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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.

  • 81
    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
  • 1
    @sourcejedi Thanks, very helpful. I wonder whether it may be prudent to be explicit that that policy is in effect in this context. – mjwills Oct 21 at 20:29
  • 96
    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
  • 74
    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
  • 3
    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
  • 1
    @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
  • 13
    @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? – mag Nov 4 at 9:33
  • 26
    @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. – Reinstate Monica Nov 5 at 21:42
  • 21
    @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
  • @bobobobo comments aren't even sand, and they add to noise unless they improve or clarify a question or an answer. – KorvinStarmast 12 hours ago

69 Answers 69

3

Please include some more specific details about handling moderators who stepped down voluntarily and then wish to take up their positions again.

There was a recent case (which I do not wish to link to) wherein a moderator was semi-inactive for several years on two rather popular science sites. Apparently he would quietly handle a couple of flags or perform some other moderation-related activity which was completely invisible to the community (and did not leave any traces like comments in his recent activity page) every now and then. But there were absolutely no visible contributions from the last three years, and very few for several years before that. He played a huge role in setting up the site's policies when the sites were new, which is evident from the fact that he was the author of almost all canonical FAQ posts in about 2012. But a couple of years later, his participation suddenly shut down, and he did not mention any reason on meta or chat.

There was no evidence or reason to suspect that he was misusing his powers, and there was no reason to believe that he would return in the future and misuse the mod tools. Still, a high-rep contributor on one of the communities who had joined after the moderator had gone inactive said that he/she was somewhat concerned by the fact that someone with whom he/she had never interacted was a moderator. Concerns were raised regarding whether it is logical to have Moderator For Life positions, and some users claimed they would rather see a continuous stream of contributions or messages of some form from each moderator, just so that they can be reassured that no moderator's views had changed drastically from the position which got him/her elected.

A meta post was made asking whether the community would like this inactive-ish moderator to remain in his position. A month later, the moderator chimed in, explained how circumstances had changed in the real world and left him without the time to participate on SE, and resigned on both sites. This action was positively received and community members, moderators, and members of the SE community team thanked the moderator for his contributions.

I feel that in such cases, the community team needs to take a lot of care while re-instating the moderator. Over five years, the site's dynamics, rules, and values can change significantly, and the moderator needs to be made aware of that. While I do not believe that they should have to go through the whole process of re-election, I think that the moderator reinstatement process post should clearly state that the case of stepping down, particularly upon non-aggressive requests, is not considered trivial.

New contributor
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30

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
67

The real, essential problem that I see (that actually might not be able to be resolved, because of the underlying conflict of interest between company and community):

  • Moderators get to their position via a democratic process, an election within the user community of a specific site on the stack exchange network. ( And note: "all" users are asked to vote. It is not like the moderator community decides for new padawans, invites them and later announces "they joined the force". )
  • Yet, "firing" them is something that solely happens within Stack Exchange Inc.!

I understand that the company is running the servers, and I understand their need to able to act immediately to emergencies such as compromised user ids.

But for any other kind of depriving a moderator of his status, the user community should have a say. At a minimum by having all other elected moderators being able to vote on that. The idea that solely CMs working for Stack Exchange Inc. determine what is going to happen isn't convincing. Any more.

In the past, the moderator status was subject to decisions by Stack Exchange Inc. only. And when 99.99% of the users trust the company, why not?

But going forward from here: if Stack Exchange Inc. is serious about listening the community again, then a "moderator firing process" that doesn't include some form of community input is not going to regain the trust you lost.

I can see the company POV: the company paying for the servers specifies polices, such as the code of conduct. That affects their business, which in the end pays the servers. That drives the need to deal with conduct violations, especially when committed by moderators. But that doesn't dictate that Stack Exchange Inc. should be the sole party making such decisions in a unilateral way. And as said: we are at a point where we need real actions that make a real difference.

Thus my suggestion: step back and find ways to incorporate the community into this crucial policy/process!

  • 3
    It might "make sense" that company calls all the shots, but it is far from the only solution or even a proven superior concept. In the end such concept says the company doesn't trust its own community in any way, and wants to keep an asymmetric, even aristocratic, power structure in place. But Co-determination would be one way out or at least worth exploring? – LаngLаngС Oct 22 at 12:16
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    @LаngLаngС Reworded the last sentence, maybe that helps. – GhostCat says Reinstate Monica Oct 22 at 12:43
  • Yup. Just to add: My POV is that especially things like the CoC should be "up for discussion" (as outright denied in theregister article). A community is "more inclusive" when it and all its members are included in the decision making fundamental policies as well. Agency, legitimacy and outcome can be better that way. As already promised: "Meta Stack Exchange … It's built and run by you " – LаngLаngС Oct 22 at 12:53
  • 3
    Perhaps a middle ground could be that the reinstatement process is voted by the community, similar to actual elections, but the firing process is handled by the company themselves so they can act quickly if they feel the need to. – Grumpy says Reinstate Monica Oct 22 at 13:11
146

There is no protection against directed findings

The only people who can take decisions on moderator removal and reinstatement are community managers (CM). All CM are part of the same corporate hierarchy. The same person, or a very small set of persons, decides whether all CM will keep earning their living tomorrow.

This means that Stack Overflow, Inc. management can direct findings, either overtly or implicitly. If a CM knows that their boss wants a moderator removed or reinstated, but their personal conviction goes in the other direction, they'll have to make a hard choice between going with their conscience and keeping their job.

A fair process must:

  • avoid such conflicts of interest and loyalty;
  • in such a way that everybody involved (especially employees) can be sure that there will be no retaliation;
  • and in such a way that the community can trust that the people involved felt safe against retaliation.

This is a difficult governance problem. There is both a high need for confidentiality (especially so that if a moderator does something wrong, the victims know that they won't face retaliation) and high trust (which is hard to guarantee without openness). There is some inspiration to be had with whistleblower processes which face the same difficulty.

I don't see how this problem could be solved without involving non-employees in the process. There needs to be some independent oversight. In the first few years of Stack Overflow, Jeff was the benevolent dictator. It worked because Jeff was “one of us”. Those days are long over. SOI is a mostly faceless corporation that has already demonstrated that it does not have the best interest of the community in mind. This cannot be resolved by company-internal processes.

  • 11
    Excellent answer. You do a good job explaining the exact reasons why the standard corporate approach for granting positions is incompatible with the justice system they are trying to establish, something I briefly alluded to in my answer. – Wildcard Oct 22 at 17:26
  • Gilles, my edit would probably be rejected for being "too minor" so I'm not gonna make it, but I believe you meant "Those days" instead of "These days". If this is the case, would you please fix it and then flag my comment for removal. :) – 286110 Oct 22 at 20:43
  • Legally separating Stack Exchange, Inc and the community could really help making these conflicts of interest go away. – rockwalrus-stop harming Monica Oct 22 at 23:27
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    @Gilles I'm not good with English grammar here, but the period deemed good here by you is the period that coincided with Jeff as the benevolent dictator, and since we are way past that period I think "those" fits here instead of "these". – 286110 Oct 23 at 0:45
9

I have two concerns about the removal and reinstatement policies. The first is that SE maintains complete control over the process and the second is the lack of transparency in the processes.

I think removal should require agreement between a CM (i.e., an SE employee) and a site moderator (i.e., an elected/pro-term appointed moderator from the community that is not an SE employee) that the moderator in question should be removed. For the reinstatement process, I think blocking reinstatement should require agreement between a CM and a site moderator that the moderator in question should not be reinstated. The moderators to be involved in these processes could either be the non-employee moderators at MSE, randomly chosen from moderators across the network with more than N years of moderating experience, solicited from moderators in the TL on a first-come basis or something like that or really anything that gives community members a seat at the table.

In the removal process, this means CM2 and CM3 would be replaced by moderators. SE essentially gets two shots to convince a moderator that the moderator in question needs to be removed. In the reinstatement process, CM2 would be replaced by a moderator. If CM1 and the moderator acting as CM2 both want to prevent reinstatement, the process is concluded and the request is denied. If the CM1 wants to prevent reinstatement, but the moderator acting as CM2 does not, the process goes directly to the execution phase to be decided by the current mods.

In regards to transparency, I believe both processes should be private and only involve the individuals directly relevant. That said, I think it would be helpful, and not much work, to keep moderators aware that the processes are being used and working.

In the reinstatement process immediately after CM 1 is assigned I think a message should be posted in TL stating that a reinstatement request has been received from USERNAME at SITENAME. I then think weekly updates should be posted in TL stating where in the reinstatement process the request is. Finally, when the process is concluded a post in TL should be given stating which action ended the process (i.e., previous reasons, recent behavior, irreconcilable differences, precondition rejected, non-response, reinstatement).

For the removal process, just knowing that it is being used would be helpful. In the Emergency Removal Process (ERP) I think step 3.5 should be to post in TL that a moderator has been temporarily removed under the ERP. In the Regular Investigation Process (RIP) step 2.5 should be to post in TL that a concern has been raised about a moderator and that the RIP has been initiated. In both cases, once the initial notification has been given, weekly updates stating where in the process the investigation is should be made in TL. Finally, when the process is concluded a post in TL should be given stating which action ended the process.

Finally, I think yearly (quarterly if this happens a lot) summaries should be posted about how often the processes were used and what the outcomes were. This should be done publicly on either MSE or on a blog post as well as in the TL.

  • 11
    I like including moderators, but I don't think people should be able to volunteer for specific cases (too much risk of advocacy), and I am concerned that in some cases what's needed is an on-site moderator, not a random one. If a moderator was removed for reasons that are not public beyond the site, involving arbitrary other moderators increases the "splash zone", so to speak, from those actions. Even if a removal is initiated by SE rather than users, the model from the original removal process seems sound to me. If SE thinks a whole site has gone bad, that's a different problem. – Monica Cellio Oct 28 at 23:56
  • @MonicaCellio I would really like to see moderators be involved, but I am not sure how they should be selected. The splash zone is not something I had even considered, but I would like to think that moderators can be trusted to be discrete. – StrongBad Oct 29 at 0:03
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    I've seen cases that reached CMs but should have been (and were) resolved on-site; no need to embarrass the mod involved more broadly. Moderators should be discrete, but also bear in mind that moderators on one site are often users on another, so you'd probably need to find mods with no involvement on the site in question to avoid that awkwardness. It's going to feel weird to, in the future, need to send a mod message to a mod who sat in judgement over you, right? – Monica Cellio Oct 29 at 0:08
  • @MonicaCellio the moderator would only be involved in the removal if CM1 found grounds for removal and then any vote for removal from a moderator standing in for either CM2 or CM3 results in removal. This also minimizes the splash zone since it only goes forward if CM1 thinks there is a case. – StrongBad Oct 29 at 0:14
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    Oh, I missed the sequencing there. That does make it better, yes. We still need to avoid conflicts of interest, whether from volunteers with opinions or users of the site, but that's probably manageable. – Monica Cellio Oct 29 at 0:17
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    @MonicaCellio none of this really matters because what is clear is that SE is not going to give up their total control of the removal process or their ability to block a reinstatement and they are going to keep everything hidden. – StrongBad Oct 29 at 0:22
  • 2
    Unfortunately, yes. Which is why going through it is dubious even if one was removed with due process, let alone the case where that didn't happen. – Monica Cellio Oct 29 at 0:28
5

Execution Phase

  1. If an Emergency Removal took place, moderator access can't be restored. At CM2's discretion, the network account may be suspended for 30 days to prevent further harm while issue is being handled. CM2 will communicate their findings to the moderator, and annotate their account. The process is concluded here.

Unless I've misread the comments and clarifications on some of the other answers, Emergency Removal could be used for anything from an active security breach to acting out of character.

What happens if CM1 misreads the situation and overreacts when stumbling upon the initial problem, and initiates an Emergency Removal on the mod; the process concludes finding a violation did occur, but it wasn't what CM1 initially thought it was was, and in retrospect the Emergency Removal wasn't warranted?

On a first offense, if the Emergency Removal had not occurred, the mod would get a warning, but since the Emergency Removal did take place, now they can't be restored.

If you are looking for a fair process, the punishment should be determined by the mod's actions, not by CM1's reaction.

11

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.

  • 14
    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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15

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?

12

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.

  • 1
    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
5

Why two processes for removal of a moderator?

The 'Moderator Conduct Review Process' boils down to "Act first, then go through reinstation process".

If the request comes from a user/Stack Exchange employee or a moderator, the process is not the same. Why?

The starting point is the same, a mail to contact@stackexchange.com, depending on whom wrote the mail the moderator case will be evaluated with other moderators from the site or just by CMs...

That makes no sense, whomever the originating complain comes from the process should be identical.

The specific case of "issue causing immediate harm (security issue like a moderator's account appearing to be compromised, or moderator agreement violation as described above)." should just add a diamond removal immediately before proceeding to the rest of the process.

20

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.

  • 10
    "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
  • 1
    "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
  • 2
    @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
  • 5
    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
11

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 Oct 24 at 4:27
10

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
4

Just a few quick remarks. I apologize if they overlap with other answers. Given that there are so many of them, it's difficult to keep the overview.

  • This is too much red tape (bureaucratic). Consider simplifying the whole process.
  • One way of simplifying would be to just state contracts and leave the implementation details to either be developed ad-hoc or for internal documents.
  • One contract that seems to be missing would be the right of the accused (in case of a removal) to get a detailed explanation of the accusations, the evidence and the reasoning from the "judgement team" in written form. I would appreciate if that could be added.
  • Instead of doing all that complicated CM1, CM2, CM3 ping-pong behavior, why not just say that always three CMs will meet and a majority of them decides. That's similar to how the close votes review process works. That might simplify some parts of the process.
176

These processes miss the point.

All of the company's current big issues with the community boil down to one issue: The company lost a lot of goodwill and trust.

Without trust, review processes that work must rely on transparency and consistency. A written process theoretically creates some consistency, but unless it's accompanied by transparency or trust, in practice people won't know if the process is followed correctly, fairly, and impartially.

Keep in mind how all of this looks: The company fired a moderator, refused to let her know why, then the company posted some seemingly false and slanderous accusations against the moderator, missed 4 separate opportunities to apologize and own up to their mistakes, and now, weeks later, graciously allows the moderator to ask to be let back in, if she promises, so to speak, "to stop beating her wife".

This looks bad. If what actually happened is any better than the above summary, the company should be desperate to create more transparency.

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    This, but the collapse didn't begin with the loss of trust. Losing trust was a consequence of changing the site's primary focus from programming to socially engineering programmers. – No U Oct 22 at 22:30
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    I see no reason why a rational person would engage with this site. It is built ENTIRELY on contributions from un-reimbursed volunteers. These volunteers serve at the whim of people with a political agenda diametrically opposed to the very premise of meritocracy. Or in the words of WOPR from the movie 'War Games' -- The only winning move is to not play. I will continue to farm SE for answers. I will not contribute ANYTHING that could be used against me in the kangaroo court they have established. – Terry Oct 23 at 13:42
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    @Terry its not even a kangaroo court - they implemented a star chamber. – gbjbaanb Oct 25 at 8:59
38

Moderator Action Review Process

Proceedings

  1. If the consensus was for removal, we will then revoke the privileges of the moderator to be removed, and also remove the moderator's name from the election and /users?tab=moderators pages.

Why?

I get the part about removing them from the moderators tab (because they are no longer a mod), but they were elected/appointed -- so why "rewrite history" by removing them from the election page?

  • 1
    The same reason a company tries to distance itself from a problem employee who's made the news, I guess. Bad publicity. Not wanting to associate themselves with "bad apples". – Script47 Oct 22 at 8:59
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    @Script47 But it wasn't the company the ones who elected the mod. It was the community. If anything, leaving the election page as-is shows that the company does not hesitate to intervene and "fix problems" caused by community decisions (like electing a mod that is not fit for the job); stock holders love that kind of things. It also serves as a reminder for the community itself to choose wiselier next time. Redacting election pages as if problematic mods were never elected in the first place rings an orwellian bell and there's no real need (IMHO) to do so. – walen Oct 22 at 9:19
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    You see presidents around the world being impeached all the time. What you don't see is people removing their names from history textbooks. – ace_HongKongIndependence Oct 22 at 11:22
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    Having the name on the election page provides something to refer to when the question is inevitably asked "How did one person without a diamond close this question?" -- the election page is the evidence that they did once have the diamond. – Andrew Leach Oct 26 at 21:27
  • @walen, they remove the badthinker because he who controls the present controls the future. He who controls the past controls the present. – Frank Luke Nov 4 at 21:23
1116

I know that my answer will overlap others, but enough people are waiting for me to comment on this process with an eye toward my case in particular that I'm going to post anyway.

The new removal process, while better than what was done to me, lacks important safeguards present in the pre-existing Moderator Action Review Process. Most importantly, it lacks the interactive phase where the accused can respond to comments raised by others. It also lacks transparency, being handled entirely by two CMs out of view of anybody else including the accused. It also does not allow the accused to challenge specific judges for substantiated concerns of bias; it relies on CMs to recuse themselves, but the moderator has no say or even knowledge of who acted. If there were more trust between the community and SE this might be surmountable, but in the current climate that's an awfully big assumption.

The new reinstatement process is even more flawed:

  • There is no transparency or ability to audit. The moderator submits a petition into the void and eventually an answer comes out. If I were to submit an application, a CM or Director could simply veto it and then say "we went through a process so we must be right".

  • The moderator cannot challenge judges. If a moderator has been removed, chances are that there were some interactions with some community managers and/or members of the community strategy team that would prejudice an appeal. A moderator should not be subject to summary judgement by the employee who ruled on the removal in the first place, and the moderator should have the opportunity to raise specific concerns about anybody. The moderator should know who the judges are.

  • The process starts from a presumption of guilt. If a moderator went through the paired removal process and actually received the information about charges and warnings called for in it, then the moderator has a starting point for an appeal. But if that didn't happen, the moderator is forced to guess. "Guilty until proven innocent" is not a sound judicial process; this process should not apply in cases where no sound removal process was followed.

  • There is no dialogue, no hearing, and no opportunity to present witnesses or evidence. The interactive aspects of the pre-existing removal process (MARP) are missing in both the new removal process and the reinstatement process. While synchronous chat for worldwide teams is a major hassle, there needs to be some way to include the moderator in a discussion of the situation.

Both processes involve annotations, which should be shared with the moderator and subject to challenge. I can only imagine what unsupported annotations a CM or Director may have added to my account, for example.


The new removal process, if properly followed, would have given me a fair chance, though the concerns about transparency and bias remain. That process would have required SE to share information about the specific complaint with me and, at worst, would have resulted in a warning. But that's not what happened, and against that backdrop, the reinstatement process would not be fair in my case. I shan't submit to it.

  • 75
    I think your last sentence is what they were hoping you would say. It certainly lets them off the hook. – Robert Harvey Oct 22 at 2:59
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    @RobertHarvey I think they were hoping I would submit to it, so they could then say "no" and claim they followed a process. I'm not letting them off the hook, but this process won't be my path to getting this fixed. – Monica Cellio Oct 22 at 3:01
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    @ChrisW after all that SE has done, including unrecanted public smearing, I would be foolish to assume good faith from them. It is way too easy for them to misuse this process to smear me even more. Dialogue only happens at their initiative, unlike in the original removal process where all the mods on the team discuss the matter together. And since I had already said I would stay out of TL (and did so), if that had been sufficient for them we wouldn't be here. If things have changed and that would have been sufficient, they should reverse their faulty decision. – Monica Cellio Oct 22 at 12:17
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    Monica, there are NO annotations on your account at all in the last three years. – Catija Oct 22 at 12:29
  • 252
    @Catija I mentioned Sara because the process runs through Sara's team. Sara has the authority, in this process, of unilaterally denying an appeal. I think that's an important factor and you've edited it out; further, my answer now casts doubt on the CMs, and I'm pretty sure they aren't the ones who acted badly here. But thank you for letting me know that there are no annotations currently; I obviously couldn't have known that when I wrote this answer. – Monica Cellio Oct 22 at 12:34
  • 36
    No amount of harm ever makes calling out people on meta and accusing them of things acceptable. That's been our policy for years. We've allowed it to some degree because we understand this situation is complicated and frustrating to people but in this case it's both incorrect and being used as reasoning for not going through the process. We would not have made this available to you 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
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    @Catija SE can claim that all they like, but the actual process lacks the transparency to allow me to audit the results. Also, all the other stuff I said -- given what got us here, going through this process would be like building on quicksand and guessing about where to pour the foundation. (And I honestly don't see how referring to a very public record is "calling out" someone inappropriately, but I'm not going to get into an edit dispute with an employee.) – Monica Cellio Oct 22 at 13:08
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    @StrongBad and once I understood that inconsistency issue, I agreed to treat everyone the same. That's clear in the transcript and it's what I've been careful to do since that conversation. (It's not a big stretch; I write gender-neutral wherever possible already.) My questions weren't about "hunting for the minimum accommodation"; they were about finding something that would be acceptable to everyone, taking my needs and identity issues into account as well. I'm allowed to have those too, right? – Monica Cellio Oct 22 at 14:18
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    @StrongBad it's never been my intention to hurt anyone. When I became aware that people were hurt for reasons I couldn't understand, I withdrew. I don't know what else you want me to say. – Monica Cellio Oct 22 at 14:27
  • 80
    Also, there's a context in which lots of people were feeling hurt by each other, but somehow I'm being singled out? I'll own my part in that but it's not the full story by any means @StrongBad. (Also, not a CoC violation...) – Monica Cellio Oct 22 at 15:47
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    @StrongBad If holding a particular opinion on a controversial issue is now automatically construed as hurtful behavior that the person holding it has to apologize for, that seems like a very dangerous precedent. Besides (and I'm being hypothetical here), if we accept that, couldn't Monica just say that she's offended by their position? Why is the fact that they may have been offended by Monica's position more valid or important than the fact that Monica may have been offended by theirs? I for one would hate to see us settling disagreements by trying to determine who's more offended. – EJoshuaS - Reinstate Monica Oct 22 at 18:22
  • 83
    @StrongBad If that's really what Monica's being accused of (unintentionally hurting people by holding a particular opinion), that seems like thoughtcrime. I'm not taking a particular stance on pronoun use here, I'm just saying that I think that it's important that we be able to discuss the issues. Are we going to shut down any debate of any potentially controversial issues now based on the fact that someone, somewhere, might be offended? – EJoshuaS - Reinstate Monica Oct 22 at 18:26
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    @KyleStrand there are opinions and expressions of opinions that we should agree we ought not host. At the other extreme, "somebody might disagree" is not sufficient reason to bar an opinion. Diversity means encountering perspectives with which you are unfamiliar or disagree; through the resulting discourse we all learn and grow. Where between these two endpoints to draw the line is a matter of much debate; the line seems to be moving much closer to the latter now. – Monica Cellio Oct 23 at 0:01
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    @Catija "No amount of harm ever makes calling out people on meta and accusing them of things acceptable. That's been our policy for years." So, where's the remediation for Sara doing exactly that to me? – Monica Cellio Oct 23 at 2:32
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    @StrongBad: "Monica's stance on pronouns and her usage of pronouns hurt people." Hold on a second. Do you really mean her usage of pronouns, or her lack of usage of pronouns? Also: her stance hurt people? Even though she had been perfectly abiding by the rules regardless? Do you realize what you're saying is is that you [<- generic] think people deserve to be punished even if they're abiding by your own rules, solely because they disagreed with you? Meaning: obedience is not enough for you; agreement is also mandatory? Are your serious here? – Mehrdad Oct 23 at 23:33
335

Thank you for taking the time to put this process together. I know this was dozens and dozens of hours across 7-10 people, If I understand your internal structure correctly. I wouldn't be surprised if you've spent 500 people-hours on this issue already, and I understand the desire to 'ship it and iterate'.

Please take a moment to pause, and think: What do these processes optimize for? What does shipping these processes now optimize for?

The answer you have internally is different than what we're seeing.

Here's what we see:

Trust is at an all-time low. I wouldn't be surprised if for some people there was less than zero trust -- that the level of trust went negative, as if you need to improve trust just to get people to neither trust or distrust you.

Personally, I'm at zero trust right now. This is not an attack; and it's not you individually, it's you collectively. I know most of the SE staff involved in these affairs on a first name basis, and I respect and cherish our interactions. The ones I don't know on a first-name basis, I've still had net-positive interactions with. In short, I am pre-disposed through our interactions to trust you, but currently do not.

I tell you this not to raise your hackles, but to hopefully share my feelings with you and show you another perspective.

These processes are a bit like putting the cart before the horse. These are pretty good processes for a high-trust environment, but you don't have a high-trust environment, and putting these processes in place right now won't make the environment higher trust.

If anything, putting the removal process in place right now will result in lower trust, and without taking in the substantive feedback of your community and moderators, you will further erode any remaining positive trust you have with members of the community.

So, take a pause. Regroup. Have a meeting. And in this meeting, figure out what you want to do: Do you want to put this process in place, tout suite? Or do you want to restore trust with your community? If SE employees reading this trust me, please hear me on this: Putting this process in place will damage trust, not restore it.

I'd love to get on a call with you to listen to the issues you have and to help you solve this problem, and I believe there are concrete actions you can take now that will restore some trust and other actions you can do to further restore trust.

  • 42
    "I wouldn't be surprised if for some people there was less than zero trust -- that the level of trust went negative, as if you need to improve trust just to get people to neither trust or distrust you." I have less than zero truest indeed. – Anne Daunted GoFundMonica Oct 22 at 12:10
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    As always more diplomatic and solution oriented then most of us. Here's hoping they take you up on that. Also, the less then zero trust is true for many of us. We trust the individual CMs, but the company gets no benefit of the doubt right now. In fact, senior management is 0 for 5 when it comes to doing what they say. – mag Oct 22 at 12:17
  • 9
    tout suite -> tout de suite ;) – Eric Duminil Oct 23 at 9:42
  • 9
    @alephzero To be fair, they might be forced by higher ups to find a solution to this mess without admitting any guilt and without apologizing. Thousands of hours wouldn't be enough. – Eric Duminil Oct 23 at 9:51
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    You know, this entire answer was a sight for sore eyes. – Marc.2377 Oct 23 at 12:57
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    @EricDuminil "... without admitting any guilt and without apologizing." Easily done. "We have concluded it is in the best interest of this community to reinstate Monica Cellio to her previous status without conditions." And do it, unilaterally. With no further explanation. Just like in court, most settlements pay cash without admitting any wrong-doing and without making any apology that would implicitly constitute an admission of fault. I am not a lawyer, but I've worked with more than my fair share of them. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Oct 24 at 17:18
  • @Amadeus That's true, but it's also only half of the problem (cf. TheRegister). – Eric Duminil Oct 24 at 17:26
  • @EricDuminil They could accompany that with any new policy change desired (which includes a good one, though that is not in evidence yet). By just doing it, sans process, it becomes Monica's choice whether she wants to then resign or not, they can't stop her if she does, but then they can also claim it was entirely her choice, they restored her to her pre-firing status unconditionally (no conditions on her, and none on them either). – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Oct 24 at 17:39
  • @Amadeus: I fail to see how it would solve the problem of Point 4 in this question (TheRegister article). As far as I can tell, it seems to be the biggest problem. – Eric Duminil Oct 24 at 18:03
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    @EricDuminil it doesn't, that would take a separate action, or no action. Reinstating Monica would defuse the situation. They could publish a non-apology retraction in The Register, claiming their contact did so without the permission of the board of directors and did not represent an opinion of SE. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Oct 24 at 18:22
  • 2
    "hese are pretty good processes for a high-trust environment, but you don't have a high-trust environment, and putting these processes in place right now won't make the environment higher trust." very well said. – Steve Bennett Nov 2 at 8:02
26

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
12

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.

  • 8
    “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. – 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? – 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. – 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. – 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
35

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.

  • 14
    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
57

I once heard of a consulting project in the IT sector to get certain changes made on a bunch of computers. One million dollars and one year later, there was a gigantic multi-page flow chart with an overwhelmingly complex administrative process for how the changes would be made, that no one ever read, and the changes never got made.

These processes read a lot like that. You have a pretty diagram, and someone obviously put in a lot of work to write a process that sounds good. They can show it to their boss, and obviously they are doing the assigned task of writing up a formal process.

Except that no moderators have been reinstated, and there are giant, obvious, glaring flaws in the processes presented. (There are 43 answers already, most of them detailing specific flaws, so I don't feel the need to point out all the specific flaws in this answer.)

What I think is that you are attempting to combine incompatible goals.

You want to create a formal, transparent process for removal and reinstatement of a moderator that will be fair and equitable.

And you want to run Stack Exchange as a for-profit company, with people assigned to jobs using normal corporate reasons for giving positions. Including the people assigned to approve or disapprove reinstatement proceedings.

These goals are not compatible. You need to recognize that what you are attempting to do amounts to creation of a new system for justice, that will in fact be just and equitable and fair, and benefit the group as well as not harming the individuals to whom it is applied.

That's a tall order.

Ultimately, all the formal processes in the world won't help unless you recognize who you are attempting to restrain. If the company is restraining itself, and the company has the power to remove that restraint "in case of emergency," then the system is fundamentally, irreparably broken.

That's not to say that you can't have justice. You've actually done quite well for years. Like with a benevolent monarch who rules well, there is no outcry for more formalized procedures because people have justice. Conversely, when you have injustice, it doesn't matter what procedures you have in place to legitimize it and mislabel it as justice—people will still not be happy.

You can write up all the procedures you want, but at the end of the day it amounts to slapping a veneer of formality onto the arbitrary decision of a few CMs and thereby elevating that arbitrary decision to the righteous plateau of unquestionability.

I would prefer NO formal process at all, than to have a formal process that can be held up as an excuse for irresponsible or damaging actions.

If you see the need to take action, then take responsibility for the actions you take, and don't shuffle off that responsibility onto "the process."

That requires a high level of responsibility in a CM. But really, that's what's required anyway, to make the whole show work. Moderators and CMs show this level of responsibility all the time. Except in the case of Monica.

There already was a process for moderator removal. It was not followed. So let's not fix what wasn't broken. No process in the world can work if it is not followed, and attempting to "fix" it will just overcomplicate everything.

  • Gilles' answer covers similar points, such as how Jeff was a benevolent dictator that made the setup work, rather than the faceless corporation we have today. – Wildcard Oct 22 at 17:35
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What is even the point of writing down this process? If SO doesn't follow it they will just say "Yeah we didn't follow the process, but we don't re-litigate the past".

SO has demonstrated clearly that the current guiding principle is to stick with their decisions no matter what. If process was followed or not, if actions were right or wrong, if people providing value on their sites like it or not - it doesn't matter. Clearly "stick to your decisions" is the guiding management principle, overruling all other concerns. At most some empty words with vague promises for the future will be announced.

So the party in power is not interested in fixing mistakes or modifying past decisions that turned out bad. Something is done and then that's that. If some process wasn't followed - well, bad luck, maybe next time. There is no indication this will change anytime soon.

So, what's the point in writing down rules? They can be ignored whenever convenient.

70

tl;dr: Does being removed as a moderator result in an ineligibility to stand for election? If so, does the ineligibility apply only on the site(s) where the moderator was actually removed/de-modded, or does it apply to all sites?

How does the moderator restoration procedure relate to a former moderator getting elected or re-elected by a community? I asked this a while back and never got an official answer.

The moderator reinstatement process seems to indicate that a favorable result for the former moderator results in immediate restoration of their diamond, without any need for an election or even any community involvement at all. Is this intended to imply that the former moderator may alternately choose to seek restoration by being elected or re-elected by one of the Stack Exchange communities, or is it intended as the sole restoration process and/or a prerequisite for becoming an election candidate?

This answer asks specifically about a former moderator seeking election on the community that they formerly moderated, but there's also the possibility that such a person might seek election elsewhere. The Initiation section of the restoration process states:

Previous moderators (PM) may request reinstatement through the /contact form on the site that they wish to be reinstated....

Thus, it isn't clear if this reinstatement procedure even applies to a moderator seeking election in another community. What happens in that case? For example, suppose I was dismissed as a moderator for cause from Shoes and Ships Stack Exchange. I contribute quietly for a sufficiently long period of time (e.g. at least a year, to allow any possible general site suspension-related bars to expire), eventually deciding to leave my old haunt alone and instead seek moderatorship on Sealing Wax.SE, which I have never moderated before. What happens in that case?

  • Do I have to seek reinstatement on Shoes and Ships.SE before I can stand for election on Sealing Wax.SE?
  • May I just go ahead and run, letting the community determine if I am worthy?
  • Do I have to apply for "reinstatement" on Sealing Wax.SE despite the fact that I have never actually been a moderator there?
  • Do I have to begin a "generic" reinstatement process that does not give me back my original diamond, but restores my ability to stand for election?
  • 2
    Those are some interesting example communities... :P – V2Blast Oct 22 at 3:44
  • 7
    @V2Blast they are from Lewis Carroll. The entire mess is very Wonderland like. – Columbia says Reinstate Monica Oct 22 at 10:15
  • @ColumbiasaysReinstateMonica, especially when you read Wonderland as a surreal horror story. – Frank Luke Nov 4 at 21:20
62

How can we trust you to use this process going forward?

I presume that Monica's removal would not have happened under the emergency scenarios. That means the previous removal procedure was at mimumim ignored. I personally believe that SE just completed forgot the old procedure existed. So how can we have faith that the next time you want to remove a mod you will actually use this process?

  • 1
    Maybe I’m misunderstanding, but I thought that the previous removal procedure was only for when use by moderators (and there were no procedures limiting SE’s actions)? The introduction to this policy says it is a "process for allowing a team of moderators to remove one of their own”. Am I looking at the wrong thing? – divibisan Oct 22 at 15:17
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    @divibisan For a long time it was the only mod removal process (short of emergency magic ban hammer from SE for account compromise, etc) . Additionally "The process may also be initiated by the community team at Stack Exchange...". I agree that by rule lawyering the new policy is more applicable to a retroactive application, but at the time in question there was an already existing, obviously applicable, totally ignored policy. – Reinstate Monica Oct 22 at 15:34
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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. Does “be warned and given an opportunity to correct their behavior” also refer to Monica's case?
If it does, when can we look forward to seeing her readmitted?

There is nothing written in the two processes that suggest it cannot be applied retrospectively.

39

This [reinstatement] process is available to all moderators, whether elected or appointed, regardless of whether they stepped down on their own or were removed from their position for any reason

Pro tempore moderators of beta sites currently lose their position when a site holds its first election after graduation. They would now be entitled to being reinstated at any time. Is this an oversight or a policy change?

  • This is exactly what I was wondering. Obviously, policy has changed to some extent, since in the past, pro-tems were unable to request re-instatement. I wonder if this "loophole" is permitted because the re-instatement process is more defined than before, and includes a full consent from the current moderator team. No idea; just wondering. – anonymous2 Oct 23 at 11:25
  • If I would just step down a minute before the election result I would qualify for the process as written. :-) – Helmar Oct 25 at 16:26
27

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
18

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
  • 2
    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
  • 3
    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
8

Why was "Remove access immediately" chosen as a first resort over a less extreme alternate?
It also seems to me that the current workflow doesn't actually prevent the compromised account from continuing the bad behavior, they can just continue doing it without a diamond next to their name.

A quick brainstorm:

  • A solution that should work for all accounts.

    • Disable login.
    • Send an email to allow reactivation.
  • If an account has multiple authentication methods.

    • Disable the compromised login.
    • Inform the user.
  • A potential solution that only works for SE accounts.

    • Reset the password of the account.
    • Kick all user sessions from the server.

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