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Stack Exchange has some of the best Moderators around — seriously — and that is due in no small part to the communities who scrutinize and vote in our Moderator elections. We have a rather formal process for electing moderators, but up until now the process for removing a moderator has been quite informal.

On those rare, rare occasion when things just aren't working out, you can see why it becomes such a sticky business to remove someone from a democratically elected position. Our current process is one of "we've got your back." The Community Team routinely monitors moderator activities, so if a moderator violates the Moderator Agreement or fails to uphold the Theory of Moderation, we can and do intervene. If the disputes and problems persist without resolution, eventually we can ask someone to step down.

That's not good enough. We need a much more transparent and prescribed process for when — and more importantly how — to intervene when on-going problems are going unresolved. In urgent situations, we'll step in to protect a site, but ideally the process should be impartial and not subject to accusations of Stack Exchange simply applying undue influence over a community when the whim strikes.

The Question:

Before we start bouncing around ideas internally, I'd like to hear what you think. What process should be in place to add some checks and balances to deal with higher issues like possible impeachment of a moderator? When and how would such a process come into play? How should such situations be resolved? How do we keep it from being abused?

Have at it. This is a round table vetting of ideas.

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My concern is, in my experience, the sort of person most likely to complain about a moderator is the sort of person most likely to lie their rear end off. And if they're doing that in public, against me, I can't respond without looking bad. Making that transparent (like a meta rant) but one-sided (like a team@ email) doesn't seem like an awesome way to handle the majority of complaints. Actually I'm having trouble imagining any case beyond "hey, this guy isn't even on the site anymore" which would be much more civil than a witch hunt/mud slinging contest. Some things should be private. –  Ben Brocka Oct 17 '12 at 0:06
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How about we try SE being transparent towards moderators first, hm? Can I get all the complaints filed against me, for example? –  Yannis Oct 17 '12 at 0:09
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@BenBrocka I'm not envisioning a system where single complaints be made public. I'm talking about a system of escalation when there is a clear pattern of continuous, unresolved problems; a "vote of no confidence" <--whatever that means in this context. How can we set up a system where ongoing calls to handle a bad situation are handled in a way that is fair to everyone involved, and not subject to arbitrary enforcement. It doesn't necessarily have to be public, but it has to be a process of vetting that is consistently enforced and not triggered based on how loudly the parties complain. –  Robert Cartaino Oct 17 '12 at 0:10
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@RobertCartaino A "vote of no confidence" would be great, provided those called to vote had all the necessary information available, so they can make an informed decision. –  Yannis Oct 17 '12 at 0:12
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Unless stack exchange is literally so completely overwhelemed that the current manual review process that doesn't work (you haven't indicated that's the situation, and I seriously doubt it is) it seems the community would be much better served if one of dozens of other improvements were made; improving the About page (ask patents style), introducing proper localization, better explanations and UI for mod tools, refinements of the review process...there seems to be a lot more important for a lot more people for such a dubious "feature" to be given priority –  Ben Brocka Oct 17 '12 at 0:45
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@BenBrocka, it's like you're spying on us: we have a new about page coming soon (slightly better than the patents one). Localization work is ongoing. Review is getting refined, too. I don't think we're working on the mod tools UI, but 3 out of 4 ain't bad. –  Jaydles Oct 17 '12 at 1:24
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@YannisRizos: I can only imagine a huge filing cabinet labeled "Complaints No One Cares About" and a vanilla folder laying next to it labeled "Valid Complaints" –  animuson Oct 17 '12 at 2:53
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@BenBrocka We have a lot of balls in the air right now. Conveniently, we also have a lot of people to juggle them (and we're hiring more still). This is one of those features that's very nice to have for general peace of mind. You don't miss it until you need it, but if you do need it and you don't have it... you're in a rough place. It's kinda like being short a penny at a store that doesn't have one of those "take a penny, leave a penny" jars. :) So we're largely just trying to get a head start on things here and solicit some ideas. –  Anna Lear Oct 17 '12 at 3:05
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@AnnaLear Any chance we'll ever get any feedback on all these Meta posts? The room has been frozen for 68 days, and most of those posts are what people actually want. –  Yannis Oct 17 '12 at 3:08
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@Robert Cartaino: Yes, Yes, and Yes. Several of us have been asking for a tool like this for some time because we want to submit a vote of "no confidence". Thanks for moving ahead with this. –  Jim G. Oct 17 '12 at 3:21
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How often has the community team removed a moderator from their position against their will so far? –  Mad Scientist Oct 17 '12 at 6:47
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We're focusing on the misbehavior issue here, which is important, but what about the removal of moderators for other reasons, such as neglecting moderator duties? That's a problem we have on a number of Stack Exchange sites which was never really addressed except with "have more elections". More elections is fine but removing the cruft is just as important as expanding capacity. I think our current, real issues are more in the latter so shouldn't it be included in this conversation? –  casperOne Oct 17 '12 at 13:32
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@AnnaLear additionally I'm particularly concerned with the "Us vs them" sentiment the idea seems to foster (and how popular such thinking seems to be when suggested). Similar to the Summer of Love it seems to be much more effective at driving a wedge between two groups of otherwise well meaning users rather than actually doing anything constructive. –  Ben Brocka Oct 17 '12 at 15:17
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If there existed the possibility that I were to be discharged from my duties, I would want to know exactly what was going on and how that process would occur. Right now, I don't have any idea, and no one else does either. I think figuring that out before we have a need to figure it out is a prudent plan. That way, we can all have input without taking sides for or against whoever the first person is to be subjected to this policy, in the clear, sober light of non-immediate-drama. –  KitFox Oct 19 '12 at 13:50
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Having good judgment is one of the most important qualities of a moderator. I'd like some mechanism to demote moderators with whose judgment I consistently disagree, even if they never outright abuse their power. –  CodesInChaos Oct 20 '12 at 14:03

23 Answers 23

up vote 66 down vote accepted

Moderator Action Review Process

After much discussion, debate, reflection, consultation, frustration, revelation, constipation and inspiration, we've settled on the following process for allowing a team of moderators to remove one of their own. It is, by necessity, somewhat formal: this process is for those rare situations where communication with one member has completely broken down and the team as a whole feels they cannot continue to work together.

I strongly urge anyone involved in such a situation to do what they can to resolve outstanding issues before resorting to this.

Initiation

The process will be initiated by a formal request from one or more moderators on a site, sent privately via an email to community@stackexchange.com.

The process may also be initiated by the Community Team at Stack Exchange, Inc. in response to numerous, substantiated complaints from users on the site.

In either case, the complaints will be treated by Stack Exchange as confidential, and their authors will not be named by us at any point in the process.

Proceedings

Once begun, the following steps must be followed, in order, to completion within a reasonable time frame. If this is not possible, all participants will be notified by us that the process has been discontinued and informed of the resolution (if any).

  1. All moderators on the site will be contacted by us via email, informed of the situation and asked to meet at their earliest opportunity to discuss the removal of the named moderator. Meeting must be held in a private venue to maintain the confidentiality of those involved - we will provide a chatroom on http://chat.meta.stackoverflow.com that is inaccessible to anyone not invited. Both the venue and timeframe for the meeting must be accessible to all moderators - we will attempt to coordinate the schedules of individual moderators.

  2. At the designated time, a quorum must be present - this shall consist of 2/3rds of the moderators on the site (all those listed as active on the /about page, whether or not currently active), excluding the moderator to be removed (example: for a team with three moderators, both of those not being considered for removal must be present).

  3. A designated person will be selected to record the minutes of the meeting. These should be brief, and suitable for public consumption should the need arise (providing only a broad overview of the process and its outcome, not including any details of what was discussed).

  4. At this point, each present member of the moderator team shall be given an opportunity to share his concerns with the group. In the event that this process was initiated by complaints from outside the moderator team, a summary of them will have been provided to the moderators prior to the meeting.

  5. Following this, the moderator to be considered for removal shall have a chance to respond. There will be no back-and-forth discussion allowed - this should have been conducted prior to this meeting.

  6. Finally, the moderator to be considered for removal shall be asked to leave the room (upon which access shall be revoked) and otherwise remain silent through the remainder of the proceedings, and those remaining shall vote on whether or not to revoke the moderator's privileges.

  7. If at least 2/3rds of those present vote for removal, this shall be considered a consensus, and recorded in the minutes as the opinion of the moderator team.

  8. The meeting shall now be concluded, and the minutes emailed to all members of the moderator team and community@stackexchange.com

  9. If the consensus was for removal, we will then revoke the privileges of the moderator to be removed, and also remove the moderator's name from the election and /about pages.

How - or if - the outcome of such a meeting is shared with the broader community will be left to the discretion of the moderator team, however the details of the meeting must remain confidential - only the minutes can be published if such a need arises. This is done to allow potentially-confidential information to be disclosed without forcing anyone involved to violate the moderator agreement.

In general, the same courtesies should be extended toward removed moderators as to suspended users: no airing of dirty laundry in public, no bringing up issues faced as a moderator in unrelated discussions, questions raised by other members of the public answered with as little detail as possible. Speculation should be discouraged out of respect for those involved.

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I have a positive, a negative and a request. The positive is your last paragraph: thank you. The negative is that, assuming a site has 4 mods, it just takes two mods to remove any other - this doesn't really seem correct to me. The request is the following: moderators should be allowed to step down gracefully, resign, if they so request. –  Sklivvz Dec 1 '12 at 17:05
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I think that request is fair. If, once this process has begun, a moderator resigns we should be willing to abort the process and avoid further discord. –  Shog9 Dec 1 '12 at 17:42
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I assume this might be tricky on sites with 3 moderators? Or maybe easier since there's less schedules to juggle. –  Jeff Atwood Dec 4 '12 at 8:24
    
For a site with three, @Jeff, should be pretty easy - at minimum, two of them drop into chat and talk for a bit. –  Shog9 Dec 6 '12 at 18:29
    
Why should anyone "record the minutes"; are the minutes not automatically recorded as the contents of the chat room? –  Lawrence Dol Dec 6 '12 at 19:54
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@Software: the details are intended to be private, to allow those involved to raise whatever concerns are applicable without violating the privacy of users who aren't directly involved. Minutes are intended to summarize the proceedings in a way that can be released publicly, should the need arise. –  Shog9 Dec 6 '12 at 20:06
    
I assume that a member of the community team will also be present and does not have a vote? And does the same process apply to both graduated sites and betas? –  Monica Cellio Feb 22 '13 at 21:49
    
Maybe a strange question, but is the "removed" moderator excluded from next moderator elections? –  Toon Krijthe Mar 6 '13 at 19:55
    
Not really strange... But probably worth raising as a separate discussion @Toon –  Shog9 Mar 6 '13 at 19:56
    
@Shog9, I thought of that, but I hesitate to bring it on because the subject is very personal. –  Toon Krijthe Mar 6 '13 at 19:57
    
@Toon: Well, it's one of those things that hasn't ever happened (...yet...), so we'll be speaking hypothetically. I would hope that someone in that position would have better sense, but... if it concerns you, might be worth hashing it out ahead of time anyway. –  Shog9 Mar 6 '13 at 20:00
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@Sklivvz: if a site has 4 moderators, two-thirds of that is 2.666. From this it follows that to remove one moderator, all the remaining ones would have to agree, not two out of four. –  Teemu Leisti Apr 10 '13 at 9:37
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@TeemuLeisti no, the one being considered for removal doesn't get a vote. –  Monica Cellio Feb 2 at 22:09
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@Monica Cellio: Well, in that case, the four moderators of a site could split into two factions, both of which could excommunicate the other one. That would be an interesting situation. :) –  Teemu Leisti Feb 3 at 15:45
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Indeed, in a team of four moderators, two of them could remove the other two. First, remove the first through the 2/3 majority in the other three, then remove the second by getting 100% majority. After that, one of the remaining two moderators could get rid of the other one by being 100% of the rest himself. Whether that last moderator can be removed is undefined because 0/0 can be both above and below 2/3. :-) –  celtschk Apr 3 at 0:09

First, it should never come to this -- as Robert Harvey pointed out, this should be handled via private conversations whenever possible. Moderators are supposed to be exemplars of 99% good community behavior, and part of good community behavior is recognizing problem behaviors -- even your own! -- and helping correct them in a constructive way. If it has come to this, unfortunately, the situation must be quite dire indeed.

I tend to agree with the other answers here indicating that moderators should be primarily subject to review by their other fellow moderators, in tandem with SE, Inc.

I believe this makes the most sense because:

  • Most of the data you would be reviewing is private by its very nature, and thus only mods should see it.

  • The whole reason we have multiple moderators is to establish a system of checks and balances. Mods do support each other but they can also disagree.

  • The closest peer a moderator has is another fellow elected or appointed moderator.

  • Moderators are of the community; they are not employed by SE, Inc and thus cannot not be influenced one way or another about any perceived or imagined "we're doing what the company paid us to do" bias.

  • SE, Inc. would mostly be acting as a mediator in this case.

If it comes to that, throw together a private chatroom, get all the fellow mods in the room, review the data behind the recall request and decide. The results (but not the underlying data) can be posted on the appropriate meta.

I definitely do not see any need for a special tool for this. If we start building "courtrooms", that's.. scary. I've recently been part of a public jury trial, and the further we can stay away from that level of process, the better off we will be, unless it is a method of absolute last world-ending resort.

The community would have to understand that once convened, the decision of the community mods is final.

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+1, esp for the last point. I think that's one area the existing system could use some approval. At some point after a complaint has been peer reviewed and SE arbitrated, there needs to be a semi-official way to bang the gavel and say the decision is final. Another instance or another complainant could spark a new checkup, but at some point individual cases need to be closed with some finality. –  Caleb Oct 17 '12 at 9:17
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Agreed on all points. I just can't see a formal system, including UI elements and everything, which doesn't scream witch hunt. Forcing re-elections, public grievances, limited election terms, votes of no confidence...moderators get enough crap as it is, and we can already be removed if we actually abuse things. Can't we all just STFU and GBTW? –  Ben Brocka Oct 17 '12 at 15:14
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I think SEI should be way bolder. If they, at any point, don't want a mod, they should ask them to step down. Otherwise they should back them up. Think about it as a (volunteer) job. If there are problems with a worker, they don't stand trial. They are either supported or fired - after a due internal process generally involving the person and the company, not the person and their peers. A peer-trial is necessarily a form of shaming the person. Why would I give my free time to be shamed in any form? –  Sklivvz Oct 20 '12 at 8:07
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+1 Let peers judge peers. –  Benjol Oct 23 '12 at 8:53

but ideally the process should be impartial and not subject to accusations of Stack Exchange simply applying undue influence over a community when the whim strikes.

Frankly, I see this as trying to have our cake and eat it too. We want influence over these communities - the core premise of Stack Exchange 2.0 is that we have some amount of experience here and can help these sites avoid some of the pitfalls they'll encounter along the way.

Of course, the problem is that we don't scale, and can easily become victims of our own success: too many sites with too many users and too many moderators to guide and chide and hand-hold. We're not there yet - but it's looming on the horizon. And no one wants to see us snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by letting a bad moderator run roughshod over a burgeoning community while we're engaged elsewhere...

But back to this "undue influence when the whim strikes" thing. Regardless of how this is conducted, I can't imagine a reasonable system for removing moderators outside of dire emergencies that wasn't foreshadowed by ample amounts of public discussion. We have these systems in place - meta, chat, moderators themselves in part to achieve just this sort of transparency.

Oh yeah... moderators. In well-established communities, moderators are elected, put in place via an open process by which the community itself selects them. We trust them to act as intermediaries in many cases already, handling the bulk of the work of community-building, cleanup, and support on a site. So why not this? If anyone is qualified to say that a moderator should be removed on a site, it would be the other moderators, those who've worked closely with him and are most familiar with his actions or inaction, both public and private.

So how about this for a process: make it clear that, should 2/3rds of the moderators on a site formally request the removal of a moderator, presenting evidence of abuse or misbehavior via email or some other private channel, we'll be obligated to remove him from his post. All sites should have at least three moderators, so this should scale without putting excessive pressure on the moderators of larger sites to play politician.

Yes, it falls apart when there are multiple - perhaps even a majority - of moderators causing problems on a site. But at that point, I think we can safely say we have bigger problems than appearing to exert undue influence.

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In what time frame would moderators need to submit a formal request in order for this to happen, given the example of three moderators? Mod1 requests Mod3's removal in January. Mod2 requests Mod3's removal in June. Is Mod3 removed? I think this idea works, but perhaps could use a little more detail. –  Tim Post Oct 17 '12 at 8:38
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solution: /r/modsgonewild. What could possibly go wrong? –  Jeff Atwood Oct 17 '12 at 9:36
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I like this idea. Couple of small caveats - I think the need is not so much because we don't scale then because we need a system that doesn't look like we can undo elections at will, and remove any elected mod we don't like. This achieves that by putting the most of the power in the hands of the other elected mods. We could still review their reasoning, insist on marriage counseling, etc., but this could give us a baseline process for ensuring community complaints have teeth, but that mods aren't on eggshells about being impeached by bitter suspendees unfairly. –  Jaydles Oct 17 '12 at 11:50
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I am also worried about the fact that this can be seen by the outside as a triage method for new moderators. The idea is solid (even though I have the feeling that if 2/3rds of the moderators working with me were unhappy about anything I would have heard it by now) but it cannot be as simple as this I think. –  Bruno Pereira Oct 17 '12 at 14:09
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This is the only suggestion I've read that doesn't appear to be a massive waste of time and/or cluster$%^&. Actually Scratch that, Jeff's too. –  Ben Brocka Oct 17 '12 at 15:07
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@Bruno: no, you're exactly right - if most of the folks on your team are unhappy with you, you should have heard about it from them first. And from the larger community. The idea that there'll be massive, intractable, long-term problems on a mod team and no one will say anything is kinda silly, IMHO - again, if we get to that point, we have much, much larger problems on a site. –  Shog9 Oct 17 '12 at 15:27
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This also falls apart for regular users who would continue to have no formalized recourse to challenge a moderator's position. Whether or not it's actually true, if a group of people have a problem with a moderator (or moderators), having moderators on the same site judge whether something should happen suggests the fix is already in. From my experience on Programmers, no matter how many times we moderators came to back each other up, it did nothing to instill confidence in those who thought there was a problem. –  user149432 Oct 17 '12 at 15:38
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@Mark: whether you saw it or not, it did. I can safely say that the cohesive, supportive moderator team on Programmers during its early days is the only reason it still exists today. Did y'all make mistakes? Sure. But you were there to talk it out, with each other and with the community, sometimes disagreeing and usually finding your own ways to express your opinions but always open and always respectful. Programmers isn't a good example for much, but I won't hesitate to hold it up as a model for moderators staying professional in the face of constant - often rude and bitter - criticism. –  Shog9 Oct 17 '12 at 15:44
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...And I have a very hard time believing that introducing more public drama during that chaotic time would've made matters any better. –  Shog9 Oct 17 '12 at 15:45
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@Shog9 More public drama would of course not helped, but that's a straw man. The stonewalling of concerns by people who think the moderators aren't doing a good job—because really, that's all moderators and other sympathetic users can do right now—is a catalyst for drama. I strongly believe if there was a formalized way for users to dispute the actions of the moderation team on Programmers, the drama would not have gone on as long as it has and continues to do, with top users straight up deleting their accounts, because right now, that's all regular users can do: keep complaining, or delete. –  user149432 Oct 17 '12 at 16:00
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We've gone through this same thing on Stack Overflow multiple times, @Mark, without the benefit of being able to blame the mods. When someone finds his opinion is at odds with the voting majority, they really only have three choices: accept it, complain about it, or leave. Creating the illusion of choice where there is none is just manipulative and won't make anyone happier once they realize they've been tricked. (for the record: I've chosen each of those options at different times in response to different disputes. Of course, since I don't rage-quit, no one noticed the last one.) –  Shog9 Oct 17 '12 at 16:10
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@Shog9 But giving an illusion of choice not what this issue is about, is it? If this is just about paying lip service to calls to remove a moderator, then preserve the status quo. If this is about whether and how to institute real reform in how calls to remove moderators are handled (which the OP suggested it was), then having moderators decide whether one of their own is doing a great job falls way short. –  user149432 Oct 17 '12 at 16:47
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@Mark: I disagree that "real reform" is necessary here - if anything is needed, it's a more explicit process based on what's already done informally, something that can be expanded over time to meet the needs of a growing network; if we're currently overrun by bad moderators, I'm not seeing it. Giving folks a formal vote when we're already listening to complaints is nothing more than a way of shirking responsibility for doing something based on the apathy of the majority - or, worst-case, allowing a vocal minority an undue voice in how moderators are allowed to do their jobs. –  Shog9 Oct 17 '12 at 18:15
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I disagree that other moderators should judge single mods. Why would a moderator who is disliked by half of the other mods but not two thirds, stay at all? SEI should strongly, explicitly back all the moderators equally, or fire them singularly or equally. A team of mods which is broken to the point of trying to impeach each other should be replaced and stand election. –  Sklivvz Oct 20 '12 at 8:11
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There really should be more to this than "I don't like you", @Sklivvz. The more thought I've put into this, the more I've come to realize that most legitimate complaints against moderators involve, at some level, a serious breakdown in communication: either between the moderator and the other moderators on the site, or the moderator and other users on the site. Social problems require social solutions, and this is very much a social problem. –  Shog9 Dec 1 '12 at 16:28

The central issue here seems to be transparency.

From time to time, I've asked SE if they would tell me about any formal complaints that have been lodged against me. I've always been told no. Here's why:

  • Users need the ability to report problems with moderators in private; any public disclosure of such information would have a chilling effect on reporting, since users might fear retribution.

  • Moderators already have enough to worry about; they don't need to know about these complaints until they become actionable.

  • Meta already provides an adequate feedback mechanism for public review of moderator actions.

For these reasons, I believe the entire process of removing a mod can never be made completely public. However, the community will eventually notice if a mod is surreptitiously removed.

So if a moderator's imminent demise needs to be made public, here are my thoughts on how that process might occur:

  1. SE tries to handle the problem privately first. This is a conversation between the mod and SE corporate. We don't want to undermine the authority of good mods who just had a bad day by giving them a public scarlet letter.

  2. We escalate it to a semi-private process. The mod gets an annotation on his account summarizing the problem. This surfaces the information to the other mods on the site. A discussion occurs between all site mods and SE corporate.

  3. In the event that an actionable offense (or series of offenses) occurs, a notice is posted on the site meta, with a request for feedback and review. SE Corporate gets to decide what constitutes an actionable offense.

  4. Details about the user accounts of those who report problems are kept private at all times. It's up to each individual user to decide if they want to "out" themselves on the Meta post notice.

  5. Possible actions can include suspension of moderators. Yes, I do mean that. In particular, if a moderator figures out who reported them, and attempts to interact with that user in any way having to do with their report, it should be an immediate 30 day suspension.

  6. SE makes a decision on what to do, and takes the action they deem necessary. The final action is posted to the meta notice, and the notice is deleted 30 days later.

I strongly believe that SE corporate (i.e. the Community Team) needs to be the final arbiter in disputes like this, for reasons which should already be obvious.

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I disagree with the annotation; like suspensions it's a permanent black mark (one you, as a mod, would see every time you viewed your profile). That's still shaming, it's just private. Instead I'd opt for a private mod chat about the issue. –  Ben Brocka Oct 17 '12 at 0:18
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@BenBrocka You got a point there, but that's more a problem with annotations themselves, it's quite unreasonable that they are a permanent black mark... –  Yannis Oct 17 '12 at 0:30
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@YannisRizos I'm not so sure of that honestly. Thus far I've had a couple...well no, one, user go on to be an awesome contributor after a suspension, most of the others disappeared or immediately resumed the activity that initially caused a suspension (or worse). A suspension is pretty extreme, and people that reach that extreme usually aren't just having a bad day (for several weeks in a row). –  Ben Brocka Oct 17 '12 at 0:33
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@BenBrocka You remember you're annotated on ProgSE, right? ;P –  Yannis Oct 17 '12 at 0:44
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Is this process impartial? While there are opportunities for feedback, this seems very much like SE Inc. is not just the final arbiter, but the only arbiter. –  blahdiblah Oct 17 '12 at 2:08
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Well, one of the possibilities is that the mod is asked to leave, and the mod voluntarily agrees. This is the best possible outcome. In step 2 the other mod(s) on the site are consulted. In step 3 the community is consulted. Is the process completely impartial? Maybe not; no process ever is. But SE are really the only ones fully qualified to make these decisions. From a purely technical standpoint, they are the only ones with the ability to remove the diamond from the mod's account. –  Robert Harvey Oct 17 '12 at 2:13
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Just to play devil's advocate for a second here, we don't necessarily want to be the final arbiters here. Ultimately we are, of course, since when you get right down to it, we're running the show...err...servers, but especially when it comes to elected moderators, we place a lot of trust and value in the community election, so coming in and just overriding that feels wrong. That's the motivation behind making the process as public as possible. We're comfortable taking the final action (and we have to, since nobody else can), but how things get to that point can vary a lot. (cc @jrg) –  Anna Lear Oct 17 '12 at 2:47
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@blahdiblah: Impeaching other moderators is not one of my responsibilities, nor do I want it. My proposal is merely one of opening up a little more transparency and input from third parties, but I believe it's still SE's decision to take any punitive actions. –  Robert Harvey Oct 17 '12 at 2:51
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@JimG. Examples would be awesome. I've waited a long time for someone to come up with a genuine example of this. So far, no dice. The truth is, there's no situation that I know of that hasn't been adequately handled with a little bit of constructive feedback, either from the Community Team or in a Meta post. –  Robert Harvey Oct 17 '12 at 3:27
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@JimG. Thanks. :) As Robert said, examples would be great. I feel like they might somewhat derail from this particular discussion, though, so maybe keeping those to the specific sites they occurred on would be good. (Unless, of course, they support a "what makes a moderator unfit to moderate" suggestion.) In general, I'd say if a moderator acts in a way contrary to the FAQ, it's something to be discussed on meta - is the mod mistaken? Does the FAQ need updating? Something in-between? It's impossible to codify every possible scenario in the FAQ, so there will always be some ambiguity. –  Anna Lear Oct 17 '12 at 3:29
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@Robert Harvey: I'm not the ring leader. But here's what I can speak to - Some awesome users have left the Stackexchange network during the past 2 years because they had differences with the moderator(s). I suppose I could act as their proxy, but it wouldn't be ideal. –  Jim G. Oct 17 '12 at 3:47
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@JimG. And some awesome moderators have left the Stack Exchange network because they had differences with some users' interpretation of site scope. I think we both know what we're talking about, but shall we talk in circles a little more anyway? :) It was a disaster. Nobody would accept the program... Entire crops were lost. –  Robert Harvey Oct 17 '12 at 3:49
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process you drafted may probably have some glitches, but to me it looks like a reasonable starting point. Combine that with "moderator profile page" where users could submit their feedback (that would stay invisible of course) and you'd get a working prototype of the new system. Link to "mod profile page" could be exposed to interested users eg from mod's regular profile page –  gnat Oct 17 '12 at 6:33
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I completely disagree with subjecting volunteers to any form of public trial. I give my free time in good faith, if SEI wants it. I have not given them any right to discuss my performance publicly. –  Sklivvz Oct 20 '12 at 8:01
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@Sklivvz, but won't your performance get discussed anyway? This would just be 'codifying' it, I guess. –  Benjol Oct 23 '12 at 9:02

When this question was first asked, I had a hard time coming up with a response. I've only recently realized why: it's looking at the wrong problem. The discussion veered pretty quickly towards "mods flipping out and abusing their powers," but that's not something we see much of in practice. (According to Shog, it has happened a few times, though; see his comment under this answer.)

It's like the UN got together and put a lot of energy into preventing a hypothetical all-out war between Tonga and the Seychelles* instead of working on [insert any of the numerous existing serious world issues here].

I think it would be more constructive to discuss problems with mods that are more likely to come up in the real world: mods who aren't doing anything blatantly abusive, but also aren't very good at moderating. All of our mods are volunteers who are elected from the community. I believe they all mean well, and it's normal for them to occasionally make mistakes, or decide that an unpopular call is the right one. However, some of them have repeatedly displayed poor judgment — an intentionally subjective term — and others have acted in ways that a reasonable person might consider abrasive, rude or otherwise unbefitting the higher standard that comes with the diamond.

So far, this question, and the official response, haven't addressed this more common case. There's still no mechanism for community members to say "I think this mod is harmful to the site even though he's not actively breaking its rules," or even "this mod is doing a generally okay job, but I have a few specific concerns." These are messages that don't warrant an e-mail to the team, but still ought to be handled in a structured way.

*: Tonga and the Seychelles have some of the smallest militaries in the world. They also have no hostility towards each other, as far as I know... or even any regular interaction, for that matter.

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A couple of posts here have also considered the case of multiple mods on a site going crazy simultaneously. That's like a Seychelloise-Tongan war fought with zombies on one side and vampires on the other. –  Pops Dec 6 '12 at 17:51
    
In fact, nobody on Meta seems to be able to recall a time when the team has ever had to remove a "rogue mod.. Naah, we rogue mods are too discreet to be found. The trick is not getting caught. ;-) –  Manishearth Dec 6 '12 at 18:06
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That's what I tried to address in my answer, however it got very quickly voted to the bottom of the list... I would like to see some way for the community to vote out a mod without having to to rely on individual users (or moderators) making a target of themselves by calling out said mod. And without all the drama involved. –  Rachel Dec 6 '12 at 18:15
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For what it's worth, several moderators have been removed in the past for various reasons that we don't talk about. Generally, not talking about it has been sufficient to avoid drama. However, there has been some concern that this might not always be the case. –  Shog9 Dec 6 '12 at 18:17
    
@Rachel I think a lot of people probably read your first sentence, thought "MODS MUST HAVE LIFE TERMS; THIS IS MADNESS," downvoted and moved on. –  Pops Dec 6 '12 at 18:18
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@PopularDemand Personally I think life terms are bad. I can understand the concerns about having periodic re-elections, however I thought a periodic renewal instead of a periodic re-election would address most of those concerns. –  Rachel Dec 6 '12 at 18:21
    
To be fair, this discussion was raised specifically in the context of something we (admittedly) don't see much in actual practice. But the discussion sets the framework for how we handle a "call to action" when they do come up. There's an problem with moderator-for-life when there isn't a mechanism to check that authority. We needed this discussion to bring transparency to the process. Users still have meta and a public email address to air issues. It's not overwrought with process, but I think it is quite adequate to handle "numerous, substantiated complaints from users on the site." –  Robert Cartaino Dec 6 '12 at 18:25
    
@Rachel For what it's worth, I neither upvoted nor downvoted your answer. I think you have some good points, but I'm not comfortable relying on mod performance statistics. I was thinking of continuing this conversation your answer's comment thread, but everything I would say has already been said there, so I didn't see the point. –  Pops Dec 6 '12 at 18:27
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@RobertCartaino I've been wondering how that would work on Meta, and I haven't been able to figure it out. The last time I said on Meta that a moderator had done something improperly -- in a relatively out-of-the-way comment -- the mod rebuked me for stating it publicly. And I can't imagine a "I disagree with the following actions taken by RobertTheGilaMonster♦" post going over too well. I'm not trying to be snarky here, I really want to know what you're envisioning. –  Pops Dec 6 '12 at 18:34
    
@PopularDemand Thanks for the feedback. I did update my answer a bit to try and clarify what I was suggesting at the very top of the answer, and removed a lot of the extra stuff that made it all tldr. I'll stop hijacking your comments now :) –  Rachel Dec 6 '12 at 19:04
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@PopularDemand "Be nice" is the driving maxim here, I guess it's all in the context. When publicly airing a personal matter, it can be perceived as a public flogging perhaps better handled privately. That's why we have email. But a well-thought-out, constructive criticism about a larger issue should be received in the spirit intended, and I don't necessarily see it being a problem in meta if it can be done in a civil manner. I always say our comments should be to inform and educate, not to rebuke or chastise. That works from user-to-moderator, too. I don't have a larger vision than that. –  Robert Cartaino Dec 6 '12 at 19:18

I have a hard time believing that someone who came through our election system would not elect to remove themselves before having to be removed. While our network of moderators is now so large that we all don't know each other as well as we used to, I can't think of a single moderator that would not step down if they found themselves unable to do the job within the guidelines they agreed to when elected.

Outright abuse is clear. If a moderator is abusing their access to information or tools at their disposal, they should be immediately removed. Our actions are verbosely logged, blatant abuse is immediately obvious.

Accidental slips are just that, accidents. If a moderator develops a pattern of disclosing things that should not be disclosed despite warnings, then they do need to be removed no matter how well intentioned they might be.

Our community team can handle this, and we now depart from objective cut and dry territory.

If a moderator is:

  • Acting in good faith
  • Justifying and explaining their actions, even if many disagree with the justification
  • Working for the community that elected them

Then you have a series of details that can (typically) only be worked out between the moderators and the community management team. There are almost always going to be details that matter which can't be disclosed in a meta discussion.

Again, our community team can handle this on a case by case basis. Stack exchange is not in the habit of hiring jerks to handle moderators.

Stack Overflow has another stipulation that other sites don't have, we need to actively moderate while actively using the site. The community team can handle this, in addition to moderators that never show up after being elected or just 'vanish'. That's happened before, and was handled.

To reiterate

I don't think that we'd ever have to catch an exception of an elected moderator realizing that they were more toxic than helpful to the community without changing their behavior or stepping down. Why is leaving this uber rare exception up to our human Pokemon (gotta catch 'em all!) AKA community team handlers not going to scale in the future?

I don't think 'bad moderation' can be sufficiently defined, which needs to happen if some set of procedures is going to be put in place to handle it.

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What about the elected moderator who never even showed up? It's clear that they should be de-diamonded, but I wouldn't count on the election to always pick good folks. –  blahdiblah Oct 17 '12 at 3:30
    
@blahdiblah Edited, as that has happened a few times. –  Tim Post Oct 17 '12 at 3:32
    
@blahdiblah And while we can't count on the election to always pick good folks, experience says that they do work as expected with rare exceptions. My point is, do we really need a system to handle such rare (and unique) exceptions? Could we even come up with a one size fits all procedure? –  Tim Post Oct 17 '12 at 3:41
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I'm assuming if this came up at all, there must be a situation like it right now. Unfortunately. Remember that once upon a time we didn't even have user suspensions at all until a certain user triggered the need... –  Jeff Atwood Oct 17 '12 at 8:55
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@JeffAtwood If that is the case, it is indeed unfortunate. This definitely tops the shell shock from the 'standard of duty' question. –  Tim Post Oct 17 '12 at 10:58
    
Whether there is or is not any current problems, I would prefer to see there being a system in place rather than everything done ad hoc. At the very least having some sort of system would help documentation. –  Willie Wong Oct 18 '12 at 9:59
    
@WillieWong I think by now we've all basically figured out that there is some sort of underlying need here, which is somewhat sad. I think we're [mods] just hoping it's not related to our specific sites at this point. Looks like the 'let the mods work it out' way is going to be better detailed and adopted. Kinda feels nice to know we have a system, but feels downright horrible to realize that we needed it, if that makes sense. –  Tim Post Oct 18 '12 at 10:02
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"I have a hard time believing that someone who came through our election system would not elect to remove themselves before having to be removed." - Speak for yourself, you'll have to pry it from my cold, dead hands. –  casperOne Oct 19 '12 at 14:43
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@casperOne You're full of it. If it was sufficiently pointed out to you that you consistently did more harm than good (by those that understand the nature of the job and do it) .. you'd walk away. If we're afraid to step on the community's toes, we're substandard. If we're afraid to step on each other's toes, we're useless. If this is a real problem, it's a serious case of mod rot. –  Tim Post Oct 19 '12 at 15:15

I will participate through votes and comments on other issues, this post is simply to highlight the issue I think is most important to consider.

Don't let squeaky wheels have all the grease! It has to go around. Moderators dealing with these sort of issues already takes an inordinate amount of time compared to their normal contributions. The issue of disgruntled users not liking a moderator based on their enforcement of site policy is quite common, and the number of non-mod users who step in to speak out and counter these views is relatively low. It just isn't worth their time. Who wants to be bothered to put together a defense of a moderator who already has the job of dealing with that sort of mess?

Any system for revoking moderator status should require participation from a larger cross section of the community than the vocal objectors. In order for noise from low quality contributors to become actionable, there should be a minimum threshold of engagement from other users in good standing. Three dissenters out of 10k users shouldn't make waves. If they can rally x% of site users to agree that something needs to be done, fine. On the flip side if enough people step up to say that the objections aren't merited, the whole thing should be put to rest and stop wasting everybody's time.

The road has to end somewhere. The people that have done the most clamoring for a way to impeach moderators have already been through all the channels and gotten lots of attention. They have already meta posted and made their complaints to the community team. They have already been hand reviewed by many many eyeballs. Their meta posts have been soundly rejected by the communities, and neither the jury of peers nor the community team has found fault that requires a revocation of privileges. Yet the clamor continues. There has to be a way to put it to rest. The sort of people that make the most noise in this area won't take no for an answer and no system that doesn't successfully revoke the diamond from their favorite moderator-gone-wild will satisfy.

Any new system for handling these should have clear signage that shows the end of the road. If enough community have voiced their continued confidence, or the actions called into question have been properly peer reviewed or whatever system is put in place -- any votes of no confidence should be marked as not-actionable and everybody gets to move on.

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Eventually you have to suspend people ... –  C. Ross Oct 17 '12 at 12:57

That's not good enough.

I strongly disagree, the current process is good enough:

  • Every public action can be contested on Meta,
  • Every user can email Stack Exchange and complain about a moderator's actions.

There are several moderator actions that need to be private. Those can only be judged by fellow moderators and Stack Exchange employees, how can you make an informed decision on actions you don't know anything about?

I'm all for more transparency, but changing the process to remove a moderator without radically changing our approach to moderation is not going to work. Right now we have absolutely no idea, for example, if the current process is working or not. Do we really have rogue moderators out there breaking stuff, or are we on a quest for transparency just for the sake of transparency?

An earlier call for increased moderator transparency was initiated by moderators, nothing substantial came out of it and Stack Exchange is visibly absent from that discussion. Yes, the Assembly exists, but 99% of discussions in there have absolutely nothing to do with moderation. Where are all the users that were supposedly interested in more transparency?

I honestly don't care for keeping the f'ing diamond, what I care about is about not having to jump through hoops to keep the site clean and help the community grow. If I'm doing a bad or even average job as a moderator, here I am, tell me all about it. In the few months I've been moderating Programmers I've received zero feedback on my actions. Granted, I never asked, but why would I? Stack Exchange claims to monitor us and respond to every complaint, if there was something going on, you'd tell me about it, right?

If there's actually a problem with rogue moderators, let's talk about it, openly and honestly. People are already assuming there is a problem, just because we are having this discussion, am I the only one who finds that extremely counterproductive?

I'm afraid we are trying to solve a problem that doesn't exist, and our time and energy would be far better spent in finding ways to minimize the gap between regular users and moderators and getting more people involved in policing the sites.

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I signed up for a janitor's position, I'm not a f'ing politician... –  Yannis Oct 17 '12 at 2:43
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From what I can tell, nothing in particular prompted this. It is one whopper of a 'what if' question if that's the case. –  Tim Post Oct 17 '12 at 2:52
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@TimPost If nothing in particular prompted this, then I fail to see what's wrong with the current process. If SE just wants more transparency, cool, there's a thousand things we could make more transparent before we even start discussing this... –  Yannis Oct 17 '12 at 2:55
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In the few months I've been moderating Programmers I've received zero feedback on my actions. - That's false. Please put a strike through that passage. I've told you multiple times that you're one of the best moderators on the stackexchange network. –  Jim G. Oct 17 '12 at 3:37
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@JimG. I mean feedback from Stack Exchange, you and the rest of the Programmers community are awesome ;) –  Yannis Oct 17 '12 at 3:39
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yeah, short of "we have a rogue moderator right now and we don't know what to do about it", I also think the current process (private conversations) is certainly good enough. I don't like speculating about what may or may not happen, I'd much rather handle these sorts of things Just In Time as they happen. But to be fair, once upon a time we didn't have user suspensions, either, until a user triggered the need... –  Jeff Atwood Oct 17 '12 at 8:57
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"I've told you multiple times that you're one of the best moderators on the stackexchange network." - so it appears we've found our rogue moderator.....@YannisRizos ;) –  Kev Oct 17 '12 at 10:51
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The problem with meta/email feedback is that you'll mainly get the opinion of a few vocal people who complain. That's not representative of the majority of users agreeing or disagreeing with a moderators behavior. –  CodesInChaos Oct 20 '12 at 14:08
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@CodesInChaos Who cares if it's representative of the majority of users? Again: We are not politicians, we are glorified janitors, please stop using political terms when discussing moderators. If people don't care enough to participate on Meta, why are you assuming they care enough to have an opinion on moderation? Although only a minority of active users participate on Meta, even less people participate on moderator elections and, following that trend, I'd argue that only a tiny fraction of people would participate in a hypothetical re-elect, because really: WHO CARES! –  Yannis Oct 20 '12 at 23:02

Stack Exchange has some of the best Moderators around — seriously — and that is due in no small part to the communities who scrutinize and vote in our Moderator elections.

Thanks. I'd appreciate if, as some small manner of recompense, Stack Exchange would stop driving wedges into the community (Summer of Love, anyone?) only to immediately realize what a terrible idea it was and make up for it all with a blog post. Because I'm calling it; that's pretty much our best-case outcome here. No, seriously, both this and Summer of Love do little but give good reason for well meaning new users to suddenly feel like the victims of well meaning experienced users; suddenly moderating or voting to close is an offense.

The Community Team routinely monitors moderator activities, so if a moderator violates the Moderator Agreement or fails to uphold the Theory of Moderation, we can and do intervene. If the disputes and problems persist without resolution, eventually we can ask someone to step down.

Yep, that's pretty awesome. Stack Exchange communities have multiple tiers of moderation, giving more and more tools to more trusted and experienced users. This means very rarely do people have to act in any form of unilateral, irreversible private decision; almost every action is already audited publicly, and SE employees manually review the relatively small amount of private-only actions just to make sure everything's on the up-and-up. If all else fails, the Stack Exchange community team is just an email away for edge-cases. The current system is one of the most transparent moderation systems I've seen on the internet and it works very well, you should be proud of it.

...which is why I'm quite puzzled by your following statement:

That's not good enough.

Why not? What's going undone? What havock has been wreaked? Are mods unable to do their jobs, are your community managers drowning in mod abuse emails, is there actual substantial evidence of repeated and significant abuse of moderation powers? Where is the justification? You're suggesting a big change, big changes need justification. At worst even a useless change brings cognitive cost with it; suddenly moderation is more complex for users and moderators.

You don't change stuff just to mix it up, you need data, facts, understanding. I don't see any of those. A comment struck me; saying "if you want real reform"...why do we want real reform? Reform usually happens in the name of violence, oppression, slavery, death. You don't reform your secretary because she wears Crocs and they're stupid looking. You need something big.

We need a much more transparent and prescribed process for when — and more importantly how — to intervene when on-going problems are going unresolved.

This strikes me as an extremely extraordinary and unprecedented suggestion. Looking around the social web, I can't cite a single example of a dedicated "mod abuse" button like this. The standard protocol is "if you have a complaint, email X". Sure, there's a system of escalation (which we have), but if I saw a community website with dedicated features to punish and expunge moderators...well damn, I'd wonder just what in the hell brought that about.

It's freaking scary to imagine a community so terrible you seriously need baked-in features for this. It's like having a Report Child Porn button; features like this don't go in proactively (at least not with anyone sane calling the shots). On that note I find it bitterly ironic we're discussing theoretical moderation issues while a Reddit moderator's personal details have been outed publicly due to a malignant chain of trolling and creepy behavior on his part. Maybe if Reddit was having this conversation I'd understand, but here? Seriously?

Before we start bouncing around ideas internally, I'd like to hear what you think.

It's probably pretty abundantly clear what I think; that this is an ill-advised, unjustified, self destructive and all around stupid idea. It has a massive potential to be toxic to the community/moderator relationship, to be stressful for moderators and awkward for users; again, what the hell community has such bad moderation they need these features baked in? That's scary. It's not communal review; that happens at the level of posts, actions. When you're reviewing people, with generally no reason to suspect them of ill doing in a one-sided way that's called a witch hunt.

I agree with every word of Jeff's Answer. Except for "tandem". That's a silly word and I won't agree to it.

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I get that you're trying to be over-the-top with the melodrama, but one wouldn't want to "reform" violence, oppression, slavery, or death: one would want to mitigate the first, abolish the second two. There's nothing, I'm afraid, us mere mortals can do about the last. The contrast to Reddit seems silly, too: surely you recognize there's a whole continuum of stuff between "Everything's perfectly all right, we're all fine here now, thank you. How are you?" and "like having a report child porn button." If the minimum threshold of good behavior stopped at "don't post child porn", I'd be concerned. –  user149432 Oct 18 '12 at 2:33
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I don't care what you say - tandem bikes are cool, man. –  Shog9 Oct 18 '12 at 2:40
    
-1 for disagreeing to tandem. </joke> –  Doorknob May 29 '13 at 16:40

While it's no secret I'm very much in favor of periodic elections1, others have already voiced that position here so I'll offer something different: the ability to escalate an issue to Stack Exchange, Inc. for arbitration.

Having some experience in the capacity of being a moderator, particularly one who would've been subject to impeachment or violent overthrow if given the chance, one of the most frustrating aspects of acting on or implementing guidelines that happen to be unpopular amongst the more vocal elements of a site's community was having to argue a position to people who did not find anyone who believed such guidelines were useful to be credible.

The end result being that moderators, and people who thought the moderators were doing more or less the right thing, spend an inordinate amount of time trying to "manage" the periodic outbursts about various issues in a way that would never, ever be convincing to those who keep bringing them up.

When it's clear certain community members simply do not believe moderators are acting in the site's best interest or—more benignly—believe the moderators are simply mistaken, it would be extremely helpful if such issues could be escalated to Stack Exchange in a more formal, and transparent, manner than a ping in TL, a member of the community team stopping by on a child meta once in a while, or a private email to team@stackoverflow.com.

Once SE makes a decision on an issue, the matter is closed. If those who have a problem with the moderators don't like the decision, they can formally propose new moderation guidelines to be vetted by the community or, worst case scenario, they can find a place more suited to their idea of how such a site should be run. If a moderator doesn't like the decision and they feel they can't faithfully execute their duties, they can step down.

At any rate, if it takes the form of arbitration or something else, I strongly think there needs to be a step between "people have a problem with a moderator" and "initiate moderator destruct sequence Omega Charlie Alpha One": while it's nice that SE has the back of moderators, if something isn't going great, the quicker moderators find out, the quicker and easier it is to course correct.

Note 1: which would benefit moderators just as much as it would benefit users by giving moderators periodic mandates from the users to act in their best judgement, in addition to allowing moderators the ability step down in an orderly transfer of duties, but that's neither here nor there.

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"benefit users by giving moderators periodic mandates from the users to act in their best judgement in addition to allowing moderators the ability step down in an orderly transfer of duties" populism and increased numbers/ratios of inexperienced moderators are not good things. The former encourages single-issue candidates (SO's already had it's fair share) and the latter is just obviously bad. You don't just become an awesome mod because someone voted for you. –  Ben Brocka Oct 17 '12 at 0:26
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@BenBrocka Having seen who gets elected, I'm inclined to agree that elections don't indicate the fitness of a potential moderator, because users can only judge a person on what they say they'll do instead of what they'll actually do. So, if we're going to continue to stipulate that elections are a necessary part of becoming a real mod, I think it'd be great to allow users to re-evaluate their shots in the dark after they've seen the moderators, well, act. But, given we've been on this ride before, I'd much rather talk about arbitration. –  user149432 Oct 17 '12 at 0:38
    
@Ben Brocka: You don't just become an awesome mod because someone voted for you. - 1000% agree. And yet I've seen mods act as if that was the case. –  Jim G. Oct 17 '12 at 3:33
    
@Mark Trapp: Right, but in my experience, the people whom I've voted for have been extremely effective. It's the other unelected moderators have I've had trouble with. –  Jim G. Oct 17 '12 at 3:34
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@JimG. You can't become a mod on a full-fledged site without being elected: it doesn't work like that. Regarding moderators pro tempore during beta, they are appointed by SE and are removed by SE: this isn't about them, as SE wouldn't be overriding the community's choice should they choose to remove one. –  user149432 Oct 17 '12 at 3:36
    
@Mark Trapp: Ah, OK. Thanks. –  Jim G. Oct 17 '12 at 3:44
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who told you about moderator destruct sequence Omega Charlie Alpha One?? –  Jeff Atwood Oct 17 '12 at 8:52
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+1 for periodic elections. Which are easily 100 times as important as this issue, and would in fact solve this issue. –  psr Oct 17 '12 at 18:16
    
meta.stackexchange.com/questions/984/… –  psr Oct 17 '12 at 18:24

Dealing with Moderator transgression is a tough nut to crack. When you're talking about people who spend their day to day intervening in the site's workings and making decisions that at least one party doesn't like, you're going to have complaints.

If you didn't get complaints about moderators, I'd be really surprised. The question is, what should be considered a valid call to remove a moderator, and what isn't? Once you have something 'valid', then how do you handle it?

I propose something like the following:

  1. Moderators should be made aware of the evidence against them in a private setting, preferably with a chat with the community team manager or their surrogate. They should be given a chance to respond to the accusations.

If, after talking to the moderator and viewing all the evidence, the community team believes it warrants further action, the following should occur:

  1. The moderator is given a warning (much like we do with normal users). If it's annotated in the moderator's profile, it should be viewable by the Stack Exchange team and that moderator.

  2. If the moderator screws up again, they should be suspended.

  3. If they mess up again, then they've clearly been given enough rope to hang themselves, and should be ousted by the SE Community Management team. It should be a unanimous vote among the Community management team.

This is not a decision that democracy via the community can make: democracy makes for terrible due process (that's a reason why Juries have such a high burden of proof and the people are selected randomly).

I'm most interested in making sure the following:

  1. The Moderator is protected from unfounded accusations.
  2. Ousting is a serious as it can be; and shouldn't be the first or second step.
  3. The community should know that the community team is looking out for them (a "Who watches the watchers?" sort of thing)

I know that personally as a moderator I've made decisions that were in line with our rules and guidelines but weren't popular at all; and in fact blew up in my face. I also know if I were ousted for that, then we'd have no way for moderators to learn at all; but if we let the mob handle these things, a lynching would be just what we see.

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Given the ever increasing size of the community management team, is a unanimous vote going to scale well? Perhaps SE corporate should appoint .. let's say .. five individuals that would act as a sort of board in this case? All would have to be employees, since details required to make a decision would often not be something that could be disclosed outside of the moderator / employee level. –  Tim Post Oct 17 '12 at 2:00
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@TimPost That's also a good idea. I was thinking the Community moderation team was pretty small, sort of like The Circle. –  George Stocker Oct 17 '12 at 2:03
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@GeorgeStocker If justice against mod abuse involves throwing people out of an airlock, thumbs up just for the theatrics of it all. –  user149432 Oct 17 '12 at 2:25
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@GeorgeStocker Crap, that article accidentally spoiled me. Zarek becomes president? Nooooooooooooo. –  Anna Lear Oct 17 '12 at 3:13
    
@AnnaLear Relevant: xkcd.com/109 –  George Stocker Oct 17 '12 at 10:53

Without some idea of what Moderator problems you're seeing in practice, it's awfully hard to offer coherent suggestions here. It would be glib to suggest a 'recall' election. However, it seems as if there are, roughly, two cases:

  1. The moderator violates his or her agreement with you. This is a legal agreement between SEI and the moderator. The community, if you ask me, has nothing to say about it. If he or she has violated the agreement, you do what you need to do. The community can send you email easily enough if they believe this to be the case.

  2. The moderator is drifting more or less radically away from the 'theory of moderation.' One might see a recall election model here. Instead of a recall, why not make diamond status be a term of a year or two, stagger the terms, and let people just fail to get reelected?

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The usual argument for "life terms" is the same as that held by the Supreme Court, and that is, if you are dependent on being re-elected periodically, it will distort your decision-making process in favor of populist positions. Moderators can, and should, have the ability to do the unpopular without risking their moderator privileges. –  Robert Harvey Oct 16 '12 at 22:47
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I upvoted this for Without some idea of what Moderator problems you're seeing in practice, it's awfully hard to offer coherent suggestions here, and for #1. I completely disagree with #2... –  The Unhandled Exception Oct 16 '12 at 22:51
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Without some idea of what Moderator problems you're seeing in practice You know what, that's not just you, other than extremely vague discussions in TL, moderators don't have a clue either... –  Yannis Oct 16 '12 at 23:54
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I am also hard pressed to see what the oft-proclaimed "mod abuse" seems to be, the only notable claims of abuse seems to be closures of posts (always a contentious issue, and it's always necessary that some posts are closed) and the deletions of posts on SO. Anything more than that is usually some petty squabble between a mod and a very irate user. The first two can (and are) public affairs...I see absolutely nothing to gain in making a formal process for the last. –  Ben Brocka Oct 17 '12 at 0:16
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Maybe life is cattier in smaller communities, but it's hard for me to see periodic election as having a chilling effect. There are a lot of potential voters. The 'unpopular' things a mod does -- are they really that likely to be unpopular to a meaningful segment of the voting population? –  Rosinante Oct 17 '12 at 1:01
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@Rosinante Perhaps not, but it's the popular moderator I'm more afraid of... –  Yannis Oct 17 '12 at 11:49
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@RobertHarvey - The Supreme Court isn't elected in the first place. Moderators are more like elected officials, and the point of being re-elected periodically is to "distort" the decision making process in favor of populist positions, as it should be here. –  psr Oct 17 '12 at 18:15
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@psr: Why? Are you really in favor of mob rule? –  Robert Harvey Oct 17 '12 at 18:16
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@RobertHarvey - Some would call it democracy. –  psr Oct 17 '12 at 18:23
    
@RobertHarvey meta.stackexchange.com/questions/984/… –  psr Oct 17 '12 at 18:25
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@psr Well, some decisions are already made for the community. We vigorously resist many new users' compulsion to turn Stack Exchange into Yet Another Mindless Forum™, despite the fact that it seems to be a very popular position. –  Robert Harvey Oct 17 '12 at 18:27
    
@psr Democracy isn't about the majority running roughshod over the minority. Both checks/balances and some sort of mandate to work for and protect all citizens is part of it. –  Matthew Read Oct 31 '12 at 0:44

As Rosinante already says, it's hard to make good suggestions without knowing the realities of moderation. But to put the thoughts from the comment above into an answer:

  • Reviewing a mod's actions should continue to be handled internally. Under no circumstances should it become public in any way. The least productive users tend to be the loudest decriers of mod "tyranny", and those would surely occupy the stage if there were a public "recall" process of some kind.

  • If the process needs codification, a "jury of your peers" model would sound attractive to me. If serious complaints about a mod come up, there could be a random drawing of, say, three fellow mods who are tasked with reviewing the accused's actions. What these fellow mods recommend, will happen - including removal of the mod if at least two reviewers vote so. A SE team member (with veto rights) could be required to review whatever decision is taken to prevent "corrupt police departments", cliques of moderators behaving destructively, from protecting their peers.

  • A variation of this process, providing for even more neutrality, would be involving mods from other sites, but I'm not sure how practical that is - a gardening mod may not be able to truly grasp the culture on Math.SE, and judge the mod's actions properly.

  • With the growing number of SE sites, there should be clear instructions how to report mod abuse to SE directly. As mentioned above, that channel will likely be mostly clogged with spurious accusations, but in the long run, something like this is probably necessary anyway.

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“three fellow mods [of the same site]”? There are 80-odd SE sites where this is mathematically impossible. –  Gilles Oct 16 '12 at 23:02
    
@Gilles fair point, in that case maybe external mods are needed –  Pëkka Oct 16 '12 at 23:02
    
Any thoughts on the when aspect of the question? Any process with the degree of formality you're proposing would need fairly clear triggers. –  blahdiblah Oct 16 '12 at 23:27
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If this sort of "moderator tribunal" were to be implemented, it might work to set it the way PhD committees are constructed: one or two professors who are directly involved with the student's research, one or two from the same department but in a slightly different subfield, and one from a different department entirely. The analogous makeup might be something like two moderators from the same site (if there are enough), one from a different site on a related topic, and one SE team member. –  David Z Oct 17 '12 at 0:18
    
-1: Way too complicated. –  Jim G. Oct 17 '12 at 3:28
    
You seem to assume that a moderator would accept to stand trial. I would personally flip the finger to SEI and the other mods in 10 seconds. Moderation is a difficult, thankless and free service to the community. I do my best but that is it - if people don't like it, then be it. Someone else will need to donate their time. –  Sklivvz Oct 20 '12 at 7:58
    
@Sklivvz me too, probably. But not everyone is like that - and we're talking about serious offenses here, not just one dumb user complaining. –  Pëkka Oct 20 '12 at 9:47
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@Pekka I disagree. We are talking about serious accusations of possibly innocent volunteers. For serious offences, then a trial would not be necessary. –  Sklivvz Oct 20 '12 at 9:53
    
@Sklivvz I think you're reading too much into the "trial" aspect. It's much simpler than a real-world trial: a mod does something bad, or users make serious accusations about a mod. A couple of fellow mods look at what happened, and then have the power to vote him or her out. A SE employee has to sign off on the decision. It's probably not much different than things work now, only that it has a formal structure involving some fellow mods. –  Pëkka Oct 20 '12 at 9:58

Let me start by saying that there is one moderator in the system I wish was not a moderator. Decisions are made that I think are wrong occasionally, and the same name crops up over and over. I don't worry though, because they can all be overturned, and even if they aren't, in the end it's all just ones and zeroes.

The point I wanted to bring to the table is that reacting to bad situations generally leads to bad rules. That is, if someone does something you don't like and you make a rule not to do that, you end up (in quite a short time) with a bunch of bad rules that hamper nice people and that nasty people can still game. One of the big successes of the SE network has been the adaptability and generality of the rules.

I'd like to see peer pressure, both intrasite and intersite, control moderator behaviour. Nobody likes to be bad at something and if one mod is making bad decisions, being called out on Meta, seeing their decisions overturned and reversed both publicly and privately, and even being addressed by name (however temporarily - I understand personal attacks will be removed and I agree with that) surely that person would improve or quit. If not, surely the other mods would say something. Our voting mechanisms, even if restricted to 10k or 20k users, are unlikely to achieve anything that a conscience or a little prodding from peers could not. We don't really have the tools to be sure someone is messing up. Once the level of messup reaches the point where most trusted users feel the same way, it stands to reason that most moderators would feel the same way and could take action.

I feel that peer pressure should suffice even though, if a mechanism were invented for a recall, I would get involved in that process. If I am the only one ticked off with a mod it's nutsy to try to remove that mod. If enough 10k users are ticked off that they could "do something" well then I am sure enough mods are. (If not, then perhaps the mods know something the 10ks don't.) And it's easier (in the sense that you don't need to write any code or worry about gaming) to encourage mods to self-regulate than it is to try to implement something to guage the will of the 10k users.

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You should probably remove the first paragraph, as it's not very constructive. You personalize your response and it weakens your position. Just a suggestion. –  casperOne Oct 17 '12 at 13:39
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I disagree. I think the context that I actually support doing something about someone is relevant. I am not saying "we don't need to let 10k people vote" from a position of "because all the moderators are great" but rather from a position of "peer pressure is better" –  Kate Gregory Oct 17 '12 at 13:42
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Webplatform Q&A doesn't have moderators yet. So this is clearly scaremongering. –  random Oct 17 '12 at 13:57
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I agree with Kate; the first paragraph frames the position, and is actually one of the strongest and least disingenuous arguments presented here for maintaining more or less the status quo. –  user149432 Oct 17 '12 at 14:24
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Peer pressure affecting behavior is how we get crooked, toothless or lying politicians. Don't do what's right, pander. This may be one of the first times I've heard that word used in an (attempted) "good" way...and as you might have guessed I think it's an extremely poor way to go about it. –  Ben Brocka Oct 17 '12 at 15:00
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She's not naming names or airing dirty laundry in public. I don't see a problem. Thanks for the input, Kate! –  Shog9 Oct 17 '12 at 15:23
    
"In the end it's all just ones and zeroes" I'm stealing this for my profile. –  NullUserException อ_อ Oct 18 '12 at 0:28
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@NullUserExceptionอ_อ Credit for the quote goes to Spaf, in 1988. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gene_Spafford spaf.cerias.purdue.edu/quotes.html but I read it live at the time and it was as wise then as it is now. –  Kate Gregory Oct 18 '12 at 2:11

The problem that you're facing is that there are few community managers and many many sites, with moderators in the triple digits, and you're not able to keep a watchful eye on everybody. Feedback mechanisms on the sites are currently buried in the footer, and it's not obvious to the casual user or even avid users that those feedback mechanisms are sent only to the Stack Exchange team.

When I browse the network using a browser I'm not logged in on, I noticed that there are some messages below each answer:

Was this post useful to you? [YES] [NO]

My thought is that something similar to this could be used for actions of moderation, worded in a way that's positive, doesn't make the user feel like he/she is saying the moderators all suck or worded in a way to encourage negativity, and is clear that the feedback is only seen by Stack Exchange employees.

What do you think about this action? [Good] [Fair] [Poor]

[Submit Feedback to Stack Exchange]

I suggest strategically placing such feedback links below each and every community or diamond moderator action. Here's why:

  • By putting the links under actions performed by both the community and individual moderators, this appears to be more focused on the feedback than it is about pointing the finger at the moderator. It could also result in helpful data about how users feel about certain actions that are taken, regardless of who performed them.

  • People get used to seeing the feedback links, which means they're more likely to be used than when they're buried in the Contact Us page.

Furthermore, if a user selects "poor" consider launching a modal window to capture a custom reason, just make sure the user has the option to submit the feedback anonymously, and make sure it's clear that only employees see the feedback.

There are some products on the market, like Hively and Get Satisfaction, that exist to capture and manage user feedback. We use them in our emails when reaching out to customers, and feedback goes to management. It sounds to me like some of the concepts from these tools could be evaluated and customized/tailored for Stack Exchange.

As far as process is concerned, this will help you become a dog with a bone. If enough poor feedback items come in anonymously, then that may indicate a potential problem that you as community managers may want to investigate. This can be done by reaching out to select users via private email, posting meta discussions, or simply spending some time on the site and observing for yourself how the community is doing.

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I actually think this is an excellent suggestion and fits well with the whole SE "having lots of metrics" motif. If nothing else, looking at these numbers would tell the community team who they might need to educate and/or where they might need to intervene. –  Caleb Oct 17 '12 at 13:48
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I like this, and I think it would help moderators to have access to this feedback (anonymized, of course). I suggest that the text be something like "A community elected moderator took action on this post: (action) Do you feel this was appropriate?" –  Tim Post Oct 17 '12 at 14:13
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@TimPost, I suggest a slightly different wording: "A moderation action was taken on this post: (action). Was this appropriate?". If we focus on the action, not the person, it will sound less like "telling on the moderators". Focusing on what rather than who is at the core of voting and seems to work most of the time, so my thinking is that it could work with something like this too. :) Aside from that, anonymous feedback could be helpful to moderators too, especially when people are a bit fearful of meta. –  jmort253 Oct 17 '12 at 18:57
    
No, I disagree with this. Moderator act on unpopular decisions and subjecting them to popular vote is the completely wrong choice. –  Sklivvz Oct 20 '12 at 7:48
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But, @Sklivvz, this is precisely why I propose these feedback messages to be placed beneath every community moderation action, not just diamond moderator actions. In other words, if 5 users vote to close a post, the feedback message is visible. The goal of the solution I'm proposing is to take the focus away from the idea that we're voting for/against individual moderators. Hope this helps clear up any confusion. But, let's assume this is still too much. What do you think about a simple "feedback" button? Something a little less noisy and obnoxious, yet still visible? –  jmort253 Oct 20 '12 at 8:22
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I understand. However, we have moderators to act precisely when the community fails to act appropriately. What makes you think that the community would vote appropriately yet fail to act appropriately? –  Sklivvz Oct 20 '12 at 8:31
    
@Sklivvz - Well, lol, I think the SE team is smart enough to not take this feedback at face value. It's a tool to help them determine where to look. I seriously doubt they're not going to implement a downvoting mechanism where if a moderator get's X downvotes they say, "gee sorry Sklivvz, we gotta let you go, that's the rules. Sucks, I know....." I hope it's clear that my intention is to use this data to help the team know where they might need to pay more attention, and then use their own judgement to determine if there's really a problem. ;) –  jmort253 Oct 20 '12 at 8:35
    
It would still encourage mods to do the popular thing and not necessarily the right thing. I don't see how that is a goal we want. –  Sklivvz Oct 20 '12 at 8:37
    
@Sklivvz - If that's the case, then we need the SE team to reassure us and have our back, which I feel like they've already done. Just because a bunch of people say "hey jmort253's closing a lot of questions" doesn't mean Anna is going to come and replace me. It might mean we talk strategy. Maybe have a coaching session. If that's the case, I want that. I want to do a good job, and if I'm not, I want help. I'm not a jerk to people, so I really am not worried about any of the feedback anyone could give. Remember, the goal of the tool is to tell SE where to look to verify claims of abuse. –  jmort253 Oct 20 '12 at 8:42
    
[cont'd] - In the end, a human being at Stack Exchange is still going to need to investigate and determine if there's really a problem. All it takes to investigate is for someone to just spend some time on the site and watch what we do. It's the Internet, so it's not like it has to even be obvious that we're being watched. –  jmort253 Oct 20 '12 at 8:45

"if a moderator breaches the mod agreement". Of course it's a big assumption and you are begging your case.

The fact is, we initially never know whether this is the case, and the facts of the matter need to be ascertained, first and foremost. The "moderator who is guilty by hypothesis" is not a valid starting point here.

Any user is innocent until proven guilty. I hope there is no discussion here.

Therefore, I demand loudly that no public action is taken against any user, including a moderator, before the facts of the matter are ascertained OR the user requests the discussions to be public.

I don't think it is even remotely acceptable to publicly shame (or put to trial) the action of a unpaid volunteer because someone disagrees with them.

Even if a mod is wrong, please say "thank you for helping us in your free time", not "I will put you on trial in public".

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Sometimes I sense that moderators are treated like "privileged users" and not "people who step up to help more". That really upsets me. –  Sklivvz Oct 19 '12 at 22:11
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You make a good point overall and I agree that public shaming is never an appropriate approach (and we strongly encourage discussing issues over users on any meta site), but I feel compelled to point out that volunteering for something doesn't excuse bad behaviour. If anything, moderators are granted extra powers and with them comes being held to a higher standard than most other users. –  Anna Lear Oct 21 '12 at 5:24
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@AnnaLear The problem with "higher standard" is that there's no upper limit, scanning quickly through this thread you'll notice terms like "trial", "higher court", "democracy", etc. Well, at some point someone has to point out that what SE moderators actually do is moderate internet communities, we are not running small countries. Our "extra powers" is closing crap unilaterally, merging accounts, etc, and, unless I missed a memo, we don't have access to nuclear weapons (yet?). Obviously I'm exaggerating, but I'm just following the already set tone of the discussion... –  Yannis Oct 21 '12 at 6:32
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@AnnaLear, I think that moderators are exemplary to the community - thus, they are the standard. That said, my point is about deciding if a presumably innocent user is guilty without shaming them first, or making them forever ineffective if you like. Which innocent moderator would stay after they have been publicly accused of something by SEI, nonetheless, and found innocent? –  Sklivvz Oct 21 '12 at 7:58
    
@YannisRizos Oh, certainly. You should see some of the emails we get - it's like the world is ending. But there's a fine line to that argument and it's easy to slip into the opposite "it's just the Internet, so it doesn't really matter" extreme. I'm just trying to explicitly keep the balance here. :) –  Anna Lear Oct 21 '12 at 14:39
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@Sklivvz Yeah, any process that relies a taking an unsuspecting user or moderator and flogging them in front of their community is not cool. That said, the typical way to bring up issues is on meta, so some amount of public discussion will happen. That's where the initial focus on issues over an "off with $moderator's head" type approach becomes important. For what it's worth, here at SEI we never want to be in a position to have to depose a moderator. We like you guys. You do a hard and important job, and you do it well. –  Anna Lear Oct 21 '12 at 14:49
    
We moderators are volunteers. But so is anyone else who answers a question on the site. The whole system of sites is based on people stepping up to help other people. Moderators are volunteers who are given more power than the other volunteers at this site, but @AnnaLear's point is dead on: volunteering doesn't excuse bad behavior. Moderators are privileged users who step up to help in a different way. There are users on Ask Different who contribute far far more answers than I do. I wouldn't say I do more than them, but I do different things. –  Daniel Nov 1 '12 at 1:44

When a meta post is created that calls out a specific user and complains about his behaviour, I either edit the post to make it about a specific behaviour alone, or I shut it down. Focusing on specific behaviour instead of specific users makes those discussions far more constructive. Publicly calling out a specific user gets non-constructive rather quickly; such issues are better dealt with by moderators in private.

We shouldn't forget this lesson when dealing with moderators. Specific instances of moderator behaviour can and should be discussed on meta. But not focused on the user, but on the action he took. This is the part that can and should be discussed in public.

But the decision to dismiss a moderator should be with SE, based on the input of the community. I trust the SE community team to make a good decision. As a user, I trust them to take my complaints seriously when I think a moderator has stepped over the line. And as a moderator I trust them to defend my actions when I have acted appropriately.

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I think the process (whether the current one, or a new to-be-determined one) should be transparently defined, but not transparently followed. That is, just as there is a 'Theory of Moderation' post, there should be a 'What Happens When Things Go Wrong' post, but I don't at all think that the 'general public' should be privy to who/what/when is going through that process at any given time.

Yeah, sure, people will end up noticing if a Moderator disappears off the radar, or suddenly loses their diamond. But just as we don't publicly announce suspension reasons, or SE employees being 'let go', I think we should respect privacy here. Except maybe - just maybe - in the case of a particularly personal 'bad thing' happening between a user and a mod. In that case, I think the user is entitled to some feedback about how the 'case' has been resolved.

I also think that if there is a 'user complaint' process, it should be completely separated from any 'moderator impeachment process': that is, there shouldn't be any automatic causal link ("I/we complained about moderator X, when does he get the boot?").

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BUT WHAT AM I TO DO WITH MY NEWLY BOUGHT SET OF DELUXE PITCHFORKS THEN –  Pëkka Oct 23 '12 at 9:50
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@Pekka, sit on them :) –  Benjol Oct 23 '12 at 9:53

We need a much more transparent and prescribed process for when — and more importantly how — to intervene when on-going problems are going unresolved.

To make the moderator removal process transparent, you will have to hold the investigation and "trial" publicly. This means that the moderator's moderation history must become open to public scrutiny. Otherwise, it's just status reports: "We've moved the process on moderator X to phase Y. Moderator Z was acquitted due to lack of evidence."

The only reason to make the process transparent is to establish faith that the system is bringing about justice. Faith that moderators are being investigated when there is credible evidence of wrongdoing/malfeasance. That the guilty moderators are being punished and that innocent moderators are not. To build that faith, you have to actually show the evidence. You have to let us the community vet the process. See whether the investigators went far enough. Look at the evidence as they saw it.

Otherwise, you're not establishing faith in anything. You're just saying that there is a system in place for something that was handled haphazardly before. Nothing is proven about whether it is a good system.

So the question is this: are the moderators ready to provide the ability for community users to vet them? Are they willing to give us access to their moderation history and various deeds, for good or ill?

Because without that, without the ability to see the evidence and weigh it ourselves, there's no real transparency in the process. If you're going to have a secret process, then keep it secret. A public process where all of the relevant evidence is private sounds rather like a kangaroo court.

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The problem here is that a good bit of this information can't be public - or rather, can't be made public by the moderators. If mods are in conflict over a user's suspension, or handling suspected voting fraud (to use a couple of actual examples where mod-abuse has been alleged in the past), the details necessarily involve a third party who may not particularly want to get dragged into the middle of a public debate over it (if he does, of course he can make it public). I tend to think that making any of this public (beyond simply, "it happened" as a response to questions) is pointless. –  Shog9 Oct 18 '12 at 16:36
    
This isn't a crime. So no need for a trial. Just a simple reason for dismissal would be good enough. –  Lee Louviere Oct 18 '12 at 16:51
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@Shog9: That's the point. If you can't make the information public, then the process isn't transparent; it's just giving progress reports. You can't have faith in a system unless that system is visible, which means that the weighing of evidence needs to be public. So there's no real point to trying to make the process transparent without being able to make the evidence that the process depends on public. It's a crucial first-step; if SE isn't willing to make the information public, then there won't be any real transparency and thus the call for transparency is pointless. –  Nicol Bolas Oct 18 '12 at 17:19
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And my opinion is, anything non-confidential should already be public before it ever gets to this point. If there's a problem this serious with a moderator and it isn't being discussed on meta... Well, either it isn't all that serious, or there are much deeper issues with transparency on a site than a single moderator. –  Shog9 Oct 18 '12 at 17:44
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The problem with this is that if I have to stand "trial" publicly for giving my free time to an online community, said online community, and the commercial company that operates it, can take my moderator position and give it to some other fool... :-) With all due respect. –  Sklivvz Oct 20 '12 at 7:50

If someone is acting in a way that damages the community of the site, there already is a team of people charged with taking care of it: the moderators of that site. If the "someone" damaging the community is a member of that team, that certainly makes the other moderators' job harder, but it doesn't change the job description, and these human exception handlers can turn to the community team for backup if they think the situation calls for it. Do we need better tools for the mod team to respond to a rogue one of their own? I honestly don't know, and am extremely thankful that the five of us over at Ask Different have had no reason to test that!!!

If a site user thinks that enough is not being done to protect the community from harm, whether that harm comes from spammers, ordinary users, or moderators, and the tools available to that user as an ordinary user are not enough, there is already a mechanism in place: the user can run for moderator in the next election, and if the fellow participants in the site think said user would contribute to improving the site, the user could become a part of the moderator team, and thus have more tools to respond to said threat to the site.

So if a moderator actually goes rogue, users can raise the issue through flags or posts in meta or chat and the other mods reign him/her in. If a moderator goes rogue and a user thinks the team isn't doing enough, the user can run for moderator next cycle and try to fix the problem. If a user is upset with a moderator but the other moderators don't agree with the flags and the community doesn't want to elect the user to the team, the process has rendered an answer (not the one the user wanted to hear, but an answer all the same).

The other possibility is that a user thinks the team of moderators has gone rogue. There isn't a mechanism in place to fix this one internally. Given the power of a team of moderators to shape the site (defining what's on topic through the FAQ, etc), I'm afraid this one has to be solved via exit rather than via voice. If you don't like the direction the entire team of moderators has taken a SE site, perhaps that isn't the SE site for you.

In other words, if any mechanism is needed for moderator removal, it's a mechanism for the rest of the mod team to be able to escalate the problem to the community team. Otherwise, it seems we have the needed tools in place already.

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Have you considered using the upvote/downvote system for moderator actions as well? You already have the nuts and bolts in place. Moderators then garnish their own moderator-reputation, and those whose rep is declining or showing odd patterns automatically get their own feedback in this form, from other moderators I guess. I know this doesn't really answer the question but it at least provides a transparent metric, which addresses part of it.

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Most moderator actions happen behind the scenes. How do you rate a moderator's flag handling? How do you rate the way they dealt with a troublesome user? –  Gilles Oct 20 '12 at 19:36
    
@Gillies I was thinking that the voting would be done by moderators, not all users. –  EJP Jan 23 '13 at 1:33
    
I'm not going to waste time overseeing another moderator's actions unless there's something seriously amiss already. For day-to-day operations, we don't track what the other mods are doing, it would be a significant effort for no benefit to go and rate actions. Voting works when there are many eyes who look at a few actions each, not when there are only a handful of eyes. –  Gilles Jan 23 '13 at 12:37

What about terms? Instead of serving forever, moderators serve for a set period and must then run for reelection to continue.

[Editor's note: I realized belatedly that I'd originally written the more familiar "term limits" instead of the intended "terms." The ensuing discussion appears to have taken my intended meaning, but I felt clarification couldn't hurt.]

The idea has been brought up before, and the top answer then was that being elected for perpetuity was fine, but that abuse wouldn't be tolerated.

But now we're looking for a way to have a formal process to ask someone to step down.

Terms provide a graceful way to get rid of a moderator without having to ask them to resign. Everyone saves face, there's no problem with bias. It even gives moderators who've lost interest a way to bow out without much extra fuss.

Moderators looking to continue will have to go through re-election, but is that such a bad thing? Participating in the election would give moderators a chance to get feedback from the community about how they've been doing, and I'm sure that they'd have a very different perspective after having actually been on the job awhile.


Edit:
A hypothetical case I'd encourage everyone to consider is the slightly bad moderator. If the only problem were egregiously bad moderators, it'd be simple enough to just revoke their diamond when they did something awful. The need for a process comes from edge cases like a moderator who generates a lot of complaints, but whose actions are always justifiable. E.g., a mod who deletes a rambling off-topic comment thread, and then leaves a not very tactful note about the deletion that irks the commenters. The sort of mod that leads to other mods frequently saying, "What they did was right, but I would have done it differently."

Having moderators stand for re-election handles this gracefully, many other proposals do not.

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I cannot express how vehemently I disagree with this, see Robert's comment –  The Unhandled Exception Oct 16 '12 at 22:50
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is that such a bad thing Yes, it is. I'm volunteering my time, and I have absolutely no interest in getting into a popularity contest. One might argue that elections are popularity contests, however there's a key difference, when you run in an election you are a regular user, everything you've done on the site is public. When you're already a mod the more important actions you've taken are private and can't be evaluated by the community. And let's not forget that when elected, your job is to deal with crap all day and make the tough, and often unpopular decisions... –  Yannis Oct 16 '12 at 22:51
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@YannisRizos Everyone here outside of SE Inc. employees are volunteers, so that's sort've a wash. Just for those of us non-mods, can you give some examples of the important private actions mods face? I would've expected most of what mods do to still be fairly public (certainly there is lots of public mod activity). –  blahdiblah Oct 16 '12 at 22:54
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@blahdiblah The most time-consuming action in my experience is dealing with troublesome users (reviewing whether moderator action is warranted, composing a message if one is found to be warranted, hunting down sockpuppet accounts and other unsavory behavior), and that's completely behind the scenes. Dealing with flags is also largely private. Deletions are mostly unnoticed. Comments, closures, meta participation are the bulk of what everyone can see, and they're things that any user can do. –  Gilles Oct 16 '12 at 22:57
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@blahdiblah A huge problem with your idea is the "I done been wronged" attitudes from users who don't understand how the site works, which comprise the vast majority of users. Most mod actions are unpopular to those receiving it. This means the more you moderate, the more unpopular you become among all users. Come re-election time, you're at risk of not being re-elected even if you've moderated "correctly." –  NullUserException อ_อ Oct 17 '12 at 0:01
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Term limits would be chaotic. Even after a year and a half I'm still discovering subtle nuances about the role. If you have a regular churn of moderators you potentially lose the experience of mods who've been doing it longer. And I agree with Yannis, I spend probably ~20-25 hours a week as a volunteer helping to keep the site on the straight and narrow, being kicked out after a year just because I was doing the right thing (yet unpopular) would be quite disincentivising. –  Kev Oct 17 '12 at 0:04
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@NullUserExceptionอ_อ My guess would be that when it comes to elections, it's the users who do understand the site that are the bulk of the voters, though I could be wrong. I assume that a platform along the lines of "As a mod, I closed/deleted/suspended tons of questions/users," would generally be very strong. That's what we want them doing, right? –  blahdiblah Oct 17 '12 at 0:13
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@Kev My assumption is that most mods would be easily re-elected. The only ones I can't see that being true of are those with whom reasonable and respected folks disagree. No one's going to give much weight to c00ldUde1998's complaint that his question about the best phpBB add-ons totally shouldn't have been deleted. –  blahdiblah Oct 17 '12 at 0:30
    
But if relection is a cake walk in the tea party...why are you bothering? Why add layer upon layer to a system that already freaking works? If the case of a moderator needing to be removed is exceptional, why create a regular system to deal with it? Assume good faith, follow private channels when it's clear that actions aren't in good faith. –  Ben Brocka Oct 17 '12 at 0:56
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@blahdiblah Who cares if I get easily re-elected (or not)? That's not the problem here, the problem is that I don't care about competing in a popularity contest. Winning a popularity contest is irrelevant to me, I'm volunteering my time to help a community in any way I can, but I'm not Bieber. –  Yannis Oct 17 '12 at 1:04
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@BenBrocka I assume something's wrong with the system if we need a process for recalling moderators. As I just edited in, it's a big plus if that process deals well with moderators who aren't right for the job, but who aren't necessarily messing up so badly as to warrant something like a tribunal. Re-elections do that well, but might have too many other drawbacks. I don't see any other proposals that handle that case well. –  blahdiblah Oct 17 '12 at 2:15
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@blahdiblah Well, now you've hit the nail on the head. We are having a discussion on transparency, but no one's telling us what exactly is wrong with the current process. Ironic, isn't it? –  Yannis Oct 17 '12 at 2:31
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@YannisRizos Yeah, this does smack somewhat of NARQ. –  blahdiblah Oct 17 '12 at 2:58
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@YannisRizos The current process feels like us coming in and overriding the wishes of a community who chose their moderators via a democratic election. If that's the best we can come up with, fine, but I bet there's a way that allows the community as a whole to also voice its displeasure with moderator(s) that doesn't come to a few private complaints evaluated behind closed doors. I'm inclined to agree with Mark's comment. I'm also not convinced that the current process is as well known as it could be, but that's a separate issue. –  Anna Lear Oct 17 '12 at 3:26
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@AnnaLear I'm not convinced, concrete examples would help. Sorry for being extremely difficult about it, but it's an extremely sensitive topic and just 5 hours after Robert posted this there's already too much speculation... –  Yannis Oct 17 '12 at 3:45

What about doing periodic moderator renewals (not to be confused with periodic elections) where the community can vote on if their moderators should continue for another term or not?

This would provide the community with a (drama-free?) way of removing a moderator who is not doing their duties, while addressing many of the concerns I've heard about periodic elections, such as unnecessary drama, users taking "popular" stances instead of "correct" ones to complete against other users to hold their seat, and the extra work to put on the election.

It could be something as simple as a page reminding the community of a moderators duties, and letting the community cast a yes or no vote on if they think each moderator should continue for another term. Perhaps it could even include some stats of each moderator's activity for the past term to help the community make an informed vote.

If you wanted, you could also include a "Check all that apply" section if you vote No so users can specify why they think the moderator is not suitable to continue on (inactivity, abuse of powers, neglecting moderator duties, etc)

SE can use this information in addition to the non-public stats they have such as complaints or not-public moderator activity to determine if they should ask that moderator to step down or not. Just be sure to be clear that SE makes the final decision, and that the votes are only there to assist them in that decision and are not the only deciding factor.

There are a number of reasons I think this would be the best solution:

  • Moderators will be judged by their performance and actions only

  • Unlike something like periodic elections, moderators are not competing with other candidates, or having to spout popular/non-popular opinions to maintain their diamond

  • The process would be anonymous on the user level (except to SE), but transparent to the community.

  • You're not singling out any single moderator for action, which can lead to a lot of unnecessary drama/tension in a community

  • A few very vocal "No" users can easily be outnumbered by the number of "Yes" votes since every user only has a single vote

  • You are not waiting for emotional users to come to you with problems, but are instead going to them and asking for feedback. You're more likely to get a rational response this way, and will get the feedback from more users instead of only the users who have enough of a grievance to bother putting it into words and contacting you.

  • It handles other reasons why a community may want a moderator to step down instead of just complaints, such as inactivity, or neglecting their duties as a moderator

To address comments about moderator stats, I know they can't be quantified easily by numbers but some numbers to indicate the moderators activity level over the past term would be helpful.

I would prefer something like "Average Monthly X for the past term" since it covers the period being reviewed, and is broad enough to get a good indication of the moderator's activity level without getting too detailed. X can be whatever it is you moderators do - flags handled, meta posts posted, etc. Just something to give the community a rough idea of the moderator's activity level to help them make an informed decision.

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The whole re-election thing was already shot down. Multiple times. –  BoltClock's a Unicorn Oct 17 '12 at 12:21
    
@BoltClock'saUnicorn I know, but re-election was shot down because it would lead to unnecessary drama, users taking "popular" stances instead of "correct" ones, and a lot of extra work to put on the election. This proposal wouldn't have users competing to hold their spots against other users, but would instead simply be a way for the community to vote yes/no on if a moderator should be kept or not based on their track record. In addition, no actual election takes place unless its determined that a moderator is not suitable to continue (unlikely), which should be what happens anyways –  Rachel Oct 17 '12 at 12:25
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So you would want to get rid of a moderator who does not handle many flags but finds pretty much any vote ring? –  ThiefMaster Oct 17 '12 at 12:25
    
@ThiefMaster SE has the final say in all things, and would understand if a moderator does work that cannot be quantified by stats. This process would give them more information about a modertaor by letting them know how the community as a whole views the moderators, and not just how the most vocal people on meta feel about them. –  Rachel Oct 17 '12 at 12:28
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One problem here is that moderators (usually) work as a team. Our individual stats aren't all that important, and don't really tell the whole story. I have the ProgSE moderator stats open in a different tab right now, and trust me, they just don't make sense ;) –  Yannis Oct 17 '12 at 12:31
    
@YannisRizos The whole point of stats would really be just to show that a moderator is active in handling flags, responding to meta questions, etc. For example, personally I haven't see JoshK around on Programmers much, so seeing stats to show me that he actually is around performing moderation duties would stop me from voting No to re-elect him due to inactivity. Of course, you could just skip the stats bit too if they don't accurately represent a moderators activity, and let the community vote based on their experience. I was just thinking that some moderation duties are not that visible. –  Rachel Oct 17 '12 at 12:35
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@Rachel A lot of moderation duties are not that visible, and that's the main issue here. As you may have noticed, this whole discussion really got on my nerves, we're talking about transparency while skipping any discussion on making our activities more visible. I don't know if it's possible, I'm afraid it's not, but at the same time we can't talk transparency without actually making an effort to make mod activities more visible. As for JoshK, if you'd like to discuss ProgSE specific issues, Meta ProgSE would be preferable. –  Yannis Oct 17 '12 at 12:42
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@YannisRizos I should have used you as an example instead of JoshK. Everyone knows you're active and would get the point that I was making an example =P –  Rachel Oct 17 '12 at 12:43
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I can see where the idea comes from; it is transparent and based on performance to a degree. It's really not a bad idea. The problem is really that there are too many downfalls to the approach; for all that's gained, there's a lot that can go wrong and cause headaches with it, namely because of the transparency (and if SE overrode a vote, then what, it would be a riot). –  casperOne Oct 17 '12 at 12:56
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@YannisRizos - re: visibility of stats. I'm a volunteer helping out, I don't work in a call-centre. Revealing stats just adds the wrong sort of pressure to keep the numbers high for good appearances. This would affect making quality judgement calls. There are some days when I might have only handled 40 or so flags (I have a target of ~120 to 140 a day) because one or two have caused me to spent 20-30mins to sort out (you know the kind of thing - vote rings, socks identification, responding to mod messages). –  Kev Oct 17 '12 at 13:33
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@YannisRizos By their own admission, it's not a problem yet, but I think that a solution for removing moderators needs to be in place for those that are not performing their duties. I think the systems should be similar, if not the same. We have this problem currently across a number of the sites, but this solution can satisfy both problems. –  casperOne Oct 17 '12 at 13:36
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For all this poopooing statistics, recall that SE is built around gamifying Q&A via the all-encompassing "reputation" statistic. I believe Kev when he says that current stats available for mods don't accurately capture mods' contribution, but more gamification of moderation duties would scale better than everyone getting personalized assessments. Such a change might not be feasible/workable right now, but let's not bad-mouth statistics too much when that's what these sites are built on. –  blahdiblah Oct 18 '12 at 17:40
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@rachel - welcome to meta. Don't forget to check the bottom of the page for the best answers. –  psr Oct 18 '12 at 18:03
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@BenBrocka The problem with mods calling out other mods, is they're a fairly small group of individuals, and you end up with one individual speaking out against another individual. Regardless of how well-meaning it is, or how eloquently they can phrase it, it is still mostly likely to lead to ruffled feathers on one side or the other. –  Rachel Oct 18 '12 at 18:15
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@Rachel: The other problem with BenBrocka's idea is that a system where "only mods can call out other mods" can't fix itself if the poor performance is pervasive. // This kind of reminds me of the U.S. Congress. Only Congress can vote itself a pay raise. If the voters can't vote for/against a congressional pay raise, then they have no recourse when it's appropriate. –  Jim G. Nov 21 '12 at 17:16

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