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An objection to the original (now-deleted) pronoun-related FAQ was in regards to coerced speech. See for example Bye Stack Exchange, I'm done. Coerced speech is incompatible with freedom. From what I understand, the idea of coerced speech affected some moderators' decisions to step down, and other users' decisions to express disappointment: see Firing mods and forced relicensing: is Stack Exchange still interested in cooperating with the community?. But this was not the only reason.

The new FAQ has been comparatively well received.

My impression is that the community currently seems less concerned about coerced speech, and is more focused on Monica's situation, even attempting to settle this dispute. I just want to verify:

Question: Does the community consider the "coerced speech" complaint largely resolved?

Another question raises some other concerns, but answers some of them too.

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    No. Honestly I think even though some concessions have been made to soften the blow, the concept itself has been insidiously enshrined. Many people's issues have been resolved or mitigated — and for those without serious concerns about the concept as long as their particular viewpoint is in favor they really won't have any issues at this point. But for those for who the issue was less about the specific instance (gender identity) and more about the concept of coerced speech in general the issue very much remains. – Caleb Oct 27 at 7:05
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    Why did comments just disappear here? Like this one "Nope. It's been hidden in a lot of legalese, but it's still there. They can still do it, nobody's stopping them. – Hugo Zink Oct 28 at 9:59" – Trilarion Nov 1 at 22:18
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    Or this one? "To the extent that coerced speech means coerced words, then obviously no it's not resolved. To the extent that it means coerced agreement with ideas (which is the more problematic meaning), this may alleviate the issue meta.stackexchange.com/a/337169/627282 – user-2147482600 2 days ago" – Trilarion Nov 1 at 22:19

15 Answers 15

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No, not for me.

Houseman has done well in articulating why the issue is not realistically resolved, but I would posit that it's even technically not resolved.

Why?

Because based on what I have observed, the "technical" exclusions to compelled speech are in direct opposition to the actions taken against Monica. If what the new FAQ specifies is indeed what is expected of users, then Monica did not violate those expectations.

So, given the reasons Monica was dismissed, if those reasons are still considered valid, it necessarily means that our speech is compelled on this matter.

I would like to add some background on my experience, as well.

I have been silent publicly about many of the recent issues, as it has been highly stressful for me just to participate in the moderator chatroom discussion. But I would like you to know that I have been very thorough in my familiarization with this situation, having been following the discussion on pronouns for over a year and reading transcripts for discussions going even further back. Additionally, I am an ally to the Lavender community and a vocal proponent of preferred personal pronouns, even outside of Stack Exchange.

To be fully transparent, many moderators will agree with me when I say that I have not been a vocal advocate for Monica with regards to her dismissal, and at times I've been a vocal opponent for lack of a better word. I have not worked closely with her to develop any sort of fondness or friendship. I am not giving this answer because I'm yet another user that wants Monica reinstated. And I'm not doing this because I'm tied up with emotions. I'm writing this explanation, because I want you to believe and trust me when I say that there is a severe logic issue when you try to reconcile SE's actions with SE's words.

We have evidence, in the form of Monica's punishment, that compelled speech is a requirement and asking for clarification on that front is also punishable (despite the FAQs statement). I know that not all the evidence is available to all parties, and that I don't even have all the evidence, merely more than non-moderators. But the evidence I do have is sufficient.

Additionally, I have seen early drafts of the FAQ, and offered input into revisions of the FAQ as well as the preceding announcements and even the actual CoC update. What I have seen, in my opinion, is the staff at SE struggle to word these documents in a way that maintains their condemnations of Monica while also giving users the (illusionary) ability to disengage. This opinion is one that I can't point to clear evidence on, unfortunately, which is why I've asked for your trust. When moderators have asked for wording to be clarified to try to make sense of how Monica was dismissed versus what the policy says, there has been:

  • Avoiding the question by saying they don't want to keep making it about Monica
  • Offering comments in chat (or on meta posts) that seem to answer concerns, but then never editing them into posts and thereby giving them legitimacy
  • Evolved their language use in documentation drafts and the FAQ that, effectively, hide the conflict between what they're saying Monica did wrong and what they now say is right. In some ways I feel guilty about this, for my pointed questions to staff about how a particular wording makes sense considering what actually happened

I think certain employees at SE realize that there is a logical issue with speech requirements they have laid out, and how following that logic would be incongruous with realities such as the existence of religious and non-English stacks. When moderators called out these issues in drafts, they ended up being additional FAQ entries that avoid the underlying problem. I think the underlying problem with the confusion around compelled speech and what we are allowed to not say or must say stems from the impossibility of balancing what they say they want to accomplish, who they want to offer exceptions to so that whole stacks don't die, and maintaining the stance that Monica's actions would not considered OK under the current rules. They wanted to draw a hard line in the sand, but they have dusted over the parts of the line after realizing how large the line needed to be.

So no, the compelled speech problem is not resolved. I feel at risk as a moderator. I feel at risk as a user. I am confused by the rules and the claims of how issues and violations will be handled. And while I have no issues with the particular speech I would be compelled to use, I do not believe that if I felt otherwise that I would not summarily be subjected to the new moderator removal process.

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    Very thoughtful! – GhostCat says Reinstate Monica Oct 26 at 6:31
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    The update to the FAQ was an attempt to close Pandora's Box. I don't think it's closed though. – dfhwze Oct 26 at 7:57
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    I think you have correctly identified why we need to have such a complicated FAQ for a simple clarification of the CoC. If it were simply against the rules to use the wrong pronoun for someone when you have been made aware of the correct one, period, I don’t think we would have all this angst. – ColleenV parted ways Oct 26 at 11:03
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    Re: "non-English stacks". That severely underestimates the issue at hand. Coc is an illogical text, one that is also culturally biased towards one extreme in a dysfunctional scheme as a prosed solution. And is a flat out affront fuelled by an insensitive cultural imperialism, applicable to all stacks with an international audience even on the language level – LаngLаngС Oct 26 at 14:16
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    @ColleenV yes, "don't use wrong pronouns" should be obvious and was never in question. The statements in the current FAQ can't be reconciled with their treatment of me; they have to change one or the other. (And this is as good a place as any to say that since they are claiming I violated the CoC, nothing in the private email -- all of which was after Sep 18 -- is relevant. I was gone from TL by then.) – Monica Cellio Oct 27 at 1:07
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    @MonicaCellio And looking at the review process with a more skeptical eye - the parallel "emergency" removal process (which makes sense when an account has been compromised or something similar) seems to have bits shoehorned in to allow secret accusations to be used to remove a moderator. We agreed that we could be removed for any reason without warning at SE's discretion. It would be a lot simpler if SE said "We don't like Monica's position on this topic and don't want her to be a moderator." That wouldn't resolve the defamation, but it would let everyone know where they stood. – ColleenV parted ways Oct 27 at 13:17
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    Regardless of one's position on the CoC, I think this answer really hits the nail on the head with respect to the FAQ - it just reads like a fundamentally defensive and dishonest document. The repeated "yes, but no" answers, the vague and evasive responses, and the failure to incorporate subsequent comments into the actual text all give a strong impression this FAQ was written to deflect and dismiss people's concerns, rather than as a frank and honest attempt to address them. It's in exactly the same vein as the non-apologies which have been spoken at us. – Crowman Oct 27 at 15:48
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According to the letter of the law, it seems like speech is still compelled. However, there's a loophole.

Can you avoid pronouns? Yes. Well, actually, only if it's your natural writing style. Otherwise no.

Because if you "conspicuously" change your writing style, or do it in an "obviously unnatural way" then you're just doing it to avoid using pronouns you find uncomfortable, which is disrespectful.

So it seems that in certain situations, where:

  1. You normally use pronouns in your style of writing.
  2. And someone corrects you
  3. You must use their pronouns.

This would be compelled speech. But there's a loophole:

You might be able to silently disengage if you can do it without getting caught. Technically, this would be against the rules. Thankfully, the mods can't read minds, so as long as they don't know why you disengaged, they can't do anything about it.

You would have to declare your intention to disengage because you don't like neopronouns, or have a habit of suddenly disappearing whenever someone corrects you during a conversation, revealing a consistent pattern of behavior. Other than that, you won't be punished for it.

So as long as you either:

  1. Change your writing style to avoid using pronouns altogether (is this compelled speech?)

or

  1. Silently disengage without tipping the mods off as to why you're doing it.

One's speech would not be compelled. So technically, yes. Realistically, no.

So is it resolved? I'm not completely satisfied. Clearly, the letter of the law is trying to compel my speech, it's just not that good at it.

See also my answer here

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    This. More importantly, if they require compelled speech to be inclusive, they aren't doing a good job of being inclusive either. – S.D. Oct 26 at 6:57
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    I never understood the compelled speech argument. E.g. if I call you 'she', can you compel me to use 'he' (assuming you are a houseman)? Or should I be free to keep calling you 'she'? I honestly don't understand the boundaries of compelled speech. – BlackShift Oct 26 at 11:15
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    Or is it that you can compel me to stop using 'she', but cannot compel me to start using 'he'? As in, I should always have the option to not say anything at all? And that later option is not really there anymore with the new rules? Is that it? – BlackShift Oct 26 at 11:19
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    @BlackShift More like, if I don't want to use the term "he" for someone who identifies as a male (but is biologically female) and wish to use gender-neutral language instead, I should be given that freedom. – S.D. Oct 26 at 13:14
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    [cont.] Moreover, if the only alternatives to compelled speech are silence or completely modifying my speech altogether (i.e., never using pronouns for anyone), then it's no less compelled. It's basically saying, "either drastically change your usage of the English language" or "shut up". – S.D. Oct 26 at 13:22
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    Speak this way or disengage is still 100% compelled speech. – Sklivvz Oct 26 at 13:29
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    @Sklivvz Yep, that's exactly my point. Some folks like StrongBad raised the objection that that's not compelled speech, which in my opinion is rather faulty. – S.D. Oct 26 at 13:31
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    @Sklivvz Isn't any CoC (for a website) a 'speak this way or disengage'? What else can they be, since all we do here is speak (write)? Wouldn't that make any CoC compelled speech? If that's the case, then doesn't that make the whole compelled speech argument pointless, since there'll always be a CoC? Or is some compelled speech okay, and some not? And are you saying 'free speech' and 'no compelled speech' are essentially the same? If so, why have two different terms? If not, what is the difference? See my confusion. – BlackShift Oct 26 at 14:13
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    @BlackShift No. Let's get the definitions cleared first. I have repeatedly tried to clarify this: telling people what not to say/write (for example, people shouldn't be using the N-word) is reasonable in a CoC. Telling people what they must say/write is 'coerced speech' (as SE's new CoC does). If I don't want to use 'xe'/'xir', SE should not be telling me to either accept it or disengage (or stop using pronouns altogether!). They should give me the choice to use gender-neutral language for such people. Lots of users don't understand this crucial distinction. – S.D. Oct 26 at 14:33
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    @BlackShift Say, I'm a male. I would ideally like you to use 'he' for me. Though, if you don't want to refer to me by 'he' even then you've plenty of options like singular 'they', framing your sentences using 'one', referring to me by my username or avoiding pronouns altogether while referring to me. As long as you're not intentionally referring to me as 'she' to annoy me, it's fine. – S.D. Oct 26 at 15:02
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    Thank you houseman and @user437611 for your perspectives. I personally do not really mind adapting my speech, so your thoughts are appreciated. Perhaps because I'm not a native speaker, and therefore have to adapt more already anyway. Not sure. – BlackShift Oct 26 at 19:06
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    @BlackShift Let's say I prefer to call questions "posts," and I don't want to use the more specific word. Am I weird? Yes! Am I insulting anyone? No! Should a CoC force me to use "questions" when I want to use the word "posts"? Hell no. This sentence is perfectly normal and is not insulting anyone, yet I've avoided using third-person pronouns. Should we allow a random reader to claim offense by this and thus force me to introduce "they" or "he" or "xe" or "per"? I don't think so. This is abusive. – Sklivvz Oct 26 at 20:52
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    @BlackShift if you're talking to someone, you're probably using "you", not third-person pronouns. The new rules only apply when talking about somebody else, which is vanishingly rare. And skilled writers who naturally avoid gender can do it smoothly -- nothing conspicuous there. – Monica Cellio Oct 27 at 1:09
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    @MonicaCellio - Most people on SE (or at least SO, but numbers wise it's the same) are NOT skilled writers. My own writing style is 79&p, unless I spend hours polishing the text (and even after that). And mine isn't nearly the worst I've seen around here. – DVK Oct 29 at 17:40
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    @DVK sure, most people aren't, but my point is that some are, and telling those who are that they nonetheless aren't allowed to use that skill (respectfully, of course) is kind of presumptuous and insulting. We should be responding to what people actually do, not what SE thinks everyone is incapable of doing. – Monica Cellio Oct 29 at 17:45
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To the extent that the Code of Conduct and its official FAQ are still trying to effect language change by requiring that we must alter our idiolect (or our personal mental grammar) to add new words to the closed class of pronouns in order to converse with or about anyone who requests so-called neopronouns, I don't think the coerced speech complaint has been resolved. Pronouns are a very stable part of a language's grammar, changing on the timespan of centuries. Despite non-binary or third gender people being accepted in various societies around the world for thousands of years I'm not aware of any languages which have incorporated even a single neopronoun for non-binary people into their grammars, let alone dozens. (If you do know of examples, please share, I and many others would be fascinated to see them!) What SE is trying to effect here is likely truly unprecedented in history. Will it succeed? We'll have to wait and see.


Note that the friction of using neopronouns that are not parts of your idiolect is much more than just using new words. We also need to know which patterns in the language they fit. Do they fit the pattern of 'he' and 'she', or of 'they', or of something else? Do we say "Ke runs" or "Ke run"? Do we say "Ke is happy" or "Ke are happy"? "Ke has to ..." or "Ke have to ..."? Unfortunately the LGBTA wiki page linked in the FAQ does not make all of this clear. This is something which we will have to just ask those who want us to use their neopronouns. And even if you do over time incorporate a neopronoun into your idiolect, for the next one you'd have to start largely from scratch, because each of these patterns could be different.

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    Surely "alter our internal idiolect" is wrong? Even the harshest interpretation of what SE is asking for doesn't make it require you to change how you think. – Gareth McCaughan Oct 26 at 11:06
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    @GarethMcCaughan That's exactly the point! Some people refer to newspeak here, but more technically, the point is linguistic relativity: Language and thinking are strongly connected, and compelled speech is (perceives as) an attempt to modify what people think. (And by the way: Language is an essential part of the identity, and trying to dictate the language of other people therefore invalidates their identity to a large degree - an argument that is usually used in the reverse direction...) – Marco13 Oct 26 at 12:08
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    @Marco "SE is requiring us to speak in a particular way, which they may hope will influence how we think" is a different proposition from "SE is requiring us to think in a particular way". The second of those is what curiousdanii's answer says ("we must alter our internal idiolect"); the first is what you're suggesting. – Gareth McCaughan Oct 26 at 12:11
  • @GarethMcCaughan I see, that's why you emphasized "internal" (roughly as in: ~"the language that we use for the internal dialogue in our head"), right? (I might have missed that point - not a native English speaker, if that counts as an excuse ;-)) – Marco13 Oct 26 at 12:14
  • Right, exactly. Sorry if I wasn't explicit enough. – Gareth McCaughan Oct 26 at 12:15
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    From my perspective any attempt to try to make us use new pronouns is an attempt to change our mental grammars. I guess that SE might not want us to actually change our idiolects, and to instead have to manually process and construct our sentences like as if we were all (early) second language speakers. It's not good either way. – curiousdannii Oct 26 at 12:20
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    "I'm not aware of any languages which have incorporated even a single pronoun for non-binary people into their grammars" but English does have an accepted one: "they". See M-W: "—used to refer to a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary" – Rubiksmoose Oct 26 at 14:44
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    @Rubiksmoose Indeed. Though note that singular they has been perpetually criticized by grammaticians. It's also pretty awkward outside of the US and the UK. – S.D. Oct 26 at 14:54
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    @Marco13 - what you said reminded me of a boss I had. Once he wanted me to send an email to someone higher up, but he askwd me to send it to him and he would forward it. The trouble was that he tried to edit it, and he introduced all sorts of grammatical errors. Then he forwarded it, and it looked like those were my words. I was livid. I'm particular about my words and grammar. It's part of who I am. Neopronouns aren't an issue with me because of beliefs or people. It's because of my language. It's mine. It's not for someone else to tinker with so they can hqve a platform or for any reason. – Scott Hannen Oct 26 at 18:27
  • @ScottHannen I don't think the boss or anyone else is allowed to change the content of your mail and forward it as if it were written by you. I hope you negotiated a good pay raise that year. – dfhwze Oct 26 at 19:09
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    @Rubiksmoose I meant neopronouns. They was already being used for singular uses, and now for non binary people it is infected identically so the friction is greatly reduced. – curiousdannii Oct 26 at 22:06
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    @dfhwze - this was another business and another time. He could and did. He didn't change the meaning. He inserted incorrect punctuation and other errors. And that's the point. My way of expressing myself was violated. Someone else's words became mine. Devoid of context, someone would read it and think that was how I wrote. There's the problem. If I use all sorts of neopronouns, how would anyone know that it wasn't my speech? They would only see my "my" inability to spell or my "me" embracing certain political views. I would be a mouthpiece used to normalize someone else's speech. – Scott Hannen Oct 26 at 22:43
  • @Rubiksmoose they does not refer to non-binary people! You may use they to avoid specifying gender even if the person you refer to defines as male or female. OED: "With an antecedent referring to an individual generically or indefinitely (e.g. someone, a person, the student), used esp. so as to make a general reference to such an individual without specifying gender." – I am not the way you speak Nov 9 at 5:20
  • @user644520 "they" in fact can refer to NB people. It can be either/both. See my definition above or definition c in the OED: "Used with reference to a person whose sense of personal identity does not correspond to conventional sex and gender distinctions, and who has typically asked to be referred to as they (rather than as he or she)." Or, you know, just ask any NB person. You can also check the FAQ to the CoC which makes that clear. – Rubiksmoose Nov 9 at 14:59
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    @Rubiksmoose Because that is how homonyms work. When I say, "I saw a bat," you won't know whether I mean the animal or the stick. – I am not the way you speak Nov 9 at 17:32
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My impression is that the community currently seems less concerned about coerced speech, and is more focused on Monica's situation

A moderator was forcibly removed for merely voicing serious (and reasonable) concerns about a policy that, from what we know, one manager took as a reason to remove her.

So forget the rules, just disagreeing with the proposal of a single manager can get you removed from SE.

And, even worse, SE Inc. made a public attack on the named moderator. So they will apparently try and ruin your public reputation if you even disagree with their suggestions (not even established policy, but just the suggestions).

If that can happen a respected moderator it can happen any ordinary member.

All of that is, by any reasonable definition, a way of coercing speech.

And it seems to be the intent of those SE managers.

Until real justice is seen to be done, this will, at best, be a festering wound waiting to explode again and again.

39
+100

Note that none of this answer is about what's right or wrong, or how things ought to be in society. Most people are oblivious to the needs of the trans community and view the CoC in terms of "how does this impact me?" This answer is the common perception of that.

I think the issue is clearest if you focus on the example of neopronouns.

In the real world, there are recognized rules of polite society. You grow up learning the exisiting social norms, and applying them second nature.

People forgive accidental mistakes in using standard pronouns. Purposely using the wrong standard pronoun after being corrected is recognized as rude.

Neopronouns are not a standard part of the English language in common usage. Relatively few people know they even exist. Almost nobody knows what they are or how to use them. Most people encountering them wouldn't be sure what a sentence containing them means.

When strangers interact, there is no expectation that one person has an entitlement to have the other person refer to them using neopronouns. If one person requested it of the other, the person might try to comply, but there would be no expectation under normal social rules that the person must. Failure to comply would not be considered rude. Rather, asking a stranger to use neopronouns would likely be considered unreasonable and inappropriate; demanding it might be considered obnoxious. If someone wants to use neopronouns in the real world, they do it outside the support of existing social norms.

SE has created an environment disparate from the real world. Here, neopronouns are required if requested. Failure to comply is predefined as rude and disrespectful, and potentially carries sanctions. The rules are inconsistent with what is familiar to most people.

Is the language "compelled"? Nobody can force anybody to say something; compelled speech is always a matter of comply or deal with the penalties. Here, the penalty is removal.

There are now two loopholes: change how you write so as to avoid pronouns in all cases, or disengage, as long as you do it subtlely. This isn't saying that it's completely acceptable; it's unacceptable, just don't get caught.

By any definition, it's still compelled speech. Comply or don't post here. It's all dressed up with pretty words, and explanation of why it's important to do this. But the company is adamant that the fundamental starting position is that it is mandatory. It might be a little easier to avoid sanctions under the revised guidelines, but the bottom line hasn't changed.

Some people will accept the explanation and decide that the terms won't be an issue for them. Some people will have the same issues they had before, and will have to decide whether it is acceptable to rely on the loopholes to participate. For them, compelled speech is still very real

Some people just want an environment where they don't have to tiptoe around or learn a new set of social rules. Under the new CoC, people can no longer assume that the normal, familiar rules of polite society are enough to participate respectfully. For them, just the fact that speech is compelled may be irksome, but the more direct consequence may be that this no longer feels like a comfortable place to be.

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    This isn't saying that it's completely acceptable; it's unacceptable, just don't get caught. This is what causes problems for me. No, I won’t pretend the rule doesn’t exist because it’s largely unenforceable or it probably won’t affect me. – ColleenV parted ways Oct 26 at 10:52
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    @ColleenV A rule that's largely unenforceable is not a good rule. – dfhwze Oct 28 at 6:03
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Semantically speaking, it wouldn't be compelled speech if the CoC said simply to not misgender someone. But the fact that the CoC specifically states that writing your communications to a person who uses controversial pronouns in a way that avoids the pronoun issue altogether is also not allowed, even the semantics argument is invalid.

Normally rules regarding pronouns simply forbid the use of the wrong ones. There is no part that states you HAVE to use them when asked to. Thus you can avoid breaking the rule by simply not using any pronouns when communicating with someone.

This is basically a loophole. But this loophole makes the rule not compelled speech since you technically have a choice to not use them.

However, since the SE rule specifically plugs this loophole, now it becomes the very definition of compelled speech. As in, you are to speak a specific way to and about someone or be punished. You have no other choice.

As it stands written, if a user reveals their preferred pronouns, this user can effectively compel other users to use them or face punishment.

If you were to remove the part of the rule that plugs the refraining loophole, then things would likely be settled on this front.

EDIT: A user on another question pointed out another possible loophole that could resolve the compelled speech problem. There is nothing in the CoC that says you cannot just ignore a user who reveals controversial preferred pronouns. You know, the Silent Treatment.

NOTE: The compelled speech problem is only resolved by these loopholes if being a "Rules Lawyer" is permitted in this case. If being a “Rules Lawyer” is not allowed, then we are back to square one.

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    Somebody in the TL discussion was arguing that not using pronouns at all is "misgendering". I find that completely baffling; if you don't gender, how can you misgender? That is at odds with the plain meaning of the word and common sense. – Monica Cellio Oct 27 at 16:32
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    I don't believe this is backed up by the CoC wording itself or by the new FAQ: "the CoC specifically states that writing your communications to a person who uses controversial pronouns in a way that avoids the pronoun issue alltogether is also not allowed..." Here's the new FAQ: "You can often avoid using pronouns altogether. It's actually pretty rare to need third-person pronouns at all on most Stack Exchange sites." – Kyle Strand Oct 27 at 20:37
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    @KyleStrand, yes, but the new CoC differs from the ideas being floated in the TL discussion that resulted in Monica being fired. What she did wouldn't have been a violation of this CoC (it also wasn't a violation of the CoC then in place either...) – gung - Reinstate Monica Oct 28 at 2:19
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    @gung I am not privy to TL conversations, but even so it seems pretty clear that there's a discrepancy between the rules-as-stated and the treatment of Monica. My opinion is that the rules-as-stated (taking the new FAQ into account) would be acceptable if we could be confident they'd consistently be enforced as-written (rather than how they were "applied" or "interpreted" in Monica's case). And of course we can't have that confidence until amends are made to Monica. – Kyle Strand Oct 28 at 2:41
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I can't say I'm satisfied, and it's for a different reason than most.

I'm not satisfied as to why the "compelled speech" argument is being used at all.

There's a lot of important context here - that argument is used a lot with regards to this issue, and it often comes from the mouths of less...kind...people than have generally used it in these discussions, and so it becomes a red flag. But there's a larger issue, and that is the general philosophy behind it.

When you participate on Stack Exchange (or, really, interact with anyone), you enter into an implied social contract. It basically says, hey, you can do and say what you want, but what you say and do will have consequences. This is just how life works: when a kid holds the door for somebody, people think better of that person; when a kid decides to bully another kid, that's a problem.

So on Stack Exchange, the way it works is - you can say and do what you want, but if you say something that's offensive - you use a slur, for example - you get suspended.

It used to be that if something wasn't Nice, that's how the 'boundary' for this sort of contract was set, and the boundary lines were set by moderator interpretation, which makes sense for a lot of things!

The pronoun issue is slightly different, and here's why: there have been a lot of well-meaning folks who just don't get it. I can't count the number of people who have said in the past couple weeks, "wow, I didn't understand this before" or "I need to learn more about the lavender/LGBT+ community". With that lack of understanding, Be Nice becomes harder to interpret and follow. How do you know how to Be Nice when you don't understand the situation well?

It becomes more complicated when you realize that there are groups out there who hide behind that misunderstanding as a shield for their intentionally offensive behavior. This mixture of fake misunderstanding and sincere misunderstanding begins to grate: you don't know if the person you're explaining to is sincere, and at some point you just want to throw your hands into the air and give up.

So Stack Exchange in general came up with a pretty darn good idea: elaborate on the Be Nice policy to explain exactly what that meant, especially for more marginalized groups like the trans community. And where do you start with that? Pronouns.

You see where this is going.

I can't say Stack Exchange has handled this well (unfortunately their actions have mixed up the Code of Conduct change with what they did to Monica, and my thoughts on that are quite clear), but the base change they made to the Code of Conduct? I can fully get behind that, because it's not compelled speech.

It's part of a social contract you entered into when you signed up. It's part of Be Nice. It's just elaborated upon.


EDIT: A lot of people in general are talking about the difference between a negative command and a positive command. To them I say this (quoted from some comments I wrote on another answer):

if you had a friend who preferred the nickname "Steve" instead of Stephen, but you restructured every sentence to avoid using that nickname because you found it problematic, and even continually stated you found that nickname problematic, that would be really uncomfortable for Steve, right? He wouldn't feel welcome.

Except we're talking about pronouns, not nicknames. Turns out, those often feel even more important to a person than nicknames, so the pain is even more deep.

  • 9
    I don't see how the allegory of Steve relates to the difference of a negative command and a positive command. It seems to me the point of the story is "refusing to use pronouns/nicknames is hurtful". – House- 'Reinstate Monica' -man Oct 26 at 6:01
  • 13
    -1 because I don't see how this addresses the question. It seems to be a general statement that the compelled speech complaint was never valid in the first place. This does not at all answer the question about whether the compelled/coerced speech complaint is resolved. – Wildcard Oct 26 at 6:36
  • 8
    The analogy with Steve doesn't work. Social interactions on a Q&A site focused on content are not the same as social interactions among friends. E.g. hugs are appreciated among friends and family but not so much at academic or professional gatherings. – reaanb Oct 26 at 6:46
  • 5
    The description of reaction to misgendering as "being easily offended" is itself offensive, minimising the damage and harm associated with such a choice of words. If you're not making the effort to use requested pronouns in every sentence referring to such person, it's not much more use than never doing it, since it implies that you don't care enough to make that effort. – Nij Oct 26 at 7:14
  • 17
    A clear example of a positive command can be found in the CoC: "Use stated pronouns (when known)." 1) The example with Steve is a red herring that is not related to the difference between positive and negative commands. 2) It also rests on an appeal to emotion (pity). 3) "there are groups out there who hide behind that misunderstanding as a shield for their intentionally offensive behavior" - guilt by association. 4) "Turns out, those often feel even more important to a person than nicknames, so the pain is even more deep." - appeal to emotion. 5) "This is just how life works" - ipse dixit. – julian Oct 26 at 7:39
  • 21
    6) The way the coerced speech argument is represented here is a straw man; several arguments related to coerced speech have been put forward on Meta and elsewhere. Here is one example: if one rejects the premise that gender is a subjective social construction and pronouns by extension are also not subjective, abiding by the command in the CoC can result in making statements contrary to one's own beliefs - coerced speech. 7) "and it often comes from the mouths of less...kind...people than have generally used it in these discussions, and so it becomes a red flag." - guilt by association. – julian Oct 26 at 7:39
  • 14
    If I had an issue with calling Stephen Steve, that would be an issue preventing us from being friends. And then me not calling him Steve would be perfectly fine, even for Stephen. Applying this to pronouns: When I'm not using the pronouns you ask me to use, you need to come to terms with the fact that I don't see the world as you do. I have found that not taking myself too seriously and reminding myself that I don't know the ultimate truth either has helped me to maintain friendly relations with people who believe differently than I do. – user638318 Oct 26 at 7:43
  • 6
    You seem to be deliberately choosing the emphasis that supports your argument. "Use stated pronouns" - as in, don't use the unstated pronouns and don't use the pronouns that were stated against. You are reading it with an emphasis on "Use..." while SE has made it clear that this is not the interpretation that is applicable. @julian and the rest of your comments are pointless quibbling that miss the point. COC is about behaviour and acting in ways that are appropriate at least as much for their emotional value as their pragmatic, technical, monetary or other values. – Nij Oct 26 at 7:51
  • 9
    The assertion that you'd be required to use someone's pronouns in every single sentence is so far from what anyone expects that the whole argument is meaningless. Nobody has ever proposed a requirement to contort language to use pronouns where they're not called for. Many people have pointed out that the vast majority of interactions on the site take place without third-person pronouns, and that's fine. "Use stated pronouns (when known)" doesn't mean every sentence must contain a pronoun, just as "be patient and welcoming" doesn't mean every sentence must literally welcome someone. – onetothrowaway Oct 26 at 8:00
  • 9
    @Nij "COC is about behaviour and acting in ways that are appropriate at least as much for their emotional value as their pragmatic, technical, monetary or other values" - ipse dixit. The meaning of appropriate here is subjective - the company decides. There is no evidence to suggest that recent changes to the CoC were made on grounds other than ideology. It certainly was not pragmatic, given the fallout. "this is not the interpretation" - the interpretation is subjective; the company decides what it is. Evidence for this is the CoC being used as a cudgel against Monica. Not very "nice", right? – julian Oct 26 at 8:22
  • 4
    So again, what exactly is your problem? This is literally what the COC requires of you, with regard to pronouns, nothing more. @HerMajestyQueenofARC – Nij Oct 26 at 11:35
  • 4
    @Nij first of all I am responding to this answer and positive and negative usage of pronouns, where negative as in omitting pronoun in some sentence is subtly offensive. at least that is how I read it. Also, CoC allows you not to use pronouns but also talks about natural writing style and conspicuously avoiding pronouns. All that together still forced speech because depending how I may write some sentence at some point I may get punished. This is my problem. I cannot freely write the way I normally would. It is like walking the minefield. – Resistance Is Futile Oct 26 at 11:57
  • 5
    @Nij that is not what FAQ says. Also further interpretation after asking what conspicuously means, and how consistent I have to be, because I am not very consistent "You're not going to get suspended outright without a warning first, and on that warning you can get more information on what caused it / talk about specific instances instead of abstract concepts, which is a lot clearer for everyone involved. – Cesar M♦" So any comment that is not using pronouns can be flagged as rude and I my intentions can be judged. Regardless of how unenforceable that rule might be it is still there. – Resistance Is Futile Oct 26 at 12:10
  • 7
    This answer is a germane frame challenge. My take on the "compelled speech" argument is that it is, at heart, a rhetorical trick which recasts the matter in an alarming way, and that SE's questionable handling of the CoC change helped to create the conditions for it to spread like wildfire. It speaks volumes that quite a few of those who are concerned (genuinely, I don't doubt) about compelled speech at times don't seem to have it clear exactly what compelled speech amounts to. – duplode Oct 26 at 13:11
  • 13
    @TRiG, the word "transphobes" is hardly appropriate for polite discourse. It's name calling. And it's not even a well-defined term, so it can be used to label anyone who disagrees with the most extremely progressive views on the subject. (Example: I have seen someone labelled as "transphobe" who fully supports trans adults, but believes that it is not correct to allow children to make their own decision to get a sex change operation.) – Wildcard Oct 30 at 21:13
21

There has been a lot of handwaving about how people largely aren't affected by the change and "if you don't adopt neopronouns you're disrespectful to LGBT" (which is a false dichotomy, BTW) and whatnot, but seeing how the CoC change has not been reverted or amended in any way I certainly do not consider this resolved in any way.

What seems to be happening here is a pattern that nowadays can be observed with an alarming frequency in politics: when people get up in arms about a decision that goes against their best interest, the response tends to be "oh, we probably didn't explain that well enough to you" rather than listening to the concerns of the people and admitting a mistake, followed by a lot of smoke and mirrors while waiting for the storm to blow over. And unfortunately that tactic seems to work most of the time.


With that said, for everyone who believes this CoC change won't have an effect on them or be the last move in the direction of social justice politics, let me add a small data point for you:

I had posted my stance on the CoC change as an answer to the original (now deleted) FAQ where it was deleted by CesarM right away. The wording was certainly confrontational, but I disagree that it was "rude" or "highly offensive" like some people claim. I then posted that text (with some minor changes) in the "about me" section of my profiles because I want to make my position known, just in case anyone cares. The general consensus (at least to my knowledge) is that we're free to post in the "about me" section whatever we want unless it "is likely to be truly offensive to large groups of seemingly reasonable people."

However, at some point the larger part of the text was silently deleted (from all of my profile pages), without any notification or warning. Hence I raised a question about who had deleted the text and why, and flagged that for moderator attention. That was 4 days ago (at the time of this writing), and I have yet to receive any response from The Powers That Be.

I believe it was CesarM who posted a (now deleted) comment saying something about how being called by specific pronouns is a human right and they will defend it. Only to have some moderator or company employee go ahead and censor someone's free speech (which is an actual human right, BTW). So, good job there. What was it the CoC said? No bigotry?


Edit: The flag has now been declined with a canned response ("doesn't require moderator intervention"), so I contacted support as the next step.

Edit: Two weeks later: still no response.

  • 6
    Why do you think you can define what "an actual human right" is? Why should your "right" to be disrespectful (eyeroll) override my right to be referred to correctly? – Mithical Oct 27 at 12:32
  • 13
    @user58 Who said I defined it? That's just your assumption. – Ansgar Wiechers Oct 27 at 12:35
  • 5
    It's interesting that the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights uses "he" as the gender neutral pronoun. – ColleenV parted ways Oct 27 at 16:17
  • 6
    @ColleenV I mean, it was adopted in 1948, so it’s not too surprising. – divibisan Oct 27 at 16:28
  • @divibisan Yep, not surprising, just interesting. – ColleenV parted ways Oct 27 at 16:30
  • 5
    Don’t you think that it’s more likely that your “About Me” was blanked because you were trying to use it to get around moderator action on your question? I suspect that doing this with most deleted answers would have gotten a similar response – divibisan Oct 27 at 16:39
  • 4
    @divibisan It wasn't blanked. And it wasn't a question that got deleted. If you must speculate, please at least get your facts straight. I for one prefer not to speculate. That's why I was asking for the reason in the first place. – Ansgar Wiechers Oct 27 at 17:10
  • 1
    Answer, not question, and edited not blanked, sorry. I’m not complaining about your question. But aren’t you speculating here by saying that this is another data point in SE’s censorship and social justice politics? – divibisan Oct 27 at 17:58
  • 2
    True, what SE might do in the future is a bit speculative. But taking into account how this all started and developed, as well as how SE is apparently just trying to sit this out, I'd argue that it's more an extrapolation than pure speculation. – Ansgar Wiechers Oct 27 at 18:09
19

I think "the coerced speech complaint" is resolved for users, who:

  • Needn't talk about each other (in the third person) at all
  • Are probably allowed to use whatever phraseology they choose, if they're inoffensive and do not deliberately "mis-gender"

For users the situation is the same as before, IMO -- being "nice" means you're allowed to say nothing, and/or to be polite in your own words -- there's prohibited speech (including "mis-gendering" now) but not coerced speech.


For moderators the new FAQ says "Yes", in reply to the question, "So do I really have to use pronouns I find uncomfortable?".

I suppose that is intended to clarify, be explicit, that they find intolerable a moderator's not being willing to.

I think this is coercing the form of a moderator's expression, and is unprecendented -- formerly, just as it was for users, some speech was prohibited, but not coerced.

Its being an ex post facto justification for censuring Monica and demoting her from being a moderator, if it's doing so, doesn't make me welcome it.

It's also not how I would have ruled or arbitrated that dispute -- not where where I would have "drawn the line", between parties who disagree on the subject (i.e. if someone doesn't want to use someone else's pronoun). So, with respect I disagree with it for that reason too.

But I gather that The Powers That Be have made up their mind and moved on, and that their temperament is to be personally disinclined to second-guess their past decisions, so my take on the subject is immaterial.

I take it that the wording -- "Yes, moderators do really have to" -- is now cast in stone.

That isn't "nice", in my opinion -- to moderators who disagree -- and is therefore (in my opinion still) anathema. But being "nice" to them was apparently not the intention -- perhaps the opposite.

  • 5
    Are the scare around the word 'misgender(s|ing)' really necessary? The implication is that you don't think it is a real thing, which is exactly the expression of attitude that the COC update intends to eliminate. – Nij Oct 26 at 7:09
  • 2
    Note that there's no reason for neopronouns to only be limited to third person. Many languages have gendered second person pronouns, so if a non-binary person wanted neopronouns for such a language they would have every right to request both second and third person neopronouns. I don't know if this would affect any of the non-English language sites already on the SE network or not. – curiousdannii Oct 26 at 7:26
  • 5
    @Nij Checking my punctuation, you could read it that way, but you don't have to. I read them as a "quote", not a "scare". I added them because "misgender" isn't in my Google Chrome spell checker (the quotes mean "sic"), perhaps it's a neologism, albeit one people hold to. And please kindly don't try to judge me on what I don't think -- IMO whether anything (e.g. "gender") is "a real thing" (see e.g. Śūnyatā) isn't necessarily related to inter-personal attitude (see Brahmavihārās). Be well. – ChrisW Oct 26 at 7:43
  • 4
    Well, gender is a real thing, the same way that religion and art and the number 3 are real things. Can you find a molecule of religion? An atom of art? Link to the UV-vis spectra of 3? Using "it's not in my dictionary" seems like a very poor excuse for just using a word, especially when it's contextually clear that the word does exist. Your spell checker would have had a problem with the word sunyata as well; I notice you didn't put quotes around that. I don't try to judge anyone on what they think; I judge everyone on what they do, and you've done what looks like rejection of non-binarism. – Nij Oct 26 at 7:57
  • 7
    I absolutely interpreted the quotes as scare quotes as well. Since you didn't intend to give the impression that you believe misgendering is not a real thing, perhaps you might edit your answer to avoid this miscommunication? – onetothrowaway Oct 26 at 8:12
  • 8
    @Nij So you say you're judging me based on what my punctuation looks like to you -- "a rejection of non-binarism". What if I said, "there's no such thing as binarism" (only fluidity) -- or, "no such thing as gender" -- would "misgendering" then be a possible Thing, in your opinion? It is though, as you say, a "word", which people "just use" and which "exists". Could we end this discussion please? It feels like an accusation, a waste of time, and off-topic. – ChrisW Oct 26 at 8:15
  • 1
    @onetothrowaway Thanks for asking nicely. But maybe now it's important to emphasise that the word might mean different things to different people, and that using it without remarking on that would be to beg the question -- as I said I wouldn't have decided the case in the same way that SE did, i.e. I'm not sure that moderators necessarily should have been compelled. – ChrisW Oct 26 at 8:24
  • 2
    And frankly I use a lot of punctuation -- including around the word "nice" there -- it doesn't imply there's no such thing. – ChrisW Oct 26 at 10:06
17

There's some ambiguity as to what's meant by "conspicuous avoidance" in the FAQ. If it's "conspicuous to the reader of a post, comment thread, or chat conversation", that's one thing (& to my mind simply asking people to show some tact at least, out of basic courtesy); if it's "conspicuous to an analyst of the entire corpus of a user's writing on SE", that's quite another thing. Some comments on the FAQ clarification post appear to suggest the former interpretation; some the latter.

For example (https://meta.stackexchange.com/a/336380/225179), a Community Manager writes:—

If someone prefers to omit pronouns entirely, they’re welcome to do so, as long as it’s not used in an obviously unnatural way. For example, you can change "The OP wrote in his question" to "the OP wrote in the question" this is a non-obvious rephrasing. If you're writing "The OP wrote in the OP's question" for a user who asked you to refer to them with a neopronoun, that is more clearly discriminatory unless this is your default way of writing.

Of course.

Yet (https://meta.stackexchange.com/a/336381/225179), in response to the question:—

[...] if the style of writing under the old CoC used pronouns for a group of people, and then the writing style under the new CoC avoids the use of pronouns, is it possible for this to be interpreted as conspicuously refusing to recognize someone's identity, and thus a violation of the new CoC?

the same CM replies:—

[...] I would say if you stop using pronouns for everyone altogether and consistently do not, that's fine. Even if you did before. It'll become a new pattern in time, and that's okay.

This answer is implicitly accepting the premise that unless you know now that you'll be willing in future to refer to any user by any pronoun they may prefer, it's incumbent on you to henceforward eschew the use of gendered pronouns for all users. That's quite an imposition.

It does seem that SE want to run with the hare & hunt with the hounds; unless they intend to allow each site's moderators to interpret the CoC's requirements as they see fit, they owe it to everyone to be clearer.

  • 1
    I'm waiting for an autistic's natural pedantic speech patterns being judged as "suspicious" – Richard says Reinstate Monica Nov 1 at 14:40
9

For me, there wasn't an issue to begin with.

I am mostly interacting with anonymous, ungendered usernames on this site. While I sometimes amuse myself with guessing the gender, ethnicity, or other traits of the person behind a username, this has little effect on my interaction with that person, as the focus of that interaction is usually elsewhere (e.g. answering a programming question).

Because I don't know the gender, nationality, religious beliefs, and so on of the other person, and because they don't know these things about me, I don't make much of misattributions. If someone calls me "he" or "she" or "they" and that is not how I see myself – why do I care? All I care about is that people are "nice" in the sense that they aren't explicitly unfriendly. Beyond that, I prefer to assume the best intentions and allow for idiosyncracies.

It makes life much more pleasant not to feel attacked by every wrong pronoun.

  • 10
    The claim by the LGBT+ community is that even though you might not care about misgendering, they find it deeply upsettling. There's not much you can say against that kind of a statement. The best we can do, out of mutual respect, is to settle on a compromise. – S.D. Oct 26 at 8:36
  • 2
    I agree in principle, yes (misgendering isn't the root cause of queer issues). In reality though, if someone is on the verge of suicide due to repeated misgendering you probably wouldn't dare to say that due to the repercussions. It's the same reason you wouldn't argue with your grandmom although she might be incorrect about certain things. – S.D. Oct 26 at 9:07
  • 8
    @Nij If you feel that the OP doesn't understand the issue would it not be better to explain the issue to them (using facts), instead of asking them to delete their answer? Not everyone knows everything; might be worth taking some time to explain people your point of view instead of shutting down their views just because you find it offensive. If that's your approach, I'm afraid it's no different from the extremists or authoritarians who just want people to just obey them without raising any objections. Also, it's not a good way to make friends. – S.D. Oct 26 at 10:10
2

The posting activity in the respective threads has gone down while at the same time asking and answering activity in the exchanges has continued more or less on a stable level. That probably means that the community has moved on by now (1-2 months later).

The company did change course somewhat. The community received the changed course a bit more positively. My impression is that the majority opinion about it is still not very positive, but much less negative than it was initially.

However, in the course of the whole thing, a lot of trust on all sides has been lost, and has not won back yet, at least that's my impression.

All in all it seemed to have brought out a bit of the worst in us all, not only of those who had a negative view of the whole thing but also proponents and even professionals (apologies that could be more convincing or renaming Nancy to Alice and so forth). We all seem to have the same tendency (some more, some less) for immature behavior if the situation gets a bit more tough than usual. Maybe we should think more about that.

As a summary: people have drawn their own conclusions and either arranged themselves with the new CoC or stopped or reduced significantly their partaking. The positions are clear and there is not much more need for discussions. Maybe in a few months, the issue could be revisited, if there is still desire for it then.

-4

Yes. The specific issue of compelled speech is resolved for me. The entire CoC is coerced/compelled speech. It is a document that states “speak and act this way or you are not allowed to use the service.” Requiring certain speech to use a service is both legal and commonplace.

You can disagree because you think this is activism that shouldn’t be done on SO.

You can disagree because you think this puts a mental burden on people and chill participation.

You can disagree because you think SO shouldn’t make this kind of change without prior approval by the volunteers who make the site worthwhile.

You can disagree because you disagree with neoprouns as a concept.

You can disagree because of the way the situation with Monica is handled.

I don’t understand how you can disagree solely because of the concept of compelled speech assuming you agreed to the idea of a CoC previously.

  • 7
    Because the previous incarnation of the CoC told us what sorts of speech we weren't allowed to use on the site, even if we disagreed that it was offensive, not the type of speech we must use to participate on the site? – ColleenV parted ways Oct 27 at 16:44
  • 2
    @ColleenV That is a valid distinction between different types of compelled speech. It is not one I personally care about. If the SE CoC required I use “OP” to refer to the question asked or a SO editor form required spaces instead of tabs (or even converted my tabs to spaces for me) then I wouldn’t really care. So I cannot say this is a distinction that is meaningful to me. – Pace Oct 27 at 17:18
  • 7
    That you personally don’t mind using the speech that is compelled doesn’t make it ok. – ColleenV parted ways Oct 27 at 17:21
  • 1
    @ColleenV This is a popularity question. Many people will have different opinions. There is no correct answer. So far it seems mine is unpopular. – Pace Oct 27 at 18:56
  • @ColleenV You won't be punished for avoiding pronouns entirely, even if that means disengaging from conversations. So I don't believe it's true that you "must use" a certain type of speech to "participate on the site". – Kyle Strand Oct 27 at 20:35
  • 1
    @KyleStrand Except that I'm a moderator, so, yeah it's possible I could be according to the FAQ. And regular users could be as well if they aren't adept in their avoidance of pronouns. – ColleenV parted ways Oct 27 at 21:47
  • @ColleenV Good point; the "we hold moderators to a higher standard" stance absolutely coerces moderators' speech. Personally, I think that's arguably okay (and far better than coercing all users' speech), but then again I'm not a moderator. – Kyle Strand Oct 27 at 22:31
  • 1
    @KyleStrand I shouldn't be obligated to advocate for SE's political views. I didn't take on volunteer moderation work for their benefit. I do it for the community that elected me. I'm just a user that my community trusts with elevated privileges to help keep the site a nice place. I didn't receive any training. SE didn't screen me to make sure I was "moderator material". I should have to follow the same rules as users, plus some extra rules related to my elevated privileges, not be a poster girl for SE's world view. – ColleenV parted ways Oct 28 at 1:49
  • 1
    @ColleenV Moderation is a political activity, in the sense that it involves enforcing a set of norms on a group of people. Admittedly I don't have access to the moderator-only guidelines (assuming there are guidelines not present in the moderator section of the new FAQ), so I can't comment on whether I think the specific required speech is reasonable. And StackExchange has some odd characteristics: it is not one community but many, and the norm we're discussing is being imposed by the company that owns the platform rather than freely adopted by the communities. – Kyle Strand Oct 28 at 2:28
  • But I don't agree that it's improper for the "extra rules related to [moderators'] elevated privileges" to be partly determined by the political values of the organization making the rules. – Kyle Strand Oct 28 at 2:31
  • @KyleStrand I am not a representative of Stack Exchange. I am an independent volunteer who has agreed to follow the rules, not to promote the interests of the company. Part of our agreement is that SE can remove me without warning for any reason they want, and I can leave without warning whenever I find our relationship disagreeable. It's not a matter of "improper". If SE wants to drive off effective moderators because they don't like their opinions, that's their choice. – ColleenV parted ways Oct 28 at 2:41
  • @ColleenV I agree with that, but you implied above that you don't think it's "ok" for StackExchange to coerce your speech in this way. If you think it's inherently morally wrong for SE to require moderators to speak in a certain way, well, I disagree. – Kyle Strand Oct 28 at 4:02
  • 1
    @KyleStrand If by “speak a certain way” you mean force me to advocate for the normalization of neopronouns against my conscience even though that has no impact on my ability to do what I actually agreed to do when I signed up to donate my time, then we will have to agree to disagree (Which we can do without either of us being rude or hurtful.) I’m aware that SE can’t really force me to do anything except leave the community that I’ve invested 5 years of my time and care into without a single incident of being “unwelcoming”. It’s their loss but it makes me sad and angry. – ColleenV parted ways Oct 28 at 10:16
  • @ColleenV If a community wishes to change its values and its norms, then the requirements for moderation must change. SE wishes to force the communities that reside on its platform to adopt a norm of using neopronouns and "they" when asked to do so. I'm sorry that this norm is against your personal values, and I deeply sympathize with that position. I'm also sorry that the requirements for moderation are changing dramatically (despite claims to the contrary) from what they were when you originally volunteered. But I do think SE is well within its rights to change these norms and requirements. – Kyle Strand Oct 28 at 17:49
-6

I know this might not really be an answer, but I would like to offer another way of seeing things here.

Please note that I'm French and that, for me, the definition of "free speech" is really different than the one most USA people have.

Also, I'm not a lawyer, so I might say things that are overly generalization and/or not completely true. But this is what I learn from growing up in France.


In France, free speech is mostly here so that you can criticize the government/power in place without being afraid of retaliation from such power in place.

However, it doesn't mean that you can say anything about anyone. For example, defamation or racial slurs/insulting someone is strictly forbidden.

So, in that regard, I don't think there was ever an issue with "coerced speech" regarding this new CoC (at least, not more than there was before).


Another way to look at the situation is to consider that a website is not a public place.

SE Inc. is the entity that is paying for this place. So, SE Inc. is the owner of the place.

Whenever you go to someone else place (house), you have to follow their rule. For example:

  • No shoes inside the house.

  • No slurring in front of the children.

  • Saying please and thank you when asking for the salt.

  • Etc..

This is not really "coerced speech". It just people asserting their right to impose their own rules in their own house. If people don't like it, they are free to leave and if the host doesn't like the behavior of their guest, they are free to kick them out.

So, then again, for this point of view. There wasn't any "coerced speech" issue with this new code of conduct. It's just the owners of the place asserting their right to have their own private set of rules followed.


Edit:

Regarding the fact that "coerce speech" is about telling people what they must say.

In my opinion, SE Inc is not telling you what you must say. SE Inc is just telling you that you shouldn't misgender people (and that you shouldn't assume their gender).

  • 20
    Telling people what not to say (as in your examples is not coerced speech). Telling people what they must say is coerced speech (as the new CoC does). Apparently, lots of people don't understand this crucial distinction. – S.D. Oct 26 at 7:25
  • 16
    To add to @user437611's comment, it doesn't matter whether it's a public place or a private place, a government, a corporation, or a clubhouse. When someone is trying to coerce your speech, that is coerced speech. – House- 'Reinstate Monica' -man Oct 26 at 7:27
  • 4
    @user437611 IMO, no one is telling you what you must say. SE Inc is just telling you that you shouldn't misgender people. – BelovedFool Oct 26 at 7:29
  • 26
    @BelovedFool That's a blatant misinterpretation of the CoC. There are tons of ways to not misgender people apart from using their (neo-)pronouns. For example, by using gender-neutral language. It's tiring to correct people every time they employ that strawman. – S.D. Oct 26 at 7:32
  • 1
    @user437611 I get your tiredness. I believe we absolutely didn't read the CoC the same way and that, as such, we should just agree to disagree on that. – BelovedFool Oct 26 at 7:34
  • 6
    @BelovedFool I am totally on the same page with you on that we shouldn't intentionally misgender people. However, I should reserve the right to use gender-neutral language while referring to non-binary people (or anyone for that matter), right? SE shouldn't force me to use 'xe', 'xir', etc (though that's what their current CoC is aiming at). – S.D. Oct 26 at 7:40
  • 22
    "SE Inc. is the entity that is paying for this place. So, SE Inc. is the owner of the place. Whenever you go to someone else place (house), you have to follow their rule." - That's true. However it's not a fully accurate metaphor. SE are not simply providing a forum for discussion, which people can come and use but must abide by their rules. No - the users have built it as well by contributing content, without which this "house" would have long ago crumbled. So when they try to unilaterally impose restrictions on those who've actually made this place what it is... well, you see the reaction. – 404 Oct 26 at 8:37
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    This "I believe we absolutely didn't read the CoC the same way and that, as such, we should just agree to disagree on that" shows most perfectly why a CoC like this doesn't work in the first place. Neither the current CoC nor the FAQs surrounding it provide clear language, clear rules or clear reasoning around the problems. It invites arbitrariness and strife. It is now a bigger problem than the problem it was meant to solve. What an epic fail. Glad you saw it too. – LаngLаngС Oct 27 at 15:37
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    @404 There is another issue that comes into play. When a forum run by a private company becomes so ubiquitous that not using it essentially means not partaking in public discourse, the owner of that forum can exert so much influence on public discussion that they probably should be held to the same standards as governments. That's particularly a problem with Twitter and YouTube, but an argument could be made for SE as well, given it's reach. – Ansgar Wiechers Oct 29 at 8:26
-10

Even before any changes to the CoC, if I posted anything ableist or ageist for example, people would get offended and they would have the right to flag my posts/comments, edit out my vitriol, and punish me in whatever other ways. I know because I made some really ugly mistakes many times.

In and out of SE, conversations would sometimes go like this:

me: You have to be either [expletive] lazy or sick in the head to be unable to use a simple keyboard shortcut.
OP: I am developing this for disabled people who have lost most of their hand movements, and tetraplegic people who use the PC by operating a mouthpiece.
me: OMG I am truly sorry! Please, let me help you, for real!

Or

me: [expletive] college youths these days don't want to do their homework.
OP: I am actually 50, I'm just learning programming to see if I can get a good job.
me: I apologize. Don't give up. I'll post an answer.

Had I taken the suspensions that I properly deserved for those, would SE be accused of coerced speech?

We have a lot of negativity in ourselves and many feel the need to vent it out upon someone else. We usually spare the people we sympathise with, but anyone else is a target. We should not be like that. We should strive to respect everyone else unconditionally and without assuming that only our point of view is right.

Now all the objections that I've seen against preferred pronouns fit into these four buckets:

  • "I'm disabled" (a la Roy Trenneman)

As someone in the spectrum, I am truly offended by this. It's not like posting in SE is a social situation in a room, filled with actual people, with all the awkwardness of their gazes and stares and the pressure to reply to what someone said in a context which is hard to grasp. It's just one tiny word in a non-real-time medium where we are largely disconnected from the audience we are communicating with. From the start, this whole thing seems like bigots using other people as a shield.

  • "I'm disgusted"

Tough luck. You agreed to terms when you came here though.

  • "My religion forbids me"

My religion requires me to engage in an argument with people who pull the religion card until they give up. Seems like we are stuck together.

  • But the law...

SE is private property. Imagine that I stood on your lawn holding a sign with a message you don't like (e.g.: "Meat is murder, go vegan!"). Under US law you would have the right to remove me and my sign from your property. Depending on where in the US I wouldn't have a successful case against you even if I got shot. My right to free speech wouldn't have been violated because I can always go preach about what people should have the right to eat on someone else's lawn, as long as the property owner let me be.

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    My role as moderator requires me to intervene when people get "stuck together" in arguments about religion (and similar topics). Until now that has been by saying to them, "kindly stop that" or deleting hostile phrases, not by saying, "you must". I think that -- "coercion" rather than "prohibition" -- is what this topic is about. – ChrisW Oct 26 at 14:45
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    You may have heard the saying that if you've met one autistic person, you've met one autistic person. I've worked with some that would be able to handle this just fine, and others that would have a full fledged breakdown over much smaller changes to their social environment. – rockwalrus-stop harming Monica Oct 26 at 18:46
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    As someone on the autism spectrum, I find your desire to speak on behalf of me or others rather offensive. If I'm stuck in a predicament where I cannot know how to talk and blend in, I break down. My body/mind rejects it, the neat thoughts scatter into a million pieces, and I am forced to leave and find comfort elsewhere. I'm glad you are able to neatly just blend in wherever you are. And this is the problem with the Code Of Conduct. We must force people to use certain pronouns, but we can't avoid answers like this disparaging people with autism and stating bad faith things like this. – The Anathema Oct 26 at 19:25
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    You assert that the objections fit into four buckets, but you missed the most common one. The implication is that you're mischaracterizing most people's opinion sas "that's disgusting," which misses the mark by infinity. – Scott Hannen Nov 1 at 20:29

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