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Robert, one of the most important moderators of Stack Overflow recently resigned.

I have noticed his account was suspended today.

enter image description here

Normally I would not ask, but given the open accusations of having already unfairly demodded one moderator, and the uproar that generated, can you clarify the reasons that lead to the suspension of Robert Harvey, so that we can put to bed any speculation of second motives that will inevitably follow?

I have been following meta.SE closely and did not see any obvious reason. I know you will not get into details, but can we have at least a second opinion of another community manager or community moderator to confirm there was no foul play?

Robert has indicated that he is okay with us discussing his suspension:

And for what it's worth, they have my permission to fully discuss the suspension on Meta.SE. I was not offered an explanation, other than the usual canned response.

He's also published the moderator message corresponding to the suspension. It's the canned response corresponding to that suspension reason; at no point is he ever given the specific content that was considered rude and why.

enter image description here

Finally, will this suspension prevent him from being able to later request his moderator privileges back on SO? (Ordinarily, users who are suspended anywhere across the network are not allowed to run in a moderator election for the full year after the suspension expires.)

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Robert Harvey is, of course, free to respond when he returns (I don't know what happened myself), but folks generally respect the privacy of the individual when they are unable to respond to whatever might be said here.

That seems like a reasonable policy; being human.

I understand that nobody likes not knowing every detail of an event, but there are several Moderators to provide those checks-and-balances without broadcasting someone's misdealings to the world. Sometimes respecting the rights of the individual are more important than the public reporting of every exchange.

I understand that Robert Harvey may have given permission to discuss such things, so I can see there were at least two contacts (incidents) prior to the short time-out. I have no cause for wild speculation or conjecture beyond that. I'm not familiar with the event, so it seems prudent to let folks closer to the situation respond as they see fit… as it has always been.

But I get it; there's been a lot of trust lost here, but I'm not going to martial-law a long-standing privacy policy through the lens of a Monica situation. That's when the solution becomes worse than the problem.

  • 47
    Note to downvoters: recusing oneself from answering a question because one doesn't know the full details is different from refusing to answer the question despite knowing the full details. – Sonic the Reinstate Monica-hog Oct 22 at 20:29
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    I appreciate you promoted your comment to an answer. – dfhwze Oct 22 at 20:29
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    Yeah, please be nice: Robert Cartaino agreed kindly to make his comment an answer so it would be more visible. Don't make me look bad :-D – Sklivvz Oct 22 at 20:30
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    Saw "a Monica situation. That's when the solution becomes worse than the problem." Upvoted. – user474678 Oct 23 at 0:02
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    @Robert - is there not a detailed, objective log of actions taken by staff against moderators with notes, links, screenshots, etc.? That seems like a good (and prudent) thing to have... – TylerH Oct 23 at 0:39
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    @TylerH No, that is not practical. Ask the Moderators if they should be required to take "detailed objective logs ... with notes, links, screenshots" every time they ask someone to take it down a notch. That would not be practical. You're inflating this to some kind of capital police action when it looks like routine moderation. And the timeout wasn't issued by staff. – Robert Cartaino Oct 23 at 11:41
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    @RobertCartaino I'm not talking about for moderators -> users; I'm talking employees -> moderators. – TylerH Oct 23 at 13:31
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    @TylerH I understand, but Moderators are users, too. From my (limited) understanding, this was a routine issue of "user" moderation, not a capital offense against the Mod Agreement. Nobody's gathering evidence or launching formal proceedings. If that was the case (I doubt it), we now have a process published for that. But I sincerely hope that every random misstep doesn't call for a strict, stern, pedantic response. The chilling effect of requiring Mods to be more than human, 100% of the time, is untenable. A quick timeout to (hopefully) regain perspective is all that seemed warranted – Robert Cartaino Oct 23 at 14:27
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    @RobertCartaino I don't think it's productive to exaggerate the argument here - I'm obviously not talking about some process of legal justice. My concern is that these are (typically) community-elected users with a lot of trust put into them by said community and by the CM team who onboards them (what little onboarding there is, anyway), in addition to having a separate moderator agreement. Because the standards are much higher for moderators, and interventions w/ moderators from above should be exceedingly uncommon, I feel there ought to be an uncommon level of thoroughness re: a process. – TylerH Oct 23 at 15:57
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    Those "several moderators" providing oversight are all appointed by Stack Exchange here on meta. That's extremely important. Robert has explicitly given you permission to share details, so please do so. If you don't have information, find someone who does. – jhpratt GOFUNDME RELICENSING Oct 23 at 16:31
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    @jhpratt I am not acquainted with this minor incident; the folks who are (including Robert Harvey) are welcome to comment, but I personally am not inclined to start investigating further to work up a complete account of who said what when. In my view, it would be a disproportionate response to a routine moderator interaction. I stepped in here (by request of the commenters above) because I thought I might be able to provide a bit of thoughtful insight about how this works in general. But I have to move on now to other things. I hope my post was helpful. – Robert Cartaino Oct 23 at 16:41
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    It very well may be disproportionate, though the optics are far from ideal. I think most reasonable people would agree that a seven day suspension is far excessive for what we've seen, and given that Robert is a former moderator and a vocal critic of Stack Exchange recently, it should be easy to understand why there is concern. I have personally received a warning from "moderators" who were actually staff regarding my voting, and that occurred shortly after I questioned Stack Exchange's relicensing. No evidence was provided in that situation, either. – jhpratt GOFUNDME RELICENSING Oct 23 at 17:41
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    @jhpratt Some Moderators (or at least I did) would suspend for a far shorter amount of time when it's someone who has a long community history and it's just a "bad day" sort of situation where cooling down is appropriate. I've given suspensions for as little as a day (I think that's the least amount you can suspend someone); and it's generally when someone needs to get the message to cool down but the standard length is excessive. I won't monday morning quarterback here, just say that there are custom options available to moderators. – George Stocker Oct 23 at 18:49
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    "But I get it; there's been a lot of trust lost here, but I'm not going to martial-law a long-standing privacy policy through the lens of a Monica situation. That's when the solution becomes worse than the problem." To my knowledge, this is by far the nicest thing an SE employee has said about Monica since she was fired (and I have read the non-apologies by higher-ups and answers, comments and chat messages by SE staff). – Anne Daunted GoFundMonica Oct 25 at 13:53
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    The wording on this post very much reminds me of a post made against Monica. Seems almost canned. I'll see if I can find the one in thinking of. – Zymus 15 hours ago
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+150

This is a community-wiki answer based on comments under Robert Harvey's Meta SO post I'm resigning as a moderator from all Stack Exchange sites. Feel free to edit additional details based on posts made by Robert Harvey relating to this question as he has indicated his case may be discussed publicly.


The original comment (as stated in this question) linked to a message received from the moderators (including here too so the timeline of events is complete):

enter image description here


In a comment on SO Meta, Robert Harvey wrote:

OK, I received some more information about the suspension. Here is a snapshot. The first link is this answer. I posted the comment about "a manual you can read" under this question, the post I linked to in that comment is here.

Linking to this image:

enter image description here


In a subsequent comment on SO Meta, Robert Harvey wrote:

The "Well, how clueless do you have to be" comment was in response to yet another new user posting a programming question in Meta.SE. That one is the only comment I feel sorry about.


In a subsequent comment on SO Meta, Robert Harvey wrote:

Thanks @JJJ. Make sure you include this link from my first comment. You can tell Leopold that it wasn't my intention to "assume bad faith." It was more trying to make a point without making it myself. You know how Jeff Dunham's puppets can say anything they want to, right? :)


Robert has also given permission for the 44 comments of his that were flagged to be published, in the following comment exchange:

@RobertHarvey I'm considering asking for a mod to post the 44 flagged comments mentioned in your suspension message, so we can judge for ourselves whether they were truly rude or abrasive. Would you object to me doing so? – Mark Amery 41 mins ago

@MarkAmery: You can if you feel like it. I'd prefer a meta post asking for better transparency in mod messages. I used that boilerplate message all the time when I was a mod, but never understood why people got confused until I was suspended myself. The truth is that boilerplate message is every bit as impersonal as the corporate boilerplate SE has been using on Meta, and it provides no information that would help a user figure out what he's done wrong, other than the admonition "we think you were rude." – Robert Harvey 24 mins ago

Mark then flagged this post, requesting that these comments be published for us to read. This flag was declined with the message:

No, I don't think we'll be doing that even if Robert says he agrees.


A month and a half later, on December 6, 2019, Robert Harvey was suspended again -- this time not for a week, but for a year. According to Glorfindel's answer below, this happened subsequent to his posting a question in which he proposed an alternative to the Code of Conduct.

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    @rjzii When I read Robert's "RTFM" quote I thought "Geez, he found the rudest comment by any of his opponents so that he can paint the position as unreasonable, what happened to good faith?" When people start doing that, it's not a bad idea to give them a few days to cool down. Robert isn't a bad person so he'll probably cool down, rather than go "They're my enemies, I must paint them in an even worse light!". – Leopold says Reinstate Monica Oct 22 at 21:50
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    @Leopold so wait, you're telling me that Robert, for quoting someone, to prove a clear point, deserves a seven day suspension?! Do you think the person that he quoted was given a seven day suspension? Scratch that, do you think they were even given a 24 hour cool down? – Script47 Oct 22 at 21:52
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    @rjzii a 7-day suspension is in no way telling someone to leave the community. The entire point of suspensions is to allow people to cool down, reflect on their actions, and come back and improve on the things that they got suspended for. And even if suspension was that kind of signal 7 days would be way too short. 7 days is the first standard step in the suspension chain, it's certainly not supposed to be that extreme. – Rubiksmoose Oct 22 at 22:07
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    I'd argue that it's not unreasonable to suspend a user who, after two mod warnings in three weeks, mocks the idea they might do some basic reading on why misgendering someone is bad and then takes their frustrations out on a new user who has posted in the wrong place. That's someone who needs to take a break. – onetothrowaway Oct 22 at 22:34
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    @Script47 don't forget about the other 44 flagged messages in the last 11 days alone. That seems very appropriate for a user is showing a trend of repeated disruptive behavior over lots of instances and 11+ days. – Rubiksmoose Oct 22 at 22:38
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    44 comments in 11 days? surely there's a bit of targeting goin on there. – user400654 Oct 22 at 22:40
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    Robert's comments have been a bit "unfiltered", and some could be seen as less than polite. But compared to most of what has been posted in the last few weeks, it is all pretty tame. It looks like a few things at play: 1. Moderators are overloaded with flags and sometimes reacting more to quantity than quality. 2. Robert is being held to the standard of a moderator even though he no longer is. 3. There's an effort to end the chaos by taking the most outspoken people out of the picture for awhile. (cont'd) – fixer1234 Oct 22 at 22:57
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    I've seen most of Robert's posts, and a 7 day suspension doesn't look appropriate or proportional; and the warnings that justified it seemed largely unwarranted and perhaps created as ammunition for silencing a critic. – fixer1234 Oct 22 at 22:57
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    @JJJ the context of those words are important. Not to mention, yes, it is their platform. Yes, they do own it. But nowhere does it state that we can't share our displeasure with their actions. – Script47 Oct 22 at 23:04
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    I’ve all but stopped participating on SO and SE sites, but I’ll break my silence for this: I absolutely would not have suspended a user for 2 comments like these when I was a mod, unless that user had already been suspended multiple times and given a clear, zero-tolerance warning. This is nowhere near suspension-worthy material, especially given that the “worst” comment is a quotation. – elixenide Oct 22 at 23:10
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    Oh, and I’ll add that I was well-known among the other mods for (1) writing a lot of mod messages (I think I may hold the all-time record; not sure) and (2) issuing a lot of suspensions when I felt that was what was necessary. This just isn’t even in the ballpark of the kind of thing that we suspended people for. It’s very unlikely I would even have bothered contacting a user over these two remarks. – elixenide Oct 22 at 23:15
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    @KevinB I saw quite a few comments from Robert that were provoking arguments, and it was getting very heated, and I’m betting that the 44 comments flagged were from those threads. Meta has been very active over the last 11 days because of the controversial CoC changes and discussions around that, and a lot of people aren’t often trying to get their points across in a way that won’t provoke the other side of the argument – Kyle Fairns Oct 22 at 23:27
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    @Peter, exactly. Basically, he made an example of himself. As George Stocker once said (paraphrasing from memory), the best way to act against a policy is to push it to its limits. Only then will the inherent contradictions (I think the new kids say cognitive dissonance these days) become apparent. (As in in-your-face, cant-ship-the-product apparent.) – Frédéric Hamidi Oct 23 at 0:45
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    @BlackShift Robert clearly wrote 'My right honourable friend over here [...]' clearly pointing to a single person, not a community or a group. – Script47 Oct 23 at 9:34
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    @TannerSwett you're missing the point, when you're making a case you generally present your strongest evidence at the forefront, no? So IF the two examples provided are their strongest pieces of evidence against Robert then it really begs the question of what the contents of the other comments were. – Script47 Oct 24 at 15:02
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For the sake of transparency, here are some facts which are easily discovered if you have 10k reputation on this site: Robert posted a question proposing an alternative Code of Conduct today (2019-12-06), which was deleted 12 minutes after posting, at 16:44 UTC. His current suspension (which is a different one from the one this question originally asked about) ends in a year 365 days* from now, on 2020-12-05 at 16:46 UTC.

*: note to self: 2020 is a leap year ...

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    Not, that's not surprising at all. Comments should be aimed at improving the post, not a secondary avenue for discussion (which is happening on this answer as well). I don't mind right now, but I know comments are temporary by nature and wouldn't mind this entire comment thread being purged. – Glorfindel 2 days ago
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    This has absolutely nothing to do at all with the original question or the suspension it refers to. This is not an answer to the question - it is at best sideline commentary which does not help the question. If you really want to post this as an answer to something, ask a new copy of the question about the new suspension. – Nij 2 days ago
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    @Nij correct, the question was bountied and edited yesterday (you have to scroll down a bit). Technically, it might (should?) have been posted as a different question, however since it is so closely related it might be better to keep all information at the same place. – Glorfindel 2 days ago
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    @Nij Yesterday I'd left a comment with a link showing that RH had been suspended. The bounty benefactor forgot or didn't know that the message should explain the purpose of the new bounty, and presumed visitors would know by looking at the comment section. Well that was poor judgement, so a user edited the OP to add the recent development but someone else deleted the bounty, so someone else set up a new bounty, then a different user rolled back the edit, then a CM locked the post temporarily and deleted all the comments, old and new, then it was officially locked. – Mari-Lou A yesterday
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    You did not explicitly say this, but I assume that the suspension was directly related to (as in: caused by) this question, right? – Marco13 yesterday
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    @Marco13 There has since been a question that asked if it's allowed to post an alternative CoC. The question had a clearly positive vote count, as did multiple answers. Just like Harvey's question, that question has now disappeared. I think it's possible to infer an answer from that. – Peter - Unban Robert Harvey yesterday
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    @Peter-UnbanRobertHarvey I know that Q/A. I commented in that Q/A. I saved a local copy of that Q/A. And I considered asking a question "Is it against the rules to ask whether something is against the rules?". Maybe I'll do that, just to see how far the downward spiral of idiocy goes. – Marco13 22 hours ago
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    @Marco13 this answer intentionally only states facts and does not make any assumptions, however logical they might be. – Glorfindel 19 hours ago
  • @Glorfindel: Since you have 10K rep on this site, could you post a (redacted) screenshot? – user000001 18 hours ago
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    @user000001 It was deleted for a reason. If somebody would post a screenshot, I expect that would be deleted as well. – Glorfindel 18 hours ago
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    I'd be curious about that "reason" that you mentioned. @user000001 There wasn't so much interesting in Q/A, except for confirming that the ban was due to the proposal of a simplified CoC. The claim was that the proposal "lacked good faith", which is fractally ironical (i.e. ironical on every level of analysis). – Marco13 18 hours ago
  • @Mari-LouA - Was that a joke, or have you figured out how to automate a delayed deletion? – aparente001 16 hours ago
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    Having "assume good intent" and not much else as the CoC has already been proposed and evidently rejected by SE. But why? One of the answers gives reasons why some don't like that in a CoC, with a link to a relevant article. Briefly: minorities tend to be disproportionately on the receiving end of "accidental" hurts. – Raedwald 14 hours ago
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    @user000001 There were at least 2 questions/answers that provided such information. They are gone now, and at least one of the OPs is currently banned. You can either search chat, or try looking in the profiles of some users supporting Harvey. – Peter - Unban Robert Harvey 14 hours ago
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    Perhaps it's worth highlighting that this suspension only applies on meta.SE? And Robert Harvey is currently active on multiple other SE sites. – Rebecca J. Stones 8 hours ago
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Editor's note for context: This answer was posted before Robert gave his permission to discuss his suspension publicly. As such, the general policy applied at that time.


Robert was suspended to cool down, like you can see. We don't discuss suspensions, like you also know. It's not fair when a person is unable to respond:

There's not a lot of benefit for a moderator to do more than point inquisitive users to that part of a suspended user's profile. Since suspended users are unable to tell their side of the story on meta or chat, the less said the better. Hard to think of a better way to turn a user bitter than to humiliate them when they are helpless.

There's not much more to say, besides that normal processes were followed: Robert was warned first, and didn't improve so a suspension followed.

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    Better than nothing and positive coming from a community moderator. – Sklivvz Oct 22 at 19:19
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    @mason we don't discuss suspensions. It's like the first rule of meta.SE. Why should it be any different this time? – M.A.R. Oct 22 at 19:20
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    @Sklivvz Trust those who are doing the job. – ankii Oct 22 at 19:21
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    @M.A.R. Perhaps the first rule of Meta needs to change now that the trust level is so slow. I didn't always agree with Robert, but he always strives to be a fair person. So I'm pretty incredulous as to why this happened. – mason Oct 22 at 19:22
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    @JeffDarwood a one-week suspension is standard for a first-time offense. – Mithical Oct 22 at 19:23
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    @MaartenBodewes you can override the default suspension lengths, down to 1 day – Mad Scientist Oct 22 at 19:25
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    It does seem a lot easier though to get suspended if you disagree with the CoC, it's implementation, the handling of it outside of SE by certain directors, Monica's dismissal, or all of the above. Maybe I'm imagining that, but I don't think so. – John Oct 22 at 19:26
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    @mason Robert Harvey is, of course, free to respond when he returns (I don't know what happened myself), but how would you respect the privacy of an individual when they are unable to respond to whatever might be said here? Nobody likes not knowing every detail of an event, but there are several Moderators to provide those checks-and-balances without broadcasting someone's misdealings to the world. Sometimes respecting the rights of the individual are more important than the public reporting of every exchange. – Robert Cartaino Oct 22 at 19:30
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    @RobertCartaino Robert has indicated that he gives his permission for full discussion. – mason Oct 22 at 19:31
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    @RobertCartaino Given that Robert has given his permission, and the current crisis due to the poor handling of Monica, it's really in the company's best interest to be transparent on this, at least to some degree. For example, was it staff that suspended him? Or mods? And what was the reason they gave? – mason Oct 22 at 19:54
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    @StevenBurnap If anything, it was probably deleted comments. (I checked his non-deleted activity, as well as the 10k tools for recent deleted posts from him, and could not find anything.) – Sonic the Reinstate Monica-hog Oct 22 at 19:59
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    @mason The short suspension was issued after multiple requests. I have no cause for wild speculation or conjecture beyond that. I'm not familiar with the event. I'll have to let folks closer to the situation respond as they see fit... as it has always been. But I get it; there's been a lot of trust lost here, but I'm not going to marshal-law a long-standing privacy policy through the lens of a Monica situation. That's when the solution becomes worse than the problem. – Robert Cartaino Oct 22 at 20:07
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    @scohe001 It's hard to trust anything here anymore, given the complete lack of transparency, especially around what happened to Monica. I've heard the "they were given lots of warnings" line before. Maybe it's true, but given what's happened, the words themselves are meaningless. – Gort the Robot Oct 22 at 20:13
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    @RobertCartaino I recognize it's hard to communicate these days but the continual problems are because there isn't enough communication. – George Stocker Oct 23 at 0:23
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    The idea that suspending a user will make them "cool off" is pretty silly, especially when the dialog regarding the suspension has a very condescending and paternalistic tone. It certainly didn't make me very likely to ever contribute here again. – Chris Oct 23 at 13:21

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