Stack Overflow is alienating its community again

I don't have time for a full writeup of this right now, but here are the "highlights" of Stack Overflow Inc.'s latest community-affecting actions.

The CEO has recently gone all-in on generative AI and LLMs, the technology used by ChatGPT. He allocated 10% of the company to work on unspecified ways to use LLMs in their platform, and he's made some incoherent blog posts that scream "chasing the hype train". He also laid off 10% of the company including 30% of engineering and two community managers.

Stack Overflow the site does not allow answers written by ChatGPT. They worked together with community managers to develop that policy. Their moderators are seeing an increased workload because there's so much machine-generated crap showing up now, but the moderation tools and processes in place are handling it.

Or were. On Monday the company announced a policy that basically bars moderators from moderating this content. For further complication, the public announcement does not match what moderators say they were told privately -- they were actually told to start enforcing a strict hands-off policy without letting users know.

(The public post kind of back-handedly called moderators bigots, too. I guess at least this time they didn't smear anyone by name. But still... ick.)

People are, naturally, upset, both by a policy that invites non-vetted machine-generated "answers", and by the way it was done. Moderators' attempts to discuss these issues with the company have been rebuffed. One popular theory is that the CEO, having gone publicly all-in on LLMs, was embarrassed to find out that his flagship site deletes that stuff.

So there's going to be a strike. More than half of the Stack Overflow mods, many other mods across the network, non-moderator users who do the important curation tasks, and the user-run tools that detect spam and other problems across the network -- all shutting down. These people are all unpaid volunteers who are realizing that the company that relies on their free labor doesn't actually care about them.

Noticed in passing: there are a bunch of userscripts that power users use to make the site easier to maintain. These scripts are very popular. One of them now adds a banner to the top of the site that says:

We are calling for solidarity against actions taken by Stack Overflow Inc, which is posing a major threat to the integrity and trustworthiness of the platform and its content.


For more detailed background and why this matters so much to the people involved, I recommend this post from a former community manager.


Update, 2023-06-05: From Meta.SE: Moderation Strike: Stack Overflow, Inc. cannot consistently ignore, mistreat, and malign its volunteers (includes demands), mirrored on Stack Overflow Meta.