129

The question is focused on the company's responsibility for taking action without just cause against an appointed moderator on Meta Stack Exchange (herein called SE).

There is a moderator contract agreement 1. which states
[emphasis in bold mine]

I acknowledge and agree that as a moderator for Stack Exchange Inc.

i. I will abide by the then-current Terms of Service of Meta Stack Exchange, and other moderator policies made available to me,

ii. I acknowledge that I may have access to potentially personally-identifying information about Meta Stack Exchange users and that in connection with such access

 a. I will use such information solely in accordance with the then-current Privacy Policy of Meta Stack Exchange,
 b. I will not disclose this information to anyone,
 c. I will not store or copy this information and
 d. I will only use such information in connection with performance as a Meta Stack Exchange moderator for the benefit of Meta Stack Exchange.

I acknowledge and agree that I am an independent volunteer moderator to Meta Stack Exchange and I am not an employee, agent or representative of Stack Exchange Inc., and I have no authority to bind Stack Exchange Inc. in any manner. Stack Exchange Inc. reserves the right to terminate my privileges as a moderator at any time without warning.

But the contract agreement 1. fails to mention anything about SE's responsibilities not to malign the good name and reputation of its volunteers.

At 2:56, September 29th, 2019 a moderator posted a farewell letter to her peers, friends, and users on Mi Yodeya, informing them that the company hosting the sites where she had contributed and volunteered for several years, had unceremoniously stripped her moderating privileges.

  1. … I saw my diamond disappear before my eyes and briefly saw an announcement from a CM [Community Manager] in TL [Teachers' lounge] that contained false allegations against me. When I tried to respond I was booted from the room. Around this time I received email firing me. This email did not cite anything I have done wrong; […]
    In TL and now in answers here and elsewhere, Stack Exchange employees made vague statements implying that I oppose inclusion and respectful behavior, which is false and adds insult on top of the injury already done. I suspect a profound misunderstanding is at the root of their behavior, but all of my attempts to resolve it have gone unanswered.

At 20:19, September 29th 2019, the Director of Q&A, Ms. Sara Chipps, posted a reply beneath Monica Cellio's letter. Note that Cellio's letter of statement never named Ms Chipps in person.

In its entirety [emphasis mine]

  1. We understand there are some folks upset about this decision. We aren’t going to share specifics out of respect for all individuals involved but this is a site reaching millions of people and we have to do what we believe fosters a spirit of inclusion and respect. When a moderator violates that, we will always do our best to resolve it with them privately. When we can’t we must take action. This is always done based on what we believe is best for all SE users.
    @Sara Chipps

On October 1st, 2019, an article was published on the The Register, an online publication that claims to reach: “more than nine million monthly unique browsers worldwide. The core audiences are the UK and US, accounting for more than six million.”

  1. Asked to confirm that Cellio was the moderator in question, a company spokesperson said, "Cellio (she/her) would not use stated pronouns, which violates our current CoC. We are soon publishing an update to the CoC to even more explicitly cite misgendering users or moderators as a violation."

On October 3rd, 2019, the Director of Public Q&A posted this public announcement. Below is the first sentence from An Update to our Community and an Apology

  1. Last week we made an important decision for our community. We removed a moderator for repeatedly violating our existing Code of Conduct and being unwilling to accept our CM’s repeated requests to change that behavior.

On October 6th, 2019, the company CTO, David Fullerton, along with Sara Chipps, Tim Post and the community management team, posted a letter of apology on Meta SE acknowledging the several mistakes the company committed which led to the ensuing fracas. However, despite being “deeply sorry”, the CTO made no attempt to repair the harm made against Monica Cellio or refute Ms Chipps' report that the company-appointed mod had repeatedly violated the Code of Conduct.

  1. Second, we hurt a longstanding member of the community and an important volunteer moderator. She deserved the benefit of a private, comprehensive process. In the absence of a clear process for handling this kind of situation, we should have taken inspiration from our existing Moderator Action Review Process. We made a decision to act quickly, which I personally approved, but in doing so skipped several critical parts of the process.

Openly accusing a moderator of violating, repeatedly, the CoC is a serious accusation, and one which has yet to be proven, despite Cellio's repeated pleas in private emails and on meta to see the evidence.

29th October, 2019, Monica commented

  1. JL2210 I gave them a month and many overtures. They have refused to talk with me, have failed to even tell me what specifically they say I did, and have given me no path to resolving the ongoing defamation. I don't think it's twisting the knife to lay out the complaint and expected resolution clearly.

A moderator, even an appointed one who uses their real name, continues to possess statutory rights. Stack Exchange, for whom 568 moderators offer their services free of charge, should have a duty of care to protect the health and safety of these dedicated volunteers, it seems reasonable to surmise that SE is also legally obliged to respect the rights of their moderators, which would include not smearing their reputation on a website or reporting their real name to the press.

Because there is an contract agreement between the two parties–SE and moderators– this makes me wonder whether a US company has the duty to protect the privacy and identity of their volunteers who wish to remain anonymous online. What would happen if sensitive information were to be leaked or carelessly revealed by one or more of its employees to the press or on a public website? Could a moderator therefore seek legal counsel?

  • Does Stack Exchange have a legal responsibility to protect the rights of its moderators?
  • Does Stack Exchange have the responsibility to not violate the rights of its moderators?

ADDENDUM

November 4th, 2019

Unbeknownst to me, there appears to be a significant difference between an agreement and a contract. Although the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, a written or verbal agreement is always informal, it does not require the services of a lawyer, and it cannot be enforced by the law whereas a contract (verbal or written) can only be prepared through law and legal means and is legally binding. However, an agreement (despite its name) can be considered a contract if the following criteria are met.

  1. Offer and Acceptance (the offer and the necessary condition before accepting)
  2. Mutual Consent (the parties are in agreement)
  3. Consideration (what is the value exchanged)
  4. Competence (the signees are adult and of sound mind)
  5. Legal Purpose (the offer and its acceptance must be legal)

For more details, see https://www.diffen.com/difference/Agreement_vs_Contract and https://www.marketing91.com/agreement-versus-contract/


Many thanks to @Anne Daunted who prompted me to add the second question.

See also:
1. Is Stack Exchange in violation of New York labor law, in using volunteer moderators?
2. Why haven't the statements to the Register been retracted?
3. KorvinStarmast's answer on Allow Monica to have a structured conversation (à la mediation) with SE leadership

  • 24
    At least a legal responsibility to not violate the rights of its moderators. – Anne Daunted GoFundMonica Oct 30 at 13:57
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    @Atizs I'm not a member of LawSE but if you really don't want to see any more questions about demodded moderators, pronouns, the updated CoC, the LGBTQ+ community, coerced speech, deleted posts, etc. and the future of Stack Exchange then perhaps you could post a question on Meta making it into a feature Request. I think you might win some consensus :)). Meanwhile, this question is so far removed from being a duplicate of the one you suggested, I won't go into the trouble of editing to explain why, it's pretty self-evident. – Mari-Lou A Oct 30 at 14:55
  • 6
    I asked Mari to. If nothing else - this is actually something I felt should be brought up - in the broader sense of things and for SE to consider. Mari had a great point in comments elsewhere, and this is exactly why comments are terrible for anything important ;) – Journeyman Geek Oct 31 at 0:44
  • 1
    The question should specify a bit more what type of responsibility SE Inc. might or might not have? A legal one or a more moral one or something else? – Trilarion Nov 1 at 21:40
  • 3
    @Trilarion If I knew the answer, i.e. what type of responsibility, I'd probably write up an answer. – Mari-Lou A Nov 1 at 21:57
  • I think the moral responsibilty might be important and clearer. – Journeyman Geek Nov 1 at 22:42
  • 2
    @JourneymanGeek well, normally, something that is considered immoral is also illegal, so I'm not seeing why my saying "legal" or "responsibility" is a problem. Again, if I knew what type of responsibility SE had, I would be posting an answer by now. And no one is coming forward, which I find unusual, considering the hundreds of answers, many opinion-based, posted since September 29, 2019. – Mari-Lou A Nov 1 at 22:49
  • 1
    @JourneymanGeek I understand that a moral responsibility is crucial to trust and cooperation, but it's unenforceable. A legal responsibility carries repercussions and requirements that are different and carry penalties. – Jon Harper Nov 2 at 6:47
  • 2
    Three users have voted to close this question for being primarily opinion-based, could one or more please explain why this post would only invite answers based on opinion? The CEO, the company executives, their lawyers, and lastly, the CMs must know the answer. This question not only concerns Monica Cellio but, more importantly, hundreds of volunteer users across the network. – Mari-Lou A Nov 2 at 22:58
30

I'd certainly feel there's a moral responsibility.

Volunteers – and not just on the moderator team, do spend their time, energy and effort in trying to make the network a better place.

There's a fair amount of things that moderators end up dealing with. While on a good day it's pretty fun, I'd say we've lost a lot of moderators simply because they've lost their trust in SE to protect the folks. CoCs don't do much unless you're willing to put in the legwork to get people on board.

Even in calmer days, you have folks foolish enough to try to pressure you into changing a decision, through... nonstandard means (I have a bunch of deleted comments on my blog asking about comment deletions, ranging from polite to full blown toxic donkey hat.)

Even the triggering events for the new CoC were not handled as they happened. There felt like there was either an attempt to shock and awe us (which went badly) or a series of constantly accelerating missteps, and a certain paralysis, or sudden inability to act quickly (as opposed to how things started off - a little too rushed).

Unless SE hires a lot more CMs (and that would be a nice thing), the folks who know/feel the sentiment on the ground and end up having to deal with the community are the moderators. We try to give feedback what they need to know, but there's not always folks around when you need them.

And well – we don't feel SE has our backs. Individual staff members we do trust. But as an organisation – the duty of care that we need seems to have been forgotten.

I'm not an SO user – and when we were told SO's success was essential, and that the company needed to focus on them, we trusted them.

When Careers failed to live up to expectations and folks were let go – while in sheer numbers they were probably not the worst affected, we felt the loss of developers and community managers the most – and by proportion they were the worst hit. We lost a lot of the support we had from the CM team simply because they were too stretched. We ended up picking up a lot of the slack – and well ended up relying a lot more on the TL and each other.

That this crisis allegedly started in the TL kinda reflects that well–it turned into a bit of a pressure cooker.

I believe Sara mentioned that outside the community team, folks were scared of meta – I reached out to another member of staff I knew from chat, and asked if it was ok to translate a blog post to meta so she could get input from us. That actually went very well, and I think the Community/Public Q&A Dev team has a foothold here because they worked with us. I don't think they need my help any more but having good relationships with mods opens doors.

Now though – I'm not sure if the folks further up the line have our backs. I'll certainly try to help folks like the CM team and the development team where I can, but it feels like if I get hit by someone trying to do a character hit job on me, of if I manage to pick a fight with the wrong staff member, I'm gone. Not just gone. Maybe I'll see my handle on The Register.

While we've stood by SE; we're not sure if we'll be stood by, or stood up, or worse.

While there's a few of us – a lot of volunteers help things run well. Forgive me if I miss anyone – but imagine SE if we had no moderators. Or if we lacked SmokeDetector (my rivalry with that little scamp over chat volume and flags aside) to help get rid of the worst of spam. Or just the folks.

We've done a fair bit – and to a large extent, the smooth running of the network relies on moderators. We certainly don't do it for the money, or even the swag.

That said, we do expect to have support. We're in the middle of a crisis that's hurting our communities. I had someone at work ask me about the mess with Monica, because he heard it on a programming podcast he listens to (I'd check which one, but it's a different site than my usual). I wasn't sure what to say.

That one of our own is in a terrible situation? That we're trying to get things so it won't happen.

We've also had moderators quit, because the end result of this was they didn't feel safe here after the CoC that was meant to protect them resulted in a ton of hate speech on the network. And well, the numbers of moderators we have lost due to the many recent events have been depressingly high.

  • 6
    Abbreviation guide: SE = Stack Exchange, SO = Stack Overflow, CoC = Code of Conduct, TL = Teachers' Lounge, CM = Community Manager, mod = moderator, dev team = development team. – Mari-Lou A Nov 3 at 13:14
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    We all should have realized a year ago, after the Twitter/HNQ mess where an employee threw named moderators under the bus based on misunderstanding a tweet, that we no longer had support. Jay tried to rectify that, but Jay is no longer here. Tim also spoke up then and he's still here, but this time he's been silent -- presumably ordered to be. Not only does the company not have our backs, but they'll act against us in egregiously-unethical ways if they think it suits their purposes. (What those purposes might be remains a mystery.) – Monica Cellio Nov 3 at 15:53
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    "imagine SE if we had no mods." - On many of the sites, there's no shortage of volunteers aching for some of the existing mods to stand down – Richard Nov 3 at 23:04
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    And those folks might face the same issues. And great mods work with others and build up those around them, not try to tear people down so they have their chance in the sun. So if you're 'aching' for someone to quit and are focused more on them than the community you want to serve, something is clearly wrong. – Journeyman Geek Nov 3 at 23:15
12
+50

I think your question is one of the most essential takeaways from the whole "Monica situation".

As the consensus right now seems to be:

  • In the current setup, there are no defined rules/procedures in place that Stack Exchange Inc. has to follow
  • Yet, we have heard by now many times that many moderators express "We don't feel any backing by the company"

I think the logical consequence should actually be a "no brainer": the overall moderator community should work together and write down what they think needs to be written down. It isn't necessary to reflect on all the things went wrong ... instead: define what you want in your future!

It isn't enough that Stack Exchange Inc. put out a proposal for a formalized moderator review/reinstantiation process. The moderators better define a set of guarantees/rules/practices to be added to the existing agreement.

In other words: there shouldn't be a "one way" moderator agreement, there should be a "bidirectional" team charter (maybe on top of the moderator agreement). So that both sides have formal documentation of what is expected, and what rights are upheld!

  • 1
    I didn't downvote, I don't normally DV answers to my question unless I vehemently disagree, and I must say I do agree with the solutions offered. But I wasn't asking what could be done, or how to improve relationships between the company and its mods. I am asking whether SE has a legal obligation to protect the identity and good name of their volunteers. The "moral" obligation, I hope, goes without saying. IOW, can SE do what they like to any moderator; drag their name through the dirt, accuse them of being bigots, even accuse them of using sockpuppets (for example) and get away with it? – Mari-Lou A Nov 4 at 11:55
  • @Mari-LouA Thank you for your comment. I agree that my answer is somehow off-topic. On the other hand, I often prefer pragmatic solutions. I think your question has been answered well by other content here. My point is: debating how bad the current situation is ... we can do that all they long. At some point, if you want to get to a better situation, the more important question becomes: "ok, how do we get to a better place". That is what I am trying here. – GhostCat says Reinstate Monica Nov 4 at 12:06
  • The answer to "ok, how do we get to a better place" was easy. In the first week, reinstate Monica as a mod, at least on Mi Yodeya (even better if it was also on The Workplace) and allow her to be reelected on the other sites. A compromise, a sincere apology, and everything would have ended and cooled down in two weeks. The fuss would have been directed on the pronoun FAQ and the CoC. – Mari-Lou A Nov 4 at 12:17
  • I think your question has been answered well by other content here. what makes you say that? – Mari-Lou A Nov 4 at 12:18
  • @Mari-LouA A) ok, your question has been answered "pragmatically". When nobody shows up and can outline "document X is in place and says Y and Z apply", then nothing is in place, and nothing applies. B) The steps you propose would indeed be a good starting point. But I think you are missing my point: we all agree here that SE.inc should actually protect its moderators somehow. And the way to go about that: the parties involved should work on a joint team charter, to ensure that there are better (any) rules in place in the future! Not just for firing mods. But for: company working with mods! – GhostCat says Reinstate Monica Nov 4 at 12:31
  • No, the steps I proposed in the comment above, would have worked if SE had acted more swiftly. It's too late now. And I am not asking what can or should have been done better. I want to know if a company that uses the services of a virtual volunteer has legal obligations. – Mari-Lou A Nov 4 at 12:38
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    @Mari-LouA The fact that no rules that govern the relationship exists enabled the whole situation. – GhostCat says Reinstate Monica Nov 4 at 13:01
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    No, there was a process to remove mods before MC was fired. SE did not follow that procedure. SE did not keep quiet about why MC was fired, they announced the news in the TL, and on several sites across the network. This is unprecedented. Mods have been dismissed in the past (SE exists since 2009) but the reason for their dismissals were not communicated on their respective sites, in the TL or to the press. You have to ask yourself, why did Chipps fire Cellio? INCOMPETENCE is the answer. Not because there weren't any rules. – Mari-Lou A Nov 4 at 13:09
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    @Mari-Lou, INCOMPETENCE is the answer. Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe the SE staff wanted to send a clear signal -- here is our line, trespassers will be shot, even if they're moderators in very good standing on several sites. There will be no exceptions, so adapt or go away already. Libeling Monica on-site and in the press was a few steps too far indeed -- but maybe they expected us mere mortals to agree with the move and unconditionally support it, in the name of "inclusivity". Too bad, they should have looked up that word beforehand. – Frédéric Hamidi Nov 4 at 14:05
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Of course they do.

But not only they didn't, they also positively violated them.

Now, I'm afraid they're gonna have to answer in court for this. And not by lack of trying (and incredible patience) from the victim's part to resolve this in a friendly manner.


Just figured I'd add this answer here for you since if you're genuinely expecting an official, satisfactory response from the company, everything seems to indicate you won't be getting it anytime soon.

  • 3
    It seems you're answering the question title but it would be really useful, if you could post evidence that supports your statement: "Of course they do". Remember, the question is focused on SE volunteers (moderators) not its employees. – Mari-Lou A Nov 3 at 9:27
  • @Mari-LouA honestly, I prefer leaving that part to others :) – Marc.2377 Nov 3 at 10:20
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    And I really, really don't feel it is necessary at all to provide evidence to support a statement that says, basically: "a company has a moral obligation to protect the rights of their members, even volunteer ones"; and specially, an obligation not to violate them. That is just common sense, if you ask me. Hence, my use of "of course". – Marc.2377 Nov 3 at 10:25
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    But you didn't specifically mention "moral obligation" in your answer also because it's not in the question title. You can clarify that point in the answer. I was hoping that someone could offer concrete evidence, the situation involving Monica Cellio, confirming her identity to the press and making accusations against her, several times, cannot be unique. Or maybe it is? I don't know. – Mari-Lou A Nov 3 at 10:38
  • FYI: I'm currently dedicating most of my free time working with some very capable volunteers on developing an actual, sane alternative to the Stack Exchange platform. For this reason, I won't be giving this answer (or any other here, generally) any additional attention. – Marc.2377 Nov 5 at 19:14
4

Perhaps not an answer (since it's not completely clear what you're asking), but too long for a comment:

You wrote, "it seems reasonable to surmise that SE is also legally obliged to respect the rights of their moderators." It's fine to speak vaguely about someone's rights according to common sense and morality. But if you want to talk about legal rights, you should write in a more precise way. For example, when talking about legal rights, one should specify what rights are held under what law.

I think I get what you're trying to ask, though. I think it might be the following: when someone agrees to serve as a moderator, they commit to certain responsibilities. These are built into the moderator's relationship with SE. Some of these responsibilities are written down but maybe there are some that aren't. Now, let's start looking at the opposite direction. What responsibilities does SE have as regards the volunteer moderators? What may a moderator reasonably expect from the company? For example, perhaps it would be a good idea to build into the company-moderator relationship a documented expectation that if the company wants to unconfer moderator credentials, it should dialogue with the moderator to make them aware of a problem, and attempt to work through it, before pulling the plug.

Also, maybe it would be a good idea for a representative of the company to sign a commitment that announcements will be clearly communicated to moderators, without them having to go hunt down company announcements in a sometimes toxic teachers' lounge. Some individuals can talk about what they think would be moral and just agreements; at the moment, the company can do whatever the heck it wants. If moderators coordinate among themselves to make certain requests, they may be able to push the relationship to become more of a two-way street....

So, my answer would be, SE is not legally obligated to do much (although presumably it is legally obligated to respect its moderators' right to privacy in the press). However, once a large number of people coordinate to voice a common proposal, the relationship could become more two-directional.

Is any of that at all related to what you were trying to accomplish with this post?

  • Maybe one or two words here or there, to fit better into the answer format. Nothing significant. Is that good or bad? – aparente001 Nov 3 at 8:00
  • I wasn't sure where you were going with "it seems reasonable to surmise that SE is also legally obliged to respect the rights of their moderators." If I interpreted that sentence correctly -- then I have my doubts about that. At any rate, if you do want to say "legally obliged" then I think it would be helpful to specify the legal basis. I'm not bringing this up in order to quibble -- but because this suggests some lack of precision in your focus for this question. I invite you to clarify what you'd like people to focus on. – aparente001 Nov 3 at 8:24
  • Did I miss any you want cleaned up? – aparente001 Nov 3 at 8:29
0

SE has an obligation to look after all the site's users, not just volunteers. In that respect volunteers should not expect exceptions to be made for them, although of course some extra reward for donating additional time should also exist.

-2

First: Do the rights of moderators differ from the rights of any other user — and by extension basic human rights?

If the answer is "yes" — think again, but if the answer is "no" under which jurisdiction does this case fall?

If the mod in question is an American citizen, she could take it to court and try to fight an expensive and extensive battle with SO. If the mod isn't American then how would she fight?

Let's go law by law in the mod contract and see where the holes are and whom they benefit.

i. I will abide by the then-current Terms of Service of Meta Stack Exchange, and other moderator policies made available to me,

Here, the main factors are which ToS and which community they are tied to. This means that if suddenly the ToS decided to switch to totalitarian regime, mods would be forced to enforce it. The sheer action and control of moderators are at the mercy of SO with the presumption that the ToS of the company will stay in the best interest of the community. The ToS is basically a semi complete interpretation of human rights — where a major issue is cross-country prosecution.

Here we need to distinguish USA citizens and non-USA citizens.

  • If a USA citizen is breaking some major rules (such as human rights) SO can prosecute them in their own country — which means that American citizens are more exposed here than we wish to believe. For non USA citizens, at best SO can petition the country of that user to prosecute it in place of SO, but if country doesn't care, that is about it.
  • On other hand, if a USA citizen finds SO under some violation, they can hold them responsible under some financial and time expenses. If non USA citizens try to pursue them, then it needs to go through international laws and local laws translations. This in the end becomes more expensive/tiresome and with less chance of winning than USA issue.

In the best case scenario (if a user is able to) gather your money and if it is that important to you, go for it. But any chance of victory is small.

I acknowledge that I may have access to potentially personally-identifying information about Meta Stack Exchange users and that in connection with such access

In general no one should (except your government) have access to your personal information without your consent. But that is circumvented by the ToS with "by using this platform you are accepting our term of service (in which you grant your personal info to the company by your own volition)" or something similar. So any mods or users are in same boat here: you can't accept that they will protect your privacy if they don't protect the privacy of any other user.

Generally, since most websites give you an ultimatum to share your private information or not use their website, and now with cookie policies — this battle is long lost

a. I will use such information solely in accordance with the then-current Privacy Policy of Meta Stack Exchange,

Same as (I) first one, with major loopholes that will be described later.

 b. I will not disclose this information to anyone,

"I will not disclose this information to anyone, except to users who are already familiar with it" meaning other mods, and users whose private information is in question. This is major loophole that can be exploited by social engineering.

c. I will not store or copy this information

Since this information can be copied/shared by the company only.

 d. I will only use such information in connection with performance as a Meta Stack Exchange moderator for the benefit of Meta Stack Exchange.

And the benefits of MSE (XX) are generally vague. I need to mention here the wording of "benefit", which means that as long as it is beneficial to MSE (or SO) that information can be used however/whenever. What constitutes a benefit of MSE? If by "benefit" we mean financial gain, then all from a-c can be disregarded by trading with personal info, if by "benefit" we mean community standard, then can we share that data to third party companies without their consent?

I acknowledge and agree that I am an independent volunteer moderator to Meta Stack Exchange and I am not an employee, agent or representative of Stack Exchange Inc., and I have no authority to bind Stack Exchange Inc. in any manner. Stack Exchange Inc. reserves the right to terminate my privileges as a moderator at any time without warning.

And the most interesting part.

  • "I have no authority to bind Stack Exchange Inc. in any manner." — aka I have no ability to deem SE Inc responsible for any violation of said rules (by another user on behalf of the company, by some other user) — therefore forfeiting our potential for lawsuit. Let's play the blame game, shall we?
  • Termination of privileges without warning. Have you ever wondered why this clause is in users' contracts and in the moderator contract? Warning of any kind gives the person (in question) time to prepare a defense, therefore making SE Inc judge, jury and executioner. Once you are terminated (user, privilege or mod ship) you don't have any means to gather the evidence in your favor. This clause isn't here for non USA citizens (since we can't do anything anyways), it is here for any user that can have any amount of legal power over the company. This is generally in violation of human rights, where you must be able to have access to information — but in a smart way. Since then, you must supine SO/SE to get that information and that can take ages and you can be buried under data so you don't have time to prepare for court.

This is something that my father calls a "one-sided contract", and it's a typical contract for mass employment where the main benefactor of such a contract is the company. These kind of contracts can be revised before signing by lawyers present with some leverage or by person intentionally limiting their rights for some other benefit. But since signing the contract is the prerequisite of using the website as a user, we all signed it without reading.

Conclusion:

These types of contracts aren't necessary bad or evil. Companies often need a template to work on maximum amount of workers/users, to be changed later on depending on the case. Since SO (in this case) has a lot of power over us, we take these contracts with the benefit of the doubt and in good faith. Often that is enough for it to hold, and for no one (or rarely someone) to be at the end of the stick.

We as an internet community don't have our international courts, and therefore a lot of information is hidden from us. No one is a saint, and we all have our bad days, maybe she did deserve the termination of mod status, and their apology is in the form of "we are right, we have proof, but please don't sue us". Or SO did make a mistake ... we don't know since we don't have all the data. We have an ex-mod who decided to go out with a bang, and parts of the communication between the mod and SO.

Does Stack Exchange have a legal responsibility to protect the rights of its moderators?

Mods — no. Users (with mods being users themselves) — yes. Is it applicable? Meh, depends. Since this is following the moderator story line, I would suggest that you try to make a two sided contract with SO (since there is no expiration date on a contract, and therefore no penalties for abrupt termination), and to define those rights that you think SO should have legal responsibility to protect. Call a consensus, make a guild or something that enforces those rights and you are golden.

Does Stack Exchange have the responsibility to not violate the rights of its moderators?

Again, which rights? Nowhere in the contract defined what the rights of moderators are. If we are talking about human rights, who is going to enforce it? In my opinion, the second question is just as interpretation of the first one (but from a negative perspective). Without any leverage you can't force anyone to have any responsibility. If you have such luck that you are a USA citizen, then perhaps you can work something out for yourself, but on the other hand you and every other mod is alone against the company.

  • 1
    The whole citizen thing doesn't really apply. As a German citizen I could very well be both sued by an American company as well as sue one. It's more of a hassle either way, but there's no general rule prohibiting that. – Helmar Nov 12 at 13:00
  • @Helmar Gutten tag! :D That is true, since Germany (as part of EU) as extrication obligation (rule/treaty ... whatever) with USA. But someone from Russia or African continent ... it is different - but that is often dependent on trading relationship between countries (or federations) which is another can of worms I would rather not open. – Danilo Nov 12 at 14:11
  • *extriction = extrudiction What I wished to show (and not tell) is that SO has valid response to any payment regulations with "Our users are world wide, so implementing any regulation is impossible to do since .... " and therefore appeal any ruling on international court to waste time, do a SLAPP suit or whatever to make anyone willing to do something that against companies interest life difficult and financial expensive endeavor. And I do agree with you that in general there is no rule prohibiting that, but it isn't cost effective, and I never said that it isn't possible. – Danilo Nov 12 at 14:17
  • You can sue whomever whatever you like as long as you are on same footing, but just because you can do it, it doesn't mean that you are able to. But if someone wants to push for some regulations, that someone needs to make an best defense in their favor, and since one person can't fight an corporation and win, I suggested that union/guild is best way to make good foundations to do so and have higher chance to win. – Danilo Nov 12 at 14:19
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    Oh, extradition is another issue. Most countries don't extradite their own citizens. Extradition agreements are usually about giving the other country their citizens back. E.g. due to such agreements American citizens who are being sued in America would be extradited by Germany back to America. (However, even that usually only works if the corpus delicti is a crime in both countries and the punishment is "legal" according to both jurisdictions. That's why US citizens expecting capital punishment in the US might just apply for asylum in other countries.) – Helmar Nov 12 at 14:43
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    I was talking about the much easier way. I can sue an American company following American laws in an American court. They can sue me following German laws in a German court. – Helmar Nov 12 at 14:45
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  • Honestly, I have nothing to add. I appreciate that you mention jurisdiction. And I think we both agree that it is highly taxing and expensive to even approach that without in depth knowledge of law of country the case is prosecuted on. – Danilo Nov 12 at 14:50
  • As I understand it, "I have no authority to bind Stack Exchange Inc. in any manner." means something quite different from your interpretation. Instead, it means that the moderator, unlike duly-delegated employees, cannot sign a binding contract on behalf of SE that SE must then honor. As such, it's a perfectly reasonable, necessary, harmless provision. (Explanation 1, explanation 2) – Nathan Tuggy 2 days ago
  • Completly true, but don't take it out of context. Sure you can not bind company to some form of obligation but it isn't tied to duly-delegated employees. Since even employee can't bind company. No one can bind company except executives and/or board of directors. Think about what binding means. In any form of definition it describes an 2 way obligations that parties have agreed upon. When you enter an working relationship (volunteer or payed) your employer sets a couple of obligations on your behalf such as working hours, free days, payed free days... etc. This isn't employe binding the company – Danilo 2 days ago
  • Quite opposite, it is company binding the employee, and as such employee can't further more bind someone else to the company by proxy in any manner. If you are employed at A, any deal you might have with me isn't necessarily binding, for it to become binding I company must sign new contract with me. So in that case what does line aforementioned mean: It doesn't describe binding process, it describes an obligations that users/mods must perform for the companies benefit, but as the obligations aren't binding (aka you can't bind company by yourself) the obligations are loosely regulated. – Danilo 2 days ago
  • And as such, any obligations described by ToS aren't binding and SO can /and will enforce them so it benefit them mostly, and since they aren't binding you can't ask for reimbursement from the company if some rules of obligations are broken by the company. And as I mentioned in conclusion These types of contracts aren't necessary bad or evil. It is necessary and perfectly reasonable. Harmless? That depends on who is running the company and where does the benefit lies. – Danilo 2 days ago

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