I understand moderators have a tough job but sometimes a normal user doesn't understand why their flag was declined or why their post was closed or deleted without sufficient explanation by a moderator. So these disgruntled users often come to meta sites to voice their concerns.

However, some moderators may not be too inclined to explain their actions because they feel cornered and if they write answers defending their decisions there is always a chance of exposing themselves to more criticism from other users.

My question is, do SE guidelines mandate that moderators explain and defend their actions (when asked nicely)? If yes, do they have to write actual answers (which bring closure to the meta posts) and not leave answer-like comments under the post?

And in the event the community doesn't agree with their actions are they obligated to reverse their actions? Or all are mod decisions final?


6 Answers 6


However, some moderators may not be too inclined to explain their actions because they feel cornered

The main problem IMO is that it can be or become very time-consuming.

My question is, do SE guidelines mandate that moderators explain and defend their actions (when asked nicely)?

No, they don't.

Theoretically a dissatisfied user could contact a CM, or another of the site moderators could intervene.

I like to (or feel I should) respond -- because IMO moderation is meant to be by community consensus, i.e. a moderator is an agent of and a spokesperson for the community.

And in the event the community doesn't agree with their actions are they obligated to reverse their actions? Or all are mod decisions final?

I don't know because in my experience the community does agree even when an individual doesn't.

I think that if one of the other moderators doesn't support an action (e.g. "I don't think you really should have closed that question") -- which might happen in the moderator's private chat room rather than in public -- then they should probably look for a compromise (e.g. edit-and-then-reopen).

I also sometimes ask or answer questions on Meta ("What is the site's policy about foo?") and take the community's votes on that subject as guidance for how to moderate, then that topic might become one of the topics. I might also ask another moderator before taking action e.g. against a user.

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    "in my experience the community does agree even when an individual doesn't" - I know of two cases where moderators took action even though the vast majority of the community disagreed. (Speaking about big, changing-the-site-scope, type of action here. If it's just closing or deleting a post, many more cases.) In one case, CMs publicly stepped in to say the mod action was well-intentioned but misguided, and it was reversed. In the other case, the action went ahead on the basis that there had been, for a while, (small-subset-of-)community consensus in favour of it. Commented Mar 8, 2020 at 19:12
  • How do you determine community consensus if/when it appears to fall into two "opposing" camps (aligning as best you can tell with relatively new with low rep and relatively experienced with high rep) on a particular action that you've taken?
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Mar 8, 2020 at 21:39
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    @PolyGeo The site I mod has been running for 6 years but is small. The norms were established long ago, there's nearly no activity now on Meta, anymore. Sometimes one user asks a question or complains, I try to answer that. If their posts are unusually disruptive on the main site then another moderator or some senior users might post on Meta too ("in my camp"). I was careful to poll the community when the site started and to write up the FAQs then. And the norms are unusual -- mostly, unusually permissive.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Mar 8, 2020 at 22:24
  • @PolyGeo Actually they contradict a lot of the SE norms -- except "on-topic", "Q&A", and "non-hostile". They were defined (or voted on) by the community when the site was new -- and for many it might have been their first SE site, they didn't bring too many preconceptions from previous SE sites -- so maybe the norms did and do suit users who are "relatively new". The fact that it supports (mostly) beginner-level questions might make it slightly disappointing to Subject Matter Experts -- but most meta-users agree that a worse thing would be hostility, or excessive "debate" instead of "Q&A".
    – ChrisW
    Commented Mar 9, 2020 at 9:12

Moderators are users too, and like users should not be subject to personal attacks. When that happens the Code of Conduct is being violated.

As a moderator, I am not required to respond to any question asked of me in the area reserved for questions, or as a comment on a post. However, when asked, I will always try to explain any action I take on a site, either as a moderator or as an engaged user.

Any moderator should listen to their community's sentiment on any action that they have taken, but it is important to note that votes can be cast on Meta sites by any user with a reputation of 5 or more. New users often come to Stack Exchange with experience based on past use of discussion forums, bulletin boards and other Q&A sites where focused Q&A is not the norm.

Consequently, I listen hardest when a majority of experienced users (3,000+ rep) seem to be disagreeing with me, and I will then usually go along with what they are asking. However, the only time their view can formally override that of a moderator is when they cast close/re-open votes opposite to how the moderator has done. It can be exasperating to sometimes see a 3,000+ rep user complain about a close vote of mine, and yet not cast a re-open vote on the same question.

A guiding light on how I respond to users asking me to change my view in meta is this answer by @Shog9 to How is consensus determined on Meta sites?

  • 'area reserved for questions' - can you please clarify what you mean by this? Are you referring to the main site or both main and meta sites. (My question was solely about meta posts)
    – sv_
    Commented Mar 8, 2020 at 8:35
  • @sv You just posted a comment below the area reserved for answers. You asked your question in the area reserved for questions which is above that.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Mar 8, 2020 at 8:37
  • Ok, so you're saying mods are not required to respond to meta posts about their actions. Got it.
    – sv_
    Commented Mar 8, 2020 at 8:51
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    @sv As volunteers in demanding roles SE sensibly gives us wide latitude to grow into them without binding us to anything more than the Terms of Service, Privacy Policy and Code of Conduct.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Mar 8, 2020 at 9:00
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    ... and a Moderator Agreement, which is mostly only (mainly) about users' privacy.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Mar 8, 2020 at 12:04

We're accountable to the community - and often responding to and dealing with enquiries with meta to a reasonable extent is part of that.

As volunteers we're spending our free time to help our communities and sometimes that time might be prioritised elsewhere than a specific issue.

In some cases we might find that, well there's a certain underlying question under a question that might need caution, and spend some time thinking about the deeper question.

So to an extent - we try our best to fulfil our obligation to our community when it comes to queries but that obligation doesn't extend to answering every single meta question on a decision.

In some cases depending on the tone and frequency of queries from specific users we might be a little weary.

We will however try to answer as much as we can, as clearly as we can. And all our answers are as true as we can make them

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    How are moderators accountable to the community, if they are elected for life? I mean, there's the "Contact Support" but that's fine for single episodes, and I have contacted them in the past (long time before MSE had appointed mods) for actions and comments posted by mods which did not comply (at least in spirit) with the CoC, but nothing was done, unless it was a slap on the wrist or a rap on the knuckles behind locked doors, which no one was privy to. Commented Mar 9, 2020 at 13:45
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    I think the mods on Meta, by virtue of the fact they were appointed, are in fact only accountable to the management, which may or may not include Community Managers–does it? Commented Mar 9, 2020 at 13:48
  • Well. I need to deal with them every day, and s community that I am working with is easier than a community I am constantly at odds with. Unless I'm one if those mods ( in which case I'm completely in the dark over such events) I can't comment on specific cases simply cause I'm not privy to the facts. I don't always need to answer. Sometimes it's even a bad idea. I try to do it cause it's the right thing Commented Mar 9, 2020 at 13:49
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    As far as meta goes, I have a tremendous amount of leeway with how I conduct myself and staff are usually rather apologetic when they have to revert a decision I make. You might have noticed that in a few situations I might have done things that some staff might not have liked. The health of meta is my main priority as a mod. I'm still accountable to the community and consider staff who use this site and associated chats as part of the meta community. In that sense I'm accountable to them too. Commented Mar 9, 2020 at 13:53
  • There have been unduly harsh suspensions and erratic deletions of posts (no, I'm not just talking about myself) which I feel have not been in the interest of the community but for the survival of the site, but without users, without these engaged users, the site itself will end up losing those very elements that help foster enthusiasm, passion and ideals; ingredients vital for any organisation to prosper. Be careful not to silence every voice that does not personally match your own. Commented Mar 9, 2020 at 14:24
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    Uhm. We listen to folks. But we need to act as much for the quieter voices as much as the loud ones. One often finds that there's often much context behind seemingly harsh suspensions and we don't want to be the sort of people who drag people through the mud. Commented Mar 9, 2020 at 14:27

It's like in real life. A judge or a policeman is sometimes criticised for decision or actions and people want to get explanations. Many things are opinion or experience based or depend on the perspective. Keep in mind that there are people out there that don't care about other perspectives at all or are not trying to understand certain decisions because of ego or whatever as well. Should you always have to deal with those instead of putting time into something more productive? I don't think moderators should have to respond to everything but to everything reasonable. I think to solve problematic cases by discussion is better than having a strict rule like that. And if there are some unfair decision that are not reverted, it's just how it is. The world is not perfect.


And in the event the community doesn't agree with their actions are they obligated to reverse their actions? Or all are mod decisions final?

In most cases moderator decisions to close can be overturned by the community voting to re-open.

Sometimes the re-open vote is started and it gets enough votes to open, sometimes it does not.

In many cases there will be discussion in the comments of the question. In other cases it may occur on the sites meta.


For me there should be clear guidance as of what mods can and cannot do/say/write. Just to avoid beiung put in situation where there is loss of reputation at stake.....

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    While not un-true this is not really answering the question. The mods are not on an leash here. They can do and say whatever they want within the boundaries of the Code of Conduct. The point here is if a mod is required to respond when community members expect that. Putting reputation at stake is a ship that sailed once the moderator got elected ....
    – rene
    Commented Mar 9, 2020 at 17:30

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