Stack Exchange Strike - How does the company regain my trust?

Posted on Fri 23 June 2023 in Stack Exchange Strike


My previous posts about the ongoing moderator and curator strike on the Stack Exchange network can be found linked at the bottom of this post, or by visiting the Stack Exchange Strike category on this site.

This post was originally posted on Meta Stack Exchange, the network wide "Meta" for the Stack Exchange network. This meta site and the "child meta" sites mentioned in the post are utilized by community members to discuss the network itself. This is where questions about how the individual site or the network as a whole are posted, where policies are determined, where questions about questions are discussed. This is the location that the community has to make their voice heard.

This post is my answer to the question "What is needed for users to trust the Stack Exchange company?" It's been edited slightly to fit the format of this blog.

How will my trust be regained?

Short version

TL;DR: I'm not sure and that's a bad thing for me and for the community.

Before I begin, I'm not going to segment the company into various groups. I've gotten the impression from moderator representatives that this is a bad thing and they are offended by this segmentation. I have no desire to further that, so "Stack Exchange" in this case refers to both the company as a whole and all employees.

Author note: This complaint was relayed by the moderator representatives from Stack Exchange during discussions. It seems that using phrases like "management" and "leadership" is being interpreted as "good staff" vs "bad staff" at Stack Exchange. While I disagree with this, to me it's not worth the argument thus it's just "Stack Exchange" for me from now on.

Who am I?

For context, I've been on the network for nearly 14 years. I'm a moderator on Stack Overflow, Hardware Recommendations and Community Building. I have built automated tooling to flag comments (at one point accounting for 15% of the comment flags raised on Stack Overflow in a year), and I am an admin on the community led Smoke Detector (spam detection) project. In short, I know this network, the tooling it does and does not have, and various communities across the network. My time here is voluntary. Time that I, until recently, was happy to provide without much of a thought. I've had very interesting discussions with fellow moderators and Stack Exchange employees throughout my time here.

Why don't I trust Stack Exchange?

What is needed for users to trust the Stack Exchange company

Stack Exchange has gone through this cycle before. I've written about it in those past cycles for anyone who wishes to go through my profile and fine previous thoughts. Each time, less of my energy comes back as we - community and company - reconcile and bury the problem in the sand.

The last major cycle ended with a lot of lawyer language, including the new moderator agreement that every mod had to accept to retain their diamond. This cycle started with a violation of one of the provisions of that agreement by Stack Exchange. It received a, in my opinion, flippant "Oops, that was my fault" by the Vice President of Community at Stack Exchange.

This tells me that the legal agreement is completely one sided and Stack Exchange feels comfortable violating it without repercussion. If I, on the other hand, had violated a term in the agreement I'd be forced to hand in my diamond. This has eroded a ton of trust I have with the company.

In the announcement regarding how Generative AI can and should be moderated and in statements to the press, there has been disparagement against the moderators of the network. To me, the subtext of all of that reads as "we don't trust you to moderate correctly". If the company does not trust us to perform activities we've either been elected or appointed to do for our community, why are we still here?

Combining this with the incredible way this cycle all started and the fact that none of this mistrust was known by the moderation team, my trust of the company took a hit. This policy was announced at the end of May. Data was shared several weeks ago. In all of that, there are allusions to improper moderator activity and hints that moderators are banning so many people that engagement across the platform is down. It wasn't until yesterday (nearly a month) that moderators saw any discussion of these "improper bans". It was just...silent. This big, massive problem that could have been talked about back in February or March was just tossed into the public eye with the implication that moderators are doing the wrong thing. Then it took nearly a month for a conversation to begin.

The Stack Exchange network has lost at least four months of time where this "moderation problem" could have been discussed, policies adjusted, and moderators who deal with generative AI on their sites on the daily basis educating the company on how it's actually being detected. Instead, an easily disproved lie about using ChatGPT detectors has been blamed and shared repeatedly with the press for the reason for their sudden policy change.

My trust level of the company takes several hits here too. I dislike being lied to and I really dislike being lied about.

Finally, the method of communication through out the last month. The company has a team dedicated to managing the community. There have been many questions on this site and on child metas during the moderator strike. I have seen very little coming from the community management team to answer these questions. The community has questions and the company is not providing answers to them. Instead, we see announcements on topics that the community is against being announced. Long discussions, in public, are not occurring though. Which erodes my trust even further.

What's this all mean?

Where am I today then? How does the company rebuild my trust in them? My answer to that is that I don't know. This past month has eroded so much of my faith in the company to be the trusted repository of knowledge that it was in the past. It's also removed much faith that the company actually cares about the community. Much like the previous cycle we've seen details come out that reflect poorly on the company and employees attempt to respond to that only for more details to come out that make the response look like lies.

14 years is a lot of time to spend some place and not have strong feelings about. It makes simply accepting negative changes impossible and it makes walking away difficult. That's part of why I'm still here. The other part is the communities I mentioned in my introduction. I have built friends and acquaintances across the network and the sense of community that used to exist is a strong desire to remain. But, this isn't something that will hold the community as a whole together. I am an outlier in terms of a user on the network. Honestly, everyone reading this on Meta is an outlier.

The company's goal is engagement and traffic. I guarantee the moderation team has not banned enough users to bring down the traffic the network has seen since December. But, we are the scapegoat at least right now. We're nearing a month and there are users with access to site analytics. The number of bans has been close to 0. Theoretically, traffic should be recovering if we were the problem.

- 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.