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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- Honest and clear communication from Stack Exchange, Inc. about the way forward.
- Collaborate with the community, instead of fighting it.
- 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.