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Is there a formal grievance policy for reporting incidents where you believe an employee of Stack Exchange has been malicious towards a user of the network?

I'm looking for some official, ideally transparent way to express concerns regarding an employee that I've witnessed behaving in a way I believe is intending to cause personal and professional harm and distress towards at least one user of the network. I'm looking for transparency, as a way of receiving some personal protection against similar actions being taken against me.

Normally I would expect the process to involve contacting team@stackoverflow.com, but in this case I believe there needs to be an escalation, or at least circumvention, because the employee I'm concerned about is in a position of influence and power over our normal community management team.

What can I do? And if there's no such process, how can I protect myself from also being targeted as a whistle blower?


I have received a private contact from another party within the company regarding my concerns, for the record. I do not plan on disclosing details further than that, but I felt that the level of user attention this received means I have an obligation to report back to the community the steps being taken to remedy my concerns.

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    While the question is different, the answer there from Tim Post addresses this directly: What privacy expectations are moderators who gain privileges by being SE employees subject to? – Sonic the Reinstate Monica-hog Oct 27 at 1:56
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    I know that more than one person on the team is able to see what I would send, but I have what I believe to be legitimate concerns that inappropriate response or investigation would be interfered with. I have been distressed and losing sleep over what I have seen. – Web Head Oct 27 at 2:02
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    The linked question does not answer these concerns. It is strictly discussing privacy violation and that type of activity.. my concerns have nothing to do with personally identifiable information – Web Head Oct 27 at 2:04
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    I'd suggest trying to reach out to a specific employee on Twitter, but I doubt any such official procedure exists – House- 'Reinstate Monica' -man Oct 27 at 2:09
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    Or, perhaps I should also clarify @Sonic, the offer of writing "discreetly" is a concern to me. I requested a transparent process, specifically because I have also observed what appears to have been retaliation related to private correspondence. I don't trust that I won't be maligned unless I have some protection in the form of witnesses I can trust. Part of the reason I have posted this question, so I don't simply get iced without having the public be aware. – Web Head Oct 27 at 2:16
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    You can contact SE. If your disagreement isn't resolved informally, or if you receive no response, you may file a case with JAMS, INC. On the form, there is a checkbox to request mediation prior to going to hearing. In most states, there is a $250 filing fee. That's if you are in the US. I haven't carefully looked into procedures for those living outside the US. – aparente001 Oct 27 at 6:35
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    @Raedwald It's really not a duplicate of that one: there is a big difference between a moderator and an employee of Stack Exchange. – Massimo Ortolano Oct 27 at 9:09
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    We're putting a confidential mechanism in place that will allow for this, but the mechanics of it are still being worked out. I'll have a more detailed answer at some point this week. – Tim Post Oct 29 at 4:11
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    Formal process or no formal process, you're unlikely to get anywhere with such a complaint in practice. What user is important enough that an employee would go against a colleague for their sake? When someone becomes persona non grata with those in power, it's very hard to get out of that rut again. – Rand al'Thor Oct 31 at 18:16
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    @Randal'Thor Ethics hotlines are in place for businesses around the globe, for a reason, and they can and do achieve results. I believe there could be a solution that does not simply result in a dead end or talking to a wall. – Web Head Oct 31 at 18:35
  • @webhead Of course there's a solution. You'll just never get SE to agree to it because that would require accountability. – Carpe CM Nov 4 at 14:06
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In theory a MSE mod ought to be able to. In the post announcing the appointment of the moderation team

Our appointed moderators will have full agency to correct any chain of correspondence that appears to be going off the rails, no matter who was originally driving the train. Sometimes it's better to let an objective party step in and handle things, we'll just leave it at that.

However with recent events, I'm unsure how it would work. Its probably a conversation we need to have in the near future. I never bothered to ask cause I figured it would never really be needed.

If there is such a path - there's a few other (minor) issues to sort out, like how you would contact a MSE mod discreetly.

In theory I could email folks in the CM team (or to community - but I don't think the usual fire and forget approach to that account works here. In these situations a reply is essential and its not guaranteed in any way), but I'm not sure if its the right thing, and how it would work with higher level folks involved.

There have been a few proposals to have a paid(?), neutral ombudsman role, or a speaker for the moderator community that might have promise too.

While I've traditionally been opposed to the former - assuming the ombudsman was in a position of trust and independence, at this point that seems a reasonable way to do it.

To borrow another part of that post

In a dynamic where we essentially hold all of the cards and power, we need to give folks as much latitude as possible in order to create a field that's as level as possible. That means, we've gotta let the truth hurt, essentially, even when it's incredibly inconvenient. HOWEVER, if we can't find a trace of good faith in correspondence or it has become personal, it needs to be removed to keep the bar to entry in line with what we can take.

Having such a mechanism would probably be desirable - if nothing else, as a way to get feedback before things go monumentally wrong.

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    I've never heard of the word ombudsman before. I've learned something new from this answer What a nice, exact, specific word for such a case. +1 – The Anathema Oct 27 at 17:56
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    The problem with ombudsman is one Stalin addressed very pithily - it doesn't matter who voted, it matter who counts the vote. In this case, if the obbudsman is hired by the same people (and presumably vetted to have same exact views/attitudes, on purpose or even just unconsciously) as the people they 'oversee', they would simply be one more person at the company telling the outsiders the company party line, NOT someone telling they company they did something wrong, as the ombudsman purpose is supposed to be. – DVK Oct 29 at 18:51
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There is no formal way for users to complain about employees. If there were, it would be in the help center. This lack is by intention.

While these sites are built to appear to be a community that is democratically created, shaped, and governed by its members (or "users"), and the company is designed to appear as the natural extension of this self-governance and to seamlessly integrate users via moderators with the Stack Exchange employee team, there is a blood-brain barrier between users and the company that users cannot overcome.

Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange are a business, and its users are customers. In the same way that Amazon or Facebook do not disclose who works there, what they do, and how you might talk to them, SO/SE keep their internal structure and inner workings hidden on purpose, because that keeps customers slipping off the smooth surface of the help center and contact page.

If you believe that one employee is misbehaving and keeping any complaints to reach that employee's superiors, you could email one or several of the higher-ups whose email addresses are published in their SO profiles. If they care they will intervene.

But given how SO/SE handle the recent events, it is much more likely that anyone who might be responsible for your matter is already aware of it and that you aren't dealing with a single person being obnoxious but with official company policy. In that case you could involve a lawyer and/or (threaten that you will) go public. Nothing less will get you a reaction from an internet business like SO/SE, Facebook, or Amazon.

tl;dr

As a customer, you are not part of the company structure and its channels of internal communication aren't open to you.

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    We're not really customers either - SE dosen't really make any revenue directly from us. I suspect that's kinda part of the disconnect here - the thinking between a "traditional" software company like fog creek was, where you have a product and SE where you have a platform might be different? – Journeyman Geek Oct 27 at 5:52
  • @JourneymanGeek Wikipedia: "In sales, commerce and economics, a customer (sometimes known as a client, buyer, or purchaser) is the recipient of a good, service, product or an idea - obtained from a seller, vendor, or supplier via a financial transaction or exchange for money or some other valuable consideration." The valuable consideration you exchange for the service (providing the website) and goods (answers to your questions = information) that SE provides are your questions and answers and effort to maintain this community. – user638318 Oct 27 at 6:04
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    The way I see it, we're either unpaid employees or the product itself, but not customers. – Eric Duminil Oct 27 at 7:15
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    @EricDuminil This is starting to get strange Uber vibes. – vicky_molokh Oct 27 at 11:59
  • You could see if you can find any senior team member on another social medium, Twitter for example, and get in touch with them through that route. Succes not guaranteed. – Luuklag Oct 27 at 13:49
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    When users don't get paid and don't pay, they're not customers, they're the product. – Richard Oct 27 at 20:43
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    We’re both. Ads and the ability to gain a service (receive answers) make us the customer, and our moderation and answering is when I’d describe us as employees, as we are the face of stack overflow for the customer at that point, but @Richard makes one helluva point – Kyle Fairns Oct 29 at 1:24
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Given that StackExchange seems to care more about what people with many followers on twitter say than what is said on meta by the likes of me, it seems clear what is likely to work. Most of us don't have enough followers on twitter to make it worthwhile trying.

Recently it has become clear that StackExchange has an issue with "group think" that matches the views of the member of staff that I think the question is asking about. Their actions have already been communicated well to management, hence I don't believe additional "nice" communication will result in a change of how the given member of staff is managed.


Note I am not saying it will be of benefit to use twitter, or worth the effort, yet alone risk damage to a site you care about. I expect the "war" will not be won/lost on StackExchange and putting StackOverflow in the public firing lines will not change the outcome.

  • "putting StackOverflow in the public firing lines will not change the outcome" - if they are having thoughts of getting more investors OR making the company publicaly traded, the threat of lawsuits/negative publicity might affect the outcome. Though with what probability is impossible to predict. See Uber. – DVK Oct 29 at 18:55
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First of all, there is no way, obviously. I've asked about this from the moderator perspective in Feedback post: Moderator review and reinstatement processes.

CMs and other employees are above us. It's a company, and in team eyes an employee is always in better standing than regular members.

Of course, you can report violations via Contact form. But you will get only a formal reply or will be ignored. This is not my guess, I had this bad experience myself. The contact form doesn't work. One thing to mention here, if you have problem with a CM and send a message via this form, he/she will be able to read this message.

Also, you can try to send an email directly, for example, to Jon Ericson or Tim Post. I have not communicated with Jon, so I can't tell anything about him, but, in my experience, Tim, at least, will try to listen you.

  • Could you clarify what you mean by message directly? – aparente001 Oct 29 at 7:01
  • @aparente001 you can send an email. – Suvitruf says Reinstate Monica Oct 29 at 10:50
  • Ah, you're saying, use the staff person's individual email address? I suggest you edit your answer to make this clear. When I see "message" used as the verb, I think of send a text message or something more specific to a particular platform, but I don't think of email. I suppose there are regional differences. But "email directly" would be universally understood, I think. – aparente001 Oct 29 at 16:20
  • Interesting. This sounds analogous to what they call "back channel" communications in the Netflix series "Madam Secretary." I suppose if too many people did this too often, the individuals would switch email addresses, and would be directed not to use their new addresses outside the circle of paid staff. – aparente001 Oct 29 at 16:22
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    @aparente001 hm, thanks for the suggestion. I'll edit my answer. – Suvitruf says Reinstate Monica Oct 29 at 16:24
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    @aparente001 thanks for this edits ^_^ – Suvitruf says Reinstate Monica Oct 29 at 16:56
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The process is that you post publically: Is there a way to appeal decisions made by the Stack Overflow Support Team team members?

As an example, there was a user's (initials RC) complaint that 'in chat he flagged an all caps message and was suspended'. We have been asked not to link to that Q&A, it's resolved, water under the bridge. The accepted answer has 25+/1- votes, and contains the words "has apologised".

It is possible to complain publically (and politely) about a high reputation Community Manager and receive a satisfactory outcome.

... how can I protect myself from also being targeted as a whistle blower?

Theoretically people are professionals and barring the occasional mistake or off day you are expected to trust that a rational conversation will lead to a rational outcome.

That may not be the answer that you wanted, in which case you are free to write your own answer and accept it, but that is the answer that Stack Exchange has provided in the past and there are examples of that working with CMs (and on the various child metas with moderators).

The other possibility is an anonymous email. You probably knew that already.

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    I have seen in the last year 2 major incidents that heavily disrupted the network community where rational conversations led to irrational actions or statements against level-headed moderators. I'm not sure I can risk hoping those were off days, when it seems like there's an institutional problem. – Web Head Oct 27 at 4:25
  • WebHead, the last sentence provides a solution. It's not much different it you were to purchase something from a store and wish to return it, and the clerk refuses. You ask to speak to the management and they also decline your request. Finally you ask to speak with the owner, but they won't make time to see you. If you are concerned that you won't be welcome back then simply follow the advice in the last sentence of my answer. You have written a portion of your complaint here and received a couple of independent answers, you can use them or your own idea. – Rob Oct 27 at 4:48
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    I guess anonymity would have been a good option if I'd done that first, but in my case, I've thrown that possibility out the door, haven't I? I guess this can be a warning to future parties, to consider an anonymous approach first. – Web Head Oct 27 at 4:50
  • It could still be an option, if you wait a month or two, or have someone else whom feels the same write instead of you. – Rob Oct 27 at 4:53
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I don't think us users can do much, we've made the site and now SE no longer needs us, random users from the web arrive, read questions etc and the old users who built the body of knowledge... well, thanks for all the fish.

The main thing we can do, as users, is affect the SE brand. Bad publicity might be good too, but these days companies care a lot about how they are perceived; that's why you have so many adverts designed to tell potential customers that the company shares their currently-fashionable values on climate change or gender or whatnot. If SE starts to be perceived as arbitrary and unjust, they'll wake up and do something to repair that damage.

The other thing a particular user could do is contact an attorney for what many have decided is outright defamation. A legal case would have to keep everything here quiet for a lot longer, but we'll find out what happened when its over. It would also force SE's hand to resolve this one way or the other.

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There is a formal arbitration option, open to any SE user who feels they are in conflict with Stack Exchange. There is a checkbox on the form that one can use to indicate a request for mediation.

Please see my post describing the process, cost, etc.: https://meta.stackexchange.com/a/334482/287826

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