I am writing this not just a reply to this specific post, so please consider the following in the bigger scheme of things that happened in the last years.
Also note that unless otherwise stated whenever I say "you" I am referring to the company as a whole and not to any specific individuals.
Let's just start with a simple premise. I no longer trust your words when you say that you didn't expect this, when you say you are sad about the outcome and so on.
I don't trust you. I can't trust you any longer after every single time you shove in our face the same theatrical act, with the same characters, the same plot, and the same twists.
Don't get what I am talking about?
Stack Exchange Scandals 101: a proven formula
Historically, most recent scandals have been following the same formula, with some minor changes every now and then.
- The staff announces some controversial changes out of nowhere. The announcement is usually made on Meta.SE and it is carefully crafted to be as invisible as it can imaginably be to the rest of the network. Optionally, the post is made because some meddling user caught the company red-handed. If an official post is made, it will be written in the most confusing way possible so that users won't even be able to agree on what was said ("did they want to prohibit moderation of AI generated content" VS "did they suggest to stop using detector tool until we can work out a better policy" is just a recent case).
- Corollary: whenever possible, the user base is expected to get only an incomplete picture of the issue. If applicable, mods will get some full guidance that contains the more controversial parts that they will be required not to share.
- The announcement is met with a huge backlash as multiple users start posting related questions on Meta. The company enters the "silence" phase — no answer is given, no comment posted, no "we heard you, please give us time to write back" is said. This phase usually lasts a few days as the company "sits-out" on the issue while letting the bigger fires die down.
- (Optional: while ignoring its own community, the company still finds time to talk with some external media news site and publish a misrepresentation of the reality that constitutes actual slander against a single or a whole category of users. Most of the time this seems to be done as a PR move to show that the company is doing their best on social issues.)
- After some time the company comes out with a "We are aware of the issue" post that on surface looks not completely unlike an apology. Under more careful scrutiny it is more often than not a non-apology in the form of "I am sorry if you were offended" or an indirect attempt to share the blame like "It is sad that we escalated so far". The post also carefully avoids giving out any info about what is planned to do to actually resolve the problem.
- At the same time the users start to plan their action: sometimes this can involve an actual moderation strike or users using their profile to spread the word.
- In a desperate attempt to reduce the visibility of the protest, SE revokes the right that was given to mods to advertise posts that they deemed important for the community to see. Removing links for a solidarity fundraising campaign from users' profiles, unfeaturing posts, anything goes in this step.
- The fire continues until the company concedes on some (minor) details. More often than not this is not a real win for the community, just an "it is better than nothing" scenario with most users preferring to accept whatever little Scoobie Snack the company dispensed instead of going into an endless fight. Sometime it may even go as far as look like a fake concession that was already planned to make the userbase more yielding in whatever negotiation is going on at the time.
- The company then starts a final memory-clearing campaign. The community will be rendered unable to fully know what actually happened, sometimes even going as far as to use law to be sure that no one can disclose the full picture by force-handing the actual victims into silence.
Obviously any new tire fire is different, but I expect them to more-or-less follow this same script. And with that behind us, let's move on to...
A Bastard's explanation (yep, that's me)
I know that what will follow will be seen as evil by some users. "Never assume ill intent" they will say.
Yet let me also tell you that there is an old saying that goes like "Once is ingenuity, twice is stupidity, three times is malice" or, if you prefer another version, Hotoke no kao mo sando - "Even with a Buddha nature (you can forgive) only three times".
With that said, feel free to downvote the following if you wish, but I will try to explain what all of this feels like and why I think history keeps repeating itself.
Assumption #1: the attempt to make problematic posts less visible is deliberate
First of all, let's start with a basic assumption: the company knows in advance what topics will cause backlash. It is quite evident from how they are presented. Why is there no secrecy involved when they announce some new feature they are proud of, or when the company makes some donation to charity? At the same time, things like unilateral changes to existing content licensing are posted without any attempt to actually make them visible and followed by a total silence while waiting for the bigger flames to go down.
Assumption #2: the actual motivations are never the ones being told
Let's go a little further. We know that the company knows that whatever they are going to post is problematic. But how can they be so sure that it will be problematic?
There are only two possible answers:
- The issue can be easily misunderstood, but if that is the case I would expect that instead of closing up into silence you would want to try to clear up confusion. Why keep your users angry if you really think that you can agree?
- The issue is clearly going against the will of most users, either by removing their agency to moderate content, by shoehorning unwanted content on them, or other similar things.
Since I don't think the company is stupid I will have to exclude the first irrational behavior. That leaves us with the second one.
Assumption #3: the company already knows in advance how the users will react and then try to act surprised when it goes that way
This is just a direct consequence of what we just said and is confirmed by the fact that the scripted non-apology post will usually contain some carefully written lines to look surprised, like "We didn't expect this" or even better "We didn't expect we (== you) would actually escalate to this".
You can see where this is going.
And a Tin Foil Hat one: the hidden agenda
By this point I have to admit that all so far gives a fairly bleak picture.
Thinking back at how Monica was picked out and slandered on a news site, thinking about how the company apologized for that only to do that again now, and looking at how users now even have to say that "actually they never promised to not slander user groups anymore, only individuals".
I can not reasonably avoid seeing some form of actual malice at work here: it is my blunt conclusion that none of these changes were actually made in the interest of improving the site content or the user experience.
What I see instead is a reiterated attempt at pleasing the stakeholders in the worst ways possible.
The Monica case was never resolved, and still today it looks like Monica was just a carefully picked scapegoat that the company decided to use to get some free advertisement in an attempt to present itself as caring for the rights of the LGBT+ community that not only backfired on them but also on the ones it was supposed to protect by further fueling rage and abuse.
Years later we now had to resort once again to a new moderation strike, and once again we see the company name-calling its mods to put the blame on them. Once again we see them post multiple inaccurate representations of mods' actions on the Internet to shame them and circulate the message that "The company is improving even if some (bad) mods are trying to fight back". And I admit that I went as far as to expect someone to be used as the scapegoat again to be the new Monica.
Sadly, I don't think that I am just hallucinating things as the feeling that these actions are part of a hidden agenda that not only is willing to go against the users for the sake of profit but is also quite open to publicly shame and even sacrifice them, seems to be quite a shared sentiment nowadays based on the comments I read on the site. Promises are usually made to stop the fighting but personally I find it rather unclear whether those are actual concession the company had to make, or just planned eye-candy, smoke and mirrors, used to make the userbase yield and accept the "better than nothing" resolution.
Also it is not unusual for the company to hide themselves behind grammatical technicalities worth of the "Evil Overlord" manual: after all, after the Monica scandal they just promised to never again slander an individual on the Internet, so slandering all the moderators is fine, right?
Over the course of the last years, the company has made their moves to show off how nice they are, how they care about defending others, how they work on social issues. Things like the Be Nice policy, revising how new users are guided in their first steps... all great things. On paper.
Yet, in the current scenario I can't see them as anything other than empty actions that didn't actually come from the heart but just from a need to "show off", to get media to talk about how Stack is doing the right thing, to win more users -> more ads views -> more money.
At the same time the userbase is portrayed as the enemy, whose toxicity causes nightmares, and who makes newcomers feel unwanted and leave.
I'll ask you a question...
Have you ever thought about the nightmares Monica probably had? Ever considered the users that went off the site after each of these scandals to never return? Ever listened to the mods asking you to not be toxic to them?
Once again, I ask you to stop and reconsider. You can work with the users and you can choose to make actual improvements together. The media awareness that you are "good" needs to be an effect of your good actions, not the target that you have to reach by any means by faking things — then happy users will suggest your site to their friends. Currently, the only thing I can suggest is to never get involved with an actual account here.
You probably still have time. But I fear that the candle is reaching its end.