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This is by and large a reaction to Does the company acknowledge misusing the press, and why won't it agree on a no-comment policy?

Do we believe it's realistic to require the company to commit to a policy of not commenting on actions of the community (or whatever the currently proposed articulation is) to the press?

If not, what exactly are we trying, or should we try to get them to agree to?

From Zoe's status summary (version 6):

Issue: Stack Exchange, Inc. made inappropriate comments to the press. Progress: We are debating this issue and have not yet reached a conclusion. Stack is so far unwilling to agree to a blanket policy of "no comment" when asked for comment on anything involving moderators; we are considering what our options are here. Stack Exchange, Inc. would like to keep open the option of commenting on general moderator actions not taken by an individual; the representatives are pushing for Stack to refrain commenting even about groups of moderators. Stack has also indicated that they think it would be unfair for the company to be bound to not comment while individual moderators are free to comment, citing my own personal statements to the press. I've reminded them that they are a billion-dollar company, while we are a group of volunteers.

The phrase a blanket policy of "no comment" when asked for comment on anything involving moderators might not be a faithful summary of what exactly has been proposed in the actual negotiations, but it sounds like something the company could not agree to. Waiving their right to be heard under any circumstances is not practical for a number of reasons, or possibly even legally acceptable (granted, my understanding of US law is certainly limited, and its practice has recently repeatedly left me flabbergasted).

What exactly do we want to achieve here, and what would constitute a mutually acceptable way to achieve that goal?

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  • Please notice that nowhere does the post you have linked asked for that. The request was made by the mods. Since imho the request is reasonable with some discussion I posted that question so that the company could post its own idea and counterargument. Commented Jul 17, 2023 at 9:11
  • @SPArcheon Yeah, these questions are about different aspects of this topic. I'm hoping we can use this question as a community to clarify what exactly we want to demand in the negotiations.
    – tripleee
    Commented Jul 17, 2023 at 10:55

5 Answers 5

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So, tentatively, here's what we're currently thinking in negotiations. This hasn't been agreed to yet by all involved parties, and is still liable to change.

This basically consists of two changes to the mod agreement / Press Policy as it applies to moderation. The current relevant part of the mod agreement is this:

ii. Get your explicit written permission before commenting to any media (including media outlets controlled by Stack Exchange Inc.) or independent reporters about you or your moderator actions as per our Press Policy.
(Mod Agreement, version 2)

The first proposed change would be that SE will add a line here about only speaking about moderation actions in the "broadest of terms", not commenting on any specific actions and only speaking in general terms. This would mean, for instance, that statements such as "The primary reason for this action is dissatisfaction with our position on detection tools regarding AI-generated content (SE statement, DevClass)" wouldn't be made.

The second change requires a bit of context. Apparently, the statement sent out in Philippe's name (or the CEO) didn't undergo Philippe's review before being sent out by SE's PR team. (Reading between the lines, I'd guess that the PR team put it together based on the internal memos that Philippe sent to the rest of the company, but that's personal speculation and not confirmed by anybody.)

With that in mind, SE seems to be willing to commit to having someone from the Community Management team sign off on any statement involving moderators before any such statement is sent to the press, as apparently that didn't happen this time (or last time).

However, these changes are, at the moment, still just drafts. Not all of the negotiators have agreed to them yet, and, when I polled the relevant people in Discord and the TL, the reception was... lukewarm. I'm not sure what other changes we can propose and get SE to agree to, though.

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  • 1
    What are "media outlets controlled by Stack Exchange"? Commented Jul 14, 2023 at 13:09
  • 6
    @RandomPerson-onstrike - stackoverflow.blog
    – Mithical
    Commented Jul 14, 2023 at 13:41
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I'm not a negotiator, and I know about as much as all of you do but this is from my point of view.

Well, to be absolutely blunt, the goal is generally to keep Stack Exchange Inc from... shooting themselves in the foot, and reducing collateral damage to the community. Over the years, we've seen the effect careless words, sometimes with the best of intentions, can have on the community, and the community-staff relationship.

There's been instances where the company has said something in public about specific moderators (which resulted in company policy that's fairly sensible).

It's also publicly said that they have a no comment policy, and a bit in the moderator agreement stating that they'll get permission from a moderator. This is a little fuzzy as a collective I guess.

I think the intent here is to try to get any parties involved in the loop and talking - whether it's one moderator, 10 moderators, or a significant number of them, before someone goes to the press and says something that potentially makes the situation worse. Moderators don't generally have people to talk to the press on their behalf or a way to make press releases, so there's a certain imbalance.

It's worth considering what Shog talks about in the linked post mirrors our moderator policy on suspensions. The affected party is free to speak, and in which case we have our hands untied to correct the record. However it is much better to sort it out first.

I know everyone tends to think they're in the right and want them to trust them. That said - refraining from public comment till communications are opened up feels like a bare minimum, and "we're not making the first move if we can avoid it" feels like something that shows a desire to work in good faith and is smart policy.

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In my opinion, this is just another flavor of the current corporate leadership taking things for granted.

At some point, everyone needs to acknowledge that the person at the head of Stack Exchange needs to take some responsibility. Perhaps it is time to entertain the idea of switching CEO's to someone more familiar with this space.

Stack Overflow should not be run like it is simply a data center feeding out information from a book.


On the specifics of requesting a no press release agreement, that just simply isn't going to happen. There is no reason for a company to do this to itself, or to be limited in what it discloses to the press. As noted, if there is truly an issue with the inappropriate press releases, then leadership should be the ones who are held accountable; not the company.

Stack Exchange will... viii. Respect your right to speak openly to question and challenge policy without reprisal

If the dialogue in the press is one-sided, then right that wrong with your own press release. The moderator agreement only limits moderators from disclosing personally identifying materials or practices, being mean, or improperly using the service; it does not limit your ability to discuss matters with the press so long as that disclosure is limited to general knowledge and information.

We can all see what is happening, so it isn't a secret. It just needs more attention, which is one of the things that the press is there for.

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    I think the CEO should personally make some statements so we can talk to him directly. Of course, this probably isn't going to happen.
    – bobeyt6
    Commented Jul 14, 2023 at 22:04
  • I'm not sure I follow. You mean the CEO has been taking the community for granted? That I agree with, but your articulation is open to a number of interpretations, some of them less agreeable.
    – tripleee
    Commented Jul 15, 2023 at 7:38
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    Also, if you mean the community could put out their own press release, while that's true in theory, it's not that easy in practice. "The community" is not a heterogeneous organization like a company, so it's much harder to properly represent it; and if you only put out your personal opinion as a press release, why should the press care at all? Furthermore, the company has an existing publicity arm with training, contacts to the press, and other dedicated resources, which makes this game quite asymmetrical.
    – tripleee
    Commented Jul 15, 2023 at 7:42
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    What I've been mulling over, but haven't yet properly thought through, is if there was a way the company could involve the community (concretely, the mod room?) when there is a press inquiry which might benefit from a user perspective. But in the situations where this would genuinely be beneficial, the company's incentive is probably strongly "oops, I accidentally the community again".
    – tripleee
    Commented Jul 15, 2023 at 7:47
  • @tripleee - Hopefully the edit is clarifying. I don't mean that "the community" is a single nonubiquitous entity capable of time travel, not sure where you got that time travel isn't real. What I was referring to though was the group of Moderators or some of the more organized user reviewers; or both as there is an overlap. If that group is, as you point out, maligned in a press release, then that press organization is more than likely interested in hearing the whole story, or it could also be placed on a different medium as well.
    – Travis J
    Commented Jul 17, 2023 at 7:06
  • Thanks for the update, though now I have no idea what the time travel stuff is in response to.
    – tripleee
    Commented Jul 17, 2023 at 8:15
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The policy was introduced in the aftermath of SE's dispute with Monica.

Perhaps I was wrong but my understanding at the time was that SE agreed not to comment publicly on specific moderators e.g. by name.

So when you say, "comment on moderators" you might need to distinguish whether you're talking about moderators "individually" or "collectively".

And given that, in the case of this "strike", maybe some moderators are "outing" themselves by commenting publicly, maybe it's difficult to expect SE to say nothing.

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I didn't plan to self-answer this, but I thought I would articulate a proposal based on a comment thread under another answer.

What if we required an opportunity to respond to press inquiries when they involve the community?

I can think of a couple of alternative mechanisms.

  • Require the company to seek community input when they put out press releases or respond to press inquiries on matters which involve moderators or the broader community?

  • And/or require the company to maintain links to community contacts and resources as part of their press pages? (This could be an email address, a Discord room, and/or some other off-site way to get in touch.)

One concrete arrangement which would help facilitate this would be if the community had a small set of active users (moderators or otherwise) who have volunteered to respond on short notice.

Possibly, this could be a reboot of the mod council, with a specific mandate to respond to the company or external stakeholders such as press etc when community input on short notice is required (or approaching meta or the general mod room is otherwise unrealistic or impractical).

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