68

To clarify, as described below. I have seen various mods in the past few weeks describe TL as toxic. I have also seen various accounts of very undesirable behaviour that goes on in there. However, I personally have not seen any transcript, as I'm not privy to the TL, so am not deciding myself that it is toxic, merely quoting others.


The Teachers' Lounge is the chatroom for mods across the network. Whilst mods are generally meant to be "exception handlers" and "janitors" they are in practice more than that. They are the community builders and leaders. Users look up to mods and they are generally well liked in their communities even if mods and users don't always agree.

That leads me to the question: Is the TL toxic, and if so, why? If these users are "the best of the best" then how can a chatroom dedicated solely to them be so toxic? I've heard it being said a lot in the past few weeks by lots of mods. Even as much as mods have quit TL and some have considered it. Apparently there has been bullying going on in there and worse.

It seems to me that if this behaviour was going on in any normal chatroom suspensions would be issued and eventually the room would be frozen.

So why is this happening in a chatroom for the mods, the users responsible for keeping that sort of stuff out of the network?

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    Because... people. Look at politics today. Look at the news, at FB, at how divided the US, and Europe are. We are being fed toxicity every day, it's no wonder it seeps out in our interactions with one another – Mari-Lou A Oct 28 at 9:54
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    What exactly does "toxic" mean in this context? Also hard to see a point to this question at all, given that none of us has insight into what goes on in there and all parties involved are contractually prohibited from telling us – Pekka supports GoFundMonica Oct 28 at 9:57
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    @Pëkka I don't know what toxic means here, that's in part the question. Various mods have said it is "toxic". – TheLethalCoder Oct 28 at 9:58
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    Without being there yourself you can't decide it's toxic. Anything you know is based on others saying things, or illegal leaked info which show only partial picture. Any chat can be described "toxic" if you show certain messages out of context. – Shadow The Princess Wizard Oct 28 at 10:03
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    @Shadow "Without being there yourself you can't decide it's toxic." - As stated I am not deciding it is toxic or not, merely quoting what others have said that do have the option of deciding. I also haven't seen any leaked messages from TL. – TheLethalCoder Oct 28 at 10:10
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    Describing a group or place or discussion as toxic is itself toxic unless the complaint is limited in scope to specific examples of problems which can be addressed. Too many people are using it to denigrate opposing views that they feel unable to challenge via debate and reason. – reaanb Oct 28 at 10:16
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    Moderators aren’t “the best of the best”. We’re just volunteers that some fraction of the active community on our site trusts with some extra privileges to keep the place nice. There’s no test we have to pass or ranking that we have to get to qualify. We just have to be users in good standing. Despite being full of moderators, the TL is the one place on the network that is almost completely unmoderated. – ColleenV parted ways Oct 28 at 10:24
  • @ColleenV Sure it's an exaggeration but the description you give for mods still should mean that TL should be less "toxic" than it's described to be. Or at least I've seen it described as and some of the stuff that has been said to go on in there. – TheLethalCoder Oct 28 at 10:26
  • @snailcar And that's problematic no? And in part why I posted this in the first place. – TheLethalCoder Oct 28 at 10:28
  • Do you really have to ask why? For the same reason as the rest of the network, I would imagine. Non-existent communication from the company before dumping the next poorly considered idea on us. – Amarth Oct 31 at 18:15
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    If someone says it's toxic, it's toxic. To them. Some people live for drama. I don't, and in fact avoid it. What's normal to some people is very toxic to me. – sfors says reinstate Monica Oct 31 at 20:10
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    Define "toxic" first. The word toxic is always used, when people are not sure what they are talking about, but think it must be something bad. When you try to narrow down what you're talking about, it will be much easier to decide if it really is (negative attribute) or not. – allo Nov 21 at 0:39
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+150

I was a regular of the Teacher's Lounge from a few months after chat started to some time in 2017 when I mostly dropped off chat (not just TL), but still checked the transcript now and then, until the day after Monica was demodded, when I resigned.

Overall I would not describe the atmosphere as toxic. Sometimes people have a bad day and say things that they regret afterwards. Moderators often have to cope with the worst stuff that happen on the sites, so it's not uncommon that they are in a bad mood, and part of the purpose of the room is to vent. Because it's a private room (and it absolutely needs to be private), people tend to take the gloves off. Fortunately, because the public is fellow moderators, they should generally be understanding.

There have been some very strong disagreements, but mostly they've tended to involve only two people. Pile-ups are fairly rare, and the people who are in this room mostly know to disengage.

As the room grew from a potential participant base of <50 to >500, disagreements became a bit more common. With the first 50 people, there was no need for any moderation of the room. With 500, it was time to consider having some moderation. But there was no serious problem.

Except pronouns. Most controversial topics tend to die down quickly. But discussions about pronouns tend to degenerate into extremely heated discussions with a group of people that refuses to listen to anyone else. This has only been the case since around 2016 or so. Before, pronouns didn't come up much, and when they did, it was as friendly as anything else. (One participant famously did not reveal his gender and it became a habit to refer to her by randomly swapping between he and she — he'd expressed a preference against neopronouns and I don't recall either her or other people spontaneously using they. Yes, in those days, you could joke about pronouns.) But in the past few years, there was a group who was extremely vocal about pronouns (note: about pronouns, not about gender) and who did not tolerate the slightest disagreement.

This is the group who assaulted Monica. No matter who Monica may have (inadvertently) hurt with her (non)-usage of pronouns, in this particular discussion, she was clearly the victim.

One Stack Exchange employee was present and joined in the bullying of Monica, and Monica left. Later, another Stack Exchange employee arrived and behaved intelligently and decently. At that point, I thought that the bullies would get a talking to in private, and life would go on.

A few days later, Monica was summarily dismissed. The company put all the blame on the victim. That's when I decided I couldn't be a moderator anymore, not without a fundamental change in governance.

So no, the moderator chatroom isn't toxic, or at least wasn't toxic until the current crisis. But it does occasionally reveal people who don't quite have the qualities that are expected of moderators.

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    This is the best account of the facts regarding the recent developments in that chat room that I've seen. – Marc.2377 Oct 31 at 2:17
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    This is pretty fair and a good summary of the tide shift. I would note the pronouns were not the only topic that people couldn't be sensible about. During the beta and early years of the religion sites the TL was so persistently aggressive SE advised us to open a separate room just for mods of religion sites, which we did. And called it Temperance because that was in short supply in the TL. It calmed down a bit after a couple years and after C.SE graduated, but we kept the room because the TL kept its tendency to side with the trolls when we were discussing how to handle the across sites. – Caleb Oct 31 at 4:49
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    @Caleb we were merely disagreeing, not trolling tbf. You were always welcome, and no one thought you should be sent away. Otoh your sites (e.g. especially one iirc) did need a lot of work and you people did put in the work. Iow there is nothing wrong in disagreeing, but the how is what makes the difference. – Sklivvz Oct 31 at 7:09
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    @Sklivvz In many cases sure. But there was some trolling going on too (not from you). Disagreement is something I'm okay dealing with — that's a large factor in why I'm so disappointed that the platform has decided to reject the possibility of respectful disagreement. – Caleb Oct 31 at 7:12
  • @Caleb exactly. – Sklivvz Oct 31 at 7:13
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    @Caleb thanks for that history. I hadn't known that SE had advised the religion mods to create a separate room; I thought that had been the mods' initiative. (The room already existed by the time I became a moderator on Mi Yodeya.) And I agree that even after that point, TL was sometimes quite uncomfortable for me as a religion (and religious) moderator; while I don't think people meant to be rude, some of the conversations I saw and experienced made me feel pushed away and dismissed for my religion. I was very glad to have the other room. – Monica Cellio Nov 1 at 15:19
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    or of SE employees. – Lightness Races with Monica Nov 4 at 11:45
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    Thanks for this answer; somehow I had missed it until now. I had pieced together most of the story but this lays it out very clearly. Reinforces my experience that any secret backchannel forum goes bad eventually, usually due to insecure egos. – Ask About Monica Nov 21 at 0:39
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    The main problem I have with this whole thing is that it's this odd private matter, that's turned public. To understand what happened, I essentially have to rely on hearsay, and summaries from 3rd parties. I don't get to decide for myself who the bullies are, and who the victims are. I don't really have any reason to diss-believe what Gilles is saying, but then again I don't hear any opinions from "the other side" (A a rule I try to resist dividing arguments in two). – Steve Sether Nov 21 at 1:31
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    Personally, this lack of data is what I believe contributes to extreme divisions, since each "side" has to rely on its peers, rather than actual evidence or facts. – Steve Sether Nov 21 at 1:33
  • So Stack Exchange got played by an outside group, and they didn't have the experience to see through it? And rectify it immediately. – Peter Mortensen Dec 4 at 15:46
  • @PeterMortensen I don't understand your question. What outside group? – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Dec 4 at 16:12
83

This is a complicated question.

Up until a little while ago, I was an appointed moderator on the network. I... spent a lot of time in the TL; I was among the chattiest users in the room the couple times a CM pulled out stats on it.

Most of the time, the TL was just like any other room - it had its "core members" who would often be around and chatting. There were often ~60 people constantly lurking in the room, and I estimate around ~25 people who would be pretty reliably around in the room - notably, these were often the moderators who spent a lot of time on chat in general. It's worth noting that the vast majority of moderators do not use the chat system at all, or very rarely. There was a large percentage of moderators who would pop in now and then, either to ask a question or just to chat, but didn't have a regular presence in the room.

Unlike most rooms, the TL also serves as a way for moderators to contact a CM or the mods of another site, with an internal bot that helps with this. This would mean that moderators who want to grab a CM would often have to jump into the TL to ask their question... which meant that the people who hang out in the chat room would see the question as well.

Often, that would result in someone poking their head in to ask a CM something, and then unexpectedly getting half a dozen of their peers giving them an un-requested answer instead.

This can probably be chalked up to a genuine desire to help - most of the people answering genuinely wanted to help out - but it would give the impression of being jumped on if you weren't expecting it. If I ask Shog a question, I'm not expecting an answer from seven moderators coming at me all at once. You can feel ganged up on.

This was especially pertinent in cases where perhaps you disagreed with a certain policy or your site handled certain cases in a different way. You suddenly had sometimes up to a dozen people at once questioning you, complete with the loud, annoying chat ping sound, and telling you you're doing it wrong.

That's definitely toxic. Even though it was all good-intentioned, you still feel like you're under attack. That's not why you came into the room - you came to ping a staff member and suddenly you're being attacked by a dozen people you don't know.


At times, in the TL, there were long drawn-out discussions (emphasis on that word) about difficult topics. I distinctly remember having discussions about gun control, homeschooling, and cigarette smoking in the TL, with people who I strongly disagreed with... and it didn't devolve. The discussions remained mutually respectful, with people actually talking and responding to each other's points with real arguments. There were attempts to understand the other's point of view. It was an exemplary case of productive discussion of a charged topic.

These discussions would go on for hours at times, and most of the time the conversation would end well (or just straight-up dissolve into a pun war).

But sometimes... there were the arguments.

These arguments were, at a glance, very similar to the aforementioned discussions. They would involve people discussing a topic for hours... but with crucial differences.

These arguments were sometimes about the very same topics that had previously had productive discussions. Often, they were sparked by somebody coming in who hadn't been around for the discussion, who might've read the transcript or seen something on the starboard, and decided to respond. These arguments weren't so calm. People would get frustrated at each other, and remain entrenched in their positions. Nobody was willing to see the other side.

That's when problems developed.

Since it's the TL and everybody is a moderator, there is no way to force a conversation to end. With a normal user, a moderator or Room Owner can kick them out of a room in an escalating 1 - 5 - 30 minutes, preventing them from talking in that room during that time. A moderator can issue a suspension ranging from an hour to 9999 hours. A room owner can put a room in timeout, or a moderator can freeze the room. There are a lot of methods to stop a problematic conversation that won't end.

But a moderator is exempt from all these things. They can't be kicked or suspended. They can talk, even if the room is in timeout or frozen (or, heck, deleted). There is no way to stop a problematic conversation in the TL.

And that caused problems. Since there was no way to force a conversation to stop, the arguments would continue, sometimes dragging on for days, until people got sick and tired and disgusted and just left. It would slowly poison the room until it was finally over. People would leave with a grudge against some other moderator, that they would nurse and only make worse. And there was no way to stop these.

Luckily, these arguments were infrequent... until recently.

As soon as the messages that started this current debacle were dropped into the TL, the TL exploded. People who hadn't ever really been involved in the TL much suddenly became really active there, and there were more people talking than ever before. And they were all talking about one thing... or, well, several things, but they were all related.

There wasn't a break in the transcript for the length of an hour until several weeks in.

And in those several weeks, the TL I knew changed. The people I had enjoyed productive conversations with, had pun battles with, and considered my friends... most of them I couldn't find in the mess. The TL was filled with different people.... arguing. For weeks on end.

And suddenly, there were no more discussions. It was all arguments. And those arguments that I was dismayed to see in the first place, then came to include anti-queer comments. And anti-Jewish comments. People were tearing each other to pieces, painting targets on people who weren't there, painting targets on people who were there...
Most people weren't interested in listening. They wanted to talk... and they did. They talked and talked and talked, and even when they said something offensive, there was no way to point that out or remove it without getting swallowed alive by the argumentative crowd that now filled the TL.

Everyone was bitter and angry and it turned the TL from a level-headed place into a room boiling over with frustration and grudges. It got nasty.

I was suddenly seeing messages about not wanting to respect people's pronouns accrue a dozen stars in the space of ten minutes. I saw vitriolic messages spouted about my religion. It became an extremely toxic environment.

...this all contributed to my feeling unsafe remaining a moderator, and was a large factor in my decision to resign.


To address the original question, though: Is the TL toxic?

It both is and it isn't, I'd say. It definitely has toxic qualities - for instance, the common piling on that happens to hapless people just asking a question - but the room when it is operating normally isn't toxic.

But it has the capacity to get very toxic very quickly, because there is no way for the moderators to moderate the moderators. Because there is no way to moderate the room, it at times becomes extremely toxic and has a hard time getting out of that once it falls in.

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    I think if we ever refine how the TL is run, adding "don't give unsolicited advice" or something more refined as guidance would be helpful. It can definitely be a problem at times. – Rubiksmoose Oct 28 at 13:55
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    One thing I feel obligated to point out, just because the people having a discussion on some controversial subject think they’re being civil doesn’t mean they aren’t driving people out of the room. Imagine, for example, people having a “civil” conversation on pronouns where they agree singular “they” is a fine compromise if you don’t want to call a trans woman “she”. How do you think someone like me, who finds that wrong, is going to feel when I’m just there on mod business? I’m apparently outnumbered and have no way to object anonymously. Those conversations shouldn’t be happening in there. – ColleenV parted ways Oct 28 at 14:04
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    This. So much this. And because of this, SE needs to stop using TL as a venue for announcements; it needs to be possible for moderators to ignore the room (as I decided to do) without being out of the information loop. There's a private team and they should use that. TL has to be optional because it is unsafe and, yes, toxic. – Monica Cellio Oct 28 at 14:59
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    @MonicaCellio It also needs to be possible for moderators to ignore the private team. Teams require an SO account, and several moderators (such as myself) don't have an SO account. – Rand al'Thor Oct 28 at 15:16
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    @Randal'Thor good point. So there is no on-site method of private communication accessible to all mods, currently. – Monica Cellio Oct 28 at 15:18
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    I'd agree with this answer. For anyone who isn't "a regular" in the TL, the atmosphere in there can be cliquish. It took me a long time until I felt that I had reached the "barely tolerated" level. The long conversations there do tend to steamroller everything else, saying the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time can do down quite badly - I got ther suggestion once that I should really put a smiley after everything I wanted to be regarded as humourous. It can get really tough in there. But at the same time, it can be extremely useful and supportive. – user351483 Oct 28 at 15:33
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    A case study in what happens when you do not limit what is on topic (gun control? What were people thinking?) and have no moderation, perhaps? All the more poignant given that everyone involved ought to have known better. – Raedwald Oct 28 at 18:26
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    The solution to who moderates the moderators: super moderators elected by the moderators. – Raedwald Oct 28 at 18:31
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    @Raedwald people were thinking that it is possible to discuss any subject as long as you do so respectfully. And the gun control discussion was exactly that: a calm and fascinating exchange of reasoned arguments from both sides. The solution is never making subjects taboo, it is only making sure that people are listening to each other. – terdon - stop harming Monica Oct 28 at 19:11
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    Wow. Even forums for amateur football teams and book clubs know that you should have a separate board for off-topic discussions so that people who want to vent or argue can do so without obstructing people who want to stay on topic. Crazy that it went so far without anyone at the company seeing the problem. – user56reinstatemonica8 Oct 28 at 19:55
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    I might regret asking this, but I would have expected better: About the anti-Jewish messages - were people blaming Monica’s behaviour on her religion and/or ethnicity? – Andrew Grimm Oct 29 at 10:22
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    @Andrew - related to that, yes – Mithical Oct 29 at 11:18
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    @ColleenV I agree with you I've entered and immediately left TL a few times because people were debating topics like trans rights to exist, e.g. weighing them against hate groups do real actual harm to trans people in the real world. To the people discussing the topic it's all academic; to me they are debating the actual right of trans people like me to be alive. Seeing “but do they really have that right?” debated is distressing. That should not be happening. I don't know what I can do about it, because asking it to stop at specific instances hasn't stopped it coming up repeatedly. – doppelgreener Oct 30 at 12:54
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    Nobody involved in those debates, thankfully, agrees with those groups. It's all “but let's weigh all views” or “but let's do devil's advocacy here”. But it is, still, a debate about whether I'm allowed to be alive. And that's horrible to witness. And it's still merely academic and harmless to those engaging in it. The times this debate was brought up with me directly (at least twice now!) I made it known how distressing it was, and the people involved understood and compassionately apologised and changed topic. But that doesn't stop it happening again later. – doppelgreener Oct 30 at 12:59
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    @gung - my activity on the site has basically dropped off with the exception of a few select chat rooms. I can't really provide much more of a perspective at the moment because I'm not following what's happening now. – Mithical Nov 12 at 21:18
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Well, one reason could be that it's hard to moderate a chatroom full of moderators. They can't be kicked or suspended, so if toxicity levels rise, eliminating the problem users isn't an option; it needs to be resolved by talking alone. Sometimes, that's very hard or even close to impossible.

In my humble opinion, I think it's not toxic at all – at least most of the times. (I hope that doesn't mean I'm part of the problem; as far as I can tell, I'm behaving the same way as here on Meta.) But I do understand why other moderators think it is: if you have been hurt by a bad experience in the room, that is going to have a lasting effect on how you feel about the atmosphere in that room.

Most of my experiences in the room have been good. To give you an example, in the aftermath of The Event, I've seen some beautiful collaboration happening in the Teachers' Lounge, leading to Dear Stack Exchange: a statement and a letter from your moderators. And that's hardly the only example, but I have to be careful with what I can share because of the confidentiality agreement.

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    "They can't be kicked or suspended" well recently one of them was kicked and dismissed. – Renan Oct 28 at 12:20
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    It might seem so, but she was demodded, not kicked or suspended. – Glorfindel Oct 28 at 12:22
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    Well, that does effectively kick one from the TL, right? No mod status means no access. – Mast Oct 28 at 12:51
  • From the first statement, one could argue that one problem is the lack of a hierarchy, but (correct me if I'm wrong) : The TL is also accessed by the next hierarchy levels (community managers or whatever they are called), right? So if there's a conflict (among people whose main task and qualification should be to resolve conflicts, by the way), it should be possible to escalate this, not internally, but to a higher level - to some arbiter. This doesn't work in all cases, but from what the plebs can observe, it did not only "not work" in some cases, but fail miserably in one case... – Marco13 Oct 28 at 12:53
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    @Mast true, but the problem is that there's no in-between option. – Glorfindel Oct 28 at 12:55
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    @Marco13 yes, the CMs are present – sometimes – and help calming things down (especially Shog is very good at this). Also, they are mostly US based, so there's limited coverage. – Glorfindel Oct 28 at 12:57
  • @rjzii that might help, but it's technically impossible at the moment. – Glorfindel Oct 28 at 14:05
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    Maybe they should switch to discourse.org ? :o) But seriously: Are these really technical reasons, or "organizational" ones? I would have imagined that the TL is basically a chat room, thought that mods can kick users out of chat rooms, and this should be technically the same, only differing in who has the technical permission to kick whom - but this might be all wrong... I'm not so involved here, obviously. – Marco13 Oct 28 at 15:14
  • @rjzii maybe they just have a bigger diversity ant pronoun team than a development team. Also from other posts/comments here I conclude that their dev team is mostly focused on features for paying customers. – Josef Oct 28 at 16:32
  • @Marco13 you can kick a mod from a chatroom, but it doesn't have an effect – John Dvorak Oct 28 at 18:15
  • @JohnDvorak - it is technically impossible to kick a mod. It simply doesn't work. – Mithical Oct 28 at 18:23
  • @user58 You can if you change their parent site so they're temporarily not a mod in chat any more. (Of course they can then change it back, but a kick is temporary anyway.) Possibly this is what John Dvorak was referring to. – Rand al'Thor Oct 29 at 9:35
  • @snailcar Really? Haven't done it myself, but I've seen it done a couple of times in TL, both by a CM and by a fellow mod. – Rand al'Thor Oct 30 at 7:11
  • @snailcar - what do you mean? I tested this with Glorfindel one day. You can still reparent after being suspended. If your chat suspension is a result of a main-site suspension being passed along to chat that won't help, which may be what you're thinking of, but if you reparent it to a site where you're a moderator you can still chat. The suspension will still show on your profile, but it won't have any effect. – Mithical Oct 30 at 8:55
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    If you are prepared to say "It's not toxic ... most of the time" that means that even to you "It's toxic some of the time" so "It's toxic". – Mark Booth Oct 31 at 15:20
23

People who are passionate about the things that they care about tend to be vocal about it and will defend their point of view.

This can sometimes end up with conversations that are both cyclic and passionate, at the expense of any kind of productive outcome.

To the people outside of the conversation, these discussion then appear toxic and unfriendly, especially when people get so entrenched into their own point of view that the become blind to another person's opinion.

Because there's no moderation or mediation in the TL (except for polite requests that quickly become discarded) these heated and passionate conversations continue. When people feel excluded or become disenchanted by the passion, they leave the room and the people who shout loudest remain.

I don't believe that much of the content is "toxic" - it's more a matter of extended periods of "passionate discussion" tends to exclude others.

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    The TL is a case study for why online spaces with more than a few people participating need to be moderated. – ColleenV parted ways Oct 28 at 10:27
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    I'm curious to why the room isn't frozen or put in a timeout like others when they go "too far"? – Script47 Oct 28 at 10:33
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    Because everyone is a moderator there, the "freeze" has no effect at all. We have spoken in the past about the need for more formal moderation in the TL, but we haven't really reached any consensus about how that would work and who would do it. – user351483 Oct 28 at 10:35
  • @Snow now that makes more sense. I thought that once a room is frozen, nobody could talk. – Script47 Oct 28 at 10:39
  • @Script47 each mod can unfreeze it) – Suvitruf says Reinstate Monica Oct 28 at 10:39
  • @SuvitrufsaysReinstateMonica yep, in that case the system is quite broken (for a mod-only chat). – Script47 Oct 28 at 10:40
  • @Script47 moderators don't unfreeze room, only if it was frozen by employee (usually by Shog). – Suvitruf says Reinstate Monica Oct 28 at 10:41
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    @SuvitrufsaysReinstateMonica A moderator doesn't have to "unfreeze" a room when they can just ignore the message and just type (and this unfreezes the room). Rooms are frozen to prevent messages by "normal users". Moderators aren't "normal". – user351483 Oct 28 at 10:41
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    @Snow oh, The more you know. – Suvitruf says Reinstate Monica Oct 28 at 10:42
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    @ReinstateMonica Moderators need authority to act and make it stick. People can’t moderate their peers effectively. – ColleenV parted ways Oct 28 at 12:30
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    @ColleenV 'People can’t moderate their peers effectively.' - I'm not sure I agree with that. We, for the most part, very effectively moderate each other on our respective sites by means of flagging, voting, etc. Unless I've missed your point, isn't that a form of effective moderation of our peers? – Script47 Oct 28 at 12:42
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    @Script47 Since moderators can see who flag chat messages, it defeats the purpose of flagging (since you may as well come out and say things publically). Users flagging things can do so in the safety of anonymity. Moderators can't. – user351483 Oct 28 at 12:46
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    @Script47 If everyone has moderator powers, no-one has them. If there’s a disagreement about community moderation on a site, the mod team steps in. If there’s no mod team to step in when things go south, there’s not really any moderation. – ColleenV parted ways Oct 28 at 12:47
  • @ColleenV As if we didn't have plenty of those already. :/ – Marc.2377 Oct 31 at 2:19
15

As others have said, the chat moderation tools that can be used in normal chat rooms don't really work in a room full of moderators. If moderators don't discipline themselves to avoid controversial topics, keep their cool, etc., then feelings may get hurt. Most of the time moderators discipline themselves but not always.

Additionally, the users in most normal chat rooms have generally have more common ground with each other than the moderators from all over the network. A normal chat room will typically be composed of users all interested in the same topic (or sub-topic) for the site that the chat room is tied to; on the other hand the Teacher's Lounge is for moderators from all over the network (who may have very different backgrounds), and the topic is not necessarily so well defined or requires discussion of the most ugly aspects of the network (dealing with misbehaving users).

On a related note, the Teacher's Lounge can also be seen as a place to vent frustrations (i.e. "ugh, I hate it when users plagiarize/fight/etc."), and sometimes this negative attitude goes too far and sours the mood of the room.

In my experience the Teacher's Lounge is generally a good place and a useful resource. It works best when the people in the room stay on topic and help each other solve moderation problems. It becomes a problem when people start talking about religion and/or politics and lack the discipline to disengage when things start to get too heated.

10

I have hardly ever visited the TL, and perhaps I can give my opinion without being guilty of disclosing what's meant to be confidential.

I think that any social interaction -- including online -- is potentially enjoyable for emotive reasons.

Emotions e.g. "delight" can lead to addiction or addictive behaviour.

In that way I'd describe the atmosphere as "potentially intoxicating" even if not "toxic".

I'd like to think that designated moderators would be wiser than some and less vulnerable (both individually and as a group) to ... to all the kinds of problems that can happen online, e.g. "flame wars" and "trolling" and "wasting time", :sigh:, and miscommunication, taking other people's statements personally ... a possible lack of empathy caused by not being able to see who you're talking with and see how vulnerable they are, AND so on -- the kinds of problems you might be generally aware of once you've been online for a few decades.

There's also a couple of systemic problems, maybe -- they say the TL is itself unmoderated -- and I presume there's little or no bound or boundary to what's talked about, i.e. as long as you find someone who's willing to talk about something with you then you can, including difficult or "personal" subjects which even a moderator might be less objective or less moderate about when they chat.

And maybe they (moderators) ARE less vulnerable, but even so, if there's a systemic problem (e.g. a lack of moderation) perhaps it's only a matter of time before there's some catastrophe and somebody gets hurt.

My understanding too is that one of the recent occasional visitors to the TL was an SE employee who is not a moderator.

And moderators might be experienced, but they're untrained. And they may or may not be homogeneous, socially -- may or may not used to the "diversity" which even includes, each other.

My brief visit(s) to the TL remind me of being at a noisy party -- lots of people talking at once -- and other people overhearing and commenting when you try to have a dialog there with someone -- some people being serious, some people being frivolous -- it's a bit as if people were intoxicated there, and it can feel like some people are talking without thinking ("shooting their mouth off").

How you react to that depends on your experience and temperament -- some people are good with noisy parties, other people less so. Some people might become stressed in that kind of (social) environment. And there's a form of emotional stress that's pretty well my definition of "toxic" -- it might lead to feeling hurt, feeling self-defensive, feeling that some offence is justified (self-righteousness), forgetting to apply fundamental axioms like "assume good faith" -- then dogpiling, and people getting "triggered", and so on.

I assume it's not a fault of any one person there, nor of the TL itself -- just an unsafe situation, like fissile material which can go critical if it's unmoderated and when there's too much of it.

To the extent that I am (metaphorically) a sober alcoholic, I don't much like engaging in conversations where people seem to be intoxicated, so ... I visit chat rooms sometimes, but I don't hang out there (am I allowed to say that?) any more.

SE's Q&A format -- one question, specific topic, separate answers, moderated comments -- acts as built-in moderation. So people -- including moderators -- who are used to coping with the Q&A sites, and all the social norms which go with them, might get "out of their depth" and drown if they're tossed into the deep end of an unmoderated chaotic place like the TL. And there's no life-guard on duty -- even, rumours of shark (to continue the metaphor), I couldn't tell you whether that rumour is from paranoia or reality.

Given that I barely visit the TL though, this my description of it might be just some vacuous fantasy of mine for what that's worth -- it's partly based on what's been published (i.e. hearsay), and on what I infer from my experiences elsewhere, adding two and two together.

  • I tent to think the TL often just had too many people in it. – Ian Ringrose Oct 28 at 12:50
  • Re "fissile material which can go critical if it's unmoderated": It is the other way around: "a neutron moderator ... reduces the speed of fast neutrons ... thermal neutrons ... immensely more suscepible than fast neutrons to propagate a nuclear chain reaction of uranium-235". Perhaps use another metaphor? Some ideas: Both heavy water, normal water, and graphite (used in old-school pencils (for writing)) are used as a neutron moderator. A neutron does not have a (net) charge. – Peter Mortensen Dec 4 at 15:16
  • If moderation (on Stack Exchange) causes things to explode, it would be the right metaphor... – Peter Mortensen Dec 4 at 15:19
  • @PeterMortensen I guess I was thinking of control rods. – ChrisW Dec 4 at 15:26
8
  1. We (moderators) are also people.
  2. Rules in TL are a little bit different, there people are more expressive.
  3. In each community/society would be people, who are offended by that community.
  4. Very often peoply call community/group "toxic" just because this group doesn't accept their views.
  5. If we are talking about TL, there are some...problems in discussions...indeed, around current situation. Sometimes it could be a little bit unfriendly. But I can't call the whole chat "toxic".

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