-42

As of the time of writing, 113 out of 538 total Stack Exchange network moderators have signed the open strike letter, a percentage of 21%, and this number continues to grow."

This is claimed here, and the current number is 125, which is still nothing more than a minority. So can this be interpreted as the majority of moderators does not support the strike? Or do they choose not to voice their support out of fear of reprisal? Is there any valid reason for a moderator to abstain? Like having better side deals so only the ones not getting a cut are protesting?

If most moderators do not see the merit of the strike, why should any other persons take them seriously? Do people not learn anything from Reddit blackouts?

Is there any inconvenient information that certain individuals backing the strike (possibly with vested interests) are not sharing with the average SE user?

Are the participating moderators truly acting on "community consensus" when they could not even get half of SE moderators on board? Should they be subjected to the electoral process again, in their respective SEs, to establish if they still command the community support to serve as moderators on "strike"?

21
  • 25
    Some moderators are inactive, plus if you look at it in terms of moderator actions performed it ends up being a majority. Jun 30, 2023 at 6:32
  • 5
    @prusswan I observed work of moderators before strike an I am sure you are mistaken about deadweight. Per my observations, less active ones just step up to handle most pressing issues when most active ones are AFK and as a result system works (worked) very smoothly. Simplifying, less active moderators can skip 10, 20, 50... NLN flags which sure can wait and handle 2 spam/rude flags which would better be acted on ASAP
    – gnat
    Jun 30, 2023 at 7:16
  • 5
    @gnat-onstrike- and/or the active ones prioritise. And sometimes with the 'hard' ones we discuss things. On SU I'm less 'active' flagwise than I was but I'm still available if there's something that needs input Jun 30, 2023 at 7:21
  • 13
    By the same flawed reasoning, you could conclude that besides the dozen or so who downvoted, millions of Meta.SE users are actually supporting your question. Jun 30, 2023 at 7:55
  • 12
    Ah. So you're volunteering? SO has a few thousand flags that won't resolve themselves. Why not make a proposal to volunteer yourself and see what the community thinks? Jun 30, 2023 at 9:03
  • 23
    Now I'm confused. When moderators carry out their mandate (bestowed upon them by the company) by handling flags, you see hubris. When they go on strike and refuse to carry out their mandate, you also see hubris. Which is it? Or was "hubris" just the word of the day on the almanac? Jun 30, 2023 at 9:34
  • 14
    @prusswan If you've never moderated here before, how do you know what it entails? I've a reasonable breadth of experience moderating new, established, medium and small sites. If you feel you know what a moderator needs to do better than we do, you should give it a try, it might open up new perspectives Jun 30, 2023 at 9:41
  • 18
    @prusswan ah, but who sets site policy? The company hosting the sites or the communities actually using them? Until now, it has always been the communities. As a moderator, I have often enforced policies I personally disagree with, because there was a clear community consensus. Just because I disagree with the community consensus, doesn't give me a right to do what I want. However, this time, the company decided to impose its own police going against community consensus. I do not accept the company's right to do that. Do you?
    – terdon
    Jun 30, 2023 at 11:03
  • 2
    @prusswan Some sites have barely any activity (cseducators, for one), and may not be impacted as much by LLM spam and other issues motivating the strike as major sites like Stack Overflow. In fact, most SE sites seem like sleepy backwaters, a few questions per day or so. What's the current percentage of SO mods striking? SO is already the majority site by a long shot, and moderators have different levels of activity. So it's hard to look at the 21% number alone and draw too many conclusions. What percentage did you expect? Is 51% the magic number that suddenly makes the strike "real"?
    – ggorlen
    Jun 30, 2023 at 18:47
  • 3
    Hah, fair point. Only known for me mod openly and actively opposed to strike is from korean.SE, and it received 2 question over last week, and 4 - a week before that. It's no surprise they don't feel impact of GPT flood.
    – markalex
    Jun 30, 2023 at 19:03
  • 7
    "Any of the these would be enough for SE to tear this motley crew apart" and yet SE participates in negotiations. How do you think why is that? Could it be, that mods can happily live their lives without SE, but SE business model depends on them?
    – markalex
    Jul 1, 2023 at 5:42
  • 8
    I find it strange to even say something like "colluding with volunteers", for company whose only value are said volunteers/community. Also, do you believe, that layoffs were due to "colluding with volunteers", and not because of simple money problems?
    – markalex
    Jul 1, 2023 at 6:13
  • 5
    @prusswan only the company has "cited a number", precisely to misleadingly cast this as less than it actually is (the real question is what percentage of active moderators on active sites are striking and what percentage of the people who actually contribute questions and answers, not what percentage of the total userbase or mods), and none of the volunteers striking stand to gain financially! How could they?
    – terdon
    Jul 1, 2023 at 12:02
  • 16
    @prusswan Are you accusing striking mods of being clandestine business competitors conspiring to undermine SE? If so, this is absurd--these are enthusiast volunteers that have devoted the better part of as much as decade of their lives to improving the public body of programming knowledge, with no financial gain. Also, I didn't "start a strike and cite a number". You cited the number in your post. My response argues that 21% doesn't mean much, the opposite of your assertion in OP.
    – ggorlen
    Jul 1, 2023 at 16:38
  • 5
    strike letter is currently signed by over 1400 regular users. How do you think these folks will vote on re-elections you're asking about?
    – gnat
    Jul 4, 2023 at 14:19

6 Answers 6

33

Well, we are not exactly 'organised'—a lot is being done off site on SE's request and knowledge of the strike is word of mouth. There's also moderators who support the goals of the strike, but are not striking.

So can this be interpreted as the majority of moderators do not support the strike?

It means a significant number of moderators are not striking. However, several sites, such as Stack Overflow and Super User, have fairly high numbers of moderators striking. There's a distinction between 'not striking' and 'do not support the strike'.

Or they chose not to voice their support out of for fear of reprisal

Stack Exchange hasn't threatened us with reprisals of any sort.

If most moderators do not see the merit of the strike, why should any other persons take them seriously?

Well—without the strike, it would have been a quiet, internal dispute and chances that this and other changes could have been railroaded over us.

We have press coverage as part of other issues.

There are many references to our strike in the article, but this is especially important:

"This is the same complaint identified by Stack Overflow’s mods: that AI-generated misinformation is insidious because it’s often invisible. It’s fluent but not grounded in real-world experience, and so it takes time and expertise to unpick. If machine-generated content supplants human authorship, it would be hard—impossible, even—to fully map the damage."

People should take it seriously, because it affects the quality of the content here—and broadly the usefulness of the Internet. People should take us seriously, because it’s the right thing to do for the long term good of the network and of the Internet.

Do people not learn anything from Reddit blackouts?

That a company can be toxic, and try to bully moderators into doing what they feel is best for their bottom line, even if the community is hurt? And folks finding creative ways to get around it?

It’s a great object lesson on how to rapidly get bad media coverage and mess up badly.

It’s a lesson that good community relations is good business and trying to force a community to do your will is a little like trying to catch a clowder of greased cats that don't want to be caught.

That there's been more than one blackout, and they're trying the route of trying to crush the resistance of the very people who provide value to the site to changes that adversely affect the site by removing community volunteers who've put time and effort into their communities... yeah, people really are not learning anything from these things.

You can't write/run community software without a community.

7
  • so why do you think a majority of moderators are not striking? even after this has been going on for nearly a month? If there is no convincing answer, everyone can see where this is going
    – prusswan
    Jun 30, 2023 at 7:21
  • 9
    I don't know. I'm not assuming they are against or for the strike, just that they are not. Jun 30, 2023 at 7:22
  • 8
    @prusswan The simple reason for not striking (for me) is that I don't want to see the sites I mod turn into a big, well-announced, 'free-for-all'. While I don't mind those that are striking, I simply won't do it myself and tell users they can now get away with posting all kinds of crap because no one would be moderating it.
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Jun 30, 2023 at 8:17
  • 4
    @prusswan Just speaking for myself: There are flags that I don't feel good about not handling (coc violations, bigotry, abuse, etc). I'm not officially on strike because of that, but I'm supportive of it & don't handle regular flags. It would be interesting to see the amount of unresolved flags per site. My guess is that they have significantly increased because of the strike (the post you link mentions SO going from 130 to 3000).
    – tim
    Jun 30, 2023 at 9:43
  • 13
    Stack Overflow is currently at 8283 flags pending, @tim. Your stats are out of date. :-) Jun 30, 2023 at 12:27
  • 2
    @CodyGray-onstrike wow, that's quite a lot. Are those stats public?
    – tim
    Jun 30, 2023 at 13:44
  • @tim No, the current number of flagged posts is not something that can be seen by any member of the public. It is information only available to moderators. However, the aggregate number is not secret, so there's nothing wrong with sharing it in public. (I know the number because I am a moderator on Stack Overflow. We're currently up to 8793. That's an increase of ~500 flags on a weekend.) Jul 2, 2023 at 8:05
23

I didn't join the strike; this doesn't imply I don't support the strike.

Firstly, I simply don't tend to join strikes (it's just not something I personally do). But I also feel there's a lot of nuance to this: I don't want to nail my colours to the mast, but rather retain the flexibility to change my opinion as the situation develops. And, honestly, the sites I moderate would barely notice—they're fairly quiet on the moderation front. And I don't think I have the personality to to deliberately ignore someone harming the sites I moderate. Besides, joining a strike may result in leopards eating my face: I fully intend to use AI to improve my posts (as I did moments ago here) and I don't want to be flagged for it.

I believe Stack Exchange has a point, and we need more clarity in how AI is detected, and under what circumstances AI posts needs moderation. Judging from some of the flags I've seen, I'd argue we need better communication with the userbase as to what is banned and where. But I also believe Stack Exchange overreacted in their strong ruling against AI moderation. And on top of this, there's a bunch of pragmatic matters that come into play (sustainability, AI detection, AI accuracy, improvements in AI, workarounds, plagiarism, etc.). I hope we can find a middle ground and move forward.

I also believe Stack Exchange staff are fairly open and reasonable (how many staff members of YouTube have you ever spoken to? What about Reddit? Twitter?), and also have a vested interest in keeping crap off of Stack Exchange. I'd rather just discuss all this with Stack Exchange and figure out a way forward, and it looks like strike negotiations are happening. Hopefully the AI-moderation pendulum will stop somewhere most people find agreeable.

(Although, I must admit, it's rather interesting seeing what happened with spam.)

5
  • 2
    This seems reasonable, though I would point out that the company had an entire week before the strike to respond to our concerns and revise the policy, and they didn't. They also don't have a good history of taking reasonable actions (Monica, development priorities, etc.). The mod council was disbanded, and the endless "when will StackExchange stop abusing us?" meta posts are not achieving anything; it seems the only way to get the company to listen is by striking. Hopefully they will learn their lesson this time and will not try to force poorly-conceived policies on the communities in future.
    – cag51
    Jun 30, 2023 at 21:13
  • 3
    "I believe Stack Exchange has a point, and we need more clarity in how AI is detected, and under what circumstances AI posts needs moderation." That's not what Stack Exchange has done though. They've hidden policies and prevented moderators from doing anything to enforce their temporary AI ban that's still in effect. If they had a vested interest in keeping crap off of SE, they'd keep allowing moderators to do exactly that. Instead, since the mod ban, they've made no visible progress. Instead, they introduced prompt engineering SE and an AI question "helper" experiment/joke.
    – ggorlen
    Jul 1, 2023 at 1:59
  • 3
    In other words, based on the company's actions, "need more clarity in how AI is detected" is an excuse for them to axe the ban so they can roll out AI hype features and boost post quantity, presumably to make their investors happy and get their numbers back up. I don't see any evidence that they value well-moderated, quality content over AI, or we'd be in a totally different situation now and there'd be no need to strike.
    – ggorlen
    Jul 1, 2023 at 2:14
  • 1
    Some people backing the strike do not want AI to be used at all, do you expect to find common ground?
    – prusswan
    Jul 1, 2023 at 4:55
  • @cag51 to be fair, the mod council was not disbanded, it sort of fizzled out. We can't blame the company for that one.
    – terdon
    Jul 1, 2023 at 14:50
20

Are you actually asking a question? It is starting to feel like you're using this entire "just asking questions" spiel as a rhetorical device to make outlandish statements and cast thinly veiled aspersions.

Summarizing your "question" and subsequent comments, you're insinuating that:

  • The majority of moderators don't support the strike.
  • Moderators who don't support the strike have "side deals" in place and striking moderators are "not getting a cut".
  • "Certain individuals" backing the strike are doing so because of "vested interests" that can't see the light of day.
  • Some participants are astroturfing because they stand to gain financially from the strike.
  • Some of the Stack Exchange staff are colluding with volunteers to undermine its business interests.

We can easily turn all this JAQing off around:

  • Since almost no moderators are speaking out against the strike, could we conclude that the majority of moderators is actually supporting it?
  • Can we assume that people who are voicing opposition to the strike stand to gain financially from moderators continuing to provide their free services to Stack Exchange Inc.?
  • Is it possible that people speaking out against the strike on Meta are astroturfing because they have a vested interest in the AI market?

See how that works? We're getting nowhere.

If you have actual evidence demonstrating clear opposition to the strike from moderators, or evidence supporting claims that moderators and/or employees stand to gain financially or otherwise from supporting or opposing the strike, please present that. As long as you don't, you're just stirring the pot, and your motivations to do so remain unclear at best. Or, to quote you directly:

Quite often what is not being said is the real answer to the question

0
17

I have not actively joined the strike. That said, I think it is pretty obvious from my recent Meta posts and comments where I stand. I'm leaving an answer here because I do want to contribute a somewhat different perspective of why I'm not on strike

On the site I moderate, there is an alarmingly high possibility of getting a well written, well-formatted, seemingly reasonable answer, that can lead a poster astray into making decisions that can literally ruin their life (and the lives of ones they love). I just don't know if I could handle the guilt of letting something like that slip by. I've been highly active on forums on the same topic (immigration) where I have seen that tragically play out.

It is my hope that eventually, the leadership at StackExchange realize:

  1. They have a reputation to protect, and allowing swathes of deceptive, untested, and entirely incorrect, information to be on their site is a threat to the sustainability of the business. A business which is entirely dependent on the trust and name it is built upon, by users around the world.

  2. That they are inviting severe liability, especially from sites that may have a large percentage of sensitive topics that rather critically need correct, verifiable information.

  3. That they have a limited, and probably shrinking, supply of free labor in reviewers and curators. And that they should do everything they can to support not only the labor they have, but have policies that can perhaps even grow that labor force.

  4. That this is yet another well marketed technology aimed at machines doing computer programming so that humans don't have to. Those of us who are older have seen this ship sail in before, possibly even a couple of times in their career. And by all indications from the looks of things, we're going to watch this one sail on away just like the others.

Eventually, it is my hope that StackExchange takes the side of the moderators. This position is the strongest for the future of the business on several fronts.

I personally don't have a big issue with the chat LLM's. In fact, the technophile in me thinks some of them are kind of cool in some ways. Sure, there are some persistent issues but, like any technology, I do think these can be worked out to fit well into certain confined contexts.

It is always my hope after these big schisms (been through a few of these as well), that some things get better. Better communication between SE and the moderators/reviewers/curators/active users. Better forethought on how they proceed with the business. Better tools for us all to work with. That hope is still rather unfulfilled. Maybe this time will be different....

3
  • 5
    Great! You have a good reason not to join the strike, but you understand it. And even though you don't share the opinion of most mods on the current trigger subject, you agree that the way SE Inc. is treating their community needs to improve. It's voices like yours we need. This is not about some AI rules anymore, it's about miscommunication and destroying the best this site had.
    – Philippos
    Jun 30, 2023 at 19:02
  • 1
    at the same time, a business would not want to be threatened by volunteers that would ask to "negotiate". The volunteers may not see it this way, but business is busineess
    – prusswan
    Jul 1, 2023 at 5:09
  • 8
    @prusswan we did not ask to negotiate, the company did. And we tried very hard for many weeks to convince the company that its new policy and approach would harm the sites we love. They didn't hear us. The strike is a desperate, last ditch effort to salvage the SE network, a part of Stack Overflow Inc. collection of products that the company has almost entirely ignored for years because it doesn't make significant money from it. Once we started the strike and got some stories in the press, then the company sent representatives and asked for negotiations.
    – terdon
    Jul 1, 2023 at 12:02
12

Many sites in the Stack Exchange network have their own community (including moderators) that is rather independent from the rest of the network. These communities have their own issues and discussions on moderation standards, and SE Inc. does not interfere in this.

For example at my main site TeX.SE we have an unofficial 'no downvote policy', and we answer simple questions in comments and then close them with the custom close reason 'answered in comments'. Both of these policies work well for the scale and topic of the site. Similarly, the issues of the strike (ChatGPT, data dumps, SE talking to the press) are not very relevant for the community at TeX.SE, and neither are previous issues like pronouns, toxicity, or technical issues like the review workflow or the Ask Question Wizard.

The independence of the communities and the lack of relevance for most issues leads to a more neutral stance regarding all things 'political', such as the strike. The attitude often is something like "let those folks at the big sites do their thing and we will run our little corner of the network in peace". This also means that the support for a strike will be lower.

When I asked the TeX.SE moderators in chat about the strike (see https://chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/message/63731728#63731728), one of them replied that he wanted to "err on the side of caution" and not delete suspected ChatGPT posts because it might be a false positive, and instead deal with them using normal moderation. As the moderator mentioned, this is only possible if the number of such posts is low. Another moderator remarked that he understood the position of moderators on other sites, that have to deal with a large influx of ChatGPT content. This illustrates my point above: the sites are perceived (also by moderators) as largely disjoint, so there is no automatic 'strike solidarity'. As an analogy, if public bus drivers are striking this does not mean that school teachers will join the strike, because the issues of the bus drivers are not the same as those of the school teachers, even if they are paid and regulated by the same government.

There are no repercussions from SE, but of course a strike does affect the community, because flags are not handled, there may be more spam, etc. This can be a reason not to strike, i.e., not wanting to harm your own community for goals that don't really apply to your site.

Personally I feel that it does make sense for moderators on smaller sites to join the strike, because the actions of SE management are detrimental for the network as a whole. But I do see the reasons for not striking as outlined above. In that light, a participation of 23% of all moderators is actually rather substantial I think.

3
  • 14
    Reasonable explanation, but I don't like your bus driver/school teacher analogy. All mods are bus drivers, they just have different routes to drive. Now if some new rule makes bus driving harder for just a minority of the drivers (inner city route drivers, maybe), those will go on strike, but typically also many of the other bus drivers that are less affected will join the strike. This is called solidarity. And it is wise, because a bus company ignoring the needs of some of their drivers today, may ignore your needs as well tomorrow.
    – Philippos
    Jun 30, 2023 at 8:40
  • 28
    For what it's worth, you're repeating the same misinformation in that chat room that the posts from the company are spreading. SO moderators do not and have not depended on off-site ChatGPT detectors or any other forms of automation. We experimented with these as a possible heuristic back in Dec/Jan when this was all brand new and we didn't know anything about the tooling landscape. We quickly figured out that these detectors were terrible and useless, so we stopped using them. Many/most SO mods who were handling flags on suspected AI-generated content didn't consult any detector at all. Jun 30, 2023 at 8:47
  • 1
    All mods are bus drivers, they just have different routes to drive. @Philippos-prostrike- It is not only different routes, it's different employers too. IMO the reason why moderators work is for the sake of their site and their site-specific communities, e.g. I don't see myself as "employed by SE".
    – ChrisW
    Jun 30, 2023 at 10:12
5

Answering the update (last paragraph) of your question:

Yes, the participating moderators are obviously acting in the interest of the community. I don't share their opinion, but reading their statements I have no doubt about their intention. We elected them because we trust that they serve the community, not because of their behavior in a given subject.

It's like we elect politicians. We don't know everything that will have to be decided during the next years, but we trust that certain people will represent our interest. Think of some unexpected situation: Would you suggest to have a re-election for those parts of the parliament that vote opposed to your opinion? Surely not!

Going on strike when SE Inc. is in danger of destroying this place is exactly what I expect from a moderator I vote for.

Suggesting to have a re-election for just those moderators that act differently than you expect is completely absurd. One could as well suggest to put all others through a new electoral process because they seem to remain passive in such a situation. No, that's not how elections work.

1
  • Politicians might be a poor analogy :(.
    – bobeyt6
    Jul 4, 2023 at 19:00

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .