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Monica Cellio's account of losing her moderator status on Stack Exchange (meta.stackexchange.com)
130 points by djsumdog on Oct 3, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 64 comments

For those who don't need all the inside baseball up front, jump to the lengthly footnote for the gist, which itself doesn't exactly get to the point:

> ... The policy is an update to the Code of Conduct that requires us to use people's preferred pronouns (when known). ... I completely agree that it is rude to call people what they don't want to be called; knowingly misgendering someone is not ok. But the policy was about positive, not negative, use of pronouns. I pointed out that ... [I] write in a gender-neutral way specifically to avoid gender landmines, and sought clarification that this would continue to be ok. To my surprise, other moderators in the room said that not using (third-person singular) pronouns at all is misgendering. The employee never clarified, and this is one of the questions I asked in email. In my email I said clearly that I'm on board with "use preferred pronouns when using pronouns", but from the fact that they fired me without warning (or answering the question), I conclude that that's not the policy. I haven't seen an actual policy, though I am being accused of violating it.

Further condensing, moderator asked questions about proposed policy change requiring proactive use of people's preferred pronouns. These questions were not answered. After lengthy back-and-forth, moderator status was revoked.

It's good to know that our community platforms are safe in the hands of people who will throw you under the bus at the slightest hint that you might be less than perfectly enthusiastic about consistently toeing the party line. It's very inclusive of them.

tldr: In response to a proposed StackExchange rule change requiring moderators to use users preferred pronouns when addressing them, the author asked if it was acceptable to continue writing in a gender neutral way; without using first person pronouns. This was viewed as unacceptable and lead to an immediate termination.

This is only one side of the story, but seems appalling at first glance.

Other moderators in different sections have made similar posts explaining their resignation, and they brought up compelled speech (they're being forced to use gendered language even if they don't want to).

The goal of the moderator is to enforce the rules, if you can't accept the rules why would you be a moderator?

These rules have not been decided yet. Mod was terminated because of a simple discussion of new rules.

Last year in the wake of the Linux CoC thing, y'all were quick to downmod anyone who commented that CoCs might be used to enforce political orthodoxy.

And now here we are.

Also of note is an emerging new standard: Actual CoC violations are not the threshold for punishment, perceived risk of potential CoC violations is. I saw Aurynn Shaw advocate for this position earlier this year[0], and knew dark times were a-coming; it was hot-takey enough to sound like a great idea to people who pride themselves on being radicals.

[0] https://mobile.twitter.com/aurynn/status/1128053124323655680

Are we peak woke yet? If not, slightly afraid of what it will be.

> do what we believe fosters a spirit of inclusion and respect

... by forcing 99% of users to bend to the will of the remaining 1%?

Freedom of speech. Wars are fought over freedoms as fundamental as this.

Do so many people not understand that trying to limit the freedom of others for your own personal benefit is tantamount to tyranny and oppression? The very thing they claim they are against?

I disagree with SO's rationale as stated, but losing mod privileges on a wiki is not even close to a fundamental violation of freedom of speech tantamount to tyranny and oppression over which wars have historically been fought. On the radar of behind-the-scenes drama that can go on with forums between administrators and moderators, this doesn't even raise a blip.

Their /intent/ is oppression of speech anywhere and anyway they can make it happen. It will likely happen here eventually too.

The fact that the space this is currently being fought over is a corporate sponsored forum is irrelevant to the intent of this group of people.

Stack Exchange is a weird place. I've generally found their user community pretty hostile. I find the idea of giving people badges for downvoting to capture something about their negativity.

Downvoting is essentially moderating, and it costs you as much as it costs the person you downvoted. That does ensure that it's not just a blunt tool for general disagreement.

The whole site is about gamification of altruistic behavior. Answering questions is important, but pruning the unhelpful answers is too.

Are you sure that's accurate? When I downvote, I receive -1. When I get downvoted, I believe I receive -5--or, at least, something with greater magnitude than -1.

They might have changed it recently, but when I was active on SO, it was -1/-1 for downvoting, 0/+10 for upvoting. The idea was, iirc, that high-rep users have typically been active quite a while, contributed a lot of value and aren't troublemakers (or moderators would have confronted them), so they are trust-worthy to not abuse downvoting (while they could afford it). Low-rep users on the other hand can't afford to abuse downvotes (and it would take ten downvotes to undo one upvote) and have every incentive to only downvote when they do believe it's a bad answer. On the topics I was active, it was also very common to explain downvotes and flags so the users can improve their questions or answers (and downvotes would typically be removed if that happened).

Interesting idea. I'll write css rule that hides score and draw all comments with same color and see what will happen.

hn is weird in similar regards. you get downvoted and you have no idea who downvoted you and why...

Not to mention that at as a comment gets downvoted it'll turn more and more desaturated and harder to read, literally silencing someone over a disagreement.

This is one of the annoying features of HN that is unfair to the person making the comment. I, as the reader, should decide if I want to read it or not.

Agreed. Thankfully the fading goes away if you click into the comment itself (i.e. on the timestamp next to the username), but it's still annoying.

That is one of the nice things about Lobster is that down-votes do let you click on a reason.

As someone who has been quite active on SO for several years and is also new to HN I’ll definitely say that HN feels more hostile of an environment.

Even when making an honest effort to engage in meaningful discussion you might get sent to oblivion without a single reply or any sort of guidance. It feels like I’m violating unspoken community rules and no one bothers to clue you in.

HN is much easier to get started on. SO's permissions when you're first starting out are so restrictive that it's really hard to earn those first few points.

Honestly I disagree, HN seems impossible for me to gain any traction. My karma fluctuates from 0 to 10 on a daily basis essentially, and for seemingly no reason.

Example, I made a comment earlier pointing out that North Korea tends to reject outside help due to the juche methodology. That comment was at 3 points, now it sits at 0 and I really have no clue why.

At this point I don’t think I’ll see an upward trend in karma growth, not that it particularly matters.

On SO what you need to do is quite clear, on HN it’s (to me at least) a mystery

So I looked at your comment history, thinking that I would see nothing but low-quality one-liners that would explain your lack of traction. Instead, you're right --- you've got a lot of high-quality comments deserving of more upvotes!

Anyway, the secret to karma on HN is to submit interesting articles, ideally from sources that few people here are likely otherwise stumble across. While there are probably a few high scorers who get most of their points from comments, I'd bet the vast majority are from submissions.

And as the other reply to you says, don't pay too much attention to the points. Submit interesting stuff, keep making good comments, and please stick around.

Stop caring about karma, upvotes and downvotes. There's nothing you can do about the HN zeitgeist, There are no guidelines for downvoting here, and complaining about downvotes will only get you downvoted further.

Just accept that silent passive-aggressive censorship is part of the culture here and ignore it.

In this thread we learn how (I would say overly) invested some people are with online forums.

Code of Conducts - have they ever done any good? Maybe installing a CoC should be considered an inflammatory act in itself.

Yes, a Code of Conduct can be a good thing. A good CoC is about the outcome, not the action. For instance, a good CoC in software development has things like:

* Write your code for other people who may be up at 3am trying to figure out what's wrong with the logic.

* Be considerate of other ideas, smart people who disagree are usually both correct but differ in benefits and consequences.

* Consider if you are writing beyond the scope of the ticket, no code is easier/faster to debug/understand than no code.

Notice, there are no rules of what to do, but what is attempting to be avoided. Unfortunately, the Western Thinking (TM) (as opposed to Eastern Thinking) asks the question "What is...?" Like:

* What is the correct way to address someone?

* What is the acceptable code style?

* What are the maximum number of lines in a function?

The problem with this thinking is that it ignores outcome and enforces concrete thinking. The irony here being that the goal is to be considerate of people and they are being utterly inconsiderate to the moderator.

But are your suggestions a "Code of Conduct"? Like would anybody be expelled from a community for "not thinking about people who may be up at 3am trying to figure out their code"?

They are good suggestions, but I would put them in another category than CoCs.

This was precisely the argument in the Canadian Senate, 2 years ago, that propelled Jordan Peterson to public visibility. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KnIAAkSNtqo

Precisely? No definitely not precisely. The question at hand here is whether or not absence of pronouns constitutes misgendering, and the real crux of the issue is a lack of communication between staff and the moderator in question. I fail to see how that is meaningfully related to legislation which sought to classify intentional misgendering as a form of harassment in the work place.

The fundamental question of whether or not it was to be deemed malicious if someone were not to inquire about and use someone's preferred pronouns -- and not simply use generic pronouns or personal names -- was central to that debate. I guess it just goes to show how widely disparate opinions around this topic can be, given that you and I can't even agree as to what the argument is about!

Part of the problem is that Peterson really obfuscated the nature of the legislation. It was never about whether or not misgendering someone is malicious, it added workplace protections against discrimination.

Peterson, for the sake of his own career, made it into the larger debate you describe. In fairness, it’s a debate that engages a lot of people, but the legislation in Canada was never intended to affect common parlance.

Very interesting. Your comments are the first I've heard that the law only applied to workplace discrimination. This seems a pretty thorough overview: http://sds.utoronto.ca/blog/bill-c-16-no-its-not-about-crimi.... Like most legal things these days, it clearly gets complicated very quickly.

What are the chances that her religious zeal is part of the decision?

What are the chances that someone's religious zeal is part of their decision?

Why are you accusing her of such? Where's your proof?

I think the parent is more asking, "what are the chances that her religious affiliation played a role in SE's decision?" It's a fairly loaded question.

Because she's Jewish/a moderator of the Judaism forum?

You're seeing red. There are no accusations here.


This is a false equivalency. Monica Cellio is not refusing to use a person's preferred pronouns, but requesting clarification on whether gender-neutral references run afoul of a new proposed policy. Both the intention and the specifics run 100% counter to the misgendering you reference.

What equivalency? I mentioned the first thing of which the quoted text reminded me. If cf means "is the same thing again", then I suppose I misused it, and I can deal with that-- I don't use it much, I'm a n00b with it. OTOH, everything (every pair of things) is a metaphor and all metaphors eventually break down. If two things have all equivalent properties, then they are the same thing.

Maybe I'm merely projecting a position onto those 'other moderators' but it really seemed like someone expects all moderators to go out of their way and forcibly rectify their outdated vocabulary, so now, not even 'they' gets a pass to be used as (making it up as I go) a metapronoun. I don't like it, and neither did JP [find that sort of thing acceptable], and there is everything that I intended to convey when I hit 'add comment'.

Is that cleared up? Did I backpedal? I hope I didn't backpedal.

JP's claim that a relatively straightforward and insignificant anti-discrimination law resulted in "compelled speech" was part of a FUD campaign in which he claimed that misgendering students would result in imprisonment. In reality, it does not criminalize anything, does not make using pronouns other than the ones someone prefers hate speech, and doesn't even apply to universities at all.

Describing JP as "refusing to roll over and engage in "compelled speech"." is inherently endorsing his position.

> Describing ... is inherently endorsing his position.

Well, 'inherently' isn't even necessary... it's a bit obvious that I agreed with his take on a problem...

> In reality, it does not criminalize anything

...which you're saying didn't exist. Admittedly, I didn't stay on top of that whole thing, just got wind of it back when I had a FTJ and didn't follow up on it. As a USAian who doesn't even vote I would've had to really want to know how it turned out. So I should probably do some homework.

But I did see lots of the Internet start insisting on ${good_behavior} toward ${list_of_protected_statuses} in the meantime, and it was irritating. Those social contracts are also poorly written IMO-- they'll only stop expanding when people stop inventing new ways to be different and stop inventing new ways to be horrible toward those who are different. They are not a solution. Well then offer something better, you'll say.

Pull your head completely out of your ass and treat everyone the way you expect to be treated.

"I dunno, it's up there pretty far..." --Joe North, after he asked what it would take for us to go back to being friends like a few years before, when we were sort-of-occasionally drinking buddies, so I told him this

It seems many people are standing up to this compelled speech direction the far left is heading in.

They seem to be fighting a losing battle against an unstoppable opponent - the comment you replied to has already been flagged off of hacker news.

I noticed. So many posts are being flagged and downvoted for expressing a different opinion (not unpopular mind you, it's just in these circles that want to live in their own enclosure).

I'm really glad I turned on flaged/show dead to see what falls below the fold.

Some of the comments are non-constructive, but in some threads, you see things that are viable arguments that are just controversial. People are afraid to make well reasoned points for controversial topics because they could get called out. Professors are now afraid of their students. There almost seems to be a point system or status for being able to get a "bad person" to leave their position.

It's quite bizarre how we got to this situation. It seems that some people who have nothing to contribute but to make instability and tear down what others have built will hide under whatever guise to justify their actions.

Ah, but sometimes it rather seems they would be happier if their enclosure was the only one that was permitted to exist. Oh well. Life's too short to spew dissonance into someone else's echo chamber.


Your comment breaks the site guidelines by being flamebait, taking the thread further into ideological flamewar, and going on about downvoting. That gives several correct reasons for downvoting it.



This is way beyond the pale. Please don't post like this here.

Understood, thank you for the feedback.

Question: does my edit make any difference?

Yes, that's much better.

Firing and public shaming are part of the problem. People are afraid to voice controversial opinions because they can get called out. I highly recommend the book, "The Coddling of the American Mind."

There is almost a rewards and point system for taking out powerful people who are somehow wrong (racist, Nazis, etc). The trouble is that everyone then becomes a Nazi. People can't have slightly different views and have honest discussions. Instead they get asked to (forced to) resign. It creates a huge void between academics and students .. the relation between students and teachers is now fragmented, and it's also been coming out in the corporate and open source world.

Cry me a river. SO mods are overzealous hall monitors who work for badges instead of money. They get what they deserve. Now she knows what it's like to be flagged as a dupe. You can beg and plead but the mod has spoken, so you move over to Reddit and if that doesn't work, Google groups.

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