276

Currently, when a moderator messages a user, the user sees which moderator is messaging them. This includes when a moderator issues a timed suspension.

Generally, I have no problem with this. Sometimes a user needs to be gently reminded to be nicer in comments, or to disclose when they're advertising their own product, or to stop targeting their coworkers with upvotes. Usually, users are quite civil.

However, being a moderator occasionally involves dealing with some really unsavory individuals. Sometimes these people take suspensions very personally, and lash out in retaliation. On several occasions, this has resulted in some pretty intense social media stalking on my Facebook and Twitter, ranging from personal insults to attacks on my professional LinkedIn profile. Other moderators have had disgruntled users repeatedly phone their place of work trying to get them fired.

While I agree accountability is important, revealing who sends a moderator message in no way improves accountability. The entire moderator team can see every moderator message and all replies to it, and users are free to escalate moderation issues at any time to the community team.

I'd like to suggest that that we allow moderators to anonymously send moderator messages, via one of the following changes:

  1. All moderator messages are anonymous
  2. Moderator messages that involve a suspension are anonymous
  3. Moderators have the ability make messages anonymous on a case-by-case basis

In any of these cases, mod messages could be signed "The Stack Overflow Moderation Team".


To head off a few counter suggestions and rebuttals:

  • Changing my Stack Overflow username is a less appealing solution. My professional CV is tied to my Stack Overflow account, and I've invested a lot of time in Stack Overflow. I like having my Stack Overflow account tied to my real-world identity, as I imagine many users do. However, as soon as I was elected to moderate, I became somewhat uneasy about the imbalance of power when issuing suspensions to trolls who themselves are anonymous, and don't care about having their Stack Overflow accounts banned. These people can go from my Stack Overflow profile to my real world identity to my place of work with about 30 seconds of Googling, and generally that makes me pretty uncomfortable.

  • I agree that moderators should be held to a high standard, but I'm not sure that exposing our account names (and indirectly real-world identities) to some of the more unsavory parts of the Internet helps that goal. We are still policed by each other and by the community team, and any user can come to meta to plead their case regardless of whether they know the identity of the moderator who messaged/suspended them.

  • To be clear, I have no problem standing behind my actions as a moderator. This is about the very small number of users where my actions are appropriate, but their response is disproportionality abusive or outright crazy. It does happen.

  • Won't this cause grief for all moderators instead of just one? Possibly; it's my hope that a disgruntled individual who doesn't have an immediate and obvious target won't go through the hassle of harassing all of the currently elected moderators. If they seek out and harass the wrong moderator, it's potentially easier to defuse the situation by being able to plausibility respond that they are attacking the wrong person.

  • Regarding legal recourses for "cyber stalking" and harassment, this isn't really viable or desirable. The level of harassment I would have to endure before the police would care to get involved would be quite severe, and I'm just not interested in going through that to reach the point where I could pursue legal remedies, if any are even available.

migrated from meta.stackoverflow.com Aug 22 '16 at 16:47

This question came from our discussion, support, and feature requests site for professional and enthusiast programmers.

  • 6
    This is a real problem. My experiences haven't been as bad as the most extreme examples, but I have been the recipient of some pretty stalkerish weirdness. This may or may not have included an attempt to use social engineering to steal highly sensitive personal information from a third party. I'm not sure which solution is best, but we need to implement one of them. – Ed Cottrell Aug 22 '16 at 2:16
  • 57
    To be (un)fair to moderators, we as staff already do this via support tickets. We sign them all as "Stack Overflow Team" for many of the same reasons outlined here. I don't personally see why we shouldn't extend the courtesy to moderators given the situations they must deal with. – animuson Aug 22 '16 at 3:37
  • 14
    And Brad's examples are harmless compared to the issue meagar is discussing, involving doxxing and harassment via real-life channels, things that could seriously put your livelihood, or worse, your life (or those of your loved ones), in jeopardy. (Again, thankfully those are rare, as much as they do happen.) – BoltClock's a Unicorn Aug 22 '16 at 16:12
  • 3
    Remember that it's not just adults involved here, we have at least one (cough) minor. Combine that with people's spouses and kids, and suddenly this becomes even more serious. – Undo Aug 22 '16 at 16:12
  • 17
    FWIW, there is some precedent for this: flag decline reasons and review suspensions are both anonymous; you don't know which moderator handled your flag or reviewed your review unless they tell you. Account suspensions are clearly a much more serious situation, so we'll want to talk about potential abuse scenarios here. – Shog9 Aug 22 '16 at 16:46
  • 17
    We're discussing this and hope to have something posted soon. – Taryn Aug 22 '16 at 21:03

10 Answers 10

76

Update August 7, 2017

Part 3 has also been implemented. A user is provided with an option to contact us (/contact), after they have already responded to a moderator message and did not receive anything back.

Update: June 2, 2017

Parts 1 & 2 of this have been released in the latest build. We're still working through the last suggestion, but messages will now appear to come from the moderation team instead of a single mod.


I agree with this but there are some concerns that need to be thought through. Moderators should always be accountable for their actions, including suspensions. We have processes in place when users believe a moderator abused their privileges, but if we make messages anonymous how will we keep moderators in check?

Any change made needs to keep that accountability in place, but should also provide some level of protection to the moderators from personal attacks. There is a balancing act between accountability and privacy, and we need to make sure we aren’t sacrificing one for the other when discussing making these messages anonymous.

While most moderator actions are public, we do have some anonymous moderator actions, including what moderator handled a flag, who imposed a review suspension, and others. When a user questions an action, they typically post on Meta allowing the moderator involved to respond publicly on why they handled a situation in a specific way. But mod messages and account suspensions have always been different. Good or bad, users have the ability to see which moderator sent a message or suspended their account. Most of the time, users take the messages in stride, but on occasion users respond poorly and/or escalate matters.

During my time as both a moderator and as a CM, I've seen far too many examples where a user freaks out about a moderator message, hunts down the moderator elsewhere (Twitter, Facebook, their place of work) and harasses them. This is very concerning to me because our moderators are volunteers who give their time to the community and shouldn’t be harassed for their actions. Lately, we’ve seen an increase in this type of behavior and want to get a change in place as soon as possible to offer some protection to our volunteers while we consider other changes to the messaging system.

With that in mind, I propose the following changes to the moderator message system:

  1. The signature on the template moderator messages will be changed to say Site Moderation Team (meaning the elected/pro-tem diamond moderators). This makes the message appear to come from the entire moderator team instead of a single person. Moderators should not edit the signature and should avoid identifying themselves in the message to the user, unless they know they are already on good terms with the user being contacted.

  2. While the name of the moderator will be hidden from the user, it will remain visible to all the diamond moderators on a site (elected/pro-tem moderators and SE staff). If another moderator views a message, they will see, as they do today, who sent the message. In the event, there are questions about a message or suspension, this allows all diamond moderators to see who was involved in the incident.

    User View of Message:

    User View

    Moderator/Employee View of Message:

    Mod View

  3. In addition to the existing reply to message option, we will add a very obvious and difficult to miss means to contact us directly in reference to the message. Users will be advised to respond, calmly, to the message explaining why they believe the situation was misconstrued by the moderator, and reminded that they probably want a positive outcome. By adding this link to contact us it will give the user an easy way to contact staff, if they believe a moderator crossed the line with the message and/or suspension. Our hope is that by providing users a way to contact us immediately, it will be far easier than going to another platform to rage on.

Keep in mind that the community team already receives copies of moderator messages, which provides an additional level of oversight on moderator actions. This proposed change doesn't make the process completely anonymous. Each site always has more than one moderator which means all actions will be visible to the remaining moderators. Every moderator will still be accountable for their actions, but this provides an additional layer of protection from users who might go off the rails in response to a message. We already do this with support tickets to the team and it seems reasonable that we'd extend this to the moderators.

We are still discussing all of the details of this proposal, and there might be some changes in the final implementation, but the end goal will be to make sure that the majority of the rotten, nastiness gets directed back to us and no longer at the moderators. We'll be working on getting some of these measures in place immediately as a stop-gap while we decide how to overhaul the moderator messaging system entirely.

  • 21
    One minor tweak: for usability reasons for the moderators, there should be some indication that what we see is not what the user sees. (We already have problems with not knowing how, e.g., new features work for regular users because we can't access Normal-User-O-Vision; I foresee similar problems arising here where moderators unaware of this change assume the user can see who messaged them.) I suggest either a notice alongside the other mod instructions in the boxed sidebar, or a small gray / de-emphasised “(anonymously)” beside the “from” that mods do see; the UI team may have better ideas. – SevenSidedDie Aug 26 '16 at 19:28
  • 2
    @SevenSidedDie That is a very good point, thanks for bringing it up. – Taryn Aug 26 '16 at 19:37
  • 2
    One way to address @SevenSidedDie's excellent suggestion would be to leave the header text (what's in your screen shot) the same but add the sender info to the heading -- "Moderator Private Message (sent by bluefeet)". Also, on the annotations page where messages are listed, I assume the actual sender's name would continue to appear there; that page isn't user-visible. Between the two of those, other mods will know who's responsible but the actual message part of the page isn't altered. – Monica Cellio Aug 26 '16 at 20:08
  • 2
    When the message comes from a CM rather than a site moderator, should that be made clear? I've noticed that sometimes CMs just leave the "(site) Moderator" signature alone and others replace it with "Community Manager". There's merit both ways; this might be a good time for y'all to discuss. – Monica Cellio Aug 26 '16 at 20:10
  • ...isn't 3 already a thing? Users already have a very prominent "Reply" button. – badp Aug 26 '16 at 20:38
  • @badp Contact us in the normal spot but we don't specifically call out a way for a user to contact staff in a message. The Reply will remain but we're talking about adding something else to contact staff. – Taryn Aug 26 '16 at 20:39
  • 3
    From a GUI perspective, just remove the "From" column entirely for recipients, instead of (a) having a "From" column on a moderator message page that just says "moderators", which is redundant, (b) having a "From" column that fundamentally changes its values depending on who's viewing the data. – Lightness Races in Orbit Aug 27 '16 at 18:48
  • 1
    Is it possible to add the "contact us" link quickly, maybe even just as part of templates? That might take a lot of pressure off of mods even without anonymization - I feel like I see a lot of people complaining about a lack of a way to defend themselves. – Cascabel Apr 11 '17 at 18:22
  • Will the moderation teams be able to see messages sent directly to the community team if the communication is continued there? – anonymous2 Jun 5 '17 at 15:52
  • 1
    @anonymous2 This change hasn't impacted any of the messaging to the community team. That should remain the same as before. – Taryn Jun 5 '17 at 15:57
  • 2
    Just came here (on account of the upcoming election) to check whether this has been fixed. It has - great! Thank you! – Pëkka Jul 12 '17 at 18:53
  • 1
    @Pëkka I can send you a test message if you'd like :P – Taryn Jul 12 '17 at 18:53
  • 1
    @bluefeet brb vandalizing a couple posts and harassing users. Wouldn't want to waste a good mod message for no good reason! – Pëkka Jul 12 '17 at 18:55
  • 2
    I think this change was a positive one. I only wish the templates were accordingly updated to begin with "Hello, We're writing in reference to your Stack Exchange account..." (Instead of "I'm writing in reference...") – J.R. Jan 25 '18 at 0:01
122

There is another reason to change this: the single name below the message sometimes gives the impression that the suspension was a lone decision by that moderator. While many suspensions are decided by a single moderator, those are usually the completely obvious cases. In any of the more complicated cases multiple moderators are often involved, and sometimes a few SE employees as well.

In a few moderator messages I've explicitly added all the other moderators to the signature as well, because we all decided it together and we knew that the users would complain about the suspension.

Signing the messages with "moderation team" could help to avoid the impression some suspended users have that a single moderator is "harassing" them.

  • 40
    This is the best reason I can think of for implementing this. The most abusive messages that I receive all are aimed at me personally because the users receiving the warnings / suspensions think that I was the sole person involved. I'm the one keeping them down. It's much harder to respond with attacks on an individual based on their heritage, gender, or perceived sexual orientation if these messages come from "the Stack Overflow moderator team" than "Brad Larson, Stack Overflow moderator". People are much less angry when 5 users vote to close a question than one moderator, for example. – Brad Larson Aug 22 '16 at 14:19
  • 17
    I'm disappointed that I may not get to use the term "Larsoned" again. – BoltClock's a Unicorn Aug 22 '16 at 15:34
  • @Brad Larson: Who could possibly forget that time someone decided I was too innocent and stupid to make grown-up decisions like banning people? (Not that I don't still think I'm innocent and stupid.) – BoltClock's a Unicorn Aug 22 '16 at 17:35
  • If this happens, the best thing you can do is not make the message anonymous; what you do is you have someone else write and send the message. If I think you're targeting me, and I read "moderation team," I'll still think it's just you, you're just cowardly hiding behind those words. – badp Aug 27 '16 at 10:20
  • This answer swayed me. – Lightness Races in Orbit Aug 27 '16 at 18:45
40

I think there's something pretty important to say about the opinions that folks have expressed here, none of them are wrong.

I also want to let everyone know that we're giving this very careful consideration, and should have a decision by the end of this week. The way that our sites are moderated by the communities that they serve has always been an amazing and rather rare balance; we're determined to keep that balance while adapting to the way that the world, particularly people that use the Internet, behave.

I want to take a moment and distill out what I see to be the roots of the concerns here on both sides. When you boil it down, essentially, well, people want to feel safe, and they should feel safe. That amazing balance of moderation that I spoke of earlier is precisely what makes our sites some of the safest places for civilized discourse on the Internet.

Moderators shouldn't be abused for doing the strictly volunteer work that they do, and the incidents of this happening is on an alarming and sharp incline. It's going to get worse, and we need to do something about that. We can't fix the fact that people behave like jerks online, but for the people that give us so much of their time and take so much flack for it, we will not leave any stone unturned in order to support them.

On the other hand, as I mentioned, everyone needs to feel safe. Knowing that should you have an unpleasant or unprofessional encounter with a moderator that you're able to take the situation into your own hands makes you feel safe. It gives you some degree of control over how much authority you'll take. Just like you could really let those bozos at Buy Lots know you mean business with 20,000 shares on Facebook after they bait-and-switched you.

But that's the thing. The people that have caused this to come to a head never attacked us as a company, they attacked the people that volunteer their time to make sure our sites stay great. So there is quite a bit of merit into seeing what we can do in order to steer abusive outbursts back on us by default - and this might be the best way to do that.

We don't know yet, but the minute we do, we'll let everyone know. This is a tough spot for all of us to be in, none of us asked for it and it's super damn unfortunate that this is now a 'thing'. But we're going to take everyone's interests to heart, and quite seriously, and see what we can do.

I'm unlocking this now, please be good to one another, especially right now.

  • 18
    BTW: When I was a moderator, pictures of my daughter with disgusting things done to it were plastered all over Twitter and 4chan, all due to an action I took as a mod (though it wasn't a mod message, it was deleting a non-answer repeatedly that I think triggered it). – Tim Post Aug 23 '16 at 14:25
  • 5
    And how can we forget the pirate? – Brad Larson Aug 23 '16 at 15:38
  • 6
    Thanks so much, Tim. This kind of thoughtful concern for all users is what makes SE great. – Ed Cottrell Aug 23 '16 at 16:54
  • I don't understand what you're saying in the "on the other hand" paragraph, and I've never heard of Buy Lots. Are you saying that having a mod's name signed to a message makes the recipient feel safer somehow? – yellowantphil Aug 23 '16 at 17:03
  • @yellowantphil "Buy Lots" was just a fictional representation of any "mega" store in any given place. Folks do feel safer when they know they can easily call out wrongdoing to their friends and peers, and it does help keep things honest to an extent. Knowing what mod sent the message gives people more options than not knowing who sent the message. It's just unfortunate that an increasing number abuse that option, and that's what we're looking at now. – Tim Post Aug 23 '16 at 19:04
  • 1
    Door #4: Give moderators the option to use the Community user as the actioner instead of them. This way it looks like an automated system, and there is less potential for abuse. Any ridiculous arguments can be directed towards "a vague shadow algorithm that knows you did wrong" and any legitimate complaints can be tracked by the team to the actual moderator who took the action, when appropriate. – Travis J Aug 23 '16 at 22:09
33

I agree with this and I specifically disagree with Telkitty's view that this removes "taking responsibility with your actions".

Our community moderators don't run for re-election. They're volunteers and we have placed trust in them. In cases of genuine mistakes, they generally come forward on meta. In cases where it really is necessary, the SE staff can see what they're doing. We're not talking about people who on any regular or consistent basis would maliciously abuse power.

By any reasonable metric, the kind of person who becomes a moderator is someone who is very responsible and has no issue with accepting mistakes if they make them.

There is no information that is lost by removing the name. For the vast, vast majority of people, the moderators are seen as a whole anyways. To have them face harassment over other channels or force them into hiding as much information of themselfes as possible is in my opinion highly unnecessary.

This isn't about accountability, every moderator decision is subject to public scrutiny at all times, and the team always knows which moderators did it.

32

I agree with this notion; you're doing your duty and you shouldn't be subject to harassment of any kind in the process of that.

However, I wonder if it's fair to take it a few steps further.

I'm no lawyer, but I would imagine if someone were to go to the level of harassing one's social media account(s) and ultimately be beholden to the level of cyberstalking, that should come with a bit more legal bite to it as well. (Note: this is already an option.) I would say that the user doing that sort of thing isn't the kind of person that we want in this community at all, so I would hope for their permanent removal as well.

I've never had to receive a moderator message (that I can recall anyway), and I personally would not wish to lash out against a moderator individually anyhow, but it makes sense to anonymize these messages. No sense in introducing the risk of abuse.

  • What if the moderator was overzealous? – Mikhail Aug 22 '16 at 2:31
  • 5
    @Mikhail: Stack Overflow has a way to mediate those situations. You can get in touch with the team and I'm sure that's one way to kick things off. (If it doesn't exist, it should.) But I will stress: mediation isn't the same as "omg this modrater is totes stalking me, MAKE THEM STOP PLZ". – Makoto Aug 22 '16 at 2:33
  • 12
    While "legal bite" would be great, it's not warranted in the vast majority of cases, and I don't ever want to experience harassment so sever that it is warranted. This is kind of the point: I would like to prevent situations in which I am targeted by this level of harassment before it happens. – meagar Aug 22 '16 at 2:37
  • @meagar: Right - I wouldn't expect it to be necessary in most cases you'd have to deal with. However, having that option at your disposal should the need ever arise isn't the worst thing. – Makoto Aug 22 '16 at 2:39
  • 2
    @Mikhail One form of accountability here is that, as meagar said, mods can see each other's messages. Many, if not most, of us read basically every mod message and response. It helps keep abreast of what's going on around the site, but it also keeps us all from getting carried away or abusing our privileges in any way. – Ed Cottrell Aug 22 '16 at 2:46
  • 3
    If I was going to wave a legal wand at "troublesome users" the ones who post SSN, DOB and/or full name/address of real people and don't even notice/care why that might be wrong would be the top of my list, ahead of trolls. – Flexo Aug 22 '16 at 2:53
  • 8
    Regarding legal action, moderators regularly hand off truly abusive individuals to Stack Exchange, and appropriate authorities have been notified at times. For example, I recently was harassed by someone who called the number of our company repeatedly to rage about me deleting his sock puppet account. Stack Exchange employees offered direct help, but I didn't feel it was worth involving the police. That option is already there, if we need it. The point of the proposal is to reduce the frequency of that need. – Brad Larson Aug 22 '16 at 14:27
  • @BradLarson: That's comforting to know. I can revise this answer a bit later to exclude that portion then. – Makoto Aug 22 '16 at 14:29
  • 9
    Also, as Flexo notes, I've personally dealt more often with authorities due to the severe HIPAA breaches and other privacy violations that occur on a regular basis. Been in back-and-forth contact with a couple of state DAs due to massive dumps of healthcare records posted as sample data in questions. Really opened my eyes to how much of my personal information is being handed off to subcontractors of subcontractors across the globe. Weakest link in the chain, and all that. – Brad Larson Aug 22 '16 at 14:35
  • 6
    It's funny that people like Mikhail quickly think of overzealous moderators when, honestly, who are the truly overzealous ones here? – BoltClock's a Unicorn Aug 22 '16 at 15:37
6

One thing to keep in mind is that sometimes it is useful to have the moderator message come from an SE employee. This has come in handy for us on Workplace several times.

I agree with the sentiment here, however, so my recommendation is to make the message come from "The moderation team" when sent by a non-employee site moderator but allow SE employees/CMs to send this message as themselves should they choose.

Also, it would be useful for other moderators to be able to see who sent messages.

  • 5
    Yes, the diamond-menu notice we get (that currently says 'so-and-so sent...") should continue to say that, for our own use. But it doesn't need to be published. – Monica Cellio Aug 22 '16 at 19:33
2

Yes, agree with your points. Moderators becomes open and soft target for such users and specifically suspended users. Moderation is not an easy task, they have to take strict decision against some wrong actions. Their words may sound strict at first but what they are conveying is not pointless at all. So, this is what brings all moderators in a risk where they can be directly or indirectly abused in one or more ways,

  • From social media profiles
  • Their website or blogs
  • By editing any stackoverflow post
  • By downvoting post (specifically questions)
  • ...

In moderator private message it should be common name like Stack Overflow Moderator and even more not keeping it only up to name we can have common moderator profile like Community where all the stuff can be described.

-3

I think this only makes sense as an opt-in from the moderator that wishes to write the message. The thing is, this veil of anonymity is probably not going to work very well.

I've seen this in action with Impraise, where all of the feedback you receive is free-text, but you do not "know" who wrote what. In reality, it's usually pretty trivial to tell. There is science behind that: this talk claims that even with something as dry as source code, even when you ignore the variable names and only look at the structure of the code of the program you write, even when you make it obfuscated, a computer is able to attribute who wrote what between a pool of 20 authors or so with 80% accuracy in the worst case scenario.

In other words, unless you pick a template and don't touch it, you're not going to be "anonymous."

I would suggest that if you feel uncomfortable at all contacting a user — that's what other moderators and community managers are off. A veil of anonymity is probably only going to give you a sense of false security and the receiving user a burning urge to discover who wrote what rather than focus on the message that has been received.

  • 2
    Disagree with this being implemented as an opt-in feature; that'd introduce a whole new set of guidelines about when to be anonymous and when not to, etc. Re: ability to tell who wrote what due to writing style, it's largely irrelevant on SO. It is likely different on the smaller sites, but 22 of the last 30 messages are straight-out templates, the rest tend to be very minor edits (i.e. adding "chat" to the message somewhere) that wouldn't be traceable. On the smaller sites, I agree, but on the larger sites there are too many moderators and too little variation for this to be a real concern. – Undo Aug 26 '16 at 20:36
  • @undo if you make this a thing only on the trilogy sites, then perhaps. But this ranges between irrelevant and dangerous on over a hundred SE sites. – badp Aug 26 '16 at 20:44
  • 2
    Definitely understand that concern. I'm not convinced it'll do harm, but it might not do much good on the not-ginormous sites. – Undo Aug 26 '16 at 20:45
  • 1
    I dunno, the templates are useful on small sites too. It's a good thing to keep in mind, but I'd still rather be able to send an "abusive to others" anonymously than not. – Cascabel Aug 27 '16 at 5:21
-11

Well, firstly I think this is a huge issue that points to a glaring problem: Stack Exchange isn't protecting its moderators.

I think that the best solution is for Stack Exchange to employ their customer service, and in some cases their legal, teams to stop abuse and harassment. Once these bad users find out that Stack Exchange protects its moderators the abuse should be cut way back. Perhaps the police wouldn't become involved due to the low level nature, but this doesn't mean that Stack Exchange can't get involved.

The stories told in the OP sound huge warning bells - does Stack Exchange really do nothing when its moderators are being this harrassed to this extent? It boggles my mind that the only possible solution is to hide them behind a curtain like the Wizard of Oz.

That's the best solution? It really does sound like a huge failure of Stack Exchange.

But if Stack Exchange can't be reliably expected to respond to moderator harassment, then I disagree that reducing transparency to this degree is a good choice. Too much of Stack Exchange is now handled behind closed doors/chatrooms as it is, and the community is often only involved once decisions have already been made.

I can see how this is a significant problem, though, and given that our moderators are volunteer positions we don't want to leave them open to such terrible abuse.

So I'd say "no" to a blanket obscuration of the sole moderator responsible.

I'd suggest instead that when you want a moderation message, ban, or other action to come from the "team" with no single moderator being shown, at least two or more moderators should perform that action. If it is a single moderator performing an action, then that moderator should allow their name to be used. If they are dealing with a user who poses a threat then they should work in pairs or greater to "vote for" or sign off on the ban. Only at that point would it be labelled and treated as coming from "the moderation team".

So this would essentially modify option 3:

  1. Moderators have the ability make messages labelled as coming from the team on a case-by-case basis when approved by a second moderator team member.

I would then further suggest that all significant moderation events be performed by pairs. I don't know what the system looks like now, but having a moderation queue where significant events that moderators believe should happen anonymously or have additional oversight would go into, and another moderator would then be able to approve it, whereupon the action would take place would make the flow go more smoothly.

I'd prefer the messages to be signed by the multiple moderators rather than a blanket "team" signature, but I suppose at this point it really doesn't matter as long as two or more sign off on the action.

Honestly, though, if a moderator experiences even mild online harassment, Stack Exchange should be johnny-on-the-spot redirecting the user to customer support and away from the moderator, even to the degree of legal threats if the abuse continues. We cannot allow our moderators to be treated like this, but we also cannot reduce transparency.

  • 10
    This (using customer service and/or legal remedies) is not a realistic approach. SE customer service can't do anything to a troll with a throwaway account who has decided to ruin someone's life offline. And the law is generally not effective/efficient at stopping online harassment. Even if you can figure out who is harassing you, the behavior in question may not be criminal, and civil remedies are extremely time-consuming and expensive. In any case, these are both after-the-fact remedies. They don't do anything to dissuade abuse by somebody who has already decided to be a jerk. – Ed Cottrell Aug 22 '16 at 19:24
  • 11
    A few points, on larger sites it might be possible to get buy-in from multiple mods but smaller sites where the team isn't as active that might be incredibly difficult. Also, there is typically no telling what user might go off and contact a mod elsewhere. There have been times it has been unexpected users doing that, so knowing a "user who poses a threat" isn't always clearcut. – Taryn Aug 22 '16 at 19:25
  • 2
    @EdCottrell I don't understand this type of abuser. You're suggesting that someone creates a new account on Stack Exchange, performs an action that gets them banned, and they spend significant effort harassing the moderator that banned them? It would seem to me that the people who would spend time harrasing have built up some reputation or have linked their account - in other words they are harassing because they believe they've lost something valuable due to misapplication of moderation. Maybe we need more data to figure out whether the abusers really are unknowable people. – Adam Davis Aug 22 '16 at 19:30
  • 3
    @EdCottrell "civil remedies are extremely time-consuming and expensive" If a moderator is being harassed - and make no mistake, even if you hide them harassers will likely target individual moderators anyway based on comments or posts on meta - then saying, "It's hard, so Stack Exchange isn't going to do it" is a terrible attitude. There are a lot of penalties Stack Exchange can employ long before involving the legal system. The moderators are already empowered to use effective penalties. The difference is transferring the problem user to customer service. – Adam Davis Aug 22 '16 at 19:34
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    @AdamDavis I don't understand these people, either, but yes, people do that. Certain users create new, throwaway accounts on a regular basis. IP blocks and similar measures only do so much, thanks to Tor and proxy networks. Some abusers are high-rep, but many of them are not. It's surprisingly difficult to predict which ones will go completely nuts. – Ed Cottrell Aug 22 '16 at 19:37
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    @AdamDavis Re legal remedies: I'm a lawyer, and this isn't legal advice to SE or anyone else, but I will say that it's not a question of whether or not it's "hard" to go after people using the law. It's often completely impossible. And regarding SE customer service: if a user flips out on a moderator and engages in off-site stalking and creepy behavior, what exactly could SE possibly do to fix that from a customer service perspective? Once the user knows who the moderator is, SE's bag of tricks is pretty much spent. – Ed Cottrell Aug 22 '16 at 19:39
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    As a moderator, I'll state this: at no point have I felt that SE wasn't doing everything they could to help me when I was being harassed. In each prominent case, multiple SE employees contacted me directly to see what they could do to help and were actively working on it. Sometimes that involved contacting the authorities, but there's only so much you can do when someone from Turkey employs a botnet connecting over Tor to create hundreds of accounts on Twitter, GitHub, and SO to attack you. It's better to not even draw this personal attention to begin with. – Brad Larson Aug 22 '16 at 19:51
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    I should second @BradLarson's comment. I have always felt like SE had my back, even when I wasn't being harassed. It's just that SE can't stop people from being evil. I'd very much like to see SE take whatever steps it can to stop harassment before it starts. I can handle the almost-daily messages full of expletives. But the off-site stalking is creepy and annoying and, in extreme cases, could be outright dangerous. – Ed Cottrell Aug 22 '16 at 19:59
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    As an aside, I'm not wild about having to get a second moderator to sign-off before I can take action. When somebody is self-destructing and posting abusive comments or deleting all of their content, I shouldn't have to wait for a second mod to confirm my decision to suspend that person. – meagar Aug 23 '16 at 17:50
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    Adam, the Community Team (which in the context seems like the closest thing to SE Customer Service in this case) do step in to handle more difficult users/situations, especially if asked by a mod or when contacted by a user. Especially in extreme cases like a disgruntled user abusing a mod or other user offline, we can't even know about it until it's already happened, and there is no way for us to create an automated system here that will prevent someone taking action outside of our network. – jmac Aug 25 '16 at 4:03
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I am, for one, against this proposal. If you have used your power, at least take the responsibility.

If a member of the police force guns down someone who might or might not be a suspect, (s)he shouldn't ask the whole police force to take responsibility for it. Any misjudgement was on that person's behalf, not a reflection of the whole police force.

I have witnessed once that a CM was hiding behind a moderator. It took me a while to figure out what was going on. Surely you don't want to be a scapegoat for someone else in your team?

Personally I agree on the message being anonymous if two or more moderators reach the same decision.

After all, the community is not a single person.

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    I'm not a police officer, and I don't have a gun, and a 7 days suspension doesn't warrant the same level of accountability as shooting somebody. That said, this doesn't lessen a moderators accountability! I tried to address this in my question: Moderators and the CM team can still see who issued mod messages and suspensions. The same avenues still exist for users to escalate an issue. The only thing I feel anonymous mod messages would prevent is a moderator being single out, outside the site, for harassment and abuse. – meagar Aug 22 '16 at 1:57
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    In my experience in most countries police officers only get named when they choose to be or their actions get questioned and are investigated, until then they typically have a badge with a number and rank/precinct information. I don't see how that would be any different here. – Flexo Aug 22 '16 at 1:59
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    Getting attacked and stalked on other (social media) sites just because as a moderator here you suspended someone is an absolute NO NO! And hiding the name in mod messages would be a reasonable solution. I mean all moderator will still see who wrote it and each mod is still responsible for their actions. – Rizier123 Aug 22 '16 at 2:00
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    Don't conflate taking responsibility for something with opening oneself to any form of abuse that any other party may see fit. – Makoto Aug 22 '16 at 2:29
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    @Makoto: To be fair, some children grew up being abused by their parents for the smallest transgressions and they end up with the notion that they're really the same thing. – BoltClock's a Unicorn Aug 22 '16 at 4:34
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    I disagree with this (see my answer). Our moderators' decisions are up to public scrutiny at any time at all, and even in cases where you have no way of knowing who did it they generally come forward and explain themselfes. We elected these people in large part because they're sensible and not prone to abuse. – Magisch Aug 22 '16 at 4:48
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    What a load of nonsense, especially given that moderators work for no pay and even the paid members of the team enjoy anonymity when communicating with users. If Stack Overflow had any of the issues a real-world police force has - most notably a tendency to be overprotective of their own members, to the point of covering up crimes committed by them - there might be a tiny shred of merit to this. But I've seen nothing in that direction, ever, in seven years here. – Pëkka Aug 22 '16 at 9:31
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    What is a "CM"? – Peter Mortensen Aug 22 '16 at 15:31
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    @Peter Mortensen: Stack Exchange Community Manager. – BoltClock's a Unicorn Aug 22 '16 at 15:33
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    Even policemen gunning down innocent people are not publicly identifiable by a simple Google search. – nvoigt Aug 22 '16 at 15:54
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    Militarised and other riot police are routinely masked, so are police involved in high-profile raids such as against organised crime. The police example is an extreme one, but actually one where police officers are anonymous, and of course if there is systemic excessive police violence, we certainly should hold the entire police force responsible. – gerrit Aug 22 '16 at 17:17

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