Well, it's election season again. On sites all over the network, moderators are being selected from among the good folk willing to volunteer their time to help guide and support their communities. I'm proud to be part of a system that governs itself in this manner; for all of its inherent messiness, democracy goes an awful long way toward avoiding the sort of alienation and discontent that tends to settle on communities over time.
But about that messiness... For as long as we've been doing this, we've faced the question of whether or not to allow candidates who are currently or recently suspended. In the past, we've taken a hard stance on preventing or removing nominations from folks who are currently suspended on the site running the election. But the more elections I see, the more I've come to believe that allowing nominations from candidates who are currently or recently suspended anywhere on the network is a bad idea:
- They lead to speculation and personal attacks. It's natural and healthy to discuss the beliefs and behaviors of nominees, but suspension details are mostly not public; this makes frank discussions difficult. It is possible for the moderators involved in the suspensions to reveal the details, but this tends to be seen as unnecessarily personal and vindictive, even by those who would normally favor transparency.
- They leave insufficient opportunity to demonstrate good faith. Everyone makes mistakes; most of us try to move on from them. But moving on takes time; rebuilding a reputation tarnished by inexperience or one bad day requires long-term effort. In the meantime, even the most sincere candidate's record will be controversial.
- They distract everyone from the most important question in any election: who will make a good moderator? Let's face it: a checkered past is entertaining in a way that years of patient service to the community isn't. But turning elections into a circus hurts everyone who cares about the long-term health of the site.
Five years ago, Pekka made a reasonable suggestion:
Candidates who have a record of vote fraud within the last two or three years (or whatever time span is decided) be silently removed from the nomination page - the more boring, but probably wisest option.
I think we should do this. 2-3 years is a long time on The Internet, but 1 year (after the end of the suspension) strikes me as quite reasonable - and also happens to match the longest suspension period normally imposed. If you can manage to avoid trouble for that long, you should have a reasonable chance of being able to run on your merits.
Unless someone can raise a credible objection to this, I plan to start implementing this immediately: the next time someone nominates themselves after having been suspended on any Stack Exchange Q&A site during the past year, we'll quietly withdraw their nomination and send them a message to let them know why.
In cases where the suspension was clearly in error - lifted early with a message explaining the situation - we'll forego this process.
I spent this afternoon spot-checking various elections throughout Stack Exchange's history, and found very few cases where this would've mattered (see Appendix below for details). But invariably, these were some of the most controversial and distracting nominations in those elections.
Any thoughts or concerns?
Appendix: how would this have affected past elections?
A few people have expressed concerns that this would be either too widespread or too fuzzy. So here are some hard numbers:
- There've been 136 elections held under the current system
- There've been 1266 nominations
- ...from 984 users
- ...of whom 76 have been suspended at least once
- And finally, 54 nominations were posted within a year of a previous suspension by the nominee.
The last one - 54 nominations - is the number that would've been blocked if we were doing this all along. Except... It shouldn't really be 54, since at least two of them were posted after a candidate (already a moderator) got another moderator to suspend him "For Science". This same candidate went on to run in two elections and win one, making him one of only 3 candidates with recent suspensions to ever win a moderator election.
What can we take away from this data? Here's what I got out of it: folks with sketchy pasts getting elected isn't a problem - it almost never happens. Folks are pretty good about letting others know when someone is likely to cause problems.
...But that - the discussion of past suspensions - has been a problem: far too many of those 54 nominations have managed to significantly derail the elections they were part of, turning them into public trials of the nominees. The goal of a timed suspension is to let someone reconsider their actions and move on quietly, without having to leave the site or spend the rest of their days under a dark cloud; having everything dragged out into public defeats that goal, hurts the person nominating as well as the larger group who must try to sift through the drama to determine what is and isn't relevant.