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I have recently observed a trend of with moderators of SE sites actively influencing moderator elections on sites they have minimal-to-none participation in as Q&A users (e.g. 1-10 posts over lifetime on the site).

Just to be clear, by "influencing", I do not mean constructive unbiased participation like offering sage advice in abstract about moderation based on their past experience being moderators, but actively endorsing/opposing specific candidates.

  • Is this phenomenon common on SE as a whole?

  • More importantly, is that considered desirable and why?

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Is it common? Yes. I've been observing these elections for as long as they've existed, and in my experience there are users who will nearly always spark a comment from a moderator when they choose to run. Indeed, one particularly prolific serial-nominee has gotten comments from moderators on a wide array of sites where he's chosen to throw his hat in the ring - perhaps because he's made a point of demanding moderator attention on nearly every site where he participates, and thus is a familiar face to a good many moderators.

Is it desirable? Yes - as long as it's constructive. This goes for everyone else commenting during elections, of course. But for moderators, people who've pledged to be exemplary in their conduct, it is all the more important to set a good example. If a moderator praises a candidate, they should explain why in as much detail as possible; if they criticize, those criticisms should be grounded in actual experience - and whenever possible, such experience should be detailed in the comment rather than alluded to. Note that I explicitly DO NOT define "constructive" as "too vague to actually convey useful information", and I reject any notion that moderators - or anyone else - should attempt to remain impartial at the expense of being honest.

Elections are the one time and place where it is not just appropriate but desirable for members of the community to focus on the personalities and behavioral characteristics of individual members of the site. When choosing people to act on your behalf, it is beneficial to know as much as possible about how they are likely to behave in this role. For this purpose, it doesn't particularly matter who provides the information... As long as it is accurate.

  • After your arguments, I must say that I agree conceptually (and thank you for actually answering the queston I asked!). I'm not certain I would classify some specific examples as living up to the (intentionally vague :) standard you propose, but as my question was about concepts, that's neither here nor there nor relevant much. Thanks. – DVK Jan 24 '16 at 2:51
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    FWIW, my practice has generally been to err on the side of caution when moderating these discussions (and to be clear, they are moderated - the team of community managers here at stack exchange monitors every election). I've found it's usually better to let things play out and remove commentary when it becomes disruptive or irrelevant; this gives folks a chance to clarify or correct on their own, or take the whole thing to chat where the need to be succinct is much less pressing. – Shog9 Jan 24 '16 at 2:55
  • My only concern is that when comments arise from "hey, it's my buddy from chat", that seems... unfair to people who don't frequent chats where moderators hang out. But that's tangential and not really a reason to worry too much. – DVK Jan 24 '16 at 2:55
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Either you want the election process to be open and frank or you want it be about electing those you get along with in the chat room despite whatever personality flaws and misgivings are actually present.

When an election kicks off users of the site, however dormant, are invited to participate. Nominate, comment, vote, whatever. They're asked to be a part of it in whatever way they can.

How do you know a comment left on a candidate's nomination is attached to a moderator? By following their profile link, looking over it and then summarily dismissing it because you don't see their posts on the site all the time or you're not in chat hours on end with them.

Do they have an agenda? Depends on if you agree with their comments about the candidate or not.

Interference is not the right word here. That would suggest they are sitting in a room manipulating the STV ballots to disregard the whole show of comments here and there for and against.

Influence is the word you're looking for.

If bringing to light how bad or how good a candidate is by their behaviour on other parts of the network is enough to sway the votes, then yes, that would be wrong because now the election is no longer about voting in whatever user has the highest reputation. It would now be about how that user conducts themselves.

You can't be a jerk and break the rules on one site and think that it should not be counted against your character when running as a moderator on another.

Same as if you're helpful. Why should your track record of being diplomatic, level-headed and sane not be highlighted as to why you'd make a good moderator?

If moderators from other sites are creating accounts to leave comments on the election cycle then that's another story. And not the story that's being questioned here.

  • "Do they have an agenda?" - why is that even relevant? I think it's a bad thing whether they have an agenda or not! As a matter of fact, in at least one of my 4 examples, I am 99.9% sure there was no agenda at all - just someone trying to be nice. And likely, there wasn't one in some (or for all I care, all) others. – DVK Jan 24 '16 at 0:56
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    "How the user conducts themselves" != "did the user have a conflict with a moderator". I know as a moderator you aren't willing to take a possibliity that in some moderator/user conflicts, the latter is in ther right, but it happens. Matter of fact, in my recent conflict with a moderator, there was a unanimous site consensus that the moderator was wrong, not that they bothered acknowledging it. – DVK Jan 24 '16 at 0:59
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    User v moderator conflicts are another thing then. Either the question here is about users (who are mods on other sites) leaving comments or you're trying to spread the discussion to another matter altogether on character assassination over a specific incident and now "interference" is more "should a moderator bias election comments where they were in the wrong?" – random Jan 24 '16 at 1:56
  • my Meta question was specifically over general posts by non-participating moderators. Even if they are complimentary to the candidate. However, since people started pretending that I was specifically only concerned with Andy's comment (when I wasn't), and brought up very aspersion-casting and damaging wording like "bad conduct", I just had to respond to that. Interestingly, as far as I know, Andy isn't a moderator on the site mentioned in his comment (i think). So my point re: moderator conflicts wasn't about his comment; but about wording used by you and others on this meta post. – DVK Jan 24 '16 at 2:07
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Moderator elections tend to draw some attention across the network, especially among users active on multiple SE sites and interested in the meta aspects of the network. So of course we sometimes talk about current elections in the moderator chat room, again raising awareness about the election.

I'm not surprised that moderators from other sites comment in another election, they might be familiar with the candidates even if they aren't especially active on this particular site. That can result in useful feedback. Many users are active across the network, so the boundaries tend to get a bit blurry here.

The comments on nominations are a pretty mixed bag. I'm not a fan of some of them, sometimes they are more about personal vendettas than anything else. But I think it is important that they exist and give a platform to challenge nominees, even if they're not all constructive. So I don't think we need any rules on who is allowed to comment there and who isn't, anything that isn't disruptive or against the "be nice" rule should be allowed there.

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    My concern is that some of them skirt the "be nice" boundary, specifically by bringing in items which in no way, shape or form relate to the site where the elections are being held. Would you mind addressing that specific angle? – DVK Jan 23 '16 at 20:49
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    "Be nice" doesn't protect from criticism, and even unfair criticism wouldn't violate that rule. I'm guessing a bit here about what you mean, but I think it is perfectly valid to bring in the behaviour of a nominee on other sites into an election, I don't think it is irrelevant. – Mad Scientist Jan 23 '16 at 20:50
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    So, short version is, unless the moderators of all sites approve someone, they have no chance to become a moderator? Essentially, election is NOT by users of the site, it seems. – DVK Jan 23 '16 at 21:03
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    @DVK One person making a comment on the nomination page is not likely to affect the outcome of the election that greatly... In general, people vote based on Candidate score... and often, simply based on rep... most will never even see those comments. – Catija Jan 23 '16 at 21:07
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    I must confess that (with regard to the upcoming SFF:SE mod election) I've been surprised by the sheer number of interactions from both staff and moderators of other sites as well as the site's own moderators, quelling discussions, removing comments on the nominations pages, endorsing certain candidates, etc. – Richard Jan 23 '16 at 21:09
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    The only users who should be worried about all the shade being thrown on them are those that have questionable histories on the site and the network – random Jan 23 '16 at 21:09
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    @DVK - you have some unreasonably high expectations. All users are equal, but some are more equal than others. – Deer Hunter Jan 23 '16 at 21:09
  • @Catija - maybe, maybe not. The swift avalanche of downvotes on this question shows exactly what I meant in the last comment. – DVK Jan 23 '16 at 21:10
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    @DVK I may be wrong... but I'm pretty sure that the comments are actually deleted once the election goes into the next phase... I'm pretty certain that's what happened when I was around for the election on ELL... but I may be incorrect. – Catija Jan 23 '16 at 21:11
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    @random - having a conflict with a moderator is not "questionable history". this is exactly what I meant when I talked about sliding into "not nice" territory. – DVK Jan 23 '16 at 21:11
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    @Catija - if you mean actual nomination page - that's definitely good to know; thanks! However, there's nothing from stopping same types of comments from being posted into election chat (already happened) or the stage where candidates answer questions. – DVK Jan 23 '16 at 21:14
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    @random - also, you and all the rest of people incensed by this question seem to have 100% ignored the endoresements part of my concern. At least one non-site moderator did just that... but for ONLY one candidate they are friends with on chat. They were fully transparent about it, so there was no subterfuge, just to be clear. – DVK Jan 23 '16 at 21:15
  • @DVK Hmmm... Just found the election page and it does include comments... I may be conflating the nominations page with the voting page... It's been a while since I've seen one live. – Catija Jan 23 '16 at 21:16
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    Perhaps it's time to take this conversation to chat, people. There are far too many conflicting opinions here to solve them all in comments. – ArtOfCode Jan 23 '16 at 21:16
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The facts

As I think I mentioned in a comment, it's hard to evaluate this properly without seeing concrete examples. I've gone over the Science Fiction & Fantasy election page, which I'm assuming is the source of this whole thing, and I've read all the comments that also appear to be the source of this. So I'll have to work off of those.

One user - who is a moderator on another site - wrote a comment on a user's nomination that was critical of said user. S/he brought up a point that I think is valid regarding the candidate's prior and current history and suspensions elsewhere on Stack Exchange.1

There is another nomination that appears to have been another source of this. The same user who commented above commented here, as did other users, at least two of whom are moderators on other sites. In this case, the candidate did respond negatively, despite the fact that other users who are highly active on Science Fiction & Fantasy concurred with the criticisms.

I've also seen a couple other comments from users who are moderators on other sites, but they did not appear to have caused a stir. Additionally, of course, there were comments by Shog9, which have been discussed in detail in another meta question.

With the exception of the phrase "that I think is valid", the above is indisputable. I hope everyone can agree on that.

Response, Part 1

Without any prior knowledge of the situation - and it has been claimed that moderators are trying to twist the situation as viewed by outside observers - it would seem ridiculous that these comments should have caused such a stir. In the first case, the candidate did not respond nastily; in the second, it was clear that the candidate was not taking the criticism constructively, as a person reasonably should. Therefore, it should be clear that something is the problem.

Before I go on to what I'll say, I'd like reiterate what has been said by Mad Scientist and others:

  • You don't have to be incredibly active on a site to give good advice in an election.
  • Yes, moderators are commonly active on multiple sites and often have good network experience. They know what it's like to moderate.
  • Moderators do not have the ability to wildly change the outcome of an election. Diamonds don't show up next to our names2, so you have to either already know the user or go through their profile to find out. Most users do neither, I would imagine.

The above seems reasonable, no? There have been disagreements about what I've written in the last bullet, and the debate can never be 100% proven. But I would hope that common sense supports it.

Response, Part 2

This stuff may be a bit controversial, as it diverges from the previous two sections. Some of it is a bit blunt, I warn you. Additionally, it is a meta-Meta view of the situation.

Lemma #1: There is an "us-vs.-them" mentality at work here.

This should be easily apparent, no matter whether or not it is justified. There is clearly a group of users who are attempting to cultivate this mentality by isolating the moderators as another group. There are negative implications associated with their claims, including

  • Voting rings.
  • Trying to negatively effect democratic voting.

Read through the comments, and some of these will pop up.

Lemma #2: There is polarization.

The eventual result of Lemma #1 will be polarization, which is, interestingly enough, one of the 8 stages of genocide - although I would argue that it is present in any conflict. However, I think it has existed from the beginning. There's been a slew of meta issues on Meta Stack Exchange and Science Fiction & Fantasy meta. I'm not trying to connect specific users or implicate anyone in past wrongdoings or blow things out of proportion. But I think this is the case.

Lemma #3: There are other motivations at work here.

Here is where I'm venturing into deep water - and I'm a terrible swimmer. I'm in deep because I'm saying that users who are making some of these accusations are annoyed about past disputes. This is not the case for everyone who thinks a certain way - of course not. But it is the case that there are people who are supporting the accusations because they do not like what has happened in the past.

Section conclusion

Putting the three lemmas together - and regrettably, they are not lembas - the conclusion can be drawn that this is a complaint that has arisen not because of the comments on the election page. I know; a lot of people here already knew this. But I'm going to state it fully, and draw heavily from Lemma #3.

That's all well and good, but I stated something that many people already know or think. That's not productive. What is productive is a solution.

Is there a solution? After all, I claim to be dredging up an old problem that clearly has not been solved in the past. There may not be anything good that will come out of this thread - well, maybe and maybe not. Good answers have already been written. So I'll boil it all down to one thing:

Moderators are not malicious.

This has escalated from a couple of comments on some election nominations to a full-blown Meta Stack Exchange thread. It has escalated because assumptions were made of continuous ill will and automatic maliciousness. It has escalated because people continue to think that Stack Exchange is out to get them. It has escalated because people will not think about the situation in and of itself, but only look at it under the lens of biased perception.

This can be stopped in the future, by people not assuming that anytime a moderator is critical of a user - even outside the site they moderate - the moderator is being critical. This only leads to ugly disputes.

So, please, can we let the past be the past on Science Fiction and Fantasy, and let moderators who have never been involved in disputes there actually do something productive without getting pounced on? That's the point my answer is making about this specific discussion. People were trying to be helpful, and they were succeeding. Unless their actions get blown up, they can continue to be successful.

Just as is the case with CMs, I think there is no issue here.


1 The candidate appears to have commented in return, and neither party has attacked the other.
2 Yes, I am a moderator on HSM and Mythology.

  • This would be a lot more true if it didn't ignore the fact that some of the comments were in election chat, not only on election page. You seem to have taken one fact, out of context, presented it as "truth", and spun up an elaborate theory that looks good. I can conclusively prove to you that you're wrong, because I have menttioned 3 examples in my original post and sent an email detailing 4 examples to a site user (4th comment was added later by ArtOfCode). – DVK Jan 24 '16 at 0:02
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    @DVK I did not include them because I was not aware of them. References were of course made to comments on nominations, but it was not made clear that there had been related comments made in the election chat room. – HDE 226868 Jan 24 '16 at 0:05
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    that's precisely my point. They were NOT related. They were by yet a 3rd moderator. And 2 out of 4 were positive. One of the positive ones by a moderator I happen to like as a person. WHereas (I realy love how you spun this as a conspiracy by me) I have no idea who the 2 people (gnat I saw on Meta before, another one is unknown) are, and the person who complained on MSE about Shog's comments is someone who I'm ... let's just politiely say not very friendly with, despite mutual professional cordiality on Q&A side. – DVK Jan 24 '16 at 0:09
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    @DVK . . . Then I'm a bit confused about why you're bringing up the comments made in chat if they were unrelated. I did indeed use an accusation here, and I did indeed accuse you of having motives not necessarily apparent from the question. But when I wrote that, it was not directed at just you, and not just at the other users you mentioned. It is not a conspiracy so much as shared feeling, I think - held among some users that has become apparent lately. – HDE 226868 Jan 24 '16 at 0:13
  • Seriously, this is beyond ridiculous. You're 100% misrepresenting everything I said. And if you don't like the implication of "voting rings" optics - and I agree it may well be just optics - perhaps convince your fellow moderator chat members NOT to downvote a legitimate policy question off the front page before non-mod users have had a chance to read it an form their own opinion. Then again, the same exact thing happened twice in a row, so my willingness to extend benefit of a doubt - which seems to be far above that of you and your colleagues - is starting to thin. – DVK Jan 24 '16 at 0:15
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    @DVK You're not answering my question, and you're continuing to raise the same ridiculous and unfounded accusations I brought up in my answer. – HDE 226868 Jan 24 '16 at 0:16
  • sigh - I think you're deliberately not getting what I said at this point. because it contradicts your own theories of motivations. I saw 3 incidents of independent cases of moderators interfering (or to follow Beofett's advice, let's use a less loaded word, participating) in election discussions. 3 different mods, about 3 different users, in 3 different ways. The ONLY common thread was exactly what I highligted in my answer - none of the 3 were site regulars who knew anything about the site, one of them honestly stating so. – DVK Jan 24 '16 at 0:17
  • My proof is in the pudding - I even include ArtofCode's comment - which was 100% opposed of Andy's comment - in my examples (his is #4, but posted after I made my Meta post). So unlike some people, I really don't have an agenda other than ensuring only people invested in the site can affect its elections. – DVK Jan 24 '16 at 0:19
  • you're also willfully ignoring my point that this isn't just about moderators - I personally find it objectionable for me to interfere in Mythology elections when it graduates, despite being a user there. I simply shouldn't - whether I can or not - without actually learning about the site and investing myself in it – DVK Jan 24 '16 at 0:21
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    @DVK You're right, I'm still not seeing your logic. Yes, there were three cases, yes, the three users were moderators. But what I fail to see is why you've spun this to make it seem like all the moderators are secretly trying to make the election go some way they want. You keep implying that power is being taken away from regular users - the same claim made in a past question by another user. Additionally, if you're truly not just making this about moderators, it would be nice if you could base your claims on the comments of someone who isn't a moderator, to show that. – HDE 226868 Jan 24 '16 at 0:22
  • may that's because I never tried to make a point that "all the moderators are secretly trying to make the election go some way they want"? That's your personal interpretation not based on anything I said. – DVK Jan 24 '16 at 0:23
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    Claim: I can't prove it with data ATM, other than giving my word. I repeatedly had Meta answers (or proposal questions) upvoted, then moderator posted competing answer criticizing or simply contradicting mine (sometimes, using strawman arguments), and instantly my answer started getting only downvotes thereafter. The chances that it's a statistical fluke (everyone who agreed with my point 100% voted before moderator opined) are miniscule. – DVK Jan 24 '16 at 0:31
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    @DVK All I can say is that the point may have been a legitimate one made by the moderator, and I would say that that may have influenced people, rather than the fact that the commenter was a mod. At any rate, I suggest we drop this line of debate; neither of us can conclusively prove our side. – HDE 226868 Jan 24 '16 at 0:33
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    Actually, there's an easy experiment. Delete this question. Let me repost it. Don't have any moderators downvote it or criticize it for 2 days. See what the voting pattern looks like. – DVK Jan 24 '16 at 0:33
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    @DVK The question may have been phrased neutrally; your words in the comments were absolutely, definitively not. Additionally, my answer does answer your concerns. I explicitly stated that I do not think that moderators severely impact elections and I implicitly stated that there is no problem with them commenting on elections. Stating that concerns are invalid is an answer, is it not? – HDE 226868 Jan 24 '16 at 0:49
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First off, I'm not certain which users you're actually referring to. The vast majority of comments on the nomination page seem to come from regular users. I see a couple of users with <1k rep on SFF commenting on the election, but I only saw two who are also moderators on other sites.

From some comments you made, it seems this involves some discussion in chat that I am not aware of, but it isn't necessarily relevant to your questions here.

As you know, I ran for moderator in SFF twice, and I'm pretty familiar with the site (excepting the events of the past year, since I largely stopped participating on SE sites just over a year ago; however, I do still lurk on SFF, and know the general shape of the major events of the past year).

From my perspective, I felt that during the elections, there was a lot of activity from users who weren't terribly active on SFF. Most of those users were not moderators on other sites.

In both elections, I felt rather strongly that the vast majority of the votes were from people who don't have a ton of visible participation on the site.

There are what, less than hundred users on SFF with 10k rep? And quite a few of them aren't active anymore. There seem to be even fewer with between 5k and 10k rep.

So I suspect a lot of the voters fit your criteria for a "red flag", yet aren't moderators on other sites:

How many times have the user posted on Meta? Zero? How many moderation activities have they done on a site? Zero? That's a red flag to me that their motivation is other than concern for the community.

Hell, I'd venture to say that that's most of the voters, on every SE site's election, and very few are likely there because they moderate on other sites.

I haven't been a moderator on an SE site for over a year. I was never an elected moderator. I wasn't strongly active in the "diamond gang" gnat refers to. Yet I downvoted this question because I disagree with the premise, and not because of some conspiracy to downvote it off the Meta front page.

So: do moderators "interfere" with elections on sites they're not active on? No, not really. Do they sometimes make comments? Yes, but so do users who aren't moderators on other sites.

Is there an undue amount of influence on elections from moderators from other sites, through some sort of conspiracy? I don't believe so. Quite frankly, if there was, I feel I would have done better in the two elections I participated in, since I was "in that crowd" at the time, and each time I ranked behind candidates who weren't moderators on any other site. They certainly deserved the results they got, and I feel I deserved the results that I got from each election, too.

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    With all due respect, you just did what HDE did. You answered the questions that you seem to infer from my implied motivations, not ones I posed. I never said there was any concerted moderator efforts to effect elections. Matter of fact, I have in comments repeatedly stated that the efforts are clearly 100% unrelated other than by timing. I'm also NOT asking about voting (which is private), which you devote a lot of answer to. Just in public support/opposition to candidates. And I would apply the same question to ANY comments to mods on elections, not just SFF; but I haven't observed any – DVK Jan 24 '16 at 1:19
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    Then I'll repeat my first comment, and slightly expand upon it: public support or opposition to candidates is not interfering with an election. Any user can do that, and moderators shouldn't be held to a different standard. You've cited zero reasons why this should be a concern for moderators, but not regular users, so there's absolutely no reason to assume they need to be treated differently. – Beofett Jan 24 '16 at 1:29
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    I listed my reasons under HDE's answer. I first hand observed that a moderator offering an opinion materially effects voting behavior of other users (as in, voting velocity not simply changes but reverses). I only observed it on Meta post voting, but don't see why it would suddenly work differently in election. – DVK Jan 24 '16 at 1:38
  • anecdotally, at least 1-2 times I had my opinion swayed by Gilles before just out of deference to his moderator expertise when I didn't know the subject matter well enough - and this is DESPITE me observing Gilles do it on my own posts when he was SFF mod! – DVK Jan 24 '16 at 1:42
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    @DVK two words: confirmation bias. Yes,moderators influence voter behavior. So do non-moderators. You only notice it when moderators are involved because you're looking for it. Anecdotally, I've had my opinion swayed by you and other non-moderators far more often than 1-2 times. – Beofett Jan 24 '16 at 1:46
  • (1) you're uncommonly thoughtful. You're not a good anecdotal example for this effect :) (2) I would concede you may be right to an extent - except see #1 - if you had your opinion swayed by non-mods when a moderator was arguing against that position, specifically. – DVK Jan 24 '16 at 2:03
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    @DVK one last comment before I have some more scotch, and become unfit to post :). If we accept the premise that some people are more likely to change their mind to a position supported by a mod, because a mod supported it, I think it is safe to also say that some people will be more likely to change to the opposite position, because a mod supported it. Also, mods are specifically selected because they've demonstrated that people listen to them, before they are made mods. – Beofett Jan 24 '16 at 2:36
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    "some people will be more likely to change to the opposite position, because a mod supported it" - some, yes. Vanishingly small number. I'm not aware of any except for may be 1, across multiple SE sites (not myself! - I rarely care where idea originated :) – DVK Jan 24 '16 at 2:45

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