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As of December 24th, 2019, there seem to be maybe 24 moderators who suspended activity and are still in that state as a result of the ongoing fiasco centered around SE's firing of Monica Cellio. Because SE did not respond to the community's attempts to resolve the issue, it ultimately passed to legal action. On December 23rd, it was announced that an agreement had been reached. Part of the agreement seems to be that neither side will discuss it. Monica has not been reinstated, and it seems clear that SE will take no further action beyond whatever is in the secret agreement. Thus, it appears that this is it.

I am wondering what the responses of the self-suspended moderators are? Are they satisfied? Do they intend to return to full moderation activities, resign, or something else? If the latter, what, and what would serve as the trigger for action at this point?

Update:
I am interested in the perspective of those who are in an uncertain or ambiguous state. This is principally those moderators who have declared that they suspended their activity, but who retain their diamonds and have not publicly updated their status. However, in light of @Mithical's contribution, it can also be moderators who resigned but are considering returning, or moderators who did not resign or suspend their activity, but are considering it now.

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    (Note that I am one of the self-suspended moderators. I am conflicted, which is part of why I am interested in others' thoughts. I intend to post my own answer in time.) – gung - Reinstate Monica Dec 24 '19 at 15:16
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    @gung-ReinstateMonica It's fine to ask for a check in as you've done, but please stop asking people in this public space what their resignation plans are. Even if I'm convinced you have the best of intentions (and I don't know you), you're not the only ears here. I don't have plans, since I don't consider this chapter of my life closed yet. But the repeated questioning is getting a bit much. Thank you. – Cyn says make Monica whole Dec 27 '19 at 16:12
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    My apologies, @Cyn, I don't mean for it to be annoying. It is the essence of my question, however. The premise, which may not be clear enough, is that SE has shown it isn't going to do anything without being forced, & the lawsuit is over--nothing else will convey anywhere close to that much pressure--so nothing more is likely from here on out. Mods suspended activity in hopes of achieving some goals. Sooner or later, you have to paint or get off the ladder. If this is it, mods (including me) can either: 1) go back to modding, 2) resign formally, or 3) hold out a little longer. (cont.) – gung - Reinstate Monica Dec 28 '19 at 3:57
  • If 3, what would be the event that will push them finally into 1 or 2? With the announcement made, & the statement that the settlement requires no party say anything more about it, I can't see what could be a final straw in the future. I personally feel like I owe it to my community to make a decision, but I'm conflicted. I'm wondering how other mods see it (maybe they don't agree w/ my analysis above). How are they working through the decision? Etc. Your point about other ears is a good one. No one needs to have actually made the decision yet, & none of them owe me an answer, I'm just asking. – gung - Reinstate Monica Dec 28 '19 at 4:04
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    I resigned today as well another mod on Blender – iKlsR Jan 21 at 23:33
  • Thanks for letting me know, @iKlsR. I respect your decision. – gung - Reinstate Monica Jan 22 at 4:13

13 Answers 13

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Update 2020-01-13

Given SE's firing of Shog9 and Robert Cartaino, I am no longer open to the option of returning as a moderator for the network. That ship has sailed at this point. I don't believe there is anything the company can do to redeem itself enough that I would be willing to return at this point.


So... to start off, I didn't just suspend activity; I decided to step down. That was around two months ago now.

Now that SE has started to address the defamation issue, would I consider taking back my diamond and resuming my moderator position? The answer is... it's complicated.

I'd like to quote from my resignation post a bit:

Over the course of the past three weeks, give or take, though, things have changed. Stack Exchange made a long-overdue change to their Code of Conduct to help protect minority groups, which was awesome to see. And at first, I was hopeful.

Unfortunately, this change sparked a veritable flood of anti-LGBTQ+ comments, posts, chat messages, and what have you. Meta.SE in particular was, and still is, overrun with posts expressing sentiments that make me sick. They are not all overt, but the non-overt posts couched in politeness are just as bad, if not worse.

If that wasn't bad enough, the network also became a host to a large number of anti-Jewish sentiments, sparked by a related issue on the network, in which the company in essence marked a Jewish moderator as being anti-trans and threw her to the wolves.

These sentiments have also shown up in a certain percentage of the folks in the network-wide moderator room, and their claims largely went unchallenged by the vast majority of people in the room.

I am not able to hunt down and remove all of these by myself. The pushback I received from users and other moderators while attempting to address some of the issues I saw had made it impossible for me to effectively moderate chat.SE, in particular.

[...]

I also no longer trust the company to support me as a moderator. They have shown that they are willing to defame one of their moderators in an extremely public way, exposing her to mounds of personal attacks and damaging her reputation, to the extent that they spoke to the press about it. They have, as yet, shown no sign that they are taking action to rectify this, and I can no longer trust the company to have any form of support for the moderators...

[...]

I also linked to this post about recent events endangering enby folks on this site.

As you can see, my main issue was not Monica's dismissal. I have stated previously that I disagree strongly with Monica's position, and there is context extant that muddies the water. It's not a black-and-white situation.
Instead, my problem was what happened as a result of the dismissal. These include:

  • defamation
  • anti-queer sentiments all over the place
  • anti-Jewish sentiments also circulating
  • these sentiments showing up in moderator space
  • pushback from (fellow) moderators and users when attempting to call out and remove these
  • there being no way to moderate the moderators

There is also an element of not trusting the company to support me as a moderator, which also involved previous context in which the company has in a sense thrown its moderators to the (sea)lions.


Now, to be fair, Stack has started to address these issues. They have made attempts to make the TL less toxic by moving it to chat.Meta.SE, allowing the MSE moderators to moderate the room. (I can't of course see how this works in practice, but it's a step in the right direction.)
They have created a no-comment policy when speaking to the press, mitigating some of the fears about defamation - although not all; I still have not heard any word about not repeating the mistake of pinning a message announcing the dismissal in the TL, for instance.
They have sort of started to address the harm they have done to Monica by putting up a sort of apology post and removed posts levying accusations at her.

That's all good, and allows for at least the consideration of starting to build trust again.

But. What I have not seen is anything about the safety of its users being a priority for SE. There are still hordes of anti-queer and anti-Jewish posts lingering in comments and chat posts, incurring sometimes a half-hour suspension and most of the time just silently deleted, if they are deleted at all. Some of this comes down to a lack of active moderators at the time, and I do not want to blame the moderators, so that is a smaller issue for me.

But my main problem still remains: SE endangered its users and I have not seen any attempt made to rectify that.

Stack's actions first endangered Monica, by exaggerating her position and speaking to the press about it, and further by the continued discussion around her. She has stated that she has received threats by people and invitation to join alt-right groups. That is actual harm.

Stack also endangered queer users on their platform, by making us a target of people blaming us for Monica's dismissal and a target of the bigots who amidst the support for Monica decided that this meant that they could get away with being bigots. This includes people writing hate speech, threats, and semi-credible discussion about writing scripts to identify and target queer people.

Stack also endangered Jewish users on their platform by making us a target of those who believe that Monica's Judaism caused her to be anti-queer as a result of Stack's caricaturization of her position, as well as a target for those who disguised their anti-Jewishness as support for queer people and as disavowing Monica's position.

Stack Exchange needs to address the harm they have caused, no matter how unintended, before I am willing to take up my diamond again.


My dilemma, of course, is whether or not I would be in a better position to help push through changes that I'd like to see if I did have my diamond back. Is it better for me to remain without it, because I don't want to support the company etc yet due to the unresolved issues, or is it better for me to help resolve those issues from the inside?

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    This isn't what I had in mind, but it is a very thoughtful & well-reasoned piece. Thank you for your contribution. – gung - Reinstate Monica Dec 24 '19 at 17:02
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    I think a key point here is that irrespective of where you stand on the Monica issue, the way that SE behaved on it and associated topics was absolutely appalling. Reinstating Monica is not the point, the point is that SE management were, and continued to be until forced under legal duress, bad actors. Even now there remains sufficient cause for doubt; the issue may be closed but the dust sure hasn't settled. – Maximus Minimus Dec 24 '19 at 17:29
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    "My dilemma, of course, is whether or not I would be in a better position to help push through changes that I'd like to see if I did have my diamond back." And that's the difficult decision to make. I wouldn't say I'm affected as much as you are but that's the core of it. – Journeyman Geek Dec 25 '19 at 2:04
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    "started to address the defamation issue" - how so? The post by Ms. Chipps surely is not such a start. – Shadow Wizard is Ear For You Dec 26 '19 at 7:21
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    @Sha - More the removal of several of the posts levying accusations that went along with the post. – Mithical Dec 26 '19 at 7:23
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    This post resonates really strongly with me. While I don't approve of the way that SE treated Monica, what has really disappointed me is how SE treats its users. I have seen the same evidence as you and come to the opposite conclusion that I can be a better advocate with my diamond than without, but I am not as directly affected by the issues as you which spares me a lot of the angst and increases my feeling of taking responsibility for my privledge. – StrongBad Dec 26 '19 at 15:34
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    This is a thoughtful answer. Certainly, moderators can make a difference in how users experience that which SE hath wrought. All the evidence I've seen is that SE expects moderators to toe the company line, and it doesn't take much dissent or questioning to trigger sanctions. SE also seems to have pressed the point that not only do they solely set the policies, priorities, and agenda, but it's important that that be recognized and not questioned. Is it realistic that moderators can seriously influence change "from the inside" (are moderators really perceived by SE as being any more "inside")? – fixer1234 Dec 26 '19 at 21:04
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    I know what you mean, @StrongBad, but I agree w/ fixer that the effectiveness of the advocacy is questionable. One of the reasons I stepped back instead of resigning is so that I could try to influence the course of events behind the scenes. I was one of a small number of mods who contributed a good deal to the discussion around the new CoC. Changes were made that softened it, but then it was published with a FAQ that completely undermined all the changes we argued for. (I also contributed to the 2nd revision.) It's just not obvious to me that my advocacy is effective or worth it. – gung - Reinstate Monica Dec 27 '19 at 1:32
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    Well written. "... is it better for me to help resolve those issues from the inside?" you may find that with the current stand SO have taken that you will not have much power or freedom to work from the inside. – KalleMP Jan 9 at 10:01
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EDIT 2020-01-14: I'm gone after Robert Cartaino and Shog9 also lost their positions.

TL;DR: Not satisfied. I wanted to serve the community first, not Stack Exchange.

On October 23, I announced that I would be suspending activity. I subsequently logged out of my Stack Exchange account on all of my devices on October 28, plus the app (which I seldom used) on November 5. Since then I've been checking the famous meta question every now and again, probably once or twice per week, but have not logged in again until now. Reason being OP contacted me asking for an update.

Of course, I'm disappointed, but it's not just that. Stepping back for these two months has made me realize that I don't need to be participating in a platform that is intolerant to its users, especially users like Monica. It was Stack Exchange's prerogative to take a political stance and enforce a certain political viewpoint on its users, and it's my prerogative to look at that and say no thank you. It's been more than just the Monica thing, but I see this incident and its resolution as Stack Exchange's way of finally making it clear to me that I am not welcome if I don't promote their progressive American politics.

I found Stack Exchange through StackOverflow and became a moderator for Language Learning some time later. All I wanted was to write code, learn languages, and help people out. I don't give a flying flip who you are, what you identify as, or what your pronouns are.1 I want to help people. I wanted to serve the community first, not Stack Exchange. For other people, that may be different, and that's fine. It's up to you. This is how it is to me.

I'm not satisfied. I will be if Stack Exchange admits wrong and lets the moderators do the moderating. I'm not sure the specifics of what needs to happen, but a change of direction at least is necessary, that being away from the iron fist and not towards it. Unfortunately, I doubt that will happen.

1 Not saying those things don't matter, but that I want to help regardless.

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    Thanks for your thoughts. Are you thinking of leaving SE permanently, then? Part of my premise is the suspicion that SE will take no more actions. – gung - Reinstate Monica Dec 26 '19 at 14:28
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    I don't want to leave. I want to help people, but I also don't want to be defamed for disagreements over moderation policy. Change of SE leadership would help, but that's not going to happen. I'm honestly quite sad about it. Yes, I'm thinking about it. – Hatchet Dec 26 '19 at 18:23
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    "It was Stack Exchange's prerogative to take a political stance and enforce a certain political viewpoint on its users" – What do you mean by "political," exactly? If I understand you right, you're talking about the "use stated pronouns when known" policy, but I don't see anything political about that policy. – Tanner Swett Jan 9 at 21:23
  • @TannerSwett That is a very political policy. Remember that it took political bravery by Bill Clinton in 1992 to suggest that LG (no B or T back then) folks weren't deviants who needed to be driven out of our society. That was less than 30 years ago, and a measurable percentage of people still believe otherwise. It is extremely political topic in most of the USA. We only had recognition of same-sex marriage in 2015, and a huge number of people consider any suggestion that trans is a valid choice to be treasonous. Any statement of how society should treat others is political! – SRM Feb 3 at 3:04
  • @SRM By "political," do you mean something like "controversial in a way which is associated with partisan politics"? I would definitely agree that a policy of "use stated pronouns when known" is controversial in a way that's associated with politics; people who lean Democratic are more likely to support it and people who lean Republican are more likely to oppose it. But I think that the policy is not political because it is not actually related to politics (by which I mean the practice of determining how to govern a nation or territory). – Tanner Swett Feb 3 at 5:32
  • @TannerSwett I mean it in your first sense, insofar as encouraging a given policy is clearly taking a side in the culture war and forcing participants to choose that same side. That's the sense I think Hatchet meant it in. – SRM Feb 3 at 13:20
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Thanks for asking.

I want to come back very badly. I miss this place. But I don't feel like I can yet. If ever.

There were two things I needed to feel like this issue was resolved enough for me to return to full-on moderation duties.

  1. That SE addressed their defamation of Monica. I don't know the details of what they did, aside from the recent Meta post, but Monica has ended her lawsuit and the matter is closed. While I might wish for more, it's not up to me and I consider this condition satisfied.

  2. That SE fully restored Monica to every moderation position she held before this nightmare began. SE still refuses to do this. What's worse is they blame Monica for it.

They've "invited" her to "apply for possible reinstatement." Because she knows it's a trap and refuses to walk into it, they claim her not having diamonds is her fault. But the only reason they'd force her to "apply" and say things like "possible" is if they're going to deny her. It's an insult to every one of us, not just Monica.

This isn't over.

SE can issue apologies and regrets a hundred times over and they'll all be meaningless without action to back them up. Until they reinstate Monica to her former moderator positions (no guessing games, no maybes, no making her beg for it), then nothing they say can ever restore trust.

Without at least some level of trust, I can not move forward. I'm still hopeful, but I'm not holding my breath. There's only so much a company can do to its volunteers before they break.

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    Thanks for answering. My feelings are similar, although I lean away from the conclusion that the defamation has been addressed: AFAICT, a correction has not be issued to The Register, or at least no updates have been posted to their article. Are you thinking of formally resigning now? If you intend to wait a little longer, til when? What would be the trigger to go one way or the other? – gung - Reinstate Monica Dec 26 '19 at 14:32
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    I don't think SE would deny Monica's application for reinstatement, at least not on Writing And Mi Yodeya - maybe yes on Meta. If that happened, there would be quite a bit of backlash from the community. Making her apply is, I think, their way of saying they're in the right, they were just in her removal, and they will show benevolence by letting her back in. Which is an insult to every one of us, not just Monica. Also, by making Monica apply for reinstatement, they make her actively acknowledge they're the masters, she's the slave. Which is an insult to every one of us, not just Monica. – Galastel supports GoFundMonica Dec 26 '19 at 21:23
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    @GalastelsupportsGoFundMonica I agree it's an insult to her and all of us either way. I used to think they'd reinstate her if she crawled for them as requested. I now think it's a game so they can point and say "see, we were right to remove her, we just did it the wrong way then, now we've done it the right way." Seriously, how much more backlash can there be from the community? – Cyn says make Monica whole Dec 27 '19 at 15:47
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    @gung-ReinstateMonica The defamation piece is over and done. Monica agreed to drop her lawsuit in exchange for SE's statement and one or more additional things we may never know about. She may or may not be satisfied, but there's nothing left on that front. Did SE ethically do all they could? Of course not. But that's neither here nor there. The one thing we can still push for is unconditional reinstatement. Monica has stated she wants this and it is frankly disgusting that it hasn't happened yet. Keep the pressure on SE for this! It's important! – Cyn says make Monica whole Dec 27 '19 at 16:04
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    @CynsaysmakeMonicawhole, I agree it's important. But how do you propose to keep the pressure on? I intend to keep my avatar & username, but the lawsuit is over & that was the thing most capable of inducing action. As you ask, "how much more backlash can there be from the community?" – gung - Reinstate Monica Dec 27 '19 at 18:57
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    @gung-ReinstateMonica The best I can do is suggest that we don't let this go. Don't let this be smoothed over and forgotten. Obviously they don't actually care (aside from the SO community, none of our communities mean anything to them; we don't help them sell stuff) but the least I can do is make sure they know we haven't stopped caring too. – Cyn says make Monica whole Dec 28 '19 at 19:34
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    I haven't stopped caring, @CynsaysmakeMonicawhole, not by a long shot. I just wish there was something more effective that was available to me. – gung - Reinstate Monica Dec 28 '19 at 19:50
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    @gung-ReinstateMonica I know you haven't. We just need to make sure SE knows how important this is to us. And why we can't return to business as usual until it's resolved. Resolving the lawsuit is only half of it. – Cyn says make Monica whole Dec 29 '19 at 19:29
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+500

I was one of the moderators who suspended their activity. I am happy that Monica managed to get a reply which she could agree on, but I am certainly not satisfied with the outcome. For me, the prime reason for dropping away from the queues was the lack of enthusiasm to continue to moderate, partly because of loss of trust and partly because of the actions of some folks at Stack Exchange.

I had mentioned this in one of the private conversations that I had with some other moderators:

The reason why I suspended my activity was because I lost motivation to contribute to the sites. Monica's incident was one of the last straws. My interest in moderation started dipping starting from the Twittergate scandal, through the removal of Tumbleweed badges, removal of HMP, and so on.

I had mentioned about quitting in the SO mod room a couple of minutes after Monica was fired, but I assumed that SE would handle it better, and so I held on. I still had faith in the CMs as they are damn good people. I suspended my activity after seeing 4 of my co-mods resign, and reading Shog's answers on a couple of those. It doesn't look like the CMs have the sway that they originally had.

These were the same people who were once entrusted with most of decisions regarding the site, and one of them had even earned the title of "ultimate authority". The fact that CMs were spending more time with legal, helping them remove certain links from user profiles, instead of with the community, was a bit disappointing.

I have continued to tag along with the sites, because I like the user base and because of the occasional bright spots. Be it Yaakov handling a lot of the minor bugs (and accepting my challenge), Megan spearheading the effort to reduce the number of reviews needed for the CV queue, updates to the moderator dashboard which was hanging for years, and so on, all were ample proof to show that there is at least some work going on.

That being said, I hadn't found much interest to get back to full time moderation like I used to do before. I did try to get back to moderation as I did not want to disappoint those who elected me, I even cleaned the entire Stack Overflow queue on a couple of occasions, but I couldn't continue the pace due to seeing the "reinstate monica" user names everywhere which reminded me of why I suspended my activity. Now that Monica has received some reply, I would probably be getting back to handling flags, but I don't think that I would be getting back to the same levels of activity (especially wrt tags) as I was before.

As an aside, one of the motives of Stack Exchange was to get a better reputation online, which resulted in them kowtowing to Twitter, other media, and eventually starting all this. Now, when we search for "Stack Overflow Moderator" in Google, the recommendations aren't that pretty. Ironic, isn't it?

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    (posting this at 2:30am, so sorry if I don't make much sense :\ ) – Bhargav Rao Dec 26 '19 at 21:04
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    If you make this much sense at 2:30am you must be awesome at noon ... – rene Dec 26 '19 at 21:13
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    Thanks for staying up to answer this ;-). It sounds like you're going to continue w/ moderating, but at a lower level & w/ less enthusiasm. I can see that as an understandable outcome. – gung - Reinstate Monica Dec 27 '19 at 1:18
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    What is "Twittergate" scandal? – Tomáš Zato - Reinstate Monica Jan 7 at 14:51
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    @TomášZato-ReinstateMonica - medium.com/@cellio/… – Mithical Jan 7 at 14:59
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    I just want to say thanks for everything. while I fully support moderators that stepped down, I am also glad that you are just suspending activity. It is good to know there are moderators out there I can fully trust. – Resistance Is Futile Jan 10 at 21:54
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    And thanks to you all as well, @ResistanceIsFutile. Perhaps the only bright side to this huge drama is that as mods, we now know that the community trusts us and would back us. – Bhargav Rao Jan 11 at 4:21
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+50

While Monica is being forced to go through a "process" to regain her moderator status, then my diamond stays in the drawer. I am very disappointed that despite everything that has happened, Monica is still being treated like a perpetrator.

I am happy (enough) that Monica and SE have reached an agreement, and whatever that was, it remains private and is no concern of mine or anyone else's, but Monica is refusing to go through the process of applying for her diamonds again, and the fact that she is being forced to, tells me that this is still a very grudging step forward by SE.

None of us wants to see this happen to anyone again, be they a moderator or a member of one of our communities. So until that aspect has a visible and appropriate conclusion (whatever that may be), then my diamond stays off.

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    Re "None of us wants to see this happen to anyone again": Yes, Stack Exchange needs to restore trust by actions (not words, like apologies), even if it will take years, including a way to assure this will not be repeated ("Who is next after Monica?"): 1) Swallow their pride (in private) 2) Come up with a plan to restore trust, 3) Take the first action in the plan (before publication), 4) Publish the plan 5) Unconditionally restore Monica's status 6) Do something extra (not just the bare minimum) – P.Mort. - forgot Clay Shirky_q Dec 28 '19 at 1:54
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    Thanks for contributing your perspective, Jane. – gung - Reinstate Monica Dec 28 '19 at 4:16
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    There is also the concept of (sincerely) asking for forgiveness (well known in some cultures) - don't listen to John Sonmez on this one. But those are about the only words that are needed. Actions are needed. – P.Mort. - forgot Clay Shirky_q Jan 9 at 16:28
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I never really resigned; I just said I was disengaging.

What is the difference? Logging onto SE and moderating was once part of my daily routine. Now it isn't; I log in maybe once a week or so.

Ideally, a moderator probably ought to stay more connected to the community than I currently am. On the other hand, though, I've seen moderators keep their diamonds for a long time even after they were rarely logging on.

I'm still disappointed with the direction SE is heading in as a whole. The latest non-apology garnered over 1000 downvotes yet again, largely because it was perceived as well over a day late and a dollar short; however, at least it served a purpose by reassuring me that I have much better things to do with my time than support this place and help keep it running smoothly on a day-to-day basis.

So, to answer your question I'll probably stick with what I'm doing now: check in on occasion, maybe handle a flag or two, and then get back to whatever else I was doing for a week or so.

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  • Thanks for weighing in. Continuing at a lower level is one way this can evolve. – gung - Reinstate Monica Dec 27 '19 at 1:21
  • @J.R.means'JustReinstate' Thank you for the edit. – sourcejedi Jan 1 at 20:43
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    Shog and Robert Cartaino? Really? "I just want to thank the Stack Exchange for confirming how I picked the right time to wean myself from this morass. " – J.R. means 'Just Reinstate' Jan 16 at 17:09
  • Couldn't upvote earlier due to "circumstances" which lasted for a month. I'm hanging on for the ride, it's been a rollercoaster one; I don't know if we're nearing the end but it certainly feels like it. – Mari-Lou A Jan 25 at 20:59
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I continued to keep my mod activity suspended, and remain mostly disengaged. To this point Stack Exchange has done a marvelous job of sapping my desire to continue contributing. That said, they haven't extinguished it completely yet, so no promises that I'll disappear completely. We'll see. This isn't a long and well thought out answer, but at this point, SE isn't worth any more of my time and energy.

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    Thanks for mustering the energy to answer. Remaining mostly disengaged seems understandable & common. – gung - Reinstate Monica Dec 28 '19 at 4:07
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    I mostly concur with this answer. I still really love the communities, but don't feel any desire to support SE without more action on their part to fix things. – AJ Henderson Jan 6 at 18:27
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+300

I'm pretty vocally unhappy. I would sign the open letter again if I could. Most of this is a repeat of what I've said before in other threads, many which are linked below.

I think that SE has destroyed the concept of community on SE. I think they have done as little as possible to address the problems we've been facing. There are still legal issues regarding content that SE fails to address, and so long as we don't have a satisfactory answer it means that contributors are not valued as people, only sources of content (the old "we're just a number to them, not a person" stance).

The only conclusion I can make from The Corporation's actions is that they emphatically do not care about us as people. We don't matter. We are not a remotely significant portion of the 9,302,325.5 median daily visitors* to Stack Exchange, Inc. websites.

I don't know how I'm meant to contribute, given the following issues:

  • All of these issues occurred after we'd had numerous promises from The Corporation that they would do better, would be transparent, and would earn our trust. During the scandal with the arbitration agreement, we were told "More transparency is coming so that we continue to earn your trust.", and one of the very next times we had a major issue it was handled in a way that systematically went about breaking trust and removing transparency. Now, that situation is so locked-down that we can't even attempt discussing it with The Corporation anymore.
  • The Corporation has decided it can unilaterally vandalize my content without warning, ignoring the licensing agreement.
  • The Corporation has demonstrated its willingness to continually ignore internal policies which they've communicated to us, to the detriment of moderators, meaning that any action I take could be used against me by the next employee that is unhappy about something. Moderators have been threatened with being fired and disciplined by employees via Twitter, and disparaged by employees across meta and to the press.
  • There's no grievance policy in the terms of service. None of the new announced policies regarding moderators (removal, reinstatement, not badmouthing them to the press) are part of any agreement, meaning they have no value or weight. Unless The Corporation includes such policies in an agreement (that is, a contract), then they are literally meaningless words which we have already seen The Corporation ignore under the excuse of "they didn't know", with no redress given to those affected.
  • Aside from vandalism, our contributions are also not being handled properly with regards to the license under which we agreed to provide the content to The Corporation. With over 9 million page visits a day, The Corporation is monetizing our content with with increasingly invasive and disruptive ads. So, now I have to weigh each and every future contribution with the following considerations:
    • What rights am I actually giving to The Corporation?
    • What rights am I keeping?
    • What rights am I forfeiting?
    • What guarantee do I have that The Corporation will respect my rights, given recent examples where they've violated them with impunity?
    • What types of businesses are going to benefit monetarily from my content existing? Will I potentially be supporting privacy-violating ad networks, or businesses I find immoral?
  • Does The Corporation actually need "volunteer" moderators? If the activities we perform are actually necessary for the proper functioning of the website, then can we actually be volunteers, or are we displacing employees and perhaps circumventing labor laws? Worker and labor rights are very important to me, so the uncertainty here is debilitating for me.
  • What's The Corporation's actual goal now? I used to believe I was contributing to a source of knowledge, for a company that was fundamentally invested in fostering a community that could build such a knowledge base. Now, I don't see any investment.
  • There's no way to retract the content you own, because you licensed it indefinitely to The Corporation, and they'll maintain they're right to own it even if they refuse to properly attribute it and mark changes. They can continue to make increasingly political, biased, and unethical statements and decisions, and our work will be associated with them regardless. Even Facebook, Twitter, Google, et al let me delete my contributions.

So what am I even supposed to do as a moderator? I can look into the help, but...

  • "Moderators are human exception handlers, there to deal with those exceptional conditions that could otherwise disrupt the community."
    • But, what's the community? The page visitors that generate ad revenue, or the regular contributors that browse daily looking for ways to assist others or to be assisted? If my goal is to deal with exception conditions that disrupt the community, how do I deal with the exceptional condition of employees' being able to do whatever they want?
  • "Moderators act as a liaison between the community and Stack Exchange the company."
    • It certainly doesn't feel like I'm a liason. Aside from having access to a historically hostile and toxic chat room, moderators mainly have the same tools to contact employees as anyone else: emailing them. Our requests get put into the same queue as any other person's. It's been common in the past year for us to be told that we can't actually get information from The Corporation, either, because the team in charge of the feature can't/won't talk to us (commonly it's been the ad team or marketing teams that are insulated from us).
    • The communication to moderators is fragmented and inconsistent. Will it be in a chat room, or a moderator Teams post, or a Meta post, or an email? We don't know until it happens, and generally the information we receive is either made public at the same time or we're told we're not allowed to talk about it. Meaning, we're not liaising, we're simply given a heads-up that we may be receiving disruption, but we're never empowered to be the ones to deliver such news to the sites we moderate.

So, right now I feel like The Corporation only wants to take things from me. They want me to be a keyboard jockey to click around some interfaces, so they don't have to. They want me to give them content to monetize without any benefit to me, so they don't have to generate it or pay someone else to do so. They want to take my rights away, and take my trust, so that they can operate however they see fit.

The relationship between The Corporation and moderators is effectively parasitic, when it should be symbiotic. I wish it were different, but I've been around the block long enough to know when I'm being used, and I can't currently think of solutions that don't involve major changes to the Terms of Service, Code of Conduct, and Moderator Agreement.


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    Thank you for bringing this together here. I agree w/ this. – gung - Reinstate Monica Jan 9 at 3:54
  • We should not wish for paid moderators. It will be low-wage jobs, and we know who will take those jobs and the complete lack of sense of quality that comes with it. Quora is an example of that. For instance, they are so uneducated that they don't know the difference between 5G and 5 GHz (in that particular context, one of the Wi-Fi frequency bands). (Yes, they both use radio waves...). A question was obliterated by "Quora Moderation" (faceless moderation, 100% opaque) this way. – P.Mort. - forgot Clay Shirky_q Jan 9 at 15:09
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    Some don't learn from past failures. – P.Mort. - forgot Clay Shirky_q Jan 9 at 15:15
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    @PeterMortensen I'm not advocating for paid moderators. I should have made that clear. I've posted elsewhere that I have no interest in being considered an employee, and I think most moderators agree. I think what I was trying to convey is that our roles should be supplementary, rather than necessary, which means we are in need of an evolution of the definition of moderator. – user287266 Jan 9 at 15:25
34

I am very conflicted. At this point it seems unlikely that I will ever feel SE is the place I want to donate my time to support the communities I care about.

I monitor the site I moderate, for very blatant misdeeds, but am not overly attentive to the minor transgressions. Currently my goal is to keep the community afloat without providing undue support for corporate SE.

Replacement sites are in the works, and at least one has launched See it here. My focus is just keeping the community alive until we have a better place to commune.

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31

I suspended my moderation activity on Oct 2nd and resumed my activities on Nov 14. A lot of my thoughts are summarized and crystallized in this post. And I certainly participated in Monica's GoFundme campaign.


Many users and moderators already expressed very good points in general, so here I would say what was and is important to me as an individual, for my "egoistic" purposes.

I am still extremely disappointed in StackExchange as a company. In how the original conflict was handled, in the attitude towards Monica, in the announcements that were made here and, especially, in press and Twitter, and now, with the way SE handled the legal proceedings (at least judging by the available public information).

With all that, I do not feel safe here. I always participate in online discussions and moderate using my real name and will continue to do so. However, it actually can backfire. It already did backfire, just not for me. Yet. A lot has to change in practice for me to feel safer (notice, not safe) in many areas: legal (example), information dissemination (example, The Loop, the role of Meta), ways the company surveys and considers users' opinions, overall atmosphere.

With all that being said, I mostly participate in the life of relatively small Computational Science community. And I haven't found any other place with such a great community, convenient features, and organized knowledge in this field. I feel responsible to help to keep it running and directly help as many people as I can simultaneously learning new things in the areas of science I am particularly interested in. That's why I made a tough decision to return to moderation, despite my increasing disappointment and, let's be honest, fear.

So, for now, I am continuing to be the moderator of Computational Science and actively participate in StackExchange's life. To the best of my abilities and time that I have, I will try to make it a better place. But (and this is a big one), I am actively starting to look for other places, and, potentially participate in the development of the new ones that are not affiliated with StackExchange. That decision I have not made yet, nor that my narrow-focus experience can be too helpful in the early development stages. Who knows.

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    Thanks for answering. I can understand the tension in your position. I also moderate a small site that I care about. It would be nice if there were a parallel one that wasn't affiliated w/ SE. – gung - Reinstate Monica Dec 27 '19 at 1:12
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    -1 For supporting the loop initiative, a "straw-man" ("straw-person"?) propped up as a substitute to actually engaging with the SE community. – einpoklum Jan 1 at 23:29
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    @einpoklum I do not support it. I listed it in the things that has to change and be clarified, together with the role of meta. Let me know, what wording was confusing. – Anton Menshov Jan 2 at 2:09
30

I agree with the sentiments of the other folks who've already posted here. Personally, a while ago I put together a short list of what I hoped we'd leave the situation with before I fully returned to work:

  • Something resembling trust in the company
  • Signs that they fully understand the problem
  • A roadmap for the future

One thing I've said before is that I continue to have the utmost respect and trust for certain employees within the company (largely, members of the Community Team). I know that there are folks who have worked long hours to fix a problem that they individually may not have contributed to, and they've done so professionally. These same feelings do not extend to the company as a whole. Like others have said, I'm not confident that Stack Overflow will not commit some of the same errors in the future - perhaps in different guises, but nonetheless based on the same poor judgment. The Register article comes to mind, of course, but that is for me merely one of the more public missteps.

Mixed thoughts on whether Stack Overflow, Inc., understands the problem. I can't see inside anyone else's head, and all I have to go on are particular Meta posts. David Fullerton's apology was certainly an indicator that the company has its head screwed on mostly properly. A response by Cesar M was also, in my opinion, well-written and cause for hope. So I'm inclined to say that, yes, they have a general idea of the issue, and they are listening to some of what's being said - maybe not all of it, partly out of the sheer volume of feedback, but some of it. (Ironically, one of the ways I think they're still falling short is when it comes to working with the community.)

Looking to the future: There are some contingency plans in place to at the very least reduce the odds of another crisis à la this one. In particular, there are now painstakingly presented procedures for removing and reinstating moderators (with flowcharts!). There have also been other efforts (some of which have happened in private, so I think I'll avoid details for now) for the mod community at large which I think have the potential to reduce the chance of even getting to the point where Stack Overflow has to consider removing a moderator or revoking their privileges. These give me confidence.

So . . . let's say we're at maybe 50-75% of my goals, somewhere in that range. If I had to put together a revised list, it would be along the lines of

  • Something resembling trust in the company (!)
  • A commitment to working more closely with the community to solve problems (and no, I remain unconvinced that The Loop is the best route forward, and it certainly won't scale downward)
  • Some sort of more human concluding message about the situation, rather than the current statement, although as I understand it, legal issues may prevent this.

I have found myself slowly trickling back to moderating - just a wee bit, like handling sockpuppets, abusive users, etc. Maybe not normal flag-handling. I care quite a lot for my sites, which is part of what made stepping back such a difficult decision. But I think I may put off a final decision until after the holidays, when I'll be refreshed and ideally ready to make a better assessment of it all.

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    "..There have also been other efforts (some of which have happened in private, so I think I'll avoid details for now) for the mod community at large which I think have the potential to reduce the chance of even getting to the point where Stack Overflow has to consider removing a moderator or revoking their privileges..." - That does sound like good progress. That's slightly encouraging. – Mithical Dec 26 '19 at 17:16
  • Thanks for sharing. From time to time, I have found myself trickling back towards moderating as well. It's hard to hold the line w/o formally resigning. We'll see how we feel after a couple more weeks. – gung - Reinstate Monica Dec 27 '19 at 1:24
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    That's all fine but, without unconditional reinstatement for Monica, everything else is meaningless. – Cyn says make Monica whole Dec 27 '19 at 16:08
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    Hi HDE. I've been cautiously reading as time's gone by and while my hopes have increased, they haven't increased as much as yours. However, you're more closely connected than I'll ever be. I've been terribly saddened to see Worldbuilding's overall quality (IMO) drop substantially. I hold your opinion and Monica's above all others I've met in the SE universe. I've not read anything that suggests Monica is content. Have you? And are you content? Nothing here will ever be perfect - they never are when politics become involved - but have we reached "good enough?" – JBH Jan 14 at 23:49
27

I suspended duties aside from some cleanup and assistance when it seemed necessary, and have been following events to decide whether I wanted to restart activities or not. I wasn't too happy with how the Monica debacle was handled, so I remained in suspension.

Right after the new year one of the CMs sent such a lovely message I had started to ramp up my moderation activities again, but this latest action of firing CMs when Stack Exchange is in dire need of more just doesn't fit with a company doing the right thing.

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    I appreciate your thoughts. I remain conflicted, but the apparent firing of Shog is just inexplicable. – gung - Reinstate Monica Jan 13 at 20:57
7
+100

I sleep a lot better now that I don't suffer the angst and conflict that I did when I was a user-moderator here.

I'm at peace with myself and the decision to leave was the right one for me - and seeing what's happened since then only reinforces the validity of that decision.

Before I left, I felt positive - I wanted to be a part of a postive, forward-looking change that would heal and rebuild confidence in the site and start serving the users once again.

A post of mine about about supporting elections to cover the loss of so many moderators was met with resistance and a clear intent to derail any elections. Hurting SE was seen as a valid form of protest - but as we see, that didn't work, and it's still not working. From what I've seen of Shog's and Robert's twitter posts, the toxicity here contributed to the culling of the CM staff

Your anger will be held up as evidence of toxicity. Your frustration as evidence of noncooperation. Just as it has been for so many months past. My dear ex-colleagues will be blamed for failing to control you, and another rock will be laid on their backs.

https://twitter.com/shog9/status/1217543503867076608

I died on the hill of trying to move forward. Faced with unrelenting and unapologetic negativity both on the part of users and moderators, I saw that I couldn't make a positive contribution to the network no matter how hard I tried.

The toxicity has to end. People shouldn't be allowed to complain unless they offer a declare how they want that situation to improve.

To paraphrase a TWP closure reason:

Complaints require a goal that we can address. Rather than explaining the difficulties of your situation, explain what you want to do to make it better.

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    Thank you for sharing this with us. I'm glad to see you returning to good mood after resigning and staying away from the toxicity of Meta. Personal life is always the most important IMO. Best wishes. – iBug is disappointed in SE Jan 23 at 8:09
  • You said it quite succinctly: as someone who hasn't had all the same viewpoints as the ones expressed by most people here about the recent controversial events, I've found it harder to participate. – Sonic the Anonymous Hedgehog Jan 23 at 8:55
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    Thanks for your contribution. I think it's important to have a diversity of views. That said, I don't think the past couple months have been unrelenting negativity for negativity's sake. David's apology was initially very well received & didn't start to be downvoted until it became clear that nothing was going to be done. What people want is pretty simple & has been clearly stated lots of times in lots of places by lots of people, eg, here is an answer from me from Oct 27th. – gung - Reinstate Monica Jan 23 at 13:17
  • In order to move forward one has to see the way forward. If the path ahead is going down in flames, it is very hard to jump through the fire, hoping for the best. Also we didn't start the fire... we didn't exactly help to put it out... but how could we? How could anyone expect that people feeling fear, frustration, anger, ... would be at their best behavior. Some people can handle themselves better under extreme stress, some not so much. Again, we didn't start the fire and time and time again we were proposing solutions to clean this mess. – Resistance Is Futile Feb 3 at 17:55
  • In situation where moderator has been fired without just cause, and when other moderators have been stepping down in protest, it is extremely hard to envision any kind of elections... that idea had to fail... bad timing... – Resistance Is Futile Feb 3 at 17:58
  • Additional insight into events jlericson.com/2020/02/02/2019_in_review.html – Resistance Is Futile Feb 3 at 17:59
  • @SonictheAnonymousHedgehog I don't think it was (is) easy for anyone, regardless of the POV. Reputation system here also makes it harder to participate especially when you don't hold popular opinion or you have trouble expressing yourself. It is not that reputation matters, but some priviledges that go along with it are important at times. – Resistance Is Futile Feb 3 at 18:13
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    @ResistanceIsFutile Yes indeed, that's one thing I've long complained of ever since I re-joined this site in 2017. I've had firsthand experience losing a privilege for expressing an unpopular viewpoint. – Sonic the Anonymous Hedgehog Feb 3 at 18:28

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