The last question in the unofficial and awesome Pronominal Proposal is

Q30. I heard that someone was removed as a moderator for pronoun-related behaviour that seems, according to the above, as if they did nothing to violate the Code of Conduct. What's up with that?

A. Someone was removed as a moderator for pronoun-related matters. There's an ongoing dispute as to whether that was justified, and this isn't the right place to discuss it. Our policy going forward is what's described here.

And then it hit me: the CoC discussion should indeed be decoupled from the Monica-issue. But I personally do not manage to do so, so I need your help with that.

I'd like to decouple Monica from the CoC because my viewpoints are:

  • Improved CoC: Fantastic idea. It is great that our community is taking the lead in making non-binary people (and others) more welcome. Very hard to get it right, but if any community can do it, it's ours.
  • Firing Monica: Terrible idea and even worse execution. This should never have happened and should be rectified.

I'd like to support SE in their quest to get a better CoC in place, and oppose SE in the way they deal with Monica. And if I have to chose, I noticed that I can't conscientiously support the CoC without supporting Monica. So supporting Monica would win over supporting the CoC, and supporting both is what I'd like to accomplish.

The acceptance of the CoC is intertwined with the firing of Monica because actions are louder than words. Therefore I consider her firing and the actions leading up to it and following it to be more representative of what the CoC means than the official FAQ. This is what the firing of Monica tells me about the CoC that prevents me from decoupling the two:

  1. You are not allowed to question the CoC: It seems that Monica got fired for asking clarifications about what is and is not allowed according to the CoC. This sets a precedent where people are not sure how to behave, and too afraid to ask.
  2. The CoC is a Code of Thought: Monica seems to have been fired not because she conducted inappropriately but because she thought 'inappropriately'. She seems to be fired because of what they thought she would do, not what she actually did. Someone apparently even explicitly said that her values are out of alignment.
  3. The CoC is not applied equally: No action seems to be taken against the person who claimed Monica's values are wrong. It should be irrelevant whose worldview is 'more correct', we want to include everyone.
  4. Your history will be combed for retroactive violations of the CoC: It seems that people went through Monica's history to find evidence of her misbehavior years ago, disregarding any subsequent changes for the better. Everyone of us has a moment where they first encounter the situation where they need to address a non-binary person, and it would surprise me if people get it right that first time. This first time will be on Stack Exchange for many people, so mistakes will be made.
  5. You will not get clear warnings: Monica says she did not interpret any communication of SE as a warning. One day you might think everything is fine and the next day you are punished.
  6. Existing processes can be disregarded at will: The process for firing moderators was not followed. So anything that SE says (e.g. the FAQ) can't be relied upon.
  7. Stack Exchange will bad mouth you on the internet and press: See the register, and twitter.
  8. You have virtually no recourse if you believe you've been wronged: Monica has a hard time to get anyone to respond to her to even tell her what she did wrong. You will be left in the dark if SE deems you violated the CoC.

Even though I use Monica's name quite a bit here, I don't intend this question to be about her but about how her case affects the CoC. My hope is that the Monica issue is a one-off case and will not be representative of how potential violations of the CoC will be handled in the future. But I'm not sure.

It seems that SE has a hard time climbing out of the hole they dug when firing Monica. Maybe they letting everything go through legal and are reluctant to apologize and rectify the situation not because they don't want to but because of legal reasons. Or they are just stubborn. Either way, we cannot expect SE to resolve the dispute with Monica soon and we should find our own closure. But I fail to do so myself.

The above 8 points from Monica's case are etched in my head as associated to the CoC. This prevents me from discussing the CoC on its own; I read every remark of "accidental mistakes are fine" and the like with a voice in my head saying "but that's not how the CoC is enforced in actuality". How do I break this pattern?

  • 42
    The core problem here is shared between the two subjects: There's a HUGE disconnect between SE corporate and the site's users / moderators. That disconnect is the glue that binds all these issues together.
    – Cerbrus
    Oct 21, 2019 at 8:17
  • 2
    Some people do not want to disconnect the two. Important facts about Monica's firing are apparently in messages in a private chat room and e-mail messages. This means that most of us have ambiguous information about her firing. People can project their preconceptions into that ambiguity. And of course, it is impossible to dispel those preconceptions by appealing to the facts. This is convenient for people who want something to be angry about.
    – Raedwald
    Oct 21, 2019 at 11:34
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    I've changed my mind; I think it is actually a good thing to consider Monica's case and the proposed changes to the CoC together. Monica's case provides a unit test for the new CoC. Oct 21, 2019 at 12:33
  • 1
    Re. Code of Thought: "your values are out of alignment". But if you still want to disentangle the two issues you can find this in the wording of the FAQ as is. Oct 21, 2019 at 13:18
  • 5
    "Therefore I consider her firing and the actions leading up to it and following it to be more representative of what the CoC means than the official FAQ." You summed up my feelings on the matter perfectly. Oct 21, 2019 at 15:49
  • 1
    It is great that our community is taking the lead in making non-binary people (and others) more welcome. Most of the community doesn't agree. Also, this isn't really a non binary issue - I saw plenty of comments saying they'd only refer to people by their birth sex, which also excludes binary trans and intersex. Making it about non binary is missing the point.
    – Max A.
    Oct 21, 2019 at 16:38
  • Thanks @Goyo, updated the text. My dilemma is that the FAQ is that it doesn't seem to match with SE's actions. So either the FAQ is wrong, or SE's actions are wrong. I can only defend the FAQ if I first convince myself that the firing of Monica is a one-off incident. Not the other way around.
    – BlackShift
    Oct 21, 2019 at 19:15
  • @BlackShift The FAQ is ambiguous, inconsistent and contrived so it is not clear to me what it means exactly, but it matches quite well a "your values are out of alignment" attitude, IMO. Of course SE actions have gone way beyond that. Oct 21, 2019 at 19:42
  • 3
    This is more than a "CoC discussion" or "Monica issue". It's also about outright lying, untrustworthiness, and general lack of integrity, which some of us see as bigger issues.
    – user541686
    Oct 21, 2019 at 19:53
  • 1
    The problem with this question is you have again coupled the two issues. You have not remained neutral on them. You have made a +ve about the Coc and-ve about Monica's firing. Both are subjective. To want to remove the two topics, it's better to be objective about it.
    – user310756
    Oct 22, 2019 at 12:40
  • 1
    Perhaps you're right @Yvette-colomb. I'll let this rest a bit more until I'm not too attached anymore.
    – BlackShift
    Oct 22, 2019 at 16:12

4 Answers 4


How to disentangle the CoC discussion from the Monica issue

You can't.

Monica was fired because she, according to SE, broke the CoC. In reality all the evidence that has come up shows that she was fired because:

  • SE thought she might break the CoC
  • She was asking too many question which might've been interpreted as opposition (which of course is ridiculous)

Both issues are very much connected and related.

How do I break this pattern?

You can't. It's as simple as that.

There's a reason why the age-old adage exists:

First impressions are lasting impressions

because it's true. The first we saw/heard of this CoC was through the firing of an extremely competent and accomplished member and moderator of the community. The person was given the stick in the carrot-and-stick for doing nothing wrong.

You see similar things in cases of abuse, for example, a pet that has been treated terribly by their previous owner will be extremely jumpy and won't trust easily. The effects of prior abuse are still visible even when they get rehoused into a better and much more caring home. Once trust is broken, it's damn hard to get back.

The only way SE can turn this around - that is if they actually want to - is if they, through actual action (proposals, procedures, reversals, what have you), show the community that no other case will be handled like Monica's and that they, to Monica's satisfaction, repair any damage caused to her.

  • 22
    Agreed except I don't think you go far enough in your last sentence. I don't think they can turn this around simply by handling other cases well. I think they actually must repair the damage done to Monica's satisfaction, or that single injustice will bring them down.
    – Wildcard
    Oct 21, 2019 at 8:39
  • @Wildcard updated.
    – Script47
    Oct 21, 2019 at 8:42
  • Maybe it will take SE months to properly deal with Monica. It would be nice if we as a community can somehow move on and try to be more inclusive despite actions by SE. I found the non-cynical tone of @gareth-mccaughan refreshing and would like to become more like them.
    – BlackShift
    Oct 21, 2019 at 9:25
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    @BlackShift I don't see why it would need to take long. In all honesty it could have been solved within the first week of the whole debacle if SE tackled it head on with honesty instead of the cloak-and-dagger method they decided to about it. 'It would be nice if we as a community can somehow move on and try to be more inclusive despite actions by SE.' - People move on with closure. No such closure has been given by SE to Monica or the community. I don't see how people aren't being inclusive? I've not seen the post by gareth-mccaughan, care to share it?
    – Script47
    Oct 21, 2019 at 9:31
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    @BlackShift - RE: It would be nice if we as a community can somehow move on and try to be more inclusive. I'm all for inclusion, but every day Monica remains demodded, this whole debacle screams exclusion for me. There was no need to make Monica, of all people, the poster child of what was supposedly wrong with the Stack Exchange. This can't be about one and not the other because, from the start, this has been mostly about how they mishandled the situation – and they seem uninterested in righting that wrong. Oct 21, 2019 at 10:04
  • Yes it should have been solved quickly. My guess is that they have trouble aligning everything internally, but who knows? Maybe it will never be resolved satisfactory, but this community is important enough to not let us get killed by that. People are not-not-inclusive, but I notice in myself that I'm also not actively encouraging people to see the new CoC in a positive light. The meta.stackexchange.com/questions/335234/a-pronominal-proposal is the post I'm referring to and I would like to be able to be as constructive as that and not 'hide' behind SE's incompetence.
    – BlackShift
    Oct 21, 2019 at 10:15
  • 3
    @BlackShift Who's hiding behind SE's incompetence? So many people have made so many suggestions regarding fixing the various issues that rose out of SE's incompetence. If people were hiding behind SE's incompetence they wouldn't be suggesting so many different viable options. The only thing stopping the community from moving forwards is SE. To try and say otherwise is disingenuous.
    – Script47
    Oct 21, 2019 at 10:17
  • SE is indeed the primary party that can move us forward. But we can already make steps. With 'hiding' I meant that we let SE's incompetence stop us from moving forward. At least I notice this in myself, my anger at SE prevents me from seeing and using the CoC as something good. And I'm trying to fix that, without having to rely on them.
    – BlackShift
    Oct 21, 2019 at 10:42
  • @BlackShift the issue is that many people don't see this new CoC as something good because it seems that to bring into focus things that weren't necessarily a primary focus of many of the sites on the network. I think this answer makes some fair points and gets across the sentiments of some of people.
    – Script47
    Oct 21, 2019 at 10:45
  • 1
    "In reality all the evidence": key facts are messages in a private chat room and private e-mail messages. Some people with access to that private chat room have said that Monica should have been fired. All the publicly available evidence is ambiguous, and evidently even those with access to some of the private evidence disagree with your assertion. So no, "In reality all the evidence" does not indicate what you say it does.
    – Raedwald
    Oct 21, 2019 at 11:41
  • 3
    @Raedwald I don't see why stopped quoting me mid-sentence, the part you missed off clarifies that I'm talking about the evidence that has come up publicly: 'In reality all the evidence that has come up shows that she was fired because'
    – Script47
    Oct 21, 2019 at 11:45
  • Perhaps they misinterpreted her questions as rhetorical questions? Nov 23, 2019 at 5:32
  • The CoC is a Code of Thought: Monica seems to have been fired not because she conducted inappropriately but because she thought 'inappropriately'. She seems to be fired because of what they thought she would do, not what she actually did. According to her memory of the teachers lounge chat (that I can't find) someone even said something along the lines of that her 'ideas/philosophy are wrong'. (I have not read the leaked transcripts.)

IMHO, this in the most pernicious part of the problem. I have been a "leader" (roughly equivalent to moderator, with some additional policy authority) in a non-Stack Exchange community for almost ten years, and we implemented a "we don't care about thoughtcrime, good behavior is all we ask" policy about five years ago, after we encountered some problematic actions regarding a non-binary member of the community. Since then, we have not had to ban anyone over such issues, and all persons who were banned over what happened have since been restored. We work with people to understand what behavior is expected. We do not tell people the "correct" social, political, or religious doctrine to believe, because we believe that those things are your own as long as you can get along with everyone else.

By enforcing thought, we actually implement discrimination - by telling people that they are not good enough unless they believe as we do. IMHO we don't want this - we want diversity of opinion and thought, as this helps us build a creative and effective community. What we want to avoid is conflict, and conflict is primarily fueled by behavior.

  • 3
    Thank you. This has been said many times, but any policy that requires mods to read minds is a bad policy.
    – Solveit
    Oct 21, 2019 at 15:13
  • 6
    We do not tell people the "correct" social, political, or religious doctrine to believe, because we believe that those things are your own as long as you can get along with everyone else. - - I agree and this is how most workplaces operate. The problem is that I've seen many many commenters claiming that their religion or their political affiliation compels them to treat others with disrespect. I'm a Christian and an American conservative and I've never heard of such a religion or political affiliation, but this is what they claim. How would you respond?
    – Max A.
    Oct 21, 2019 at 16:50
  • 3
    @MaxA. I have not seen that in SE. Maybe you misinterpreted something? Oct 21, 2019 at 17:56
  • 1
    Thanks for sharing your experience. It seems that SE are our bosses, not our leaders. (But SE employees are people, and this is a complex issue. So I'm trying to get myself to be more compassionate. I am convinced they honest try to do the right thing.)
    – BlackShift
    Oct 21, 2019 at 19:27
  • 1
    Agree -- and by enforcing language, we actually enforce thought. Oct 24, 2019 at 14:03

You can't.

(and you probably shouldn't). A couple of days ago I asked Why are the Code of Conduct changes received so negatively, and what can / could have been done to change that? and one of the main themes in the 50 answers, including some of the most popular ones, was indeed that users, just like you, support the new Code of Conduct as written but don't trust Stack Exchange to uphold it in a fair way. Since Monica's firing is directly related to the Code of Conduct changes, and you know about both, it's going to be very hard for your brain to 'unlearn' this connection.

It's probably a bad analogy, but to me it feels a bit like Stack Overflow (the company) is fighting a war for inclusiveness, didn't realize Monica was fighting the same war, and they either mistook her for the enemy and/or didn't approve of her methods. Casualties like that do happen in wars, and hopefully, after the war is over, most of the community will remember her as a hero. (Yes, some of her words hurt others, and while there's no excuse for that, all heroes have their shortcomings. We're all humans, after all.)

My hope is that the Monica issue is a one-off case and will not be representative of how potential violations of the CoC will be handled in the future. But I'm not sure.

Well, the company has admitted they hurt Monica and promised to do better next time:

Second, we hurt a longstanding member of the community and an important volunteer moderator. She deserved the benefit of a private, comprehensive process.


I’m responsible for that, and I’m sorry. We’ll be reaching out to her directly to apologize for the lack of process, privacy, and to discuss next steps. We’ll keep those discussions completely private unless we both agree to share any of it with the community.

We’ll be sharing with our moderators this week our proposed processes for handling situations like this in the future. This includes a process for handling moderator removals, and a process for reinstating moderators who wish to be reinstated.

That process has been shared with the moderators in the network, so there's definitely some progress there. Meanwhile, Monica stated she isn't really happy about the progress. Only time will tell how that's going to work out.

  • 1
    Thanks for your analogy, I'm looking for something like that. A way to isolate the Monica affair as accidental friendly fire that can be dealt with without compromising the main mission of becoming more friendly and inclusive. Hopefully even if SE as a company is not forthcoming.
    – BlackShift
    Oct 21, 2019 at 9:14
  • 10
    For an accidental friendly fire, the company seems to be very adamant in refusing to even heal the casualty's wounds, let alone compensate the casualty for it. Oct 21, 2019 at 10:11
  • 23
    The problem is that the person that seems responsible for Monica's firing has pointedly refused to admit any wrongdoing. And, reaching out to her to apologize privately for a lack of process is not the same thing as admitting that firing her was a mistake. It's very telling that SE won't just reverse the decision and are instead making Monica go through a process to get reinstated.
    – ColleenV
    Oct 21, 2019 at 11:09
  • 1
    @ColleenV The lack of accountability/responsibility and not fixing the mistake are indeed the main things that prevents me from assuming good faith. But SE's reluctance is exactly why we should try to work something out ourselves. I'm hoping that we as a community (or at least me myself) can isolate this as a single 'loose cannon' (to keep with the war metaphor). We still need to fix it, but we can do that while still keeping our course.
    – BlackShift
    Oct 21, 2019 at 19:39

How do I break this pattern?

I think it's important to remember that we don't actually have very many details on the Monica issue. That's a shame, but at this point there's not much we can do about it.

This means that any association with the recent clarification of the CoC is speculation, which isn't all that helpful.

It is also important to keep in mind that the CoC clarifications where actually rather minor. "Use stated pronouns (when known)" is the biggest change by far, and arguably it's not a change in substance, but just in clarity (using stated pronouns was always implied).

There were no changes in the CoC on how CoC violations by moderators will be handled, or how violations will be handled in general, there were no changes in the CoC on how people can discuss the CoC, etc.

Regarding your specific issues with how the CoC may be handled:

  1. You are not allowed to question the CoC [...] This sets a precedent where people are not sure how to behave, and too afraid to ask.

I think you are mixing different issues here.

You can certainly ask for clarification of the CoC if you are unsure "how to behave". We have had a lot of that in the past weeks, and I haven't seen anyone banned for it.

You can also question if specific parts of the CoC should even exist. I don't think it would be useful to do so, but there is no rule against it. We also had a lot of that, and again, no bans as far as I know.

You shouldn't say that you will not follow (parts of) the CoC, especially as a moderator (eg 'I am going to use a different set of pronouns than a person gave, no matter what the CoC says'). We had some of that, some of which has been deleted. I'm not aware of any bans because of this though.

You also can't violate the CoC while questioning it (eg 'It's an objective fact that all [people of group X] really are [adjective], and the CoC shouldn't forbid us from speaking this truth').

  1. The CoC is a Code of Thought

It is my understanding that it isn't about what people think, but what they say (they are going to behave like). See above (stating that you are going to violate the CoC, or violating it, aren't good; but nobody can read your thoughts).

Sadly Stackexchange won't provide details on the firing of Monica, so the rest of your point is all speculation. But how many cases are there where Stackexchange punished people for their thoughts? None that I am aware of. And how would that even work?

  1. The CoC is not applied equally: No action seems to be taken against the person who attacked Monica by saying her ideas are wrong. It should be irrelevant whose worldview is 'more correct'

I don't think your idea of 'applying the CoC equally' makes a lot of sense.

Disagreeing with someones ideas isn't necessarily "attacking" them, and we don't necessarily want to include everyone (eg we do not want to include trolls).

Take another example: A white supremacist troll writes negative things about groups of people based on race. Another user says that these ideas are wrong.

It is indeed irrelevant whose worldview is 'more correct', but only one of those actions is actionable via the CoC. That doesn't mean that the code is not applied equally to everyone.

Point 4. isn't really about the CoC but about the actions of individual users of SE. Points 5. to 8. also do not seem about the CoC (the CoC doesn't really lay out how CoC violations by moderators will be handled), so those points shouldn't really need to worry you when considering the CoC clarifications.

  • 1
    @ScottHannen That seems like speculation. Do we have any evidence to believe that a rule of 'be sure to say that you think this' has been applied to anyone? The CoC definitely doesn't say this. The only case I can imagine where this might happen is if the impression exists that a mod may not enforce or follow the CoC. They may be asked 'Will you enforce and follow the CoC?', and well, then the answer should probably be yes. But that's again about actions, not about thoughts.
    – tim
    Oct 21, 2019 at 15:24
  • @ScottHannen No... Where did you find such a rule? It's not in the CoC, which this question is about.
    – tim
    Oct 21, 2019 at 15:25
  • 1
    About 2 and 3: I don't have access to the chat logs but fixed the quote ("we've been as clear as we can and your values are out of alignment"). It could be that we should read this with an implicit "... and this made you behave in violation to our CoC", based on earlier events on the chat (that I'm not privileged too). And assume that the heat of the moment lead to the unfortunate choice of words. Still a bit of a stretch, but this at least opens up the possibility of good faith. (I'm not yet really convinced though.)
    – BlackShift
    Oct 21, 2019 at 19:03
  • I'll give your other comments some thoughts too. Thanks for actually engaging point-by-point, it helps sorting things out. Maybe it is indeed feasible to cross some of the points of the list as either resolved (1) or yet another issue if we consider the FAQ to be independent of both the CoC and Monica. Tomorrow.
    – BlackShift
    Oct 21, 2019 at 19:47

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