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Recently, we had a case over on Travel, where a moderator applied a bounty to their own question, and then as soon as that bounty expired, they cleared it (refunding the reputation) and restarted it. This happened twice on the same question.

It's also worth mentioning that the moderator self-answered the question with the "authoritative" answer, so they weren't really looking for new answers on top of that one to whom to award the bounty. The moderator in question admitted that this was the reason for the repeated bounties:

I felt at the time it was important enough and interesting for the community to track, and a few of us have been diligently updating it.

There were some other issues with doing so, such as the fact that the question couldn't be closed (there were some people who considered the question off-topic). Upon realizing this, the moderator removed the bounty and didn't restart it.

A lot of this is site-specific, and there is a discussion over on their meta about it, but this overall experience makes me wonder: is clearing, refunding, and restarting your own bounty as a moderator considered an abuse of the system? How about doing so repeatedly? How about if you're the author of the question? In my prior research, I found this past feature request to allow for standing bounties, but that request was received very negatively, so I don't think the community will take a liking to attempts to try to accomplish it.

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    "is clearing, refunding, and restarting your own bounty as a moderator considered an abuse of the system?" ... if this wasn't done to counter/fix system issues, then I would say yes, even when the question wasn't asked by a mod. Doing it repeatedly just makes it worse. – Tom Apr 1 at 10:01
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    Note it had also been discussed back in 2016 in Travel.Meta Can bounties be refunded by mods now?. – fedorqui 'SO stop harming' Apr 1 at 11:05
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    I feel like there's a bunch of context that only the mod in question can really clear up – Journeyman Geek Apr 1 at 12:37
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    I'm not sure what context justifies the abuse of moderator tools to override the community when there is a clear conflict of interest. At absolute minimum, the moderator should recuse themselves and have another moderator or CM take over, locking the question temporarily if there is a delay in obtaining that. @JourneymanGeek – Nij Apr 1 at 21:12
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    @Nij rather to get the full facts before the pitchforks and torches I guess – Journeyman Geek Apr 1 at 22:42
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    @JourneymanGeek indeed, and it'd be nice if people had just asked me instead of going to meta with as you say, pitchforks and torches. – Mark Mayo Apr 1 at 22:55
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    It would, yes. Ugh. I forgot to ping you. – Journeyman Geek Apr 1 at 22:58
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Is it OK?

Yes and no.

Any user with sufficient reputation can start a bounty and keep it going as long as they want by simply issuing another bounty, so the concern about the question not being closable is... somewhat tangential because being a mod doesn't make the bounty prevent closure. If any other user were to offer the bounty, the question still wouldn't be closable.

There's nothing wrong with posting bounties on the same question repeatedly if that's what you want to do. In the case of a question being close-worthy, it's always OK to take it to Meta to ask about whether the question should have the bounty removed so the question can be closed.

Where the problem comes in here is not the bountying - repeated or otherwise - but the clearing of the bounty. Had the moderator not used the mod-only tool and, instead, simply let the bounty expire... there'd be no real issue here.

Is it possible to understand why a moderator might see this as a good solution?

Yes - we're in an unprecedented time and there are many people looking for answers and help. It's possible they overlooked the option of letting the bounty expire and reissuing it rather than clearing it. They also may have been unaware that the bounty would prevent closure... or, as the asker, may have been unaware that people even thought the question should be closed.

There are so many opportunities to assume good intent and allow that the moderator may have been trying to do something for the benefit of people visiting the site who are looking for information about Covid-19.

How could you have asked this more effectively.

I'm ... really frustrated at this.

You had the opportunity to ask this as a clean question without using it to take a mod from one of the sites to trial over it but you just had to keep pushing things. You took a moderator who was trying to draw attention to a subject that is very much in people's minds right now because he thought it was important and made it out as if they were an ogre who would take retribution on people for asking about their actions.

You talk about "damning" evidence but, as far as I can see... within a day of it being brought to their attention, they stopped what they were doing, removed the bounty so the question could be closed, and have done nothing else to keep the question open or act in bad faith.

This is unkind. Please, take your head out of the rules for one minute and remember that there are real people who can be hurt and they may be acting honestly and just ... making an error because not everyone knows all of the rules perfectly. Give people the chance to be wrong and fix things... and... well... when they fix things, appreciate that rather than pushing them even further and making them out to be bad people.

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  • I've edited out the main paragraph that "took them to trial" and apologized to Mark. Again, I more intended to make this a general question as to whether clearing and restarting the same bounty is OK or not. I didn't realize that I had included too much things such that it would reflect badly on them. – Sonic the Masked Werehog Apr 2 at 2:13
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    I would +1 this for the inclusion of the educational asking-more-effectively section alone (although the rest of the answer is, of course, upvote-worthy as well). – SOLO Apr 10 at 17:23
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Yes, it is abuse.

There is an existing way for moderators to draw attention to questions that they feel need broad community attention, and that is the Featured moderator-only tag. This tag only exists on Meta sites, indicating that the powers that be have determined that such functionality should not exist on main sites. Simulating that function by using "human exception handler" tools designed for a different purpose, absent a clear emergency, violates the trust that we place in moderators, and IMHO should subject the moderator to at least a warning according to our official processes for warning and removing moderators.

The philosophy of moderation on this network has always been that moderators do "as little as possible" with their tools - that those tools be used for said human exception handling only.

There's nothing wrong with a moderator asking or answering questions, or even desiring to draw more attention to one of their posts. What we expect moderators to do, however, is play fair and use only those powers that they have earned and that are intended for that purpose. I have no objection to a moderator bountying their own question, as long as they pay for that bounty as any other user would and play by the same rules as those other users. It's similar to elected office - Would you allow the mayor of your town to help himself to free school cafeteria lunches and remit all of the local traffic fines he and his family have racked up, just because he has been granted legal discretion to waive revenue? That discretion was granted for a specific purpose and with specific trust (to act for the benefit of the citizens and the ends of justice), and using it selfishly violates said purpose and said trust, which is the very definition of abuse.

Thanks for posting this. I actually noticed the bounty a few days ago when I went to vote to close the question that I thought was blatantly unsuitable for the site, but hesitated to take action for fear of retaliation from the moderator in question. It takes a brave soul to stand up!

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    I am only a casual visitor at the site, and am not aware of questions. But you sentence "I thought was blatantly unsuitable for the site, but hesitated to take action for fear of retaliation from the moderator in question." makes wonder if there is a deeper issue at that site. If there have been cases of retaliation by a moderator, it should be addressed. – James Jenkins Apr 1 at 12:40
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    @JamesJenkins I do not recall any specific retaliation actions by the mod in question here, but I definitely do feel that I have faced retaliation in the past elsewhere on the network by someone with a diamond who should have known better. If you dig, you can find a post I made about it, but I won't link to it here because it's diverting attention to today's issue and in any event that individual no longer has a diamond today. – Robert Columbia Apr 1 at 12:43
  • How about if there was no bounty clearing involved? What if they kept spending their own reputation? The moderator in question is also the highest rep user on that site, so they have the means to do so. In other words, while that would resolve your main concern, there are still other concerns such as using bounties to promote the question rather than for its accepted uses (either to try and get better answers, or to reward someone else's answer), as well as suppressing the ability to discuss whether the question is on-topic or not. What do you think of those other concerns? – Sonic the Masked Werehog Apr 1 at 21:16
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    Retaliation? I don't think I've ever 'retaliated' on any SE site :/ – Mark Mayo Apr 1 at 22:53
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    @SonictheAnonymousHedgehog I didn't supress the comments. That was another mod locking. – Mark Mayo Apr 1 at 22:58
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    @MarkMayo Sorry, I was a bit unclear in my comment above. By "discussions", I meant close voting and close review, not necessarily comments. I didn't mention comments in my original post since I was aware that another mod had disabled the comments. – Sonic the Masked Werehog Apr 1 at 23:16
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I simply wasn't thinking at the time. Nobody was intending to abuse anything, I just wanted a community wiki question and answer (I get no rep from it) to get some focus. Apologies for offending anyone or if anyone considered it abuse. I removed it immediately once brought to my attention (in a meta post!). Nobody was trying to block anyone else from doing anything.

I've given away over 57,000 in bounties, it's not exactly anything I'm trying to hoard. If anything, go through my travel meta posts and you can see - my goal has always just been to answer questions, and even bounty old unanswered questions that I can't answer but others might.

I'd far rather avoid any conflict and just answer travel questions and talk in chat as we've traditionally done in our great community. Very upset it's come to this.

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    Part of the issue is that many users consider actions taken by moderators as "final", and are afraid to raise issues with them, for understandable fear. – Sonic the Masked Werehog Apr 1 at 23:27
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    Frankly, that's not true here. It was raised earlier on travel.meta. I saw the issue, acknowledged the problem it caused, and fixed it immediately. Actions taken by myself are clearly not final. And that was demonstrated before this meta post. – Mark Mayo Apr 1 at 23:35
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    Uhm. Any action can be questioned politely when it happens. Sometimes people might not like the answers they get. However we don't and shouldn't be running a site on the basis of fear. – Journeyman Geek Apr 2 at 0:12
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    +1, Mark is one of the most genuine contributors on Stack Exchange, definitely no-ill intent here. – Franck Dernoncourt Apr 6 at 9:08
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There are two aspects in this which are questionable:

  1. Using a bounty to prevent the question from being closed. This can be done by mods and regular users alike, and is generally seen as not appropriate.

  2. Getting the reputation refunded by clearing the bounty. This can only be done my mods, and is generally used to return the reputation a user have invested in a bounty if a mod decides to close or migrate their question anyway. Doing it for their own question is akin to getting a bounty on it for free.

Considering the amount of rep Mark has and the fact that he wasn't getting any for that question in the first place, it's beyond doubt to me that this wasn't done intentionally. Still, I think it's important for a mod to be above suspicion, because regular users learn from their example, and what they learn exactly is open to interpretation. It's very much possible that someone will decide that applying a bounty to a question after getting 4 close votes on it is the way to go, because they "saw a mod doing exactly that", even if it's absolutely not "exactly that" that the mod was doing.

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I have not delved into the timeline of that Travel SE question and so I am basing my answer on quick review of that Travel SE question (Which countries have NOT yet reported a case of COVID-19 Coronavirus?), your question here, the moderator's answer here and the other answer here.

I think returning a bounty for the purpose of re-applying to give a question prominence is an unwise action, irrespective of whether it is the moderator's question or from someone else.

However, I think it goes too far to label this as an abuse of power. Moderators are sometimes faced with difficult choices when navigating how to quickly address a novel circumstance that requires them to reconcile opposing views from two camps within their community alongside their own view as an engaged user of their site. As long as they are prepared to come to their per-site (and sometimes this) Meta to explain their action and to listen to those views then I think they are doing the job they volunteered for and were elected to.

If the clock could be turned back, then if they felt that bounty action could be justified then I think they should have asked another moderator or staff member to do it as a team decision, preferably with community consensus (if time allowed). For that to happen I would expect it to have been preceded by a discussion in their moderator chat room which would be auditable.

To me it looks like the original question was designed to assemble a list which I would vote to close on any Stack Exchange site unless their help explicitly states that such questions are allowed. The question was made Community Wiki at the outset, which is better than letting it accrue reputation, but I would still cast a close vote on it if it were a site I was active on. If it were also Wiki Answer-locked then its answer would remain editable and there would be no need to close it.

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