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StackOverflow CoC

(73 Posts)
programmer5278 Mon 14-Oct-19 20:09:45

Disclaimer: I started this account to make this post, but have no intention of trolling. I'm a mum of three and a programmer, and haven't posted on mumsnet since about 2011.

So...StackOverflow is question and answer site for programmers. It's the market leader, and is a top 50 website. Most programmers in the world use it regularly. Until recently, it was the sort of grown up site that many people used under their real names, and used it to advance their careers.

StackOverflow is part of a group called StackExchange, which includes question and answer sites on a variety of topics, some of which are technical and others aren't. The technical sites are OK, but the non-technical ones mostly consist of groups of self-appointed experts giving replies that are supposed to be factual but are mostly opinion-based (it's cathartic to say what I really think about them!).

Recently, StackExchange fired a volunteer from moderator duties, and apparently briefed the press negatively about her (according to what I have read on various SE sites). She posted under her real name, and this did her damage in the real world.
Apparently, they wanted to bring in a new code of conduct, and she had argued a bit too much about some parts of it (mostly grammatical, I believe).
Normally things like codes of conduct are discussed by active users, so she would have had an expectation that it was up for discussion.

The code of conduct covered trans issues. When published (, it has proven to be VERY contentious on the site.

I'm making this post, because what I wrote on SE Meta (official discussion forum for SE sites) was deleted. I don't believe that I said anything nasty. My only "crime" was to suggest that StackExchange could look at the mumsnet CoC on trans issues, because I believe it is more balanced and appropriate than the one they have written.
Also, I politely asked people not to use the offensive terms "cis" and "TERF".
My post was called "abhorrent" (!) and deleted.

Why is the StackExchange CoC worrying?
Well, when Justine wrote the mumsnet CoC, I believe that her main concern was to prevent flame wars. That is a position that I respect and understand, and it's what I would expect from a mature, grown up company.
Everyone should be allowed to post on equal terms, and everyone must accept that they will not always get their way.

However, the SE CoC is rather different.

Firstly, it mandates gender neutral language if you haven't explicitly been told which pronoun someone prefesr:
("“Use stated pronouns (when known).”
“Prefer gender-neutral language when uncertain.”"
This means that if a user is called William, and has not specified which are this user's preferred pronouns, you must use "they" as William's pronoun, eg "William said that they use Linux"

This is not grammatically correct English, but SE explicitly says that you must use ungrammatical English rather than risk misgendering someone.

Secondly, they say
"Q12: Does this mean I’m required to use pronouns when I normally wouldn’t?
We are asking everyone to use all stated pronouns as you would naturally write. "
However, they also say
Q11: If I’m uncomfortable with a particular pronoun, can I just avoid using it?
We are asking everyone to use all stated pronouns as you would naturally write. Explicitly avoiding using someone’s pronouns because you are uncomfortable is a way of refusing to recognize their identity and is a violation of the Code of Conduct. (my bold type)

Now, this last point means that if you formulate a sentence without using pronouns, you will be in violation of the SE Code of Conduct.
This is a VERY worrying principle.
If translated to law, it would mean that people could be taken to court and fined or even imprisoned, for using sentences without pronouns.
It means that there is no space for conscientious objectors who don't want to call someone by an unwanted pronoun, but also don't want to be coerced to use language that they believe is wrong.

People may not accept a pronoun because
- they have religious reservations
- they have reservations based on scientific evidence
- they have reservations based on observational evidence

Whether you or I agree with any of these reasons, it is unacceptable to cut off the possibility of conscientious objection for any of the above reasons.
I am a child of the European Enlightenment, and there is not a snowball's chance in Hell that I will EVER accept such limits on free speech.

Because SE put in these 2 sentences that contradict each other (the one suggests that you can just write normal sentences, the other suggests you will be punished for not explicitly using preferred pronouns), the defenders of the SE CoC are brushing off all ideas that people will be forced to use pronouns by pointing to the first sentence.

However, if this is the case, then why do they need to say "Explicitly avoiding using someone’s pronouns a violation of the Code of Conduct" at all?

It is pretty obvious that this is bigger than StackExchange, and the aim is to shut off those conscientious objectors who currently formulate sentences without using pronouns. In real life, this includes anyone who deals with the public; teachers; medical staff; family and colleagues of trans people and others.

If this were translated to law, it would criminalise a lot of people.

There is a lot of disquiet on SE about this new Code of Conduct, which has been fuelled by the twitter outpourings of one of their employees, which basically said, anyone who doesn't accept the CoC is the problem and they won't care if these people leave.

So, the aim of the SE CoC appears to be to please trans activists, rather than mumsnet's aim of preventing flame wars. I know which I prefer.

Bear in mind, SE is an internet top 50 site, and the market leader in programming knowledge. They must have investors, who are apparently perfectly happy for them to upset the users who have contributed their expertise for free in order to make the sites what they are today. They also must be incredibly certain of their market-leading position to jeopardise it like this. They are behaving with complete contempt towards the majority of their users.

As a former ordinary user, I will never contribute my technical knowledge ever again on their site. Sure, I'll browse it, because it's useful, but I'll never put anything back into a site that disrespects and despises ordinary users to the extent that SE does. And I'd anyway never risk posting on a site that threw a moderator under the bus who has given them many hours of her time for free.

If you've reached the end of this essay, thank you for reading, and thank you mumsnet for providing a platform where I can post this, hopefully without it being deleted.

CaptainKirksSpikeyGhost Mon 14-Oct-19 20:12:29

This should be in site stuff.

CaptainKirksSpikeyGhost Mon 14-Oct-19 20:15:29

But yes a lot of companies are being tricked into signing up to a Code of Conduct which seems to be about diversity but then becomes a away to police language and for the Trans agenda to be pushed.

CaptainKirksSpikeyGhost Mon 14-Oct-19 20:18:47

also you need to rewrite this so that an average person can understand what you are talking about, make it shorter.

Because, and i mean no offense, it's hard to understand, but it's important to understand why so many companies are pushing Trans issues to their forefront.
Things like this are happening all over.

testing987654321 Mon 14-Oct-19 20:24:43

It's not about this site. It's about a company planning to force their users to use speech in a particular way.

Let me see if I have understood correctly.
Imagine there was a transgender person called Doris Smith who stated their pronouns were she/her.

If I, as someone not prepared to support transgender ideology, said something like "DS is incorrect about xyz, DS should really have done abc" that would contravene their guidelines as I should say "Doris ..., she ...".

This is more than just making sure users don't cause offence, it's forcing them to say things they don't believe, or exclude themselves from the forum.

Thanks for raising this OP, this madness is spreading.

programmer5278 Mon 14-Oct-19 20:25:57

Sorry Kirk but there is a lot of information and background.

StackOverflow, one of the biggest sites on the internet is writing into their CoC that posters will be punished if they formulate sentences that appear to avoid using pronouns.

CaptainKirksSpikeyGhost Mon 14-Oct-19 20:26:01

Thanks for raising this OP, this madness is spreading

This is why it's spreading companies are unknowingly signing up to it.

programmer5278 Mon 14-Oct-19 20:27:20

@testing987654321 yes, that's exactly it.
And in 2019, it's hard to be a programmer if you're excluded from StackOverflow.

testing987654321 Mon 14-Oct-19 20:28:30

But this company isn't unknowingly signing up to it from the OP. It's that company's choice.

programmer5278 Mon 14-Oct-19 20:28:48

Kirk, SE knows perfectly well what they are signing up to. One of their employees has posted on twitter that people who object to it are the problem.

testing987654321 Mon 14-Oct-19 20:30:36

Out of interest, do all programmers "need" to contribute to it, or can you just use SO for info?

[I have been using it a lot recently but not in the industry at the moment.]

testing987654321 Mon 14-Oct-19 20:32:18

Does everyone actually believe this stuff or do most not care and go along with it to not appear transphobic (the worst sin right now).

TheProdigalKittensReturn Mon 14-Oct-19 20:32:29

Not unrelated - transwomen are statistically overrepresented in the tech industry, and have been quietly working away in the background to lay the groundwork for this for years. The rest of us weren't supposed to notice what they were doing until it was too late.

...Shame that didn't work out, eh? Took a while to get the message out to the mainsteam media, but it certainly is getting out there now.

And yes, repost this in site stuff.

BloodyWorried Mon 14-Oct-19 20:38:29

@programmer5278 Thanks for bringing this to my attention. It’s been a little while since I’ve needed SO but indeed where would the dev community be without it. The amended CoC and removal of the mod certainly isn’t ok and most likely is the start of others following suit sad

MIdgebabe Mon 14-Oct-19 20:39:09

Well the whole pronoun thing is interesting. I am trying to recall if it was stackexchange or github, but they did some analysis and found that anything obviously submitted by a woman was marked lower than average. However the stuff posted by women who were believed to be men tended to be rated more highly than average. So using neutral pronouns wherever possible will perhaps help ensure that any work / answers submitted by women is treated fairly? After all , ones sex is hardly relevent to the code etc being written!

butteryellow Mon 14-Oct-19 20:42:33

That was GitHub Midgebabe

I think the pronoun stuff is bad enough (and going to be tricky for people who speak English as a second language) - but the idea that even looking like you're avoiding pronouns is a contravention of the CoC is insane.

How can a site, supposedly run for logical thinkers (as programmers often pride themselves to be) go along with this language policing?

programmer5278 Mon 14-Oct-19 20:42:45

testing, the responses have ranged from outright rejection (mostly over the coerced speech point), to "well I'll wait and see" to welcoming.

You can just browse it without logging in, but if you need to ask a question, you need a profile.
It's fairly easy to make an anonymous profile to ask questions, but I don't know if they check IP address or MAC address.
Up til now, the best answers were available on SO but that might change now if a lot of people are as disgusted as I am. I will brush up my profile on Code Project, they are another site that also have question and answer pages.
You can't say anything on SO, it is very, very restrictive and intolerant of anything that isn't ultra-politically correct

MoltoAgitato Mon 14-Oct-19 20:42:58

Erstwhile SO user here. There will be (and appears to already be) considerable pushback on this. Not because Americans are much more concerned about women’s rights, but good luck telling Americans (especially the hacker demographic, let alone the religious crowd) what they can and can’t say...

TheProdigalKittensReturn Mon 14-Oct-19 20:45:19

I think the pronoun stuff is bad enough (and going to be tricky for people who speak English as a second language) - but the idea that even looking like you're avoiding pronouns is a contravention of the CoC is insane.

Also notable that not allowing posters to avoid using pronouns has been one of the demands that TRAs have made of the MN mod team. This is a concerted effort and it needs to be dealt with head on.

programmer5278 Mon 14-Oct-19 20:46:22

Midge, people tend to judge by the username rather than the pronoun anyway. I always deliberately use gender-neutral usernames on technical sites, as I don't want that whole It's-a-girl! reaction. Nothing against the men, I love them to bits, but I just prefer to concentrate on programming when I'm at work :-)

NotTerfNorCis Mon 14-Oct-19 20:47:26

Forced language is shocking and you were right to challenge it. This is an insane ideology that's being inflicted on us.

Having said that, most of the benefit from StackOverflow comes from reading existing threads rather than asking new questions. If you do contribute, I'm sure it's easy to avoid pronouns when discussing something technical.

programmer5278 Mon 14-Oct-19 20:47:36

@ProdigalKitten, that's interesting that MN have also had this request. As I thought, it's a trans activist thing then.

CaptainKirksSpikeyGhost Mon 14-Oct-19 20:47:52

StackOverflow, one of the biggest sites on the internet is writing into their CoC that posters will be punished if they formulate sentences that appear to avoid using pronouns.

Thank you.

programmer5278 Mon 14-Oct-19 20:49:05

True, @NotTerfNorCis, which is why this whole pronoun thing is so crazy. However, from principle, I will not support in any way, a website that uses its power to try and coerce speech.

TheProdigalKittensReturn Mon 14-Oct-19 20:52:46

I think in the minds of the people doing it it's not just a compelled speech thing, they also think it will literally rewire people's brains, like if we're forced to repeat it often enough we'll start to believe it. Like a really inept attempt at linguistic programming.

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