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I'm going to ask this, even though it has some resemblance to other questions, but I think it's important to ask this question in this manner, because it has some semantic meaning that the other questions allude to but do not come out and say.

Should moderators close questions for reasons other than obvious violation of the rules?

I've been noticing a lot of closed questions by moderators lately, with only a single vote. For example, This one.

I did not ask the question, and i don't know the author, but something bugs me about moderators heavy handedly bypassing the community process of choosing what is and isn't a good question to ask.

True, the community can re-open a closed question, but that's a little bit like being presumed guilty until proven innocent. I think far fewer people look at closed questions and think "that should be re-opened" than people that look at open questions and think "that should be closed".

I'm not trying to suggest that moderators should have this power taken away, just that they should voluntarily leave questions to the community unless they are obviously violating the rules. Even good intentions can go bad because someone was in a hurry, or didn't read the question well enough.

I'm also not trying to suggest some kind of recourse for closed questions by moderators. I think that issue goes away if moderators don't close non-violating questions solely by themselves.

I think, by default, moderators should merely be one vote to close (or migrate) questions, with an option to force close if necessary... but SOP should that moderators votes do not (normally) carry any more weight than anyone elses (again, unless it's an obvious violation of the rules).

Moderators have a purpose, and an important one at that.. but I don't think that purpose is to decide for the community that questions are duplicates or not a real question. That's the communities job and moderators should not take it away from them.

EDIT:

I think people are missing the point. I am not making any judgement call as to whether the actions taken by mods in any given circumstance was correct or not. Even if the community would have done the exact same thing, it's still the communities place to make those decisions by consensus, not a single person unilaterally deciding.

Comments?

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You should reword the title of your question. It phrased in a way that makes it read like a loaded question, and that might shape the kind of answers you'll get. –  Borror0 Feb 10 '11 at 5:11
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Related: Add a way for moderators to cast a normal, non binding vote (I disagree with the proposal, but there's some great discussion there about when/how moderators should be expected to use their abilities.) –  Shog9 Feb 10 '11 at 5:13
    
I don't see how it's phrased as a loaded question. Are you infering some other meaning? By heavy handed I am referring to their ability to close questions without any input from the community. Clearly this is a power they have, but should it be exercised in these conditions? –  Erik Funkenbusch Feb 10 '11 at 5:13
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FWIW, in this example the sole answer consisted of a link to another question (which was then used as the duplicate destination). So while no other users voted to close, it's clear the moderator wasn't the only person to see significant overlap - absent any complaints from the author, I would tend to assume that his question is answered. It is perhaps a bit unusual, but - especially given that Robert is something of an expert in the subject - not an action I'd consider out of line. –  Shog9 Feb 10 '11 at 5:34
    
@Shog9 - you're missing the point. Whether or not it was the right call, it still results in a single persons unilateral judgement and takes away the community process. It would be like a single senator being able to veto any bill in congress, or policement locking people up for life without due process. Even if a jury would have found the criminal guilty, it's still not the policemans place. –  Erik Funkenbusch Feb 10 '11 at 5:38
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@Mystere: it's not like that though. While I do feel that moderators should be somewhat reluctant to close questions they aren't absolutely convinced need to be closed, it is both their privilege and responsibility to close them when they are convinced. Whether the evidence comes from other users or their own knowledge is immaterial. –  Shog9 Feb 10 '11 at 5:44
    
@Shog9 - Then why not simply take away community modding completely then? I do NOT believe it's a moderators responsibility to make judgement calls in place of the community. If someone is spamming, or being abusive, fine... it's their job to do things that the community can't when appropriate. It's not their job to replace the community in matters that should be left to it. –  Erik Funkenbusch Feb 10 '11 at 5:56
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@Mystere: closing is still primarily the community's responsibility. And moderators are judged by how well they act on behalf of the community. You might as well suggest that the ability to close unilaterally be removed entirely, since moderators could just as well delete posts that are overtly inappropriate. I think you're incorrect in assuming that closing is all about identifying "rule violations": duplicates especially are often perfectly good questions, but are closed to reduce noise - the end result should benefit both the asker and the community at large. –  Shog9 Feb 10 '11 at 6:09
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Clarify your meaning of "obvious violation of the rules" and the "mandate" of which you speak –  random Feb 10 '11 at 6:15
    
@random - Every elected official has a mandate. That is, the reason they were elected by the people. To say one oversteps their mandate, it means they are doing more than they were elected to do. I'm not sure how you can be a moderator and not know what the rules are, and what to do if they are being violated. –  Erik Funkenbusch Feb 10 '11 at 6:20
    
@Shog9 - Since the public has no way to "unelect" someone, i think it's a bit strange to say they are judged by how well they act on the communities behalf. The only people that can remove moderators are other moderators and the super user. –  Erik Funkenbusch Feb 10 '11 at 6:28
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@Mystere: they are judged, in the court of public opinion, in discussions on Meta, in the manner by which the community supports or resists their work. Moderators who act contrary to the wishes of the users find their actions disputed or reversed outright - I hate to harp on your example, but there is neither comment disputing it, nor a single re-open vote to be seen. See also: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/39405/… (yes, this is the second link to discussions that arose immediately following the last big moderator election) –  Shog9 Feb 10 '11 at 6:35
    
@Shog9 - You're still not understanding my point. I'm not arguing over acountability. I'm not even saying that the example I used was the incorrect result. I am questioning whether moderators should morally be making those decisions at all, rather than leaving them for the community to decide. If a policeman shoots a criminal he's convinced is a murderer in a state that has capital punishment, and claims he was just doing what a jury would have ordered, he's still wrong, even if the jury would have ordered the criminals death. It's deciding for the community. –  Erik Funkenbusch Feb 10 '11 at 6:46
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@Mystere: And I'm arguing that your analogies don't apply - we're not electing policemen or judges, and re-opening a question is a far, far easier task than raising the dead or overturning a conviction. That's no excuse for carelessness, but the risk hardly justifies inaction! –  Shog9 Feb 10 '11 at 6:55

6 Answers 6

up vote 10 down vote accepted

The question you referenced had an answer linking to the duplicate post, and a moderator flag from a different community member indicating that the question was a duplicate. I was the third vote.

It would be nice if people used their close votes instead of posting an answer or flagging, so then you would have your official vote tally. But that's not always how it happens.

For the record, I always try and get some community consensus before closing questions. I believe I got that consensus here. But if I am absolutely convinced that a post meets the requirements for closure, deletion or migration, I have no problem doing it unilaterally.

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In a word, yes, even though "when not necessary" is a bit of a loaded phrase. Our moderators are elected by the community. The fundamental contract of a representative democracy is that community members elect people who they think will make good decisions, and the elected officials do what they believe is right.

There's a common misperception that moderators are only there to mechanically take action in the clear-cut cases, after listening to what opinion polls have to say. That may be true to some degree in the real world, but it's a fairly comical claim on Stack Exchange sites. We have the technology to run site-wide opinion polls and make the results binding; our community could be a direct democracy, and yet it's not.

This does not mean that I think that moderators just get to be tyrants. Any moderator who uses his power to make numerous decisions that the community opposes forfeits the moral authority to moderate, and should be relieved of the actual authority to moderate as soon as possible. All I'm saying is that it's ludicrous to complain when our moderators apply the very judgment and common sense that we elected them for in the first place.

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If we look at a democracy, elected officials have checks and balances. Their votes mean nothing by themselves and must be validated by others who believe the same for them to carry weight. Moderators are really more like judges than politicans though, and judges have very specific rules they must follow. For example, a judge cannot do their own original research and can only take the arguments as presented by both sides and decide which argument is best. We don't elect moderators to do our job for us, we elect them to do the jobs we can't do. –  Erik Funkenbusch Feb 10 '11 at 6:15
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Moderators are more like street judges. Moderators don't just do jobs the community can't do. They make decisions while the community votes. That's the difference. Same set of rules though. @mys –  random Feb 10 '11 at 6:27

Moderators are entrusted with these abilities so that they may use them.

A user with a reputation of 3K has the ability to vote to close, but does not have this responsibility - he did not ask for the vote, and so he is not obligated to make use of it. However, the moderator did ask for it, and implicit in this is the expectation that, should he be entrusted by the community with these tools, he will make judicious use of them.

Should a moderator close a question when he is unsure that it should be closed? No. Nor should you, upon encountering a question you are unsure of, vote to close it. But the moderator, when convinced of the need, must close. He cannot shrug his shoulders and say, "Someone else will take care of this"; we did not grant him his abilities so that he should let them sit idle. Why should five others waste their time and votes closing a question when the moderator they elected possesses both the knowledge and power to do so in an instant?

A moderator who shirks his duty is useless. His position should be taken from him and given to someone who will make use of it.

I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away.

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Making decisions with Boehner-gavels while the community votes with Diebolds. –  random Feb 10 '11 at 6:29

There isn't generally enough traffic on some questions for the right number of users with 3k rep and the inclination to close. We get 4k per day now...

So while it may seem low, a flag and a moderator agreeing with it can be a lot of signal in a sea of so many questions.

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This is the reason to spend extra time during moderator elections to select moderators that will use their powers in ways you like.

In general moderators are happy to take a hands-off approach, and only step in where asked to by community members (via flagging) or where community moderation is failing.

However, many moderators are active users, and when it's obvious that a question needs to be closed or otherwise dealt with, why wait for the community or for a flag to appear?

There are questions that are obviously dupes, or against site rules. They should be acted on. There are questions in the gray area between closed and open questions, they should be left for the community to vote on.

It's a good thing that the moderators are around, interested enough, and knowledgeable enough to clean up some messes before the community notices.

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I think that this is part of being a moderator. I'm not a moderator, but I can imagine situations that warrant immediate closure of a question. A mod who requires help to close a question gains nothing from being a mod.

In your specific case, it seems unfortunate for the OP that a mod found the question before someone else. If someone else had found it first, it might have stayed open for longer, but that is a bad thing. Dupes are kept primarily to help people who are searching. However, dupes should be closed. If it's a dupe, what's wrong with closing it? A mod has the right to judge if a question is in violation the rules. Usually this judgement is made by the community vis-a-vis flags.

Regarding your point of being presumed until innocent guilty, I disagree. If the question was posted initially as a "closed" question, that would be guilty until proven innocent.

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I suggest you reread my post. I specifically said that moderators should still have the ability to close questions unilaterally, and that I am not asking that this ability be taken away. I'm merely suggesting that the community be left to moderate questions that are not violations of the rules. The whole point of a community process is so that you can gain consensus and not rely on a single persons judgement for matter thare not clear violations. Your second statement makes no semantic sense, please rephrase it. –  Erik Funkenbusch Feb 10 '11 at 5:35
    
@MystereMan - I revised to address your comments. (btw, I didn't downvote.) –  Moshe Feb 10 '11 at 5:51
    
@Moshe - If it's a dupe, then let the community decide it's a dupe. Moderators should not do it for the community. If for no other reason that a single person can make a mistake by not paying close enough attention or misinterpreting it, but a community action would require several people to make the same mistakes (it can happen, but less often). –  Erik Funkenbusch Feb 10 '11 at 6:01
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Moderators show the hardline on dupes when the community drag their feet or do nothing but spread answers all over the place @mys –  random Feb 10 '11 at 6:03
    
@random - that sounds suspiciously like the line of reasoning vigilantes give for taking things into their own hands. Granted, moderators are elected and are given powers to do these things, but they shouldn't overstep their mandate. –  Erik Funkenbusch Feb 10 '11 at 6:07
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@Mystere - and what exactly do you think does overstep it? closing a duplicate is so far within the mandate that the edge of the mandate cannot be seen –  Marc Gravell Feb 10 '11 at 7:32

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