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:
- All moderator messages are anonymous
- Moderator messages that involve a suspension are anonymous
- 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.