LowEndBox - Cheap VPS, Hosting and Dedicated Server Deals

Going Down in Flames Like Reddit: The Other Moderator Protest at a Billion-Dollar Internet Community You Visit Every Day

StackExchange ProtestWe’ve all read about the infamous Reddit blackout, where a company trying to go public decided to torch its relationship with its only marketable commodity (its users), destroy third-party apps that everyone prefers, and let its management haughtily disparage the very people who make its business function.

But are you aware of the other billion-dollar-brand whose moderators are protesting, going on strike, and refusing to do any more free work?

It’s one you’ve heard of: StackExchange.  That includes StackOverflow, SuperUser, and an array of other Q&A forums hosted by Stack Exchange, Inc.

A month ago, StackExchange’s moderators – the people who keep the topics clean, remove spam, and otherwise keep the sprawling Q&A forum in order – got tired of being abused by Stack Exchange, Inc.

As of today, June 5th, 2023, a large number of moderators, curators, contributors, and users from around Stack Overflow and the Stack Exchange network are initiating a general moderation strike. This strike is in protest of recent and upcoming changes to policy and the platform that are being performed by Stack Exchange, Inc.

Their main gripes:

  • SE said no to AI-generated content, then back-tracked and said it was OK.
  • Decisions are being made by SE, Inc. with no consultation with the user base.
  • SE used to provide dumps, but an ex-database administrator revealed that the company had silently stopped updating them in March with no communication.
  • SE mods rely on tools, which SE refuses to update.  According to the protest announcement, there are improvements that would take “two minutes” to implement yet have been ignored for over five years.

Although there are other problems, a lot of this is driven by ChatGPT’s impact.  Mods want to prohibit and remove ChatGPT-generated answers.  StackExchange sees it as even freer labor.  Ironically, the organizations plundering SE’s sites for LLM training would like it removed as well, otherwise you get ChatGPT recursively training ChatGPT, which causes models to fail.

What has infuriated the SE community is that they don’t want ChatGPT-derived answers, and have made this very clear, yet Stack Exchange, Inc. has overridden them.  It’s a classic example of not listening to the people who make your business possible.

You can read the full announcement here.

Prosus Paid a Pretty Penny and Wants Payback

StackExchange is owned by a Dutch private equity firm called Prosus that bought the network two years ago for nearly $2 billion.  They also own Udemy, SkillSoft, and a chunk of Tencent.

Like Reddit, SE’s business model is based on free labor.  If people don’t use the site – and an army of moderators don’t keep it clean – SE has no value.  Also like Reddit, the suits are confused about how this works.  If you don’t keep all that free labor happy, it can leave.

StackExchange also has a unique tradition of allowing people to get all of its data in the form of database dumps.  You can find them on archive.org for example, or query them on SE.  Suddenly over the last year, giant data dumps of humans talking have immense value for training Large Language Model (LLM) AIs.  No doubt the beancounters in Amsterdam – who shelled out that $2 billion – want to get some payback and giving away the crown jewels on an automated weekly basis didn’t sit well with them.  The SE suits yanked dumps, and now have grudgingly restored them, but it left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

The Protest is Bigger Than StackExchange is Letting On

According to SE’s Vice President of Community, Philippe Beaudette, “A small number of moderators (11%) across the Stack Overflow network have stopped engaging in several activities, including moderating content.”

Small?  Not really.  Here’s the community’s version of things:

Currently, the vast majority of moderators on Stack Overflow have suspended their activity. The pending flag queue has grown from just over 130 pending flags prior to Stack Exchange posting the moderator-private version of the AI generated content policy to an excess of 3,000, even while many of the most active flag-raising users have also ceased raising flags.

On multiple other sites (Super User, Software Engineering, Math, Academia, etc.) the majority of—or all—site moderators are on strike.

As of the time of writing, 113 out of 538 total Stack Exchange network moderators have signed the open strike letter, a percentage of 21%, and this number continues to grow.

So somewhere between “a small number” and “a majority or all”.

The Moderators’ Demands

Here’s what the mods want, in their own words:

  • The AI policy change retracted and subsequently changed to a degree that addresses the expressed concerns and empowers moderators to enforce the established policy of forbidding generated content on the platform.

  • Reveal to the community the internal AI policy given directly to moderators. The fact that you have made one point in private, and one in public, which differ so significantly has put the moderators in an impossible situation, and made them targets for being accused of being unreasonable, and exaggerating the effect of the new policy. Stack Exchange, Inc. has done the moderators harm by the way this was handled. The company needs to admit to their mistake and be open about this.

  • Clear and open communication from Stack Exchange, Inc. regarding establishing and changing policies or major components of the platform with extensive and meaningful public discussion beforehand.

  • Honest and clear communication from Stack Exchange, Inc. about the way forward.

  • Collaborate with the community, instead of fighting it.

  • Stop being dishonest about the company’s relationship with the community.

Honesty, transparency, and communication.  Doesn’t seem like so much to ask.


No Comments

    Leave a Reply

    Some notes on commenting on LowEndBox:

    • Do not use LowEndBox for support issues. Go to your hosting provider and issue a ticket there. Coming here saying "my VPS is down, what do I do?!" will only have your comments removed.
    • Akismet is used for spam detection. Some comments may be held temporarily for manual approval.
    • Use <pre>...</pre> to quote the output from your terminal/console, or consider using a pastebin service.

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *