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I think most MSO members are here because they care about SO. They want to improve the site, they want to help users, they want to improve questions and answers, they want to follow community opinion rather than their own.

But MSO members are self-selected; they do not represent SO as a whole. And in any situation where members of a group self-select and gain power and direction over the rest, there is a danger of abuse of power. This happens in the real world, and Stack Overflow is no different - and why would we expect otherwise?

Here are some specific examples I've encountered in the past 24 hours.

  • Two tech blogs about a specific language and IDE post about a deleted question and the value of the material there, and lamenting that it is closed and others may be. Five SO members with high reputation vote to reopen it, presumably thinking it has valuable content and should be visible.

    A moderator's opinion of this, in full prior knowledge of the wide (outside-SO) interest in the question? "I have a feeling it was only reopened because the community is fascinated with the bug that they can reopen deleted questions but can't close deleted questions. It's been done before." - source.

    In other words, according to this mod, high-rep SO users didn't vote to reopen because they were newly aware of the question and wider community interest had been drawn to it. No, they voted in order to play games and enjoy exploiting an apparent SO bug.

    This is extremely disrespectful and completely out of line. Yet, how many upvotes did that comment get? 6. How many upvotes did my reply, "I think it's most likely it was reopened because of the recent attention drawn to it by two community bloggers" get? 0. Let's stop and examine what that means. It means a diamond mod has so little respect for high-rep SO members he thinks it's ok to slur their motives about enjoying exploiting bugs, instead of having a valid community interest. It means several others here think he's right to do so. And it means noone - no one - thinks the possibility of having community interest at heart, in spite of documented evidence to the contrary, is even worth considering.

    Think about that for a minute. This is a scary attitude and it's frightening it is agreed with and encouraged.

  • The question was reopened and it was noted it was of low quality, and there were concrete suggestions to improve it, which required being able to edit the question. Despite the open meta discussion about the question, it is voted to close. I see reopen votes start to accumulate rapidly - I don't know by who (one vote was mine). I point out that I am actively trying to edit the question and improve the answers and asked for contributions from the community who expressed interest int it, and ask it be left open long enough to do that. It is locked, by the same moderator as above, who is aware I want to edit it, with the comment "Problem solved." Yes, users reopening a question they are interested in, and a user trying to improve a question and it answers, are regarded as a problem. I can no longer edit the question or provide good answers. The mod's response? "Why don't you concentrate on improving the answers first, and if you can complete that, I'll unlock the question so you can create the index you so desire."

    It's easy to read a patronising tone there. But let's try not to and address the issue.

    I explain that I need to split answers, where some cover more than one item; that I want to edit the question as suggested by other commenters, where it was suggested "as a start" to improve it. Ie, I'm not even able to do what was recommended as a beginning - as he knows, since he's been active in the entire thread. He doesn't answer questions about his actions.

    I give up, having edited some of the answers but having been completely unable to salvage the question - apparently deliberately.

  • I notice three related questions, with indisputably high content answers that the SO community indisputably (provably, linkably [*]) wants to keep, are closed, locked, and deleted. Interestingly, the deleted ones are those with a smaller community (no less valuable, one would hope - minorities should be treated equally) and the one for a vast community is merely locked. I don't know if this is coincidence.

    You would be right if you expect, now, my pointing these two things out to have no effect. I wrote in an update, "I am very much afraid that in trying to get a reopened question undeleted and then improving it, I have inadvertently done great damage to other useful questions." Well, I haven't, and I shouldn't feel responsible. Mods have.

Ok, let's stop here. It's one evening, only a couple of diamond mods, plus a few other MSO members. We have (a) shocking disrespect for SO members, (b) disregard for SO community interest in a question, (c) disregard for outside-SO interest in a question, (d) deliberate prevention of improving questions and answers, (e) addressing disagreement by preventing or ignoring discussion, (f) an attitude change where I have become afraid of calling mod's attention to questions because I expect them to damage the post. I want to explicitly call this out, especially (a), as a anti-user culture. Mods abuse and sneer at normal SO members, use their power to prevent them improving, and mock them in comments. Doing so, they are upvoted. (This is the key - it's not one person.) This is systemic.

This kind of thing couldn't be widespread, could it?

Sadly, yes it could.

The rest of this post posits that this attitude is not an isolated example, but a less-strong form of it exists in general MSO or moderator attitudes, and uses examples of (a) outside-SO opinions of SO and (b) the common problem of deleted content where the community wishes it to be preserved as supporting proof.

Examples from the wider community

Let's examine the wider community's opinion of SO:

  • "Why I no longer contribute to Stack Overflow"

    There is something else, however, in the whole Stack Exchange hierarchy that bugs me: the creeping authoritarianism.

    The "flavour" of StackOverflow today is entirely different than the flavour it had when I started. When I started the community as a whole still had a bit of a sense of humour. Sure sometimes questions and/or answers would be a bit off-topic or a bit irreverent, but it gave more of a community feel ... This changed slowly but surely in the way that all "community moderated" things change. ... Take a look at the site now.

The whole post is worth reading; it's very balanced and lists a lot of positive stuff too. He also makes some very, very good points about the direction of SO moderation.

  • The badly titled "Why Stack Overflow sucks". But he makes a good point, and discusses a question closure for an invalid reason by a well-known mod.

    More than 1.5 year (!) after the question was answered he returned to it and deleted both the question and my answer (my answer probably because it contradicted his resolution). [Edit: it was closed as unanswerable, false because what was needed was clearly obvious, and the guy here answered it.] If you think your post was not well accepted on SO, just think of the whole picture.

  • "A Criticism of Stack Overflow":

    "The world of Stack Overflow is a scary one..."

and ending saying the best thing is to not actively participate, and use it as a resource rather than contribute.

I could go on. These are just links I've accumulated. Anecdotally, I can confirm this too, since I know engineers and programmers who are aware of the site but regard it as something to read, but never contribute to.

It's very clear here that a number of people are left with a bad taste in their mouth. People are actively advising others not to use the site.

Intra-SO discussion

Ok, let's look at intra-SO discussion!

The best discussion I have ever read about moderation is this answer on "Community-led deletionism: a protocol for sanity". It makes a number of good points:

  • [Deletionism, but read in the context of common mod operations] is completely contrary to the spirit that once characterized SO, back when the goal was to help people, it is that close to pushing away many users who have been with the site since it launched in 2008, and it is constantly threatening to remove information that everyone agrees is useful, just because it doesn't quite fit the formalized rules made up by Meta users. When did it become more important to satisfy Meta users than actually being useful?

    Wow, I really identify with that. I love what SO used to be and the light-hearted community attitude that produced interesting questions and answers in a friendly spirit.

  • I don't think MSO users are evil, power-hungry authoritarian madmen. At least not all of them. I do believe that you are on MSO for a reason. That if you truly had no interest in steering the site, you would not participate on MSO. And this leads to the conclusion that if you are on MSO, it is because you seek some form of influence over the site. That's not a bad thing or something you should be ashamed of. But let's face facts ... And this means that MSO users are not representative by default.

  • A lot of people here on MSO get upset when they hear terms like "the meta police". But the term exists for a reason.

It is an extremely good discussion of problems with moderation, with self-selection, and in a very neutral tone with MSO people being out of touch with the real SO community, and the rules they make not fitting what the community wants. It also makes the very good point that we're here to help people, that satisfying MSO users is not the goal, and that removing information is not the goal and should not happen.

Final words

Let's return to the beginning. I used the phrase "anti-user culture". This isn't exaggeration, it's quite true. Mods are upvoted for sneering at normal users and casting aspersions at their motives. There is no support for a voice suggesting good motives, even with documented proof this is likely (which should not be necessary, we should assume good intentions by default.) An environment in which this occurs is toxic.

Let me repeat that: so it's quite clear - there is no uncertainty here. It's not like some people supported the mocking moderator and some supported the idea of community interest. No-one supported the idea of there being community interest, despite proof, written external proof. No-one. Among many MSO members and mods. This is toxic.

I would be quite happy if the mod in question and those who upvoted him were suspended for a while to give them time to re-align with a better attitude, and I hope this happens. But there's more to it than that. The picture I have drawn for you is one where this anti-user culture extents further, not against specific users but against all users. We have clear examples where questions are deleted, for example, because it's MSO / SO policy in spite of not being what the community wants. How can this happen? How can any MSO member here claim this family of questions should be deleted by default and it's general opinion, as some have? I can answer: it's because the environment here is immersed in itself and is not aware of, and not always acting for, the greater community. It no longer has knowledge and resources as its goal. It's a a big community where quality control is essential, but I wonder if the quality control becomes so overwhelming the control is all that seen? (I don't know.) It is anti-normal-user. If this was a physical human society, there would be many pundits deeply concerned about the society's direction. We should be no less concerned because it is virtual.

I know how easy it is in any small environment for the outside to become invisible or unclear. It's human. It's only bad if we don't recognise it.

I also know SO is huge now. The task of tackling quality control is huge, and I have a deep admiration for those who manage it. But as part of that, the attitude towards normal users and the direction the whole site has been steered in has changed.

We're not at the bottom yet. But we're on the way. Let's stop it before we go any further.

I would like reopen and similar actions by high-rep users to be regarded as probably well-intentioned. I would like users improving posts to be assisted and encouraged. I would like the highly upvoted opinions in a past discussion to be respected, not ignored. I would like useful content to never be deleted, but be curated. I would like a light-hearted attitude to return and for there to be room for questions "on the edge". I would like the attitude on SO to be one of helping users, encouraging interesting content, and respecting the interests and opinions of the greater community of programmers not only outside MSO, but outside StackOverflow too, whom we exist to serve. And I would ask all of you, the vast majority of whom I have a great deal of respect for and who I believe truly have good motives, to help that happen.


[*] "Proveably, linkably." The questions were in the "Hidden family of X" series, about Delphi, Oxygene and XCode. Many mods claim "we" want these to be closed or deleted now, but I can find no evidence this is really the community opinion. But there is a lot of evidence they're regarded as valuable and should be kept, even if no longer something to ask new on the site. Here is the definitive MSO thread on the topic. The accepted answer: "it depends greatly on the quality of the question as asked and the quality of the answers... Personally, I learned a lot from these questions." With many more votes (38 to 11): "I personally don't see anything wrong with these questions as long as they're made CW. ... If it were up to me, these questions would stay". This continues for the next answer, and it's not until well down the thread with many fewer votes that deletionists appear. The accepted answer is moderate and mixes deletionist views with the upvoted views - something that doesn't seem to be representative, based on votes - but it is still absolutely clear that deleting high-quality questions in this family is not SO policy.

share|improve this question
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"It means a diamond mod has so little respect for high-rep SO members he thinks it's ok to slur their motives about enjoying exploiting bugs, instead of having a valid community interest." ... Nah, it means a mod has a theory on why things happened. A theory at best, emphasized by his "I have a feeling". We're free to have those, mod or no mod. –  Bart Feb 24 at 10:54
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This is ranty and conspiracy theory-ish. TL;DR –  Tim Seguine Feb 24 at 11:05
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You got some valid points in there, but they are lost by accusing moderators and high rep users directly, making this into an assault. I have some things to share but it requires lots of time I don't have at the moment... in a very short nutshell I think you're overthinking this way too much. Downvotes on Meta do no mean anti-user environment. More to come hopefully as answer, if this question will survive. –  Shadow Wizard Feb 24 at 11:15
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You have given a lot of examples of frustrated people's blogs, and a lot of accusations against moderators. You don't clarify what exactly you would like to change, instead you make a personal rant. You should calm down a bit and try to write a question requesting an input from the community, because now you're trying to proove your 'anti-user-culture' hyphotesis on anegdotical examples. –  Donaudampfschifffreizeitfahrt Feb 24 at 11:28
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@DavidM nope. Meta got its own... well, culture/humour. Users here will upvote a post just because it got free hand red circle. Or because it contains some Meta joke/meme. As for comment upvotes, it's really too minor to think of this seriously. –  Shadow Wizard Feb 24 at 11:29
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Because the opinions of non-community members is really irrelevant to moderation in the community. The site is moderated for the community, not for what random bloggers think is interesting. External views are just that: external. –  Tim Seguine Feb 24 at 11:43
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This is a democracy. It is moderated by the community. The community elected most of the moderators. The community decided who is allowed to cast close votes. The community therefore decided that the questions should be closed. Consensus rules. –  Tim Seguine Feb 24 at 11:47
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I am just going to say "meh" to that. There are real problems with the SO site. In my opinion, this isn't one of them. –  Tim Seguine Feb 24 at 11:52
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Would be quite interesting IMO to survey some non meta participants and ask why they don't participate and whether this "anti user" feeling is a common view. Any discussion on meta itself obviously might not be representative of general opinion. –  Martin Smith Feb 24 at 11:55
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And, in all seriousness: going against community wishes and deleting content and the change in direction of the site over time are problems. Really. –  David M Feb 24 at 11:56
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Most normal users neither take the tour nor read anything in the FAQ. Of course users of that kind aren't going to understand that "on-topic" is not synonymous with "stuff I like". If you want to make a list of stuff you like that is off topic here, by all means do that. It is called a blog. –  Tim Seguine Feb 24 at 12:01
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@TimSeguine, you're avoiding the issue. I am pointing at stuff the community wants on SO. I made that extremely clear, with links and research. –  David M Feb 24 at 12:19
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No I am not, maybe I got lost in your sea of irrelevant "facts" but that is precisely what I was focusing on. The only real questions I found anywhere in your post were "Hidden features of X" type questions. Those aren't QA site questions. Did I miss anything? I don't feel like meticulously combing through 4 pages of text looking for a gem when most of your research seems to be links to people complaining. –  Tim Seguine Feb 24 at 12:33
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In that link you just mentioned I don't see any mod-versus-user controversy. I have already stated I think the external sources are irrelevant. I feel like you are inventing drama. If the -8 in front of this question is any indication, the community apparently doesn't agree with you either. –  Tim Seguine Feb 24 at 12:43
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I'm bailing out of this discussion. The users you are railing against are precisely the ones who have contributed the most to this site. This discussion is unproductive. –  Tim Seguine Feb 24 at 12:51

2 Answers 2

Stack Overflow (and SE) is managing millions of questions with tons of users.

The community does have real problems dealing with problematic users, outdated material, changing culture, abusive spammers, low quality material handling and more.

A very large amount of problematic content is being managed in rather effective manner by a large team of people who have chosen to help spearheaded by a smaller team who have chosen to help and are elected by the larger group. This is a big problem being solved. SE is huge.

Stop inventing problems, come back with suggestions for improvement if you have any.

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About your criticism in a sentence. Congratulations, you have discovered that when a lot of people are asked to make subjective decisions about a hard to measure property (quality) not everyone agrees with everyone. –  Benjamin Gruenbaum Feb 24 at 11:58
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I am sure that the vast amount of problematic content is being managed effectively. I am concerned about valid, non-problematic content that isn't, and about not following community-expressed desires, and about scorn for normal, non-meta, non-mod, powerless users. –  David M Feb 24 at 12:00
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@DavidM Scorn? Hah! The vast majority of non-meta non-mod users don't care. They're looking for quality resources for their programming problems - anyone who wants to participate in managing the community is welcome and do so. Let me say this very clearly : High rep users who participate in meta discussions, close vote, delete vote and flag are doing QA for free . We are working for the ideal of an open resource for programmers - promoting information. We are well aware of the fact we're doing janitorial QA work for a commercial company for free because we believe in that ideal. –  Benjamin Gruenbaum Feb 24 at 12:04
    
"Scorn? Hah! The vast majority of non-meta non-mod users don't care." Are you saying scorn doesn't matter? Or, that your altruism should allow you to make mistakes or be scornful of others, because you believe in an ideal, which justifies it? I am grateful for your work and altruism, really. –  David M Feb 24 at 12:06
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So unless you have solid suggestions about how we can improve the community other than "I don't like that you're closing this or that question" (possibly because you don't agree with the rationale, and there is one) - I don't understand what you're trying to accomplish. Saying "I don't like this aspect" is only as good as the suggestions you make on how to improve it. Blaming users (who read and write a lot of answers too) for not being connected enough to the people who don't care about the community sounds absurd to me. –  Benjamin Gruenbaum Feb 24 at 12:06
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@DavidM I'm saying that no one is being scorned. The vast majority of programmers are just getting a huge free resource of peer reviewed programming solutions and advice. Let's not forget most people who answer questions and help moderate the site are professionals. –  Benjamin Gruenbaum Feb 24 at 12:06
    
Hold on - since when are we talking about people who don't care about the community? We're talking about high-rep users, who vote, who want to edit, who even (like me) post on meta. I made that extremely clear throughout the entire question. –  David M Feb 24 at 12:09
    
@DavidM "about scorn for normal, non-meta, non-mod, powerless users." - this is you talking about users who are normal, non meta non mod 'powerless' users. I was replying to that. –  Benjamin Gruenbaum Feb 24 at 12:10
    
Well, I'm non-mod and powerless, and AFAIK normal. Most users I see (and I'm aware this might be the cause of an attitude difference between you and me) are involved, 1-5K rep, ask questions, post answers, aren't moderators. That's normal. –  David M Feb 24 at 12:12
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And as for powerless - you bet I am. I am actively prevented from improving a question. I cannot stop useful, interesting material being deleted (deleted!) I struggle against people who I can show, with proof, are acting opposite to how the community wants, with proof of what that is too, and I am losing. It is terrible. –  David M Feb 24 at 12:16
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The content that you want to preserve is still preservable even when it's marked "deleted" on SO, @DavidM. It is not truly removed, and it's freely copyable according to the site license. It's accessible to higher-rep users, it's in the Data Explorer, and the team would probably even mail you a copy if you asked them to. If the information is precious to you, get it out of the hands of us power-mad meta police and host it on your own site. It's not SO's responsibilty to present all the information relating to programming in the world. It has a specific mission for high-quality concrete Qs&As. –  Josh Caswell Feb 24 at 20:00
    
@JoshCaswell Thanks, I'll do that. Btw, don't put words in my mouth. I never said "power-mad meta police" or any variant. I did quote a 100+ upvotes post which pointed out there is a reason that phrase is used. What I have done is documented bad behaviour, bad attitudes, and other opinions thinking the same thing. You can draw your own conclusions from what I present, but please don't put words in my mouth or bash me for presenting what mods have done, what MSO members say or think, or what other people think of SO. –  David M Feb 25 at 10:42
    
You brought up the "meta police" meme and the quote "I don't think MSO users are evil, power-hungry authoritarian madmen. At least not all of them." as two of "a number of good points", @DavidM. It's an insulting and extremist point of view, and you used it as support material for your post. I do admit that my use of "power-mad meta police" was a caricature of your apparent view, however. –  Josh Caswell Feb 25 at 19:46
    
@JoshCaswell Thanks for admitting it's a caricature - that is a good step. That post had 100+ upvotes; it's not extremist. I'm sorry you feel it's insulting; I'm documenting actual behaviour and other's reports and views too; I don't think it's right for either of us to avoid it because it's not good. (It not being good is a reason to look at it.) Please look past a defensive reaction and ask why all these things have been posted - is there a reason these people think this? Is there a reason I posted my report of unpleasant behaviour? –  David M Feb 26 at 11:01
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There are also millions of people in the world who think blowing stuff up is a good way to get what they want, @DavidM. The "meta police" meme is not extremist because it's unpopular, it's extremist because it's extreme. It vilifies a segment of active, dedicated Stack Overflow users because of their interest in stewardship, explicitly fosters an "us normal v. them evil" viewpoint, rejects the idea of democratic participation, and leaves no room for compromise or assumption of good will. –  Josh Caswell Mar 1 at 21:20

While I agree in general that there's nothing wrong with the "Hidden Features" questions (there are hundreds of them open on Stack Overflow right now), they really are right on the edge of what's generally considered on-topic. There were specific problems pointed out with the Delphi one that caused it to be closed and deleted. If the Delphi community really wants that question, they're more than welcome to post its contents somewhere else. My guess is that it will meet with the same criticisms anywhere you post it once the initial shock (shock!) of it being deleted on Stack Overflow wears off.

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Bill, this was a beautiful set of answers, as high quality as any of the Hidden Features Of... series. I truly think it should not have been deleted. The Oxygene one was also fascinating, even if it was for a niche dialect. As for locking the reopened one so it can't be improved when in a conversation with someone trying to fix it, ie deliberately preventing fixing issues, that's just... I dunno. Unhelpful of the guy, at least. –  David M Feb 24 at 13:36
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@DavidM Then you might want to either 1) keep trying to get community support for those specific questions, or 2) post their content somewhere else where they can be preserved. (Or both.) –  Bill the Lizard Feb 24 at 13:42
    
I'm not sure "getting community support" works. I did that for one question, and had a mod actively prevent me from working on it, remember, sneering at the users who asked to reopen, jump in when they kept reopening it a second time to lock it and prevent them achieving it, etc. There is no way I'm doing that again. I made it very clear in this question that normal users like me should not have to fight mods, and mods should support users by default, and don't. I've spent eight hours (six last night, two today) arguing this through. I can't make myself do it again. –  David M Feb 24 at 13:47
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@DavidM I sympathize with you, but you're poisoning your own argument by using phrases like "sneering at the users..." This post is full of that kind of language. There are two sides to an argument, and you're painting the people who disagree with you as the bad guys. It's not productive. –  Bill the Lizard Feb 24 at 13:54
    
Ok. But that's what he did, and I think it was wrong, and I think it shows a very unhealthy attitude towards us normal users. I really do. I can't show you why this is wrong without saying it happens and demonstrating it, and I can't say "I give up" without showing why it's a problem I'm struggling against and why it shouldn't be (and truly, it shouldn't.) I have deliberately avoided naming any specific people, because I want the attitude to be discussed - it's the problem, as is the environment that allows / encourages it to happen, not a specific person. –  David M Feb 24 at 13:59
    
No specific person is "bad". However, specific behaviour certainly is. People are being driven away by this. Some of it was highly inappropriate, and should be called out, and an environment fostered where it is not acceptable. –  David M Feb 24 at 14:02
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Unless they are telling you they are sneering, you are putting facial expressions in their words. Also, this is less an anti-user culture and more a pro-signal movement. @dav –  random Feb 24 at 14:07
    
@random What is a pro-signal movement? Also, I queried his words and he never explained it was (eg) a joke, even if one in bad taste, and his subsequent actions make his motivations fairly clear. I don't know, of course. I can't. But enough things came together after a while. There is more than I put in this question since I didn't want to attack a particular mod, I wanted to call out bad attitudes and apparent encouragement of it. –  David M Feb 24 at 14:12
    
These attitudes matter and encouragement of them, and actively working against users, matters. It really does. –  David M Feb 24 at 14:25
    
@random ? What is a "pro-signal" movement? –  David M Feb 24 at 15:46
    
@random. I am trying to understand. What is a "pro-signal" movement? (Re facial expressions: well, I did ask him what he meant. He didn't explain, didn't deny what it sounded like, and the comment makes no sense in other interpretations. You decide.) –  David M Feb 25 at 10:54
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@DavidM "pro-signal" means increasing signal and reducing noise. –  Bill the Lizard Feb 25 at 12:05
    
Thanks @BilltheLizard. –  David M Feb 26 at 11:03

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