All the changes happening in the world have made me think about how "records" affect people even years after they have arguably "served their time". Stack Exchange has followed the principle of A Day in the Penalty Box, which makes a good effort to shield old suspensions from public view (and judgment and/or prejudice), but it notably does not hide these prior penalties from moderators or staff. The result of that is that a prior "encounter" with a moderation penalty can affect a user for years to come, potentially biasing moderators and staff against them in future encounters.

Let's have a process by which users who have demonstrated continued good behavior after returning from a suspension can get their prior suspensions expunged (removed from the system completely, or at least sealed beyond the view even of most ♦-bearing mortals).

I'm open to suggestions on models for this, but my initial idea is twofold.

  • Users whose last suspension anywhere on the network was over a certain number of years ago (e.g. three) and have demonstrated a minimum amount of post-suspension participation will receive an automatic expungement. Requiring a minimum participation helps us see their improved behavior.
  • Users whose last suspension anywhere on the network was over a year ago (i.e. have regained the ability to stand for election as a ♦ moderator) may apply for an expungement. The application for expungement will be handled similar to requests for moderator restoration. On a favorable determination, the user's prior suspensions are expunged. On an unfavorable determination (expungement refused), the user may apply again after the passage of sufficient time.

Completion of the suspension expungement process will not shield the user from future moderation enforcement activities, but it will allow them to receive judgment in light of their present behavior, not their past behavior.

I know that there are certain users who are "frequent fliers" in our moderation systems (where I think to myself "oh, he's suspended again, will he ever learn?") that won't get anywhere near to qualifying for this program, but I think it could be very valuable for those users who have truly learned a lesson, or simply had a bad experience in the past, to move even further beyond it.

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    I see that this is being controversially received. It would be nice if others explained why this is a bad idea (or good idea). – Sonic the Masked Werehog Jun 30 at 17:25
  • @SonictheMaskedWerehog ty. For those downvoting, do you feel this idea is inherently objectionable or do you agree with the idea but disagree on details? Either way, you can post an answer explaining your view, e.g. "This is bad because reasons...." or "This is a good idea, but the minimum time to qualify for an expungement should be five years because of the following reasons....". – Robert Columbia Jun 30 at 17:48
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    I was planning on writing you a full answer when I have time and a PC, but I find this a bad idea because a) the people that know about a suspension years later are the ones that need to know (mods/CMs) to be able to quickly recognize and intervene in case of relapses. The automatic process thus doesn't help much. b) CMs are already busy, having all sorts of users asking them to expunge their records is just adding a thing to their list of which I don't see the purpose, and on which I'd rather not see them spend time. – Tinkeringbell Jun 30 at 17:58
  • @Tinkeringbell the point of requiring a year of no suspensions before being allowed to apply is designed to keep requests down and limit them to those who have actually demonstrated an intent to behave well. I would agree that letting someone come back a day after a week-long suspension and apply with a "I promise I won't post any more dick pics!!!11!one Expunge plz!!11!one" wouldn't work well and would overwhelm the system with a lot of noise. – Robert Columbia Jun 30 at 18:02
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    @Robert even so, what if the years up but there's been no activity? It's easy to apply for expunging after a year and get it granted, only to then revert to trouble again. I think you're trying to solve a problem that's not really there: the people that want to try and avoid improving make socks, sometimes even when the master is still suspended, the ones that do improve don't benefit from erasing the fact that they've shown a capibility of improving when it comes to moderating them. – Tinkeringbell Jun 30 at 18:09

The result of that is that a prior "encounter" with a moderation penalty can affect a user for years to come, potentially biasing moderators and staff against them in future encounters

I disagree with the part in bold, which is bad faith in people.

But my main point is that history should not be wiped/rewritten just because it might cause injustice in the present. Knowing the past is important, and super important in such cases of suspensions: moderator must be aware of bad history, in case the person gets back to their old habits, so instead of a first time warning, they should get actual suspension.

Yes, there is always a chance that knowing about bad actions in the past might affect how those who know it think about the person, but they should not act upon those thoughts, and I do trust SE staff and the moderators to follow this.

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This feels like a solution looking for a problem.

There's about 3 paths for looking up a suspension. Most of them involve looking up moderator messages (which need not necessarily involve suspensions) for the user, or checking the timeline (which needs you to know when, but it won't tell you why).

Fundamentally though - we typically need something going wrong on the site before we even look up past history, and while there's an automatic suggested escalation of suspension periods we can review and adjust.

For this, knowing what the last mod message is for is useful context.

If somehow a user feels their past history is biasing a decision, the usual processes would work. Chances are if a user has a sordid enough history, someone will remember, even without logs. More so if they actually had a significant improvement in behaviour.

Practically - with current staffing, and even at what I'd consider a closer to appropriate level of staffing, moderators generally end up running their sites. We have to have implicit and explicit trust, both from our users, and from the company to do the right thing, and that means trusting us to do the right thing with information like this.

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I very much see merit in this proposal. But with a bit more of a nuance.

Perhaps somewhat compared to the Dutch VOG (Verklaring Omtrent Gedrag or Certificate of Conduct in English). This is for certain professions a required certificate, or can be required by an employer before offering you a contract. Depending on the role you are going to full-fill within the company your employer can choose a certain scenario for which you will be screened by the Ministry of Justice. Depending on the scenario they will examine a certain amount of years in the past, and only look at relevant annotations on your record.

This is a very tedious process, is all manual labour and decisions are made on a case by case basis. Not something I would want to wish upon our already busy CM's.

Luckily SE consists of many programmers, so we could automate a lot of things here, analogue to the way people are being review banned for failing too many audits.

So to come to the point ;) :

  • Each penalty or annotation could carry (an automated) expiry date.
  • Expiry timers are reset when a similar offence has been committed.
  • Some offences are so serious the carry an infinite expiry date.

This would allow for a low maintenance system. It has the benefit that repeat offenders or those that committed serious acts against this community do not lose their annotations. People that committed only one or two minor offences get their records expunged in due time.

I think that a system like this could help make more objective decisions regarding the second group (people that committed only minor offences a long time ago), seeing that as much that we want to say we are not affected by seeing someone being punished in the past our subconsciousness might tell a different story.

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