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I was recently suspended in chat here on Meta.SE. I would like to know how I could have handled this situation better and avoided a suspension.

Link to transcript:

https://chat.meta.stackexchange.com/rooms/89/conversation/suspended-due-to-a-flag

I was in the Tavern on the Meta chatroom here on Meta.SE. Sonic the Inclusive Hedgehog asked for feedback on his proposed edits to the "What can I do..." question about the Post Ban. I provided one piece of constructive, kind feedback that I thought would be helpful:

@SonictheInclusiveHedgehog on line 20, I would change "the fact that a question is deleted" to "the fact that you have deleted a question", considering that the answer you link to there is about self-deletion.

Shortly thereafter, Catija mentioned,

@SonictheInclusiveHedgehog STOP EDITING MY POST!!!

and then Shog9 posted a message apparently expressing disapproval of the editing idea:

@SonictheInclusiveHedgehog too elaborate to consider, too conservative to help

I was a bit surprised by Catija's comment seemingly claiming ownership of a community FAQ post with a post consisting of screaming (all caps) and lots of exclamation marks and flagged it.

Shortly thereafter, Shog9 posted a chat message:

If I have to query the database to figure out who flagged that, they're getting suspended. Just FYI

I was shocked by this statement and wasn't sure what to do, so I did what many people advise, I simply stepped back and took a deep breath. Shog9 then said:

so be it

I was then suspended from chat for one hour. Shog9 then said:

It's not spam, it's not offensive, it's not rude, or crude, or harassment, or a violation of the CoC, it's a request. To be honored or ignored or perhaps taken under advisement. But now I have to wait for someone else to handle it, so both of you are gonna wait until that happens.

How could I have handled this better? I'm not really asking about whether the flag I raised was the best, but about my behavior in general. What exactly was it that merited a suspension? Is simply raising a flag in chat that a moderator disagrees with worthy of a suspension? Do I have a particularly bad record of bad chat flags that has led to this (I don't recall receiving any sort of notification or warning about bad chat flagging)? Would confessing to @Shog9 have prevented me being chat-suspension-worthy (and what would have been the best way to do that - simply say "yes it was me", say it was me and beg for forgiveness, say it was me and try to explain, etc.)?

Sonic mentions that Catija was referring to editing a different post. Even if that is the case, I still feel the question is valid - the chat message appeared in the middle of a discussion about a major proposed edit in the works, and did include a somewhat strong assertion that some might consider a bit too much considering the apparent circumstances, even if the actual underlying motivation for the message was different than that which one might suspect given the immediate context.

Even if Catija's statement was not inappropriate, was flagging it for moderator attention in and of itself ban-worthy? I thought that the reason that we have flags is for moderators to investigate questionable situations and determine whether any rules have been violated and whether action is called for. If the moderator's ruling is that that message is not inappropriate for chat, I'm fine with a declined flag, but a little less comfortable with the idea that I am always one declined flag away from another chat suspension.

Update: Shog has apologized to both me and Sonic:

That said, I overreacted, and I owe both [Sonic] and @RobertColumbia an apology for that.

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    FYI, Catija was referring to this post she made, not my Gist I linked. – Sonic the Introverted Hedgehog Sep 1 '18 at 3:03
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    Also, a suspension and Shog's subsequent comment would have been absolutely justified if Catija had instead written, "Please stop editing my post." and that had been flagged. However, "SHOUTING" in my opinion is disrespectful, and thus a violation of the code of conduct, which states that users shouldn't be unfriendly. – Sonic the Introverted Hedgehog Sep 1 '18 at 3:11
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    @SonictheInclusiveHedgehog don't you think it is worth mentioning that you have to be told now and then to back-off by SE staff and others? While I will not make a judgement call if the chat message was disrespectful or not, leaving a comment, like you did here, that doesn't put your own actions into perspective is disrespectful of you. It is a form of revenge, a subtle put down that is also a violation of the code of conduct by you. – rene Sep 1 '18 at 10:40
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    @rene I didn't make any more edits to her posts after she made that message. As I said in this chat message, I generally focus on tone than content: I heeded the content; I just didn't like the tone. – Sonic the Introverted Hedgehog Sep 1 '18 at 16:17
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    @SonictheInclusiveHedgehog you totally missed my point and your response nicely illustrates that. – rene Sep 1 '18 at 18:47
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    @rene That is totally and utterly irrelevant, and a tu quoque fallacy at that. – forest Sep 1 '18 at 22:00
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    I don't have time to delve into this, but I can say for sure that when people start flagging chat messages only because they are ALL CAPS, even not remotely offensive, chat stop being fun. Well done, you made the Tavern a non fun, boring, room. Or at least greatly helped towards that direction, as it appears that Shog himself took a step back, and likely any such future flag will be accepted without any problem. (i.e. those who post the all caps will be suspended instead) – Shadow Wizard Sep 2 '18 at 14:30
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    @ShadowtheWelcomingWizard But CM/mods should know better than to post shouty comments without supplying context, a simple link would have sufficed. Writing a short message in all caps is offensive = kinda "aggressive" to the person on the receiving end, especially if it is written by a mod. And blaming one person's flag for demoralizing the crew is also unfair. – Mari-Lou A Sep 2 '18 at 16:54
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How could I have handled this better? I'm not really asking about whether the flag I raised was the best, but about my behavior in general.

You could have asked, "why the all-caps?" or "please don't shout" etc. I wouldn't have flagged (spam/offensive) but it is somewhat subjective as to what someone finds offensive or rude. If you wanted to keep it private, a custom mod flag might have worked better, not least because that avenue provides a freeform text box to explain what is wrong with the message, and what you would like to happen (e.g. edit to sentence case).

What exactly was it that merited a suspension? Is simply raising a flag in chat that a moderator disagrees with worthy of a suspension? Do I have a particularly bad record of bad chat flags that has led to this (I don't recall receiving any sort of notification or warning about bad chat flagging)? Would confessing to @Shog9 have prevented me being chat-suspension-worthy (and what would have been the best way to do that - simply say "yes it was me", say it was me and beg for forgiveness, say it was me and try to explain, etc.)?

The last part has been addressed in Shog9's answer, but in my view (and on the basis of the public evidence alone), the suspension seems like an overreaction, assuming you do not have a history of trivial or malicious flagging, with a prior warning to stop doing that.

An in-chat reminder to only flag things that are violations of the Code of Conduct or spam would probably have been a better way to handle this. Then again, it seems that you genuinely felt that the message was a violation of the CoC, but again, that point could have been addressed in chat rather than by suspension.

Also, a custom mod flag could have been declined "as noise", giving you immediate feedback that the moderator considered your flag incorrect. This outcome does not come with any sanction for the flagger.

@SonicTheInclusiveHedgehog mentions that @Catija was referring to editing a different post. Even if that is the case, I still feel the question is valid - the chat message appeared in the middle of a discussion about a major proposed edit in the works, and did include a somewhat strong assertion that some might consider a bit too much considering the apparent circumstances, even if the actual underlying motivation for the message was different than that which one might suspect given the immediate context.

Agreed. Moderators should assume good intentions when handling flags, unless there are good (typically historical) reasons not to.

Even if @Catija 's statement was not inappropriate, was flagging it for moderator attention in and of itself ban-worthy? I thought that the reason that we have flags is for moderators to investigate questionable situations and determine whether any rules have been violated and whether action is called for. If the moderator's ruling is that that message is not inappropriate for chat, I'm fine with a declined flag, but a little less comfortable with the idea that I am always one declined flag away from another chat suspension.

As I said before, I consider the handling of your flag an overreaction. Perhaps some of that was due to the time it occurred, and a desire to be protective of a newly-minted Community Manager, it's hard to know. Neither of those two things seem like good reasons to handle a flag differently.

The options I see for handling your flag were:

  1. Edit the original message to not be shouty.
  2. Take no action, and decline the flag and/or as noise.
  3. State to the room in general that flags are for serious issues only.

I would strongly lean toward the first option, assuming the flag was raised in good faith.

Nevertheless: If the flag were repeated after being rejected or a general warning, I would kick the flagger from the room, or give a short suspension, depending on the full context.

Being suspended merely for flagging a moderator's chat message does seem excessive, and sends entirely the wrong message in my view. People being grumpy "late on Friday evening" suggests the flag handling should be left to someone else at that time.

All that said, moderators (and even Community Managers!) make errors just like everyone else (I know I do), so we shouldn't overreact either. Shog9 has apologised and that should be an end to it.

  • Chat flags cannot be marked helpful without triggering a deletion and auto-suspension – Vogel612's Shadow Sep 1 '18 at 10:13
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    @Vogel612'sShadow spam/offensive flags? Sure, though the handling moderator also has the option to immediately unsuspend. The question doesn't actually state which type of flag was raised, but anyway yeah that's a fair point. I'll clarify. – Paul White Sep 1 '18 at 10:28
  • +1 This all makes sense. As I don't participate in chat, I was wondering if I'd misread the situation. But it seems that I didn't. – Jason Bassford Sep 1 '18 at 14:56
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    It seems absolutely excessive and risks creating a chilling effect. For what it's worth, I too would have flagged a rude comment screaming at someone in all caps for moderator attention. I guess I should remember that moderators are exempt from community rules... Oh wait, they aren't! Where do I go to lodge a formal complaint against a moderator? – forest Sep 1 '18 at 21:56
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  • @PaulWhite It's worth noting that both shog and catija are community managers, so the advice to use contact us in the link you posted will cause the complaint to land directly in their inbox (well, the inbox of someone else on the CoGro team, but you get what I mean). – Magisch Sep 3 '18 at 12:04
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    @Magisch True enough. In mitigation: (a) That's the best answer I was able to give forest; and (b) No CM would be asked (or allowed) to handle a complaint made against them. – Paul White Sep 3 '18 at 12:09
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It's worth remembering who and why you've flagged, and the outcome that you expect from it. Admittedly, I've lost my temper repeatedly at Sonic, and the outcome has been I've chosen to engage less with him. The latter part of my answer is coloured by that.

Some of the specific responses to Sonic are borne of frustration - he tends to ping people a lot, and tends to be demanding answers of folks. Most of us are only human and sometimes that frustration bubbles over.

Not taking that into account though - I personally feel that flagging is most useful in conjunction with other community moderation and engagement tools. You basically attempted to tighten a bolt with a hammer.

The most fundamental tool is simply to let people know you are not comfortable with their behaviour and to accept and adjust for the people around you. You could have done better simply by asking why folks were giving Sonic a hard time, or were "shouting".

Another point is to try to de-escalate. A flag obviously didn't de-escalate the situation and the goal of the flag is unclear. If the folks who can deal with it are in the room or in the middle of the situation that you wish to flag, the flag's pretty moot, and in this case served to escalate the situation.

So, how would we have done this better? Be mindful of the whole situation - decide if actually getting involved would help and if it did, actually try to de-escalate. The smart thing here would be to spend a little longer getting a feel of the situation (since there were already multiple CMs and ROs there) before deciding on the best course of action.

People were already frustrated so if you wanted to actually help de-escalate you would need a lot more than a flag thrown at a single post. You'd want to look at the people involved and their interactions. Understand motivations and why people are mad and work on that.

In short? The flag was somewhat pointless and didn't help in any way in this case.

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Handling it better would've been handling it with words.

"What post are you referring to?" You might've asked.

"Easy there, Cat - surely he means well!" You might've advised.

Ah, I will see which posts Sonic has been editing and perhaps offer him advise on providing constructive edits You might've thought to yourself.

Flagging asserts offense - injury - unkindness. The post in question had to be rolled back multiple times, late on a Friday evening; a request in chat is certainly a subdued response to this, considering. But you had no reason to know this, nor did you - therefore, your first reaction to the seemingly-excessive reaction should've been to express... well, probably your surprise and concernment. This then could've been resolved quickly.

Instead, two different people had to handle flags. Late, on a Friday evening. Needless to say, we would both likely prefer to avoid making decisions at this time if at all possible; so asking the flaggers to slow down and consider their next actions seemed appropriate.

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    I believe that it was a violation of the code of conduct. I felt very disrespected by her "SHOUTING", and the code of conduct says to "be kind and friendly". As I commented, the suspension would have been absolutely justified if she had instead said something like, "Please stop editing my post" and I had flagged that. Also, I did "take it under advisement"; if you noticed, I didn't make any edits to the post in question (or any of her posts) after her message asking me to stop. – Sonic the Introverted Hedgehog Sep 1 '18 at 3:36
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    She should not have had to ask you to begin with; do not fight an edit war over a crumb of bread. In any case. since you WERE fully aware of the situation, you could've easily responded appropriately; there should have been no confusion whatsoever on your part. Perhaps I'm callous, but... I would not have had the courtesy to message you in chat; I would've messaged you on the post itself, for all to see. Be careful not to abuse such courtesy when it is given you. – Shog9 Sep 1 '18 at 3:45
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    Yeah, I should have apologized to her for reinstating the heading edit, rather than assuming that it was just "collateral damage" and she only intended to undo the paragraph addition (which, to make it clear to others, I didn't revert). But I believe my flag was justified, since she should have calmly said "Please stop editing my post" rather than "SHOUTING" and making me feel disrespected. – Sonic the Introverted Hedgehog Sep 1 '18 at 4:13
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    I agree too, and I believed (wrongly) at the time that apologizing publicly at the time would involve others, and I (wrongly) opted to raise the issue privately. Finally (last question, no more after this), I wonder why you only opted to wait a minute before suspending me. I was typing up a message saying that I had flagged, but I was suspended before I could post it. – Sonic the Introverted Hedgehog Sep 1 '18 at 4:17
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    I didn't figure it would take very long to type "sorry" – Shog9 Sep 1 '18 at 4:20
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    I also consider shouting in that way to be disrespectful, and would have flagged it under the lesser of the CoC violations. The message was fine, but the way it was expressed was wrong. An honestly reported flag opinion shouldn't be grounds for a ban. (At worst, flag should just be denied.) If simple flags can lead to bans, then pretty soon nobody will flag anything—which defeats the whole purpose. Or do chat flags follow different guidelines than post flags? – Jason Bassford Sep 1 '18 at 4:56
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    If the situation arose at a time of day when you don't want to handle flags, why didn't you leave it to someone in a different timezone? Or if Meta.SE has all its moderators in the same timezone, maybe it's time to recruit some more? – Peter Taylor Sep 1 '18 at 9:36
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    Yeah, I probably should've left it @Peter. I've been unhappy with the general tone in that room lately, and... I let that influence my actions tonight more than I needed to. – Shog9 Sep 1 '18 at 10:08
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    Yes. You mentioned needing two people to handle the flags that were raised on that message. If you had already determined that no action needed to be taken, why not leave the flags unhandled until the next morning or Monday? I've had flags post flags pending on SO for weeks. What harm would have befallen chat by leaving unhandled flags on content that has already been determined to be non-problematic or at least a non-emergency? – Robert Columbia Sep 1 '18 at 10:23
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    Also, I currently have a "Rude or Abusive" post flag pending right here on Meta.SE for over 7 hours, so it seems flags don't actually always need to be handled right there on the spot. I've also had a post flag on a moderator's post on a site-specific meta that was pending for at least 24 hours (I don't want to discuss that flag itself, it was a while back and can't be changed, I'm just mentioning that just because a moderator was flagged doesn't mean that everything has to stop until the flag is handled). If you have to step back, take a deep breath, etc., please do that! – Robert Columbia Sep 1 '18 at 10:39
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    If we're going to go through your flagging history, then you also raised two flags on wheel of blame messages in the same room yesterday, @robert. If you want your flags taken seriously, don't use them frivolously. – Shog9 Sep 1 '18 at 14:13
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    Well this is being pretty heavily downvoted. @Shog9, you seem to have handled this situation poorly and the community really does not appreciate that, to put it mildly. Although I am not directly affected by this specific incident (yet? I hope this comment does not result in me being suspended), I still strongly dislike how you handled this situation. – forest Sep 1 '18 at 21:59
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    I answer every question honestly, @forest. If that doesn't fly, I take my lumps like everyone else. – Shog9 Sep 2 '18 at 0:29
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    My initial reaction was to decline bogus flags, @forest. I stand by that. My follow-up was to threaten suspension - I should not have done that, it's never a good idea and certainly did no good here. Nevertheless, Robert asked what he could've done here to avoid this outcome, so that's what I answered and I stand by that too. – Shog9 Sep 2 '18 at 1:00
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    I gotta say, it's disappointing to see an edit war between a CM and somebody who claims to be a really active editor who's apparently extremely familiar with site policies. – Chair Sep 2 '18 at 4:28

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