There is a candidate in the Server Fault election (which is ending shortly) that has been suspended from the main site for behavioral reasons more than once. He's also been kicked from chat, and banned on at least three other SE sites. He even had his original nomination deleted by Shog9, because of the profanity it contained. His nomination was reinstated after he cleaned it up.

Now, let's be real, there's no chance he's going to win. But it raises an good point. Why is someone that's been such a behavioral problem even allowed to run in the first place? Shouldn't someone with a history like that be prevented from running for the most powerful position in a community?

At the very least, shouldn't his election profile show the number of times that his user account has been banned on any SE site very clearly and prominently?


Shouldn't someone with a history like that be prevented from running for the most powerful position in a community?

I would think no, they should not. I have seen people make the most surprising changes over time. Don't doubt the ability of people to actually get better. That someone has been banned once is by no means reason (in my mind) to prevent them from ever being a mod.

Or, at the very least, shouldn't his election profile show the number of times that his user account has been banned on any SE site very clearly and prominently?

Now this I would agree with. While having been banned shouldn't immediately disqualify you, it's certainly a very significant point against you. It's important that this information be available to voters in my opinion. By nominating yourself you should be revoking your right to privacy (to at least some degree) around such situations. If you aren't comfortable with people knowing that you were banned, and at least some high level details of what happened, then you shouldn't be running to be a mod.

Such a user would need to be able to discuss what they did in order to demonstrate that they have changed since then and that such behavior is behind them; that they will be capable of acting responsibly going forward. If a user is able to do that after being banned, and the community accepts it, then that shouldn't need to prevent them from running at all.

Now, as to this specific case, it does seem that this behavior is not behind them at all, that they haven't changed, and that there is no way the community would support them; if they did, it also sounds like a case where the SE employees would put their foot down and reject them.

  • 6
    I was going to write exactly the same, so I am only adding one more thing: IMO, only recent suspensions should be indicated, like those that happened within a year. Everything after that should be sins of the past. – Gordon May 28 '13 at 17:05
  • 11
    A year is a short time if you spend most of it in time out, like the user that inspired this post has. – MDMarra May 28 '13 at 17:05
  • +1, convicted felons can run for the House or Senate (or mayor/governor, etc); but we also know that they have had this/these prior conviction(s) when they run. If you vote them in knowing they had these problems, we can only assume it was an informed choice. – user7116 May 28 '13 at 20:03

Shouldn't someone with a history like that be prevented from running for the most powerful position in a community?

Sure. Heck, there are at least two other candidates that I'd like to remove because I think they're too prone to starting trouble and not particularly apt to stop it once it starts.

But then, the whole point of even bothering with elections is skipping the bit where a small group of people get to decide who represents the community and instead letting the community decide who they want.

We remove nominations that explicitly violate the criteria set forth on the site. And we do toe the line a bit by removing nominations that are clearly not meant to be taken seriously. But this can (and often does) still leave a few nominees who would probably make terrible moderators.

So then we wait for folks to vote and hope for the best. At worst, we'll remove moderators who violate our terms of service or moderator agreement, and provide a way for the existing moderator team to remove a disruptive presence as well.

FWIW, providing evidence of suspension along with a nomination isn't a terrible idea, but implementing it might be problematic given we normally don't make this information public. Math.SE (in their recent election) got around this by just asking the candidates if they'd ever been suspended.

See also: Moderator nominees with records of vote fraud

  • 1
    Would it be an option to have some sort of notice in the application process by which the applicant is giving SE permission to divulge information about any previous and otherwise private moderation actions taken against them? This way if there was ever an issue, even if the system didn't display it automatically, a mod would be able to answer such a question (or refute an applicant's answer if it were incorrect, incomplete, or misleading) without having privacy concerns to deal with. – Servy May 28 '13 at 19:02
  • 5
    The problem is that the vast majority of voters will not read the meta questionnaire and the election phase doesn't show the comments that the community leaves on a nomination post. Also, at least on SF, it appears that the majority of voters aren't SF regulars. People that only qualify to vote because of the association bonus almost certainly aren't going to hunt through a user's history or meta post to figure out if a candidate's been a knucklehead in the past. – MDMarra May 28 '13 at 19:02
  • @MDMarra Keep in mind that if even one person realizes what's going on and comments on it then such a comment is pretty likely to get a lot of comment votes, making it stand out enough for the common voter to wonder why there is a comment with several hundred upvotes asking the applicant to explain why they were banned last month and how that affects their application. Especially if such a comment is from a current mod. – Servy May 28 '13 at 19:06
  • @Servy: that is an option. But it kinda side-steps the issue of why we normally keep this stuff private - if we wanted to turn such nominations into public discussions of past bad behavior (or just gonna slap a scarlet letter on them), then we could just as easily disallow previously-suspended users from nominating completely. – Shog9 May 28 '13 at 19:07
  • Sure, but those comments are not easily visible in the election phase and it relies on people noticing that a candidate was suspended. – MDMarra May 28 '13 at 19:07
  • 7
    Automatically exposing past bans (and their rough reasons, like "to cool down" or "for voting irregularities") along with the other stats (flags, etc.) sounds like a fair idea. Who can guarantee mods will always catch the spots in every candidate's track record, and post a comment underneath the nomination in time? Let every new candidate click through an EULA that allows SE to divulge info about past bans – Pekka May 28 '13 at 19:10
  • @MDMarra Most of the mods have a pretty vested interest in ensuring that the best candidates are elected, given that they'll need to work with those people and those people will all reflect on the other mods. As such, they tend to (in my experiences) spend quite a bit of time looking over information on each of the applicants. I would assume that suspensions/annotations would stand out quite a bit. I know it'd be one of the first thing I'd check were I a mod. Now an automatic system would be much better, I'm just saying I'd be willing to settle for allowing a mod to reveal this info. – Servy May 28 '13 at 19:10
  • 1
    Even so, comments are not readily visible in the election phase. Comments are only allowed during the nomination phase and they are only shown on the nomination tab. When it comes time to vote, users are brought right to the election tab where all of these useful comments are hidden. – MDMarra May 28 '13 at 19:12
  • 3
    @Servy Strictly speaking, moderators are not allowed to share information on suspensions. Unless there's an explicit exception on the moderator agreement for election candidates, our lips are sealed. Personally, I wouldn't feel comfortable sharing that information even if there was an exception. If we decide to share it, I'd be very much in favour of an automated system. – yannis May 28 '13 at 19:17
  • @Shog9: There is a difference between the SE team cherry picking nominees and either excluding or making visible folks with prior suspensions. If you're going to run for a moderator position it should be expected that this information be made public. Flag history is, so why not suspension history? – user7116 May 28 '13 at 20:01
  • 1
    Flag history isn't public, @sixlettervariables. And definitely not flags on the nominees' posts. – Shog9 May 28 '13 at 20:04
  • @Shog9: I was alluding to "helpful flags"; I hadn't considered that metric (and while interesting I will not ask to have that). – user7116 May 28 '13 at 20:08
  • @MDMarra: We actually have good proof of that. Of the more than 600 voters that questionnaire had less than 300 views. From the way I understand the view counting that means that well less than half of the voters read it. – Scott Pack May 28 '13 at 21:01

At the very least, shouldn't his election profile show the number of times that his user account has been banned on any SE site very clearly and prominently?

I fundamentally disagree with this. One of the core principles behind our suspensions is that they're temporary and intended to address specific behaviour. Once the suspension expires, the user is considered to have paid their debt to the community, so to speak. If they continue to exhibit problematic behaviour, then perhaps another suspension is in order. If someone does reform, we shouldn't to brand them with a permanent red flag. Whatever matter led to their suspension is supposed to have been forgotten and forgiven.

I also don't think we want to end up in a position of rating the severity of someone's suspension: "well, this guy was suspended twice, but only for a couple days each time. This other candidate was suspended once but for a week and it was a year ago." etc, etc. Where would this stop?

As Shog9 pointed out, we have ways to deal with potentially bad candidates making it through an election. The thing to keep in mind otherwise is that we always take a risk with any sort of community moderation or community-driven decision making. Democracy is a great concept, but it can and sometimes does backfire. No election is perfect and most sites see fairly small turnouts, but I would say that overall the system is working and the concerns you raise here are valid but not (yet?) an issue in practice.

  • 1
    "I also don't think we want to end up in a position of rating the severity of someone's suspension: "well, this guy was suspended twice, but only for a couple days each time." I'm not asking the SE team to rate the severity, but why not make this available so that the community can rate it? I do understand and agree with the idea that suspensions aren't a temporary black mark, and a user with one of them could very easily still get elected if it's explained away in the nomination phase. That said, I think that running for moderator should be an exception and this info should be public. – MDMarra May 28 '13 at 19:42
  • 4
    @MDMarra I don't care who does the rating. I think it's a terrible idea. It's probably even worse if the community is left to do it because they will inevitably be missing a lot of context and background information that I strongly believe should not be aired in public. – Adam Lear ModStaff May 28 '13 at 19:42
  • 4
    If SE knows better than the community, then why don't you guys just appoint all moderators? It seems that a SE employee with all of the info is probably better than a community that doesn't have all of the info on the candidates. – MDMarra May 28 '13 at 19:45
  • 5
    @MDMarra What I'm saying is that dragging past suspensions into the mix would be detrimental to the election process. I think you overestimate the willingness of most people to logically and dispassionately evaluate that kind of information. It'll most likely be a good way to guarantee that nobody who ever got suspended gets elected and I think that would be a mistake. – Adam Lear ModStaff May 28 '13 at 19:48
  • 1
    Shog9 says in his post that SE leaves horrible candidates in place because the community should be free to choose. If that's the case, why is the community not wanting someone that was suspended a problem? If we're free to choose, why aren't we free to choose what's important to us? Either way, we won't see eye to eye on this, so I'll drop it, but it seems like there are two messages being told here. 1) People can choose whoever they want. 2) We don't want to share some info because then people might not choose who they want correctly. – MDMarra May 28 '13 at 20:02
  • 1
    @AnnaLear: we use flag history...why is suspension history more detrimental? If you have raised less than X helpful flags, I won't even look at your nomination. This is no less logical or dispassionate than saying: "if you've been suspended, I will not even look at your nomination". – user7116 May 28 '13 at 20:05
  • 2
    @sixlettervariables Flagging something is a choice. Someone who doesn't participate in community moderation through flagging probably would make a subpar mod. Getting suspended doesn't mean much. One can get suspended for relatively innocuous things or even by mistake. I just don't see how revealing this info (when we elsewhere set it up as a "forgive and forget" model) provides enough benefit. – Adam Lear ModStaff May 28 '13 at 20:08
  • 2
    @MDMarra I'm fine with drawing better attention to anything and everything that's already publicly available to users for review. For example, review stats. Here we're talking about bringing up something from a user's possibly distant past that is otherwise private between the user and the existing mods. As I said in response to sixlettervariables, I don't think doing that would provide enough benefit. – Adam Lear ModStaff May 28 '13 at 20:10
  • @AnnaLear: you make it sound like SO mods dole out suspensions at rates similar to the United States incarceration rates. My hunch is we're a lot less strict than you make it out to be. Besides, I'm willing to bet it is a very useful metric (I'd rank it up there with helpful flags and meta participation). – user7116 May 28 '13 at 20:10
  • 1
    @sixlettervariables This isn't just about SO, though. The effect of showing this information on smaller sites would likely be more dramatic. – Adam Lear ModStaff May 28 '13 at 20:14
  • 1
    @AnnaLear: wouldn't it be more important on a smaller site? – user7116 May 28 '13 at 20:33
  • 1
    @sixlettervariables I don't think so. Or, rather, my position here is that this isn't beneficial on any site. – Adam Lear ModStaff May 28 '13 at 20:35
  • While I appreciate @AnnaLear standing up to fascists -- while at the same time working for them -- she's not right to speak of a core principle on StackExchange. The tyrannical Jeff-tyrant of tyranny clearly doesn't agree with her principle. For instance, I've been unbanned on MSO for years now, probably longer than Anna has been a member, and I still can't ask a question. This extra ban was enacted while I was "suspended". Not just was that punishment not in place when I was "suspended", but it survived my unbanning and is permanent. I've got hundreds of EXPs since I was banned too. – Evan Carroll Aug 13 '13 at 19:10
  • @AnnaLear I also wrote about this here. It was moderator-deleted (they don't want regular users to know what Jeff does to the false core principles that drive the site). – Evan Carroll Aug 13 '13 at 19:20

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .