33

The negotiations have ended and the Moderation strike: Results of negotiations post has been received overwhelmingly positively (at the time of writing this post +359/-3).

That being said, it seems that some people still feel like certain demands may not have been met as seen from a Discord vote asking:

Please cast your vote on whether or not the resolutions agreed upon in negotiations are satisfactory enough for the moderation strike to come to an end.

which currently stands at +100/-6.

Personally I feel quite satisfied with the results of the negotiations, and while I definitely feel a degree of skepticism about whether the company will follow through with the agreements made, I don't feel like continuing to strike would advance things any further than this.


I was unable to find much discussion to understand the perspective that supports continuing the strike, so I would love to hear the arguments of people who think we should, to better understand why they feel that way (and potentially even agree with them).

So, people who feel like we should continue the strike, what do you think has not yet been resolved?

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    Just asking, did you ping the disagreers on Discord and ask them what they felt was needed? Aug 4, 2023 at 8:38
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    @SonictheAnonymousHedgehog no, on the one hand I don't want to intrude on anyone since nobody has to justify their vote. On the other hand, I felt like it would be beneficial for the community at large to have a post that explores this question so we can all make as much of an informed decision as possible Aug 4, 2023 at 8:40
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    I'll add an answer to this later. In the meantime, keep in mind that the voting score for the negotiations conclusions don't reflect the willingness to call off the strike. One can be pleased with the outcome of the negotiations, yet not want to call off the strike, because of issues that cannot be easily addressed specifically in the negotiations. Aug 4, 2023 at 8:57
  • 1
    @Levente Too tired to call off the strike, and get back to work? Yes. I have a draft for an answer, but I really don't have the energy to hurry with finishing it. Why don't I have the energy? Because I don't have much more hope in this future together with SE, and the relationship between the two parties. I'm so... demotivated and aggrieved. Most importantly, seeing I belong to such a tiny minority, I'm not much convinced that my answer to this question will turn any tides. Aug 5, 2023 at 15:59
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    @AndreasdetestsAIhype we are a minority here for the following reason: we belong to that transitional realm where someone is on the verge of quitting this site, but have not yet. Loads of brilliant people had left already, whose insights are not being represented here any more. Meanwhile the information / interaction / learning opportunity that this site offers, facilitated by UI design, are addictive. Those who are not ready to give up this valuable resource / this addictive material, have not much other practical choice but to look the other way, and not acknowledge heuristics of trouble.
    – Levente
    Aug 5, 2023 at 20:20
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    @AndreasdetestsAIhype "keep in mind that the voting score for the negotiations conclusions don't reflect the willingness to call off the strike. One can be pleased with the outcome of the negotiations, yet not want to call off the strike". With all due respect I don't find this statement of yours to be accurate. The call for vote clearly asks: "vote on whether or not the resolutions agreed upon in negotiations are satisfactory enough for the moderation strike to come to an end." I appreciate your POV but this was discussed on Discord (rather briefly) and was clarified.
    – M--
    Aug 7, 2023 at 4:04
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    I had been shortsighted in my previous comment: I missed one specific motivator for willing to be sweeping things under the rug, and to keep peace with SE even in the face of frustrations. While similar cases are possible in other communities too, I believe it's most profoundly identifiable with SO: computers and computer programs are an indispensable pillar in upholding our current human civilization. SO currently maintains the most useful asset facilitating keeping those computer programs running. The SO community are fighting for that entire industry. Of course they can't simply give it up.
    – Levente
    Aug 7, 2023 at 9:48
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    Personally, I'd like some assurance that the change in policy over deletion of suspected AI generated content was completely separate from anything having to do with the planned launch of OverflowAI Aug 7, 2023 at 18:23
  • This now should be "closed" : Moderation strike: Conclusion and the way forward
    – Rubén
    Aug 7, 2023 at 19:00
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    @Rubén Well, some people might still be missing something.
    – dan1st
    Aug 7, 2023 at 19:40
  • @dan1st The circumstance in focus has changed, but the conversation might still be open. That is why I put closed between quotation marks. The conversation might be moved to the above-linked post, or this question might be edited, or ... the options are almost endless. The point is that one of the premises of this question has changed.
    – Rubén
    Aug 7, 2023 at 20:07
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    @Rubén I don't understand what's changed. My question is addressed to people who want to continue striking, nothing changed about that. Aug 7, 2023 at 21:13
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    Yeah, I still don't think anything has changed in favour of the strike conclusions. If anything, the aftermath has only confirmed what was stated in this Q/A. Apologies for intentionally bumping this. Dec 29, 2023 at 21:56
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    @AndreasmovedtoCodidact yeah i haven't been motivated to do any moderation practically since writing this post. Might move to Condicat too once i have more time to contribute again Dec 30, 2023 at 23:23
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    @MissSkooterstandswPalestine Huh, seems I resurrected you from the Afterlands. :P Yeah, I'd kinda already decided I wasn't going to return, by the start of July. But I had emotional investment here, so I stuck around in the vain hope that I was wrong in all my assumptions. Well, I've barely been doing any curation since then. I've had a few bummers, like an addict falling back to old habits. You're welcome to follow along to Codidact. :) Not much moderation to do there. We mostly need content. Lots of it. :P Dec 31, 2023 at 16:16

4 Answers 4

35

There are still deliverables outstanding:

  • Fleshing out the AI moderation policy
  • Maintaining transparency before committing to major changes to the platform

I mean, that's a bare minimum right there before I can affirm any kind of armistice - those deliverables need to be observed before I could consider any kind of strike over with.

Something else I'd like to see that's not called out is this re-setting of expectations with volunteers. Just that we're volunteers and have no real obligation to do any of this stuff, and that neither the company nor the community-at-large should expect that we are willing to do this all the time under every condition. Ultimately, we're the caretakers, not the guardians. We take care of the majority of this thing day-to-day, but when it's time for accountability on why something isn't happening, it's the company that has to answer for that.

But also too, more pointedly, I'm also trying to break the cycle that we've had going on here with the back and forth with the company for the last five years:

  • Something controversial happens
  • Community reacts
    • Corporate spin (which includes some definition of community)
    • Community spin (which includes some definition of community which is different from the corporate spin)
  • Company apologizes and promises to do better
  • People who made these promises cease working for company
  • New people forget and believe that the company has turned over a new leaf

What this strike demonstrated is that we, the volunteers, have incredible power and sway. It's no longer the taboo thing, the nuclear option, the one thing that we shouldn't want to do in the event that the company decides to forget that we were the people that made them relevant to begin with, but it's a valid approach that has demonstrated meaningful results (at least on paper).

The collateral damage of tons of spam on the network sucks, and it devalues the networks even further (pushing even more people away), but this is the blunt reality - the community has developed more effective tooling to handle what is ultimately the company's obligation, and they're too busy with their other projects to be able to devote time/energy/attention to this, so they kinda...delegate that to us. Half of that is by design; rep equates to moderation power (which has flaws, sure) so it's expected that users of the site will gain the ability to curate and then do so organically. But the other half is consequential; the company was bought and sold on the notion of its quality, but the entire time it wasn't the company that was propping that quality up.

So going back to "normal" and hoping that things are going to resume some level of normalcy or stability around here isn't the pattern I want to see anymore. It's important for us to keep holding the company accountable every time they go against what we in the community hold dear.

If the company wants to commit to earning our trust, that's great. Now they have to walk their talk. Once they start doing that, then sure, we can start easing back into a bit more of normalcy.

This relationship we've had is bruised and battered and frankly, I've had enough of promises. I demand clear and concise action. If they've committed to it, that's a weak +1, but I want to see them follow through on it before I can start to believe them.

Words are cheap.

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    I think the 'fire' -> reorganise/realight business -> drama -> fear cycle's pretty much an extencisial threat to the long term wellbeing of the community Aug 5, 2023 at 0:42
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    With respect to the "Fleshing out the AI moderation policy", this is going to be an on-going problem for the long term. There is now a Team™ which is seeking to create reasonable guidelines for moderating alleged AI generated content. This Team™ is composed primarily of moderators (including myself). Thus far, I believe that the work being done there is productive, and is setting reasonable standards for dealing with this kind of content. Aug 5, 2023 at 23:37
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    @XanderHenderson: I mean, I've been waiting for half a decade by this point for them to engage with us on a level more meaningful than us being treated as cheap labor, so I'm in no real hurry here.
    – Makoto
    Aug 7, 2023 at 19:42
21

Update, August 6th 2023:

The policy is now released in (Interim) Policy on AI-content detection reports


The new for moderating AI content is not yet public/effective.

I have seen some people saying they would wait (or that it is reasonable to wait) for the policy to be released to the public and see whether it matches their expectations.

Something similar might also hold for other things that are still in progress.

But after all, it's each individual's own choice (or a vote in case of collaborative systems like Charcoal or SOCVR).

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    Oh that's fair, didn't consider that. Perhaps my question came premature Aug 4, 2023 at 9:09
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    SE building tooling to handle voting with regards to SE having violated the moderator agreement is something that I expect is going to take quite a while, as most development at SE tends to do. It's also something that could be handled with existing tooling, with cooperation from Stack Exchange. Overall, it's not something I expect to happen quickly. It's my hope that people don't use the actual delivery of that as their demarcation of when their strike should end. In my opinion, it's something that should be watched as to if it happens, but after the end of the strike.
    – Makyen
    Aug 4, 2023 at 11:48
  • I agree. I mentioned that as an example for "other things that are still in progress" without considering that.
    – dan1st
    Aug 4, 2023 at 11:51
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    Thanks for the change. That sounds better. There's quite a bit that came out of the negotiations which represents ongoing or future changes or activities (e.g. Gathering community feedback before committing to a major change to the platform, Improving day-to-day communication between staff and moderators, etc.). Some of those, by their nature, can't be "completed". The longer term items are things we should be paying attention to and making sure happen, but, in my opinion, they shouldn't be required to be "completed" prior to ending the strike.
    – Makyen
    Aug 4, 2023 at 13:07
  • I didn't claim that would be a reason for me. I added that in order to mention possible reasons for people to continue striking (of course some might also never "come back" due to losing trust or whatever)
    – dan1st
    Aug 4, 2023 at 13:30
13
+50

Due to the implication given in the question, I would like to note that the voting score for the negotiations' conclusions MSE post, don't necessarily reflect the willingness to call off the strike. One can be pleased with the outcome of the negotiations, yet not want to call off the strike, because of issues that cannot be easily addressed specifically in the negotiations.

That said, there was also a mention of the votes on Discord, and these do indeed show that the large majority of the voters are sufficiently satisfied to end the strike now.

Start of the strike, and current situation

The social contract always said that SE could do with the company as they wished, as long as they upheld their agreement to follow the goals set out together with the community all those years ago. Many of us became part of this community precisely because of what was set out back then. This contract has been breached.

The moderation and curation strike on Stack Exchange sites happened shortly after moderators had been informed that they were no longer allowed to sanction against posts not written by humans. This action taken by SE was not acceptable, as it overruled decisions made by the communities with considerable consensus, prevented us from protecting our sites against abuse, was made in secrecy, and would ensure damage was inflicted on us, and our knowledge bases. I am not an elected moderator on SE sites, however, I am both a curator, have made some contributions, and use these knowledge sites extensively to learn. These sites matter considerably to me. As a non-moderator, SE left me blind-folded in this particular case. I was equally angry as the moderators, and I trusted that their frustrations over the matter were justified. What they did tell us is that the AI ban was effectively dead. This alone was dangerous enough to erode the usefulness of these sites. Immediate action was vital. However, this strike is not just a result of this internal AI policy. For years, we have been done wrong by SE.

In short time, we crafted a strike letter and a post with requirements for the strike to end. Since then, we elected 3 people to represent us in negotiations with SE; these negotiations, and the request for 3 representatives, were made to us by SE staff on Discord. These negotiations have now been concluded, making many volunteers (specifically, the large majority) on the SE network willing to end the strike, and resume operations. I would like to cite some parts of the initial MSE post about the strike (disclaimer: I am one of the co-authors of that MSE post):

This isn’t just about the new AI policy

Even though the strike may end, many community members are not comfortable with returning to the status quo before the AI policy itself, if nothing else changes. The strike’s focus on the AI policy is not downplaying the significance of SE’s other actions. We deserve much more than just retracting the AI policy.

Stack Exchange already made promises after the 2019 debacle that they have since failed to meet. We are worried that Stack Exchange will continue down the same path once the situation calms down.

The events of the last few weeks seem like history repeating itself. Stack Exchange, Inc. ventures into a new pursuit, this time, generative AI, in contrast with the community’s interests, makes a decision at odds with all feedback available to them, ceases communications with us, and we go on strike. This is similar to what happened last time the community moderators prepared to go on strike.

The list of 6 items that were required to be resolved before the strike could end were not the only issues mentioned. SE needs to act on more than just the specific list of demands to repair the relationship.

The negotiations between SE and our representatives have currently led to the resolve of these demands:

  1. The AI policy change retracted and subsequently changed to a degree that addresses the expressed concerns and empowers moderators to enforce the established policy of forbidding generated content on the platform.
  2. Reveal to the community the internal AI policy given directly to moderators. The fact that you have made one point in private, and one in public, which differ so significantly has put the moderators in an impossible situation, and made them targets for being accused of being unreasonable, and exaggerating the effect of the new policy. Stack Exchange, Inc. has done the moderators harm by the way this was handled. The company needs to admit to their mistake and be open about this.
  3. Clear and open communication from Stack Exchange, Inc. regarding establishing and changing policies or major components of the platform with extensive and meaningful public discussion beforehand.

While drafting this post, I was going to point out that strike demand 3 had not yet been fulfilled; more specifically, this part was missing:

[...] The company needs to admit to their mistake and be open about this.

That has now been addressed. At the same time, we have not received any apologies for anything else.

In addition, since the strike began, we were made aware that the data dumps not only had been disabled, but that they had been disabled with the intention of possibly never re-enabling them. They were disabled without notification and without justification. We added two more demands that SE had to fulfill: re-enable the data dumps, and make a commitment to them. They have re-enabled them, for now, so that satisfies that demand. They have also posted a commitment on MSE about these data dumps, in an attempt to satisfy our second, new demand. I am not satisfied with it.

The issues with their commitment have been more than adequately addressed in the answers posted to it. Let me rephrase the comment that I added underneath SE’s post about the data dump commitments:

I don't believe that commitment. It doesn't convince me that they’re being honest. The answers show that they're not being honest. SE's communication in more private channels (Discord) has signaled they’re not willing to commit to this for very long. The wording in the statement doesn't bind them to the commitment. I cannot in good conscience support it, nor acknowledge it. I have no reason to trust what they write until I believe they're being honest. This does not provoke trust. It's too vague, not enough commitment, and not transparent enough.

My interpretation is that this requirement is simply not met. Not only that, but because of their already failed attempt at meeting it, they have only made it even harder to provide a convincing solution to it. Their actions have eroded so much trust. Let me cite another thing in the strike MSE post:

we do not think that our relationship is beyond repair. We do however worry that we are nearing the point at which it cannot be repaired anymore.

This brings us back to the remaining 3 strike demands:

  1. Honest and clear communication from Stack Exchange, Inc. about the way forward.
  2. Collaborate with the community, instead of fighting it.
  3. Stop being dishonest about the company’s relationship with the community.

These were not demands that could be fulfilled within the negotiations. These were demands that were crafted with the purpose of maintaining trust between the parties, and for the volunteers to not be misled, and to know what the future of this platform entails. We rely on this company, and it is only fair that the relationship remains equal. Transparency and honesty are vital to ensure that our relationship can be healthy and productive.

Despite the negotiations, these 2 past months have shown everything but a will at addressing these. They are even further from fulfilling these demands. The strike started off at a point where these were badly unaddressed. Since then, it's really just gotten worse. They have had 2 months to begin addressing these. During this time, they did ask for feedback, but didn’t actually care about much of it. For instance, they stated that one of the goals with the new genAI site, was to replace Area 51 with a new and better process for creating new sites. Apparently, that doesn't seem to be the truth (Note: see the comments from starball, the author of this source).

Communication is still not honest and proper. The company has issued no public apology except for, as described by themselves, the unintended accusation of moderators committing to racism. The CEO has still not done any communication with us. The company did not correct incorrect messages sent to the press. The company is still pushing forward with harmful genAI. There is no point in fixing the immediate issues over the AI policy, moderator agreement, etc, if the company continues damaging the site with genAI or other means possible.

The company has yet to cooperate with us outside of the negotiations. As a non-moderator, I feel neglected. The company has spent some resources resolving issues with their treatment of the moderators, in the negotiations, but they don’t seem to have spent much resources addressing the issues concerning the rest of us.

I am not convinced about the future of this platform. I do not think it's fair for the contributors to continue providing value for this company, if that value is not appreciated, eventually thrown out of the window, and only leads to long-term grief for everyone involved. During these 2 past months, the company has shown that they will run over the entire community here, in the most hurtful ways possible, without any care for us.

The strike letter also said this:

Immediate financial concerns appear to drive feature development. The community also has feature development wants and needs, but no substantial consideration is given to those needs, let alone resource allocation. The lack of merit leadership gives to the community and CMs even leads to its own business decisions being reckless and harmful, like the AI policy.

There are many important issues that have been neglected for many years. I have not seen them bring these up in the light of the strike, and attempted resolving any of them (except perhaps the on-site search - and this is with genAI). Instead, they continue pushing forward like before. The company set a goal (genAI), and have since pushed forward with it. No matter how much we protested, they continued their crusade with actions that don’t benefit the sites, nor communities, at all. They have received massive criticism of their recent actions, but have not acted upon it. Some people say that the discontinuation of the question formatting tool was an example of listening to us. It is not. It was a failure beyond imagination. It would have failed spectacularly even without feedback from us. There was no way that tool could have worked, and SE would have figured it out eventually.

During the strike, the company showed us, with their public actions, that they have no issue insulting us, and pouring disrespect over us. I cannot consciously resume contributing to this platform in good will until I have been convinced that they have abolished this mindset.

When I helped write those strike demands, I always considered their public communications part of what I expected them to resolve, in terms of «honest communication». Throughtout this strike, until as soon as a few days ago, they failed to commit to this. Their actions during the strike have only brought me further and further away from satisfaction with these specific demands.

Even if SE’s strike representatives have provided better communications in private with our representatives, they have not really done so in public. What drives this difference, I don’t know; but their refusal to fix these issues, and to talk with the community as a whole, only limiting their communications to private conversations, drives a mistrust in me, and mistrust that leads me to not be able to trust that they will honour the strikers’ demands.

Speaking of communication...

There are many ways that the SE company can communicate with us. Some are better, and others are worse. It's not so much about pleasing us with words, or attempting to say what we want to hear. It's just about being honest, and throw the hidden agendas away.

If they can't convince us, they've kind of already lost us there. As long they convince people, they might as well lie, really. That doesn't matter. What matters is just that we believe them. I wish we really had a foot on the inside, and could know things for sure, but SE is very opaque, I must say. That just doesn’t work for a company whose core product is provided by a community.

I hear that there’s a wish, goal and intention for the SE sites to prosper. They want to work with us. They want a clean site. They want a trustworthy site. They acknowledge us! They understand us! They agree with us! But this is in the minds of who? CMs? Technical staff? Marketing? Legal team? Management? Board of directors? Prosus? I have no idea! And nobody outside of SE really does! SE has a really bad habit of not giving us that answer.

For instance, it's been great having some CMs and technical staff in the Discord strike chat provide their honest opinions and wishes, but really, I found it quite provocative that some people considered that sufficient, when these employees' thoughts don't align with senior leadership, and when they can't make any meaningful difference. That's why I asked for the CEO (2 months ago) to be involved in these negotiations; not because I think he’s the right person for the job, but precisely because all that matters is that the upper leadership turns this ship around. Even if it's productive discussing with certain employees, and they listen to feedback, it's quite pointless if it's thereafter overridden by senior staff.

It is not sufficient that the people on the bottom of SE listen to us, collaborate with us, understand us, and have the same goals as us. None of that matters if it doesn’t align with the goals of SE’s upper leadership. I am not going to accept that we can never know what the upper leadership thinks. This is a community based platform. If they can’t live up to that, there is nothing here for us.

I thought the goal here was communication, and to let us have a voice in how SE decides to develop the sites. If we don't have a voice because Prosus overrules it, then Prosus must be made aware of our views. We cannot just bend down and accept being screwed over, because Prosus chose it. Then the agreement is broken.

Now, the CEO of SE, and even Prosus, have been made aware of our protests, strike and negotiations. If they have also not been made aware of our opinions on the future of this platform, or don’t take them into consideration, we have not achieved our goals.

We still haven’t received any definitive, trustworthy and believable communication from the topmost leadership about the things we are worried about. We have gotten some marketing blog posts, and a few statements issued to the press, but they mostly only suffer as fuel for speculation. That is not healthy. At most, they have only addressed the issues of immediate concern, that being the AI policy, moderator agreement, and a failed attempt at a data dump commitment. None of these things matter without the rest.

It should for a large part suffice to know exactly just what upper leadership thinks. This is a start, at least. It's pointless to hear about the thoughts of the lower parts of the company if we don't know more about what the upper parts think. And it's particularly here that I think the company is being dishonest: the goals of the upper leadership. Are they trying to get rid of us? Are the negotiations just a show to prevent us from all leaving at once? Do they actually care about quality on the platform? Are they trying to make the sites last into the future, or is the goal short-term investment return? Do they actually have empathy for their contributors? Do they actually want to get rid of the data dumps? Etc, etc. It's nice to hear what those on the ground think about these issues, especially as they hopefully influence those further up, but if upper management is stubborn, and refusing to listen, which it seems like, the only helpful thing is to know what those further up think. SE senior leadership often seems very opaque and dishonest in their writings, and that's a terrible start.

What we need to be told, with honesty, is what the company's (as a whole) goals, intentions, and direction is, not what some people on the ground think.

They have not been honest in their requests for feedback. They have not been honest with the state and motivations behind the data dumps. The reluctance to be upfront with these things, and instead requiring our nagging on them to provide clarifications, and responses in return to being caught not providing the true picture, doesn't provoke trust that they'll uphold their side of the agreement. Why am I supposed to trust them?

The dishonest communication of SE isn’t always intentional. Sometimes, people lower on the ladder inside SE make an honest miscommunication mistake. That is fair, but it is an internal issue which it is time for SE to fix. For instance, they can't have CMs telling us untrue things, and then justify it with bad internal communication. It's not so important that 10 people on the floor have one opinion, goal and intention, if they conflict with the 1 person on the top that drives the direction of the whole company.

Last, but not least: changing the communication style won't change the underlying problem of making harmful actions, refusing to listen to feedback, and not cooperating with us. More on this later.

Malice vs incompetence

During the time of the strike, the discussion about whether or not SE’s actions should be attributed to malice vs incompetence has been brought up.

The more competence, uniformity, and real direction there is in this, the more willing I am to ascribe their actions to malice. But does it matter what’s behind it, malice or incompetence? The end result is still the same: we're hurting.

Point is: I don’t know, and I don’t trust that they can do this. I want to see more, either way. I am willing to continue striking instead of walking away, in the faint hope that they can show us competence, willingness, and care for this platform and its users.

There are so many issues that are unaddressed. We rely on SE doing the right actions, yet they seem to constantly only do the wrong ones (of course, literally speaking, that is exaggerated).

Am I happy with the outcome of the negotiations?

I happened to vote in favour of all the representatives we sent to SE, and I am grateful for their work, and I trust that they have done a good job. Based on updates that we have received on Discord about these strike negotations, I don’t trust that the company is willing to follow up on their promises. After all, they have broken promises in the past.

The strike was not just because of the last AI policy. For many of us, that was the last straw. If we go back a few years, we almost reached a strike back then, over the issues at that time. SE has committed sins in the past, such as when they slandered a moderator in the press. I don’t see much difference in their communication these days. The fact that after all this, after all these years, after all this mess, they still can’t do it correctly?

As volunteers, we are not bound by an employment agreement, and as such, we can choose to leave any day we like. Several of us are not happy with SE 2 months after the strike started, and we are free to leave. But we did invest time and effort into this platform, and this is still the location of that very project we rooted for. This is still were our peers are. While whether or not continuing to strike is a choice of each individual, we do stand stronger together.

This strike is partially what keeps me believing in this community, and our ability to stand up for ourselves, our contributions, and the platform we have loved for so many years.

I'm happy with what the negotiations brought about, and I appreciate the work put into it; however, these two past months have shown me that the negotiations and their conclusions cannot repair the damage done. Just a few days ago, SE still couldn't provide a satisfactory commitment to the data dumps. And in the meantime, they've continued pushing their extreme hype for genAI, devoid of our feedback. Therefore, I voted no to ending the strike.

Not being part of the negotiations directly, and having been spectating the other stuff going on during this time (genAI, hello, what a nice day!), and their persistent inability to communicate properly, I am not satisfied.

Continuation of the strike

I have been criticized for opposing an end to the strike. I have been told that I shouldn’t try to continue the strike for everyone, now that the negotiations have been concluded, and that my discontent and wish to continue striking should only apply to myself. It is correct that this is my choice, and I do not intend to go back to my pre-strike actions. However, my vote for continuing the strike is just one vote amongst many others. I respect the democracy of the vote, and my wish to continue the strike for everyone is irrelevant as long as the majority disagrees with me. I do wish that more people agreed with me on this, though.

I think that the latest non-commitment message about SEDE, data dumps, etc, shows that their priorities are not with us, as they there as well reserved the right to completely stop committing to it, once they see fit, which is when the future compared to today is no longer "foreseeable". In addition, in a post in which they were supposed to be honest, straightforward, and clear up confusion, they chose to be dishonest, once again.

This is not just unfortunate, but it's one of the strike demands. So by the strike's own terms, it cannot end while they continue doing this. There is no point of compromise on this. It's a baseline for communication and trust between the parties. If they cannot fulfill this demand, there's no purpose in continuing.

Were these issues solvable within the negotiations? No. From what I’ve heard from our representatives, SE were more honest and sincere in the negotiations, and did communicate there. But I didn’t elect 3 representatives for only them to be communicated well with, by SE. I still except SE to communicate well with me, and everybody else. Whatever happened in the negotiations is no excuse for SE’s failures outside of there.

Why would I want to call off the strike, when I don’t believe their commitments?

I don’t know why they continue to be dishonest; for example about the data dumps. Perhaps the demand for honest communication, and the demand for continuing with access to the data like before, aren't compatible? They know we require both, but they only seem willing to provide one. If we'd accept no more data dumps, maybe they wouldn't have such an issue just writing it straight out that they want to get rid of them. Can’t know anything for sure when we’re never told things.

Of course, the situation could’ve been worse; but that’s not a low we should settle for. Every time we have these conflicts, our expectations get worse, and we push the line for what behaviour from SE that we accept, and live with. I don’t like that. I don’t appreciate that. We live in a symbiotic relationship with SE, we rely on each other, and I want that to be reflected. I want a return to the better life on SE sites. This is our chance to do just that. By calling off the strike now, we are budging on our remaining demands. I am not willing to return until SE has proven themselves.

I do appreciate the apology from Philippe over what is described as an unintended accusation of racism. That is very good. However, apologies remain to be given for the remaining actions of SE.

I feel like we have lost track a bit of why we went striking in the first place. I certainly wasn’t striking only over the issues that were discussed in the negotiations.


In my absence on the platform for 2 years after the previous scandal, my faith in the platform was slowly coming back in certain areas (I still read MSO/MSE somewhat), until the blog post about "community & AI". That's the point where I realized: "oh, shit, we're going downhill again". I just didn't think it would become this bad.

This platform, its development, and its future, seem to be outside of my control. I am just a volunteer, and I am not convinced that my goals with this platform sufficiently align with SE’s goals. I need more knowledge about the true goals with this platform, from SE. They have failed to provide that. I can’t separate the marketing from their actions, nor their actions from their unspoken goals. I don’t know. And at this point, I have so little trust in them that a single comment which isn’t compatible with what I have witnessed is not sufficient either. It is not convincing. There is too much information that doesn’t fit.

I am also deeply unhappy about SE’s decision to shift so much of the company’s attention to wasteful activities (genAI), to the point of firing staff that could not work with the company on this matter.

It is hard to understand SE’s vision. If it is the future of knowledge sharing, and knowledge building (and doing it correctly), I want to continue working on the knowledge we have gathered here. But I don’t know what their vision is. It seems like it’s some combination of the nearest bag of money, and an extreme hype for AI. That’s why I am seeking more honesty and transparency. I don’t want to guess; I want to know.

If their goals don’t align with the goals of the community? Then tell us that, so we can pick up our stuff, and get out of here peacefully, and continue on elsewhere, instead of having our community shredded to pieces.

What if not even SE knows what their own goals are? Well, then they need to figure that out. I can't work with a company that constantly turns around, and messes things up each time.


I may come back and revise this post to a minor extent. I posted it before I had the chance to let it linger for a while. I figured that it’s better I post it as soon as possible, as time is moving fast, with the strike already called off by many people.

26
  • 2
    For the record, so that I am not misrepresented, I disagree with my post here being taken to mean that SE "did not care about feedback". That's a rather broad conclusion and doesn't apply to everything that happened in the GenAI stakeholder group. I said that my feeling is that SE didn't really care about using the GenAI site as an opportunity to improve area51. And the word "really" is significant there. They might have cared about that a little with the GenAI site, but in my eyes, not significantly. Aug 6, 2023 at 22:20
  • 2
    I think it's unfair to say that the company doesn't care about feedback. They have clearly acted (at least seemingly) in accordance with feedback on projects such as colouring changes, the formatting assistant (temporarily discontinuing it), the code of conduct changes, etc. Of course, they may not have acted as much as we'd like (myself included), and have declined or ignored some popular feedback, but we can't say they didn't act or didn't care. Aug 6, 2023 at 22:27
  • 1
    @starball Regarding your first comment objecting to use of your source like that: I have made an edit that hopefully addresses your objection. Is that sufficient, or do you wish for me to edit in a note stating that you object to it? Aug 6, 2023 at 22:28
  • instead of "apparently, that wasn't true", if you want to represent me faithfully, I'd suggest something more like "but some stakeholders and other community members have reason to be doubtful of that." Aug 6, 2023 at 22:31
  • @starball Regarding your comment about not caring about feedback: thanks for bringing those cases up. That's nice, and it's easy to forget about them. At the same time, now that I have edited my post, hopefully it no longer seems like I label every instance of requesting feedback, as being made with dishonesty. For instance, I talk about feedback acted upon by lower staff members, then overridden by senior staff. Aug 6, 2023 at 22:31
  • @AndreasdetestsAIhype okay, I understand you mistrust them and the reasons you gave. But you never said what you want them to do. Exactly what can the company do now to make you stop striking? Because if there isn't anything... then the strike has no purpose, it's just quitting at that point Aug 6, 2023 at 22:34
  • 5
    This feels like a dramatically less laconic variation of my answer. I don't really have a lot of time right now to go through everything but I do agree in number on the social contract being in tatters. The challenge now is to figure out how that really impacts someone like us.
    – Makoto
    Aug 6, 2023 at 23:01
  • 2
    @Makoto Sorry; it's a symptom of constantly having to repeat myself every single time somebody objects to my views on continuing the strike. It kinda ends up being that way, then. Get it all in, and make sure it's all been said. Aug 6, 2023 at 23:04
  • 2
    I made an edit which mainly fixed wonky punctuation, but I also added crucial words in two places where they seemed to be missing. Please review.
    – tripleee
    Aug 7, 2023 at 5:25
  • 1
    @gnat I don't get how that line of thinking is consistent with wanting to end the strike? Aug 7, 2023 at 11:43
  • 2
    Paying $1.8bn for a premium brand just so you can turn around and enshittify it seems reckless even by technology investor standards.
    – tripleee
    Aug 7, 2023 at 11:45
  • 1
    Again, the call for vote clearly asked about ending the strike: "vote on whether or not the resolutions agreed upon in negotiations are satisfactory enough for the moderation strike to come to an end". SOBotics and SOCVR were even more direct. I personally voted to end the strike and the conversations showed that many people voted with that intention as well. I am dedicating some of my time to Codidact going forward and am not fully satisfied with the status quo, but I find your statement to be a personal opinion represented in a way that would be misleading.
    – M--
    Aug 8, 2023 at 14:43
  • 2
    All that said, I have the utmost respect for you and your contribution (based on our interactions) and would not dismiss your concerns. I happen to share similar concerns as yours. Just that first line of your answer is not aligned with my observations and understanding. Cheers.
    – M--
    Aug 8, 2023 at 14:46
  • 1
    @M-- I'll revise that part later today. Thanks for pointing it out, though. As is, with long texts, tiny parts might slip out of your mind once you've finished reading the entire thing, and that particular part didn't warrant remembering. Might've been what happened to me here. Aug 8, 2023 at 15:10
  • 1
    @M-- Yeah, I can do that for now. I thought it would be clear that I was talking about the MSE post, as that's what the question mentions, but reading this a bit out of context (which means, unaware of the question), I see how that's confusing. Aug 8, 2023 at 21:55
13

TL;DR

Final opinion: call it done; let's shut down "Strike HQ", turn off the AC and close the doors.

I think there are some things, a few anyway, which remain unresolved. I also think, however, that such are either out of scope for the strike or mostly unable to be "resolved." Therefore, my opinion is that the strike is over. That conclusion, however, is certainly not the same as thinking that everything is "back to normal" on the sites.

Returning to curation activities being a completely separate, and individual, question, of course.



I viewed the "demands" like a promise, or contract. The curators, myself included in that list, said, "Do these things and the strike ends."

As such, the points I consider for whether it's 'over' are whether or not the negotiations ended up with the demands being addressed, and where possible performed.

The demands are presented in three places: The open letter, the strike announcement, and the strike update post.

A quick version, compiled from the three sources is:

  1. Retract the (then current) dual policy prohibiting moderators from moderating GPT content
  2. Reveal the secret version of that policy
  3. Replace that dual policy with a single, public, policy which is also acceptable to the moderators
  4. Re-enable the data dumps, with assurance that SEDE and API access would remain available to users
  5. Get feedback, meaningfully considered and acted upon, before making major policy or software changes to the public platform
  6. Honest and clear communication from Stack Exchange, Inc. about the way forward.
  7. Collaborate with the community, instead of fighting it.
  8. Stop being dishonest about the company’s relationship with the community.

Communications

Half of these (#5 - #8) are forward facing. There's no way to considered them "done", now or ever. The most that can ever be said is that the company has not failed to do them, so far. As has been seen before, for whatever reasons, the company can be on a good course, communicate clearly, honestly and meaningfully while collecting and using feedback from the community about proposed changes. Then, one day, stop. Since I cannot consider them as able to be 'completed,' I cannot link the end of the strike to their completion. I can, however, say whether or not they were "addressed" meaningfully by the company. There are, in the final report of the negotiations, strong indications that these areas were addressed, that the company is willing to make changes, including internal policy changes, to support them.

There are provisions in the settlement to have a feedback and review period for major changes to the sites and the software. There are provisions for a mandatory review period concerning Moderator Agreement changes - which could have prevented the strike in the first place. While not in the list of demands, the negotiations also addressed issues such as the company's press policy, and how users and moderators are portrayed to the press. This also resulted in a commitment to update their press policy.

In short, whether or not the company will change in regard to these issues, they have at least made the commitment to do so. Only time will tell if there is real commitment there, or just "fancy mouth sounds." As such, I'm going to consider the last 4 points "addressed" as far as the strike is concerned. Even though the company may be on probation with respect to them.

Data access

Point #4, Data access, is a bit tricky. It is primarily a forward facing issue, subject to all the above. It does, however, have one actionable component, 're-enable the data dumps.' The latest data dump, though late, was finally uploaded. The notice of that was communicated in less than ideal terms, with what has been considered questionable qualifiers. In my heart there is very little "good will" or presumption of "good faith" left. Very little, but still enough to at least take a "wait and see" stance on the future of the data dumps, SEDE and API accesses. It is my hope that the controlling interests within the company will realize that any "guardrails" they could place on the data access methods are pointless. The value of that data, to users and to LLM developers, is not in question at all, in my mind. The problem, however, is that with any guardrails in place, other methods, such as the ancient art of scraping, become "easier" and cheaper for those who want the data. A gold mine has no value when everyone wants copper. Anyway, since they did restart the data dumps, for now, I'm giving this one status as "addressed" also.

Handling of the old, dual policy

The first two points are easy. Retract the dual policy: done. Reveal the secret version of that policy: done. Yes, those are the same link. The secret policy was disclosed at the same time as it was killed. The content and creation of that policy, even its very existence, raised many new issues, yet not directly related to the strike. Of note, however, is that the results of the negotiation included a prohibition of any such dual policy in the future. That's a win for the users, as well as a win for the moderators, whose image was tarnished by the existence of a policy they couldn't discuss, even in defence of their actions on site.

New GPT moderation policy

Lastly is the requirement for a new policy concerning the moderation of GPT content. According to the final report, the negotiations have settled what that new policy is to be, how it will be used, and what the moderators can do. It is set to be posted publicly, with the proper official tag attached. So far, however, only the "report" of it exists in the Moderation strike: Results of negotiations post. (That report has been 'cosigned' by Philippe, twice, so I'm confident the policy, once posted, will match what the negotiations produced. The (Interim) Policy on AI-content detection was posted, and tagged, Aug 6th, as promised. Tangential to that policy, however, is the methods used to detect, and classify, GPT content. That is a work-in-progress, and seems to be going well. I gather that it's not, yet, at the level of confidence some of the moderators would like, and similar to the forward facing points above, it is still possible for the company to restrict the criteria in unacceptable ways. On last point on this new policy is the privacy of how they detect GPT content. Those are planned to be private, which after the secret version of the prior policy might "feel" wrong to many. I think this is as it should be, public disclosure of those methods makes them both easier to circumvent and harder to change, when they should be hard to circumvent and easy to change. It is not just the company developing those methods, and not just moderators from the community side. Involved in the development of thee techniques is also general members of the community at large whom I refer to as GPT-hunters. Unless the company goes back on its word to work with the community in developing these methods, I'm fairly sure we'll eventually have the best system around for actually detecting GPT content.

That does leave the question of whether or not this point is 'done.' It has clearly been 'addressed' by the company, and seems to be on the correct path. I can could see a point for waiting until the official version of the policy was posted, and tagged, by a staff member (nb: which it now is). Likewise, I could see a point for considering it done, even without that posting. In this instance I'm going to follow my own instincts - absent sound reasoning - and consider this last point settled as well. If, in a few days, there is a posting of the new policy and it differs in important details from what was settled in negotiation (nb: and it does not), the company ends up breaking 4 of the 8 points with a single stoke. We're, then, in an entirely different situation, and the strike will have proved to be a pointless waste of time and the future of SO/SE will not include me, and probably many others. There being no harm in considering it 'done' which isn't overshadowed by a final twist, I can decide to consider the strike over, and "close that book."

There are still many issues which the company has with how it deals with the community. If the forward facing commitments are kept, however, these things will be worked out in time.

12
  • Regarding 6, and 7: Some things about how the company has acted during this process have suggested the company hasn't taken these on board. Little things, like the fact the when Phillipe went on holiday during the negotiations, they weren't escalated to someone at the executive level to get them done whilst he wasn't available. Or the extremely precise formal tone that has been used in the companies statements and responses to the community in this area. Aug 5, 2023 at 13:57
  • 1
    @user1937198 I'm a bit worried about the "tone" myself. I am also, in the spirit of compromise (because I do want this to end well) giving some credit to the idea that companies, and executives, "communicate" in formal tones out of habit rather than disrespect. Additionally, some of the language has been changed when challenged in comments. I've even deleted one of my comments when a section was changed as requested. Again, as that is a forward facing thing, I'm looking for positive trends in the change rather than an instantaneous turn around or a rewrite of history. [cont.]
    – Chindraba
    Aug 5, 2023 at 17:17
  • 3
    [cont.] Regarding the break for Philippe's absence, first off, it wasn't a "holiday," it was personal reasons, of which I have no clue, but which the representatives considered justifiable. The time spent on-boarding someone else and getting them "up to speed" with the status of the negotiations, like as not, would have taken longer than Philipp's absence. [cont.]
    – Chindraba
    Aug 5, 2023 at 17:17
  • 2
    [cont.] In addition, as a group, they'd already developed a working relationship, and an understanding of how eachother worked. Having to start all over with a new person, with different levels of awareness and personal communication habits would have been more detrimental to the negotiations than waiting until Philippe was available again. During that time both groups, representative and SEI were working on other things, so it was not a time of complete stand-still.
    – Chindraba
    Aug 5, 2023 at 17:18
  • @Chindraba Philippes boss should have at least an awareness of those things and be able to take less than 2 weeks to get up to a sufficient level of awareness to at least progress negotiations. That that didn't happen indicates the relative level of urgancy that Philippes boss regarded resolving the strike. Its not an absolute, but it is an indicator about how the senior management view things. Other indicators include the leaks of internal communications. Aug 5, 2023 at 18:20
  • @Chindraba Regarding habbit, I would compare it to the tone used on there feature announcements. These are made by the same organization, if less senior parts of it, yet they have a tendancy to be a much less formal tone. That mismatch is at least challenging. Trust after all is about willingness to express vunrability, and the formal tone is about avoiding vunrability. Aug 5, 2023 at 18:21
  • 3
    @user1937198 Speaking of trust and vulnerability, I've seen the reason for Philippe's 'holiday'. Quite a justifiable reason. I find I'm less "sorry" for granting the benefit of doubt than for presuming ill will once I learn I was wrong in either direction.
    – Chindraba
    Aug 5, 2023 at 18:50
  • 1
    "3. Replace that dual policy with a single, public, policy which is also acceptable to the moderators" — it needs to be acceptable to all of the community who spend their lives on contributing to the value of this network of sites.
    – Levente
    Aug 5, 2023 at 20:30
  • 1
    @Levente That would, indeed, be better for the policy, and for the sites. I didn't create the list, only collected it. Considering how much of their lives the mods have contributed to the network, I believe they have as much, or more. motivation than you and I to see that the sites continue to be the value to the network, the company, and the Internet that they have become. As such, a policy acceptable to the moderators is probably acceptable to the vast majority of the users on the network. After all, we did elect them, hopefully, based on their standards being at least as high as our own.
    – Chindraba
    Aug 5, 2023 at 23:55
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    Maybe put the tl;dr on top? If I have already read the whole answer, what good a tl;dr does for me? :)
    – M--
    Aug 8, 2023 at 19:56
  • @M-- The two shall be one.
    – Chindraba
    Aug 8, 2023 at 20:20
  • "The (Interim) Policy on AI-content detection was posted, and tagged, Aug 6th, as promised. on Tangential to that policy, however," – I think the "on" after the period here was misplaced; I'm guessing it should be "on Aug 6th"?
    – V2Blast
    Aug 9, 2023 at 0:45

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