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Since high rep users gain some pretty powerful privileges I wonder what checks and balances are in place to prevent them from abusing their privileges.

I am not near these privileges on any SE site, but a particular user that I think might abuse them is. An old Meta post, although it's a joke, demonstrates one way that misuse can be highlighted.

Is that the only thing that prevents bad behavior for high rep users? You have to 'report' them on meta? What if you try to stop them but they 'punish' you, and you can't do anything about it because you are low rep? It would be nice if all their actions were public record; maybe some where on their profile page.

Things that might be done that abuses privileges in my opinion:

  1. Someone may edit questions so they favor his own answer, or disfavor yours because your he does not like your answer.
  2. Delete votes on questions (I don't even know what this means) for subjective reasons.
  3. Dismiss flags that are valid.

Also, I am a bit confused between a moderator and a trusted user. I know that mods have more power but I would like to see a side-by-side comparison.

  • 4
    2 things: 1. You can report by flagging as "Other", in which case the high rep user wouldn't see it (only diamond mods see those flags). 2. You can view a user's activity (including edits) on their profile page, under "Activity". – cpast Mar 16 '13 at 23:13
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    Bwahahahahah ... there are no checks. You are at our mercy. – Rosinante Mar 17 '13 at 0:09
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    While this is certainly a legitimate question, the Meta post you've linked is not a good example. The question may actually just be a joke, because it's about a comment being edited into a post by one of the wife's founders, before the comment functionality existed (as the answer indicates). It's not a real airing of abuse. Still, like I said, the question you've asked is a perfectly proper topic for Meta. – Josh Caswell Mar 17 '13 at 2:14
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    @JoshCaswell They founded a wife now? – bfavaretto Mar 17 '13 at 3:37
  • Worse comes to worst, even if a mod deleted/blocked you, complain loudly and email a lot. in meantime I guess maybe set up another account to ask questions. Usually mods check each other though, but mistakes do happen sometimes' – Adel Mar 17 '13 at 5:23
  • Good gravy, I thought I corrected that autocorrection! @bfavaretto – Josh Caswell Mar 17 '13 at 13:43
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Every single time that every single user exercises a privilege*, there's a proverbial paper trail.

If someone is abusing one of their privileges, in many cases the system will detect this and prevent them from using that privilege for a short time. For instance, if you suggest too many edits that are subsequently rejected - the system will give you some time off from editing.

For everything else, there is a clear log of who took what action and when, and if someone is consistently using their privileges in an abusive way, a moderator can and will intervene. All actions taken by high reputation users are easily reversed, and moderators do have the ability to put users into a timed suspension.

As far as the difference? Moderators have access to more reports within the system so they can spot suspicious activity and monitor the health of their site, the ability to place users in timed suspensions and the ability to delete user accounts. There's a far more detailed description found here, so I won't repeat it all.

Actions that moderators take are overseen by the community managers, and we have bosses that oversee the actions that we take. There's oversight at every step of the moderation process.

*Voting is a bit of an exception, since most folks can't see the paper trail: moderators can see reports of irregular voting patterns in order to allow them to combat fraud and abuse, but they can't see individual votes or find out who voted for a particular post (except for edge cases where all of someone's votes also happen to fit into one of the patterns identified by the system).

  • "even employees aren't able to see who and what you've voted for" -- did something change to the super-powers developers have? – Arjan Mar 17 '13 at 15:16
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    @Arjan Those with DB access can obviously write queries. But nothing codified in the system makes this easy, the information isn't presented for easy casual consumption at any level. – Tim Post Mar 17 '13 at 15:50
  • Just to be sure, Jeff wrote in May 2011: "There is a show votes option for developers, but we explicitly disallow it on our own posts -- to reduce any temptation of looking at votes on our own posts." If that has changed, then care to edit that? – Arjan Mar 17 '13 at 15:57
  • @Arjan Care to edit what? I did say codified in the system, and ad-hoc tools devs put in place tend to come and go. Employees that are not developers don't have access to such tools, and it's a given that developers need access to everything. – Tim Post Mar 17 '13 at 16:18
  • Update Jeff's post, if it was indeed some ad-hoc thing that no longer exists? (Or change "even employees" above into "even employees (developers aside)" and be done with it. ;-)) – Arjan Mar 17 '13 at 16:38
  • @Arjan Edited (that makes sense), but what do I win? If I have a say in the matter, I'd like a pony. – Tim Post Mar 17 '13 at 17:06
  • @Arjan, Tim: I've made a few modifications to this, since there's a fairly dramatic difference between moderator privileges and employees when it comes to access to voting information. I'd have to say Tim's original answer does help to illustrate that even the folks who do have access don't necessarily have convenient access though. – Shog9 Mar 17 '13 at 18:42
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The biggest obstacle to abuse is... Everyone. Yourself included. As Tim notes, there's a papertrail for everything - and most of that record is public. Posts, edits, close/reopen, review actions... Even deletion is visible once you have 10K+ on the site. Don't trust a high rep user? Open up his activity feed and keep an eye on him. We can't make everything public, but the more information that's available the better chance there is that someone will catch it. Never underestimate the perception of a few thousand eyeballs...

  • Someone may edit questions so they favor his own answer, or disfavor yours because your he does not like your answer.

So change it back. Or fix your answer. Or fix the question and then fix both answers. Frankly, the only times I've ever seen this, the question was crap anyway (unclear / overly-broad / etc.) - so there's a good chance that even helpful edits will hurt someone's answer if enough answers were posted before the cleanup.

  • Delete votes on questions (I don't even know what this means) for subjective reasons.

Give me an example of such a reason.

Except for moderators, no one can vote to delete a question that hasn't already been closed. If your question is closed, you should tend to expect delete votes sooner or later. Get it reopened if you don't want that.

  • Dismiss flags that are valid.

Every flag is a judgement call to some extent; just because you happen to think a particular post is problematic doesn't mean anyone else can or should do something about it: flags are not "super down-votes" and moderators are not your personal army. Everyone who flags can access a list of flags and their resolutions from their profile. If you see a significant number of flags being declined, you should probably try to find out why - someone is definitely doing something wrong in this case.

This post was apparently the reason anybody found out about a privilege misuse.

If someone makes a significant edit to your post, you'll be notified of it and will be able to roll back the changes if you disagree. Editing also "bumps" the post, giving it additional exposure and helping to ensure changes aren't missed.

See also:

  • Excellent as always, Shog9. I always appreciate your perception. "Never underestimate the perception of a few thousand eyeballs." I am much less worried now with you post and the others. – fredsbend Mar 17 '13 at 20:28
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Is that the only thing that prevents bad behavior for high rep users? You have to 'report' them on meta?

There's little evidence to suggest that more than that is required. SO works because there's a strong correlation between reputation and a history of positive behavior. For moderators, the bar is even higher -- they go through an election process (we just finished one) during which anyone in the community can ask questions about their history, values, etc. I suppose it's possible that a moderator or high-rep user could snap for some reason and suddenly change their behavior, but that doesn't seem to happen. If it did, you can bet others would notice quickly and deal with the situation.

What if you try to stop them but they 'punish' you, and you can't do anything about it because you are low rep?

I think you might have some misconceptions about exactly what privileges are afforded to high-rep users. As you gain reputation on the site, you're able to do things like vote up or down, review edits, vote to close, and vote to delete closed questions. But closing or deleting a question requires agreement from several users (mods can do it alone), and close and delete votes are public.

Someone may edit questions so they favor his own answer, or disfavor yours because your he does not like your answer.

You can always roll back edits that you feel change the meaning of your question. Be careful about that, though -- most edits are genuine attempts to improve your question. Its far easier to write a good answer than to write an answer to some other question and then edit the question to fit the answer. I don't think I've ever seen a case of the behavior you describe.

Delete votes on questions (I don't even know what this means) for subjective reasons.

High-rep users can vote to delete closed questions, but we can't delete votes. Voting in any respect for personal reasons is poor form, and I think most people respect that. (Also, there's a process for detecting and reversing questionable voting behavior.) It happened just the other day that a user downvoted vindictively and even admitted such, and the community jumped on them pretty quickly. I'd link to the question, but it's been deleted.

Dismiss flags that are valid.

High-rep users don't get to pick and choose which flagged posts to review. (I'd guess that moderators do.) Flagged posts go into a queue, and when you review the system presents them to you one at a time in no particular order that I'm aware of. So yes, someone could decide to start voting to dismiss flags that are valid, but in order to dismiss the flags on a specific question they'd have to start reviewing whatever is in the queue and just get lucky enough to happen on that question. Most actions require agreement from several reviewers, so one person can't single-handedly dismiss a flag unless they're a moderator.

There's a lot of transparency built into the StackExchange system, but the thing that really makes it work is trust. You gain privileges by showing that you're trustworthy, and you can lose them if you violate that trust.

This post was apparently the reason anybody found out about a privilege misuse.

It's worth pointing out that the complaint you're referring to was probably written with tongue placed firmly in cheek, as were the answers. It complains about an edit made by Joel Spolsky, a founder and CEO of Stack Exchange. The complaint was made four years after the edit in question, by which time the platform had evolved quite a bit. That doesn't diminish the question here, but it's not a particularly good example of abuse of privilege.

  • Great answer. You show that I generally have little to worry about. The person I have in mind is generally a great contributor. You have also cleared up a few misunderstandings. He is just very obstinate in admitting he has messed up. – fredsbend Mar 17 '13 at 20:23
  • About the second-to-last paragraph, on reviewing; remember too that barring diamond moderators, it takes more than one user reviewing a post in a particular way to have any significant effect. I'm sure you're aware of this, but your text doesn't make this explicit, which perhaps it should. – a CVn Jun 12 '17 at 14:59

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