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I ran into a user profile that states:

This account is temporarily suspended to cool down. The suspension period ends on Apr 27 '24 at 7:54

At first, it seemed like a somewhat longish suspension period. Referring to A Day in the Penalty Box reveals:

Depending on the severity of the problem behavior — and at the complete discretion of the moderator — your account will be placed in timed suspension for anywhere from 1 to 365 days.

This indicates that temporary suspensions can last upto a year. Additionally, the help center doesn't give any other information about the timed suspension other than the link to the wiki above.

I am keen to know whether the example above (wherein the account has been suspended until 2024) is a one-off case or is it a case of documentation being obsolete?

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A moderator can only suspend an account for up to a year (365 days). I don't know what all tools the Stack Exchange team has, though. Obviously this is a user we really don't want coming back to the site. –  animuson Dec 12 '13 at 6:04
    
@animuson Wouldn't a ban be more appropriate than a suspension in that event? –  devnull Dec 12 '13 at 6:12
    
@devnull: The prevention of an account from participating is called a "suspension", and there is no way to permanently or indefinitely suspend an account. –  BoltClock's a Unicorn Dec 12 '13 at 6:14
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Prior to a few months ago, moderators could suspend an account for an arbitrary length of time; the 365 day limit did not exist. –  Michael Hampton Dec 12 '13 at 6:23
    
On Information Security we have a user banned until '26 (no network wide ban) –  CodesInChaos Dec 12 '13 at 9:12
    
@CodesInChaos That suspension happened prior to suspensions being limited to 365 days. We didn't adjust them retroactively. –  Tim Post Dec 12 '13 at 15:01
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1 Answer 1

up vote 18 down vote accepted

It's rare, but an account can be suspended for a protracted amount of time when all other attempts at reasoning have failed when it comes to a certain type of behavior. It's not always behavior, though; There's a few things I need to explain to really lead up to a proper answer to your question.

My apologies for not being able to make a tl;dr; version, how we've used suspensions in the past has changed over time - leaving some curious artifacts such as the one you found.

The length of suspensions

As you know, users that are under the age of 13 can't participate on our sites, as per our terms of service. The way that we used to handle a disclosure from someone that they were only ten years old was to suspend them until they were old enough to participate. That required us to be able to suspend someone for longer than a year, so the maximum time the system would accept when a suspension was issued used to be quite high.

We changed that, moderators are no longer able to suspend accounts for more than 365 days. The community team now deals with reports of users under the age of 13, and we handle it quite differently.

In order to issue a suspension longer than a year, you now must have developer access, and that suspension must be network-wide, there's no other way to do it. Yet, some long term suspensions issued two years ago are still in effect - so you might see some inconsistencies.

If you see that an account is suspended network wide for more than a year, it's a strategic move on the part of an employee with developer access to bring something disruptive under control.

Why would you suspend an account longer than a year?

If this has happened, it's generally because a user was being very disruptive, was suspended, and created new accounts in order to continue throwing the chess pieces around the park rather than sit down and play chess like everyone else. With new systems to keep those people out rather quickly in place, we don't generally do this any longer, we'd much rather have moderators simply remove accounts that exist purely for negative reasons, or should never have existed in the first place.

There are times, however, when people on the community team use the network-wide penalty box as a tool to help contain something raining down disruption on several sites, think of it as a metaphorical lasso. Still, new systems in place are making this less and less common.

But, there are some left over that were handled a long time ago, and having this discussion tells me that I need to make time to write a query to fish these out and review them. They might not all require action, but they should be reviewed in light of changes that we've made.

What happens to users after they've been suspended for a year but the problem persists?

This depends on the user. In most cases, we'd inform them that we feel it's in our mutual interest for them to just not return to the site, and remove their account. In other cases we might try issuing another suspension. As long as we can see hope for the user participating positively, we will do our best to work with them, and try really hard to not lose good contributors.

Remember, we once didn't have suspensions, the thinking was that if a user was that much of a problem, they should probably just leave the site. That thinking changed quickly as we learned that very awesome people sometimes just have difficulty controlling their emotions, or folks learn that using sock puppets was a pretty bad idea and just participate honestly.

When used correctly, suspensions should just freeze the action, let us inform the user of what's wrong, how they might fix it and lift automatically after a short time. Using them for anything else is generally a bad idea, and we've moved away from that over the years.

Still, you're bound to find a few still laying around, even after I go dig them up and review them.

Just remember - we can't discuss things surrounding a specific user's suspension, as it's between us and that user. There might be exceptions, but those are called exceptional for a reason.

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and that suspension must be network-wide, there's no other way to do it. - But this wasn't the case with the example stated for this question right? Can you please add about that as well in your answer. I'd really love to see a full, proper answer, addressing almost everything related to such a ban. –  R.J Dec 12 '13 at 6:29
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@R.J The example stated is suspended network wide, a fluke when a bunch of accounts were merged into it causes some sites to display a site level suspension instead. I'm sorting that out now, it's a very rare case that won't happen again once I get this fixed. IOW: Bug. –  Tim Post Dec 12 '13 at 6:35
    
I wasn't looking for information on a specific user's suspension. That said, your answer pretty much describes various issues that lead to these measures. Thanks. –  devnull Dec 12 '13 at 11:52
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