Dear Stack Overflow, we need to talk.

Monica Cellio
5 min readOct 21, 2018

We’ve had a rough few days. I get that you’re tired of hearing about it, but the damage is still there, so we can’t just ignore it, hide behind the weekend, and hope it’ll blow over. It won’t. You need to act.

Your silence in the face of bad behavior is harming your relationship with the volunteers and community members who make your sites work.

On Wednesday a Twitter user complained about the titles of two questions in your “Hot Network Questions” list. Within 40 minutes, an employee responded to say that an entire site had just been kicked off the list. The titles weren’t particularly problematic, by the way. The author of one of them saw the tweet and edited the title. It makes me wonder why public criticism of the whole site was your first response, instead of an edit.

But that’s not the biggest problem here.

One of the moderators of the site being maligned extended an olive branch — and got told to buzz off. The tweeter ranted some more about people actually, you know, responding to public tweets, and criticized some people by name. (I’m neither linking to the tweets nor including names, because flooding the thread isn’t my goal.)

And then a different SO employee jumped in:

An SE employee said “the team is very aware of the problem” in response to a complaint about moderators. And then went on to accuse moderators of trolling and sea-lioning (I had to look that up) and implying that they would be fired.

Are you fucking kidding me?

(The employee has since admitted that the DM (direct message) part was a misunderstanding, but that’s the only part that’s been corrected. Fortunately, SREs can’t actually fire moderators.)

So, a Twitter user asserted that there was bad behavior, and an employee didn’t even do the tiniest bit of investigation before pronouncing judgement. It’s on Twitter so it must be true, I guess?

You were trolled. And you harmed all of us who are helping to build these communities by the way you responded.

This is not how to treat your volunteers. This is not how to provide customer service.

That tweet was made Thursday morning. It’s Saturday night now. It’s still there. All of this is still there. You haven’t disavowed or recanted any of it. Your employees haven’t retracted their tweets.

Half a day later a director on the community team (separately) posted to support moderators in general. I appreciate that. It’s a start. It’s not enough.

Aside from Tim’s tweets, you’ve gone silent. Yes I know it’s a weekend, but this started mid-week and we’re on Internet time here.

Yeah, I know through internal channels that you’re thinking about how to respond more to all this. But internal channels do nothing for the public record. What the public sees is: somebody made an accusation, there must have been substance because an employee validated it, and heads are gonna roll. For something that didn’t happen.

I feel very hurt. I feel I, as a moderator, have been hung out to dry, that if somebody accuses me you’ll act publicly as if I must be guilty. I feel like placating one person on Twitter is more important to you than doing right by your moderators and communities.

I trust that you didn’t intend to harm our relationship like that. But it happened, and we have to deal with the hurt feelings and the damage, not just your intentions.

You’ve told us, time and time again, that you have our backs. When push came to shove, though, you didn’t.

Blah blah blah… so what do you want, Monica?

I want those employee tweets to be taken down and disavowed. Yeah, this many days later that won’t make a big difference, but it’s literally the least you can do to start fixing this, so at least do that.

I want a clear statement on Twitter that we listen to feedback and we make decisions based on evidence not assertions. If there’s a problem we absolutely want to hear about it, but we’re not just going to take your word for it. You’ve got to work with us, show us the problem.

I want you to train your employees better on when and how to represent the company in public venues. We all, employees and moderators alike, are permitted to have private lives and our own opinions, but when you’re representing the company (or the site) you need to be careful to actually act in the company’s (or site’s) best interests.

I want you to apologize to the moderators who were criticized by name in that thread, the ones your employee implicitly accused of trolling.

I want you to explain in public what steps you are taking to improve your processes when people complain about a community, a moderator, or a contributor.

And then I want you to follow through and do that the next time this happens.

And who are you again?

I’m just one person. I’m one person who’s contributed a lot to the network. I think that counts for something.

I’ve been a moderator since 2012. I’ve been elected on three sites, and you’ve appointed me as a pro-tem moderator on three beta sites. If you add up my times in the role on all the sites, I’ve served for 23 moderator-years. I’ve done some hard work and dealt with some super-tricky problems in that time, with nary a complaint from you. I think I’ve earned a hearing.

I thought we were friends. I still want to be friends.

Can we talk?



Monica Cellio

Community lead on Codidact, building a better platform for online communities: By the community, for the community. Opinions mine.