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There are times when moderators come across things that only Stack Exchange employees can deal with. These include things like deleting sensitive information permanently from posts that require direct database access.

Currently the workflow is:

  • See the post (either in normal site usage or via a flag)
  • Go to chat
  • Ping one of the community team (if they are around)
  • Explain the problem

A far better workflow for the moderator would be to simply able to flag the post so it then appeared in an "employee only" queue somewhere. This could either be a page on the main Stack Exchange site or (better still) their inbox.

(OK I admit I hadn't fully thought this last bit out.)

This could either be a moderator "flag to devs" link on the post or a new option on the existing flag dialog (probably the better solution).

Now that moderators can't merge we have a fairly common situation where this would be very useful. A new users posts an answer (or question on sites that don't require registration) then loses their cookies and ends up creating another unregistered account (or two). Eventually the might even create a registered account. It used to be easy to merge the unregistered accounts into the registered ones, but now we either have to badger the OP to use the "merge accounts" form or ping the team somehow.

Having the "flag for team" option would be very useful in this scenario.

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Flags this question for developer attention –  Rory Feb 18 '12 at 21:57
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Flag it, have all the mods look and don't dismiss. A couple months later a dev will do the rounds and notice this lingering flag screwing up the response time. Done. –  random Mar 13 '12 at 22:11
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@random - but that requires coordination between mods and you know how hard that it. Plus I was hoping for a quicker turn-around than "a couple of months" :) –  ChrisF Mar 13 '12 at 22:12
    
When I saw this bumped again, the "no merges" thing was the first thing that popped in my head –  Ben Brocka Feb 21 '13 at 15:08

3 Answers 3

up vote 49 down vote accepted

Not calling this complete just yet, but we've added something toward this end:

user->mod->contact community team

This is available from the "mod" menu on user pages, and generates a ticket in our internal queue that'll look something like this:

You can use this for any issue that requires our oversight, provided you include the necessary information in the freeform text field. Our community ops team will handle or assign the ticket as appropriate.

If we need to follow up, we'll do so via the contact email on your profile. In most cases, this should not be necessary.

Contacts are logged in the user history of the person you're contacting us about, to allow oversight by other moderators on your team.

Depending on how it ends up being used, we may expand this functionality in the future or kill it entirely and blame you.

Special note on the deletion of sensitive information

In the past, we've handled requests to delete sensitive information (passwords, etc.) from posts by hard-deleting revisions. This was... a bit dangerous. Henceforth, the team will handle these requests by altering each problematic revision in-place; an annotation will be added to redacted revisions to allow for moderator oversight:

redacted by Shog9

These are currently visible only to moderators, and the actual data that was redacted remains inaccessible to everyone. Combined with the new "contact" UI, this should allow for considerably less overhead.

As a reminder, when requesting the removal of sensitive information:

  1. Make sure it's really sensitive. Someone posting their email address in a post seeking a reply probably isn't sensitive; presumably they intended to do that, so just edit it out & tell them to not be selfish.

  2. Edit out the sensitive information.

  3. Delete the post.

  4. Contact us. We'll undelete once the revision history has been redacted.

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Spindle? Fold? I think you've got the mod menu confused with the print menu. –  fredley Jun 23 at 17:42
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You mean I can no longer waste hours and hours of dev time by accidentally nuking revisions in the wrong order? Where is the fun in that Shog? Is this further proof that SE hates fun? All signs point to yes. –  jmac Jun 24 at 5:40
    
Word of the day: oversight –  BoltClock's a Unicorn Jun 24 at 12:52
    
My favorite blurb: "Depending on how it ends up being used, we may expand this functionality in the future or kill it entirely and blame you." –  PearsonArtPhoto Jun 24 at 18:06
    
@fredley: What mod menu are you looking at? These options are used for folding or spindling users when deleting or destroying are too violent. –  Jamal Jun 24 at 18:25
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New user option: this is great! Much easier than playing tag in TL. One request: could these requests be centrally logged somewhere for our fellow mods to see, maybe on the mod page that tracks other special user stuff? I know that individual requests are logged on those users' pages, but the small mod teams I'm part of would like to maintain some awareness here. (I know that on big sites mods don't even try to track everything, but on some sites it's still possible and customary.) Currently the workaround is to leave notes for each other in our mod room; can we improve on that? Thanks. –  Monica Cellio Jun 25 at 2:52
    
Good idea, @monica. Marc's making it happen. –  Shog9 Jun 25 at 12:46
    
Thanks for the tracking, Marc (who may or may not ever see this). @Shog9, you might want to have somebody update the escalation page in the mod section of the help center to mention this new feature. –  Monica Cellio Jun 29 at 20:02
    
How about that, sent in a request, only seeing after that the same request was just sent in a few hours ago –  random Jul 7 at 15:07

Ok - let's examine some of the issues that require mods to contact SE right now, things which are inappropriate to bring up publicly on meta:

  • Destroying sensitive information
    Frankly, I hate seeing much of this. It's a nice thing to do for people who inadvertently post their password or some such, but when folks are including contact information - email, phone #, etc - it's obviously intentional; edit it out, and leave it be. Unless the author wants it gone, who cares if it sits in the revision history somewhere?

    Beyond that... Deleting and editing the post itself removes most of the time-sensitive nature of these.

  • Deep analysis or specialized handling for voting fraud
    This badly needs to become more automated. Stuff the scripts don't catch is still pretty obvious in the mod tools most of the time. The current process wastes a lot of time, everyone's time; we're working on a better one.

  • Merging
    It turns out this is a lot less common than we realized, and we'd like to make the scenario you describe even more uncommon: work on improving both the process and guidance for unregistered -> registered is underway, with various UI changes being tested seemingly at random on various sites as we speak.

    That said, when it does occur, we'd prefer to see the user involved take an active role in fixing it; until they register, merging just kicks the can down the road. If it's causing problems and the person involved doesn't want to register, you can ask us to intervene, but again this isn't really time-sensitive.


I agree that chat is a lousy tool for these most of the time. It's pretty good for discussions, advice, and very time-sensitive things, but more and more of these requests end up being things that should just go into a queue.

Also, a lot of them are things that should be automated in some way once they reach a certain scale - vote-fraud comes to mind; merging too, to some extent. Chat has a nasty tendency to obscure the volume of such requests. Also, stuff gets ignored or lost...

I hate the flag idea mostly because I think of flags as being fairly light-weight. If there's a lot of context or research that's gone into a problem, distilling it down into a flag can be troublesome. They're good for the sorts of fairly obvious issues that crop up a lot on a site, things where the primary goal of communication is just to draw someone's attention to something... But if moderators on a site are unable to handle those sorts of issues, the site needs better tools, better education, or... better moderators.

My personal preference is to use email for complicated stuff that isn't particularly time-sensitive. You do get a queue of sorts, as well as the ability to convey a lot more information - in both directions.

Email has its own problems, but the simple solution here is to just add a "contact SE" link to every mod menu that collects information about whatever problem has cropped up and emails us. But that could just as easily feed into something on-site as well, which may give more flexibility for issues with different priorities.

As the number of sites and moderators continues to grow, we'll have to introduce something different to maintain effective communication. What that'll be depends largely on what we all need it to accomplish.

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Most of this stuff is not about communication, it is simply about a lack of available tools. We mods can't remove revisions, we can't invalidate votes and we can't investigate certain types of vote fraud patterns or follow the trail across different sites. A very lightweight solution is good for revision deletion, vote fraud could benefit from some report thingy that would allow mods to collect the information in one place, accessible to other mods and SE employees. Dev flags is in the end nothing different than mod tools that just require final approval by SE. –  Mad Scientist Jan 13 '14 at 14:03
    
Absolutely right, @Mad - it's more work to implement better tooling, but long-term it stands to scale a lot better and be a lot less frustrating for all involved. Shinier notification tools just optimizes a system that's mostly overhead to begin with. –  Shog9 Jan 13 '14 at 18:19

You keep forgetting about the rumored existence of a universal moderator-only chatroom forged by unicorns! I can say that that does and doesn't exist... element of surprise...

Jokes aside, contacting a mod isn't that hard in chat. Pick a chatroom, private if necessary, and ping a developer. If they've never been in that room before/they are unpingable, mods are given a superping, which would add it directly into their inbox.

Even with a flag for CM feature, this is what it would take:

  1. Find post through flag or usage
  2. Click "flag"
  3. Describe the problem in a way that it's so clear that there doesn't need to be a request for more information because there won't, unless SE makes this more feature packed than the standard flag (doubtful).
  4. Get yelled at by a CM for pinging 200 people for wanting to change the number of downvotes displayed on a post of yours.

Okay, the last one is a little bit of a stretch, but pinging all of the devs and CMs for an account merge is complete overkill. For the account merge, all you need to do is contact a developer yourself in chat (with the method described above) and ask them for the merge.

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