On Friday, half an hour before Shabbat and two days before Rosh Hashana, Stack Overflow Inc. suddenly revoked my moderator status on all sites where I had it. I found this out while handling flags, when I suddenly got notifications for Marshal and Deputy badges (which moderators are ineligible to earn). They did this not because I've done anything to violate SE policies (which I have not done), but because they think I will in the future violate a thoughtcrime-style provision of a Code of Conduct change that hasn't been made yet.
Rather than just asking you to take my word for everything, let me quote something that another moderator who has no particular ties to me wrote:
Social life means being confronted to different points of view. This is especially true on in an international setting such as Stack Exchange where you get to encounter people from different cultures. When interacting with others, you need to draw lines — for example, racism is not acceptable, full stop — and within those bounds, you need to open up to diversity. Sometimes that means listening to multiple points of view, and sometimes agree to disagree, and sometimes compromise.
I have witnessed a disagreement between moderators where both sides made some good points. Both sides deserved and requested respect. One side was aware that their behavior could hurt even though no malice was intended and tried to get out of their way not to be hurtful. The other side demanded to have things their way, and did not care who they were hurting on the process. In this particular dispute, there was clearly a victim and aggressors.
Stack Exchange intervened, did not try to calm spirits, came firmly on the uncompromising side, and fired the victim in a very hurtful manner.
The behavior that Gilles describes happened in the Teachers' Lounge, a private chat room for moderators. I was the victim. Someone with a "director" job title had dropped into the room to announce an upcoming change to the Code of Conduct; unlike the rest of the CoC, this rule mandates specific, positive actions.1 I raised some issues with the formation of the policy and asked some questions, the vast majority of which were never answered. I was polite and was trying to work with others to solve a problem I have with the change as presented.
After a couple hours, the director responded, chastising me for raising issues and saying my values were out of alignment. I said I would leave the room to avoid causing problems, and did so. The Teachers' Lounge is a resource for moderators, but there is no requirement to participate there and many moderators do not. This appeared to be a TL-centric issue.
Two days later (Friday September 20), after a lot more discussion, a community manager instructed people to send email if they have concerns. I did so in the minutes before Shabbat.
On Monday I received email from a different CM explaining why they were making the change and mis-stating some issues I had raised. Concerned that I had not made myself clear in my haste to respond quickly on Friday, I replied with some questions. This was an amicable exchange; I thought we were having a productive conversation. I was promised a reply by this past Friday.
Instead, I saw my diamond disappear before my eyes and briefly saw an announcement from a CM in TL that contained false allegations against me. When I tried to respond I was booted from the room. Around this time I received email firing me. This email did not cite anything I have done wrong; this was a pre-emptive move that runs counter to how SE tells moderators to treat users when considering suspensions. (Moderators suspend in response to behavior, not speculatively.)
In TL and now in answers here and elsewhere, Stack Exchange employees made vague statements implying that I oppose inclusion and respectful behavior, which is false and adds insult on top of the injury already done. I suspect a profound misunderstanding is at the root of their behavior, but all of my attempts to resolve it have gone unanswered. It feels to me like the company prefers a scapegoat to a resolution.
If I had done anything to violate the Code of Conduct, I would apologize and try to make it right or bow out. I didn't violate this important code (and especially not the code currently in force!), and I find it especially offensive that I am being accused of behavior that is not welcoming, inclusive, and sensitive when these are things I strive for in all of my interactions on the network (and elsewhere).
Last November, in the wake of a different controversy around SE employees maligning moderators in public, Tim Post made a blog post promising moderators five things: trust, support, agency, accountability, and autonomy. The actions that Stack Overflow took in the last week and a half violate all five of those.
It has been an honor to serve this community.
1 Now that this has been made public elsewhere, I feel safe in saying more. The policy is an update to the Code of Conduct that requires us to use people's preferred pronouns (when known). What was posted in the TL wasn't polished language; I assume they're working on that. 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 as a professional writer I, by training, 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.
Related blog posts:
Stack Overflow Inc. has sunk to new lows (2019-10-02)
Stack Overflow Inc.: what we say vs. what we do (2019-10-03)
Stack Overflow Inc. fiasco: timeline (2019-10-05)
(Not a blog post): David Fullerton, CTO, made a partial apology, not for what they did but how they did some of it, and promised me direct contact. You can track that contact in my answer there; see also the next blog post. (His post was 2019-10-06; unsatisfactory email was sent 2019-10-08.)
Stack Overflow Inc.: radio silence continues (2019-10-13)
Stack Overflow Inc.: more delays (2019-10-15)
Stack Overflow Inc.: flawed policies posted (contains links to removal and reinstatement policies and my response) (2019-10-22)
Stack Overflow is doing me ongoing harm; it's time to fix it! (Meta.SE), cross-posted on my blog (2019-10-23)
GoFundMe page for legal costs (2019-10-28), closed 2019-12-23
Podcast interview (2019-11-01)
I still have not been shown what specifically I am supposed to have done wrong, though I am told that a community manager told other moderators I have been. Sara's privacy-violating defamatory accusations continue to cause me ongoing harm, which is actually the larger problem.