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Re: Chaos, lost trust, grief and restoration #5
Good post. Still disappointing when someone like Tim says you "positively had to do something" in response to the Twitter cesspool, but I can appreciate that it's a difficult situation for all. Even worse when he is encouraging us to use the cesspool rather than MSE
I think it would be great if SE adopted something like the petition system several governments have, where over X signatories will get an official reasoned response.
Finally, the original reason I came to post a response: the link to the "improved review queue indicator" goes to the Christianity site instead.
I'm not actually sure what Tim meant by "So, use Twitter. Use email. Use meta". It seems more like an expression of frustration than a suggestion to get change requests to us. We really could use a bug/feature tracking system and maybe we'll get one?
A petion system is an interesting idea. I worry it would end up like the White House system which has such gems as "Declare George Soros a terrorist and seize all of his related organizations' assets under RICO and NDAA law". It neither got nor particularly deserves a response and so it makes the whole system look a little ridiculous. But it's certainly something I could see us trying.
Thanks for the wrong link report, by the way. I'm not sure why I had the Christianity link in my clipboard to paste there, but I suspect it had something to do with lifting the HNQ restriction.
first of all thank you for this blog post. Yours is yet again a voice of reason.
Despite your optimistic words, however, it has now been more than a week since an SE employee essentially hung out SE mods, those volunteers who have chosen to devote their free time to keeping SE sites clean for you, to dry. While you and the other CMs have tried to show us this isn't actually the company's stance, I am deeply disappointed that one week later, there is still no answer from SE.
There has been no reaction from SE to the contentious tweet; that's still there for all to see. No "no, we don't remove mods because some random person on twitter complains", no "we don't automatically take the word of random twitter people over that of the folks who've spent years helping this community grow", no "SE does not take action without investigating", no nothing. A blog post has apparently been written 2 days ago but has still not been published. Even if it had been published, that would have been too late if that were the only response. I can't really imagine how any response would be helpful now. I fear anything done will be too little too late.
I know this isn't the fault of the CMs, let alone yours. I have nothing but good things to say about anyone on the CM team. But we, or at least I, were hoping for a response that showed that SE isn't actually a leaf in Twitter's wind, blown whichever way the latest complaint pushes it. Most importantly, I was hoping to be shown that SE is as quick to come to our defense when we're being unfairly criticized as it was to respond to fair criticism of the platform on Twitter. I am truly sad to learn that isn't the case.
Thank you for the kind words and the honest criticism. I'm not trying to butter you up when I say that our dedicated users, particularly those who choose to become moderators, are the most refreshing thing about this job. It occurs to me that I've now spent more time being an employee than a regular user of the site, so my perspective is drifting away from what it's like for this to be an endeavour of passion rather than a way to feed and house my family. (Though I'm still trying to hang onto that as much as I can.) So it's possible I'm too far in to have perspective, but I'm not so concerned about when the response comes as long as we've really learned something.
The seeds of this particular controversy were planted years ago, in my estimation. Companies, like online communities, are more than the sum of their parts. We've institutionally assumed that our users generally agree with what we are doing, but that's somewhere between coincidence and good fortune. (I alluded to this in the post.) I hope this is finally the wakeup call to change that assumption. Working this out as an organization is not something that can happen in a few days or even weeks, however.
I know you all feel helpless and so do I at times. But I think writing up how you feel would be productive. Folks might disagree about your interpretation of events, but what you experienced is not up for debate. (And if anyone does argue with you on that, let me know and I can pull them aside to explain that it's not cool.) Twitter, our chat rooms and even meta tend to be poor places to discuss this sort of thing. Medium is a much better venue in my experience (as Monica demonstrated).
Obviously, I can't make promises that our company will fix this breakdown in trust. It doesn't look like it from the outside, but everyone I know in the company appreciates the work our users do. Part of the problem is that we don't understand what it's like to be a moderator or to feel responsible for the actual content on the sites. Many of the newer employees have never used the sites except as consumers. (And, as I said above, even those of us who were active no longer experience it the way you do.) So that's why I think it could help.
There's a bonus challenge you might consider: try to think about what it must be like for an employee in this situation. Not me or a CM, but a random developer. Imagine if your loyalty were to the company (because it's full of people you respect and also how you earn a living), how would you respond in this situation? Again, this isn't to put the onus on you, but rather as something potentially productive to try. If nothing else, it might be an interesting Socratic exercise.
Kicking thoughts off the top of my head straight into this thread here.
What if we had (for want of a better name) "moderator advocates"? Those would be people, selected by SE from the moderator corps for their calm demeanor and communication skills, who effectively would function as mediators between moderators and SE. I suppose they could function likewise for regular users, but regular users already have moderators to communicate between them and SE; moderators don't because they are that mediative/communicative function at the moment.
This comes to mind because it's seemed to me that SE is having a harder time engaging with communities - including the moderator community. As the moderator corps gets bigger, which it can only continue to do, I wonder if that's actually been counter-productive for SE's ability to just drop by TL and shoot the breeze and occasionally get things done in conjunction with moderators. I wonder if we had that kind of moderatrix-advocatus role, that might serve to alleviate some of that. Give them access to a private chat on chat.MSE where they can talk directly with SE staff, particularly to help in these kinds of situations. It might also help by giving SE people to go to for feedback who are reasonably likely to not cut their heads off, which could alleviate the unwillingness to engage for fear of it that I've been hearing about.
I'm thinking of people like Monica for this kind of role - I'd also have suggested Catija, but that kinda doesn't work any more :) If we could find three or four such people and try it out for a while -- this might be too many levels of abstraction, but I wonder if it's worth a try.
(N.B.: This is now a moderator teams post, for those wanting to discuss this particular topic.)
I don’t want this comment to just be me banging the same drum as everyone else, but I have a feeling it is going to be.
We’re getting angry. Not passionate, or thoughtful or rational. The community has gone beyond the point of wanting to help you, and being level-headed, and willing to assume good intentions, and wanting to change the network for the better, through a state of resignation where we accepted that things might not be changing, but it wasn’t too bad to now, where Twitter is listened to and changes are made in response within minutes. Come on. Twitter. It’s pretty much tumblr.
The community doesn’t just feel ignored, they are ignored. That is, when you’re not blaming them for the company’s shortcomings.
You used to tell us what you wanted to do, and asked for our input. You then shifted to telling us what you were going to do, claiming you got overwhelming positive feedback when you didn’t, and then finally doing a U-turn. We’ve now reached the point of you telling us what you’re doing, not explaining why, and ignoring 80% of the issues users raise. Like come on, you’d not thought it through, and you couldn’t even concede custom voting buttons... I really hope you understand exactly why veteran users are frustrated. We see the sites we built being slowly taken apart, as we are pushed to the periphery, and it’s devastating.
You all need to take a step back, and stop making these stupid, stupid posts that alienate everyone who is valuable to your firm. Each time I see a post from you guys that is so negatively received, way beyond just the normal Meta response, I really hope that is the last one. But it never is. You need to take some of your own advice, you need to think before you do (come on, this is pre-school advice here - why am I having to say this to you guys!?) and slowly regain the trust of the veteran users.
I completely understand that your company needs to make money. But I think you have forgotten the new users will only arrive if there is new content arriving too. This is a technology site - I’m sure you know just how quickly tech changes, and without new content you will be consigned to the history of the Internet, with my space, USENET, and all of Google’s long forgotten projects. And that new content? It is produced by us, almost exclusively. You can’t make the trade-off between new users and experienced users like you are at the moment, it simply is not sustainable.
I really hope that the next Meta scandal that occupies my attention for multiple days with not be started by a developer, urgently pushing unnecessary changes in response to a tweet. I’m not expecting you to start communicating perfectly 100% of the time. To be honest, I’m not even expecting you to start communicating well. But I really do want you to improve, and I truly hope that you define my expectations.
Thanks for the feedback. I've certainly seen a lot of anger. I used the word "betrayed" in the post, but I recognize that's not the only cause for anger among our users. I'm not gonna try to convince you to feel otherwise.
I would like to push back on a few points surrounding the new theme. In retrospect, I wish we'd started with the simplest themes rather than attack the most complex out of the gate. (Joe and several others on the DAG team agree.) If you look at some of the more recently released themes, you'll see we are listening to user feedback and introducing more customized elements. In particular, fonts and badges can now be customized per site.
Does that mean we are doing a good job listening? Obviously not. Part of listening is making sure the other person feels heard and that's clearly not the case.
That we responded to Twitter and have not been responding to many meta suggestions has been frustrating to me too. Jay wrote a semi-official response on Twitter. Unfortunately, the people who initiated this on Twitter don't seem interested in working on a solution.
At any rate, thanks for the response and I hope we can do better too.
Betrayal is a good word here.
It's now been almost three weeks. We've been super-patient, we've explained why it hurts, we've tried to give the team space to make a coherent response rather than a hasty one... and 20 days later, we have some supportive tweets (thanks Tim and Jay), an intention (on meta) to have a policy, but no further visible movement on the problem. Some of the other responses come across to me as circling the wagons. I think it's fair to say that a decent number of mods and users feel disenfranchised by things SE can fix. I know you're optimistic, but I'm not, yet. I want to be, but I still feel more hurt than optimistic.
There are two threads and y'll need to pay attention to both of them:
New policies address 2, but there's still an awful lot of hurt from 1 and I don't see that going away. There comes a point when "we're making policies so it won't happen again" isn't enough by itself. It's uncomfortable to examine one's past deeds, admit error, apologize and make amends, but we can't just pave over the past, not for serious betrayal like this. You can't look only to the future here; you need to repair the damage from past actions. You need to address both 1 and 2.
How? That part I don't know. There are things that would have helped weeks ago, but that ship has sailed. You need to attend to the very real human volunteers who have very real feelings of hurt and betrayal caused by SE's actions. You're going to have to trust us that those feelings are real, even if you can't understand them.
Trying to summarize so I can be sure I understand:
The initial response to Twitter was notably quick and, in the sense that not everyone who had a stake in the decisions was consulted, hasty. We've made some progress in preventing that from happening again, but we have yet to address the past hurt in an official capacity. Worse, there's a stark contrast between the initial response and the response y'all are still waiting for. Apologies by a few individuals are welcome, but not sufficient given the nature of the hurt you all are experiencing.
If I'm understanding you correctly, I have a couple of questions:
Ok, so I think I have answers to my questions. If I'm wrong and the pain is really coming from one employee saying something he shouldn't, it's hard to see what you are asking for other than for that employee to fall (or be pushed) on his sword. But I think what's really going on is more Shakespearean:
We share this city and depend on each other to some extent. But over the years, our paths have separated to the point where the company and the dedicated volunteers (especially moderators) look at each other with suspicion. In these days of individualism, we don't think of ourselves as beholden to larger groups, but we surely are. (No need to look further than the current election cycle in the US to see that.)
To the degree I stand astride the line between the factions, I wish I could make the grudge go away. But the truth is we need to solve bigger problems than hurtful interactions on Twitter. They might be symbolic and perhaps even the catalyst for change, but focusing on them can never fix the divide between the two "houses". (That's why I wrote the post these comments are attached to. I suspect I jumped to solutions far too soon and that it feels like I'm glossing over the problems.)
Please don't hear me as dismissing the pain you feel! It's very real and I'd love to make it go away. I just worry that we'll continue to hurt you if we don't work out our deeper problems. Impossible to know for sure now, but I wonder if we'd immediately apologized officially and backed off of the changes to the system if that might have only delayed the hurt you are experiencing now.
Like any relationship, we have patterns of behavior. Those patterns help us feel more comfortable in our roles. As a moderator, I'd expect to have the full trust of the company when it comes to my core job. I'd expect the company to help out when there are issues outside of my ability to solve, but otherwise let me do my job. And indeed that is the role we on the community team have tried to fill. The unsettling, even treacherous-seeming, pattern we are now seeing is the company taking stands beyond what moderators and the communities they represent were asking for.
Finding a new pattern will be the key to solving the divide. I'm afraid the old ways are unlikely to come back.
By "hasty actions" I meant both -- removing a site from HNQ because of a Twitter troll (yes, we were trolled), the meta post saying we "had" to take that action, telling the site it won't be reversed before next year, and on the Twitter side, the employees acting as employees when tweeting (and not clarifying/recanting). Those were hasty actions, and if they'd been quickly followed by equally-public "oops, we screwed up" messages -- "we'll restore the site to the HNQ while we talk about it, we apologize for inadvertently maligning a site and several named mods, we're sorry for reacting in the moment" -- then this would feel very different.
It's like we had a hasty screw-up (the tweets) but then SE made a conscious (non-hasty) decision to leave those changes in place anyway. It's not just the tweets but the decision not to ask the authors to clarify them. It's not just the HNQ change but the decision to leave the hasty policy change in place and hold it up as necessary.
I'm feeling hurt that, nearly three weeks in, there've been no official apologies as public as the attacks. And I feel bad for saying that, for that even being a thing, but apparently that's how I'm wired. I'd like to be able to patch this up, forgive, and move on -- and I'm having trouble doing that without some acknowledgement that this is a problem, my feelings (I won't speak for others but I think "our" not just "my") are valid, and this isn't how SE wants to work with our mods and communities.
I don't believe SE will throw mods under the bus. I believe and appreciate Jay's tweets, and Tim's. But it all feels kind of nebulous right now; as many people have said, we don't really want to use Twitter to record policy and maybe not to engage at all. I was expecting a blog post a few days after the incident with some navel-gazing, some after-action review, and some clear statements (like Jay's tweets) on our own site. I fear that the expected benefit from that blog post is dropping off as the weeks go by, and that too makes me sad and frustrated. I never expected weeks to go by like this. And I know this is wearing on members of your team who were already stretched too thin before this happened, so I expect there's some resentment on your team (not singling anybody out), and that doesn't feel so good either. Some of today's TL discussions were, um, not good in that regard. (This is a public comment, so I'll leave it at that.)
I want mods and CMs to be able to work together as partners. How we do that has to change, but I want a constructive working relationship there. I believe the CMs want that too. I am confident about the positive intentions of every individual involved in this. But, somehow, we seem to have trouble doing things as a team or, for y'all, as a company. It feels dysfunctional, and that worries me. SE has changed and, collectively, we haven't figured out how to adapt yet, which means there are going to be more disconnects. When they happen I want people of good will on all sides working to resolve them. How do we get there?
Monica says everything I want to say far better than I can, but I do want to remark on this:
I don't think that employee's tweet is all of the problem, but it's certainly some of it. I doubt it'll make much difference now, but I would have liked it to be retracted at the time. Here's the thing, though - that's not asking for anyone to be stuck with swords or poked with sharp sticks.
This has been said a bunch of times in TL as well. Asking an employee to correct a statement they made in error as an employee is not sharp-stick-poking. It's "hey, you made a mistake, you know, we know, it's not a problem but please make sure it's known that it was a mistake". It's not "how could you be so stupid, delete your Twitter account immediately". It's not even a "don't do that again", because you can assume that people are smart enough to learn from their mistakes.
Controlling what your employees do with their personal Twitter accounts is a problem; I get that. But if your employees use their Twitter accounts to make statements as an employee, representing the company, then asking them to make sure they're accurate is entirely reasonable, personal account or no. What would the problem with this have been?