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In the blog post Stack Overflow Isn’t Very Welcoming. It’s Time for That to Change., SE started to grapple with how unfriendly it was to newer coders, women, people of color, and others in marginalized groups.

I am sad to say I feel that The Workplace suffers from that same syndrome, very heavily.

The recently deleted question about a coworker making unsolicited comments about their appearance is just the latest in a long pattern of questions where a poster expresses concern about inappropriate comments or behavior that can be considered sexist, racist, or similar and then

  1. Is dumped on by the community in comments and answers, in some variant of doubting their story, objecting that the behavior "might be innocent and not sexist/racist/etc in the offender's heart," told to not do anything, told "I'd like that/I don't think that happens," told "well what about me I got discriminated against for being X once", and all the other traditional institutional tricks to ignore and minimize problems like this

  2. The occasional actual female/POC/etc voice in comments or answers saying "yes this happens a lot" is often ignored

  3. Then the question is often closed and/or deleted as "having no place on the Workplace," as apparently navigating institutional bias in the workplace isn't on topic for the Workplace

I don't want to argue about this most recent question, whether it "was really a troll that needed deleting" or not. It's part of an overall pattern. I've been here on Workplace for years and I am not surprised that not many women or POCs or people out with alternate sexualities post here - if I were them and came here and participated in any of these posts I'd feel unwelcome and go somewhere else too.

Bias in the workplace is a workplace topic. I've worked for enterprises that have people do basic diversity and bias training and all this behavior shows up prominently in workplace training videos as examples of "don't do that." It's possible to do better on Stack Exchange; I was a mod for 10 years on RPG.SE and while that's a pretty skewed demographic base too, we managed to curate an inclusive environment pretty well I think.

This has been asked about before, e.g. Casual sexism in The Workplace, but largely just ends up blaming posters for not being better about their post to a bar other questions, in my opinion, are not held to. (Searching "discrimination" on Meta shows a bunch of questions where reopening had to be escalated to Meta because people love to close them.)

Even if you don't agree with some of my examples, or about how bad of a problem it is, I think we can probably do better than we're doing right now, right? If nothing else, the lack of under-represented voices here now is unfortunate and could stand to change.

How do we do better?

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Neo
    Feb 19 at 18:09
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The only real solution is to ensure that everyone feels comfortable reporting when they feel uncomfortable and that they trust that the people they are reporting their discomfort to are taking their concerns seriously and acting on them fairly. In my opinion, we should each do our best to try to stay positive and friendly in comments under people's posts, flag unwelcoming comments, and save the unavoidable conflict that happens when a community is global and diverse for meta discussions. Sometimes our aspirations exceed our ability, so when one of us falls short we should try to be more compassionate than righteous.

Everyone has to agree to the Code of Conduct before participating, and it very clearly spells out what recourse you have if you experience unwelcoming behavior. Every community member should feel like they can ask moderators for help with uncomfortable situations and that their request will be kept as private as possible and handled with care. I don't think we can get more universally welcoming than that.

Attempting to preemptively suppress questions that help clarify a situation and the author's feelings about that situation, or to suppress answers that make "bad" (according to some) assumptions is not a good way to make people feel comfortable contributing. Everyone should feel like they can express themselves in a sincere, civil, and constructive way without getting jumped on because someone else disagrees with them or doesn't like the way they phrased something.

If a comment is "unfriendly or unkind", flag it. If a discussion is going off the rails and you think it might be driving the author away from the site, flag it for the moderators to handle. I have been informed that some gender studies conclude that conflict in discussions discourages some people from participating online - don't contribute to it. Much of the negativity in discussions is situational, so in many situations flagging and letting the mod team handle it is more helpful than confronting bad behavior.

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    This stack is fairly decent at addressing issues swiftly. Feb 17 at 20:54
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    @Old_Lamplighter I don't really see a problem with the friendliness of the community - I'm just answering the question as it was asked without quibbling about whether there really is an issue or not. If some folks think there is an issue, then there's probably some reason for that and we can always do better.
    – ColleenV
    Feb 17 at 21:05
  • That's why I upvoted your answer. Feb 17 at 21:37
  • Just curious, why isn't it whether or not it's an issue germane to the point? Feb 17 at 21:51
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    @Old_Lamplighter Because I believe people when they say they feel like something is an issue. Nothing I recommended as a solution would have a negative effect if there isn't a problem and if there is a problem, it might help, so it's not constructive (and probably harmful) to argue about the problem's existence.
    – ColleenV
    Feb 17 at 21:55
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    Having been personally affected by bad policies, I disagree. If something is not a problem, trying to fix it is quite harmful. I'm reminded of the monkey who rescued the fish from drowning by putting them safely in the tree. I've been the fish on more than one circumstance, so you can be sure I will say that I see no threat of drowning. Feb 17 at 22:15
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    @Old_Lamplighter I don't think anything I recommended in this situation is "new policy" - if it were otherwise, the severity of the issue would definitely be more of a factor.
    – ColleenV
    Feb 17 at 22:17
  • Saying roughly "this is what they probably meant and you're wrong to be offended by that" is far from just a "'bad' assumption". Yes, we probably shouldn't be assuming the intent of others who we've never met in a situation we weren't even in, but that's not the primary issue with it. The problem is with trying to explain what happened to the asker and telling them how they should be feeling, which is quite condescending and dismissive.
    – NotThatGuy
    Feb 18 at 8:52
  • Everyone should feel like they can express themselves in "a sincere, civil, and constructive way", but if the way someone's expressing themselves is offending others, then I have to wonder how civil and constructive that really is. If they've been informed they may be offending others and haven't corrected course, then I'd argue it's not particularly sincere either. Everyone should feel like they can express themselves without having others talk down to them and dismiss what they're saying.
    – NotThatGuy
    Feb 18 at 8:56
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    @NotThatGuy If something is offensive, flag it. I didn’t say everyone should feel free to say anything that crosses their mind. If someone is sincere and feels that what they have to say is constructive, they shouldn’t be worried that if they accidentally offend someone they’ll end up at the bottom of a dog pile. Even if someone is trolling, jumping on them exacerbates the situation instead of helping. Let the moderators handle it. If an answer is off-base, downvote it, constructively explain the problem, then disengage. Bickering in comments doesn’t create a welcoming environment.
    – ColleenV
    Feb 18 at 12:03
  • @NotThatGuy You are aware of the "Assume good intentions" rule, right? Feb 18 at 13:01
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    @Old_Lamplighter Unfortunately, assume good intentions is not in the CoC any longer.
    – ColleenV
    Feb 18 at 13:22
  • @ColleenV and all of this nonsense started right after they removed that. Because of that, I have deleted every last account I've had at SE. The mods and community at TWP have held the line, which is why I am still here. If that changes, this account is going bye bye as well. The rest of SE has turned into a vicious, nasty place, IMO, and I don't visit it any longer. There are plenty of help sites out there which are more concerned with helping people. Feb 18 at 13:31
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    @Old_Lamplighter I cut my online teeth in the alt.* hierarchy over a 2400 baud modem (yes I'm ancient) and I thought that prepared me to handle just about anything the internet could throw at me. I was wrong.
    – ColleenV
    Feb 18 at 16:54
  • @ColleenV Yeah, my first external storage device was a cassette tape drive. I've done battle in the usenet, used to telnet into everything, used archie, et cet. Dialed up into BBSs. A friend of mine ran one, and after he banned 2400 baud modems, someone snuck in using a 200 baud. Feb 18 at 18:37
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Stop marginalizing us by treating us like children who have no agency? That would be a start.

That includes making assumptions that people of the same backgrounds are in any sort of "community", marginalized, or otherwise. We have several people on TWP, myself included, who have one form of autism or another, who have vastly differing opinions on what it means to be autistic. So, just curious, who gets to define what is welcoming or hostile to the "autistic community?"? NOBODY because there is no such damned thing.

OF the top 10 users here, we have people who are women, LGBT, several different races, people with disabilities, and even a few straight white men.

The reason that answers that say "Yes, this happens alot" are treated with scorn is that they are not helpful. If you reversed it, and had someone complaining about an autistic coworker, and had people saying yes, they act that way alot, it would also be rightly dismissed and scorned.

What I find personally offensive is when people get offended on my behalf. I even posted as much in response to someone who was replying to such a question.

Stop treating us like we need protection, and things will improve, not that they are that bad to begin with.

Seriously. I've been on the 'Net since before the WWW was a thing, and until y'all tried fixing something that wasn't broken, The Workplace was actually the most welcoming website I had seen.

But, if you insist that TWP has a problem, then as the official spokesman of the "people with disabilities community(tm)" I say fix it by stop trying to fix it.

To me, this all seems like a solution searching for a problem.

EDITED TO ADD: I've actually been subject to some rather nasty comments about my age, and about my disabilities. Both the community and the moderators were quick to act in deleting them. I'm not viewing the world with rose colored glasses here, just saying that this place works well enough and has good people here who don't deserve the harsh judgment coming from this question.

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    @user119079 While I assume you are referring to the broader SE network there, if you have had such an experience on The Workplace please reach out to the moderation team or the Community Team through the contact page if they are part of a broader pattern that flags can't address or that you feel haven't been addressed correctly by the mods.
    – Lilienthal Mod
    Feb 16 at 20:38
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    @user119079 Well, SO is...... SO. But TWP is full of good people. You can get great advice from people who really care. The mods here are great as well. Feb 16 at 21:13
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    Why do you think this question is "harsh judgement?" I see a big ol comment argument that is largely spurred by you feeling like "serious charges are being levied," and since you have your back up you are mashing the "must stifle this discussion" button real hard with downvotes/close votes/comments. But the question is "how do we become more welcoming?" Not "the mods are evil and ignoring flags," not "everyone here is a giant sexist and racist." You are projecting all that onto this. Which prevents any allowance for improvement.
    – mxyzplk
    Feb 16 at 23:02
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    Furthermore, this is how everyone who shows up with a question like this on this stack is treated, You want us to not "white knight" for them and let them fend for themselves. Well, that's not working out well and those folks are being driven away once their initial question about whatever they're experiencing gets this exact kind of treatment - downvote, close vote, delete vote, shriek in comments, tell them they're wrong in answers. You are showing a great example of the problematic behavior we need to ramp back on, where the perceived need for "defense" rapidly outweighs the problem.
    – mxyzplk
    Feb 16 at 23:05
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    @mxyzplk as the leader of the "disabled persons community" here, I find your comments ableist, and problematic. As is your othering by calling us "them". Referring to people as "THEM" proves my point. You don't consider us part of your "WE". You've isolated people who are different from you and are calling those people "Them", and at the same time you think you are doing a good thing. Feb 16 at 23:24
  • @mxyzplk Who has been driven off? Certainly not me, and as leader of the "Disabled people's community" here, I think I'm better suited to judge than you. Feb 16 at 23:25
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    @mxyzplk So, "who is this "everyone who shows up with a question like this on this". I've shown up to plenty and have been treated pretty damn well, well, except for certain white knights Feb 16 at 23:26
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    @mxyzplk in the end, we are only people on a website that don't interact IRL. Being offended for <community> might be nice, but that isn't a solution to "OP's problem". Tons of problems can get out of hand by hastly conclusion like "he obviousl doesn' tlike me, because i'm <community>", no he might have an objective reason like your behaviour not being professional. So telling them that first, they shouldn't make hastly conclusion and second how they shoud handle that professionaly is the best service we can give them here at the workplace.
    – Walfrat
    Feb 18 at 9:45
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    I'm not sure if there's some deleted comment you're referencing, but I'm unclear on why you keep referring to yourself as the "leader of the disabled persons community". If that is a self-imposed title, I would remind you that you've been a member of this community for at least 5 years per your profile, you're familiar with the norms and understand the expectations. While "white knighting" can be harmful in excess, there's nothing wrong with shielding a new person from the worst of a place while they get their bearings via flags and kind comments. Feb 25 at 14:29
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    It probably took me about a year before I felt wholly comfortable on RPG.SE. I still don't feel very comfortable on TWP. Much of that comfort level on the former stemmed from learning the site controls and how to do things in general (i.e. how do I format things? what exactly is meta? what's that button do?). But TWP feels like it has such an attitude issue, which I find difficult to navigate and I don't typically enjoy engaging with it unless all else fails. Honestly, I would like a bit more white knighting here because the absence is abundant. Feb 25 at 14:32
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    @Pyrotechnical I was being more than a bit tongue in cheek, In my answer, I stated that we are individuals, not communities, and that we disagree. Your disagreement proves that point, and your perspective is welcomed. That said, I firmly agree with Quintus Horatius Flaccus who said: "Help a man against his will and you do the same as murder him.". The term "white knighting" reflects that condescending compassion of getting offended on behalf of someone who isn't offended themselves. That's essentially saying that we're too stupid to understand when we're insulted. Feb 25 at 14:50
  • @Pyrotechnical as to my self appointment as leader, it was pointing out the absurd WITH the absurd. Yes, I'm an old codger that's been around for a while, thus the name "old lamplighter". I'm no leader, and I certainly don't want any followers, I just don't want others to presume to speak for me. Feb 25 at 15:07
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It feels like you are mixing two issues. There are unfriendly trolls, those do get deleted pretty quickly.

However, there are also answers that you don't like. Because you consider them sexist (in this case, for another example pick an -ism of your choice).

But we try to help people navigate an imperfect world. If someone asked how to safely proceed through the dark, junkie infested parts of the city, I would say "Dress in something that does not draw attention, bring some brawny dudes with you." Is that sexist? Sure, in so many ways! Every person should be able to wear whatever they want and walk freely to wherever they want without harm. If someone dresses flashy and walks alone into a dark alley, it's not their fault if some person violates their rights and assaults them. But being morally right and in a hospital does not help that person. Not as much as "a little sexist but unharmed" would have. I will not give advice leading to people getting hurt, no matter how "right" that advice would be in a perfect world. We don't live in a perfect world, this is about navigating this world, right now.

So when someone says "in my company..." you may not like that company. You may find their behavior sexist by your definition. You would not want to work for them. But it is valuable information, because without evidence to the contrary, the OP might as well work for "such" a company and profit from the warning.

I don't have any gut feeling whether we drive away minorities and we don't seem to have any data. Ironically, the one voice I would have loved to hear on this in Monica's, who was driven away, but by the Welcome Wagon. So... the only empirical data I have is that "Making it better" so far has only made it worse. And I'm not motivated to make it "even better" than it was already made by SE.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Neo
    Feb 24 at 17:17
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“Kindly let me help you or you will drown,” said the monkey putting the fish safely up a tree. -Alan Watts

It has been my experience that trying to "fix" a situation without the input of people most effected by said situation can prove to be quite troublesome with the unintended consequences being very difficult to deal with.

As an advocate for people with disabilities, and dealing with them myself, I've come to fear such initiatives. In places I've worked, I've felt the need to explicitly say that I am very comfortable living in my own skin, and to feel free to joke around. It's very hard when these initiatives cause people to be afraid to talk to you out of fear of saying something that might get them fired. Right now, I feel that TWP is very welcoming to all, and while I have experienced the occasional comment here and there, it has been handled by the mods and by the community, so I have to acknowledge that.

I would not make an assumption such as this question makes, namely that the workplace is unwelcoming.

If there is a legitimate concern by people who feel that they are being treated poorly because of immutable characteristics, they should approach the mods through flagging posts and comments for a moderator's attention, and explain why.

If anyone has experienced specific difficulties here, they should mention it here in Meta.

Even the question mentioned in this question is back, after discussion in meta, it was un-deleted, edited, and reopened.

As to the argument "we can always do better". Not true. In fact, the better something is, the more likely any changes will make it worse, not better.

From my personal standpoint, as both an advocate, and someone who suffers from multiple disabilities, please don't try to fix what's not broken. I've worked with enough people dealing with discrimination due to various reasons (not just disabilities) I can say that bringing attention to the differences, especially in a harsh or paternalistic way, solves nothing, and causes additional problems.

Speaking specifically from the standpoint of someone with disabilities, for a long time the mantra was "see me, not my disability". That is the way it should be.

Bad behavior is bad behavior regardless. If you want to make TWP more welcoming, stop accusing it of bad behavior and bad intentions, and instead focus on any actual bad behavior you see, and escalate it to the mods, the community, and mention it here in META.

What you should not do is throw out wild accusations that divide the community.

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    It's not my DV, because I think you make good points about cures that are worse than the disease and the foolishness of trying to shove all marginalized people together and "fix" their issues with one solution. I ignored the "marginalized groups" in the title intentionally when I was writing my answer. There are some things we can't make better by "doing something", but we can always be a little friendlier and a little more welcoming toward everyone. The worse that will happen is that we will be nice to an asshole before they reveal themselves. We still come out ahead IMO.
    – ColleenV
    Feb 17 at 22:31
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    @ColleenV I like your answer. I'm old school and firmly believe in PDFTT. If you assume good intentions by those who post, you will, as you said, at worst be nice to an asshole before they reveal themselves. At best, you'll end up giving the benefit of the doubt to someone who could just be awkward, or not speak English as their first language. Feb 18 at 1:08
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Yes, I know, three answers for the same question.

This one is after some time of thinking....

The answer is simple: MAKE NO NEGATIVE ASSUMPTIONS

Make TWP as inviting as we can to all by being kind, assuming good intentions, reporting abuse when we see it.

Beyond that, if you think a particular user is being treated unfairly for any reason, ask that person.

You can post in Meta, you can ping people in chat. If you think you may have hurt someone, correct your own actions.

IF TWP works well for everyone, there's no need to worry about any of this. There will always be people who are unsatisfied for one reason or another. Do your best to help people, and you WILL make this place better.

Thanks to Neo and Snow for reminding me of this simple fact.

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With edge case, touchy feely scenarios, I think that fewer women post here because they learn throughout their lives to handle issues on their own or amongst their own network. They often build very strong personal networks, and look for advice from those people they know and trust rather than random internet people.

Whereas men are more reticent about crying on shoulders, appearing vulnerable, or even needing assistance, so use the internet.

Just a general observation, obviously not applicable in all cases.

With the marginal groups thing, I don't see the problem.

The four highest rep users here seem to be from marginalised groups.

Old Lamplighter by his own recognisance is disabled. HLGEM is female as far as I'm aware. I'm from a minority, within a minority, within a minority and heavily tattooed and brown. And poor Joe is from the group that gets blamed for anything and everything, adult white male.

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1 Is dumped on by the community in comments and answers, in some variant of doubting their story, objecting that the behavior "might be innocent and not sexist/racist/etc in the offender's heart," told to not do anything, told "I'd like that/I don't think that happens," told "well what about me I got discriminated against for being X once", and all the other traditional institutional tricks to ignore and minimize problems like this

2 The occasional actual female/POC/etc voice in comments or answers saying "yes this happens a lot" is often ignored

3 Then the question is often closed and/or deleted as "having no place on the Workplace," as apparently navigating institutional bias in the workplace isn't on topic for the Workplace

I would agree with your list of concerns, though I would add to it,

  1. Downvotes often happen to minorities who express concerns about discrimination in the workplace and to allies who advocate for egalitarian treatment in the workplace. For example, women who express concerns about sexism get downvoted, and men who post answers that support women’s equality tend to get down voted.

This dynamic creates a silencing effect, which is prejudicial. A common dynamic of oppression is that the minority is not allowed to voice their concerns. Complaints that the question is not relevant or not phrased properly are just indirect mechanisms to shut down the minority’s voice, effectively continuing to enact prejudice. For example, consider dress codes that bar African culture, where the authority states that this is just intended for neatness and formality, but really the codes are intended to keep Blacks out of the venue. A similar dynamic occurs within StackExchange, to keep minority posters out.

Your question stated, “How do we do better?” I brainstormed a few options that are listed below:

  • Create a permanent link to a reference page about how to support workplace diversity within online communications. List what types of behavior are appropriate and not appropriate. Have this link appear at the top of “The Workplace” main page.

  • Create a safe space for oppressed groups to discuss diversity issues in the workplace. This might be a sub-site to “The Workplace”. (I am not sure that the StackExchange structure supports this), or a new site could be created within the “Professional” tab in StackExchange.

  • Ensure that there are representatives from oppressed groups in the moderator team and that these moderators support equal rights. No Phyllis Schlafly types please. (For those who do not know, Phyllis Schlafly was a woman who was against women’s rights.)

  • Develop a mission statement that supports diversity in the workplace, and post this as a permanent link in the top of “The Workplace” main page. Having a mission statement will help influence the direction of the community, so they know that diversity will be supported, and discriminatory behavior would be discouraged.

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  • Do you have an example of a question or answer where you believe a someone's voice was silenced or behavior designed to drive a user out of the community was tolerated? (And did you flag it for a moderator?)
    – ColleenV
    May 3 at 17:22
  • To your 4 possible action items - #2, we could start a chat room but it would need to have mod protection to not just be a place people come to argue 'discrimination doesn't exist' with people. On #3, mods are elected and frankly in the latest election a lot of the discussion was filled with dog-whistling about "not worrying about/supporting SE wide politics" (a very thinly veiled reference to their diversity and welcoming initiatives). I think we may have to approach this as "how can a smaller number of people without majority/mod support help people be welcomed."
    – mxyzplk
    May 4 at 18:22
  • @mxyzplk I think you've incorrectly characterized the conversation about the desire for TWP mods to not be involved in drama that doesn't directly involve TWP. It was more about mods resigning and leaving TWP with too few moderators than any objection to the CoC changes. Those concerns were stated pretty directly and didn't involve any coded language. Regardless, someone can simultaneously criticize a company's approach to inclusion and want to improve a site's inclusiveness. Not liking a particular solution to a problem doesn't automatically mean we don't want the problem solved.
    – ColleenV
    May 5 at 12:59
  • Thank you for proving my point on the other thread, "Downvotes often happen to minorities who express concerns about discrimination in the workplace". Apparently meta needs some improvement as well. May 8 at 17:40
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    @JanetPlanet How dare those commoners down vote you, don't they know who you are? It must be because they are bigots because it is obviously a physical impossibility that anyone might just think you are wrong. May 10 at 15:52

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