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The setting

Two months ago, the "Moderator Council" was introduced, with a simple charter:

a small group to escalate urgent or important issues or review our work before we make it public

Yesterday, this group was cited in the revised moderator reinstatement process:

[A previous moderator] can choose to escalate their request for Mod Council evaluation and is able to add additional material/arguments for further consideration.

[...]

While the recommendation of the Mod Council is not binding, their recommendation and reasoning will be considered very seriously by the CLT when coming to a final decision.

IOW, they get, uh, a collective bullet in a list of things to consider. But it's a bold bullet, near the top of the list.

Crucially, their role in this process isn't to review the work of the staff before it goes out. By the time the council is involved, that work has already been "published" twice - and the former moderator has had to make the decision to appeal twice instead of just saying, "sorry, constituents, they ain't gonna let me serve."

The dissonance

So while I'm trying to square this new role with the original charter, I come across this now-deleted answer proposing a role more in line with that charter:

Trust goes both ways. If you really trust the moderator council, consider letting the moderator council have the final say on reinstatement, if council members are willing to take on this responsibility (with perhaps the community leadership team stepping in in case the moderator council is deadlocked).

...and below it, a revealing comment from a member of the council:

I believe this was even proposed at one point but was shot down by several members of the council (not SE).

Well. So it would seem the first concrete action by the council was... To reject any actual responsibility? Surely that can't be right...

Another council member elaborated, slightly:

I've personally felt, and still do feel that the moderator council represents the moderator community, but we're not some sort of super-moderator. With at least the current iteration - its possible we don't see eye to eye on quite a few topics, but that's natural. I suspect should we get called to review a moderator reinstatement, you'll get an answer most of the council members reviewing can accept, even if its not their ideal.

This... Made no sense to me, so we discussed it for a bit and as the author wished for additional space to respond I composed this question.

The crux

My concern in brief: the council's charter was to represent the moderators and review the work of the company. That's exactly what is called for in a reinstatement process. Either the council is willing to take an active role in ensuring that moderators are treated fairly, or they've abdicated the responsibility that they were elected to shoulder.

So... Which is it?

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    I've never been terribly impressed with any of this. It all reads like so much smoke and mirrors to me. I found it ironic that the most recently updated version mentioned the update as being meant to address criticism about transparency, But there was nothing clearly different about it (that I could see) that wasn't just more wording that could still be interpreted in any number of different ways—and certainly not something that made me think anything was suddenly more transparent … – Jason Bassford Jul 2 at 1:48
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    "Either the council is willing to take an active role in ensuring that moderators are treated fairly, or they've abdicated the responsibility that they were elected to shoulder." I think you may have a different take than many of the council on what exactly our purpose is. Which is not to say a wrong take. My understanding is that deciding these things (what role the council should have) is the current goal of the pro-tem council and that haven't firmly committed to anything concretely. Now whether we should is a more interesting discussion (and one we've been having actively) – Rubiksmoose Jul 2 at 3:05
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    I applied to be on the council, but I deleted my nomination for the exact reason that it's still unclear the role. Which is why I like you question and the spirit you ask, on the focus IMO, but I have hope, as we talk the reinstatatement process, not the emergency removal process which you talk about, when the mod is already de-modded. The process chart is hard to follow when it's over multiple process, it was one feedback I told in the Mod Team. – yagmoth555 Jul 2 at 3:08
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    @Shog9 Holy moly, the rare and extraordinary red-crested positive anymore. I never thought I’d see this incredible species in the wild! – Dan Bron Jul 2 at 11:40
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    Too bad you didn't ask "What should the moderator council's role should be?" Because then I would post an answer. – George Stocker Jul 2 at 12:39
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    The mod council never had a charter AFAIK, and was asked to determine its own purpose and scope, within the bounds of what the company allowed. But whenever I suggested something I was told it was out of scope. 🤷‍♀️ – curiousdannii Jul 2 at 13:58
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    Well, high time they figured it out, @curiousdannii. A group without a clear purpose has a short life. – Shog9 Jul 2 at 16:21
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    So glad you're here. Miss you terribly. It does give me hope though and I'm sure many, many others. – user808464 Jul 8 at 4:47
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+50

Moderator Council pro-tem member here. This is my opinion on this, so others may have a different take. Looking forward to what Journeyman Geek and Rubiksmoose have to add - I'm sure they'll have some good takes, along with anyone else on the Council.

I think that the "simple charter" of "a small group to escalate urgent or important issues or review our work before we make it public" is mostly accurate. Of course, we are still working on defining how the Moderator Council fits in with various company processes. How we fit into the Moderator Removal and Moderator Reinstatement processes is one of the processes that we looked at as a group.

During the discussions, I had supported injecting the Moderator Council at other steps in the process for reinstatement, and perhaps the removal process as well. One of the problems raised in doing so is that it would significantly slow down the process.

I believe the timeline for the first three steps in reinstatement (Mod Applies for Reinstatement, CM Appointment, Documentation, and CM Evaluation) is ideally measured in hours of actual work and very few business days. The slowest part of the standard process is the Mod Team Evaluation, which is 3-5 days for the mod team to respond. It could be done sooner if enough of the mod team respond sooner.

The idea is for most of the reinstatement requests to end here. That would mean that most reinstatement requests would be resolved in less than two calendar weeks.

My understanding is that most of the rejections in the first step of the process would either be (1) the moderator was removed due to repeated or severe violations of agreements, such as abuse of moderator tools/data or (2) rejection from the current mod team not wanting to work with the mod. There's not much the Moderator Council can or should do in these cases that would lead to reinstatement.

For those reinstatement requests that do continue, again, the process is swift. The CLT Evaluation is a relatively short step that happens quickly after the appeal. The longest part in Escalation 1 is the second Mod Team Review, which takes up to 5 business days.

I'd expect that most Escalation 1 steps are completed in a calendar week (give or take a couple of days, depending on when the request to escalate was submitted).

Injecting a second, formal review from a group of volunteers will easily add 3-5 days to the process - almost a full week. You'd go from effectively one calendar week (give or take a day or so) to nearly two calendar weeks for the basic process to complete or from close to two calendar weeks for the appeal to almost three weeks.

Although it's not called out, my interpretation of the Moderator Council is that we provide services to the company in the form of review and advice. We also offer services to moderators and communities. I don't see why a site's mod team can't choose to engage the Moderator Council during their Mod Team Evaluation. Likewise, I don't see a reason why the CM Team couldn't engage the Moderator Council during Documentation and CM Evaluation. A moderator, a moderator team, or a community can come to the Moderator Council with concerns at any time and we can evaluate it and escalate it to the CM Team or CLT. So we can be asked to get involved in the removal process or bring up concerns where the removal process was not properly executed.

Rather than injecting ourselves as a step in most executions of process, I see the Moderator Council being more valuable in reviewing the process itself. I would expect that the Moderator Council is made aware whenever the removal or the reinstatement process is started, where it currently sits, and what the outcomes of each step are. We can make sure that there is appropriate transparency between the company and the mod team and with the affected community (or communities). If we find that the process is slow, unfair, or needs improvements, we can work with the company to fix it.

To specifically answer the question:

I don't think we've abdicated the responsibility to ensure that moderators are treated fairly. We have early access to provide advice about decisions that impact moderators and the broader community. Specifically, in the context of removals and reinstatements, our input and feedback on the process should help guide how future events are handled. Our involvement in the actual execution of the process itself is that of an exception handler.

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    "I see the Moderator Council being more valuable in reviewing the process itself" I agree - and if this is how y'all choose to represent your role in the process (vs. the "last and weakest appeal" role spelled out in the process itself) I think it would help a lot of us to be more optimistic about the chances that problems might actually get noticed. – Shog9 Jul 2 at 14:03
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    @Shog9 I don't see it as "last and weakest appeal". I see it as a defined opportunity to seek third-party input. As I said, I don't think there's anything stopping the past moderator, the community's moderation team, the CM team, or the CLT from involving the Moderator Council earlier in the process. I don't see the Mod Council as being involved in the execution of many, if any, company processes, but more making sure that the processes are working and the right people (usually from the company) are involved in them and have what they need to be effective. – Thomas Owens Jul 2 at 14:09
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    That's a good goal, @Thomas - but don't expect them to ask for help when they most need it. – Shog9 Jul 2 at 16:22
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    I don't think many people trust SE enough to assume they'll do the right thing when you all tell them to, after they've done the wrong thing. The fact that the council cannot bindingly overturn their actions means that it's at best a very optimistically scoped institution, at worst completely ineffectual by design. – Magisch Jul 3 at 8:31
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    @Magisch I think that expecting a group of volunteers to be able to tell a company how to run its business (and the network is its business) is something that will never happen. There are over 175 communities, nearly 500 mods, and millions of users. Now, there is an advisory board of about a dozen people who have deep expertise with the network and the problems that it faces. We can be effective, but only so much that the company wants to engage with us. And if they don't, then people will just continue to be upset about decisions or communication and keep on leaving. – Thomas Owens Jul 3 at 11:00
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    i don't think it's that easy. This network here isn't a normal company <-> client relationship, it's much more akin to a stewardship like the WMF performs for wikipedia. Up until now people were mostly content with allowing the "benevolent overlord" type of deal to persist, but that doesn't seem like it is on the table anymore. People want the company to cede power to their (elected) representatives. – Magisch Jul 3 at 11:07
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    @Magisch People may want that, but that's not how it is and the Mod Council isn't likely to change that. The company exists to make money. The employees want to get paid, the investors and shareholders want their moneys worth. It's why things like advertising, Jobs, and Teams exist. Wikimedia Foundation is a non-profit organization. Expecting structures that work well in a non-profit environment to work well in a for-profit environment is only going to lead to unfulfilled expectations. – Thomas Owens Jul 3 at 11:11
  • Yeah, but it's clear they're attempting transparency. Only when you do that, it's kind of a boolean thing, either do it consequently or not do it at all. In my opinion, if the mod council is going to be advisory only, it shouldn't exist and has no purpose to serve transparency, and pretending it does is actually (intentionally or not) dishonest. Nothing short of the real deal will work, this is why they're seeing so much pushback every step of the way. – Magisch Jul 3 at 11:24
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    This whole institution is there for when push comes to shove, it's not going to serve an important purpose rubberstamping obvious cases. When the council will be needed is when we're already at the point where SE is not playing ball and is misbehaving, so if the council can't come through in the only case it'd be useful it's not a good or useful institution. – Magisch Jul 3 at 11:30
  • I'd have to check, but my first mod reinstatement process took weeks, that turned into months of some order. The second one has taken weeks, not sure how many at this stage, but it's more than two. :/ – user808464 Jul 8 at 10:33
  • @Yvette Did both undergo the new moderator reinstatement process or were they before? I'd need to learn more about the circumstances, but I had raised concerns about the speed of the process when they were being reviewed, just based on the number of steps and decision points, and was told most reinstatements should not take that long. – Thomas Owens Jul 8 at 10:37
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    The new process. In fact I'm in the new process again - second time, while standing for election on the same site. Go figure. Feel free to ping me in a chat room if you'd like to know more. I was reinstated on pets, declined on SO, but told I could reapply to be reinstated and run in the election! That sounds wrong, they didn't say that in the same sentence – user808464 Jul 8 at 10:39
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    The problem I see is the idea in point 1: the moderator was removed due to repeated or severe violations of agreements. Though I agree with your "such as" statement - to me this allows SE to point to posts which were critical of their decisions as the reason. Without a "real check" from the Council there is just not a way to trust SE will not twist this agreement to serve their purpose at the expense of another mod as it did with M. – LinkBerest Jul 8 at 12:20
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In theory, one would hope that in two rounds of the company reviewing a moderator removal, an incorrect one would get weeded out. We shouldn't be needed because before we get involved, the right thing is done.

Where that fails - presumably we'll have the opportunity to advocate for the moderator in question - dig up what needs to be dug up and hopefully find flaws in the process.

Practically if a moderator is removed for the wrong reasons - the process of lobbying the company and letting them know where we stand, formally or informally ought to start pretty early on.

Trust goes both ways. If you really trust the moderator council, consider letting the moderator council have the final say on reinstatement, if council members are willing to take on this responsibility (with perhaps the community leadership team stepping in in case the moderator council is deadlocked).

This has a element of realpolitik. The company should listen to us cause they trust us - not because they are obliged to. I'm pretty sure a reluctant company has ways to put roadblocks - but that could happen both ways.

Where reinstatement is concerned - having a strong enough voice to be listened to is something that feels more useful than to be essentially an arbitration body between the company and the moderator in question. Practically - I suspect its reflection of a moderation culture that's focused on soft influence over positional power.

I've personally felt, and still do feel that the moderator council represents the moderator community, but we're not some sort of super-moderator. With at least the current iteration - its possible we don't see eye to eye on quite a few topics, but that's natural. I suspect should we get called to review a moderator reinstatement, you'll get an answer most of the council members reviewing can accept, even if its not their ideal.

Admittedly, this reflects a few different threads of thought on the subject

I've personally felt, and still do feel that the moderator council represents the moderator community, but we're not some sort of super-moderator

Our role is to help voice out what the moderator community feels, rather than to be a "leadership" role or first amongst equals. I'll get to the super-moderator bit at the end.

With at least the current iteration - its possible we don't see eye to eye on quite a few topics, but that's natural.

It's a fairly diverse group, and with the folks involved, I'm aware we have wildly differing backgrounds and views on current issues. As such - in some cases, where we're consulted in such a situation, the result is unlikely to be a complete consensus but rather something balancing those views.

As for super moderators - the moderator council isn't really responsible for taking on the full weight of community management and leadership. We're still kind of working out the balance of responsibility but fundamentally, we'll advise, we'll meddle, we'll even advocate. But that's not a replacement for the company being aware and getting things right, even if they often don't.

Practically I hope that this and future iterations of the moderator council are essentially

Moderators are human exception handlers, there to deal with those (hopefully rare) exceptional conditions that should not normally happen, but when they do, they can bring your entire community to a screaming halt — if you don’t have human exception handling in place.

On a larger scale: we'll point out the bugs in the social system, but we'll need help to fix ’em.

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    "one would hope"... For over a decade, requests for reinstatement were rare and took very little time or effort to handle. Now they're less rare and take considerably more time. I know you've worked in large companies enough to know how this effects the outcome, even without any malice or conscious effort. A process is only as good as the will of those in it to overcome the inherent resistance imposed on them - so the question remains, are y'all willing to do that? Are you willing to say when someone is unfairly treated? Are you willing to attest when they were treated fairly? – Shog9 Jul 2 at 14:00
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    Looking at the other folks in the council - I'd say a good chunk of them have demonstrated that. I hope if it comes to it, I would personally demonstrate that. – Journeyman Geek Jul 2 at 14:09
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    "The company should listen to us cause they trust us - not because they are obliged to." is great in theory but isn't lack of trust the exact thing everyone is bringing up? You, as the pro tem MC, have the power to oblige the company (or at least ask for it). There's a lot of "should", but if everything always went as it "should" we wouldn't need the MC involved in the first place.. Does the MC not want more actual power? I see Thomas's answer gives some concrete reasons not to be more involved but this answer is making me wonder what's going on in the council's discussions about scope :/ – Em C Jul 2 at 14:52
  • For the first time since the council's inception I feel a glimmer of hope. What you speak sounds good in theory. I do not trust the company. It would be good to know the community does have power and that there's some justice. – user808464 Jul 8 at 10:31

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