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Does the company run any background checks on users who nominate themselves for elections? For example, can Community Managers see if a candidate deleted an account in that election year? Can CMs see a deleted account's comment history? This would be especially relevant in cases where a potential candidate successfully avoided an imminent suspension by deleting their secondary account.

For example, a candidate who openly belittled and challenged the company's policy that we respect each other's identity and beliefs, as stated in the 2019 Code of Conduct.

This Code of Conduct helps us build a community that is rooted in kindness, collaboration, and mutual respect.
No bigotry.
We don’t tolerate any language likely to offend or alienate people based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion […] Use stated pronouns (when known). When in doubt, don't use language that might offend or alienate.

Disclaimer:
Contrary to the expressed concerns of a few, this post is not about instigating a witch hunt. It is everything to do with a candidate's integrity, and honesty. If a candidate publicly expressed penitence for their disruptive and/or controversial behaviour on a secondary account then all is well. It is important to know that future candidates acknowledge any recent misconduct which could have led to a suspension. After all, in theory at least, an elected mod is a life-long position. And in the case where a user mocked gender-neutral pronouns but deleted their account after receiving a warning, it would be an important signal that the handling of LGBTQ users' flags will always be fair and unbiased.

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    @Mari-LouA was any of that somewhat addressed in the Questionnaire before the election? Or this topic was never even tangentially covered by the questionnaire prepared by the community? Aug 5, 2020 at 19:54
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    Can we agree that there's some ambiguity in perception? Yes, the moderator agreement makes it explicit moderators don't represent Stack Exchange, Inc. OTOH, moderators do represent their community. However, from the point of view of many naive users, the moderators represent the site, which, at lest in the naive user's minds, is synonymous with "the company". However, that's really a side issue for what this question is about.
    – Makyen
    Aug 5, 2020 at 19:57
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    Its pretty clear that the only thing that matters before the election is whether you were suspended anywhere on the network in the previous year. Once elected there's the mod agreement. The time for disagreement is before the election. It feels like going through everything a candidate has said, on the off chance they have said something wrong... is implausible
    – Aibobot
    Aug 5, 2020 at 19:57
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    @AntonMenshov was any of that somewhat addressed in the Questionnaire before the election? No, I checked. The CoC was mentioned once by a different candidate in the questionnaire. Aug 5, 2020 at 19:59
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    @Mari-LouA Whether we can see their comment history on deleted profiles (not accounts) is kinda irrelevant. The only rule we have is "you can't have been suspended in the last year". If there's no suspension, there's ... nothing else to act on.
    – Catija StaffMod
    Aug 7, 2020 at 16:43

5 Answers 5

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One of the standard questions on the moderator questionnaire is

A diamond will be attached to everything you say and have said in the past, including questions, answers and comments. Everything you will do will be seen under a different light. How do you feel about that?

That makes past posts fair game to ask a candidate about. Issues of past statements that conflict with the code of conduct should be brought up so the candidate can explain how they will resolve that conflict with their obligations as a moderator.

If this moderator candidate violated the CoC, they should have been suspended for it and been disqualified from running. If they are willing to agree to abide by and enforce the moderator agreement, I don't see an issue. It doesn't matter what they actually think if you have to be able to read deleted comments from last year to know they think it. If they aren't enforcing the CoC or aren't abiding by it, there are mechanisms in place to deal with it.

The nomination phase should be a process to let community members make informed votes about who they want to be their moderators. It should allow for past positions on issues to be asked about and explained so that the community can decide if that affects how they will cast their vote. The company should facilitate that process, but not be overly involved in who can be allowed to try to persuade people they are a good fit for the role. A background check that would exclude candidates because the company judged something they said as "bad" but not worthy of suspension at the time they said it is not fair. The candidate should be allowed to move past those old statements, put them in context, express regret for them, or whatever and let the community decide whether that's good enough to earn their votes.

And since it was brought up, I do think what happened during Stack Overflow's election that drove an active longtime contributor completely off the site was awful. The incident highlights a need for a complete overhaul of the way a community vets candidates. No volunteer should have to be subjected to a dog pile of people who, while they may have had legitimate concerns about the candidate's qualifications for the position, were far too personal in their objections. And it's not fair to the volunteer moderators that had to try to clean up that mess while maintaining some semblance of impartiality.

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  • And since it was brought up” in the comments though… Thank you for your answer. I especially agreed with: The candidate should be allowed to move past those old statements, put them in context, express regret for them, or whatever and let the community decide whether that's good enough to earn their votes. the problem was the candidate's (controversial?) viewpoint on the specific CoC issue was not brought to anyone's attention. Aug 5, 2020 at 22:48
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    @Mari-LouA If their views weren’t widely known to the community that elected them, are they an issue? I don’t know. I think if they aren’t behaving in a bigoted way that their community notices it’s either not a problem or the entire community has a problem.
    – ColleenV
    Aug 5, 2020 at 22:53
  • I'm tempted to say the latter...but I am a complete stranger in a foreign land, I don't know their culture, I just enjoy reading the answers... Aug 5, 2020 at 22:56
  • I completely agree with your last paragraph. Aug 6, 2020 at 2:45
  • @SonictheMaskedWerehog Thanks - including it probably made my answer more controversial than it needed to be, but I think that the candidate Q&A part of SE elections is a bit broken, at least for Stack Overflow and its giant community, and it's in my nature to not be able to shut up about sticky problems I'm trying to think of solutions for...
    – ColleenV
    Aug 6, 2020 at 21:29
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I don't believe there are background checks and even if such background checks are reasonably possible to be performed by the community managers' team (simply due to the team's size).

There is already at least one safety mechanism in-place that prevents nominations from the users that had been suspended in the past year. It is quite likely for a regular (and even occasional) offender of a CoC to be suspended.

Moreover, there is a second safety mechanism: the community that learns about the candidates. Before the election, the community gets to ask the nominees their questions. Both in the form of the standard questionnaire, as well as particular questions in the comments. I would say the concerns about the alleged disagreement of a particular nominee with CoC, pronouns, and past mocking could have been addressed during the nomination process. I guess, this particular conversation this time just did not happen due to ... the position of the stars in the sky.

Anyway, now, the newly elected moderator had to accept the moderator agreement (which is a binding agreement) and, subsequently, agree with the CoC. With that, they explicitly expressed their views.

While all users have to comply with CoC, moderators go kind of one step further (at least in my mind) with the Moderator Agreement. So, in this particular case, I would tend to assume that the newly elected moderator regret their words (if they were said in the first place), reconsidered their view (if it was strongly against), and decided to serve as an example to the community. Unless proven otherwise, I would be tempted to believe that it is true.

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    @Mari-LouA I am simply adding a bit more "cautious phrasing", as I have zero ideas about the particular person, words, and site. While the question (and hopefully the answers) can serve in the general case as well. Aug 5, 2020 at 20:25
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Someone's personal beliefs should not get in the way of their eligibility to being elected.

It's certainly valid to bring up such concerns during the election process to ask questions, get answers, etc, but past that... it's entirely off topic. All that matters is whether or not they are adhering to the moderator agreement they agreed to. If they don't, there are mechanisms in place to deal with it.

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    Normally, I would agree 100% with the first statement. But the user openly mocked the reformed CoC on pronoun usage. If they since regretted doing so, it would be helpful and reassuring to hear. Aug 5, 2020 at 22:09
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    and it would have been 100% valid to ask that during the election. it's too late now.
    – Kevin B
    Aug 5, 2020 at 22:09
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    It's a concern that the community would have, not one that SE should have. it's something the community would use to help them decide who to vote for, not something SE should use to decide user A can't run, or should be de-modded.
    – Kevin B
    Aug 5, 2020 at 22:11
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    and it would have been 100% valid to ask that during the election. it's too late now” Alas I am a very very infrequent visitor to the site and do not have the necessary rep to elect a candidate. If I had known earlier, I would have asked them of their views in a comment. You are right, it is too late now, but what about in the future? Deleting a polemic account is... I don't know, it's just not right. Aug 5, 2020 at 22:12
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    it's entirely up to the community, unless SE decides to take back some control of it. though... i imagine the blowback from that would be... well, worse than a lot of previous issues. I imagine it'd be quite difficult for one person to keep an eye on every community to ensure some specific person they happen to know has (or had) a given viewpoint doesn't get to run without it being aired/discussed.
    – Kevin B
    Aug 5, 2020 at 22:14
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    I find it troubling that some can support "background checks", then in the same breath be against bringing up actual actions and past events that another candidate had as a moderator while performing moderator activities.
    – Kevin B
    Aug 11, 2020 at 17:47
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Does the company run any background checks on users who nominate themselves for elections?

I don't think so, based on the notice in this answer, where the notice was changed to force suspended candidates to contact SE themselves for a check of their suspension history, instead of being able to nominate without asking and then having SE check their history before moving the election on.

If they removed the possibility of nominating, then being checked, for previously suspended users, I don't see why they would do so for users that are allowed to nominate.

Can Community Managers see candidates' deleted accounts and its associated comment history?

Given that moderators can see a list of posts for deleted accounts (see the tiny blue link in the screenshot) by going to /users/$usernumber, if the comments were on a post that was posted by a now-deleted account, it can surely be found again by CMs as well, if you can provide them with a general direction to look for (keywords from the question you remember, for example).

If that is the case, I would like to know as it would greatly reassure me to know the user was aware of their intolerant point of view and is unlikely to repeat it anytime in the future. It would also signify that the handling of LGBTQ users' flags will always be fair and unbiased.

Well, take a look at the moderator agreement:

"I will abide by the current Code of Conduct (which is a part of this agreement), and enforce it to the best of my ability."

Breaking that would carry some serious consequences, it would probably be enough to start one of the review processes. If you do see them break this, you can follow the process described at What recourse do I have if I believe a moderator has abused their privileges?.

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Those were pretty terrible times, and we saw a lot of folks get emotional

Does the company run any background checks on users who nominate themselves for elections? For example, can Community Managers see candidates' deleted accounts with their associated comment history?

I have about 2,133 non deleted comments on meta. I do try to clean up after myself, since I'm not too precious about my comments, so lets say, maybe 2500 or 2600 comments total. I also have 968 answers and 66 questions on MSE. I have somewhere along that ballpark on MSU as well. I have accounts on uh... about 150 sites cause of spam flagging, and I could be active on any of them. Ok, so I've been here a decade, and on an active site. Lets cut that in quarter, and assume a single mod-candidate has 500 comments, maybe 200 answers and 50 questions on meta. And maybe as many on the site they are standing on.

And there's at least 3 candidates an election. And maybe an election planned every month. I think the problem with a background check is obvious.

While suspensions are a "simple" way to figure out whether someone's suitable for moderatorship, its not straight forward. I'm entirely aware that some folks are unhappy over suspensions during the rough patch we had, despite, well the penalty being for one year and forgotten.

And speaking of suspensions - the old blog post about this has something very important to say

We don’t hold grudges. The point of all this is to address the behavior. If the behavior improves, you are welcome back.

We have many tools to address the behaviour, and sometimes you might not even see them in use. This is a good thing. Bringing up past issues after an election seems counter productive. We have a mod agreement in place that covers the exact ground. If you find a moderator does not live up to his commitment - let the community management team know, or even a moderator elsewhere you trust, and someone ought to take a look.

People make mistakes (and I know a few can hang over your head for years after the fact). I don't really feel a situation akin to what happened to James Gunn, where a past indiscretion was dug up entirely to cause him harm would be healthy for a community.

Bring it up during the election questionnaire. Let them answer for it. Once elected hold them to the agreement they made, which is entirely public.

A background check here though, seems onerous, and in the context here, feels like a possible invitation to settle scores.

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  • The question is asking whether CMs can view a deleted account, I can well imagine the number of comments could run into thousands over the years, but on a secondary account that number would be much lower. And reviewing "why" a candidate suddenly deleted an account that same year (not five years ago) might be worth it, if only to give them the opportunity to admit their past mistakes or explain their behaviour. Aug 10, 2020 at 20:11

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