Defend Monica from Defamation by Stack Overflow

For over seven years I've been a dedicated volunteer moderator on the Stack Exchange network of Q&A sites. (You might have heard of Stack Overflow, the flagship site.)  I've helped to nurture and build sites on topics ranging from writing to Judaism to the professional workplace.  I've received many compliments from users, fellow moderators, and SE employees.  For most of that time, moderators enjoyed a good working relationship with the company that provides our platform.  Libel was the farthest thing from anyone's mind.

But the company changed, and they started worrying more about pageviews than people, more about attracting new users than supporting their established contributors.  As part of this effort, they planned a change to the Code of Conduct.  The intent behind the change was good, but I and others had concerns about the details.  I asked questions.  I pushed back, respectfully.

This was not unusual.  Other policy changes have been brought to the moderators and we've provided feedback, asked questions, suggested changes.  But this time was different.  This time there were bright red lines, but I didn't see them.

After I raised concerns and had a brief email exchange with a member of the team -- my last questions were never answered -- I was suddenly removed as a moderator without warning .  That's upsetting but within Stack Exchange's rules; SE owns the platform, and they can remove a moderator for any reason or none at all.  But until now removals were rare, came after warnings, and had solid reasons.

The email that I got indicated that I was being removed because they didn't think I would obey the forthcoming Code of Conduct -- never mind that it wasn't even finalized yet.  This was a pre-emptive strike.  I objected that I hadn't done anything, but got no response.

If they had stopped there, you wouldn't be reading this page on GoFundMe.

But instead of stopping there, and in violation of their longstanding privacy policies, company representatives announced that I had been fired.  Not only that, but they made public  posts accusing me of being opposed to inclusion and respect.  Not only that, but they accused me in the press , branding me as a bigot and claiming I violated the current (not future) Code of Conduct.  Community members and other moderators immediately objected, but instead of retracting the statements they then used their platform to make more accusations and make the accusations prominent on every single site on the network.

Some of their statements are merely hurtful and false, but they might be able to claim the statements are opinions.  However, they also made a serious, false, factual claim, which is legally defamation.

Since September 27, the day they suddenly fired me, I have made many attempts to resolve the matter.  They won't talk to me, won't answer my email or support tickets, and won't even show me the alleged CoC violations. 

Meanwhile, the defamation is causing me real harm.  It's damaged my reputation, affected my health, and attracted trolls that make me concerned for my safety.  Way back when I joined, I followed the suggestion of Stack Overflow's founder and used my real name on the site.  Now the company is using that to harm me.  Even a clear description of the many ways they have failed me has fallen on deaf ears.  I've exhausted all internal options to seek correction.

And so I must turn to external options.  I don't want to have to litigate, but I see no other way to clear my name and reverse at least some of the harm that Stack Exchange has knowingly, willfully done to me.

The fundraising goal will rise over time.  That is the nature of litigation.  This amount covers the first round of costs.  I still hold out hope that Stack Exchange will realize their errors and agree to settle with me.  If they did not act with malice they should be willing to do that; it would be the decent thing to do, what we would expect of a company that still values respect.  It's in everybody's best interest to resolve this quickly and inexpensively.  But of course I can't control their actions, only my own.

The funds raised by this campaign will be spent to cover the costs of lawyers, filings, discovery, expert witnesses if needed, any needed travel to New York, and other associated expenses in pursuit of getting Stack Exchange to right the wrongs they have done me.   I'll report on spending as we go.  In the event that we raise more money than is needed to cover the cost of reaching a settlement or judgement, excess funds will be donated to The Trevor Project , an organization that provides crisis-intervention services to LGBTQ+ youth and related resources to everyone.  See the Nov 4 update for more information.

I'm Monica Cellio, a (former) moderator on six Stack Exchange sites including Meta, where I was appointed  for an outstanding track record.  My network profile  shows my contributions across Stack Exchange.

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Monica Cellio 
Pittsburgh, PA
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