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On Friday, September 27th, Monica Cellio was removed from her position as a moderator without warning by Stack Overflow, Inc. She had been a moderator on Worldbuilding, Mi Yodeya, The Workplace, Beer Wine & Spirits, Writing, and Meta Stack Exchange, as well as a prominent member of communities across the network.

Here on Worldbuilding, she had been a moderator on the site for almost five years, guiding it since its inception in 2014. Monica played an enormous role in shaping the site's scope, design, blog, and community, both in public and behind the scenes. She was, quite frankly, one of the most valuable users across the network, and was for many of us a role model, mentor, and guide.

So far, there has been a substantial amount of backlash against Stack Overflow for their actions of this past Friday. At least ten separate moderators have resigned in protest across the network, with many others speaking out in Monica's defense. The shock waves are still being felt, and will doubtlessly continue to propagate throughout the week. Many people, from many different sides and holding many different views, have been impacted. Everyone has been responding in different ways.

Worldbuilding Stack Exchange has not yet been impacted by the events, outside losing a moderator. In the hopes of a productive discussion, and dialogue with the community, some of us on the mod team would like to write and explain our thoughts and reactions to Monica's dismissal, and what actions we will take moving forward. We want the site - and the network - to continue to grow and thrive, but some of us also feel that we must address what happened on Friday. This thread is meant to be a place for us to communicate our thoughts and feelings to the site, and the people who use it every day.


A day after I posted this, a CVn decided to resign, and spent some time explaining the reasons why. He wrote up his own meta post on the matter, and folks have plenty of room there to thank him for his years of service to the site and the network, if they so desire. Please see that thread for more details.


Since this was posted, there have been a number of discussions and conversations across the network, and the crisis is still a developing situation. Here are some places to start reading more about the events:

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    $\begingroup$ "Worldbuilding Stack Exchange has not yet been impacted by the events, outside losing a moderator." - and the possible inactivity of the around 1418 users with some moderation privileges (at least edit). As I know I'm just not answering things, flagging, editing, or even looking at the site like I was last week. I could look at SEDE but I keep hitting the block of "is SE really worth the effort?" and working on something else instead. (You and the other mods have been one of the reasons I stayed with SE instead of deleting my account so tired seems a very appropriate phrase) $\endgroup$ – LinkBerest Oct 1 at 22:06
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    $\begingroup$ This whole thing is bonkers, we shall all be the worse off without Monica's contribution. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Oct 2 at 17:56
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    $\begingroup$ You know, in fiction, I think that there's too much inclination for the "bad guys" to conform to a particular branding. You won't catch them dressed in pick, for example. I'd be interested to see some fiction where a tyrant mandates a rule that everyone be polite to each other, the violation of which results in immediate execution. The definition of "politeness" however may be decided at the whim of correctional officers. And of course, the tyrant can consider themselves just, because who doesn't approve of politeness? Furthermore, conformity breeds stability. Art should imitates life, right? $\endgroup$ – Stumbler Oct 3 at 16:52
  • $\begingroup$ HDE, we should probably update this with the latest and greatest, and links to the relevant meta posts, I have to run for the night, if you beat me to it awesome, otherwise I will edit some stuff in tomorrow. $\endgroup$ – James Oct 7 at 21:49
  • $\begingroup$ @James I've added some links; let me know what else you think we should add. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Oct 8 at 21:52
  • $\begingroup$ Those links were very useful - I wish some of those linked posts were featured more obviously! $\endgroup$ – Isaac Oct 10 at 10:13
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    $\begingroup$ @Stumbler Two words: Delores Umbridge $\endgroup$ – jmbpiano Oct 16 at 15:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Stumbler The 1993 film 'Demolition Man'. $\endgroup$ – Reinstate Monica Oct 17 at 11:56
  • $\begingroup$ How do we change our username? You know, just for the sake of documenting the process and all... $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Nov 27 at 18:16
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon Here you go. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Nov 29 at 15:07
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I'm extraordinarily frustrated by the situation as it stands. I apologize that I cannot at the moment present the specific views and interactions that led to Monica's dismissal. While I can't condone those views, I can say that I believe that Stack Overflow's actions were unwarranted, and represent an overreaction on the company's part. Monica had been a moderator on Worldbuilding, Mi Yodeya, The Workplace, Beer Wine & Spirits, and Meta Stack Exchange, as well as a prominent member of communities across the network. Here on Worldbuilding, she had been a moderator on the site for almost five years, guiding it since its inception in 2014.

Monica played an enormous role in shaping the site's scope, design, blog, and community, both in public and behind the scenes. She was, quite frankly, one of the most valuable users across the network, and was for many of us a role model, mentor, and guide. Monica has performed many years of completely voluntary, unpaid service to help hundreds of thousands of people across the Stack Exchange network, and she deserved much more than what came across as an unceremonious kick out the door.

I will not be resigning in protest as moderator. I care too much about the well-being of my sites - and of the well-being of every individual user - and certainly in the case of the smaller sites I moderate, a departure would be too problematic. However, I do feel that it is unconscionable for me to not act based on my beliefs. For this reason, in support of Monica, I have marked myself as inactive on all four sites I moderate. Until Stack Overflow makes significant strides to mitigate the harm that has been done, I cannot in good conscience continue to support them. If there is an emergency - for instance, a wave of spammers or a user being continuously abusive - I will step in for the site's sake. Barring that, however, I am taking a break - in protest, and because the emotional toll of the past weekend has been too great.

A number of people holding vastly different views have been hurt over the last week - both by Monica's dismissal and by the events leading up to it. It has pained me to see many folks I care about so upset. I will remain active in the discussions - in public and behind the scenes - and will strive to help heal those who have been hurt - starting with Monica.

I'd like to finish by quoting someone who has proved to be a great mediator during his time on the network:

I know a lot of people are curious about what's happening. A lot of this will likely get discussed over the coming days. I'd urge patience and empathy.

We've seen a lot of folks act as their conscience saw fit. I respect that. Resigning as a moderator feels like the only way to make a stand. Mine would be to plead for empathy.

That said, we're all stronger together.

Let's work to fix this.


Addendum, October 3rd

Now that it's been a few more days, and things have continued to snowball - about 35 moderators have either resigned in protest or gone on strike in relation to the chain of events - I thought I would elaborate a bit more on the things that bother me about the whole thing.

  • I'm bothered that an elected moderator was summarily dismissed without consultation with other moderators, as is the established procedure for cases where users raise severe complaints about a mod.
  • I'm bothered that Monica was dismissed based on opposition to a change in the Code of Conduct that had not yet been published or even finalized.
  • I'm bothered that, by Monica's account, this happened before discussions between her and Stack Overflow had concluded.
  • I'm bothered that this occurred less than an hour before the start of Shabbat, which, coupled with the start of Rosh Hashanah 48 hours later, meant that Monica would be almost entirely offline for 96 hours. Either this was intentional on Stack Exchange's part, or it was completely insensitive to Monica's religion, which is a major part of who she is and is well-known.
  • I'm bothered that this was done in a way that effectively shamed Monica and hurt her reputation.
  • I'm bothered that Stack Overflow has done essentially nothing to help trans moderators and others in the LGBT+ community. Mods network-wide have expressed strong support for formal sensitivity training, but this has yet to be implemented.
  • I am, further, bothered that the company has failed in some cases to act against certain users who have written posts and chat messages that are clearly transphobic. The users who make them should at the least be treated more harshly than Monica was, because she is not a transphobic person. This supports the idea that a double standard is being applied.
  • I'm bothered that the company has failed to make an adequate statement in response after more than five days. Responses to resignations and meta posts (e.g. this one) have been copied-and-pasted and say basically nothing of any substance.
  • I'm bothered that Stack Overflow talked with the Register and provided quotes for a crappy article that poorly explains most aspects of the sequence of events, while refusing to spend as much time communicating with the community.
  • I'm bothered that Stack Overflow does not seem to have acknowledged the human cost if all of this - on users, on moderators, and on their own employees.
  • I'm bothered that Monica - someone who has contributed an extraordinary amount to sites across the network, who has indeed contributed to efforts towards inclusion, who has represented religious and gender minorities online, who has done so much more good than harm - was treated like none of her contributions mattered.

Rereading all of this, I have to say, it is quite tempting to hang up my mod hat. I don't believe that Stack Overflow can adequately address all - perhaps even most - of these concerns. But I still believe, after this time, that I can do a better job advocating for the users on Worldbuilding and across the network as a mod than as a regular user - and I will continue to do so.

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    $\begingroup$ From an outsider's perspective, your addendum is the best encapsulation I've seen of all the problems with this. Hear, hear! $\endgroup$ – Mr. Bultitude Oct 4 at 0:19
  • $\begingroup$ on a personal note, I am glad you decided to stick around despite these issues and frustrations - I've encountered your contributions across a variety of SE sites and I recognise you are one of the better users/moderators out there - so, on behalf of all the plebs like me using these sites, many thanks! $\endgroup$ – Jimmery Oct 16 at 11:12
  • $\begingroup$ I am a simple man. I see @hde post, I upvote. I hope SO starts to listen to you mods, because they obviously don't care about the users. Thank you for your service. $\endgroup$ – Catch 44 - Reinstate Monica Oct 29 at 21:50
  • $\begingroup$ Are there any updates? Clearly Monica has not yet been reinstated. Is the appeal process started? I saw note that she's looking at retaining a lawyer. Are we really at that level of escalation? $\endgroup$ – SRM - Reinstate Monica Nov 19 at 10:04
  • $\begingroup$ I've not been online much for a few months and only just saw all this. First thoughts: :o, second thoughts - everything you posted here. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Nov 19 at 11:04
  • $\begingroup$ @SRM-ReinstateMonica SE has continued to refuse to work with me to resolve it (and for that matter has yet to tell me what they think I did that violates the code of conduct that was in place at the time). They refused to mitigate the defamatory statements not only on the network but in the press. Sadly, that forced the next step (that link might not survive; we'll see). $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Nov 25 at 3:12
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I think frustrated and tired pretty effectively sum up my feelings and the feelings of many moderators across the network after the last few days.

So first a shout out to Monica. She is one of the best moderators I have ever met, and that is not specific to SE. She's been a mentor to me since I was elected a couple years ago and is incredibly generous with her time and knowledge. Worldbuilding wouldn't be the site it is today without her. She's been a mod since beta and was a major driver for the blog, and that's just the start.

I once quipped she deserved a saintly patience badge...its probably among the starred chat messages somewhere.

As to the situation at hand...

So...a lot of what is going on is mired in hearsay and rumor and its a big fat mess. Short version, she was dismissed as a moderator on all sites due to disagreements, or queries or something (its not super clear, because no one outside of SE has seen the actual conversations).

Topically the discussion was around new CoC changes related to preferred pronouns, that we frankly haven't even seen the language to yet...because they haven't been published.

In the end I am taking a break from moderating duties for the time being and have marked myself inactive. I will be around and certainly in the chat room, and like HDE mentioned we don't want the site to suffer, so let us know if there is a moderation emergency.

There isn't a lot I can do for Monica, but the way this was handled and how she was treated is really bad, least I can do is step back in some sort of digital solidarity.

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    $\begingroup$ The situation is insane. As a humble WBer whenever Monica contributed to the site she did so with grace, wit, intelligence and humility. She should have been the last person on SE to have ever been dismissed as a moderator. I am saddened by you and HDE deciding to become inactive moderators. Though had I been in your positions I would have done the same. Speaking of digital solidarity, is there a way of petitioning the management to reinstate Monica? $\endgroup$ – a4android Oct 1 at 13:39
  • $\begingroup$ @a4android If you're so inclined you could shoot an email, beyond that not much to be done at the moment. $\endgroup$ – James Oct 1 at 13:55
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    $\begingroup$ @a4android For what it's worth, I have inklings that SE will make some sort of public response/statement within a day or so, and have so far been unable to do so because the community team is kinda swamped with all of this, so it might be worth waiting for their response? I'm certainly not cautioning against asking SE to reinstate Monica - just saying that there could be some info/statements out relatively soon that might be interesting. (And if it sounds like I'm couching my words . . . I am. :-/ Lots of ambiguity right now.) $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Oct 1 at 14:46
  • $\begingroup$ @HDE226868 Just want to mention that the last time I heard a similar promise of information the answer was posted by a CM at the time indicated - and shortly after removed with no further communication about the whole topic. At least not for people with less than 10k rep. That upcoming statement might not survive long. $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Oct 1 at 16:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Secespitus . . . Yeah. I sympathize. I'm only slightly less in the dark on things than you are, to be honest. But I do trust SE that there's going to be some sort of response within that timeframe, and folks from the company have kept in touch with us for the past few days. We'll see. I'm hopeful. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Oct 1 at 19:36
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    $\begingroup$ There will be a new rule about required use of people's preferred pronouns. I'm completely onboard with a rule that says that if you use pronouns you have to use the designated ones (if known). Of course! Don't call people what they don't want to be called. But when I brought up writing in a gender-neutral way, which I do by default as a professional writer who needs to steer clear of gender-related problems, I was told that using gender-neutral language is misgendering. Employees only implied that (other mods argued for it), but when I asked I got no answer, and then fired. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Oct 2 at 0:18
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    $\begingroup$ All this over pronouns!? I use five pronouns only. Thou, you, she, he, they. If I'm talking to you directly, it's one of the first two. If I'm referring to you it's girl = she, guy = he and I don't know or I don't care = they. Include that, Stack Exchange! This is such a first world issue, and an excellent example of what happens when immature a/o irrational people are placed in positions of authority. $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Oct 3 at 15:38
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    $\begingroup$ @Secespitus A new Meta post is up. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Oct 3 at 16:25
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    $\begingroup$ @HDE226868 ... I absolutely love the seventh revision edit summary by ArtOfCode, it perfectly sums up what I think about that post. This... update... is so incredibly bad, if it wasn't as libelious against Monica, one of the people I respect the most out of all the people I have interacted with on the whole network (which is quite a lot at this point), and bad about the management of the network that I've spent so much time and energy towards in the past years I'd be tempted to laugh at just how bad it is in this situation. I just cry... $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Oct 3 at 17:28
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    $\begingroup$ @Secespitus WOW. Ok that made me laugh out loud. $\endgroup$ – James Oct 3 at 18:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Secespitus did you see rev 17? Almost as good. $\endgroup$ – James Oct 5 at 4:02
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    $\begingroup$ @James Depending on the interpretation that you subscribe to from the ones I have read so far this change is problematic. If you look at the post in isolation nobody mentioned Monica at that point, so using "they" would be correct according to the "if not sure who is meant you need to use they" perspective. On the other hand Sara definitely knows how Monica wants to be addressed, as has been demonstrated in that cheeky side jab in the article from The Register, so "her" would be correct and using "they" would be exactly the behaviour that Monica was fired for... Same for "That"... $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Oct 5 at 8:21
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    $\begingroup$ @Secespitus that revision by ArtOfCode changing "they" to "that" appears to be doing exactly what Monica said she does by avoiding gendered language in the first place. Calling her "they" really is mis-gendering her. $\endgroup$ – Monty Harder Oct 7 at 21:19
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I've just heard about Monica Cellio's dismissal from her post as a moderator on a number of SE sites. Having not seen the evidence that SE used to form the conclusion that the action that they took was required, I will not comment on it other than to say that the accusations against Monica seem to be misplaced given my experiences with her.

I like to feel that one of my strengths as a moderator is that I do not typically get upset by people's failings or vitriol. So, while I am disappointed that a moderator has apparently been dismissed without the proper procedures having first been followed, I also cannot say that I have enough evidence to judge the matter fairly.

That being the case, I will continue to act as a moderator on Worldbuilding Stack Exchange for the foreseeable future. Regards of where the fault in this matter truly lies, my service as moderator is intended to benefit the Worldbuilding Stack Exchange community as a whole. The community is not served by my absence, therefore I shall not abandon it

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    $\begingroup$ "Having not seen the evidence that SE used to form the conclusion that the action that they took was required" - we're all with you on that point. Transparency is called for, among other things. $\endgroup$ – We are Monica. Oct 5 at 21:21
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    $\begingroup$ "The community is not served by my absence" incorrect. In times of crisis the absolute worst thing one can do is continue as if nothing is wrong. And right now, Stack Exchange is in crisis. There are far larger issues at play here than the wellbeing of a single community, and far more that can to be done by trusted community members to convey the magnitude of said crisis to Stack Exchange Inc. $\endgroup$ – Ian Kemp Oct 17 at 20:25
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One month has passed since the incident. I have tried as much as possible to judge the behavior, not the persons, as it has always been the guideline for moderators here.

The facts:

  • Monica has been dismissed for not following a set of rules not yet deployed. enter image description here
  • Monica has been dismissed not following the process in place.
  • SE has apologized for the above points.
  • SE stated that any dismissed moderator can be reinstated after a proper application and after bringing new evidences.

In my view the first two points can be amended only by reinstating Monica without any action from her side, as they invalidate whatever sanction might be issued against her, regardless of who is right and who is wrong. An apology which leaves the sanction in place is simply an empty shell of words.

That no individual can be punished for rules not stated at the time an action was done, and that no individual can be punished without a regular trial are the basic of any civil society.

A community can work only when all the members follow its rules and principles. By not following the rules and principles that they have set and, worse, refusing to amend the consequences of their own action, SE is simply damaging the community.

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  • $\begingroup$ I remember Sara and a couple moderators saying in the meta that Monica had been asked multiple times to try and be nice on the Teacher's Lounge. According to them, it was her failure to comply with that which caused her to be dismissed. $\endgroup$ – Renan Oct 28 at 11:50
  • $\begingroup$ I've been thinking about this a lot for the last few weeks. I've even been checking the list of moderators every once in a while to see if she was reinstated, but I've been regularly disappointed. I was even hoping that once she was reinstated, that a CVn would come back as well. $\endgroup$ – overlord - Reinstate Monica Oct 28 at 18:22
  • $\begingroup$ They only apologized for not following the existing process, and for timing. They didn't apologize for the actual removal. (BTW, broken link in your first point?) $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Oct 29 at 0:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Renan I've asked them repeatedly to show me the alleged warnings and subsequent CoC violations. They haven't responded. I've reviewed the transcript that was leaked to Reddit; it's not there. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Oct 29 at 0:56
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    $\begingroup$ @MonicaCellio, that's my point: independently of who's right or wrong, not following the procedure a priori invalidates any conclusions. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Oct 29 at 3:26
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I've only fairly recently discovered the site, though I suspect I probably farmed it for answers via google queries over the years.

It's been a while since the incident now and I've read the SE responses and the often heated discussion on meta. Unfortunately it seems that a great deal of permanent damage has been done to the trust between SE and its community, primarily the moderators, and this has already resulted in the loss of a good many highly valued moderators.

Anything that man can create, man can recreate.

So is anyone looking at setting up a new site in the style of, but independent from, SE and with a more sensible set of community processes, and encouraging the community to move across en masse, leaving SE only as a relic to farm for answers?

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