278

Whenever the topic of a suspended user crops up, there's often confusion about what information moderators ought to share and what they should keep private. Sometimes moderators are just as unsure as other users. This can cause all sorts of unnecessary problems.

The immediate effect of a suspension is removal. If a user has been rude or destructive, the community needs that behavior to stop and removing the instigator suffices. However, the long term goal is rehabilitation:

At the end of this timed suspension period, your reputation will be recalculated, and your account will resume as normal. We don't hold grudges. The point of all this is to address the behavior. If the behavior improves, you are welcome back.

I volunteer at the county jail on Saturday mornings. In the jurisdiction I live in, trials are generally open to the public, there are detailed records of the proceedings and, critically, it's easy to find out if a prospective employee has a criminal past. When I talk to inmates, they worry about their family on the outside and whether they will find a way to support them upon release. Although it is illegal to discriminate against people with criminal convictions, getting a job after serving time isn't easy. Some employers, particularly requiring licenses, are prohibited from hiring ex-felons.

In California, ~65% of former prisoners return to prison. That's pretty appalling but not surprising since rehabilitation is not a politically safe goal. On Stack Overflow, ~10% of previously suspended users have received a second suspension. Other sites have similarly low recidivism rates. Some of those users have, perhaps, moved on to other parts of the internet, but many have gone on to be productive members of the network. The evidence suggests we are doing something right when it comes to rehabilitation. I think one factor is that we don't have public listings of previous suspensions.

What can moderators share publicly?

During a suspension, anyone can see that a user has been suspended and broadly why. There's not a lot of benefit for a moderator to do more than point inquisitive users to that part of a suspended user's profile. Since suspended users are unable to tell their side of the story on meta or chat, the less said the better. Hard to think of a better way to turn a user bitter than to humiliate them when they are helpless.

Sometimes, however, the questions about a suspension are . . . pointed. Secretive systems of justice don't tend to be very fair. Since users on the site clean up after bad behavior, it's not very easy for people to even see what the suspended user was doing. It comes down to trusting either the word of a moderator (with inscrutable power) or a fellow user. In these cases, my guiding principles for moderators and CMs are:

  • Be honest. That might mean telling truths that aren't very flattering of yourself or other people. It might mean highlighting the mistakes of a moderator or community manager. It might mean summarizing information that's not publicly available. It might mean publishing moderator messages and responses. It does not mean publishing potentially personally-identifying information, which is never allowed under the moderator agreement. But honesty must always be balanced with:

  • Be respectful. I'd say be nice, but that might be misunderstood. Correct misinformation, but don't go out of your way to make people look bad. Focus on the evidence of what happened and avoid assigning motives. Assume good faith and take the time needed to remain civil. Believe it or not, people sometimes respond positively (and rarely negatively) to this sort of generosity of spirit.

In other words, the purpose of secrecy isn't to hide from public scrutiny, but to protect users and the site from needless gossip and drama. If you already have that (and especially if the suspended user instigated it) there's no real reason to keep mum. Better to have informed turmoil than misinformed. Meanwhile, don't stoke the fire by bringing out salacious details that could be left quiet. Nobody said the job of a moderator is easy.

Checks and balances

Of course, we don't always do the best job of letting users know what goes into a suspension. If you've been a model citizen, it might look like a moderator is acting out of spite when they suspend a user you respect. From the outside, it can seem sudden and capricious. And with 610 (and counting) moderators, it's likely some of them are unaware of parts of the process:

  1. The system encourages moderators to warn users before suspending them. Warnings carry no penalties and there is no public record of them. Users have the opportunity to respond to the warning with an explanation of their side of the story. Many users who get warnings are never suspended (87% on Stack Overflow), so this step goes a long way toward preventing suspensions in the first place.

  2. Every message and every suspension is sent to other site moderators and the community team for review. On occasion, we've stepped in to reverse suspensions. Usually the problem is a simple misunderstanding or poor guidance from the system. The community team also has the power to remove a moderator in cases of abuse of power. (This action, thankfully, is very rare.)

  3. The system encourages moderators to follow an escalating scale of suspensions: 7 days, 30 days and a year. Volunteer moderators are not able to suspend longer than a year. Again, the goal is rehabilitation. Believe it or not, many people have come back from a year-long-suspension to resume their productive participation on the site.

I've investigated many, many complaints about moderator abuse, including complaints of unfair suspensions. Overwhelmingly, it's clear our moderators are very careful about suspending users. Obviously, you'll need to take my word for that. But you can see the results of wise moderation when using Stack Exchange sites. The network tends to be free of rudeness and chaos as compared to other, similar networks. A good deal of the credit belongs to the cadre of volunteer moderators who have the power to suspend users.

Parts of this post were copied from my answer on Meta Physics.

  • 1
    So, this post and some of the others had a bunch of comments, some of them meaty, some of them chatty. If you have something substantial to say, it belongs in an answer (and if you need assistance in pulling up an old comment or 10, try to find me in the Tavern on the meta and I'll try to help). Otherwise, lets try to keep the comments on point. – Journeyman Geek Mar 12 at 1:17
107

Your paragraph on "be honest" represents quite a departure from the way this was handled in the past by moderators. In most cases, the answer to suspensions has always been "no comment", regardless of the amount of drama a suspension caused.

My impression was that most moderators interpreted something into the guidelines from SE on this subject. Making suspensions low-profile and avoiding shaming users in public is a good idea, but this got turned into an almost absolute ban on any comments about the details of a suspension at some point.

But there is a part in your post I consider rather problematic, at least if I'm interpreting this right. There were two cases where I previously would have considered it acceptable to post the full details of a suspension:

  • the suspended user explicitly gives permission, e.g. to let the community challenge the suspension publicly
  • the user lies about the facts of the suspension

In both these cases the suspended user is initiating the situation. But there are also cases where the community is complaining about a suspension, but the suspended user isn't participating in this at all. I wouldn't feel comfortable releasing any more details about the suspension in this case, but the way I read your post I would be justified in doing so.

Am I understanding this right, that we could release the full details of a suspension simply because the community (but not the suspended user) is creating a huge amount of drama over the suspension? If yes, is that really a good idea, or should we require either consent of the suspended user or at least some involvement in the public complaints about the suspension?

  • 14
    Both points (honesty and respect) must be considered equally. Certainly if the user gives permission or is clearly out to mislead that would be a good time to reveal clarifying details. And if the community and not the suspended user is making a fuss, there's good reason to protect the user from public shame. Being honest doesn't always require saying everything that could be said. Instead of publishing all the details, a moderator might give a general overview: whether the user was warned, if other users had flagged content, if content has been removed, if other mods were consulted, and etc. – Jon Ericson Apr 2 '17 at 7:20
  • I slightly updated the post to make it clear both honesty and respect must be balanced. Hopefully that will make it easier to interpret. – Jon Ericson Apr 4 '17 at 23:32
  • 4
    @JonEricson Maybe it'd be a good idea to include a hypothetical example? E.g. "If the chain of events leading to a user being suspended was something like X, it'd be appropriate for moderators to post something like: [example post]". Right now everything you're saying is very open to varied interpretation. – user568458 Apr 5 '17 at 11:49
  • 9
    I don't care either way about protecting people who have misbehaved badly enough to genuinely deserve suspension from the reputational harms caused by their own bad behaviour. I do care about moderators being open when a user wishes to publicly contest their suspension, and have been frustrated when that hasn't happened in the past. The status quo is that even your "two cases" here don't result in the details that caused a ban being revealed, but in moderators maintaining secrecy while saying "trust us, he was a bad dude". That isn't right. – Mark Amery Apr 5 '17 at 12:31
  • 1
    Yes, I believe that the user who is suspended should be able to 'defend' themselves against what many might see as a wrong against them. Being suspended can be interpreted as a badge of honor (almost a right of passage), or a shame - depending upon the point of view. – dougal 5.0.0 Apr 5 '17 at 14:07
  • 1
    @MarkAmery - Genuinely curious, do you believe I provided too little information in response to the post you link or that I leaned too hard in the "trust us" direction? As Mad Scientist points out, I often struggle with how much information to make public when someone contests a suspension. I tried to answer with what I thought to be relevant: the steps that were taken to warn someone before a lengthy suspension, without getting into specifics. Should I have listed out the specific actions of that user that led to each of these suspensions? Would it be healthier for the community to air this? – Brad Larson Apr 7 '17 at 20:17
  • 3
    @BradLarson airing specific details of bad behaviour would help the community better understand (and critique) mod decisions about imposing suspensions. Rigidly refusing to comment on individual cases (at least in cases where the banned user doesn't explicitly request the public release of information) might help avoid shaming and thus improve the odds that a banned user will later be willing to return and contribute positively. I'm not sure how to judge, in any given case, which of these objectives is more valuable, and it's fundamentally impossible to achieve both at once. But... [1/3] – Mark Amery Apr 7 '17 at 21:56
  • 2
    ... But there are approaches that completely fail to achieve either objective, and the one you took in the post I link to is, in my view, one of them. You publicly commented enough (about the unanimity of the decision, the history of smaller bans, etc) to paint a picture of lpapp as a bad (or at least deeply unstable) character who "cannot abide by the code of conduct", possibly shaming him or even causing him reputational harm. Yet you didn't release a single detail of any action he'd taken, leaving him unable to defend himself and the community no more informed than they were before. [2/3] – Mark Amery Apr 7 '17 at 22:00
  • 3
    Basically I'm saying: either air enough information to let the community meaningfully judge the merits of a ban for themselves and critique it (and to let the banned user defend themselves) or maintain a rigid policy of not commenting on individual cases. But don't attack a person's character by insinuation (probably never your intent, I realize) while holding back the details. I imagine that mods feel the need to defend themselves against unreasonable or uninformed critics but that shouldn't guide disclosure decisions, and I fear (perhaps wrongly) it did in the case I linked to. [3/3] – Mark Amery Apr 7 '17 at 22:12
  • @MarkAmery Suspensions don't come from site-specific policy, they come from network-wide rules; a community should not be critiquing individual suspensions. If there's a broad problem with the network rules, users should post here on Meta SE. If a suspended user thinks they were suspended unfairly and can't get any traction with their sites' mods, they should use the SE contact form. Involving other users doesn't make sense and doesn't help. – Matthew Read Apr 10 '17 at 17:23
  • 2
    @MatthewRead "Suspensions don't come from site-specific policy, they come from network-wide rules. ... If there's a broad problem with the network rules, users should post here on Meta SE" - I disagree: for one thing, I thought it had been established that discussing network-wide issues on per-site Metas was welcome, and for another, different sites' mods can potentially have radically different interpretations of the same rules. "Involving other users doesn't make sense" - sure it does, in principle. It's us "other users" who elect the mods, and they're meant to be accountable to us. – Mark Amery Apr 10 '17 at 19:54
  • 1
    In almost any situation where there has been a heated exchange, each side feels (strongly) that the other side is misrepresenting the situation. While "lying about facts" sounds like a clear line, in practice it could be alleged probably more often than not, by all sides. Furthermore, in any large community there will always be a subset who will find any drama interesting, and will repeatedly offer their two cents on the issue, so setting a bar regarding "the community creating drama" is also going to be a very low bar. Let's support the 98% of the community that wants drama minimized. – Matt Apr 12 '17 at 21:23
33

Dukeling raises an interesting question:

So is that 10% of suspensions in general or 10% of users who actively continued using their accounts post-suspension?

It's approximately 10% of users whose suspensions ended who were later suspended. Defining "actively continued using their accounts" is a bit fuzzy, so I'll present some additional numbers...

Of the 9444 suspensions that have ended on Stack Overflow throughout its history, 80% saw the suspended user return to the site afterwards and 67% saw the suspended user go on to make at least one post.

Out of the users who continued visiting the site, 14% were re-suspended at some point.

Out of the users who continued to post, 16% were re-suspended at some point.

This excludes users whose accounts were deleted, users were suspended once and whose suspension has not yet ended, and of course users who stopped using their initial account and went on to participate using an alternate account (which is ok, if they did so after their suspension ended). There are a few other odd behaviors that can skew these numbers too, which is where it helps to focus on Stack Overflow as the overall number of normal suspensions is high enough to minimize the effects.

  • It would be interesting to have a look at suspensions and user rep – anon Apr 5 '17 at 18:56
  • 40
    I ran a quick check - turns out, all suspended users have 1 rep. – Shog9 Apr 5 '17 at 18:57
  • 8
    hahaha I mean rep the moment before suspension – anon Apr 5 '17 at 18:58
  • 6
    Ah. That's harder to get. ;-P – Shog9 Apr 5 '17 at 18:59
  • 4
    Focusing on Stack Overflow might help make the numbers high enough to kill some unwanted statistical gremlins, but SO is a very different site to the rest of the network, so it would also be interesting to have those same numbers for SE\setminusSO. Or are the suspension numbers on the non-SO network really that low? If so, how low? – E.P. Apr 5 '17 at 19:36
  • 6
    To give you a rough idea, @E.P.... I listed 9444 ended suspensions for the entire history of Stack Overflow. The total number of suspensions for the rest of the network (combined) is 5908, which includes ongoing suspensions and in some cases users who are now deleted. Outside of Stack Overflow, the single site with the largest number of suspended users over time is this site - Meta Stack Exchange - with 1177, followed by Super User with 631 and Math with 568. The numbers get pretty small pretty fast after that. – Shog9 Apr 5 '17 at 22:34
28

To address a few of the concerns from comments and other answers in no particular order:

It's inappropriate to compare the penalty box with criminal justice.

Well, yes. I agree. Thankfully the stakes are a lot lower on a internet site that's supposed to be enjoyable. I probably could have used Jeff's original sports-related analogy or a theater asking a disorderly patron to leave the premises. These would have worked better in some respects and worse in others. What might not be clear is that I chose the analogy because, like Victor Hugo, I have a "deep identification" with inmates. I count a former resident of the LA County jail system as a friend and it pains me to imagine what would have happened if the system had eaten him up like it does so many others. I'm proud that this network has a better track record when it comes to rehabilitation and the point of the post is to encourage that trend.

The statistics don't account for people who leave the site altogether.

When I say we do a good job of encouraging suspended users to return as productive contributors to the community, I used the rate people were resuspended. There are all sorts of problems with that as it's easy to imagine user either come back with a newly created account or just leave the site. Neither of these behaviors demonstrate our suspension system works the way I say it does. So to get at the heart of the issue, I'm going to define productive contributions as posting at least one question or answer that gets a score of 1 or better. Using that definition and continuing to report Stack Overflow (because of the number of data points), a little over half of suspended users go on to be productive.

users pre-warned %    posted after last %    posts  
----- ---------- ---- ----------------- ---- ------ 
 8390       1630 19.4              4346 51.8 222630

This data excludes people currently serving a suspension. The number of upvoted posts posted after a suspension is another encouraging sign. 4,346 users went on to contribute 222,630 positively-scored questions and answers after their suspensions. I spent a good deal of time checking my numbers because they do not seem possible. But then again, suspensions are almost always reserved for highly active users who (perhaps out of momentary frustration) engage in disruptive behavior.

I also show that less than 20% of first suspensions are preceded by a warning. Again that data surprises me. There are a few moderator message templates (vandalism and sock puppets come to mind) that come with a short suspension by default. Also, as Mad Scientist pointed out we can't track warnings that were transmitted via a comment or chat. To get an idea of how important formal warnings are, I've split users into pre-warned and not:

users warned posted after last %    posts  
----- ------ ----------------- ---- ------ 
 6760 nope                3227 47.7 124349 
 1630 yep                 1119 68.7  98280  

So users are more likely to return from a suspension if they were first warned. But it's hard to discern causation since being suspended for running a sock puppet ring or deleting your own posts are good signs you might not be coming back in any case. [Note to self: maybe dig into this a bit more when you have time.]

Another way to look into this is to divide the population by whether they were suspended once or multiple times:

users suspended pre-warned %    posted after last %    posts  
----- --------- ---------- ---- ----------------- ---- ------ 
 7638 once            1377 18.0              3849 50.4 196600 
  752 multiple         253 33.6               498 66.2  26033  

How do I escalate my individual suspension/conflict with a moderator?

There are, I think, three options:

  • Reply to the moderator message directly. This both preserves privacy and notifies other moderators and a community manager. It's also the best way to show you are a reasonable/misunderstood/repentant user. Note you can only reply once, so make it count.

  • Use the "contact us" link. If you used up your reply or feel the need to elevate your concern, the contact form is a direct line to a community manager. We take complaints against moderators seriously. See also, the advice in the previous item.

  • Post a question on meta. (Not recommended.) Obviously, you can't do this during your suspension. (Though some folks come here to Meta Stack Exchange instead.) This is a master-level move that requires discipline. Be aware that most communities appreciate the hard work of their volunteer moderators so they tend to get the benefit of the doubt. You really need to go the extra mile to show yourself reasonable.

  • 1
    Thanks, this is helpful from a moderator point of view too. It's good to have encouraging productive returns in mind when writing warnings or suspension messages, and it's nice to see you encouraging reasonable replies - we certainly appreciate when that happens. – Cascabel Apr 6 '17 at 22:30
  • 4
    Thanks for the nod to my Literature answer :-D – Rand al'Thor Apr 6 '17 at 23:43
  • Interesting stats and it appears users with >1 suspension tend to contribute even more than users with only one suspension. That's interesting and food for thought. thank you. – anon Apr 7 '17 at 10:57
  • 2
    @Yvette It makes sense. If someone gets suspended once and then simply quits, they won't get suspended again. If they come back and participate again after that first suspension, but don't learn from the experience and change their behaviour, they might well get suspended again. – Rand al'Thor Apr 9 '17 at 23:19
26

Reconcile with /help/mod-messaging guidance

Currently the guidance for moderators at each site's /help/mod-messaging page says strongly that the content of moderator messages are never to be shared by moderators, even if the user opts to share some or all of the message. I'm referring to the paragraph beginning:

The contents of a moderator message is to be considered private affairs with the user in question. […]

The guidance currently provided in the help centre doesn't accord with the guidance provided in this meta question, and it would be beneficial to have them agree somehow, either by amending the Help or by amending this meta Q. Consistent guidance for moderators will avoid confusion and decision errors. Thanks!

  • 4
    Good point. I think the guidance in both places is compatible, but it's not immediately obvious how. I'll look into cleaning up that article and linking to this post. This is probably the hardest thing we ask moderators to do and it's tempting to write up a flowchart or something. Truth is no single process will work in all situations. I worry we've made things a bit worse on sites by giving advice that's helpful 99% of the time, but not for certain situations. – Jon Ericson Apr 5 '17 at 19:02
  • 6
    @JonEricson I own that I can't see how they're compatible in letter. In spirit, perhaps, yes, in that most of the time ironclad privacy is the correct default, but there are rare exceptions. The current article is rather emphatic and just doesn't provide any hint that there can or should be any exceptions made. – SevenSidedDie Apr 5 '17 at 19:05
16

I've actually had situations where I've wondered about this, users asked, and the advice I last saw was this one.

It's also worth remembering there's no benefit for any one outside a moderator knowing someone was suspended before.

Even for a moderator, that does not come in again unless we need to suspend them - and it's a second or third offence. If a user comes back from a suspension and the behaviour is better the suspension has done its job, and bringing it up is counter-productive. To borrow from the time this happened

Suspensions aren't meant to be a long term black mark. Ideally people learn from their suspensions, and we'd never have to review their past records. That's why suspensions are always paired with mod messages.

In general, for me the only time I would discuss anything more than publicly available information is on the request of the user. If people have general questions, it's cool.

  • 2
    In general, for me the only time I would discuss anything more than publicly available information is on the request of the user Even this I'm wary of. The site is very content focused, as opposed to user focused. I don't see value in discussing a user publicly - can be very dangerous. Apart from that I agree with what you've written. I'd like to give a half vote :D – anon Apr 5 '17 at 9:51
  • 2
    I mean, if someone basically posted saying a mod decision was unfair publicly, we'd have to reply. Those situations tend to be rare and slightly ugly. Not fond of those at all – Journeyman Geek Apr 5 '17 at 9:58
  • 3
    I'd argue that in an election, knowing that someone has been suspended multiple times (and for what) could be very useful to potential voters. Particularly if they were recent (old suspensions might not mean much ... but if they came right off a second suspension in a short time frame and immediately nominate for an election, I'd think people trying to choose a responsible moderator would really want to know about that). If you nominate for mod, I think your suspensions within the last year should be on record. – Glen_b Apr 6 '17 at 5:12
  • 4
    @Glen_b - users suspended within the past year, anywhere on the network, can't run for mod - their nomination gets removed, as of January 2016. – Mithrandir Apr 6 '17 at 6:56
  • And if you think about it, If someone was suspended recently enough, and the current mods don't think he'd make a good one, they'd likely speak up, right? – Journeyman Geek Apr 6 '17 at 8:16
  • @Mithrandir *February – Rand al'Thor Apr 6 '17 at 12:48
  • 1
    I disagree mildly. In particular, it's often very noticeable if a high reputation and active user is suspended, because others notice the silence and see the temporarily changed reputation and the flag on their profile. Knowing that someone has been suspended is something that bears on how to regard them, usually with caution. The goal of rehabilitation doesn't automatically imply that whatever is known about that person can be or even should be forgotten. Often the bad behaviour was noticeable before the suspension, so more than the fact of suspension can become known to non-moderators. – Nick Cox Apr 6 '17 at 19:22
  • We had that happen. Interestingly many regulars and other mods went "Oh, he got suspended" and one guy was like "How do I avoid being suspended like X" - so we talked about the generalities of suspension and things that wouldn't get you suspended. The suspendee was unhappy but I seem to have noticed a slight rise in answer quality and other issues we've attempted to address in the past. – Journeyman Geek Apr 9 '17 at 22:42
8

This question could be rephrased "Why don't we give out permanent achievement badges for suspensions"?

That is, wouldn't suspending someone with a public record become both a badge of honor to be striven for, and an indelible mark of shame making rehabilitation harder?

It will. We have seen again and again whenever this type of thing has been attempted in any online forum or game.

"Don't discuss disciplinary actions in public" is the industry gold-standard approach, the result of several decades of experience moderating online boards, along with many centuries of more general HR and PR experience.

It causes the least drama, the best rehabilitation, the least targeting of the disciplined people by others, the least incitement to offend and to reoffend, the least accusations of publicly picking on people, and the lowest chance of legal issues.

Is there a pressing need to deviate from this standard and to publicly reward/shame suspended users? I couldn't see one explicitly outlined in the OP, beyond "[if there is drama] there's no real reason to keep mum".

If there is drama, I'd argue that it is the worst possible time to "go public". It is never worth trying to pour the cool waters of reason on a drama-fire. Like a deep-frier fire, you will merely feed it. Anything you post will have every possible bad slant picked up on and elaborated on by far more people than you could ever respond to. So rather than airing the drama, it is always better to permit it to die out through suffocation.

  • 1
    Totally. And there's a few folk who seem to feed off drama. I'll gladly try to account for any mod decision people care to ask about. There's a handful of things we do by fiat, but If someone asks "Where exactly did things go wrong, and how could I fix it?" as opposed to the... undiluted vitrol I see in some of the answers here, deleted or otherwise, I'd be happy to do what I can to help. – Journeyman Geek Apr 11 '17 at 0:47
  • 2
    On the whole we are in agreement. If the community fully trusted the moderators to do the right thing, I doubt we'd ever need to go public with the details of a suspension. But sometimes there are questions about the propriety of a suspension that need to be addressed head on. – Jon Ericson Apr 11 '17 at 7:14
  • @JonEricson I'm unconvinced that publicly engaging with questions about admin actions is ever necessary. It might well seem the simplest solution to some issues, but it will eventually violently explode in your face. Unexploded munitions make really convenient doorstops, until they don't. – Dewi Morgan Apr 11 '17 at 20:07
  • 2
    @Dewi: The two usual cases where this is necessary are: 1) the suspension was done in error (thus, admitting this clears the air) and 2) the suspended user comes back and makes public statements that are blatantly untruthful regarding the reason for the suspension (we try very hard to discourage this, but, it happens - ultimately, this is where having multiple parties able to access and review the relevant history becomes critical). I wouldn't call either case an ideal outcome - it's always more about making the best of a bad situation. – Shog9 Apr 11 '17 at 20:18
  • @Shog9 1) granted, good call! 2) advocates feeding trolls. The alternatives are to ban/block (trivial to dodge) or discuss privately (ideal outcome, if it works). Assuming both fail, all you have left are: public damage control (risky troll-feeding); or do nothing and let it burn out (emotionally hard). I advocate the latter, but can understand why people might disagree. – Dewi Morgan Apr 11 '17 at 21:08
  • 2
    The latter is preferable when possible, @Dewi. Unfortunately, it isn't always possible; sometimes, you just end up martyring someone. I've seen these drag on for years without burning out. – Shog9 Apr 11 '17 at 21:14
  • @Shog9 If it's years old, it's unlikely to quietly go away just by giving it public attention. And if it's years old and the community is still healthy, then it's arguably explicitly proven to be an ignorable issue. But I admit that it remains galling, and upsets some users, and after that long, at least trying other approaches is unlikely to make it worse. Unlike my unexploded ordnance metaphor, it doesn't get riskier over time. – Dewi Morgan Apr 11 '17 at 21:30
  • 1
    The first two examples that come to mind... One on one of our sites, one years earlier on Everything2... They're probably unsolvable except in that "wait for the generation to die out" sense that nearly every social problem is "solvable", @Dewi. The crux of both is that once you've created a martyr, it no longer matters what the facts of the situation were - folks are defending an increasingly abstract idea. IMHO, this why Jon's advice is so on-point: be honest, regardless of venue, because you never know if you'll have a chance later. – Shog9 Apr 11 '17 at 21:59
6

In California, ~65% of former prisoners return to prison. That's pretty appalling but not surprising since rehabilitation is not a politically safe goal. On Stack Overflow, ~10% of previously suspended users have received a second suspension.

So is that 10% of suspensions in general or 10% of users who actively continued using their accounts post-suspension? The latter makes a whole lot more sense, at least in terms of presenting honest statistics.

Moving on to a different SO account or a different site is slightly easier than moving on to another life or find another world to live in.

I hope you don't consider reversed suspensions here.

What are the statistics on "new" versus established users (going by reputation, I guess)? I imagine new users would be a whole lot more likely to just move on to another account or site.


Do you ever suspend users just until they cool off? One can make a good argument for separately looking at those versus users suspended due to continuous repeated intentional violation of the rules despite clear warnings as to where this behaviour will lead.


You say the system "encourages" moderators to warn users. How many people were suspended with versus without warning?

What does a warning entail? A big-ass banner saying something along the lines of "WARNING: SUSPENSION IMMINENT!". No? Why not?

Making sure users firstly see and secondly understand that their behaviour will result in suspension and how to correct it seems vital for punishment to be considered just and unavoidable.

  • 2
    Warnings can be in comments, or in moderator messages. There are no statistics about warnings in comments, so you'd have to be careful on interpreting the statistics about warning in mod messages, if SE publishes them. There is almost never an explicit threat of suspension in warnings, SE advises mods to avoid those. – Mad Scientist Apr 5 '17 at 8:26
  • 1
    @MadScientist I understand the reasoning behind not wanting to threaten suspension (right away?) but it's almost certainly better to make it clear at some point that continuing the problematic behaviour will have consequences rather than presumably downplaying the severity right up to the suspension (which will likely often lead to easily avoidable frustration and anger). – Dukeling Apr 5 '17 at 8:36
  • I suppose there may be a subtle difference between a warning that the possibility of suspension exists for continued infractions, and a threat that the user will be suspended if the behaviour continues. – Andrew Leach Apr 5 '17 at 9:08
  • 2
    @Dukeling typically it starts with comments and flags, escalates to moderator messages, and end up with suspensions, sometimes skipping a step. We never threaten though - we're told to talk about the problem rather than waving our big mod sticks around threateningly. – Journeyman Geek Apr 5 '17 at 9:10
  • 2
    I'm glad you called out that potentially misleading 10% statistic: I was wondering the same thing. As a moderator on a site with a lot of drive-by posters who don't even try to understand the Q&A format, I think many of the people I mod-message (whether with a suspension or without) simply don't come back. – Dan Hulme Apr 5 '17 at 10:33
  • Your questioning about repeated warnings makes it sound like suspension is the end of the process, but don't forget that suspension is itself a warning. A one-week suspension isn't much of a punishment, but it is a clear demonstration of what will happen if the person continues to harm the community, as well as a chance to cool down and avoid digging themselves deeper. – Dan Hulme Apr 5 '17 at 10:38
  • 3
    @DanHulme That's true, although suspending someone for a week seems like a good way to create a lot of bad blood, so if a simple "you're headed towards suspension" would fix their behaviour instead, that's seems like a much better option. – Dukeling Apr 5 '17 at 11:00
  • 4
    @Dukeling It isn't useful, really. Having been on the dispensing end of a number of warnings, non-suspension Mod Messages, and suspension Mod Messages, none ever containing a threat of suspension, I can say that threatening suspension would have improved zero of those interactions. Users are either cooperative or they are defiant when they receive a mod instruction. Cooperative users are best worked with, and threatening them is counter-productive. Defiant users don't give two figs about our response, and a threat would be useless. So mods don't threaten: we ask, and (if necessary) we act. – SevenSidedDie Apr 5 '17 at 18:31
  • 1
    See my answer: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/293213/… – Shog9 Apr 5 '17 at 18:51
-19
<absolutely unverified speculation>

I think first we have to understand, what motivates the SE. What is important for the SE?

I think, its alexa rating may be very important. The SO is around the 60th in this rating, the SE network is around the 140th. They have a lot of invested capital, they need to produce as good financial results as it is possible, for them it is not a fun as for us, it is very hard job.

Their deeds shows also very clearly, they want to make the site so useful for us, as possible. Without scandals. If the suspensions wouldn't be hidden from the public, they would cause more scandal, whining, flamewars. The SE doesn't want this. They want from you to produce many good posts to attract new visitors. Also this is the reason, why the SE is far better in power misuse problems, as the competitors. A single op on an irc channel has absolutely no problem to ban anybody, for anything, he is not interested financially in his visit stats.

Also we have to understand, how will such a system deal with "troublemakers". You, if you are threatened by suspensions, are of course a trouble source for it - but a mod, expelling useful users, is also a trouble for it.

Consider, for example, a mod giving long suspension for unfair reasons (for example, for the reaction to an obvious political provocation on a technological site, while the provocateur didn't get anything - recent events in the U.S. domestic politics caused a significant shift on the whole Internet into this bad direction).

What will the system do? The flame was obviously a trouble, just as its bad handling. What matters in this case, 1) the site stats, they measure the worth of the mod 2) the stats of the suspended users, they measure their worth (which is surely not only their reputation). If the site grows, its mods have more free hand, if you produce many good posts, you can make more troubles - but everything will happen behind the walls.

If you give many good posts, the system allows more "troubles" from you. The ultimate crime is in its eyes if you seem to endanger its growth, and flamewars endanger it. Thus, the rational behavior from its side if they allow more for the mods of the sites with growing stats, until they do little misuse and they do this in silence. Furthermore, also they try to make infighting and flamewars so small, invisible, as they can.

The results:

  • you can commit far more on the SE before you get a suspension, as for example, on a facebook page.
  • if they suspend, they do this silently.

This is why the suspensions are hidden, why you can't see your own deleted posts/comments. If there is a misuse, on a site that is very open anyway, somehow you have to contact them on a nonpublic channels. And you probably won't reach anything, but if yes, also this will happen behind the walls. This is why the posts about recent bans on the meta sites are often quickly anonymized, closed and deleted.

They try to provide an environment for you, where you produce many useful content, and with few troubles.

If you want the system to be lenient with you, try to produce many good posts (=have a strongly positive combined reputation time derivate), and they will be more lenient. Until a point, of course. You have to feel, intuitively, where is this point, and never cross it. Unfortunately, by the fact that you dance on this border, sometimes you will cross, it is unavoidable, because it is not a very well defined border. The system can't be fixed, because you can't ask from the SE leaders to do anything against their own company. But you can reach a tolerable compromise with it, until you pay for the troubles with good content.

Thus, I think cases of suspension will be handled always in silence, but with smart politics, you can shift the system into a more lenient direction.

I think, a completely open discussion about recent suspensions is probably an unreachable goal. But, having a non-public discussion about the suspension of high-rep users, could even help the system to solve problems in silence. Thus, I suggest to motivate the SE into this direction, and not into unreachable ones.

</absolutely unverified speculation>
  • 8
    <absolutely unverified speculation>You work for EE and was hired to try and harm their competitors</absolutely unverified speculation> (and yes, it's not more absurd than your "speculation") – ShaWiz Apr 6 '17 at 22:48
  • 14
    I don't understand why anyone would feel the need to dance on the border of what's suspendable. Just, I don't know, don't do anything that might reasonably be worthy of suspension, and if there's a policy you feel is unfairly threatening you with suspension for reasonable actions, either speak out against it or leave the site. Brinksmanship is not a mature way to handle this at all. – Nathan Tuggy Apr 6 '17 at 22:58
  • @ShadowWizard I think this post may be uncommon, it may violate some unsaid taboos, but I am sure there is nothing insulting in it. I don't know what is EE. Surely not "Enterprise Edition", but I don't know any other alternative abbreviation for that. – peterh Apr 6 '17 at 23:08
  • 1
    @NathanTuggy I didn't want to write a novel. The reason, why are we dancing on the border, that this post is about the SE, and not about the power users of the sites. The general stance of these power users are, in my opinion, more near to the ircops or to the facebook site owners. My troubles are mainly with them, and not with the SE. If you post, if you do anything, mostly you do this with a goal, which is a positive goal, at least in your eyes. For positive goals it may be rational to take some risks, this is why we play with the fire. – peterh Apr 6 '17 at 23:16
  • 12
    @peterh: But what kind of "positive goal" is achieved by engaging in the sorts of behaviors that attract suspensions? Changing policy? No, there are almost always much better ways than to, say, deliberately stir up trouble with emotional language and rabblerousing. Correcting misbehaving users? Surely this is possible to do without insults, if only by using flags so others can handle things. Answering questions? Asking? If you're telling me you can't answer questions without risking suspension, I don't find that the slightest bit believable, and would need to see an awful lot of proof. – Nathan Tuggy Apr 6 '17 at 23:32
  • 8
    @peterh (Also, I find it extremely troubling whenever someone posts a long argument that is tolerably well-reasoned but relies on assumptions that appear extremely questionable, then when asked why they didn't explain those assumptions, says something like "well, I didn't want to make the post too long". If you have a valid argument, make the whole argument, and if it makes the post too long, just don't post anything! Posting the details of everything anyone might agree with, and none of the details they might not, is not how to win arguments legitimately.) – Nathan Tuggy Apr 6 '17 at 23:35
  • @peterh: Finally, I hope it goes without saying, but I don't actually have any real idea what you've been suspended or warned or risked suspension over. This is just general stuff, not laser-guided examples drawn from specific past history. – Nathan Tuggy Apr 6 '17 at 23:36
  • @NathanTuggy This positive goal was in my case to help others to understand, why are suspensions so hidden and how to handle this whole problem. I knew that I take risk with it, I know that I will get a lot of downs - mainly from people seeing independent thinking as a dangerous aberration. I think it worths its price, that is all. I think to do things on your best conscience is more important as to keep unsaid, unwritten rules. – peterh Apr 6 '17 at 23:46
  • @NathanTuggy No, risks are coming if you have unpopular views, like this post. Of course if you answer a question on a technical site, it is not risky. You don't have such views, or you don't communicate them. What I do here since a while is not fighting the system, rather I try to represent a positive stance in a not always positive environment. – peterh Apr 6 '17 at 23:53
  • 3
    @peterh: But, you're not going to get suspended for this post. You're almost certainly not even going to get a post ban, since meta relaxes those a lot. So this is not an example at all. I mean, if you're going to talk about how important it is to speak truth to power, it would be nice to have some concrete examples of that, besides just the post about how important it is to speak truth to power! – Nathan Tuggy Apr 6 '17 at 23:55
  • 1
    @NathanTuggy I explained. This post is not about the typical power users of the not very friendly SE sites, because also the question is not from them. The question is about an initiative about the publicity of the suspension cases, this is what I had to focus. But I can insert this part into the post, because most troubles on the sites are mainly "generational conflicts", i.e. old power users are bullying younger ones. – peterh Apr 6 '17 at 23:57
  • @NathanTuggy Concrete examples for what? I think I make far enough upvotes to avoid a post ban, but a cage is possible if I cross the border. I think the main danger of this post is not that it would be harmful, but that it is about things what we mostly feel, but don't like to read it. I don't know, how post bans are working on the meta SE, like on the main sites or on the site metas, but I think the first is more probable. – peterh Apr 7 '17 at 0:02
  • 2
    @peterh: MSE specifically is tuned for very relaxed post bans, specifically to allow free expression. Has been for years. And I'm looking for concrete examples of suspension-risking behavior that's not just "talking about how the mods suspend everyone who questions them", and is (at least in your opinion) something many posters engage in with good reason. In other words, an actual example of where this matters on the actual sites. The thing this post is notionally motivated by. The thing the mods are presumably suppressing that isn't just the bad behavior they say they are suppressing. – Nathan Tuggy Apr 7 '17 at 0:08
  • 3
    As a mod - I've never really looked at my site metrics and its certainly something that has never come up in CM communications whatsoever. And I thought alexa scores were a 90s thing. I'm a firm believer in working on tangible things to make the site better than statistical prettiness – Journeyman Geek Apr 7 '17 at 0:08
  • @JourneymanGeek Thanks for the fixes. I am continuously surprised, why the "cage" word is so unpopular, while it is so... expressive :-), but let it be as you wish. About the stats: the SU produces a not very quickly, and not exponentially, but obviously growing one, so I think it is around okay. The CMs regularly visit a lot of stat, making the site growing is in my opinion the most primary interest of the company. You are a volunteer helper for them, so it is understable that you are not on a direct stat pressure. But the essence of the capitalism is that doing professional work, all we are. – peterh Apr 7 '17 at 0:23

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .