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Background (skip if you don't like meta comments)

I saw a post by Journeyman Geek stating (emphasis mine):

Monumentally long comment threads are a pain to moderate, and the mods have enough on their plates. Comments are meant to get clarification, not be used for extended discussion.

I replied to that in a comment:

I remember weeks ago when people suggested holding an election to have mods who enjoy the support of the community. I think that idea was dismissed because it would take weeks before they could get to work. Perhaps it's something to reconsider.

This was met with a recommendation to ask a separate question.

A comment by a different user, yagmoth555 - GoFoundMe Monica pointed out this was also mentioned by another mod, promting me to write this question:

@JJforTransparencyandMonica with the current drama on MSE, even Tinkeringbell seem to have stated the same in a comment to the OP, that MSE is understaffed;. We don't really have the time (or the energy, or the spoons) to look at everything else too right now. I used to do it that here, when moderation loads were lighter, but currently it's just not feasible if we want to keep up with flags

And more recently, from an answer by moderator Journeyman Geek:

At this point of time we're dealing with a mountain of flags and drama, with no sign of abating, and the mods quite literally do not have the time to individually explain to every person who claims innocence. (And yes, that pretty much happens every time we suspend people).

Question

Is this meta site understaffed in terms of moderators? Does the community or its moderators feel there should be more moderators?

Please don't abuse this question as a vehicle to attack current mods. I am just putting this out there because my previous comments seem to have been misinterpreted as saying that I am calling for the removal of moderators. I am not, this post is not about that. It is inquiring into the needs of the community.

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    Related: Are the meta mods overwhelmed? (Oct 4) – Mari-Lou A Nov 20 at 6:29
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    Just a year ago, Meta.SE had no moderators, and was moderated entirely by SE staff. Moderators were mostly appointed here to reduce the workload on staff; even if the moderator team here doesn't have enough, they're still meeting the goal of reducing workload on staff. – Sonic the Reinstate Monica-hog Nov 20 at 7:31
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    Whenever whole comment threads get deleted without a case by case judgement, it probably hints at a shortage of moderators. MSE probably needs some more, especially since the activity has increased. – Trilarion Nov 20 at 9:14
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    Whenever I see whole comment threads deleted that seems to have happened because they have been used for a convoluted discussion rather than to seek clarifications from the poster. – PolyGeo Nov 20 at 21:33
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    Heh, good luck finding people willing to moderate MSE in its current state. Especially considering the company has essentially announced they're getting rid of Meta soon. – Athari says Reinstate Monica Dec 1 at 13:01
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@JJforTransparencyandMonica with the current drama on MSE, even Tinkerbell seem to have stated the same in a comment to the OP, that MSE is understaffed;. We don't really have the time (or the energy, or the spoons) to look at everything else too right now. I used to do it that here, when moderation loads were lighter, but currently it's just not feasible if we want to keep up with flags

My comment was never meant to mean 'we can't keep up with things, we're understaffed'.

We're relying more on flaggers to bring problematic content to our attention instead of checking ourselves. The complaint that comment responded to was one of 'but there's comment threads on other answers left', and that's probably true if no one brought those to our attention. But just because we're not actively spending time looking at what's happening everywhere, we're not at the point where we can't handle the flag load.

For me personally, it also takes a load of energy to see all the anger on here and keep a steady hand/mind while moderating. I'm here to do what I can to fix some of the problems people have pointed out, like trying to make this a site again where community managers and other employees actually like to post about stuff because they don't have to worry about unrelated hurts that they can't do anything about either being dragged into things. It helps me personally to not spend time looking at even more things I can't fix if they aren't flagged.

Besides all that, the community managers can also step up (and have done so, and are still doing so) when we're getting behind or getting flags that are 'above moderator paygrade' (think serial voting, status tags). And if things ever progress to a better state, a bigger moderator team will get bored very easily on here.

So all in all, no, we're not understaffed right now. We might be getting tired, but that's more because there's so little progress in all of this than because of unbearable flag loads.

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    "a bigger moderator team will get bored very easily on here." -> I'm kind of nitpicking here, but is this really an issue? Isn't it better to have more moderators "just in case", than the opposite? – BelovedFool Nov 20 at 9:35
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    @BelovedFool Personally, I do like having something to do on the sites I moderate. I don't really like to be on 'stand-by' for 'just in case'... and it's just a side-note/afterthought, the more important things are mentioned first ;-) – Tinkeringbell Nov 20 at 9:39
  • Sure, I understand (I too, do like to have something to do on sites I community moderate). It's just that this sentence felt kind of weird when I read it, but it doesn't really matter anyway – BelovedFool Nov 20 at 9:44
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    Modding isn't just about handling flags though. If you're not having enough time/energy to deal with all the other parts of modding (esp. "soft power" stuff as opposed to the more mechanical stuff), that could be a problem in itself, even if the flag loads are entirely bearable. – Rand al'Thor Nov 20 at 15:12
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    @Randal'Thor Definitely. I still have the energy for most of the soft stuff (chat, writing answers) ;) Just not the time to pick through everything to see if there's more stuff that should've been flagged too, which is what my comment was about. – Tinkeringbell Nov 20 at 15:25
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    I unaccepted this because a lot of what I've seen recently seems to contradict your answer. You claim not to be understaffed, but moderators claim they don't even have time to explain why someone was suspended. I do still agree with your assessment of mods getting tired, please don't feel obligated to respond here, I understand if there's too much you need to do. – JJ for Transparency and Monica Dec 1 at 4:14
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If Meta Stack Exchange is understaffed then my understanding is that the existing moderators of this site need to request that their number be increased. It is usually they who make the call because they are in the best position to judge their existing and upcoming workload.

In the past, for a site I moderate, I felt overloaded, and got agreement from my fellow moderators to increase our number from six to eight. Stack Exchange organised an election soon after our request reached the Community Managers.

Although moderators have been appointed here previously the decision on how to increase the number of moderators may only be needed after the moderators decide their number is insufficient.

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MSE is a special case because moderators here are appointed rather than elected.

It's really up to the current moderators of MSE to indicate whether they want to increase their numbers or not. Obviously, they need to weigh this against the current and ongoing situation.

In a now-deleted answer to Warning potential new moderators?, it was made fairly clear that parts of the community would not feel comfortable allowing for free and fair elections of new moderators until the current situation was resolved. And that deficit of moderation places more pressure on Stack Exchange to that end.

With regard to the other sites, elections aren't normally scheduled for November/December due to the holiday season. So, in the best of times, we wouldn't see new elections scheduled until January.

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Does the community or its moderators feel there should be more moderators?

Not really. I think we are observing "extraordinary" times for the last 10 weeks or so. Leading to a massive increase of sometimes heated, emotional exchanges on zillions of questions, answers, comments.

I guess you would need anything between 10 and 20 volunteer moderators to be able to cope with such a storm.

But that comes with multiple issues:

  • As Snow explains, few people would want to see such a change at this point in time. I see it the same way: there is enough churn already, and rest assured: any candidate that SE Inc. appoints would be under a lot of pressure, and any wrong decision could lead to another s..t storm ("See, now SE Inc. appointed user X as moderator, and X just censored me for valid criticism of SE Inc."). Such accusations happen today already, I really don't want to see the reactions to 5 or 10 new moderator appointments.
  • Hopefully, things calm down. It seems that the "crucial" questions have been asked for now. So hopefully, the current moderators will be able to handle traffic without going burnout soon again.
  • You then end up with 10+ moderators, that do what exactly? Meaning: the number of present moderators should reflect the average moderation efforts, not absolute peak times.

And just in case SE Inc. is actually listening: simply stop digging, and get out of that cornered hole you put yourself into.

That is what the community kindly asks for. New moderators, at least me, not so much.

Thus note the relationship: SE Inc. annoying community drives moderation efforts. So, if SE Inc. wants to help, they have it in their hands.

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    There is no way that MSE will ever need ten or more moderators, that's just an exaggeration. The OP is probably thinking of one or two new mods at the most. – Mari-Lou A Nov 20 at 9:06
  • @Mari-LouA Never say never. That is simple math: how many flags/requests can a single volunteer moderator handle in a sustainable way per day? On the other hand: how many flags come in during such peak times, and what is the time that community members expect between raising a flag, and it being worked on? – GhostCat says Reinstate Monica Nov 20 at 9:11
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    But you're saying "now" and I'm responding to that. Hyperbole meet hyperbole. Not my DV. – Mari-Lou A Nov 20 at 9:15
  • @Mari-LouA Well, we talk about the current situation. What I am saying is: I consider it not reasonable to add moderators now, and I don't see an urgent need to staff so many moderators in advance that similar future peaks are covered. – GhostCat says Reinstate Monica Nov 20 at 9:21
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    Given the current unresolved situation, it's not clear to me why volunteer moderators at MSE haven't all gone on temporary strike until things clear up a bit. – Rounin says Je suis Monica Nov 20 at 14:36
  • @RouninsaysJesuisMonica When they do that, se Inc. could simply appoint new personal. Which might increase tensions even more. If I devoted myself to the best of this community.. I couldn't say what I would do. Keep the community going and support it via moderation work. Or go on strike risking to see that place go up in flames completely... – GhostCat says Reinstate Monica Nov 20 at 20:43
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    Nobody wants to see anything go up in flames. This has been my absolute favourite site (or network of sites if you prefer) for the last 4 years. It was in my top six favourite sites during the 4 years before that. But I see moral hazard at present. Stack Exchange paid staff feel they can act ruthlessly and unreasonably without due process and they can do so with impunity because unpaid volunteers will run around on their behalf picking up the pieces. The worst I fear is that such moral hazard means we will see more ruthless behaviour and less accountability from paid staff. – Rounin says Je suis Monica Nov 20 at 21:00
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    @Rounin IIRC they have at some point or another. I think Journeyman Geek wrote about it somewhere but can't seem to find it.. there's this, though, talking about how it's a tough choice either way. – Em C Nov 20 at 21:03
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I've been trying to express what's the root of the problem.

As appointed moderators - back when we first were appointed, one of our first goals was to build up a good, solid working relationship with the folks here and be able to work with them, and in a position of trust.

While the current corporate position seems to be that meta is toxic - and certain recent actions have made the issue worse, not better. We'd really want to rub their nose in it by making meta a constructive place again, or at least get back to where it was before.

I don't speak for the company. At this point, I suspect that I don't speak for many of you. I do speak as someone who wants MSE to work and continue to be a useful resource for the community.

On the other hand - well, we spend more energy fighting each other than we do actually on the business of meta. We have open/closure wars. Arguments over every little action. Just a lot of drama. This makes it difficult for us to do what we need to. We'll try to do better, of course, but to a certain extent, this also relies on folks working with us.

We could have 20 moderators, and if our every action gets undone, and questions and fought over, they'd all burn out.

Y'all need a visionary hero. Someone who can inspire and get people to fight the good fight. I'm not that guy. I'm more Zathras than Sheridan, to pull out an old Babylon 5 metaphor.

What you got is well, what you got. On the other hand, all the moderators want meta to work. We also want y'all to work with us. Someone said meta's the only place that folks can vent - but it was and can be so much more.

So, if you want somewhere to get angry at corporate decisions - take a look at the responses. This might not be the right place for those folks to hear you. If nothing else - it feeds that narrative that meta is toxic, and hurts our ability. If you want to resist change - make meta work.

To an extent, some parts of the company are still using meta as a communications tool; work with them. Help the moderators - keep calm, try to help us handle the worst of it, and work with us. We're pretty accessible and will try to talk to folks. However, we also need y'all to be considerate and nice and not be at each other's throat.

So, consider those votes - up, down or close. Consider the folks around you and their feelings. Be excellent and we'll get through this.

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    I support your position on trying to make MSE less "toxic", but I don't see how it can be done from bottom up, including non-employee mods. I believe most anger is caused by the company making decisions, never discussing them and never responding to the community (I don't count "sorry but not sorry" and "we fixed race question in survey" the responses our community needs). We've had this happen on Ru.SO. People quit. Meta and chat became quiet. But not the good kind of quiet. – Athari says Reinstate Monica Dec 1 at 13:21
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    Well - they clearly are invested in their planned way of doing things - and a toxic and chaotic meta feeds into it. One can rebel by being civil and taking away the narrative of a toxic meta. I'm saying its worth considering how we're "helping" that and being smarter about it. – Journeyman Geek Dec 1 at 13:40
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    So, are you going to give them exactly what they want then? Cause yanno, its going to look really silly if there's a thriving, constructive meta that's working as designed, while they're going on about how horrible it is. – Journeyman Geek Dec 1 at 13:54
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    @JourneymanGeek except for a very small group of regulars, I don't think many people will notice it as being silly. And you can't really have constructive discourse if none of it gets implemented. To go back to the parallel, it's like the House making all sorts of interesting bills, debating them and passing them on to the Senate. So long as the Senate doesn't bring them to the floor for a vote, it's not going anywhere. And does it look silly? Yes, but only to insiders. The average Joe doesn't even know it's going on. They just read propaganda about inclusiveness and progress. – JJ for Transparency and Monica Dec 1 at 15:32

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