that you care about, with the company being mostly marginal to your life, then you may be able to continue regardless of your feelings about SO Inc.

Are you safe?

The more prominent you are on the site or network (e.g. as a moderator), the bigger a target you become. Personally I've always taken pains to keep my SE persona completely separate from my real life, for a number of interconnected reasons. Your actions on-site might lead you to be targeted by anyone, from random trolls to SO Inc itself. Make sure that if someone wants to find you and take revenge, or if you appear in the press in relation to some SE drama, then it's only your SE persona that takes the hit. I don't particularly care if "Rand al'Thor" gets branded a scumbag all over the Internet; I could mostly just continue with my life.

SE is not your "safe space."

Or rather, don't rely on it too much. It should of course be a space where everyone is welcome to participate and interact, regardless of who they are, but it's also owned and run by people with their own agenda. Don't put too much of yourself into this place, because it may not last forever and certainly won't stay the same forever. For example, if you feel safe to express your political views here now, that safety may not last. SO Inc is lending us the use of its platform, and it reserves the right to terminate stuff it doesn't want.

To take a deliberately extreme example, a follower of Nazism could be a perfectly good SE contributor as long as they don't express their racist views here. SE is a "safe space" for them to interact and share their knowledge, but not to share everything they think. You, the person reading this - I'll bet you're not a Nazi, but I'm sure you have some views which differ from those which SO Inc has or will have in the future. Even if they seem irrelevant to you, those views could become hot-button topics here in the future. Be careful, especially about sharing too much of yourself.

(This point may work differently on a few network sites, like Politics or Interpersonal Skills. But for the most part, sharing personal or political views isn't strictly necessary for participation, and you can decide how much you want to do that and where to draw the line.)

Don't get emotionally attached to the company.

Some people seem to have lost a lot of trust in SO Inc through its recent actions; they expected better. Some of them may still remember the cosy startup days when employees might regularly hang out in normal chatrooms and a moderator might know half of the employees quite well. I wasn't around in those days, and I never invested much trust in the company as a whole. Specific community members, sure. Even specific company employees, or whole subcommunities on the SE network, might be worthy of trust or emotional attachment. But don't be surprised if the company takes some action you'd never have expected. We don't know what goes on up there, and we never will (unless we also get hired).

Most importantly, don't stay because you "believe in SO Inc". Staying because you have a community that you care about, or because you want to continue helping and having a positive impact on a site you're invested in - nothing wrong with that. But if you stay because you trust Stack Exchange itself, you're going to end up disappointed, one way or another. They can't satisfy anybody all the time, and it's not even their goal to satisfy us the community, so it's hardly surprising that they'll fail in that.

Be objective.

Try to make your decision based on what you know - including your feelings, e.g. attachment to this or that subcommunity for such-and-such reasons, since that's an objective fact too - but not based on excessive optimism or cynicism. Don't fall into the twin traps of thinking the company cares about looking after you or thinking the company has become some evil dystopic Big Brother. Individual people within the company may well be moral people who want to take care of you, but they may not be the ones calling the shots. The company as a whole will make objective decisions based on what's best for it (which may include nurturing the community in certain ways, but maybe not as much as you'd like or not in ways that you'd agree with) - try to do the same.


In the end, you have to weigh the positives against the negatives. For most people, I imagine the positives will include some subcommunity or subset of curated content that you care about for its own sake, while the negatives will include the fact that this platform is hosted by a company that you may no longer trust or support. Those are good positives and negatives to have, but I can't make that decision for anyone except myself. All I can do is try to ask the right questions, guide your thoughts to where you'll be more able to make that decision.

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    I'm glad to see I'm not the only one using SO Inc., but I noticed today that that's probably wrong. The company name is Stack Exchange, Inc. Stack Overflow is (I think) just the dba name... – Ward - Reinstate Monica Oct 21 at 5:25
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    And a double +100 to the issue of prominence. The only sin that gets you megabanned is pissing off a CM. Everything else gets dealt with through normal channels. – Richard Oct 21 at 6:48
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    "To stay or to quit?" Let me think.... stay, stay, stay... I have been going around telling people to stay... there is not good reason to leave... just because we hit some storm it does not mean it will not pass... – Her Majesty Queen of ARC Oct 21 at 6:54
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    What about: is it fun? Isn't that the most important consideration for voluntary work? – Trilarion Oct 21 at 7:02
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    If someone does decide to quit, maybe start with quitting meta rather than quitting the entire site. Not being exposed to the daily dose of bad news and politics may just be enough to not be bothered. You can't really quit the site anyway, it'll always be in the top search results for as long as it stays up. – Gimby Oct 21 at 7:54
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    When I quit it won't be because of CoC changes or because of management behaviour, but because how users treated each other during this crisis. Be nice, assume good intent, bring your sense of humor - all that got thrown out the window in many cases. – Modus Tollens Oct 21 at 8:11
  • @Gimby That's a good point. Quitting meta and chat gets you away from where most of the drama is likely to be. For a mod, quitting TL but not their own mod site might be a good solution. – Rand al'Thor Oct 21 at 8:48
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    @Ward Really? I thought they changed the official company name from SE Inc to SO Inc a few years ago. – Rand al'Thor Oct 21 at 8:54
  • Nope. They do business as SO around the same time as the big careers push actually – Journeyman Geek Oct 21 at 13:23
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    @Ward Eh the name doesn't really matter...it's all the same company. – Stormblessed Oct 22 at 5:25
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    Getting emotionally attached to the company was my mistake. I was a very happy employee, then I was suddenly laid off, and two years later I still haven't been able to get over it. – Konamiman Oct 22 at 6:45
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    @ModusTollens It really does feel like an echo chamber of anger, doesn't it? – Jon Harper Nov 6 at 8:33
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    @JonHarper Definitely – Modus Tollens Nov 6 at 11:25
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I like this post, but I think you left out a crucial question:

Are you still learning from the sites you're part of?

Most people presumably came to an SE site because of the content; because of the interesting questions with useful answers. So a good question is, are you still seeing those types of questions and answers on the sites you're part of?

I learned a lot in the early days of Server Fault when there were experts asking and answering questions. (Just to mention one person, tons of Evan Anderson's answers could have been interesting magazine articles...) But he stopped coming around, and so did many of the other experts, so the excellent content is a lot harder to find nowadays.

I've said this elsewhere: I think the single most important post about how SE has changed and will change is this one:

Does the company still want this to be a library of knowledge?

It seems pretty clear from the evolution of the larger SE sites, that the experts asking and answering phase doesn't last, so how important is that to you on the sites you follow?

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    Good one: this is a sort of converse to the second part of my first point, about learning from content instead of providing it. On the other hand, it's still possible to learn from a site without moderating or even using it. You could delete all your accounts and still read and learn from the users who remain. – Rand al'Thor Oct 21 at 4:56
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+50

A great piece of guidance, I slightly disagree here:

Don't get emotionally attached to the company.

I never was, I never will be. And I honestly doubt that many people here care about the company.

Rather, I see these "points of attachment":

  • the content I created here (don't you love that feeling when your "baby" answer grows from 0 to 10 to 25)
  • the rare positive exchanges when newbies show real curiosity ... and you get them from "lousy initial content" to "a decent question", and finally "problem resolved with a nice helpful answer for future readers"!
  • the platform being helpful to myself. I asked plenty of questions on SO, and some of the answers I got really prevented hours or days of wasting time. And as a frequent user on other communities, SO is simply the best place I know for my requests.

Note: nothing in there relates to the company. It is all about the platform that happens to be served by Stack Exchange Inc.

Their last reaction was much better than what we saw before, but as written elsewhere: I really don't care about them any more at this point. I will avoid violating the rules they put on us, but that is about it.

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    You say you disagree with "Don't get emotionally attached to the company", but it seems that you actually agree with it but think it's a non-issue because nobody does get emotionally attached to the company. I still think it's worth saying because some people might. Checking your profile, you seem to be (like me) a relative newcomer to the SE network. Some very long-standing users and mods have been around since SE/SO was much more cosy and intimate a decade ago, and they might have some loyalty to ... – Rand al'Thor Oct 21 at 8:52
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    ... if not the company, then at least the SE brand, the way this whole network runs that nobody else could hope to reproduce completely. They've got used to it and feel an attachment to it, which is hardly surprising after a ten-year relationship. I try to indicate this idea in the second sentence of my "emotionally attached to the company" point. – Rand al'Thor Oct 21 at 8:53
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    @Randal'Thor I think, somewhere in those thousands and thousands of comments, questions, answers here on MSE during the last weeks, one said "maybe this is the dawn of a new generation of SE/SO users". As in: that "old" relationship between community and company has come to an end now. – GhostCat says Reinstate Monica Oct 21 at 8:55
  • Yeah maybe. During this year I've seen it said quite a few times that SE is having growing pains, and both the company and users need to come to terms with the fact that it's a big thing like Wikipedia or Yahoo now, not a little startup where everyone knows each other. – Rand al'Thor Oct 21 at 9:02
  • "I slightly disagree here: Don't get emotionally attached to the company. I never was, I never will be.". Good for you, but I think there are plenty of users out there who are/were. I've seen countless users over the past month who were in a state of disbelief about just how vindictive SE have been. They couldn't believe it, how could something they love cause so much harm? They were convinced that there must be more to the situation, they've clutched at straws, but time has gone on, and more details have come out, SE has shown their true colors. It's been gut wrenching, and a huge let down. – Reinstate Monica Nov 1 at 12:18
  • "showing the true color" might simply boil down to change. Maybe one problem is that people assume that a relationship doesn't change over time. – GhostCat says Reinstate Monica Nov 1 at 12:43
  • @GhostCatsaysReinstateMonica, oh absolutely. The point is that Stack Exchange has changed for the worse. The direction of change needs to reverse before they do so much damage to the community that they cannot go back. Unfortunately, I think we're already beyond that point. Regaining lost trust is very difficult, but we've got no indication that employees at Stack Exchange actually believe they've done anything wrong. – Reinstate Monica Nov 4 at 10:56
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I have reached a point in my life where, according to Erik Erikson, my psychosocial choices are generativity or stagnation.

We give back to society through raising our children, being productive at work, and becoming involved in community activities and organizations. Through generativity we develop a sense of being a part of the bigger picture.

I'm not looking for my legacy to be my contributions to SE. (That would be sad.) But I have given for many years: to my kids, to my patients, to organizations, and now (for the last 5 years or so), I've added SE.

There's a good chance that will change (thank you for the thought provoking post). The internet isn't an easy way to give, and moderation is not appreciated by many. The various names we have been called - powerhungry, the mod cabal, overzealous moderator (for removing a comment)etc. - reflect perceptions of us. The opposite is true. We serve, and service feels good.

But it might be time to serve something better. I'll know in a few weeks, I think/hope.

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I was the second moderator to resign (if I weren't sleeping at the time, I might have been the first). I was the first moderator to request reinstatement.

As a moderator, I have been on the horns of this dilemma for many weeks now. Anyone who has followed the saga on Meta will know my posts - I've not been silent about my thoughts and sharing my conflicting ties to SE and to the users who I serve. I am quite frankly amazed and heartened that I've been treated with respect from both sides - I fully expected to be raked over hot coals for wanting to be reinstated.

I've had the honour of moderating various forums for many years; I was even a Microsoft MVP for a couple of years (until Microsoft ditched Windows Phone <shakes fist>). Throughout all of that time, the users have been foremost in my priorities - allowing users to get the best out of the community and help the community run as smoothly as possible.

However, moderators are governed by the code of conduct - both in following it themselves and guiding users to work within its framework. We, as moderators, should trust the administration level to create a code of conduct that is sensible, relatable, and enforceable. However, SE managed to botch a relatively simple CoC amendment (intended to plug a hole to allow all users to feel respected). Then they made things worse, then they made things worse again.

I lost confidence in SE - I lost confidence in how they relate to the many volunteer moderators. I, along with many others, felt suddenly ignored and disposable. If one moderator could be sacked for a CoC violation against a CoC that only existed three weeks later, what hope was there for the rest of us?

But all through that, the users kept asking questions, other users kept answering those questions, kept flagging. I was in a position where I was looking at a site without any moderators. The CM team (already out there working 24/7 on other things) couldn't cope with the mountains of comment streams and flags.

Personally speaking, my role on this site is to support the users. They come first. I can't think of any reason not to put users and the community first.

But I, like anyone else, also need to feel supported by SE. Things are getting better, but there's still a way to come.

I have hope.

References:

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Having previously been a mod on two sites (pro tempore on Literature v 1.0 and Movies), I was super into the community for a while. But then, I noticed that a LOT of the complaints and suggestions the smaller communities were making just... never bubbled to the top. Unless something was experience breaking, most quality of life requests have just been ignored.

Sure, I had great communities, but it got super frustrating not getting heard on the bigger scale. This led to me, at least in part, to stop participating in SE meta, and I slowly drifted away until these sites just became a resource.

So, that's mainly how it is to me now. SE is just a resource. I've read all of the drama, and some of it makes me mad, but as long as SE is still up and I can get the information I need, it doesn't bother me as much as it would have years ago.

  • Feature request: actually do one for once. No? Ok, nevermind. Carry on. +1 – Mazura Oct 28 at 23:44
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    "many of our requests, if not almost all of them, no matter how well-received, no matter how sorely needed to make our community better, have been ignored for years." – Sklivvz, Re. "resigning as a moderator". – Mazura Oct 29 at 2:53
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I've taken my own advice, thought through all the issues involved, and decided to resume moderating on Science Fiction & Fantasy. (My activity on sites that I care about without having a mod diamond hasn't changed in the last weeks, so no announcement there.) Points which helped me come to this decision:

  • I'm NOT a representative (or even necessarily supportive) of SE / SO Inc. Something I've often wondered is whether the mod job is meant to be representing the company to the community or representing the community to the company. For me at least, it's much more the latter. I'm not one of those "network users" who was always destined to become a mod somewhere, running in elections even if it's not their most active site. I moderate a site whose subject matter appeals to me, and I like to help keep that site clean. That's basically it. I don't need to like or support the company that hosts the site, and I never did anyway.

  • I don't feel that I need to do this for the community's sake. Some mods cite caring about their sites and communities as a reason to continue. I do care about the site, but I don't feel pressure or moral obligation from that angle. I'm aware that, if I stepped down, others would step up: my mod site is busy and thriving with many active users, and it wouldn't die with the loss of one or more diamond mods. There are various site users that I like and have a lot of mutual respect with, but nobody I care about would lose respect for me if I didn't have a diamond any more. Quite simply, I enjoy the work I'm doing; the fact that it helps an internet company and a lot of other people is by-the-by.

  • I intend to follow my conscience until it gets me fired. The moderator job involves a lot of judgement calls, cases where there's no very clear rule or consensus to follow and an individual mod or mod team needs to decide what to do. I'm going to continue doing what I believe is right, although I know that this is never going to please everyone - many mod decisions upset someone, and many upset users complain to SE staff. I don't wish to take actions that I can't justify even to myself, because then I won't be able to justify them to anyone else either. I know that at least one CM takes the same view of moderation - "as a voter or moderator, you are first and foremost accountable to your own conscience" - but I'm open to the possibility that one day acting according to my conscience may be in conflict with SE requirements. That day has already come for some moderators. It hasn't come yet for me, but I intend to continue following my conscience even if one day it gets me fired.

  • I'm aware of my expendability. Let's be brutally objective: every individual user, every individual moderator, perhaps even every whole site except SO, is expendable as far as the company is concerned. I don't flatter myself that, if deciding whether or not to demod me, they'd hesitate on the grounds that I'm an active moderator on a largish site. I don't consider it guaranteed that I'll be able to continue moderating as long as I like. I'm picking up the tools again with the knowledge that they might be unexpectedly taken away at any time.

  • I've checked my own advice. Going through the OP here point by point: I'm keeping the site clean because I enjoy it; I've taken care to keep my SE and RL personas separate; I don't intend to talk about my socio-political views on SE; I never felt loyalty or trust for the company; and I hope that this post represents an objective decision.

12

I can't speak for anyone but myself, but personally, I've historically viewed Stack Exchange/Stack Overflow as a decent resource (albeit not very user-friendly) for troubleshooting technical problems with code. I also eventually joined the Mi Yodeya Stack Exchange site after I learned about its existence and found it very helpful to answering questions I had about Judaism.

In recent months I started reflecting on the fact that I'd only really gone here to ask questions and rarely answered them even though I'd seen my fair share of questions I had a good answer for in the time I'd used the site. I felt suddenly compelled to contribute more to the site and started actively answering some programming questions on Stack Overflow, both to give back to the community that helped me in the past and also to build up more rep so I can do more things on the site.

As a result of the recent medley of horrible mismanagement by the site's staff and the horrific treatment of long-time community members like Monica, my newly-kindled motivation to contribute to the site has been completely crushed in its infancy. The only reason I even still keep my account on here is exclusively to protest their treatment of Monica, the ill-conceived CoC update, and just generally to add my voice to the massive list of voices that are disturbed by SE's actions.

Unless they totally revert the CoC change, AND reinstate Monica, AND retract their libelous remarks about her and issue a GENUINE public apology for their misconduct (not like that non-apology a certain staff member posted not long ago), I will never, EVER contribute anything other than words of protest to this site ever again. I will not ask any questions on any of the Stack Exchange sites not related to this issue, I will not answer any more programming questions on stack overflow, I will not use the site at all for any purpose other than to protest their actions, and I am pretty sure that I am far from the only user who is doing this.

In fact, if they don't remedy the situation soon, I am actually considering starting development of my own Stack Exchange alternative, or at the very least coordinating with other developers to build a viable alternative for folks like myself and Monica to migrate to away from here.

TL;DR version: after using the site for a while I felt bad for not contributing more and started to take a more active role. Recent, terrible actions by SE have completely wiped out the motivation I had to contribute to the site, and I will no longer contribute to it other than to protest their actions until they completely revert their actions and apologize for them. If they do not do this in a timely manner, I and others like me will develop alternative(s) to this site, and people will gradually migrate away from SE to these alternative(s).

What the company has essentially done is alienate users who actually wanted to be part of this community, who actually wanted to contribute and help grow the site. They have essentially poured Roundup all over the lawn just as it was sprouting and killed off growth before it could even start.

  • Feels like it was on purpose, as if the Welcoming campaign was made to dish out the users that needed to be Unwelcome. – brasofilo Nov 9 at 23:48

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