Blog: Stack Overflow

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Followup on SE's revised moderator policies

A few days ago I posted an analysis of Stack Exchange's new, still-flawed policies on moderator reinstatement. An employee who helped to write those policies challenged some of my feedback. This was my reply:

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Nine months later, some revised policies at SE

Back in October, Stack Exchange posted some policies for moderators to apply for reinstatement. I and many others raised concerns about transparency, fairness, and that the whole thing was a black box. Some also raised the concern that if a moderator was removed capriciously, without any valid process, it made no sense for that person to have to submit to this process that starts from a presumption of guilt. (The whole thing has a vibe of "we'll evaluate whether you're still beating your wife".) I posted my assessment there and also copied it in this journal for safe-keeping. (One never knows whether the original would survive, after all.)

This week they posted an updated version (feedback post). Let's see how it stacks up against the issues that were previously raised!

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Pesach 2020

Yisrael came to Egypt and the land flourished because of them. But a new Paro (pharaoh, king) arose who did not know them, and he enslaved them and made their lives hard. And not being content with that, he piled on misery, deliberately acting against them first by making their labors even harder and then by killing their children. When they protested, he prioritizing his own ego and divinity complex not only over justice but also over the well-being of his own people. At every opportunity to change toward the good, Paro hardened his heart and dug in more firmly on the path of evil.

This sounds familiar, on two different fronts.

On one front, the plague of Covid-19 has struck us (I am not asserting a source here) and, even as more people die in the US than anywhere else, even though we were repeatedly warned, our own Paro prioritizes his ego over the well-being of his people, ignoring pleas from governors who don't bow and scrape enough to him, stealing medical supplies from some of them to supply his friends. He prioritizes commerce over health, profit over protecting the vulnerable. The people cry out for rescue.

Now this is not the harsh reign of terror of the torah's Paro; while, sadly, many are stricken who could have been saved, we, unlike Yisrael, can take some measures to protect ourselves. Nothing is certain -- who knows whether that grocery delivery was safe? -- but we can hide at home and try to wait it out.

If we are able to work from home. If we have financial cushions. If we have homes. Never forget that not everyone does. I am fortunate in this regard; many are not. At my (tiny) seder this Pesach, I expressed gratitude for my household being saved (as far as we know), while noting that this year we do not have the national salvation of the Exodus. Many are still in danger.

And then there's the personal front. A Paro driven by ego, contempt for "lesser" people, and sometimes malice arose over me and mine, and did persecute some of us and seek to destroy -- not literally throwing people into the Nile, but metaphorically. There were many chances to correct that path, even saving face, but at each opportunity, the modern Paro hardened his heart, surrounded himself with complicit counselors, and dug in. At every turn, image was more important than teshuva, correcting misdeeds, and tzedakah, righteousness. Counselors who disagreed were driven out without even time for their bread (or health coverage) to finish.

I and many others escaped, and I am grateful for that even though we left both property and people behind. It is an incomplete exodus, as with Israel in Egypt -- rabbinic tradition says that many people feared the unknown and did not join the Exodus. Modern Paro's taskmasters continued to afflict some of those who remained, but also offered trinkets and promises to encourage everyone to stay. Paro's hope, it seems, is that if he gives the slaves straw again to make brick-making less onerous, the slaves will stay and be thankful. And Paro might be right in that.

A new Paro has arisen over the modern Egypt I fled, and has appointed a new vizier to speak publicly on behalf of Egypt. It is too soon to know whether the new Paro and vizier will correct past injustices or continue to sweep them under the royal carpet. Neither Paro nor vizier has sent messengers to all those who were driven out, and so for now Egypt remains Mitzrayim, the narrow place. I feel sorry for the many who remain and hope the new leaders will do teshuva, but Pesach encourages me to look forward and not backward, to a future of promise and not a past of narrow-minded oppression.

I am sad for the unnecessary victims of both Paros. Protecting myself is important and perhaps all I can do, but the Exodus is not complete so long as the oppression of those left behind continues. It was only at the sea of reeds that Yisrael was free from Paro. Sadly, the destruction at the sea of reeds was necessary because of Paro's hardened heart; it was not the desired outcome, and God rebuked the angels who sang triumphantly there. If Paro had ever done teshuva, widespread destruction could have been averted. I hope that our modern Paros will do teshuva and repair rather than enable ongoing damage.

Topical Purim Torah

I was pointed to this piece of Purim torah from Mi Yodeya. The question asks, based on a text, "why is Mi Yodeya so angry?". Isaac Moses, site founder, posted this answer, which I'm copying here for personal posterity.


And it was in the days of Ahashuar. Who? Ahashuar, who reigned over the royal treasury, from a throne in a palace, high above Shushan, the capital. And Mi Yodeya was at that time a province of the kingdom. There came to be promoted one hundred and twenty-seven governors of Personnel and Media higher than any of their fellow officials in the palace.

There was a Jewish woman in Shushan, the capital, by the name of Mordeca. And she was foster to many of the provinces of the kingdom, including Shushan, the capital. And she was highly regarded by the Jews and popular with the multitude of her colleagues, bearers of the royal signet. And she found favor in the eyes of the ministers of the court.

Now the one hundred and twenty-seven governors said to themselves, "there is a certain individual who is spread out among many of the provinces of the realm, whose language is different from the language of the palace, and who does not follow the laws of the kingdom, and it is not in our interest to tolerate her." And they were filled with rage, so they hurried messengers posthaste to remove the royal signet from Mordeca's hand, and they impaled her upon the book of records. And the governors sat down each week to celebrate, but the city of Shushan was confused.

In every province that the governors' command and decree reached, there was great mourning, wailing and weeping. And many of the people of the capital cast off their signets, for the fear of the governors had befallen them.

Some time afterward, a royal edict was issued, including in the laws of the kingdom that "the people in all the provinces of the kingdom shall speak the language of the palace, omitting nothing of what we have decreed."

And many of the residents of Shushan came before the court, and said, "if we have won your favor and the proposal seems right to you, let dispatches be written countermanding those which were written, and let the royal signet be returned to the hand of Mordeca." And they spoke to them day after day, and they would not listen to them. Then the governors dispatched their ministers to say, "if Mordeca will kneel and bow low before the palace, then there will be a poor ... that is, a chance, that she can be returned to her place in the palace gate." But they said to their ministers inside the inner court, "Now that this decree has been written in the name of the palace, it may not be revoked. The royal signet will not be placed upon her hand." And Mordeca would not kneel and would not bow low.

Some time afterward, when the anger of Shushan had subsided, the one hundred and twenty-seven governors thought about what they had done and what they had decreed against Mordeca. And they asked themselves "What should be done to a person whom we desire to honor? And whom should we desire to honor more than ministers who are beloved of Shushan and who intercede for the welfare of the people of the realm?" But the opposite happened, and they impaled Shaashgaz and Carshena upon stakes, for they were ministers who were beloved of Shushan and who had interceded for the welfare of the people of the realm. And Harbona, another of the guardians of the signet-bearers, who is also remembered as good, went out from the palace. And the city of Shushan was again confused.


Yes, "Shaashgaz" and "Harbona" have seen it. (I'm not in contact with "Carshena".)

Followup to the followup (GoFundMe)

Following up this update, I've received a receipt for the donation to The Trevor Project and have added a link on https://www.cellio.org/stack-gofundme.html.

Link roundup (mostly online communities)

I have a lot of links I've been meaning to share accumulating in tabs, tweets, and whatnot. I'd wanted to "curate" this more, but sharing something is better than sharing nothing because I didn't get to that, so...

Fundraising update

I've made two recent updates to GoFundMe, but due to a disconnect between what I understand from their help and what actually happened, they are not visible there. I promised people a financial accounting, so I'm posting it here as well.

February 4 update

I have now received all related bills and can report final numbers for the GoFundMe campaign.

GoFundMe takes a fee of 2.9% + 30 cents per transaction, as described in their help.

Income

GoFundMe, less fees24,450.14
Outside donations229.03
TOTAL24,679.17

Expenses

Donation refund (misunderstanding with one donor) 100.00
Legal services16,582.50
TOTAL16,682.50

The difference, $7,996.67, will be donated to The Trevor Project. When I receive a receipt I'll post it here.

February 13 update

The Trevor Project has not yet processed the check I sent last week, but they have confirmed that they will send me a publishable receipt when they do, which I expect to be soon. I will post that at https://www.cellio.org/stack-gofundme.html. If you want me to notify you when that happens, email me at after-stack@cellio.org.

Thank you everybody for your support!

Done with Stack Exchange

I can't do this any more.

I posted the following on Mi Yodeya, with very similar posts on Worldbuilding, Writing, and Meta. (Do check out the question that that Meta post is an answer to, too.)


Chaveirim,

I write this post with tears literally in my eyes.

Though it pains me deeply to leave my communities, especially Mi Yodeya which I cherish and have helped build for close to nine years, I have decided I must leave the Stack Exchange network.

I became an SE user when Mi Yodeya launched in 2011. For most of the time since then I've been an enthusiastic participant and power user on the SE network. I evangelized SE to friends and colleagues. I almost became an employee. The SE platform did, right, things that other sites did wrong. It was a great place to be, and I built strong community connections and learned a lot. Over time SE the company paid less and less attention to us, which was sometimes frustrating, but we got by even with benign neglect.

Then things began to change. In spring 2018, a single blog post scared someone at SE enough to kick off a new "welcoming" initiative. I was concerned by how they approached it but wanted to believe in the goal nonetheless. A few months later, in October 2018, a single angry tweet prompted hasty changes and public criticism in tweets from employees, which led me to write Dear Stack Overflow, we need to talk.

I remember somebody at the time saying something like "she's too invested in that relationship; he's just not into her". I wasn't listening. I was too into SE, even as others began to leave.

I really wanted to believe that SE wasn't that bad, just a little misguided. SE whispered sweet nothings in our ears, made promises to us that I desperately wanted to believe. I stayed, blind to the warning signs.

Things did not, in fact, get better. Already an employee had admitted that the company was no longer paying attention to feedback from core users, and in July 2019 another advised employees to avoid meta because it upset them. We users were in a relationship with someone who had checked out, stopped listening, seemingly stopped caring about us.

I stayed anyway, because I really love my communities (and maybe I'm too susceptible to the sunk-costs fallacy). When I saw that post in July, a part of me thought we could nonetheless still effect change, could help get things onto a better, collaborative path. I thought we users could mend the rifts in our collective relationship with SE despite evidence that SE wasn't interested. I didn't see the warning signs because I didn't want to see them.

As a dedicated user, I stayed in an abusive relationship for the sake of the kids. I told myself that it would be ok in the end, that it didn't hurt that much, that it was only a bruise.

Sometimes it takes a powerful blow to finally wake up. For me that blow came two weeks ago today.

On January 13, SE abruptly fired Shog9 and Robert Cartaino. Shog9 and Robert, along with Jon Ericson who left a few days later, were long-serving community managers who really get the communities. They were our champions. What we didn't know until recently is that they were being hobbled, forbidden to do what they do so well, forbidden to help us. They, too, were helpless, and Shog and Robert paid a dear price.

We can only expect the rate of damage to accelerate. As a long-time user, I remember what was and know what could have been. Today, our communities are being deeply harmed instead of being helped and supported. It's worse than just being abandoned; we are not allowed to govern ourselves and not allowed to be helped by the dwindling community team.

The company has chosen to go down a very different path from the one I thought we were on. I have lost any hope that this will change. I've passed through denial, hurt, anger, and bargaining, and have now arrived at tearful acceptance. I can't change this. It's painful to keep trying. I give up.

I dearly love my communities here, but, sadly, I can't bear to stay on Stack Exchange any longer.

Our communities are much more than the platform that hosts them. The people are what matters. I hope I can stay connected to the fine people of my communities even if I don't do it here any longer. SE wasn't the first Q&A platform and it won't be the last. Just as Stack Overflow was created out of dissatisfaction with another platform, other platforms will be created out of dissatisfaction with SE. I hope to see y'all in a better place, one we'll build together putting communities and people first. I'll refrain from specific links here after seeing an employee spam-delete a post on Writing Meta about another site, but -- look around.

I've added contact information to my profile, and I've posted some information about my future plans. I won't be deleting my accounts.

I'll almost certainly look in on Mi Yodeya from time to time, maybe even visit chat. Goodbyes are hard and I would dearly love to stay in touch with the people here, somehow. I hope we'll reunite elsewhere.

Be kind to each other. Protect yourselves. Remember Shog and Robert, maybe even me. Let's stay in touch.

New article from The Register

The Register, the publication that picked up the Stack Overflow story on Rosh Hashana, has just published a new article:

Stack Overflow makes peace with ousted moderator, wants to start New Year with 2020 vision on codes of conduct
Q&A biz admits mistakes, promises more discreet public communication

In a display of Yuletide good spirits, or possibly a desire to bury bad news, Stack Overflow has settled its beef with a former moderator and said she can apply to regain her moderator status.

On December 23, 2019, the biz, which operates a collection of more than 140 community-driven Q&A websites that form the Stack Exchange network, announced that it had made peace with Monica Cellio, a volunteer moderator who lost her moderator status and associated site privileges after questioning the company's Code of Conduct.

...

Aggrieved at being named by the company and accused of wrongdoing without justification, Cellio subsequently threatened to sue the organization for defamation and established a GoFundMe.com page to pay for litigation. She managed to raise more than $25,000.

In its December 23 announcement that the company had reached an agreement with Cellio, Chipps said the biz believes Cellio's actions were not malicious and were the result of misunderstanding. Chipps allows that the wording of the Code of Conduct was insufficiently clear and cites Cellio's community contributions and integrity.

"While our initial statement did not address [Cellio] specifically, we regret that we used her name when responding to a reporter's follow-up," Chipps wrote, in reference to our report. "We regret any damage to Ms. Cellio's reputation and any other damage she may have suffered." Chipps said Cellio has been invited to reapply for possible reinstatement as a moderator but has not yet done so.

(Click the link for the full story.)


If any of my readers are good at search-engine magic, I'd appreciate anything you can do to push the new story up and the original story down in searches on my name. (The original story now has an update and link at the end, but still...)

Stack Overflow update

Update: an agreement with Monica Cellio