70

I've scanned the privacy policy, terms of service, and moderator agreement and, so far as I can tell, moderators are fully and completely liable for any and every action they take in the process of performing their duties.

The federal protections for volunteers only apply to nonprofit organizations and government volunteers, and mostly those protections are actually in place to protect the organization from the volunteer's mistakes.

As far as I can tell, a moderator is bound by the ToS and Privacy Policy just as a regular user is, and accepts all legal liability for their actions even when they are acting on behalf of Stack Exchange, Inc as a volunteer, and, crucially, even when they are following Stack Exchange policy/rules/regulations/processes/etc.

Am I mistaken, or are our volunteer moderators left unprotected when performing their duties?

  • 3
    I don't act on behalf of Stack Exchange ever. I'm elected by my community and act on their behalf - or at least that's what I would tell my lawyer. Frankly, I don't know what action I could take that would make me liable in a way that goes beyond my personal liability for what I do. – ColleenV Oct 16 '19 at 19:36
  • 4
    What type of action do you think would put you/us on the bad side of a lawsuit? – JTP - Apologise to Monica Oct 16 '19 at 19:37
  • 4
    @joetaxpayer a libel suit, for one. Even if it’s baseless they’re still suing us. – George Stocker Oct 16 '19 at 19:38
  • 10
    Someone could sue a normal user for libel too – GS - Apologise to Monica Oct 16 '19 at 19:39
  • 1
    @GaneshSittampalam No doubt, but what group of people put themselves out there to deal with the tough users and tough issues day in and day out? Who would have a higher probability of dealing with riled up users? A normal user or a diamond moderator? – George Stocker Oct 16 '19 at 19:46
  • I would classify a moderator as a "Service Provider," under the Terms of Service. (See Section 8) – user102937 Oct 16 '19 at 19:57
  • 38
    Also, not to put too fine a point on this, but moderators meet most of the requirements for being employees of the company under IRS rules (except, of course, for the compensation provisions). In particular, SE seems to see fit to increasingly dictate precisely how moderators are to perform their tasks. "In general, anyone who performs services for an organization is an employee if the organization can control what will be done and how it will be done." – user102937 Oct 16 '19 at 20:00
  • 11
    Importantly, SO Inc has binding arbitration language in their terms of service to shield them from things like libel lawsuits, but if they're asking moderators to implement their policies without also extending that protection to them, then they're just shifting liability from themselves onto unpaid volunteer moderators, which seems like it would be a good reason to not want to become a moderator. – Nate S. Oct 16 '19 at 20:06
  • 1
    @RobertHarvey - well, that sure opens a can of worms. – JTP - Apologise to Monica Oct 16 '19 at 20:07
  • 4
    @RobertHarvey, if that's true, then SE Inc owes a lot of back wages to all of the moderators. The US government frowns upon calling employees volunteers, because that means they lose out on employment taxes. – Nate S. Oct 16 '19 at 20:08
  • 1
    @RobertHarvey There's more detail on that on this page on "Behavioural control". As moderators the amount we have to do is nothing (or at least just a tiny amount to retain the diamond). Also, that page is focused on the difference for taxation purposes with independent contractors, but as we don't get paid the difference is irrelevant. More interesting to check might be minimum wage laws. – GS - Apologise to Monica Oct 16 '19 at 20:22
  • Another question that needs a clear and unambiguous response from the CEO (not just management) although it appears the CEO doesn't talk to anyone except reporters (much like managers). – StephenG Oct 16 '19 at 21:54
  • 1
    @RobertHarvey I wonder how close it could get to meeting the requirements for being an unpaid internship... – Davy M Oct 16 '19 at 21:59
  • What exactly would you suggest doing here? I suppose Stack Exchange could agree to find/pay for legal representation if the (presumably baseless) lawsuit arises from the moderator enforcing site policy, but that's obviously a very subjective call (it's a moderator's personal choice to perform an action, and what if the moderator misinterpreted site policy?). – hichris123 Oct 17 '19 at 0:21
  • 1
    Consider a user who deletes a post. Claiming that neither CC-BY-SA 3.0 nor Stack Exhange's Terms of Service allow relicensing and thus SE has lost the right to distribute the work. If SE's relicensing is indeed illegal and SE has indeed lost the right to distribute the work then a moderator undeleting the post would be an accomplice in copyright infringement. As a non-diamond user I already have the power to rollback edits which would remove content on such claims on some sites. I really feel discouraged to moderate. – Anonymous Coward Oct 18 '19 at 17:06

You must log in to answer this question.

Browse other questions tagged .