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Firing mods and forced relicensing: is Stack Exchange still interested in cooperating with the community?

The last weeks and days have seen some erratic behaviour by Stack Exchange Inc., such as likely illegal changes to the content license and the firing of an upstanding community moderator with no explanation except copy-pasted responses (leaving many to believe it was for no good reason). It would be nice if those just were examples of ill judgement, but the disturbing alternative is that SE has given up on cooperating with the community.

An increasing rate of incomprehensible actions

There's a long history of Stack Exchange alienating more engaged community members (and I know many that have already left as a result). That neglectful approach is regrettable, but not outright malicious. This seems to have changed, to the worse.

On Sep 5, SE announced without prior discussion that the content license was being retroactively changed. Even though that change might be desirable, it was widely questioned as being illegal. It took three weeks to get any response from SE, and even that doesn't address any concerns the community raised.

On Sep 27, SE fired community moderator Monica Cellio from all sites for … I'm not really sure, since I'm not a mod, but it seems to have been over an unrelated disagreement. De-modding isn't a proportional response to disagreements and goes against Stack Exchange principles. This is extremely concerning: is disagreement no longer allowed? Does SE now demand unquestioning loyalty from community mods? Really odd, since Monica was otherwise known for being a prolific and reasonable moderator. (Update: a community-maintained neutral accounting of events has been created in the meanwhile.)

The following mods have been fired or resigned in protest over the way this was handled:

  1. fired: Monica Cellio on Judaism, The Workplace, Worldbuilding, Writing, Beer Wine & Spirits, and Meta Stack Exchange (provides background)
  2. resigned: Gilles on Computer Science, French, and Emacs (provides background)
  3. resigned: Snow on The Workplace (later requested reinstatement, confirmed reinstated by SE) - Now listed as "disappointed"
  4. resigned: Jane S on The Workplace
  5. resigned: Dennis on Code Golf
  6. resigned: Brock Adams aka Awesome Poodles on Stack Apps
  7. resigned: Robert Harvey on Software Engineering and Stack Overflow
  8. resigned: GlenH7 on Engineering and Software Engineering
    (later left these sites completely)
  9. resigned: Nathaniel on Christianity and Latin Language.
  10. resigned: Caleb on Christianity and Biblical Hermeneutics (provides background)
  11. resigned: anonymous2 on Internet of Things
  12. resigned: Mister Positive on The Workplace (later requested reinstatement, confirmed reinstated by SE)
  13. resigned: Ed Cottrell on Stack Overflow and Ebooks
  14. resigned: DoMiNeLa10 on Emacs
    (only one moderator left on Emacs)
  15. resigned: a CVn on Worldbuilding and Writing
  16. resigned: Neil Fein on Writing
  17. resigned: Glen_b on Cross Validated
  18. resigned: Sklivvz on Skeptics
  19. resigned: George Stocker on Stack Overflow

Additionally, others have taken other actions:

  1. suspended activity: Paul White on Database Administrators
  2. suspended activity: James on Worldbuilding
  3. suspended activity: HDE 226868 on Worldbuilding, Astronomy, History of Science & Mathematics, and Mythology & Folklore
  4. suspended activity: Rand al'Thor on Science Fiction & Fantasy
  5. suspended activity: fedorqui on Spanish Language
  6. suspended activity: Null on Science Fiction & Fantasy
  7. stopped activity before new election ends: Tensibai on DevOps
  8. took a break ColleenV on English Language Learners
  9. suspended activity: Rory Alsop / Doktor Mayhem on Information Security, Music, Parenting, The Great Outdoors, Sound Design, and Video Production
  10. suspended activity: terdon on Unix & Linux, Ask Ubuntu, and Bioinformatics
  11. suspended activity: anongoodnurse on Parenting
  12. suspended non-critical activity: AviD on Information Security
  13. suspended non-urgent activity: Anton Menshov on Computational Science
  14. suspended non-urgent activity: Thomas Owens on Software Engineering Return to moderation on October 12.
  15. suspended activity: Kevin on Science Fiction & Fantasy and The Great Outdoors
    (only one moderator active on The Great Outdoors and Science Fiction & Fantasy)
  16. taking a leave of absence: Cyn on Writing
    (no active moderators left on Writing)
  17. suspended activity: Xander on Beer, Wine & Spirits
    (only one moderator active on Beer, Wine & Spirits)
  18. suspended activity / resigning soon: Mad Scientist on Skeptics
  19. suspended activity: jonsca on Web Applications and Chemistry
  20. suspended activity: Hohmannfan on Space Exploration
  21. suspended activity: nicoguaro on Computational Science
    (only one moderator active on Computational Science)
  22. suspended activity: lois6b on Stack Overflow en español
  23. suspended activity: eykanal on Academia
  24. suspended non-critical activity: AJ Henderson on Photography, Video Production, Sound Design and Community Building. Same reasoning as Rory Alsop / Doktor Mayhem
    (only one moderator active on Sound SE and Video SE)
  25. suspended activity: Michael Hampton on Server Fault
  26. suspended activity Sven on Server Fault
  27. suspended activity Bhargav on Stackoverflow

Additional resignations that are related to the incident, but for their own reasons:

  1. resigned: Aza on Literature, worth reading, predates other events; later wrote an update that's even more worth reading.
  2. resigned: Journeyman Geek only on Meta, remains a moderator of Super User
  3. resigned: Keelan on Philosophy
  4. resigned: PashaPash on Stack Overflow на русском
  5. resigned: rolfl on Code Review
  6. resigned: Tensibai on DevOps
  7. resigned: Jack Douglas on Database Administrators
    (only one moderator active on Database Administrators)
  8. resigned: Diego on Spanish Language
    (only one moderator active on Spanish Language)

Finally, some moderators and community projects have written commentary or taken action as a result of the situation:

  1. disappointed: StrongBad on Academia and Expats
  2. declared support for Monica: Cyn / Writing mod team
  3. SOBotics has taken down Reports along with Rodgort and Higgs
  4. disappointed: called2voyage on Space Exploration and Astronomy
  5. on the brink of being done: J.R. on English Language Learners
  6. disappointed: El'endia Starman, Peter Turner, and Mason Wheeler on Christianity
  7. disappointed: Snow on The Workplace

Company and Community

I understand that Stack Exchange the company is under a lot of stress right now. They are transitioning to a new CEO and somehow need to finally become profitable, which might be the reason for odd statements about ad policies or aggressively pushing the Stack Overflow Teams product everywhere. But stress is no excuse for waging war on the user base.

Stack Exchange is not only a company but also a community. While the company provides the platform, the community provides the content that makes the platform valuable. Either party can only be successful by cooperating with the other. But at this point, it looks Stack Exchange Inc. has given up on communicating with the community and is taking an adversarial stance.

Is Stack Exchange Inc. still interested in cooperating with the community? What is the vision for this relationship?

  • If SE would like to start engaging with the community again, the incidents above are likely just regrettable mistakes. How will SE prevent this string of mistakes from continuing in the future? What will SE do to mend these issues?

  • If SE wants to continue on this path towards an unyielding Corporate Overlord role, the community will likely bleed engaged members at an increasing rate. How will SE ensure continued high quality of the network sites? Just trying to grow faster will only exacerbate those problems.

I for my part expect to stop writing answers or participating otherwise until I see a good-faith effort towards mending the rift.


2019-09-29: 1st official response — Answer on Monica's resignation (copied elsewhere)

2019-10-03: 2nd official response — An Update to our Community and an Apology.

2019-10-05: Monica's Timeline of the Situation - As a blog post

2019-10-06: 3rd official response — An apology to our community, and next steps

2019-10-06: Open letters from moderators — Dear Stack Exchange: a statement and a letter from your moderators, and The second letter addressing more specifically the issues the LGBT+ community feels it is necessary to address

2019-10-10: Official FAQ on gender pronouns and Code of Conduct changes