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Most of the moderator tools are not secret, and they're discussed openly here on meta. But there are a few that are not public and that should remain secret, specifically all the tools that are related to detecting sock puppets and vote fraud. Then there are some borderline cases like the new moderator view for user profiles, it's not exactly secret, but any discussion of it is likely to involve some details on how moderators find vote fraud or socks, which is not something we want to reveal.

The consequence of this is that feedback from moderators on these tools and support requests are handled entirely in private, mostly by mail and the Teacher's lounge chat room. Chat works for quick feedback, but it's rather awkward for more comprehensive stuff. Whenever such tools are discussed, I miss the option to just make a meta post instead of scattering the discussion in chat. Mail can work for longer feedback, but then you miss out on the comments from other moderators. Searching in chat is also not at all comparable to searching for a post on meta, looking up any old discussions is very tedious if not almost impossible at times.

What I propose is a place where we can discuss the secret tools like we do for the non-secret tools on meta. I'm intentionally a bit vague on the technical details, this might be a private SE instance or something else entirely. It would be solely for support and feature requests about the moderator tools that cannot be revealed in public.

I know that a similar request for a Moderators SE site was denied in the past, but my proposal is intentionally restricted to avoid the potential issues the old proposals had. The only valid topic are the secret moderator tools, anything that can be discussed in public would be off-topic. It's also not meant for guidance on specific situations, e.g. how should I deal with this user. These restrictions should address the concerns that were voice by SE about the older versions of this idea.

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    You can discuss it at [censored] using [censored] to login. The password will be [censored]. We look forward to seeing you there. I'm surprised [censored] didn't tell you about it earlier! – Andy Aug 17 '15 at 14:48
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    Oh @Andy, you're so full of [censored]. :) – Lynn Crumbling Aug 17 '15 at 17:27
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    Have another silver @MadScientist – user289879 Aug 17 '15 at 19:17
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The good news here is that there isn't much that we can't be completely transparent about. In fact, as long as no private information is revealed, screenshots of the majority of the tools available to moderators would not harm the efficacy of the tools or methods employed when using them.

The "super secret" stuff has problems beyond just being that tiny little cluster of stuff that we can't really talk about. I'll talk about the issues to a very small extent in a broad way:

  • Sussing out sock puppets can be very time consuming for moderators. It would be great if moderators had more time to lend their leadership to other problems that can't really be solved by code.

  • The invalidation process itself is often jarring for users, especially new users. I don't think we do a good enough job in the UI / system itself teaching them why the votes were invalidated. The canned message is a good start, but not enough

  • We have a scale problem here that is showing serious signs of strain. It's only getting more expensive in volunteer hours month over month and this isn't acceptable.

.. this all leads me to think, shouldn't we make it so these tools aren't super secret any more?

What if the system was made smarter, much smarter, and made the same decisions that Jon / Shog / I make when deciding if invalidation is in order? What if moderators were only tasked with edge cases the system found to be exceptional in order to decide what (if any) action the system should take? Larger rings, someone with a penchant for revenge down-voting, and more - that's what needs to get pushed to the moderators so they know about it.

And if someone asks "What do the invalidation tools look like" you could just tell them it's a report pushed to moderators clearly listing all evidence found along with clearly listing the reasons for hesitation, and that the bulk of it was just automatically handled by software?

Then you wouldn't have to worry about where to ask questions about the [censored] tool in the [censored] where that [censored] graph doesn't agree with the [censored] so you have to manually [censored] and finally ping Tim Jon or Shog9 to invalidate or [censored] and hope they don't say "no" or you'll kick them right in the [censored].

I'd rather fix this, because the fact that there are so many moving pieces, so much work, so much crap causing confusion that leads to these questions really bothers me, and has for quite a while. Let's drastically simplify it and the way we go about finding and dealing with it, and see if there are really any questions left.

That's why we're going to get working on it this week or next.

Update

This is in progress. Shog9 has been making some huge strides - to the point that feasibility is a rapidly-diminishing question. I'll continue to update this post as we go.

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    "That's why we're going to get working on it this week or next." :D :D :D – Doorknob Aug 17 '15 at 16:35
  • I'm very specifically committing to getting started on it this week or next. It's a sort of big undertaking, so it probably will take a month and a half to fully ship, and then a few months after that to refine. But, the savings in time and lost productivity for moderators and us more than justifies the time we put into finally getting this right. – Tim Post Aug 17 '15 at 16:44
  • "That's why we're going to get working on it this week or next." ;-( ;-( ;-( ;-P – Christian Rau Aug 17 '15 at 17:06
  • @ChristianRau Tears of joy, or not soon enough, or dammit I want my cheese just where it always was? – Tim Post Aug 17 '15 at 17:09
  • @TimPost Meh, rather "do other more important things first!". But it wasn't meant too serious anyway. – Christian Rau Aug 17 '15 at 17:11
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    @TimPost: So what I'm hearing is that something will be ready in about 6-8 weeks. :P – Nathan Tuggy Aug 17 '15 at 18:05
  • I dunno... knowing how certain tools work, even by extrapolation from what they display, would make techniques of circumvention of rules of conduct more easily divined. However, other tools would benefit from being publicly visible, possibly allowing flags to be raised for specific irregularities; in a way delegating some of the mod load to the community. – Bohemian Aug 20 '15 at 23:16
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As an undercover moderator, I'd very, very much support this.

However, I would want to be absolutely confident that the site is actually locked down. Chat is extremely secure and thus I'm comfortable that things I say in TL are actually private.

On the contrary, private betas have never been truly private. People have broken into them from day one (okay, maybe day two or three, but you get the point). I've even gotten into some (now non-existent, don't waste time looking for them) staff sites with a little ingenuity and luck.

Stack Exchange has never, that I can tell, been meant as a private platform, and thus hasn't been designed with read access control in mind. I'd want developers to really lock this down, then I'd want open, sanctioned pentesting on it for a while. Really, this is scary stuff we're dealing with. A breach of this site, after it's full of mod content, would could be really bad.

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    Not sure what's the point of using a sock for this.... ? (pun lost, if there is one) – Shadow The Dragon Wizard Aug 17 '15 at 19:57
  • If you're undercover, why tell the whole world you're a spy for SE? In the next minute, I will come by in fancy spy gear and interrogate you wherever you are. – Anthony Pham Aug 17 '15 at 23:18
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    This is also correct, the amount of work involved in making something 'truly' private is formidable. Anything not on the public tier also lack important features, like (production) search. Here's a diagram of the wiring of such a thing should we attempt it with the goals of 'private' and 'everything works' :) – Tim Post Aug 18 '15 at 5:31

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