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Suppose we have a Stack Exchange site about rutabagas, and a user named Archibald on that site who closes a lot of questions.

Suppose further that Archibald doesn't ever ask or answer questions about rutabagas anymore, and hasn't for several years. (Indeed, it's doubtful whether he asks or answers on any SE site anymore.) But he used to, and he has enough reputation to vote to close questions. He exercises this privilege many times every day.

Should this be?

Should it be OK for Archibald not to actively participate in the main activities of a Stack Exchange site, asking and answering questions, yet to spend that much time closing questions? Can he fairly judge whether a question is appropriate for the SE rutabaga site?

Or should Archibald, to continue to exercise these kinds of privileges on rutabagas.stackexchange.com, be required to maintain an active presence there beyond just closing questions?

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    Is Archibald closing wrongly? Also if Archibald is closing questions singlehandedly he must have earned a gold badge and then he can only close vote as a duplicate – rene Jul 30 '18 at 16:25
  • Let us say, hypothetically speaking, that the Rutabaga board has a reputation for excessive question closure, that I would say he closes wrongly, and that I'm not the only one who would say that. – Kyralessa Jul 30 '18 at 16:27
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    Moderating IS actively participating. – user400654 Jul 30 '18 at 18:19
  • If you used a she in the example, it would be more welcoming. For instance, it could be Anne (with an e). – Peter Mortensen Jul 30 '18 at 18:37
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    @PeterMortensen, did you really edit my question to change two spaces after a sentence to one? Really? By the way, if it's correct to say "Stack Exchange" and not "StackExchange", then you might want to have a word with whomever made the logo on this page, and the one on the top bar as well: StackExchange/Stack Exchange – Kyralessa Aug 1 '18 at 20:20
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Users who are willing to take the time to participate in the moderation tasks of a site are much-needed and welcome to participate in those actions, assuming they meet the appropriate reputation for those privileges.

Whether they actively write posts is a separate consideration from whether they should have the ability to vote to close or reopen them. The reality is that many users are passive users of sites. This doesn't mean that they're not aware of the site policies or that they don't keep up with meta discussions in addition to the other things they do on the site. Perhaps they feel strongly about keeping the site neat but don't have time to write posts of their own due to their own busy schedules.

It's problematic to tell users that their privileges are contingent on continuous participation on a site, particularly on sites that are extremely low-volume where it may be months between posts you have any expertise to respond to or have a question to ask at all. We can't infer why they're inactive on the site, only that they are.

The other side of that coin is that being currently active on a site doesn't necessarily make you any better able to judge whether a post should be closed or not. Even active users can make errors or have strong feelings that something should be closed when the consensus of users is that it should not.

As such, the solution here isn't to prohibit low-activity users from moderating, but to address specific moderation issues as they occur. If any user is doing a poor job with review - robo-reviewing, repeatedly voting to close (or reopen) certain types of posts that should remain open (or closed), declining useful edits, voting "looks OK" on very low quality content, etc. - this is worth a review, if not a discussion.

If you'd like it looked into, you have a few options:

  • For specific posts, raise a question on the rutabagas.meta.se to discuss whether the post should be open/closed/edited, etc. In this case, it's a good idea to avoid accusations, focusing on querying the users for their thoughts on what should be done with the post.
  • For extreme cases of poor review histories, flag something that they've voted to close with a custom flag reason and ask the moderation team to look into it. They have tools to look over review histories for users.
  • If you've tried this and nothing seems to change, consider seeing if you can talk to one of the moderators privately in chat. They may be able to see something that you can't or they may be missing something you're seeing and explain why it's not a problem or decide that it does need to be addressed.

So, let's take this on a single-user basis rather than potentially harming users who are doing a great job in review.

  • Thank you for this excellent answer, Catija. It gives me food for thought as well as telling me how to proceed if, after munching on that food, I still think there's a problem. – Kyralessa Jul 30 '18 at 17:36
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Yep.

Your title states that Archibald is not participating actively in the community. Well . . . community moderation - flagging, voting to close and reopen, going through the review queues, participating on meta - is very much active participation, and enormously important to the site. If you talk to any mod, chances are good they'll say that spending a lot of time handling flags means they can't post very much. Same goes for a high-rep user doing a lot of moderation tasks.

The only reason Archibald shouldn't be doing this is if he's

  • Unaware of the scope of the site, or important recent scope changes
  • Abusing his powers
  • Roboreviewing to get badges

That said . . . these are honestly fairly rare. And besides, they probably have little to do with not posting much. It's a separate thing entirely. Not asking or answering questions shouldn't have much bearing on your ability to moderate well.

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Suppose Archibald still enjoys reading Q&As about rutabagas, or maybe doesn't enjoy but needs the information in them professionally. Suppose that everything he needs to know is already on the site, so that he doesn't need to ask new questions. Suppose he doesn't have the time and/or energy to research and write answers (anymore). Note that this might be true for a lot of "users" of the site who don't even have an account. (Incidentally, all this above describes me on Stack Overflow before I joined and right now.)

My point is that it's really hard to measure passive participation. Don't underestimate it; I'm sure that some of my colleagues who don't have a Stack Overflow account can judge whether a question is unclear or lacking an MCVE. I've personally flagged questions across the Stack Exchange network which I knew to be off-topic, even if I had barely any reputation there other than the association bonus.

Some sites, given the size of their Close Votes review queue, can use any moderation help that's being offered. This also compensates for the many users who do like posting content but (for whatever reason) cannot or do not want to perform moderation tasks.

There's also a reason why it (usually) takes five people to close a question, and it's possible to vote to reopen a question; different users can have a different view on what is on-topic for a site and what not. A single Archibald who wants to keep a narrow site scope will be compensated by others who want to keep a wider scope.

Yes, there will be instances where users are (arguably) abusing their close vote powers. That's a reason to argue with them (in comments, in chat and/or on Meta) but in my (limited) experience this is usually not related to a lack of active participation on the site.

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Archibald spent many hours in the first place learning what was and was not on topic to get the 3000 rep required to vote.

Why would he forget that? He's continuing to look at questions and their answers and presumably has a pretty good idea now of whether a question is a duplicate which is a big thing we want close voters to look for, after all if a question is closed as a duplicate then the question asker got what they wanted i.e. an answer.

If it's closed for some other reason then why would Archibald suddenly be unable to determine whether something about a rutabaga question is unclear or whether the question comes in several parts and is too broad.

Archibald can always skip questions if he doesn't know and he could be reading the site's meta to keep pace with the latest rutabaga thinking for all you know.

On top of that if a new field of study comes along similar to rutabagas and we get broad or unclear questions then someone has to close those even if we don't have any gold badge holders in that field because it's too new. I'm sure Archibald can close a "what's the best onion" question as primarily opinion based just as well as anyone else even if his field is rutabagas.

If there are specific moderation issues you can always take them up by asking a question on the site's meta.

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