A Tweet from Tim Post that always stood out to me was the following:
We never manage through sharp sticks, ultimatums or threats. I honestly believe this is why we have the most professional moderation team the net has ever seen — even when, or especially when, people make mistakes. We’re always learning together. - Source
I believe this was Tweeted post HNQ debacle: Revisiting the "Hot Network Questions" feature, what are our shared goals for having it? and it stood out to me because it showed a culture that has (had?) always existed on Stack Exchange, which is that we all make mistakes from time to time and ultimately you'll be given a chance to retry/redeem yourself.
However, with recent events and the wave of firings/resignations of CMs and what they've revealed I believe that is not the case anymore. SE (the company, the focus, the goal) is not what it once was.
In a series of Tweets shortly after his departure, Shog9 mentioned the following:
And right now, they are being told not to use that skill. Told that they MUST not use that skill. I know this because I was told this. It has been ratcheting for over a year now: more and more "musts" and "must nots" - "say this AND ONLY THIS." - Source
The CMs have been actively told (read: commanded) that they cannot empathise with the community, a wedge is being driven between us, the community and our points of contact with the company, the CM team.
Whatever this thing is that is happening, it has more momentum now than ever before; I do not wish to see it roll over them as it did me. - Source
It paints a bleak picture of "something" (Someone? A group?) forcing change over SE and anyone trying to stand in its way is mowed down. It's almost as though these are a series of cold and calculated moves trying to alienate us, the community e.g.
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. - Source
Which has clearly been happening:
Stack Overflow Employees have panic attacks and nightmares when they know they will need to post something to Meta. They are real human beings that are affected by the way people speak to them. This is outside of the CM team, who have been heroes and who I constantly see abused here.
I can’t, with good conscience, force anyone to participate in a venue that causes that type of psychological damage at work. The CMs feel this is something that can be remedied, and I believe them. However, until then, I can’t sleep at night knowing that we are forcing people to participate here as part of their jobs.
We're removing Hot on Meta as I don't want to send new people to a place where people have these experiences. Full stop. - Source
The whole welcome wagon being used to portray folks as toxic, unwelcoming, and elitist.
Is it possible that I'm reading too much into it? Possibly. Maybe SE is simply incompetent and these are just series a series of mistakes which spiralled out of control but the picture being painted is not pretty at all.
In a recent blog post entitled Why I left Stack Overflow, Jon Ericson mentions regarding how he felt that changes in the company-community relationship would be changing for the better, until:
In September and October, a series of events demonstrated that leadership within the company neither understood community management nor was willing to learn. In retrospect, that’s likely been the case for years.
The events he references were obviously Firing mods and forced relicensing: is Stack Exchange still interested in cooperating with the community?. Now, folks have been hoping for a long time now that SE will change and that things are going to get better but here we have an testimony from a former employee who was part of the Community Management team clearly saying that SE (read: management) has no interest in working with the community or even trying to work with us.
The double-edged sword of attention meant more resources have been going to community-related projects, but also leadership has asserted more control.
Maybe CM's, especially those that dislike what's going on, do have their hands tied?
Unfortunately, their decisions repeatedly violated my standards for healthy community management. By November I was actively looking for a new job.
To force someone to start looking for a new job seems like a toxic environment, which is quite rich seeing as SE accusing the community of creating such an environment. It almost seems like massive projections onto us.
One common theme I've noticed amongst all of this is that SE is riding some (all?) the CMs quite hard, from Shog's tweet:
At this point, they are operating under an unbelievable amount of pressure. And you have seen the results of this: "they gulped out fine folly about dignity and acquiescence". - Source
to Tim's conversation with Cody Gray:
Tim discussed this with me in a private channel. He wanted to unfeature it because of legal concerns. I was sympathetic to his position, but continued to press for more details/explanation. He explained that they're under a lot of pressure right now. Please don't blame Tim. I wasn't going to unfeature it, so he felt he had to. - Source
So in this rambling, what am I trying to convey to the community from my position as a fellow community member?
- Not all the employees are supportive of this new direction of SE but they have bills to pay and families to feed especially with the CM team being cut down, it must send quite message to the rest
- The CMs are on quite a short leash with what they can and can't say to the community
- SE has no intention on changing course anytime soon with the positions it has taken and it has been brewing for a while now
Well, it does sound like quite a cynical and a pessimistic look to the future and I see people hoping and pleaing with SE to try and get them to see some sense but they're pretty much set on the course they've chosen, so why bother?
So I think I'm going to keep updating this post as more comes to light.
Another Tweet from Shog further illustrates the environment that SE put their employees in, all while trying to take the moral high ground publicly and rebuking the community for its ill mannerisms:
I should add something, the above seems preachy...
For the past 4 months, I've been waking up most days between 3-5am, my heart pounding through my chest. My actions contributed to events that hurt people; even asleep I can't stop searching for what I could have done differently - Source
Consider a situation where you wanted to help a group of people on your site... The problems they face are rooted in a mixture of ignorance held by others and competition for limited resources.
...but you aren't allowed to provide solutions to either of those. - Source
But... After the first month of it, this should have been a sign to me that it was time to run. That I was no longer in a place where I could do more good than harm.
This will have to be my lesson. - Source
When your own employees are doubting if any good will come from their positions you've really gotta wonder how far you've gone off course. To think you have a leg to stand with regards to promoting inclusivity when you can't treat those beneath you correctly is laughable.
Jon explains how the adverse effects of SE's policies had affected him too on a personal level:
I haven't had it that bad, thankfully. But I do feel bad for checking out of . . . stuff. Being able to talk with people who understand is unimaginably valuable and I cut myself off too often. My family paid a cost, I'm afraid. Fortunately not permanent, but real. :-( - Source
What stands out here is how these former employees genuinely seem to believe they failed the community on some level or another, they feel guilt, yet, the real folk who have caused this rift and made mistake after mistake either by pushing agendas or to increase profits in negative ways probably live unaffected.