71

I am not asking for any statements or details of the situation in TL to be revealed.

I am asking just whether Upper Management ignored the situation until the situation exploded with Monica's being axed.

As a former member of management two levels below the Director of my agency, I am astonished that Upper Management allowed the situation to become so fraught.

If anything like this had happened in my agency, there would have been discussions among the people involved, and if I, say, as immediate supervisor could not quiet things down, my supervisor would have stepped in, and I assure you he would have resolved the situation in a way transparent to everyone involved. And, most likely, satisfactory to everyone involved. Although it might have involved a firing (obviously not satisfactory to the fired person), the person fired would have had several warnings and no doubt whatsoever why they were fired. (Please don't try to read a bias one way or the other in the current situation in this sentence.)

Like everyone but mods and (some of ?) the staff, I can only infer from bits and pieces what happened, but one thing I infer is inattention amounting to incompetence on the part of upper management.

That may be too harsh. Possibly this is what happens when people do not communicate face to face and do not even really know one another.

The longer this goes on, the more p____d I become.

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    yes they did ignore it despite many people complaining. About all issues in the TL. The one issue that involved Monica was one of many. – Nobody Oct 27 at 21:51
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    I don't really get what the point of asking is. Since we can't give details, and you're not asking for them, the only possible answers are yes/no and everyone just votes on whatever they want to be right? Or are you looking for an official statement from staff? – Em C Oct 27 at 22:11
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    @Em C We have one answer-in-a-comment that I find informative, that goes beyond Yes/No. Let's see if that is disputed or confirmed or ignored. In a situation like this, we can learn something by asking narrow questions. – ab2 ReinstateMonicaNow Oct 27 at 22:19
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    I suggest reading the blog by the founder and prior CEO. It sounds like they don't care one bit about the community; the main topic now is selling to enterprise, so, there's no chance any of these issues will be addressed, because they're non-issues to the business. joelonsoftware.com/2019/09/24/… – cnst Oct 27 at 23:29
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    @cnst It would, literally, be a shame if this controversy were to create an issue for the business, so that the CEO had to start caring... – House- 'Reinstate Monica' -man Oct 27 at 23:54
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    Why should the company care? Why should the CEO care? Do you think the shareholders have charged the CEO with the task of making the volunteers happy? I doubt it. If you have some evidence this is harming their current or future business prospects then I might agree that the company has handled this incompetently. If this mess isn't harming the bottom line of the company then, from their standpoint, it's counterproductive to devote staff cycles to it. A few apologetic words, a mea culpa or two, that is very cheap. And that's what we've received. – James Reinstate Monica Polk Oct 28 at 1:46
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    What is Upper Management? Juan and Tim were aware of the situation, and despite many moderators asking for clarity on this specific situation, we were only given suggestions or opinions written by CMs. Various CMs were part of all the original conversations going back almost 2 years now. That was part of the problem, that all the responses from staff came across as academic discourse, not policy. Then, one day that all changed without warning when new Upper Management member showed up. How long they were involved beforehand is anyone's guess. – Web Head Oct 28 at 4:55
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    I don't get why after all this people or Monica wish for her to be reinstated ... shouldn't she aim for clearing her name from all crap and tell SO to go f... them self and leave this network for good? – Veljko89 Oct 28 at 10:12
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    FWIW, in Joel's blog post it starts with, "We were looking for that rare combination of someone who could foster the community while accelerating the growth of our businesses..." That's literally beginning of the 2nd sentence. So there does seem to be some awareness that the community should not be in full riot mode all the time. – gung - Reinstate Monica Oct 28 at 15:59
30

I don't think upper management is particularly aware of... well very much that happens at ground level.

Sure some stuff will get passed up but considering the level of involvement, and sheer scope of the network it seems pretty difficult to imagine.

Even for a chat regular, the specific triggering events escalated fast. In different times I guess the community team might have been able to catch on but there were what felt like circumstances out of their control.

Something else worth considering us that simply there's a broader disconnect between the company and users.

Its not just upper management missing this. It's upper management not really having the depth of engagement and embedded employees to actually get the mood of the community and the ability to engage and influence them.

I doubt we can really have something like "the old days" where C level folks would literally drop into chat like one of us normal folks (It would be nice though!).

So quite literally I doubt that when folks who hang out in TL have the haziest view of what happened, the higher level management of SE would actually have a grasp of the full situation.

  • 5
    I'm not aware of any anonymous way to escalate issues in the TL to someone with the authority to handle them. Pinging a CM in a chat room (that everyone involved can see) and hoping they're around doesn't really work. So, the way I see it is that the company failed in their responsibility to provide moderators the type of space we're supposed to provide our community members, i.e. a safe, welcoming space where everyone feels free to participate. The CM team was aware there were issues; whether they made upper management aware doesn't seem relevant. – ColleenV parted ways Oct 28 at 12:15
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    Another difference here is that the discussion ran for a couple hours, which is short for policy discussions and a worldwide network, and then the employee who dropped the original proclamation came back and complained that we were still talking about it a couple hours later. It's like the folks in charge didn't expect questions or comments, didn't think they should have to field any, and assumed there'd be blind, unquestioning obedience. Things haven't worked that way for as long as I've been on the network. – Monica Cellio Oct 28 at 15:10
  • The only real way of privately contacting a CM is to ping them from within your site's own moderator room, which is cut off from other moderators. Even this is open to your own site's moderators, but if you have an issue that includes your own team members, there's probably a wider issue that requires a direct CM note. – user351483 Oct 28 at 15:39
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    @Snow That’s a good point. The only problem is that you can’t count on there being a CM available when it’s after hours for Americans, which is, in my experience, when most of the problems happen. The TL should be a professional space, not a place for drunk people, or a place where people reveal sensitive stuff about themselves, or a place to bitch about regional politics. I’m old, I know, but what happened to basic decorum when you’re in a room full of strangers? – ColleenV parted ways Oct 28 at 17:20
  • Not sure why you doubt , that upper management is particularly aware about the conflict. From what I understand, the decision to fire Monica was done by Director of Public Q&A, and personally approved by CTO. Do you think, that the Director misinformed David Fullerton? – MiFreidgeim SO-stop being evil Nov 24 at 13:18
48

I think this question kind of narrows the situation a bit. Here's the context I would give.

There's been problems with acceptance of the Lavender/LGBTQ+ community for a long time, and it's been swept under the rug for a long time. Not going to share too many specific details, but there have been mod resignations because those mods felt uncomfortable/unsafe due to their status as a member of the community, there have been...less than pleasant comments, both in the Teacher's Lounge and outside of it, etc.

This has been going on for a while, by which I mean for years and years, on the network. It's also worth pointing out that discrimination against the Lavender community is an issue that extends beyond the network, big time. Like - this is a hundreds-of-years, around-the-globe, beyond-the-internet issue. With that comes even more context that I could spend hours giving. (I'd recommend reading up on the broader context of the issue a bit - it'll help with the vocabulary being thrown around a lot here, at minimum. Wikipedia is pretty good at this.)

Then you have the Welcome Wagon, and similar initiatives coming along. It was poorly handled (implicating some of the high-rep users who were doing their level best) and SE caused backlash...which probably caused more of an instinctive "we're right, we've got to handle this our way" approach from upper SE management. You've also got a rise in movements, especially in the U.S., in favor of the LGBTQ+ community (which is a really good thing, but adds to the pressure on SE to do something about this situation they've let fester).

Into this increasingly complicated and tense situation comes the new Code of Conduct update. (I should note that at its core, this is a very positive improvement in my opinion, and I wholeheartedly endorse it. It's the context that makes it all so very messy, as is often the case.) Monica asked some clarifying questions. I'll quote some comments I made recently that I think summarize the issue reasonably well:

Monica refuses to use the pronouns they/them [she uses all other pronouns, including neopronouns, when asked].* This is problematic and painful, especially when it's targeted at a specific group that is often marginalized to begin with. Monica has her own personal reasons** for not using those pronouns [...] Unfortunately, when Monica attempted to share these experiences, the phrasing she used - reasoning about "grammar" and "compelled speech" [I say this all from having read the transcripts extensively] echoed common arguments from people who have much worse motives than Monica did [...] These are classic 'arguments' when talking about these issues, and so they became signal flags. Talking directly with Monica, I don't believe she had the broader intent that most people using those arguments do, but nevertheless what she said hurt. The unfortunate language she used, and her repeated insistence on not using they/them meant that she became an...easy scapegoat to Stack Exchange in the middle of a broader, far more complicated issue that has been festering on the network for years.

In other words, I think what happened here is: SE felt like they'd ignored a broader situation for too long (they weren't wrong there), so they came down hard on the first incident they saw, which is obviously...not the best response, especially since their "coming down hard" apparently involves libel.

I also think what you note about "Possibly this is what happens when people do not communicate face to face and do not even really know one another" is really accurate. SE has unfortunately fallen into a pattern of a minimum of communication and feedback, and this has, I think, lead into a large number of their problems.

The thing is, they now have themselves in a situation. Having committed libel, they have put themselves in a position where legal stuff has probably tied their hands in some respects, and it's now all tangled in red tape.

There's another perspective to this: what some argue is the general toxicity of the Teacher's Lounge. It is well known that more than a few mods have quit the TL because they feel it is a toxic environment in which it is hard to have reasoned discussion. So...that's in there as well; I can't share much beyond that on that aspect.


* While this sounds like not a huge deal, I find it more helpful to reframe the issue this way: I have a friend who is a trans man. If I said to him, "I respect you, but using he/him pronouns bother me fundamentally, so I'm going to reword my sentences to not have any pronouns" - no matter how well and naturally I phrase my sentences, that will be painful for him to have his identity discarded like that because I "was bothered".

** Monica elaborated on this slightly: "My avoidance of singular "they" is not mere convenience/preference or even mere grammar. I tried to explain the deeper identity issues to heather, and also to a CM in email. (Also tried in TL, but people didn't seem to be listening.) But I am not going to post deeply personal stuff like that for the whole Internet; you'll just have to take me at my word that there are real reasons and it's not just fluff. I would never knowingly use the wrong pronouns, and I'm a good-enough writer that my natural, ungendered writing is not conspicuous. I can't do anything about witch-hunts, of course." Monica also, writes in a gender-free manner in general, which is highly commendable. She also elaborates on it in a comment on this question.

32

Yes and no.

Upper management doesn't hang out in the Teacher's Lounge. Community managers do. I don't know how much they tell their managers and how much their managers listen.

There certainly was tension in the TL around pronouns. It was the one trigger topic that really degenerated. A few of the people involved in these discussions did not behave in a way that moderators should: listen to all sides of an argument, tolerate different points of view (and I don't mean offensive points of view), be willing to disengage. But other topics were generally fine.

When the TL started, there were maybe 20 people who had access. Today there are over 500. This does make a difference. In the beginning everyone kind of knew each other, at least people would associate names with sites and with a couple of personal facts (typical times the person is around, favorite pet, browser preference, …).

With 500 people, even people who should know better, there's serious potential for things going wrong. It would probably be a good idea to change the rules in the moderator room so that most participants are not moderators. There should be a few designated moderators and that's it. It's not just a matter of moderation tools (moderators can't be kicked or suspended from chat), but also a matter of authority. When there's tension in the TL, no one outside staff has the authority to say “stop”, and that is a problem sometimes. An easy technical solution would be to make a private room on Meta, where only a few selected people are moderators. (And yes, it's ridiculous for Monica not to be one of those few if she's willing.)

I don't blame Stack Overflow Inc. for not doing that. It was a growing need, but by no means a pressing need.

I do blame SOI for not realizing, at the corporate level, that pronouns were a sensitive topic and that their simplistic approach was 1. not so morally clear-cut as they seem to think and 2. bound to cause controversies.

I also blame SOI for aggravating the tensions by not intervening when the situation escalated from debate that was a bit too vigorous to outright problematic behavior. This happened at least twice.

  1. There was an attack on a non-binary moderator. I don't know what happened then because I only heard about it later and didn't hear about any specifics. SOI apparently followed their unwritten policy of doing nothing visible.
  2. There was an attack on Monica. SOI responded by dismissing the victim. This was a break in the unwritten policy — but in the wrong direction.

I don't think any of the people involved in pronoun-related discussions should have been dismissed, apart from the 2018 attacker (depending on facts that I don't have). But some should have gotten a private talking to and didn't. SOI let things go too far on this particular topic, and then added injury to insult. But it wasn't the tension in TL that resulted in Monica's dismissal, it was a decision by SOI.

  • 2
    "It would probably be a good idea to change the rules in the moderator room so that most participants are not moderators." Yes, excellent suggestion. A good way to do that would be ... oh yep, you said that too: "make a private room on Meta, where only a few selected people are moderators." It makes sense on a symbolic level as well as a practical one: TL is a room about meta issues where people from across the whole network gather, and there's no particular need for it to be on the same chat server as all the per-site rooms. – Rand al'Thor Oct 29 at 9:34
  • @Randal'Thor I could say it has already been suggested on the corresponding thread in the moderator Team too, but well. ;-) – Chris says Reinstate Monica Oct 29 at 10:38
  • @ChristianRau Well, neither I nor Gilles are able to access that. Hope the suggestion is doing well though. – Rand al'Thor Oct 29 at 10:43
20

I am not very active in the TL but I would say definitely that some moderators (see @heather's post) and some CMs were aware of the problem. However, it was seriously mishandled by SE. Please consider visiting Monica's GoFundMe page. Every contribution helps, and this is a significant way to get SE to communicate with Monica directly.

10

I think this whole mess was kind of intentional but they never expected it to blow up the way it did.

They were facing criticism for the relicensing issue, instead of answering the complaints and addressing the community concerns which may get them in legal troubles, they decided to create a smoke curtain by releasing a highly divisive CoC.

It is becoming more and more common for companies to use the LGBT community (or any other minority) as a shield every time they are affected by a controversy. Not only is the timing suspicious, the way they treated Monica shows that the company doesn't actually care about inclusion.

I hope I'm wrong and they are acting in good faith, but it's hard to assume good intentions when they refuse to apologize to Monica and keep ignoring the community concerns

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    You're not a mod or staff, therefore this is entirely speculation and not even answering the question which was about the private mod-only room. – Em C Oct 28 at 13:30
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    @EmC Every answer that is not from staff is speculation – Luis Reinstate Monica Oct 28 at 19:23
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    Mods who were in the TL would have opinions based on what they saw happen there. But even then we can't share specifics and, well, I already commented on the question. At least the other two answers currently are from mods who are active in TL; I really don't see what this is adding except fuel to the fire. – Em C Oct 28 at 19:34
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    It's speculation, but it's sounds far more convincing than ... other ... *ehrm*.... "things" that one can read in other Q/As, and too convincing for me to not upvote it. (Maybe it's just my naivity, finding it hard to believe that sane people can accidentally mess things up like that... I'd have to think a while about what would be worse...) – Marco13 Oct 29 at 0:39
  • The question is if management ignored the issue, my answer addresses that since I speculate about the motives behind the company's recent behavior. – Luis Reinstate Monica Oct 29 at 8:46
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    "It is becoming more and more common for companies": [citation needed]. This is borderline rude/abusive, because it amounts to claiming that people who institute changes to protect minorities are being dishonest. Not that they recognise a real problem and are trying to fix it. – Raedwald Oct 29 at 9:29
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    @Raedwald Not just any people, big companies with no interest in social issues, companies that only care about profit and know that promoting these social changes is good PR. – Luis Reinstate Monica Oct 29 at 10:29
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    @Raedwald Sure, the claim of "more common" may be hard to back up. But it's astonishing how often one can observe en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affirming_the_consequent here: Saying that the statement by Luis is tantamount to "people who institute changes ...are dishonest" is simply nonsensical. I personally have no doubt that companies do jump on bandwagons like the pronoun debate for publicity and to foster an image of being "progressive and inclusive", and that they do occasionally use them as smoke screens. We don't know how much this applies to SE in our specific case, though. – Marco13 Oct 29 at 11:52

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