Stack Exchange Strike - Does Stack Exchange Care?

Posted on Mon 19 June 2023 in Stack Exchange Strike


Where are we now?

Last week, I ended with a note that the data dumps should be restored by June 16. Good news. That has been completed and the dump was uploaded by June 16. It's progress, but after two weeks we have only accomplished one out of four tasks on the list of conditions to end the strike.

  • A retraction of the of the prohibition of moderating GPT content.
  • The private policy on GPT content that was issued to moderators must be revealed publicly.
  • The data dumps must be re-enabled and SEDE and API access guarenteed.
  • Stack Exchange, Inc. must communicate, gather feedback, and act on that feedback before making major policy or software changes to the public platform.

I've heard rumors that the second bullet may occur, but nothing has been done publicly. Thus, nothing outside of feedback from representatives to go on here.

GPT Content

On Thursday, June 15, Stack Exchange enabled their "formatting assistant". To say it went poorly, is an understatement. There are currently 52 answers to that question showing how it doesn't work. It's a thin wrapper around a version of ChatGPT or GPT4. It's also very, very bad at being a "formatting assistant". Instead, it's rewriting content, butchering code being asked about, making stuff up, answering questions and everything other than making formatting better. One user, Mithical, found the prompt the formatting assistant is using.

The one small postive that came out of this is that Stack Exchange did communicate with the community a few days before this was released. This isn't enough though.


Why isn't one post enough?

Behind the scenes it's become clearer to me that several staff members of Stack Exchange don't wish to engage with the community. I briefly touched on one of these people in my [last update][strikeweek1update]. The public press has been out of the loop sounding, the internal reactions on moderation channels has been complaints that moderators are to negative.

Of course moderators are negative right now. There is a strike going on because they are unhappy. The feedback from representatives continues to be filled with road blocks.

Where do I sit today?

I think it's becoming more clear that Stack Exchange is not interested in removing GenerativeAI content from it's site. It's actively building and promoting a tool that utilizes ChatGPT under the hood. I am very surprised that they pulled the plug on the formatting assistant after two days. Previous negative feedback has been ignored and I fully expected this one to be as well. The problem with pulling the plug on this, is that CEO has committed to exciting announcements about AI this summer. If the community just showed that one of those AI projects was a flop, they are going to go even harder at getting the next one to succeed.

As this drags on into it's third week, I've become more pesimistic that this strike doesn't end with resignations. Reddit had a two day strike during this time period, and they are already threatening to replace community moderators. The Stack Exchange CEO has expressed their fondness for Reddit on occassion, so I suspect that the action being taken over there is being considered here. Of course, the difference here is that Stack Exchange wasn't effectively shut down by the strike like Reddit was. Sites didn't go dark. Instead, curators and moderators stopped curating and moderating. Everything is still available, the sites are still working, it's just less tidy than usual.

- is a father, an engineer and a computer scientist. He is interested in online community building, tinkering with new code and building new applications. He writes about his experiences with each of these.