First post to mention is Why was the previous Code of Conduct FAQ (and all answers) removed?. I turned there and wrote an answer after figuring "oh, somebody deleted that FAQ, and all answers and comments with it". (note: the linked question isn't the problem, but the action that triggered that question)

The second post came as surprise, too. A comment on another of my answers, linking to some extremely kind tweets by Yaakov Ellis.

My point here: in both cases, employees of Stack Exchange, Inc. did something surprising that caused emotional reactions.

The first one got me, and probably hundreds others furious, for not much of a reason. More uproar and anger, as if there wasn't enough of that around already.

The second one did the exact opposite: it made me felt heard. It immediately connected me to the people working "at the company".

Overall, this is more of an observation, but in order to ask a question: Stack Exchange, Inc., would it be possible to act more like "post 2"?

Your development team wants to work with us, and hey: we work with them.

Thus, coming to essence of this question: is it possible that your communication team accepts reality, and starts working on the most pressing issue? Like your web development team: take bold actions, and regain the trust of the community.

And to be clear: that central issue is: a well-respected moderator was dumped and now, after five weeks, and she now feels that turning to a lawyer is the only way to regain her public reputation.

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    Can we summarise this post as "Hey Stack Exchange, Be Nice"? Commented Nov 3, 2019 at 21:13
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    @Randal'Thor Maybe more: "hey stack exchange try to be nice more often." My key point is that they know how to be nice in general, but there is a lack of consistency in their actions.
    – GhostCat
    Commented Nov 4, 2019 at 1:50
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    You're forgetting about Monica Cellio, it's in your username. Nothing has changed where she is concerned. I see no nice tweets about her. I see no SE employee being nice to her. Commented Nov 4, 2019 at 10:45
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    @MariLouA Yup. I don't think anybody's ever really doubted that the dev team are cool and want to build a great product. That's not really the issue; the kicking out, like a street dog, of a decade-long contributor who did nothing hateful by any reasonable standard is. Honestly got no idea how people are still willing to continue to moderate and invest in this place with that in mind. At some point you have to cut your losses and walk away even though there isn't a good alternative out there yet.
    – Pekka
    Commented Nov 4, 2019 at 10:51
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    Fair point, you're not really saying "everything is good now" but "this is how it should work."
    – Pekka
    Commented Nov 4, 2019 at 12:04
  • @Mari-LouA I tried to rephrase the question, I hope it is more clear and to the point now.
    – GhostCat
    Commented Nov 4, 2019 at 17:33
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    @GhostCatsaysReinstateMonica Thanks for clarifying. I really appreciate your question. I've deleted my comment cause it sounds defensive. Commented Nov 4, 2019 at 18:04
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    @PekkasupportsGoFundMonica Monica represents point of no return. It is breaking issue and nothing will ever be the same until this is resolved. But that still does not mean we cannot imagine good things happening no matter how far or unrealistic they may be. Commented Nov 4, 2019 at 18:08
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    @HerMajestyQueenofARC Right, it's about Monica, except that it's not. The firing of Monica, and in that way, sent a very clear message: NOBODY is safe. The way they treated Monica was every last complaint about SE that anyone has ever had, rolled up into a single, "perfect storm" type of event.
    – user316129
    Commented Nov 4, 2019 at 19:23
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    @RichardsaysReinstateMonica Agreed. We are all Monica. Even those that disagree with Monica, and even those that think she should have been fired. Commented Nov 4, 2019 at 19:46

3 Answers 3


Aristotle once wrote that it is the sign of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

When you provide ANY sort of service, there is dissatisfaction. You need to address it. Not necessarily agree, or bend to any whim, but you need to address it. You need to be able to entertain the thoughts that the person is expressing.

So, what does "address it" mean?

You need to acknowledge that someone has a point. Not in the boilerplate notices sent out of "We understand your concerns, and we are addressing them now, please be patient" variety. Everyone knows that that is a form letter sent to just shoo a person away.

To address it is to investigate, ask questions, and get to what all the fury is about. The person who is accusing you of being something akin to a "stinky poop head" didn't start out that angry, but now feels ignored and frustrated to the point of lashing out.

Even the person cursing up a storm and being rude did not start out that way.

When I worked in customer service, we were always taught to acknowledge the person's frustrations and then start asking questions such as "What can we do to make this right?".

Even asking that question solves 90% of the problem, as the primary source of frustration is a feeling of lack of acknowledgement or understanding. You want to send the message that the person is being heard. Blow them off, and the anger only grows. Worse, anger can build to the point of disgust, and people will just walk away.

I see the word "TOXIC" bandied about. That's become a crutch and a cop-out that people, not just at SE have been kicking about far too much. It's an excuse to dismiss people who disagree with you, because if they are "toxic", then they can be dismissed.

Worse, this departs from SE's original "Be nice" and "Assume good intentions policies", both of which I found extremely attractive because as a person with autism, we are RARELY afforded such courtesy.

Now, the apparent strategy seems to be "Anyone who disagrees with us is 'toxic' in some way shape or form.

The OP has nailed it completely.

Stop stonewalling, listen, AND TALK to the user base.

SE is in a deep hole, it's time to stop digging.

People have been screaming at you for the past month. It's time to start listening

  • 4
    "It's an excuse to dismiss people who disagree with you, because if they are "toxic", then they can be dismissed." - there's a massive difference in how you present it. You can disagree with something without being rude about it, and for some reason I'll probably never understand, disagreement in extremely heated situations/discussions for some reason end up being toxic. Really toxic, not just the "oh no, someone has a different opinion than me"-"toxic". Sure, some people use it as an excuse, because there's always going to be stupid excuses for absolutely everything, but it's not Commented Nov 4, 2019 at 16:09
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    a wide-spread problem. Real toxicity gets nuked, friendly disagreements (with some special flag handling exceptions) don't. Commented Nov 4, 2019 at 16:09
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    @Zoethetransgirl that has not been my experience at all, which is why I posted what I did. "Toxic" is just a buzzword people throw out to end conversations "This person is toxic, get away from them. Ignore them." Et cetera.
    – user316129
    Commented Nov 4, 2019 at 16:30
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    If that's the case, you've been lucky enough to dodge some of the worst conversations. There's been a lot of truly nasty stuff out there, and it gets nuked every single time (how fast is a separate concern - some posts live for a couple days, others die in minutes. Really depends on how horrible it is, user activity, and how big the mod backlog is). Commented Nov 4, 2019 at 16:36
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    The problem is, this is all relative, @Zoe. You & I have seen some truly awful things posted - stuff where "toxic" is, if anything, too kind a label. Someone posting a dozens of vulgar insults on SO, or beheading pics on Mi Yodeya isn't "toxic" - they're not poisoning the site, they're straight-up attacking the people. But what about folks who don't see this, because we clean it up before they have a chance? What do they call "toxic"? It's a spectrum, ranging from repeated microaggressions to... Minor social faux pas. And that's where the term itself becomes dangerous through over-use.
    – Shog9
    Commented Nov 4, 2019 at 16:41
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    @Shog9 at this point, the word "toxic" has been so overused as to inspire eye-rolls in people who would normally be sympathetic. If someone is being nasty, call them nasty. If they are being rude, call them rude. If they are being disgusting, call them disgusting. If they are attacking people, call them out for that.
    – user316129
    Commented Nov 4, 2019 at 16:49
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    @Zoethetransgirl as I've said, SE, for all of it's problems has always been one of the kindest places on the internet I have ever seen, and I go all the way back to telnetting into BBS systems. As for what I've seen over the years, it would shock you. Not a week goes by when someone doesn't tell me that I should kill myself (not on SE, just to make that clear). I usually reply with something along the lines of "you first" or something like that. I have had some pretty hateful things said to, and about me at SE, but it's still far kinder than 90% of the net
    – user316129
    Commented Nov 4, 2019 at 16:52

(Warning: Soapbox ;p)

It's worth remembering that they're different teams, and, well, people feel as welcome as we make them - and that works both ways.

Folks were able to reach out to the development team, show them meta isn't a scary place give them a slight push and... well... it's a lovely thing ;).

If you treat folks as inherently hostile, they will be. If you treat a place as toxic, it will be. There's sometimes work to be done, of course, to actually make things better.

Let's talk about the good old days. When staff - even folks who started outside the SE community, because, well the community was barely taking shape - were accepted into the community. Folks we still speak of fondly were hired, worked their way into the community, and well, even in their absence at least leave a them-shaped hole.

Having folks from the dev and community team working with us should be the normal, as are many other things.

What isn't normal is folks seeing the core of the community as hostile or unimportant, and the community and company being at odds with each other.

It's worth remembering broadly many of us are working towards similar goals. I'm sure the dev team basically wants a product that's the best they can make it. The community wants a platform that fits their needs.

I hope stuff like this keeps happening ;)

  • 5
    Except that when you provide service, you should expect anger. Fighting with clients or customers never achieves anything, and with regards to SE specifically, if you are governing the site in any capacity, you need to hold yourself to a higher standard than the community in general. Do you ever see employees in retail cursing back at customers, or acting as rudely as the customers do? No, and for a very good reason. When you are providing a service, you need to rise above the fray, and be the adult in the room
    – user316129
    Commented Nov 4, 2019 at 14:24
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    @RichardsaysReinstateMonica - if you aren't paying for the service, you're a product, not the customer :( Too true in this case
    – DVK
    Commented Nov 4, 2019 at 17:33
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    @DVK well, even the farmer knows enough not to annoy the cows if they want good milk
    – user316129
    Commented Nov 4, 2019 at 17:49

This kind of story is nothing SE specific or unique.

On one side there is a Company and on other there are Users (Community). What Company calls toxic Community should actually be called frustrated Community.

Toxicity develops over time when Company continuously ignores Users and pushes its own agenda, implementing superficial, poor or just plain bad features. Insulting Users by calling them toxic while they are drowning in poisoned water Company produced is not helping either.

This is a vicious circle, and many Companies never get out of it.

Of course, there is always plenty of blame to go all around, but one thing that should be pointed out is that Company employees are paid to do their job and Users are either paying their money for Company services, are the actual Product for the Company and/or contribute to the Product. That means that on top of dealing with issues with the Company and the Product, Users have other problems on their own and they have to earn their paycheck doing other (for them way more important) things.

How to solve toxicity?

Unfortunately, solving toxicity is something only Company can do and initiate. If the Company makes right moves poison will clear out. While Users can certainly contribute to faster cleanup, they cannot do a thing unless Company starts making moves in a right direction.

  • Company should employ right people in critical places (including managers) - that means having people that can handle the criticism, that are capable of listening to the Users and that are capable of calming down discussions

  • Company should train their all employees that deal directly with Users - making them realize that criticism toward Company is not a personal attack

  • Company should start listening to the Users and has to seriously start fixing most critical flaws in the Product. In this process it is vital that right (real) issues are recognized and that also involves talking to and listening to the Users

At the end of the day, Users will respond in a positive way to any changes and moves they perceive as desired and needed. That can trigger nice feelings and good response from involved employees. The bad toxicity circle can be turned around.

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    In sales, "mirroring the behavior you want to encourage" is a big thing. Treat people with respect, and they look like jerks if they don't reciprocate. Act the way SE has been acting.... well....
    – user316129
    Commented Nov 4, 2019 at 18:10

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