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Under what conditions, if ever, is it acceptable for SE employees to influence community matters on the Meta site of a community they do not actively participate in by upvoting or downvoting posts?

I’m not talking about removing spam or obviously remove-worthy content, but about using voting powers, granted only as part of the employee mod diamond and not earned as privilege, to modify the outcome of community-related votes by upvoting or downvoting individual posts.

Examples for community matters:

  • questions of scope
  • community projects (for example: contests or blogs)
  • community ads
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    There's certainly precedent. For example, there was a question that was considered off-topic by the community (at least, most of it, I think) but an employee decided to undelete it, lock to prevent community influence, mention in a newsletter and link on the homepage (link to one of the meta posts about it). And afaict there was no specific reason for it, other than that the employee liked the answer on that question. – Erik A Jun 5 at 19:40
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    I feel like there is some backstory here. If there's an incident which inspired this, it might help to reference it in the question thus allowing people to address the specific issue as well as the general. – Rubiksmoose Jun 5 at 19:53
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    @Rubiksmoose I have some feelings, but I don't want to cause unneccessary anger/suspicions and hence wanted to know the general principle before applying it to specific cases. – MEE Jun 5 at 20:00
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    There was a similar controversy in 2017 regarding the Time to take a stand post. It was closed over ten times by the community, only to be repeatedly reopened by moderators. – Robert Columbia Jun 5 at 20:03
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    Define "Acceptable" – DavidPostill Jun 5 at 20:22
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    @DavidPostill two things: (1) for the community, (2) according to possible policies (if there are any). – MEE Jun 5 at 20:24
  • (1) is opinion based, (2) nobody knows what policies are in place for SE employees. – DavidPostill Jun 5 at 20:25
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    @DavidPostill (1) This is Meta. In the end, asking for the communitys position regarding something, which is perfectly acceptable here IMO, is always going to be somehow opinion-based. (2) hence I ask. – MEE Jun 5 at 20:27
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    @DavidPostill I'd object to that. This is a discussion, not a vote. I remember multiple cases, where "vote answers", which were just posted pro forma without real support being deleted. If somebody has a supporting/disagreeing opinion, they are free to voice it in an answer. – MEE Jun 5 at 20:34
  • @D.W. Changed. I hope, though, that the "mod powers" in the title indicates, that this isn't about making suggestions/recommending stuff based on experience /etc. – MEE Jun 5 at 21:45
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    When you talk about voting, are you asking only about upvoting/downvoting? Or about voting to close? Or about mod actions like locking or deleting a post? When you talk about "using voting powers, granted only as part of the employee mod diamond and not earned as privilege", are you referring to upvoting/downvoting, something which would normally require 101 or 125 reputation? Or are you asking about some other mod powers (like "voting" to close a question)? I hope you'll edit the question to clarify what you're referring to, as I think this makes an important difference to the answer. – D.W. Jun 5 at 21:47
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    @D.W. I don't really consider locking and the like as votes. Close and delete votes are possible, but I think very rare on meta sites. So, also given the example list, I'd focus it on up and down votes. I don't really see, how to make that more clear, as I'd see "voting" as that, unless extended to other types of voted. Maybe you have an idea to make it more clear? – MEE Jun 5 at 21:59
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Most of the time it is a bad idea for SE employees to intervene in anything but obvious cases (the big exception is if the mods are unavailable). Moderator actions by unfamiliar users are much more likely to create some controversy than if the site mods had performed them. So in any case that isn't entirely obvious, SE employees should generally prefer to notify the site mods and let them handle it. Jeff and Joel used to be more active in using mod powers, and I experienced that on Skeptics as a mod directly. They certainly had a point when they acted, but it would have been much smoother if they had asked us mods to handle those issues instead of acting themselves on issues that weren't settled at that time.

There are some exceptions that we just have to accept, these are mostly legal issues like DMCA notices.

I personally don't think it's a big deal if an SE employee performs a mod action. But there are a lot of ways to screw this up that create drama and additional work for the mods. One thing I'd like to emphasize is that site mods should feel comfortable to override SE employees when they perform moderator actions, unless the SE employees indicate that there are legal reasons or they're enforcing the "Be Nice" rules. The details of running a site are up to the local community, if SE has a fundamental issue with how a site is run they have to take it to meta and discuss it directly with the mods. Otherwise the sites should feel free to set their rules within the scope of the code of conduct.

I misread the question when answering, and my points are about the main site. But my answer isn't really different for meta. They should behave the same way as the site mods, and if there is conflict the site mods should feel free to override the decisions of SE employees unless they indicate that there are legal reasons or that the issue is violating one of the few global rules like the code of conduct.

And there are no rules about who can vote on meta sites. I have proposed in the past to only allow users active on the main site to cast votes on meta, but that didn't go anywhere. It doesn't seem useful to try to establish any rules on voting as it is secret, so you could never enforce them anyway

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  • You answer about intervening, but it looks like the question might be asking about upvoting/downvoting (though I find the question rather unclear). Do you include upvoting/downvoting in the kind of intervening that you think it is best for SE employees to avoid? – D.W. Jun 5 at 21:39
  • @D.W. I added a section at the bottom about voting. I don't think it makes sense to have any rules here that can't be enforced. If SE wanted to stop users that are not active on the main site to vote on meta, they could easily do that. As long as that isn't done, I wouldn't make any rules like that on meta voting – Mad Scientist Jun 5 at 21:41
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My short two cents: I see no problem if it's restricted to upvote or downvote only. Those are not mod powers, anyone can gain them quickly enough. Most employees have the association bonus so can upvote anywhere anyway, the missing 20 rep for downvote are really trivial.

I do have a problem with using actual mod/high rep powers like closing questions, deleting posts etc.

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My personal perspective:

First off, in my opinion, a hard-and-fast rule is not appropriate here. Voting is private, so a rule banning voting not enforceable. There's no point in making a rule that can't be enforced. Also, what makes sense will depend on the context, so a bright-line rule is not appropriate. Instead, I think it makes the most sense to focus on norms and principles, and what we'd advocate for.

Our general principle is that of self-governance: a site is run by the site's community, and we want policy decisions to be made by those who are part of the community, rather than by outsiders. We'd also like people to be informed about the issues before voting. Generally speaking, we'd probably discourage people who aren't active in the community and aren't informed about the issues from voting on policy questions.

Another principle is that of self-governance: empirically, communities seem to work better when they make their own decisions and are given authority and empowered to do that. So, if SE employees vote on a heated issue, there's a risk that this sense gets violated, and that can lead to dysfunctional results. I would hope that SE employees will take this into account before taking a position.

But I think it's also important to recognize that there are situations where SE employees may have an important and valuable contribution to make. They may bring useful experience from other sites, or a helpful perspective. It would be great to have them involved in those cases.

I also think it doesn't make sense to lump all SE employees together. To give an example, there may be a significant difference between a CM vs a marketing representative. A CM is likely going to bring a lot of experience in related matters, and I'd love to have CMs participating in our meta discussions.

As a general rule of thumb, I think we should trust SE employees to self-assess the situation, and welcome and encourage them to participate in meta discussions and upvote or downvote posts if they feel that the benefits outweigh the risks. If it becomes a problem, we could discuss, but I don't think it's worth setting a more specific general rule.

Lest it be unclear, I think it's absolutely appropriate for SE employees to participate in meta discussion by posting questions, answers, and comments.

Finally, I'd like to provide some context. You mention "using voting powers, granted only as part of the employee mod diamond and not earned as privilege" -- I think some perspective is in order here. It only takes 101 reputation to have the privilege to upvote, and 125 reputation to have the privilege to downvote. Are we really arguing about a privilege that's granted to people at 101 reputation, or 125 reputation? There's nothing magical about the reputation threshold; it's a heuristic for identifying people who have some experience with the site and some exposure to the model. Indeed, you can gain 101 reputation via the association bonus with no experience or activity on the site at all, as long as you have some activity on some other Stack Exchange site. I think it's likely that most SE employees are going to have that at least as much as someone who uses their association bonus to upvote a post on Meta, or a new user who just received 125 reputation, so I can't see a big deal here with SE employees having that privilege.

Related: Should Community Managers remain impartial during Moderator elections?.

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  • I always saw the rep. requirement for voting on Meta as a nod to the principle that it's those who contribute to a site who get a say in how it's run rather as a crude competency test. – Scortchi - Reinstate Monica Jun 6 at 0:53
  • @Scortchi-ReinstateMonica, There is no requirement for any contribution or activity on a site at all to be able to upvote on Meta. If I have 200 rep on any site in the network, then the association bonus gives me 101 rep on every other site I care to join, which is enough to allow me to upvote posts on Meta despite having zero activity or contribution on that site. Participation only affects my ability to downvote, not upvote. – D.W. Jun 6 at 1:38
  • I know - there was a feature request to fix that a while back: meta.stackexchange.com/q/158868/225179, & I've seen complaints about it. Not sure to what extent it was aimed at vs being just a side effect of granting the main-site privileges deemed appropriate. – Scortchi - Reinstate Monica Jun 6 at 2:30
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It's not on. Voting on Meta posts, while rarely constituting anything like a formal poll, is used to gauge community opinion, & affects the process of forming a consensus on site norms & policies; people who don't belong to the community, though welcome to contribute to the discussion, shouldn't vote—doubly so when they might well be presumed to be voting in the interests of the company they work for.

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    What does it mean to "belong" to a community? So I shouldn't vote on any meta post where I'm not particularly active even though I might have a valid opinion? If I have the privilege to vote I should be allowed to vote anywhere without restriction. – DavidPostill Jun 5 at 21:32
  • @DavidPostill: Unless you want to set the bar so low that people who "do not actively participate in" a community still count as belonging to it, I don't think the definition needs to be made more precise. Not being particularly active is a higher level of involvement than not actively participating, but one should perhaps think twice about voting in that case. I don't get to vote in the council elections for the neighbouring parish just because I wander through there from time to time, & it's not because my opinions are presumed invalid! – Scortchi - Reinstate Monica Jun 6 at 0:52
  • That's a bad analogy. Voting in real life requires you to be registered. I can vote (and do) on several SE sites where I don't have a lot of rep but enough to vote in the site elections where I've got the rep from only one question. – DavidPostill Jun 6 at 8:02
  • @DavidPostill: Well, why do you suppose if you live in Lowick you can't register to vote in Tipton's elections, however smart & well informed you may be? I once voted on a Meta post of a site I was barely active on, concerning the scope of that site: on reflection I decided I was wrong to have done so. It was for the people asking & answering questions on that site to decide for themselves what they wanted them to be about. Just because you can do something doesn't mean you ought to. – Scortchi - Reinstate Monica Jun 9 at 23:55

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