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I've given this a lot of thought over the last month or so. Initially this was going to be a heated rant about how awful the minority experience on Interpersonal Skills is, and how that's the reason I'm leaving, but if I'm really honest with myself, there's a lot more to it than that.

That's not to say that the minority experience here isn't pretty awful. At first I was shocked that I was seeing the sort of blatant hate speech and general nastiness on a Stack Exchange site, I really thought that SE was above that sort of thing. But it's not. Sure people try to do their part and flag the worst of it, but it doesn't really change much for the people that those answers and comments are directed at, pings are nearly always faster than flags.

Being told to "flag and walk away" or "take a break" or "you're jumping at shadows, it's not really that bad" just kinda salts the wound when you've been worked over by the worst the network has to offer. At a point I got increasingly bitter and angry about the situation.

For those that have the privilege of not being a member of a minority group that gets routinely targeted for abuse, well, I'm not sure if I can adequately describe the feeling that the near daily abusive comments and answers invoke. For me they led to a mixture of rage and disgust, but the worst part is that they reminded me of all the times I've had to face similar situations in real life. That stuff has a way of cutting to your core, and worse, accumulating.

Granted that's not entirely "the community's" fault. That stuff brings out the very worst in me, and for that I apologise. The hate I feel for the people who feel the need to go around being abusive is probably very comparable to the hate that leads them to do it in the first place. And that's my failing.

Part of me still feels justified in fighting back. They started it, they're judging others based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or what have you; and I'm judging them based on their actions and the content of their character. Whole lotta "they deserve it" and self justification for bad behavior going on there. I sank to their level. They hit, and I hit back harder, which nearly always escalated the situation. Again I'm sorry for that.

My hope was that by hitting back I could give them a small taste of what it feels like to be one of the people they went after. And hopefully drive them away from the site. Obviously it doesn't work out that way.

On the other hand... I won't apologize for stepping in when I saw others being abused. I know I often did it poorly, that I apologise for, but... Well, when you're being worked over by a bunch of bigots, it means an awful lot to know that someone has your back. Those few times when I intervened and drew the abuse away from someone else, or at least showed some solidarity and support... Sorry, but I'm not sorry for that.

The situation got so bad that I'd end up getting into it with people on the site and carrying that anger throughout the day, and it started affecting my relationships in the real world. Nobody wants to be around the guy who's always pissed off, regardless of how good his reasons for being pissed off are.

I posted my most recent question on main, deliberately to incite. It was a lightning-rod that I put up to try to show how bad things really are... Unfortunately it worked a little too well, it drew all the fire I expected and more. I wanted people to really see what I've been seeing on IPS since the beginning. I didn't realize that most people were aware, they just weren't as vocally pissed off as I was. I hoped that making the situation unavoidably visible would force people to do something more about it, but I ended up just adding a lot of fuel to the fire. Sorry about that.

I guess the TL;DR is that Stack Exchange has a culture problem, the experience for minorities who dare to talk about the minority experience is often pretty terrible. I don't really know how to stop fighting when presented with those situations, so untill the situation improves, or I learn to better deal with it, I shouldn't be participating here.

Damn... Still hate picking my battles... But this is one I have to step away from, for my own sanity, and for the sanity of the site.

So long and thanks for all the fish.

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    Not up-voting your departure, but up-voting what you so eloquently and candidly explained. I've shared your post internally. – Tim Post Apr 24 '18 at 12:30
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    I've also had to become less involved than I initially was. Wish you the best in your time away. – Jess K. Apr 24 '18 at 16:33
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    Hey, apaul. You are a good friend. I will miss you. Expecting your return. – NVZ Apr 25 '18 at 6:06
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    I'm not sure that we've ever interacted given that I don't do the chatroom thing, but I have appreciated your posts and comments on the site greatly. I was horrified by responses to the recent question which preceded your Lightning Rod, not least because I couldn't tell who knew they were being horrifying and who didn't. I salute your efforts and wish you well. – Spagirl Apr 25 '18 at 10:24
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    you were one of the few ppl here I actually liked so I am sorry to see you leave but I agree with your decision. this stack is indeed destructive to minorities. at some point i also saw red how some people were treated here, (but as it is not allowed, you supposed to see white) i decided not to be an active part of this community. IPS is certainly not worth your time, especially not if it influences your RL in a negative way. thank you for your contribution and your defense of questions which otherwise would have been edited into oblivion. – user1617 Apr 25 '18 at 17:21
  • I'm sorry to see you go @apaul. – FreezePhoenix Apr 25 '18 at 22:36
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    apaul or @TimPost: For those of us who have been unaware of and/or blind to the racism/sexism/etc. on the site... are there any examples you may be able to point us to? If not links, at least descriptions of what they were like? I know I am surprised to hear about it, and I expect I'm not the only one. – Mehrdad Apr 30 '18 at 8:38
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    @Mehrdad - If you are surprised to hear about it, then I would suggest you don't spend much time reading through comments (Or you get there after the VERY active mod team here has pruned them). There are unfortunately resident trolls that romp around on this exchange, as well as (unfortunately) many people that apparently feel that the blanket of anonymity gives them carte blanche to be an anti-asset to society. It also gets glossed over that it happens on the more social part of the site, in chat. If you've missed it, be thankful. Suffice to say, it sadly does exist. – JohnP May 1 '18 at 0:42
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    @JohnP: Yeah, I am. Is it concentrated on this SE site, or does it happen on a lot of them? I only sometimes come to this site (mainly when I see hot network questions) but if it's rampant across the network then I'm very blind... – Mehrdad May 1 '18 at 0:44
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    @Mehrdad - It gets brought to the forefront here, mainly because of the subject matter. However, I have been on the exchange for 6 years now, and a moderator on a couple of sites for half that time. While I personally don't see it as being completely rampant, it happens often enough. If we can reduce it at all, then we have done our jobs. – JohnP May 1 '18 at 0:49
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    @apaul - I understand the need to walk away. If you choose to return, know that there are people here who will welcome you with open arms. You are an asset to the community, and we are the poorer for your departure. "May St. Patrick guard you wherever you go,and guide you in whatever you do--and may his loving protection be a blessing to you always." – JohnP May 1 '18 at 1:18
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    Goodbye, apaul. I'm glad that I had the opportunity to read some of your very valuable insights. I wish you well. – Belle May 3 '18 at 11:19
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On the one hand, I'm sorry to see you go because... selfishly I suppose... I saw you as potentially a hugely positive influence on the site.

On the other hand, you clearly haven't been happy here in a while, and that tends to thwart even the best of intentions.

So thanks for sticking it out this long, and thanks for not pushing yourself to stick it out any longer. I hope, with this behind you, that you are able to find peace.

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From one retired line cook to another, I'm pretty damn sorry to see you go. I saw you shooting flares up, I saw you doing what you thought was right, and at the same time I knew that trying to fight that sort of thing in the trenches, battle by battle, was only going to tire us out and drag it into a war.

I guess the TL;DR is that Stack Exchange has a culture problem, the experience for minorities who dare to talk about the minority experience is often pretty terrible.

We do, and it is. Let's just leave that as a sentence on its own.

We know we have this problem along with the rest of the world (culture replicates), so we're going to make a sustained conscious effort to do something about it, because we're not taking all of the opportunities that we can right now. We're not inclusive enough because we (as a company) didn't put enough effort into ensuring that we are. This happened because we started off with a group of people that already felt very included among each other, and didn't give it much thought after that.

I have hope, because at the minimum, you had a safe place to come and say what you did in the manner that you said it. That's an order of magnitude better than most other places. Now, marginally better than horrible isn't great by any stretch, but it's a damn good start.

It takes a great amount of patience, more than any single person could possibly possess, to cause real change in the face of fear, bias, apathy and contemplation of remorse by those that resist metacognition in order to avoid guilt. It takes all of us.

So, while it didn't work out so well and you don't feel all that great about it, you did your part, and you did it at more personal expense than I'm comfortable with anyone spending.

But, please keep an eye on us; you're always welcome back, and we'd be lucky to hear what you have to say as we progress.

Now, in true kitchen style - get back to work.

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    (Comments deleted) Let's try to keep things on-topic here. . . Tim's talking about a site cultural problem; that's what comments should stick to. – HDE 226868 Apr 26 '18 at 18:42
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    stackoverflow.blog/2018/04/26/… This seems like a step in the right direction. – apaul Apr 26 '18 at 22:30
  • @apaul But that doesn't demonstrate your self-restraint... Why don't you show us that you can do it without a mod intervening? – FreezePhoenix May 21 '18 at 14:51
  • @FreezePhoenix my self restraint had already been pushed to a breaking point. – apaul May 21 '18 at 15:06
  • @apaul mine too... but I persevered. – FreezePhoenix May 21 '18 at 15:40
  • @FreezePhoenix Skin in the game makes a difference, if you don't have any, don't chime in. (FYI I poked here because accountability matters too) – apaul Jun 17 '18 at 4:43
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I'm sorry this wasn't the right community for you - or, at least, that it currently isn't.

I've been quieter the last few weeks because this site has been a huge struggle for me for various reasons and I don't want you to leave thinking that I don't hear you.

I do.

I hear you so loudly it hurts because I don't know what to do to fix it. I've spent the last three weeks hearing complaints about Stack Overflow on MSO and MSE and Twitter and Medium and so many discussions about how to address them and how did things get so bad in the first place and who's at fault and so many other things.

I've been talking with all sorts of people about it, looking for answers, because, while IPS may be a really obvious and blatant place these attitudes come out to "play" on Stack Exchange; it's not the only place.

  • The amount of horrible anti-{religion} trolling posts that many of the religion sites get on a frequent basis - often timed when the moderators aren't around - sickens me.
  • Anti-Semitic and Holocaust-denying trolling posts on History.
  • The reception a variety of users receive on Stack Overflow.

I'm sure there are others I can't think of... but ...

We can only react - and how we react defines us.

Should these posts or comments ever be made? No, they shouldn't... but without locking down the site entirely and making it practically useless to a large number of people - often the very people you want to help - we're left having to rely on the good faith and actions of the users here to remove this content... and we have to be kind to them as they do it or we risk losing them to fatigue.

I understand your urge to fight fire with fire - firefighters do often start fires to prevent fires in forested areas. Removing leaf litter with a controlled burn can reduce the likelihood of or the severity of future fires and improves the ecology of the area. That said, I don't think that this strategy would work here - at least not the way you tried.

You don't start a fire when the firefighters are sick, or on vacation, or understaffed. You wait until they're fit, rested, and ready to act. I don't know if the addition of two new moderators here in the last week says anything to you, but I'll tell you that they were requested by me because I was not fit, rested, or ready to act. I needed help, sorely.

I'm glad to have it. I hope it will help - it's already helping. But we need the help of everyone here who will act in good faith for the site and champion the Be Nice Policy... and, again... I still don't endorse intentionally starting fires here, even with more help.

If you see something that doesn't belong, flag it.

Please, flag. Flag comments, flag posts. We may not always agree with your flags but we need them. It's impossible for us to read everything that accrues on this site over the course of the day. Your flags make it possible for us to focus and do our jobs... and sufficient flagging of very problematic content can even remove it before we get to it.

Don't get drawn into arguments. Don't give these responses the attention they desire. Flag and move on. I know this is difficult - sometimes impossible - but giving them a place to argue their point is what they want. If we deny them that and just delete what they say that doesn't meet our Be Nice Policy or Comment Policy, they lose visibility and there's less to mop up afterwards.

Please save custom flags for things that don't meet an existing default flag reason at all or that you've already flagged using a default reason and had it declined or disputed. When you use custom flags, help us out. You have plenty of room to really explain why you're flagging. Don't assume we know everything that's happening with every user.

Give the system some time to work.

Be patient with us. We're people. We sleep. We work actual paying jobs. Sometimes we need to delay responding to a flag because we need help deciding what to do about it.

As this site ages, we'll figure out better how to respond to the issues that we're confronted with because, more and more, we will have seen them already. We need this experiential knowledge before we can be truly successful as a community. It won't put an end to these posts and comments but we'll handle them more efficiently and decisively and there will be less fallout.

Beyond that, I think the recent test of replacing the "add a comment" text with "suggest improvements" is a worthy first step in finding a way to change the network culture regarding "comments". There has been so much discussion over the years on Meta Stack Exchange and Meta Stack Overflow about "fixing" comments, that I'm sure there are a variety of solutions in this regard that can be alternates or additions to helping reduce the huge volume of comments this site attracts.


I know this is so hard to read - to accept. There are amazing people here - I think you realize that now. People from all walks of life, all over the globe, all different minorities and majorities and I believe that a large number of active, engaged users will work together to make this site a good place. A place where anyone can find non-judgemental help for their interpersonal skills problems.

Maybe you'll find that place sometime in the future, when we do.

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    "We can only react - and how we react defines us." This is a part of what I've been trying to say for a while now. Quietly deleting is better than nothing, but when the offensive content just disappears and there's no follow up, or explanation, or even a "hey, that's not ok" it's a little hollow. I suspect that often people don't even realize it was deleted. When they do, and ask about it, they're often just told that it's "not constructive". – apaul Apr 25 '18 at 4:50
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    You all, the mods and CMs, have the power to put a thumb on the scale and tip it towards justice. You have the power to speak up. And you all have enough influence that if, or when, you do it, people will follow your lead. – apaul Apr 25 '18 at 4:51
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    "We can only react - and how we react defines us." : yes, paul. Deleting rude/abusive/offensive content with no comment, and doing it again, and again, and again. And again... is a form of NVR, just like Aikido -> put your opponent down without hurting, when they get up, do it again, and again, until they realize it's not worth coming back once more... – OldPadawan Apr 25 '18 at 7:00
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    Given that pretty much everyone seems to agree there are issues, I would suggest that if folks want to ask for more to be done, they try to do so in the form of new meta questions, with as much specificity as possible. It's important for it to be in a place where it can get some discussion, and to aim for things people can actually do, as opposed to more general requests to do more. – Cascabel Apr 25 '18 at 16:42
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Forgive them Father for they know not what they do -- what provokes me is that this site will be losing one of its most committed and helpful members because of hurtful comments-at-large from random users most of whom cannot be troubled to write a single constructive post for this website. Don't go @apaul! At the very least, be sure not to delete your legendary account which I am saving in this screen capture: We need the inspiration for present and future members

apaul's reputation

3

@apaul I am sorry to see you go.

But, I want you to read this post. If you still plan on leaving, you need not respond.

Have you ever raised a kitten? They're little devils. Ever raised a dog? They're little devils. Ever raised a child? They are also little devils (Albeit a little bigger of a devil). The generalization I am making here is The more complex something is, the more trouble it causes, and the more rewarding it is to succeed.

A site is so complex... And it has multiple users, multiple groups, and multiple individuals... All attempting to coordinate. There will be some bumps. But when it succeeds, it is all the more rewarding.

Many of us are feeling the "growing pains" that exist when trying to fit things into molds... You are trying to retrain 91 pages of users to fit the mold of an entirely new site on SE... On a new topic that is very sensitive.

@apaul I have your back.

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