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The Moderator review and reinstatement processes posted 21 October 2019 have been discussed with the moderators and the two posts below reflect the agreed process for removing or reinstating moderators from now on. While these processes may change over time as they're put into practice, for now they are considered finalized and are available for use.

There are two review policies - one (Action Review) is the older policy from 2012 and one (Conduct Review) is the new policy. There is one reinstatement policy for all former moderators who wish to be reinstated.

We expect that some of you may have questions about the processes and want some clarifications. This post is a place for you to ask them. Please do not post questions about the process on those posts - they will be removed.

We very much respect the value of meta discussion but would like to keep the process posts clean and not have to delete all of the discussion to make the actual policy clear. Having the discussion here makes that easier. We have cross-linked the posts so that they're easy to find.

For ease of response and voting, please limit each answer to one specific concern.

  • 117
    Are there specific guidelines re interacting with the press (by either party)? – mjwills Oct 21 at 20:26
  • 15
    @mjwills have you seen meta.stackexchange.com/questions/335708/… ? – sourcejedi Oct 21 at 20:27
  • 133
    Genuine question, when can we expect to get responses to the questions/concerns raised? – Script47 Oct 21 at 21:18
  • 9
    @Script47 Gonna depend on the question. Some of them we're already answering. Some of them will take some time. – Catija Oct 21 at 21:22
  • 137
    It ain't much and I don't have a big reputation but I kindly ask for Monica to be reinstated. – smtrejo says Reinstate Monica Oct 30 at 0:20
  • 11
    Slightly off topic, but how is it decided who gets the unhappy task of posting "questions" like this and exposing their reputation to damage from massive downvoting? – K Man Nov 3 at 23:24
  • 3
    @KMan Kinda depends. For this, I was helping JNat so he posted the policies and I posted the feedback post - but as you can see, JNat's been the one primarily answering questions in the answers below. For the new FAQ, I was the primary person working on reconciling the existing FAQ posts to create the new FAQ and Cesar was helping and had posted the prior FAQ. – Catija Nov 4 at 0:16
  • 17
    @Catija Is there a planned timeline you can share when a followup to this is posted? Can we expect any changes in the process, and/or an announcement of the final process, and is there a timeline for either? – Magisch Nov 4 at 9:33
  • 50
    @Script47 Well it's been a few weeks and only 1 of the top 13 posts has a staff answer. I guess that's your answer. – David says Reinstate Monica Nov 5 at 21:42
  • 40
    @Catija I haven't heard anything on the feedback that was left -- do you have a timeframe on when we can expect to hear something? – George Stocker Nov 7 at 12:51
  • 5
    It's been 4 weeks since this was posted, and 5 days since the last (visible) activity I can find. Does this still need to be [featured]? – The Guy with The Hat Nov 18 at 19:11
  • 12
    @TheGuywithTheHat This needs to be [featured] until SE Inc. responds to the posts and the issue is resolved satisfactorily. – Reinstate Monica iamnotmaynard Nov 19 at 16:08
  • 35
    @TheGuywithTheHat I'm fine with this ugly stain on SE's face until SE takes responsibility. Obviously they will eventually take this down on their own initiative, but I don't see any reason to let them off the hook just because they sat around and did nothing for months. – David says Reinstate Monica Nov 20 at 2:00
  • 8
    @GeorgeStocker - When can we expect to hear something? What about all those new podcasts? – J.R. means 'Just Reinstate' Nov 23 at 10:52
  • 6
    Looks like the Devil number is referring to the devilish nature of SE Inc. – Omega Krypton Nov 26 at 14:51

72 Answers 72

38

This really does nothing to address any of the controversy that has occurred from recent events. Nor do these procedures address anything in terms of possible personal abuse of the system, or the disclosure of information to somebody who has been accused of something.

In short, so long as a couple of CMs agree, there is no essential information that's transparently available.

We only have SE's word that three impartial CMs will review any given reinstatement request. But the events over the recent month have done nothing to affirm trust in that word. And even if it were to be believed, there's nothing to prevent one or both of the CMs originally involved in a dismissal decision from being part of a reinstatement decision.

Voluntary recusal is unlikely in the case of anybody who wants to keep things as they are—or who doesn't want to be judged negatively due to a reversal of their own decision.

If good faith is to be believed, this might be the start of something reasonable; but if good faith is not to be believed, it's just a toothless justification to keep things as they are and rationalize it after the fact.

Prior to this, I would have hoped for some kind of transparent system of checks and balances. But rather than offering hope, these processes seem to be at best ambiguous in terms of what can and can't be done—and why.

In short, I see nothing here that is really a positive. Yes, something is now spelled out. But it's unclear, vague, and open to any number of interpretations.

  • 16
    If good faith were to be believed then this would be totally unnecessary. If good faith is not to be believed then this is totally useless. – Stop harming Monica Oct 22 at 7:17
34

I have some concerns that if a former moderator who was removed for cause doesn't think they'll be able to get reinstated through the reinstatement process (or if they went through it and the outcome was to not reinstate them), they might try to work around that by simply attempting to go through the moderator election process again.

I have a question: if a moderator is removed for cause, are they still welcome to nominate themselves as a candidate in a later moderator election on the site?

  • 5
    Additionally: If a moderator simply stepped down, can they still enter an election again? (Not that it'd make sense, but is it possible?) – Cerbrus Oct 21 at 20:54
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    @Cerbrus - I can think of a few scenarios where that might make sense – most notably when the moderator steps down for personal reasons (entering medical school, birth of quintuplets, trip aboard the Greenpeace Rainbow Warrior, etc.), but then decides to rejoin the Exchange when life circumstances permit. – J.R. means 'Just Reinstate' Oct 21 at 23:08
  • 2
    @J.R. In that case, the moderator can simply request their privileges back; they don't have to be elected again. It's always been the case that if a moderator resigns under good terms and remains under good standing, their privileges will be restored upon request; the new reinstatement procedure doesn't change that. – Sonic the Reinstate Monica-hog Oct 21 at 23:32
  • @Cerbrus If they don't need to. If a moderator steps down in good standing, they can ask for their diamond back and they will generally be reinstated. – Kevin Oct 22 at 0:32
  • 1
    @SonictheAnonymousHedgehog As written, this reinstatement process does change that. As written, a moderator who has resigned and asks for reinstatement must go through the entire reinstatement process, including review by CMs and the rest of the site moderators. It's quite possible for the PM to be denied reinstatement, as the process is currently written (e.g. CM1 and CM2 agree to deny, or if there's >=1 current moderator who "strongly objects to reinstatement"). Thus, asking if a moderator can step around the reinstatement process and be re-elected is something that should be clarified. – Makyen Oct 22 at 3:18
  • @Makyen We could always refuse if there were extenuating circumstances. Much of the reinstatement process is a formalization of the standard actions a CM would take before giving someone a mod position back... say to the rest of the CMs "oh, hey, X on Z.SE wants their diamond back, any concerns?"... check their recent history for annotations/suspensions... make sure they haven't been causing problems in their recent actions... ping the mods on the team to say "X is asking for their slot back, any concerns?" (assuming they weren't the ones telling us that X wanted it back)... – Catija Oct 22 at 5:01
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    @Catija Can't they bypass all those processes by simply getting re-elected again? – Sonic the Reinstate Monica-hog Oct 22 at 5:10
  • @Catija I'm glad to hear, and not surprised, that there was in the past at least an informal review among the CMs of returning resigned moderators. Frankly, that seems prudent. I probably should have more accurately said that there's a change in the perception of what the process entails. OTOH, one thing I hadn't seen mentioned as being previously being done was that a currently active site moderator could, effectively, veto the reinstatement of a PM. – Makyen Oct 22 at 5:31
  • Sonic... maybe? But it’d require an election, which aren’t super predictable. I’m not sure it’s ever happened outside of pro-tems running after taking time off. @Makyen it’s not super common that a mod will return after time off so I’m not sure if we had such a thing or not. If someone on the mod team expressed concern for their safety, we’d certainly take that into account, though. – Catija Oct 22 at 5:38
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    @Catija Say they actually end up winning the election. Will they get to become a moderator again as a result? – Sonic the Reinstate Monica-hog Oct 22 at 5:41
31

Aside from many of the points already raised, and without having gone over every last detail of the process:

I note that, in the case of an emergency removal, the reinstatement process is concluded at Discovery.4.1.2 which reads, emphasis original:

If an Emergency Removal took place and it's since been explained, and no further action is needed, moderator access can be restored, and any appropriate security measures should be communicated. The process is concluded here.

Key word: "can".

I fully understand that there may be times when moderator access needs to be revoked on short notice to prevent further immediate harm to a site or the network as a whole. Such scenarios, I feel it goes without really saying, should be exceedingly rare. What looks like a compromised account certainly can be one example of such a scenario.

However, any emergency removal of moderator powers must explicitly be with the full understanding and recognition by all parties involved that such removal of powers is strictly temporary and done only in order to prevent further immediate harm.

The moderator who had their powers removed under this emergency authority should then immediately be contacted, presented with the evidence, and given the opportunity to explain what happened, or go through the full review process as if their moderator powers had not been removed in the first place (in other words, the review would have to find evidence requiring the moderator to be removed; it would not have to find evidence allowing the moderator to be reinstated). I realize that collecting the evidence in a reasonably presentable form could take a short while, but I can see no plausible reason why such a contact, including presenting the evidence, shouldn't be possible within, say, 24 hours.

If, and only if, any of (a) communication, (b) further review of the events that prompted the emergency removal, or (c) the prolonged lack of a response, indicates both that the activity was actively malicious and on the part of the moderator themselves, should moderator access not be restored. In all other cases of emergency removals, moderator access should be restored by default once the situation has been resolved through mutual communication.

This does not preclude the possibility of communicating appropriate security measures as part of, or as a precondition for, restoration of moderator access. It also does not, for example in cases of inappropriate behavior, preclude the possibility of communicating a clear and specific warning to the moderator.

As an example, nothing in this is to be taken as preventing such communications from concluding by saying something like: "Make sure you immediately change the password on your account to a secure one. We will be able to restore your diamond once we see that your password has been changed. If your account is used again in the future to vandalize content, as happened with the posts previously referenced, we will have to go through the Moderator Conduct Review Process and possibly permanently remove your moderator access."

  • I think (and hope) that "can" means "there is nothing opposing it, so it can be done now (and not earlier)". However ambiguity allows loophols and therefore this should be fixed. – MEE - Reinstate Monica Oct 24 at 10:42
  • @GDPR If we were operating in an environment of significant trust, I do believe that one word really wouldn't matter much at all. However, since for a large number of people, trust has been violated (and I think I even saw someone mentioning there existing negative trust, in other words, SE having to work on getting people to trust them just to get back to where people neither trust nor mistrust them), we're now operating in an environment where great specificity is required. – a CVn Oct 24 at 10:50
  • yes. That's what I mean. I'd hope that its the better meaning, but it could be the worse and should therefore be fixed. – MEE - Reinstate Monica Oct 24 at 16:28
28

The intent is wrong.

You're basically trying to say you correctly followed a process which hadn't been published yet to remove a moderator for violating a code of conduct which hadn't been published yet either.

And I haven't even started talking about how it's debatable whether or not the code was actually violated, and how the code itself has received much criticism.

This policy is clearly just a formally written up way to defend SE's past actions, and the entire intent is just to try to convince people that SE didn't mess up in the first place.

There's only one way to fix up the whole scenario: reinstate the removed moderator, then write up a policy on removal of moderators, when you're in a position to be impartial and reasonable. After that, in all fairness, you can and should send this particular moderator's case through the scanner to see if there're appropriate grounds for removal, and take actions accordingly.

But when you're this invested in the policy looking a certain way, you can't hope for it to be appropriate.

  • 1
    Where did they say they followed this process? This process didn't exist or was not publicly shared until a few days ago. – Makoto Oct 22 at 22:23
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    @Makoto meta.stackexchange.com/a/336193/636149 What SE did was similar enough to one of the clauses, though they didn't explicitly say it. – Raro Oct 22 at 22:24
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    "SE did something similar enough" is not the same as "SE followed". There are signs of what happened being similar - notably the whole "emergency removal" piece - but the same process was not followed, likely because it didn't exist. – Makoto Oct 22 at 22:30
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    "But when you're this invested in the policy looking a certain way, you can't hope for it to be appropriate". This is on the nose. – Reinstate Monica Oct 23 at 8:09
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Execution.1 on removal:

If an Emergency Removal took place, moderator access can't be restored.

Is this permanent (this user will never be a moderator again), or is it temporary (moderator access can't be restored at this stage)?

  • 9
    I guess it depends. If we see a mod selling user PII, for instance, it probably will be permanent. If, on another example, we find ourselves that far down the process without being able to dismiss some other less serious issues (say, going on an uncharacteristic post deleting spree), it could've been simply because the mod's account was hacked while they were on vacation, and they took 2 weeks to even notice it and our emails requesting clarity on the matter... at which point they'd prolly use the reinstatement process to get reinstated — and possibly get reinstated. – JNat Oct 22 at 10:42
24

So it used to be that diamond mods who decided to step down due to time reasons or whatnot could be reinstated just by asking. (That's what I was told when I stepped down on RPG.SE.) So that's no longer the case? Why is there all this review stuff for cases other than "they were forcibly removed via one of these removal processes?" So now if a diamond mod steps down for time reasons, the other mods vote whether they come back or not? What problem is that solving?

I suggest the reinstatement process be automatic for elected moderators NOT removed forcibly, and you just go through all the shenanigans when there was an actual problem. (Obviously included "resigned while in the removal process" - just when they leave say "you're good to return automatically" or "see this process if you want to return".)

  • 2
    Based on @Catija's comments, this is sort of compatible with the existing flow: apparently it's been CM process to check in with the current mods even for fast-track reinstatement, but with active mod teams it's largely seamless. It does appear that the current flow would require a second CM, and the blackball voting process could inflict a 7 day delay even if one mod is out of contact and the others all approve. In practice, I imagine "they left on good terms and all reachable mods are 100% content" would suffice, but the doc could certainly support that better. – wintermute92 Oct 22 at 13:15
23

Community Managers (CMs) can recuse themselves if they feel they can't be impartial. CM1, CM2, and CM3 will be picked at random from remaining CM pool.

There aren't a lot of Community Managers. What if there are not three CM's remaining after some have recused themselves?

  • Waiting for the new one... – Suvitruf says Reinstate Monica Oct 21 at 21:25
  • 22
    You get a segmentation fault. – user12205 Oct 21 at 23:47
  • Does CM mean the SE staff moderators, rather than the elected moderators? – Raedwald Oct 22 at 6:37
  • @Raedwald Yes, Community Managers are SE employees, not volunteer moderators. – curiousdannii Oct 22 at 11:53
21

Execution.1 on removal:

the network account may be suspended for 30 days to prevent further harm while issue is being handled

Won't this disallow reinstatement and/or reelection for a year after the moderator has been removed in an "emergency"?

That seems unprecedented, especially considering the case of a compromised account that may be fixed easily by changing a password or an email.

  • 2
    IIRC that election restriction for recently suspended users can be circumvented with a message sent via /contact – user400654 Oct 21 at 21:50
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    There are special circumstances where a suspension may not be considered when running in elections. If the mod was determined to not be at fault, then this would fall into that circumstance. – Catija Oct 21 at 22:07
  • Also this rule might be open to abuse/considered abuse ("silencing the mod"). – MEE - Reinstate Monica Oct 22 at 8:23
21

On: What processes exist to issue formal warnings or remove moderators?

The process as written is protecting SE, and not the volunteers.

So, how can it be made better? This process needs to be public, transparent and MUST have Audi alteram partem. Why?

Public

SE Moderators are voted into office. They are leaders within their site. They are publicly visible as being one. Do not just jank then out of office without proof. Now, this does not mean that during the process all is laid bare, but you must afterwards! If the case is so clear and overwhelming, SE must be public on why they fired a moderator.

Transparent

The dynamic between SE, moderator and users is such that SE holds all the power, but they cannot do without the latter. To maintain trust the party with the power must be transparent about the process of firing a moderator. Abuse of power (too) is easily done in the shadows.

Audi alteram partem

You have created a process of removing (firing) a volunteer who has put in countless hours, without possibility to speak for themself? ARE YOU COMPLETELY GONE OF YOUR ROCKER!!! That way lies the realm of tyrants.

  • 11
    "The process as written is protecting SE, and not the volunteers." <-- this. The entire set of processes are written without the accused having any formalized inputs / ability to defend themselves. At no point in the discovery phase is there a place for the accused (or an advocate) given a formal place to make exculpatory or mitigating statements. In Monica's case, she has stated from the get-go that this has been a case of misunderstanding / miscommunication. Had she been able to talk to her accusers directly about the issue, perhaps this brouhaha would never have happened. – Van Oct 23 at 15:24
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    "SE must be public on why they fired a mod." isn't this one of the reasons everyone's up in arms right now, because SE made a very public statement about firing Monica?? I strongly disagree with this part; let mods leave with dignity. Giving "proof" - if they can even publicly share it - will only smear their name if you agree and create (gestures at meta) another one of these messes if you don't. – Em C Oct 23 at 20:32
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    @EmC the problem that SE made with firing Monica is that they never told exactly why they did so. Being a mod is a public office, almost, so being fired from that should also be public. Now, stepping down is a different matter, but firing should be just as public a getting voted into that position! – Flummox - don't be evil SE Oct 24 at 7:53
  • If SE releases all "proof" they have against a mod, then the mod's reputation will be severely damaged in a very public way - even if the offenses happened in private, and even if people who reported offenses wanted that to be private. And then everyone on meta will proceed to bikeshed whether or not it was "bad enough" for SE to take action, whether that means raking the mod's name through the mud even more, or making a martyr out of them and vilifying anyone who spoke up about the mod or was hurt by the issue at hand. There is a reason companies don't publicly discuss employee firings. – Em C Oct 24 at 14:01
  • And that's not to mention potential legal issues (like, what if they fire a mod because the mod was using PII to stalk people, and someone sued, and the lawyers require them to not comment on the case (this is a completely made up scenario, just to be very clear)). If SE doesn't say anything for only some cases, there's going to be even more rampant speculation than if it's a blanket "no comment" policy. – Em C Oct 24 at 14:05
  • @EmC, those are valid points I did not think about. But doing the proceedings and keeping the results in private is asking for a whole lot of trust. And the change for abuse is just too high. Now, mod are also not employees, they are volunteers, so I do not know the legal (US) stuff for that. As for dragging peoples names through the mud, firing a mod, especially on SE, is a big deal. More so because they are voted into mod-hood. If they have done something wrong and it is a fire-able offence, I would like to know what. If they were employees, I'd think you'd not be wrong. But mods are not. – Flummox - don't be evil SE Oct 24 at 17:09
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    Everything is easier when the "bad apple" is clear for anyone paying attention. When you pick the best and wholesome apple of the stack and tell us "This is a Bad Apple", well, no, sorry, we don't trust you. – brasofilo Oct 27 at 1:10
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Moderator Conduct Review Process, Discovery Phase, 4.2:

If CM1 determines a CoC or mod agreement violation occurred, they will contact the moderator about whom the complaint was raised and inform them of the ongoing process, prompting them for their perspective/context/reasoning, and add this to the documentation to be reviewed in the Confirmation Phase.

On first reading, this sounds like by the time CM1 contacts the accused mod, the CM would already have decided an infraction occurred. It suggests the idea of guilty until proven innocent. I don't think this is actually what is meant, so could you change the wording to something like:

If CM1 suspects a CoC or mod agreement violation may have occurred, they will contact the moderator about whom the complaint was raised and inform them of the ongoing process, prompting them for their perspective/context/reasoning, and add this to the documentation to be reviewed in the Confirmation Phase.

The wording doesn't need to be like that, I'm sure it can be improved. It just should emphasize that no conclusions will be reached before hearing both sides of the story.

  • Hmmm kind of convoluted, isn't it? Like Pinocchio trying not to be caught in a lie... How about "If CM1 determines a CoC or mod agreement violation might have occurred"? Looks less confusing to me. – walen Oct 22 at 10:04
  • 1
    @walen yes, good point. Better now? – terdon - stop harming Monica Oct 22 at 10:07
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    In Discovery#3 there's a bit about "query[ing] the involved parties," which means dialogue with the moderator may have already occurred, which would have informed the CM's decision. The intention of the step you highlight is to assure that at that point the moderator will be contacted, not as an option, but as a required step to proceed in the process (regardless of whether or not there were any previous contacts). – JNat Oct 22 at 10:10
  • @terdon Yes, better. OT: isn't "might" always used for past events instead of "may"? – walen Oct 22 at 10:12
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    @JNat OK. But then it would be helpful to make that very clear. The main problem with this entire process is that it seems to require blind trust in the CM team handling it. Anything to suggest that other people will be involved needs to be very clear. You already have set up a frustratingly opaque process, so those few bits of it that might be less opaque deserve to be highlighted. – terdon - stop harming Monica Oct 22 at 10:12
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    @walen no, you can use may for past events when you're not sure whether or not something happened as you think. For example "this may have been the case in the past". Here, the may is used to indicate possibility. It makes it even more hypothetical than might. At least that's the way I read it, anyway. – terdon - stop harming Monica Oct 22 at 10:14
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    When we posted our original drafts in the mod Team, @terdon, y'all asked for many things we'd accounted for to be clarified, and they were — there are still many that need to be made explicit, clearly. We have a way more wordy document for ourselves, but in shortening it for sharing with mods and the community there are clearly bits in intention that are missed :\ – JNat Oct 22 at 10:14
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    @JNat I get that, of course. It's just that few people will be reading this assuming good intentions from the company and most will be reading it assuming bad ones, given the recent history. So clarifying the good seems really important. You don't want to give the impression that ya'll will be working under the assumption of guilty until proven innocent. I don't believe you will (at least, not the current batch of CMs, who knows about the future), but that's what it reads like. – terdon - stop harming Monica Oct 22 at 10:16
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    The input is appreciated, @terdon: I'll try to get some bits clarified before the end of the day :) – JNat Oct 22 at 10:18
18

Is there a plan to communicate this out to all the existing previous moderators? I literally asked about this after being mostly away for months and happened to pick about the best time ever to ask about this in chat, that being five minutes before the policy was posted (go me, I guess). But had this happened any time in the last year/likely next months I would have missed it.

It also is a change from what I understood the process would be when I stepped back from being a moderator (the "process" then was "let us know if you want to come back!" or some equally vague variant :-).

18

Moderator Conduct Review Process:

From time to time, a moderator on one of our sites may violate their moderator agreement, or the company standards for behavior as documented in our Code of Conduct. Such behavior may eventually necessitate their removal from office, however both community expectations and our Code prescribe that, in general and whenever possible, they first be warned and given an opportunity to correct their behavior.

  1. When a moderator violates “their moderator agreement, or the company standards for behavior as documented in our Code of Conduct” does this mean the moderator is removed from all the sites they moderate? For example, if they violate the code on one site but also act as a moderator on five different sites, will that person lose moderator privileges on all six sites?
  • Aren't the moderator agreement and the CoC the same for all network sites? Honest question. – walen Oct 22 at 10:06
  • @walen To the best of my knowledge, they are the same across the network. Credentials: I was a mod on two sites in the network until a few weeks ago, and used to be a mod on a third site where I left voluntarily. – a CVn Oct 22 at 11:10
17

Why was the number 30 days? Was this an arbitrary number? If you're considering bringing a moderator back why such a small snapshot?

Also on this, why is it that the community isn't involved if that's who elected the individuals in the first place. This sounds more like at that point that SE Inc is devaluing the voices that originally signed off on that moderator. Perhaps it's not the moderation team that has grievances, but the general community.

  • 5
    (Duplicated from the other question): 3. CM1 will pull community interactions involving PM for the past 30 days. This is far too short. I would suggest 90 days (last three months) or greater. – Frédéric Hamidi Oct 21 at 20:38
  • Yeah, I wasn't going to throw a specific date out there myself. However my thought is that if someone's looking to become a moderator again after being removed or stepping down, their entire time should be considered while not having the diamond. – Trasiva Oct 21 at 20:39
  • 2
    You should split this into two answers ... As to the second point, I would hope that the remaining moderators would be aware that there may be a grievance between the previous moderator and the general community and ask for additional time to make outreaches to the community. – StrongBad Oct 21 at 20:39
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    So... 30 days is already an almost crippling amount of data to sift through for, say, a SO mod, @FrédéricHamidi – Shog9 Oct 21 at 20:42
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    @Shog9 I'm not arguing that it isn't likely a huge amount of data to go through. Especially if they're active in multiple exchanges. My only concern is 30 days is just a small snapshot of an individual. – Trasiva Oct 21 at 20:44
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    Ok, so, we're not limiting ourselves to 30 days of history, @FrédéricHamidi. The 30-day check is intended to tell us what the mod has been up to recently, in case we haven't been paying attention. – Shog9 Oct 21 at 20:53
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    @Shog9 I guess despite your checkup, why would you guys remove the community from the process? You certainly don't have to ask for yay/nays, but the community has no idea when this process is being done. I'd suggest at the very least give a discovery window where the community can voice their concerns about the person who's supposed to have their trust. – Trasiva Oct 21 at 20:55
17

In the process for reinstating a moderator, there is really no interaction/responsibility for the previous moderator. The CMs simply review the case and decide up or down.

In a comment on Monica's answer, @Catija♦ stated that

We would not have made this available to you [Monica] if you would be immediately vetoed. I know that's difficult to believe but I repeatedly confirmed that was the case last week because doing otherwise would have been cruel. The deck isn't stacked against you here. – Catija♦ Oct 22 at 13:00

This implies that if Monica went through the process, she would be reinstated. My question is this: Monica has made it clear that she wants to be reinstated. What is preventing you from internally going through the process (which does not require anything from Monica) and deciding to reinstate her? If this has been already done and the decision was to turn her down, then your statement is incorrect and the deck is indeed stacked against her.

  • 10
    If they are (now, despite how they got here) going to be sticklers for process and say I didn't initiate it, they could instead say "here is the pre-approved outcome should you choose to initiate". That's the only way to get transparency; there's none in the process itself. – Monica Cellio Nov 25 at 18:28
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    The previous moderator must formally initiate the process, not just mention that they would like to be reinstated. When you have wronged someone, you don’t make it right by making them the guinea pig for a brand new process that would give other moderators a chance to deny them reinstatement or possibly require them to agree to certain conditions to get reinstated. Monica should be reinstated using the same process used to fire her. That is the only ethical path forward here. A real apology would be nice, but that is probably too much to ask at this point. – ColleenV parted ways Nov 25 at 18:29
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Why do these processes minimize involvement of the rest of the mod team and of the communit(ies) they serve?

Mods are elected by their community and then serve as part of a mod team.

Removal Process Issues

What's the difference between the two removal policies? It seems like they are a) emergency or other removal (mod team not involved) b) other removal (mod team involved)

Suspension is possible, I don't see how "emergency removal" needs to be a thing at all. How about "emergency suspension," and then the removal discussion can happen at a calmer pace and involve the rest of their diamond mod team.

It's also unclear the scope of the removal - one or all sites - we don't even suspend users on other sites for things they do on one site, why would a mod be removed from all sites for some beef with a given site? I guess maybe removal process a) is for all sites and b) is just for that site? (It should probably say that...) Or is a) "for cause" and b) "just because?" It's not clear.

In general the removal process a is a giant mess, it's really just saying "CMs can bounce anyone they want" in a lot more words. It says "well people should be given a chance" in the preamble but it's not part of the process. Their fellow mods and communities are not consulted in any way. Seems like they could provide valuable context ("You're right, he has been pushing that line a lot"... "He's never done anything like that and maybe you are reading that a different way from how I'm reading it?"

In the end, we don't trust Sara for sure and the other CMs to some degree so this is just a fancy way of saying "we do what we want" currently.

Similarly, process b) doesn't seem to have any safeguards to verify there are substantive issues - just "2/3 of the mods don't want them there." Seems like it takes the place of our mod elections - what if the community wants a new direction, elects a new person, and the existing mods "just don't like that?" I would think a CM should agree that there is a significant issue meriting possible removal to move forward with the 'tribunal' part of this process. I know we had (non-mod, but high rep user) disagreements on RPG.SE that generated complaints that when Shog9 looked into it he just told us "these are like old married couple disagreements, calm down" - and that was the right call.

Reinstatement Process Issues

I raised separately the issue of mods who left not for cause. But even for general reinstatement, why might the community not have a say (basically, re-elect them?) What if they run for re-election anyway, if they feel like they got reinstatement rejected just because the other mods don't like them, not for any particularly good reason? Communities often vote in people with different approaches to modding to try to make changes over time and such... Current mods don't get a choice in that, the new person is elected whether they like them or not. Seems like maybe mod vote or popular vote might both be valid reinstatement options here.

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    why would a mod be removed from all sites for some beef with a given site? because Monica was demodded simultaneously from SIX sites, they had to find a way to shoehorn that in. – Mari-Lou A Oct 22 at 0:00
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    Which means, in theory, if a mod broke the CoC on one site, they should lose their privileges in all the sites they moderate on! – Mari-Lou A Oct 22 at 0:03
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    "Suspension is possible" - as I understand it, not really.. if they still have the diamond they can just un-suspend themselves, so you do need to remove it. "why would a mod be removed from all sites for some beef with a given site" - I think this does make sense though, we don't let users run in mod elections if they've been suspended anywhere on the network in the past year, so it'd be rather inconsistent to allow a user to be suspended on one site for violating CoC and yet keep mod powers (with access to PII!) on another. – Em C Oct 22 at 0:21
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    That's not really a problem, it can be a "virtual suspension" (remove with the understanding it's for the time being) or, God forbid, they can write a couple lines of code making mods' suspension not self-removable. – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Oct 22 at 0:30
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    .. Isn't that exactly what the emergency removal is doing? Removing mod status while the CMs figure out what's going on, and if it's not the mod's fault (e.g. they were hacked), they'll get access back. – Em C Oct 22 at 0:57
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    The point of the emergency removal is that the mod’s account may be somehow compromised or they’re abusing access to PII or something else in that vein. Suspending them doesn’t prevent the damage that could be done in those situations. Only removal of the diamond removes the access. – Catija Oct 22 at 5:45
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What is the process for removing moderators prior to this process? Monica says you didn't follow any of the processes in place at the time, so this new process seems like it's just a knee-jerk reaction to the fallout that's occurred from removing her. How do we know that this new process will be followed? In short, when someone at SO makes a mistake, it seems like it's swept under the rug without admission of any wrongdoing, in spite of the paper trail, and the 'processes' seem to be really more of what you'd call 'guidelines' than actual rules?

Trust needs to be established first before creating a new process. In the current environment, without closure of an ongoing issue where trust was violated, how can you expect the community to trust you with a new process?

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What about cases where the moderator was removed for a reason that was obsoleted by a rule change? I'm thinking in particular of Monica's situation. I ask this here as well, but the new Code of Conduct appears to explicitly permit what she was asking to be allowed to do, so she's evidently not in violation of the new version of the policy. That being said, shouldn't she just be reinstated?

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    I don't understand why she'd need to go through a reinstatement process when the rule she was apparently fired over doesn't even apply anymore. – EJoshuaS - Reinstate Monica 11 hours ago
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What is the intent behind the reinstatement process?

If it is to catch a failure of the previous process (biased CM that refuses to recuse, wrong annotation...) why isn't there any way to address those failures in the reinstatement?

If it is for a previous moderator to argue that they have changed their behavior, why doesn't the discovery include finding evidence of a changing behavior?

Basically, in what case would a moderator be removed and then reinstated? I think it is not very clear what the purpose of that process exactly is.

Assuming the removal and reinstating procedure where crafted together, I think it's safe to assume the reinstatement process must follow a removal process. If so, should moderators removed before those processes where in place apply for removal before going through reinstatement?

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    It’s a general reinstatement process. Mods leave for a variety of reasons. Most step down or are removed for inactivity - neither of these groups are represented in the removal process, which is only relevant extremely infrequently. All three groups are eligible to be reinstated. Most requests for reinstatement will be from the first two groups, not from people removed with the removal process. For scale, I’d estimate that, annually, 50-100 mods will be in the first two groups and 0-2 will have been removed through one of the two removal processes. – Catija Nov 13 at 15:02
  • @Catija Thanks! Given the current ambiance, I thought the reinstatement was designed as a way for mods to address what they think is an unfair removal. Is there any plan for that? – PatJ Nov 13 at 15:33
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    The same process is used for both. The outline of the process is general. There's definitely a place in the information gathering phase where talking with the moderator can happen to discuss their concerns. Some of the things you mention, like a biased CM who won't recuse, are addressed by requiring a two-step removal process - a warning followed by removal if the behavior continues - and having two CMs that must agree before any of the processes are carried out. A mod feels they were removed wrongfully particularly prior to these processes, they can apply for reinstatement and we will talk. – Catija Nov 13 at 16:01
  • Great, thank you! – PatJ Nov 13 at 16:13
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From my very lowly position as a reviewer on 3 communities and virtually no rep here I see that SE management have apparently shot themselves in both feet.

Firstly they seem to have dismissed Monica without going through any recognisable fair process and then failed to provide any evidence to Monica or the community to justify their actions. If they had published evidence, a series of emails where they issued warnings and Monica unreasonably refused to obey, then it would have shut this whole sad episode down almost immediately, but they have refused to do so on some sort of confidentiality grounds (which Monica is prepared to waive). So the suspicion is that there is no such evidence exists and the dismissal was unjustified. Consequently many of the dezines of Moderator Mount Olympus have quit or gone on strike. My understanding is that the management are currently looking for further finance or investment in SE, so the last thing they want is any controversy. Their subsequent apologies and post facto creating procedures have been met with almost universal condemnation as inadequate, thereby fuelling the fire.

Secondly, as far as I know, all the moderators, reviewers and contributors a purely volunteers. The entire existence of SE relies on our contributions and good will. If the management antagonise too many of us they won't have a viable SE to offer investors.

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    They now claim I actually violated the CoC. (The "reason" mutated along the way.) Actual CoC violations take place on-site and the only email was several days after I left TL, so the email isn't relevant to their claim. There is very personal stuff in the email so I don't want to release that; if it were actually relevant I would take a closer look to see if it could be redacted. I also still expect them to tell me what they think I did wrong before they publish it to the world. This has not happened. – Monica Cellio Oct 27 at 17:03
  • @MonicaCellio - Even if it's not relevant -- possibly it would be constructive to share it with redactions. I don't know, of course. In my special education advocacy experience, I've seen parents be given redacted copies of emails that had all but one fragment redacted, and the unredacted portion of the document ended up being a meaningless, completely useless piece of paper (sometimes multiple pieces of paper). – aparente001 Oct 27 at 22:10
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In the Moderator Action Review Process, it is stated:

Once begun, the following steps must be followed, in order, to completion within a reasonable time frame. If this is not possible, all participants will be notified by us that the process has been discontinued and informed of the resolution (if any).

What resolutions are possible if the process cannot be completed in a "reasonable time frame"? That is, is this intended to establish a Statute of Limitations and/or a "Right to a speedy trial" principle (that is, the moderator automatically keeps their diamond if the company is unable to fully execute the process in a rapid and fair manner), or does it allow the company to decide to immediately suspend a moderator upon concluding that the steps cannot be reasonably followed? This could happen if important witnesses are away, if documents have been lost, or even if the moderator has fled and is making themselves unavailable in an attempt to stall the process.

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    Another case where this might happen: if the moderator resigns in the middle of the removal process. – Sonic the Reinstate Monica-hog Oct 21 at 20:41
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The big problem is what happens when SE doesn't properly follow their own process.

The proposed processes are mostly fine. I have one quibble (mentioned in a comment elsewhere): there should be more formalization of the accused being able to defend themselves / provide context, etc. (This might be the intent of the Discovery, but it could stand to be more formalized and explicitly stated.) Otherwise, I appreciate the work that has gone into creation and the opportunity to debate them here.

But the moderator reinstatement process assumes an amount of good faith coming from the Community Managers. If the previous moderator has been removed by a failure to follow the appropriate processes, it is very understandable for them to feel that there is no way for them to get a fair shake.

I think that the big problem is what happens when the processes aren't followed. David Fullerton even admits that

We made a decision to act quickly... but in doing so skipped several critical parts of the process.

IANAL, but the quoted actions are not unlike a case of prosecutorial misconduct. In such a case (in the US legal system), a higher authority might overturn the initial decision, possibly allowing a retrial, possibly not. In any event the problem is simply that there is no higher authority within SE. There has been a proposal for some sort of Community Ombudsman; this may have some technical challenges that make this proposal untenable.

My proposal:

Allow the moderators (or some portion thereof) to act as a court of higher appeal - not to be able to relitigate, but simply to give an up-down vote on whether the process was completed appropriately. To keep numbers down (and to prevent too much information dissemination), whenever a moderator's privileges are removed, a call could go out to other mods requesting volunteers for this task. After some number of mods have replied (or some amount of time has elapsed), a small number (perhaps 5) are selected at random from the pool; these mods then have a short amount of time (perhaps a day) to up or down vote the process. If the majority of this committee votes that the process was not followed (not whether the finding was accurate), the decision to remove the PM's privileges would be overturned.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? The moderator reinstatement process as proposed is better than no process, but it still does not take into account whether the processes are being followed - which is frankly the heart of this whole mess.

I think that SE giving some amount of oversight of their decisions to the moderators will go a long way towards regaining the trust of that community.

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    Moderators on the accused's site(s), or moderators from anywhere on the network? The former would afford more privacy if the issues involve moderator actions (as opposed to general conduct). – Monica Cellio Oct 24 at 15:37
  • @MonicaCellio Since I am not a mod anywhere, so I don't really know the workings of the sites. Any and all of the details of my proposal are fair game for further discussion. It may be that the mods closest to the PM are too close (as in they're part of the complaints, or thought to be predjudiced for/against the PM). Perhaps the mods on this council can be given a redacted version of events. (E.g. replace all instances of the PM's name / username, etc with '[PM]'.) It might even be best to redact all parties' ID's with code: [CM1]. [CM2], [aggrieved user 1]... – Van Oct 24 at 15:59
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What does an initiation request look like, and how does that change in the absence of a removal process?

The current process has no detail on Initiation beyond "Previous moderators (PM) may request reinstatement through the /contact form on the site that they wish to be reinstated". In addition to grammatical cleanup (I suggest "...on the site for which they wish to be reinstated"), this provides no detail about the nature of the request. And yet the PM has no further role to play until being denied, reinstated, or sent to Execution #2.2.

But the PM's views are clearly relevant prior to that, since Execution #1 includes "Preconditions are to be communicated, along with any show of willingness to correct possibly problematic past behaviors from PM in their initial contact."

This raises several difficulties.

Assuming the PM was removed under the new removal process:

  • The moderator team receives only one-way communication from the Initiation, which has no guidelines at all. If their decision hinges on specific questions for the PM, can that be communicated? (A simple example: if a PM made commitments and then vanished, the team might request reassurance that it was a one-off matter.)
  • The mod team (or teams) receive only one-way, unconfirmed information about preconditions. If they would require some altered precondition to accept reinstatement, can that be passed back to the CMs? If the PM won't accept the CM conditions, why add a week of delay and involve an entire mod team? E#2.2 can happen before E#1, especially if the mod team has no input on preconditions.
  • The PM seemingly has no input at all on preconditions except refusal of the entire process. ("A reply", "acknowledges and agrees" vs "responds negatively".) If the PM seeks even clarification of the conditions, much less change, does the process restart from Initiation and Discovery? If not, what happens if a mod team member objects to the clarified/altered condition? Is the PM even allowed to reapply on this basis - does "I don't understand phrase X" count as "relevant circumstances... that weren't considered"?

In particular, I suggest that E#2.2 happen before E#1, possibly with a loop back after mod team input, and explicitly allow two-way communication between CM and PM. This seems like common sense, but as @Shog9 artfully said recently, that's "a term we use for things that are obvious to us but not others". If this is a process meant for use when informal communication breaks down, it should be clear about formal communication channels.

If the PM was not removed under the new removal process, how does this work at all?

  • Discovery #2 acknowledges that their file won't be annotated, but no other allowances are made. The PM's only input is at Initiation, before they receive any communication from CMs or mods, but per E#1 that request is expected to address the removal.
  • As above, CMs are setting conditions and then involving one (or many?) mod teams before talking to the PM - but now the PM may not even have the same inciting incident in mind as the CMs and mods.
  • The PM only receives information if the reinstatement is denied. If it's accepted, even with conditions, there's apparently no way to discover why the account was removed, whether it's annotated with other "strikes", or whether the initial removal is still considered a sound decision.

At risk of beating a dead horse, all of this started because a moderator was removed without any process. She's been publicly accused of violating the CoC, but has repeatedly asked what terms she violated and apparently received no answer, even privately.

I'm genuinely pleased that this process allows moderators to apply and be reinstated without admitting past fault (potentially even if there are preconditions). But it still requires those PMs to submit a single comment without knowing why the removal happened, and only offers information if the request is denied.

I would feel far better if "...and the reasons for it will be stated back to PM" applied even to successful reinstatements.

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    Most of the time, they literally just have to email us and say "Hi, I'd like to begin the reinstatement process. I was inactive two years ago and was removed. I was so busy with work I didn't even respond to the emails about being removed. Work's much more calm now and I'd like to have my position back." In cases like these, requiring communication can slow the process. These are the vast majority of reinstatement requests we get. Very little time is needed on active work and, with a responsive current mod team, can happen in a couple of hours. – Catija Oct 22 at 4:47
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    For complicated cases, while it's not explicitly in the design, there are various opportunities for communication to get additional information, ask questions, communicate. We can look at adding these as optional points, I think At the bare minimum we should probably respond to the ticket and indicate that we're starting work on the request. And, yes. I know we seem like the strong, silent types... at least right now. We've been struggling a bit with using our words. – Catija Oct 22 at 4:47
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    Thanks very much, this is reassuring. While I hope to see communication explicitly mentioned as an option, it makes total sense not to require it, especially for simple approvals like you describe; even a general mention that it's encouraged as needed might suffice and avoid elaborate process. My thought was mostly to ensure that certain cases like "I veto unless..." be free of miscommunication, and to make the process more viable for mods who didn't go through the removal process. – wintermute92 Oct 22 at 5:21
  • And yes - I can certainly imagine why staff are being particularly deliberate with their words at the moment. From the user side, I'll just say that "we've heard this and we're doing concrete work on it" or "this took longer than planned, here's why and what's up" count for a lot. That goes for the recent CMT status update, a ticket response, or even your comments right here. Thanks for being aware of it. – wintermute92 Oct 22 at 5:26
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    @Catija a process needs to consider the complicated cases too, though, especially when a profound failure of process and fairness is what got us here in the first place. – Monica Cellio Oct 22 at 12:29
  • @Catija Reinstatement in a few hours? Remember that every single CM has to be given a chance to recuse themselves. And what happens if CM1, picked randomly, is not reachable (say, on vacation)? – Reinstate Monica Oct 23 at 0:48
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Replace the emergency action caveats with an explicit disclaimer that SE can at any time, for any reason remove a moderator without notice

We all know that SE is a private company and can do almost anything it wants within its realm. No one doubts this, and frankly I don't think it's a very interesting discussion point. You should include this disclaimer to quickly get this out of the way so that we don't get hung up on it as a talking point.

Value comes from the fact that SE does not want to exercise this power. SE wants to engage with the community in almost all circumstances (exceptions being account compromise, PII leaks, etc). By making this clear in a disclosure we can avoid a large chunk of fairly useless conversation. Instead we move straight into a discussion of how to value add to the community.

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    “SE is a private company and can do almost anything it wants” — This is true in the legal sense, but not in the moral sense. There is a social contract between the company and the community. In a nutshell, they build the technical aspects of the site and reap any profits, we provide the content and curation. This social contract is implicit and many people would fill in different details, but it exists nonetheless. One of the ambiguities is who provides the oversight. It was the company initially and that was fine because we trusted Jeff. It's no longer fine because we don't trust Sara. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Oct 22 at 20:53
  • @Gilles I totally agree, this is exactly what I'm saying. Let's move past the moral vs legal contracts and responsibilities. The legal side is just not interesting. Only the moral side is interesting. Any policies, procedures, discussions, or anything else should focus just on that moral side. Thats why I want to make sure the legal side is explicitly taken out of the picture asap. – David says Reinstate Monica Oct 22 at 20:57
  • Oh. This is not at all what I understand from your answer. You state “no one doubts this” and “this is [not] a very interesting discussion point”! I not only doubt this but disagree with it and I think it's an important and relevant discussion point. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Oct 22 at 21:00
  • @Gilles Perhaps I don't understand you then. I'm saying SE is a private company and can physically do almost anything (like ban a mod outright) irrespective of morals, community, or anything else. This makes no statement of right or wrong, just of physical and legal ability. Do you doubt that? – David says Reinstate Monica Oct 22 at 21:09
  • This would be an ugly disclaimer, but at least it would be telling the truth. (I'd rather have the ugly truth than a pretty pretense, so, as much as it pains me to admit it, I think this is a sensible idea. +1.) – J.R. means 'Just Reinstate' Oct 22 at 21:12
  • @J.R. Yep. Thats exactly what I'm trying to do. Get the ugly out of the way fast so we can focus on the good. – David says Reinstate Monica Oct 22 at 21:13
  • @DavidGrinberg I'm reasonably confident about my physical ability to kill my neighbor if I so chose, but I wouldn't phrase this as “Gilles can kill hir neighbor if ze wants”. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Oct 22 at 21:33
  • @Gilles I said physically and legally. Lets not sidetrack the discussion please. – David says Reinstate Monica Oct 23 at 0:47
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    Please check out the (pseudo-) answer by George Stocker about how this process stuff doesn't matter when you don't trust the owner of the process to stick to their word. I guess what David is saying is (of course) they don't have to; but I'm with Gilles -- if they want me here, I should be able to trust them. Call it a "social contract" if you like. Whether or not what they are doing is not illegal is completely beside the point (though of course they have to obey applicable legislation in the jurisdictions where they have operations. and yes, the bear does poop in the woods). – tripleee Oct 23 at 18:17
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SE, stop everything and listen

I believe this has come to a point where it's obvious that all remedial action taken by SE is not working. The new process feels rushed, it's a badly patched together justification for Monica's termination.

SE, you have a social contract with the community. Director of CMs, you have the responsibility to bridge your employer with us. You were supposed to work towards our growth and wellbeing.

Stack Overflow has become something bigger than what a private company can manage on its own. Your product is so deeply connected with your users, and it's time you stop for a moment and listen to them.

Give the community an equal voice in the community affairs

  1. Community should have the same amount of veto rights as SE.
  2. Moderator termination, not based on any security breach, should go through a vote process with equal amount of SE employees and voted moderators.
  3. If veto power was exercised, and if there is opposition from other veto rights holders, the process steps into a "small council" where all veto rights holders must vote.
  4. Full transcripts with minimal redaction of executive discussions regarding disciplinary actions must be made available within 24 hours following internal reviews.
  5. If sufficient votes from the community, a new review process must take place within 7 working days.

SE, you can still salvage some trust from the community if you take actions now.

I am just going to point out the case of Jesse Jackson and Ellen Pao. Remember why the Reddit CEO had to step down? She failed to listen to her community and all subsequent actions taken by her administration led them further away from reason.

  • This is in some sense similar to my proposal, but giving "the community" powers is probably not legally tenable. That's why I think a Community Ombudsman with some personal responsibilities, agreements, and obligations would be more feasible. – tripleee Oct 24 at 4:21
  • Interesting thoughts you have shared, I haven't seen it from an Ombudsman perspective, my thoughts stem from the United Nations veto power but rather than just 5 countries holding veto power, perhaps an equal amount of SE reps and community appointed reps? Can the whole legality perspective go away if SE honour, in good faith, a social contract with the community? It has no legal obligations towards us but as a gesture of good will, SE will enforce this agreement. – James Wong - Reinstate Monica Oct 24 at 4:27
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Execution Phase, item 1:

The team will have 7 days to say their piece.

So essentially anyone on the team can stall the process for 7 days for no reason?

So if a PM was unfairly fired from several sites, and wishes to reinstate PM's mod status, PM would have to go through the trouble of completing multiple contact forms, and would have to wait up to seven days?

Justice delayed is justice denied.

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    Also as noted in other answers, there's no guarantee that the CM who handles the reinstate process isn't the same CM who unfairly fired PM in the first place. – user12205 Oct 21 at 23:54
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    I read that as the PM dragging their heels. But if I'm correct then the wording needs adjusted to clarify that. The CM's shouldn't be dragging out the process just to use that as an excuse to invalidate it. – AGirlHasNoName Oct 22 at 0:44
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    I'm not sure what you mean. Is it clear in our wording that the "team" you're referring to there is the moderator team PM is asking to be reinstated into? If so, I don't know that there's an easy way for us to shorten that 7 day window — we'd have to be able to coordinate with multiple mods (depending on the size of the team) to hear all their input, and not everyone is available at the same time, etc. – JNat Oct 22 at 10:17
  • @JNat I'd say it's not entirely clear whether "current moderation team" includes CMs and other staff with diamonds. I'm also saying that the process should be expedited as much as possible if the firing was obviously unfair in the first place. For example if some day a CM decides to be a jerk and fires a mod for no reason, and the CM that processes the reinstate request finds this to be true. Would the process still be delayed by 7 days because another unrelated mod is on vacation? – user12205 Oct 22 at 11:06
  • I'll see how to clarify what "team" means in that context, then. As for the second bit of your comment: yes, the process would need to wait for a full 7 days if one mod's response is pending. Also, the Conduct Review Process prevents the "some day a CM decides to be a jerk and fires a mod for no reason" scenario you presented. – JNat Oct 22 at 11:11
  • @JNat Just because a "process" prevents it, doesn't mean it won't happen. This is especially important when there's no way to appeal a Conduct Review decision. – user12205 Oct 22 at 11:20
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    @JNat, what are the technical measures you have implemented to prevent a single SE employee from demodding a random moderator? Without such measures, anyone can circumvent the process. If they are acting maliciously, they can even prevent the moderator from being reinstated according to the reinstatement process. – Bart van Ingen Schenau Oct 22 at 12:03
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    @JNat What will prevent the Conduct Review Process from being ignored like the previous Moderator Action Review Process? – Andrew says Reinstate Monica Oct 22 at 18:11
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    I'm not sure I can predict what conditions would lead to this process being ignored, @AndrewPiliser, so I can't speak to what we could do to prevent that :\ That being said, the process was designed with a lot of use-cases in mind, so that hopefully sends a strong signal of when it should be used. – JNat Oct 31 at 18:40
  • @JNat Thanks for the update! – Andrew says Reinstate Monica Oct 31 at 19:25
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Sorry if this duplicates an existing proposal; haven't finished reading through them all (not the process documentation in any detail) ...

Give the Community a Representative

In more or less direct response to Monica's answer and several comments, I would like to propose a new role with visibility into this process on the behalf of the community but also a mandate and role vaguely similar to, but distinct from, the moderator's. I'd like to call this a Community Ombudsman.

Rather than attempt to articulate their mandate in any detail, let me just throw this out as a loose idea. The Ombudsman should

  • Participate in reviewing and overseeing the work of the Community Managers -- not sure what sort of division of labor between the employer and the ombudsman is realistic (or legally acceptable!) but think of this vaguely like how unions have representatives in HR committees in many companies (at least here in Northern Europe).

  • Be a stakeholder with full insight into site moderation across the network, but no access to moderators' enforcement tools.

    • I think it's important that this person is not an active moderator, but they need a very good insight into the work, and in particular the agreements and processes governing their activities (i.e. probably a former moderator?)
  • Receive a full, detailed, written report of how Community Manager appeals were handled (not just moderator reinstatements -- any situation where there may be a conflict of interest between the community and the company).

(Frankly, this sounds almost like a part-time job, or at the very minimum a serious undertaking which should probably somehow be compensated. If that happens, I guess ideally the money should come from outside of Stack Overflow Inc.'s normal salary system with HR oversight etc. Perhaps there could be a grant from a foundation or some such?)

I can think of some people whom I'd like to see in this position, but probably so can you. In the present situation, we should probably be looking at moderators who stepped down or ceased their activity well before the current crisis erupted (which I guess is not a very large pool of candidates).

  • Being unfamiliar with the actual mod tools is a bit of a handicap here. Please feel free to fix any false assumptions or point out oversights or misunderstandings. – tripleee Oct 23 at 18:04
  • It's an interesting idea but... even if the company agreed, it'd be a difficult position to fill - they'd probably need to sign some sort of legal contract with SE, for one, since the complaints could include sensitive personal information (beyond what mods normally have access to, depending on the issue). And if they're paid, there's still a conflict of interest and you're really just hiring a new boss for the CMs.. A lot of former moderators leave because they can't commit the time/energy, too. – Em C Oct 23 at 20:26
  • Yeah, that's why I think a mod who is familiar with similar agreements and constraints would need to fill this role, although I suppose you could take an outsider and train them like we train moderators. A current moderator who agrees to cease moderation and start to oversee the company's processes instead would be a useful arrangement in a different situation, but I don't know if that could fly in the current scenario. – tripleee Oct 24 at 4:16
  • Why not just onboard one or two mods from other sites at random to give "neutral" eyeballs on the process ? – Tensibai Oct 24 at 10:04
  • @Tensibai I'm not saying we can't do that but I'll try to explain why I didn't propose that. Having a single named person or a very small set of persons limits exposure for possibly sensitive data and minimizes the requirements for additional paperwork related to possible NDAs etc. and of course means you can limit the amount of specialized training. Also, if the company thinks the community, the mods, and the meta crowd are the enemy, they probably want to be very selective about who they accept to even nominate. – tripleee Oct 24 at 10:30
  • (You could argue that making the process scalable and repeatable would be desirable, and so maybe we should make it easy to onboard new people; but that will increase the effort on the company's side significantly for a mechanism which is probably hard to convince them to try in the first place.) – tripleee Oct 24 at 10:30
  • I did mention mods from other site because they already accepted the moderator agreement and (until recent specific event) the TL rule of "not copy anything out of here", which should not require any more "paperwork". I don't think the company see mods or meta as ennemies, more (wrongly IMHO) as negligible opinion (or more bluntly: background noise) – Tensibai Oct 24 at 11:47
  • @Tensibai So yes, as already discussed above, I think using an existing mod would be fine in normal circumstances; but these circumstances are not normal, and so I'm thinking retired or dormant would be safer (not a stakeholder in the current brouhaha). If this actually happens, hopefully things should return to normal before the second Community Ombudsman gets elected, and then the procedure might need a tweak or two; making currently active moderators eligible would then perhaps be feasible. But as of right now, moderators are stakeholders and the conflict of interest cannot be ignored. – tripleee Oct 24 at 11:52
  • Fair point, I disagree a bit that two mods from unrelated site would not recuse themselves if they feel too implied with the mod "judged" but your point stand. – Tensibai Oct 24 at 11:57
9

Thank you for posting these processes. However, in What is the process for reinstating a moderator?, point #2 of the "Discovery Phase" states:

  1. CM1 will look through account annotations for reasons for removal. Annotations weren't always a feature, so CM1 will also consult with the rest of the Community Management and Community Strategy (CST) teams for any extra context.
    1. If CM1 finds any annotation that states reinstatement is deemed impossible, the request is denied and the reasons for it will be stated back to PM. The process is concluded here.
    2. If CM1 (and the team) finds reinstatement is possible under the agreement that a reasonable and attainable precondition should and could be met (such as an agreement to discontinue a certain kind of behavior), this reason is documented.
    3. If CM1 (and the team) finds reinstatement is possible and there isn't a need to establish a precondition, they'll just proceed.

Is there any particular reason why sub-point #1 has only the CM1 involved while sub-points 2 and 3 have "CM1 (and the team)"? I believe the team should also be involved in sub-point #1 to help ensure not just one person determines a specific annotation is considered to be such that reinstatement is deemed impossible. Also, are there any specific guidelines as to what constitutes an annotation which makes it impossible to be reinstated?

Another issue in sub-point #1 is that it doesn't explicitly state anything about documenting which particular annotation, and why it's deemed important enough, for a PM to not be reinstated. I believe this should also be documented, such as in cases where a PM asks again later to be reinstated so the previous reason can be reviewed and, for example, considered if it was reasonable and still applicable.

9

In the section Proceedings, of this answer, it says:

  1. At the designated time, a quorum must be present — this shall consist of ⅔rds (rounded up) of the moderators on the site (all those listed as active on the /users?tab=moderators page, whether or not currently active), excluding the moderator to be removed (example: for a team with three moderators, both of those not being considered for removal must be present).

Stack Overflow has 21 moderators, so ⅔rds means more than 14.

Observations: It may be difficult to assemble that many people and hold a conversation involving almost 20 people. On some sites (with only a few moderators) one or more of the moderators haven't checked in for weeks. Rarely a site will only have a couple of moderators, maybe only one; whom is excluded from the total deemed necessary for quorum.

Answer/Suggestion: It is necessary to have at least 2 moderators, even if they must be drawn from other sites, and the moderator whose case is being decided shouldn't have to wait 2 weeks.

If the initial email receives insufficient replies after the first week then stand-ins should be contacted so that a minimum quorum of 2 moderators (or ⅔rds when there are 4 or more, assuming only one removal) can attempt to represent moderator's concerns (point of view).

That permits moderators to be represented at the hearing while not introducing an unwanted delay into the hearing of the affected moderator's case(s).

Reference: Number Constituting a Quorum:

"Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised [no relationship to me] states that the quorum set in an organization's bylaws "should approximate the largest number that can be depended on to attend any meeting except in very bad weather or other extremely unfavorable conditions."

In the absence of such a provision, a quorum is an assembly whose membership can be determined is a majority of the entire membership. In the meetings of a convention, unless provided otherwise, a quorum is a majority of registered delegates, even if some have departed. In a mass meeting or in an organization in which the membership cannot be accurately determined, the quorum consists of those who attend the meeting.".

8

Is the Moderator Conduct Review Process the only process by which Stack Exchange employees (especially those who are not CMs) may remove a moderator? I assume the answer is yes, and I think it can be made clearer to reassure the community that there will be no de-modding coming out of unexpected places.

The answer that details the process is already in the context of how the Community Management Team will move through the process, and the question didn't seem to be explicit about any involvement by non-CMs:

This post lists two process by which formal complaints against moderators are handled by the Community Management Team.

This only states how the Community Management Team will handle them.

The Moderator Conduct Review Process is a process by which complaints against a moderator's conduct can be raised.

The indefinite article suggests there may be other processes.

  • 8
    No, the agreement says that moderators can be removed at any time at the discretion of Stack Exchange with no warning. Technically, the company isn't obligated to follow any process. It's in the company's interest to have removals be perceived as fair though. – ColleenV parted ways Oct 22 at 0:24
  • 2
    @ColleenV It looks to me that the best way to be perceived as fair would be starting to act fair instead of publishing non-binding documents stating they want to be fair. We do not need a flowchart to understand that the reasons for a removal should be clearly disclosed to the affected party, we would rather see SE actually doing it. – Stop harming Monica Oct 22 at 7:25
  • @Goyo you won’t get any argument from me on that front. – ColleenV parted ways Oct 22 at 10:51
8

I have some more questions:

  • In the reinstatement process, can CMs 2 and 3 overrule CM1's decision not to continue? (after the first step)
  • Is it possible to have a list of questions that guide the CM teams decision? This would be good for transparency and allowing others to somehow audit the decision.

I think these questions might be a good start:

  • What harm does the moderator do to (a) the community and (b) the company?
  • Can we assume bad intent? Why?
  • Is the mean effective to solve the problems? Is it neccessary? (or is there a "nicer" one?)
  • Is the decision going to harm the moderator team's ability to mod the site?

One more last idea, why don't you create a "Court of Appeal"/Community Court where these decisions can be made. There could be CMs and various community members in this court that make a majority decision in these cases. Something similiar is working on Wikipedia. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Arbitration_Committee)

  • 2
    CMs 2 and 3 can override CM1's decision, correct. – JNat Oct 22 at 10:27

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