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Today we've released a policy that moderators must be 18 years old or older to be diamond moderators on our sites. Since the policy post isn't well-suited to address questions about the policy, that's what this post is for.

Prior to release, this policy was shown to the Moderator Council and Moderators for review and discussion. While there are certainly mods who voiced concern about the policy and why we're enacting it, on the whole it was well-received.

Before asking questions, please review the policy post as well as the additional information provided in this post about the immediate impacts of this policy - they were excluded from the policy post as they are one-time events that relate only to the transition period.

What does this mean for existing mods?

Once this policy is live, moderators will see a banner on the site. If they're 18 or older, they can just dismiss the banner and that's all they need to do.

Any moderator who is currently under 18 years of age should email the Community Management team. We'll reach out to them to begin the process of removing their diamond. As mentioned in the policy post, if they're currently under 18, they still have the opportunity to return to moderation once they reach 18 through a simplified moderator reinstatement process.

Is this a change to the Moderator Agreement?

This is a new policy but we do not consider it a change to the Moderator Agreement itself, even though we will add the checkbox to affirm that you're 18+ to the Agreement page. As such, we will not be moving to V3 of the Moderator Agreement due to this change.

Why was this change made?

There was an assumption internally that moderators were already expected to be at least 18 to moderate the site. When it was discovered not to be the case, we worked to understand and address the concerns and create the policy that was lacking. We then discussed it with the moderators and made it public.

We understand that this is a change some may be disappointed by and that it may seem to indicate that we don't believe that younger members of our communities can be great moderators - over the years we have known many mods who started out under 18 and were excellent and active moderators. Nothing has changed in that regard - but for the legal reasons outlined in the policy, we can not give them a diamond and access to user PII.


I've tried to address some of the concerns I heard in the Mod Team and I hope they address ones you have. If you have other questions, please feel free to ask them but do know that I'm not a lawyer and we can not answer your legal questions about this policy. My understanding is that when it comes to volunteers, there's not a lot of legal precedence, so we're erring on the side of caution in protecting both potential moderators and our users' PII.

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    True Question: How can you prove someone really is 18+? Ticking a box won't do that, you know. – Henry WH Hack v3.0a Dec 2 '20 at 20:13
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    As the policy states, we're trusting mods to be honest. We're not going to collect PII to actually prove it, particularly as it's relatively simple to fake this documentation. We trust our mods with many things, this is just another one. – Catija Dec 2 '20 at 20:14
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    @Catija And that applies to under-18 existing mods contacting the CMs as well? – Ollie Dec 2 '20 at 20:19
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    @Catija You're trusting the under-18 mods to contact the CM team. – Ollie Dec 2 '20 at 20:21
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    Yes, that's correct, @Ollie – Catija Dec 2 '20 at 20:22
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    The moderator reinstatement process clearly differentiates between voluntary or inactivity resignations, and involuntary removals. While this seems to be considered a voluntary resignation for the purposes of that process, the text as you've written doesn't make it clear that that's the case. It would be nice if this was made so. – Sonic the Anonymous Hedgehog Dec 2 '20 at 20:27
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    @SonictheK-DayHedgehog It's not really either process. It's similar to what happens if a mod got removed for not signing the Mod Agreement... we look at what happened, and will likely just give the diamond back... We'll document it internally but we likely won't be polling the other mods on the site unless it's been a long time. – Catija Dec 2 '20 at 20:29
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    How many under-age mods do we have? – Martin Schröder Dec 2 '20 at 21:51
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    @MartinSchröder I suspect the staff doesn't know, otherwise they wouldn't be rolling out self-reporting. – VLAZ Dec 2 '20 at 22:00
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    @VLAZ Plausible deniability ;-) – TylerH Dec 2 '20 at 22:51
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    @MartinSchröder At this point, I can't say that I know of any, specifically. It wouldn't surprise me if there's a couple but I don't know of any off hand. – Catija Dec 3 '20 at 5:12
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    I just wanted to leave a comment to thank you, @Catija, for opening up questions on this policy. I know nothing will really change as a result, but I really do feel better about having a place to talk about it. This can't be easy for you, but I want you to know you (and the other CMs) are doing an excellent job. Thank you! – Jon Ericson Dec 3 '20 at 18:51
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    Get better lawyers, ones that can make Stack Exchange a community, not just a profit making company. – Andrew Grimm Dec 4 '20 at 20:44
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    @AndrewGrimm Legal counsel will never make SE more or less a community. That's up to the owners and their instructions to the CM team on how to run the network. – TylerH Dec 7 '20 at 14:38
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    There's a lot of, "I'm not a lawyer, now here's why your lawyers are wrong" happening below. – BSMP Dec 7 '20 at 20:38

14 Answers 14

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I don't have a question; I can read between the lines and see what likely motivated this change; given what I know, I cannot rightly even be surprised.

Just sad. Deeply, deeply sad.

So I'll leave you with the words of one of my favorite SE people, Grace Note, from a happier, more hopeful time:

There are only two ways to be a moderator - you have to be handpicked by the Team, or you have to be elected by the community. This isn't a job that just anyone can get - people get this job through the merits of their contributions and activity on the site. We've both appointed and elected young moderators across the entire network, and they've proven to be as responsible and capable as the adult moderators, sometimes even shining above their older compatriots on the same sites. So, no, I don't think we should implement an age requirement, because we'd lose a number of very good moderators for reasons completely unrelated to their own ability to help us succeed as a network.

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    "And they've proven to be as responsible and capable as the adult mods, sometimes even shining above their older compatriots" - that is something I've been looking for, and it's sealed the envelope containing my own two cents, which will hopefully arrive in the form of an answer. Thanks, Shog9. – Ollie Dec 2 '20 at 23:19
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    Just sad. Deeply, deeply sad. That's me. – Ann Zen of Python Dec 3 '20 at 0:16
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    You echo my own thoughts on this policy. When first described, I said something along the lines: "...some of our all-time best mods, and some of my favorite human beings, were under 18 at the time of election". On the other hand, I also said that I think the policy is a reasonable one on its face, and, while sad in some ways, it's difficult to argue with its legal merits. There is also the reality that, at least on a site as large as Stack Overflow, an unfortunate amount of the content that moderators are exposed to is probably not something you want children exposed to. Or anyone, really. – Cody Gray Dec 3 '20 at 6:53
  • @CodyGray I must say that if that reality reasoning had been the driver for this change I wouldn't have written my own answer. – rene Dec 3 '20 at 8:14
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    The exposure of mods - and reviewers - to unsavory content is another sword hanging by a thread, @Cody. I doubt most folks in the company have any real idea of what that can involve at the extremes, and dare not guess at what will happen when they find out. – Shog9 Dec 3 '20 at 15:26
  • Actually, I don't know about that. Y'all have already provided 11 excellent answers that say most/all of what I would, and know a bit more than I do, so I'll sit back this time. – Ollie Dec 3 '20 at 22:19
  • @CodyGray There is also the reality that, at least on a site as large as Stack Overflow, an unfortunate amount of the content that moderators are exposed to is probably not something you want children exposed to — do you really think that 17 years old is so different from 18 years old for example? – Victor VosMottor Dec 5 '20 at 19:09
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    The issue there again is that in most of the US, 18 is a "safer" age from a legal perspective for exposing people to certain forms of content, @victor. Never mind that any such material on SO stands a better chance of being seen (and removed) by random users, nevermind the naivete of thinking 17 year olds aren't running into this stuff on a thousand other sites, nevermind the fact that 18 doesn't somehow magically make folks immune to psychological trauma... It is safer from a liability standpoint. – Shog9 Dec 5 '20 at 20:15
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Stack Exchange Inc. is managing legal risk. And we, as a community, should be worried as there are obviously forces within the management team that believe this risk exists and believe this risk needs to be mitigated with more legal stuff.

The management has made the wrong choice by giving these "contracts" in the hands of the legal department and legal advisors. The management made the wrong choice by pushing forward when they were briefed about the proposed changes.

I believe these changes are only in the benefit of the legal department, the management and future investors because now this risk is mitigated. Up to the next risk. More contracts, more rules!

Why can't the management be brave and ask the legal experts to come up with a solution that doesn't make contracts legally binding, that doesn't add more legal blah-blah on the burden of your community of volunteers. Yes, that is complex, hard, risky, maybe impossible, certainly unheard of but hey, you're the professionals: fix it.

I want to remind Stack Exchange that I'm not an employee. I'm not on your payroll. Yet it feels like you treat me as if I am. I don't like being considered a legal risk, not by SEI, not by the lawyers SEI hires or by their venture capitalists. To me it looks like SE has only done itself a favor.

I'm not sure you can keep pushing that legal stuff on me forever. I'm afraid this won't be the last legally motivated change the volunteers here are going to see.

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    "Why can't the management be brave and ask the legal experts to come up with a solution that doesn't make contracts legally binding": what would be the point of having the contract in the first place then? I mean, I would love to go back to the days when SE was a plucky little startup and we all knew most of the people who worked there and everything was done with handshake agreements. But we're long past that. Frankly, right now, if SE wants me to sign something (as a mod) I want it to be legally binding. I certainly wouldn't trust the company just because they said so. – terdon Dec 3 '20 at 12:08
  • This answer doesn't make sense to me. This is clearly a change that the company had to make to comply with the law after leadership realized it was non-compliant/relying on unenforceable (extralegal) contracts. The change doesn't affect or address users of the site at all. – TylerH Dec 7 '20 at 14:41
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    @TylerH: SE, Inc. is currently receiving a significant amount of entirely unpaid labor from its moderators. It is not unreasonable to periodically reevaluate whether that arrangement is equitable, particularly when SE, Inc. makes substantial, unilateral changes to it. – Kevin Dec 7 '20 at 22:55
  • @Kevin It's not "unpaid labor", it's volunteer work. Moderators are neither employees nor contractors. – TylerH Dec 8 '20 at 0:26
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    @TylerH: Labels are irrelevant. Real, significant work is being done, and it is not being paid for. If SE, Inc. wants to treat its relationship with the community as purely transactional, then so will I. – Kevin Dec 8 '20 at 0:27
  • @Kevin Speaking of irrelevant, what does your view on moderators' work have to do with my comment? Rene is not a moderator anywhere, yet his post makes it seem like this change is directly targeted at users like him. Further, it decries a very common, very boring, very regular aspect of running any business: not entering into unenforceable contracts. Moderators theoretically wanting to... not participate in a company's service when that company has realized it's relying on legally unenforceable agreements & seeks to rectify that is... fine, I guess, but quite a weird flex, as the kids say. – TylerH Dec 8 '20 at 0:33
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    @TylerH: You said "This answer doesn't make sense to me." Well, it does make sense to me, for the reasons I stated. It is fair to question the current arrangement whenever it significantly changes. – Kevin Dec 8 '20 at 0:40
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Less of a question than just...

I'm disappointed.

You state:

We understand that this is a change some may be disappointed by and that it may seem to indicate that we don't believe that younger members of our communities can be great moderators - over the years we have known many mods who started out under 18 and were excellent and active moderators. Nothing has changed in that regard - but for the legal reasons outlined in the policy, we can not give them a diamond and access to user PII.

That's a heck of an understatement. Some of the most active and influential moderators on the network started under 18; off the top of my head, there's Doorknob and HDE 226868, as well as Undo, heather, and ArtOfCode, all three of whom are on the moderator council.
(And myself, having become a mod at age 14.)

You're cutting yourselves off from a group of people who have proven themselves to be only an asset and well-liked by the community. I understand that this is for legal reasons, but, for instance, having a parent sign an agreement should be an option.

This is extremely disappointing.

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    I think that there was a concern raised that this may give parents access to the same PII (whether or not it would, I don't know), but if that's the case that's a clear violation of the trust given to PII. – Sonic the Anonymous Hedgehog Dec 2 '20 at 20:23
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    ... I know. The people in that list are the people I mean when I made that statement. I understand what you're saying and - please trust me - that is absolutely something that went into this discussion. But the end result was that this policy had to be created. I can't see the future - perhaps at some point there will be dozens of CMs and other Community Team people who can effectively handle exceptions like this and for underage users... but there's just not that. We don't have any way to confirm any of that without taking in too much PII that we just don't want/need. – Catija Dec 2 '20 at 20:27
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    Having been a member of the club, my suggestion to those in the future: I am a normal human typing with my human hands. – hichris123 Dec 2 '20 at 20:34
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    It's pretty ironic that the members of the moderator council, handpicked by staff but elected by SE moderators, would technically be considered outlaws if they failed to report their real ages when they stood for election. Saying that, how many users were aware of your real age when you were elected? Was it an issue? – Mari-Lou A Dec 2 '20 at 20:46
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    @Mari-LouA I'm not quite sure why you're perpetuating this idea that the council members were "hand picked". We did nothing of the sort. We didn't tell people they had to run or put anyone in the position who didn't run in the election. The council is exactly who the moderators voted for. – Catija Dec 2 '20 at 20:48
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    @Mari-LouA Stack Overflow moderators BoltClock and Ryan (then minitech) were public about being under 18 back when they nominated in elections; they were subsequently voted in. – Sonic the Anonymous Hedgehog Dec 2 '20 at 20:54
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    @Catija I am suggesting that staff must have been aware of the history of these moderators when they were nominated for the moderator council. And why is Mithical disappointed, did they not know about the final decision? This is all quite muddling for me. – Mari-Lou A Dec 2 '20 at 20:54
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    @Mari-LouA This is the first public announcement of the change - while Mithical was a moderator in the past, they no longer are, so they would not have been privy to the policy coming out. But the staff didn't do anything to prevent or encourage Council members - there just happened to be a large number of nominees who became mods when under 18 and are now older... but I'm not really sure how their age several years ago matters now. – Catija Dec 2 '20 at 20:57
  • @Catija Thank you for clarifying, now I understand why Mithical was in the dark about this development. – Mari-Lou A Dec 2 '20 at 20:59
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    Are any of the moderators you listed in your answer currently under 18? AFAIK they are not, and thus there is no "cutting yourselves off from" them. – TylerH Dec 2 '20 at 22:52
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    I mostly agree that if someone could get elected, his/her age should be no concern. But: 18- people are very problematic, because here is a legal minefield, too. Agreements made by 18- people are problematic in most jurisdictions. Afaik modship works like volunteer work done for the USA company, but also employing 18- is problematic (for example, what if it requires a written approval of the parents? What if the parents say that their child was emotionally insulted while moderating?). If I would be the SE, I would allow it, but not they created this minefield. – peterh Dec 3 '20 at 2:54
  • Cool! What site did you moderate? – Ann Zen of Python Dec 3 '20 at 19:34
  • @AnnZen They moderated Literature. They also used their chat moderator privileges given to them quite heavily, to moderate chat rooms on many other sites (being a mod on one site gives out chat mod privileges on every site except SO and Meta.SE). – Sonic the Anonymous Hedgehog Dec 3 '20 at 20:15
  • @hichris123: Elaborated – P.Mort. - forgot Clay Shirky_q Dec 4 '20 at 6:36
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When I was a community manager, I personally selected moderators I knew (or strongly suspected) were high school students. It invariably made me uncomfortable for a variety of reasons. But in the end, I felt it was my duty to select people who would best serve their communities as moderators. If that person turned out to be a little younger than I preferred, it was my duty to get over my prejudice and do what was right for each site's community.

I understand the policy is due to age of majority laws. That makes a certain deal of sense because you don't want one party of an agreement to be too young to legally be bound by it. (Of course that doesn't take care of the other side of the agreement.1) And since the moderator agreement is now a legal contract, they now have legal obligations to Stack Exchange, Inc.

This is a change in culture from when Aarthi said:

Understand that moderation creates its own culture, and this is (in part) . However, also remember that moderators enforce community norms and are, themselves, people who love the site just as much as you or I. It's not your site any more than it is theirs.

In my opinion, the moderator agreement was primarily a tool to protect users. One of the most common reasons (in 2015) for removing active moderators was because they used their position to harm other people on the site. Most often the violation was revealing personal information to the public. Now that also created a legal liability for the company, but the harm to other people in the community was the primary (in my case, only) reason for removing an active moderator.

Which brings me to my concerns about young moderators: I worry that it's harmful to their development as people to have that sort of responsibility. In this, I believe I am wrong. The moderators who I worried were too young have become exceptionally mature. It turns out the sort of people who care deeply about other people enough to step up as moderators can handle that responsibility.2

As with the pronoun affair, I think this shows the company has a fundamental misunderstanding of the community. And when I say "the company" I think I now mean a relatively small subset of employees who haven't taken the time to understand what makes this group of people (and especially those willing to nominate themselves as moderators) so incredibly special.

Now there are other ways to handle minors signing contracts. For instance, you can have them get parental permission. But that's extra work for a company and I can understand why they wouldn't bother. Easier to just exclude people. Only I'm not sure it will. Don't tell anyone, but I found out years ago that children lie about their ages on websites. If they tell the truth, they have learned the site, app or service will be limited. So if there's a checkbox to say you have to be 18, they will check it without thought.

And here's the problem with that: moderation is personal. I don't mean "personal" in the sense of acting on grievances. I mean it takes the whole person to moderate well. Good moderators need to be honest to themselves and others. So starting the relationship off with a lie (even an inconsequential lie about your age) sets up a dangerous pattern. We (the communities of Stack Exchange/Stack Overflow) want our moderators to be open with us. But the checkbox means they can't share their struggles that, say, their parents have unhealthy expectations on where they should go for college.

Look, this is probably a non-event. Most moderators and potential moderators are not in the excluded group. And the few who are will probably be fine carrying on a mild deception. It's just . . . I don't know . . . another thing that I feel has been lost. Stack Overflow is still Stack Overflow when the teen mods are removed. But it's not as diverse or interesting a Stack Overflow as the one I joined years ago.


Footnote:

  1. This is a joke, you see. Stack Overflow is 12, so if it were a person, it couldn't even have an account on itself. The company is even younger.

  2. I'm aware there might be survivor bias. People who can't (or have no desire) to handle the responsibility tend to simply step down or step away on their own.

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    SO 2020: Leave footnotes to prevent the jokes from backfiring. – rene Dec 3 '20 at 19:10
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    This is a well-written, thoughtful answer. Thank you. I think you're both right and wrong in your summation - this is unlikely to catalyze any major changes in how the sites function, who uses them, or who benefits... But. It plays into a long string of decisions that combine to erode trust. Does the SO of today need trust? Maybe not. But in actively eschewing trust, it becomes a different place from the foundations up - from a person's first interactions with the site, through their entire experience, the SO of 2030 will be built by folks who do not trust the stewards of this space. – Shog9 Dec 3 '20 at 19:51
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If SE puts the legal concerns in the center here, there is only one conclusion if you continue this line of thought to its conclusion. The major concern is PII, and this is only going to get a more serious issue over time. The current situation, with volunteer mods having access to a lot of PII is simply not very robust against abuse or legal concerns over handling PII.

In the end the moderator agreement is more fiction than a real contract (I'm not a lawyer, so take everything I write now as potentially wrong, misguided or simply hyperbole). SE doesn't actually know the true identity of all mods, the mods are scattered across the globe in various jurisdictions and SE doesn't verify if they are competent to enter contracts. The consequences of violating the moderator agreement extend to the space SE controls, these sites, and no further. And unless a moderator is also violating some major laws in their jurisdiction, the odds that SE would or could enforce any legal claim due to the moderator agreement are vanishingly small.

For every clause except the misuse of PII this is entirely sufficient. The agreement covers how moderators should behave on the sites, and the consequences extend to their privileges on the sites. If you want to be a mod and remain one, you agree to behave in a civilized and decent manner. If you don't do that, you cease being a mod.

Misuse of PII extends to the real world, the consequences no longer confined to our virtual corner here. This is a fundamentally different thing than a moderator misusing their powers here or insulting other users.

If this isn't just some lawyers covering their asses, but a real legal concern I don't think the current actions are enough. You're still granting access to PII to people you don't know, you can't control and probably can't reach if they violate the rules. Thinking this through to the end I don't see any version of this where common moderators still have access to PII. This will always remain a legal risk that is somewhat out of the usual.

The only solution is to create tools that can handle the cases where mods need access to PII without exposing that information to the mods. I know that this is very hard, and takes significant resources. But if SE is actually serious about their legal liability here, I don't see how they have a choice.

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    Wikipedia does the same thing you pointed out in your last paragraph: normal admins only have access to wiki moderation tools, and access to PII requires a separate CheckUser bit that is heavily regulated (requires ID verification). However, they were only able to set it up that way because their architecture was developed specifically to allow for this (having user rights be separate from user groups). SE isn't developed this way (moderator rights are strictly tied to the moderator user group), so they had to go this way. (I know you know this; pointing it out for future readers.) – Sonic the Anonymous Hedgehog Dec 2 '20 at 22:28
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    The tools necessary are a serious undertaking. Discussion regarding them - along with some prototyping and spec work - dates back half a decade; the resources to implement them were not available for the past five years, and likely will not be soon. This is nothing but a fig-leaf, it means nothing in terms of protection for anyone, beyond creating the illusion that such protection might exist. Do not waste your energy in assuming further. – Shog9 Dec 2 '20 at 23:05
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    @Shog9 that is what my "lawyers covering their asses" line is meant to convey. This is one checkbox you can tick off that fulfills a formal requirements, it doesn't improve the situation and in my non-lawyer opinion probably doesn't even decrease liability for SE all that much. – Mad Scientist Dec 2 '20 at 23:09
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    @Shog9 I wonder how technically complicated would be to change UI to show moderators system-generated UIDs instead of user emails and post IPs. How much impact would it make on moderation efficiency. – gnat Dec 3 '20 at 22:51
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    The value of seeing IPs isn't just in being able to match up two users from the same IP, @gnat. It's also in being able to say, "this user connected from Texas Comcast IPs for 5 years, then today from a network in Australia at which point they started trolling." It's realizing that all the spam today is coming from AWS IPs, or a series of proxies associated with a service that was used to spam last week. It's recognizing that two cross-voting accounts are both from Madison, WI networks, one cable one mobile... – Shog9 Dec 3 '20 at 22:55
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    And honestly... IPs are one of the weaker forms of PII involved, because generally you only get personal information from IPs by correlating them with other things - which means a hash or UID is not necessarily any less PII, if it can still be correlated with other things! – Shog9 Dec 3 '20 at 22:57
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    The way to do this isn't to try to replace PII. It's to build tools for the (by now fairly well-understood) moderation tasks that don't need to expose it at all except in exceptional circumstances. BIG risk difference if mods on SO have to look at PII once or twice a day vs. hundreds of times a day. Right now, the tools are crude - barely better than raw log access, and in some cases worse. Stuff takes too much time and effort, is too error-prone, and creates too much risk for abuse. If SO, Inc ever gets serious about this, tool-building is where they'll start @gnat. – Shog9 Dec 3 '20 at 23:00
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    @Shog9 I understand that. My question is, how much of this knowledge diamond mods use directly and how much loss would it be for them to be deprived of being able to immediately use it (with most likely increase of CMs load to handle this part based on mod escalations) – gnat Dec 3 '20 at 23:01
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    That varies quite a bit, @gnat. Most mods on most sites don't use this at all. Many use it only occasionally, when under attack or faced with an unusual problem. Some use it daily, because they're on a site that's always under attack in one sense or another and they've made it their specialty. There's 4 CMs, and I doubt any of them are sitting on their hands; realistically, transferring work from mods -> CMs means work that takes longer or doesn't get done at all. – Shog9 Dec 3 '20 at 23:06
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    @gnat the CM team couldn't handle these issues alone right now, and I don't think they could with the planned expansion either. The amount of issues that require PII access varies a lot across sites. On smaller sites it can be almost irrelevant most of the time, on larger sites it can take a lot of work. Right now, you can't handle vote fraud, sock puppets or persistent trolls without these specific tools that reveal PII. – Mad Scientist Dec 3 '20 at 23:06
  • I see, thanks. This is exactly what I wanted to learn: looks like straightforward simplifying / obscuring of stuff that currently exposes PII would make rather substantial damage to moderation efficiency – gnat Dec 3 '20 at 23:10
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    It would, but I wanna emphasize that's not the only problem, @gnat. When I had access to this stuff, I built tools for identifying connections between accounts based on IPs without ever actually looking at those IPs. Just knowing (roughly!) when someone appeared from a given IP is enough to figure out an awful lot about them, if you have unfettered access to the data. Heck... As you might be aware, others have done a pretty decent job using only public data! It is hard to effectively obfuscate this stuff - arguably the effective utility of it would be entirely destroyed long before then. – Shog9 Dec 3 '20 at 23:13
  • Good point about ability to contract in various jurisdictions. This can get quite complex. I used to know an adult who had major developmental disabilities. He was under guardianship (could not sign a contract without the guardian's permission). He could also barely read anything more than his own name and certainly couldn't be expected to read and understand the terms of service of the websites he visited. Yet, despite all of those things, he loved to go online and watch videos and play games, and nobody seemed to make a big fuss over calling the guardian every time he wanted to click. – Robert Columbia Dec 5 '20 at 21:30
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I can't help but think out loud that this was never a problem until recently.

Sure, you've had the legally binding trap be an issue for going on ten years now because, well, this was never explicitly enforced or expressly communicated.

Put in another way, it wasn't surfaced as a problem or as a prohibition to someone becoming a moderator.

But now, this is a problem. Something happened that is causing either a moderator or Stack Exchange Inc. to pull rank and keep their moderators legally bound.

I get it; I'm a full blown adult and I know that legally binding contracts are important. But it does kinda overshadow the part about good faith and trust, none of which can be held up in a court of law - which is, again, to be expected.

This wasn't a problem until it became a problem. This is causing me to read between the lines.

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    The new moderator agreement no longer allows "private" or "implicit" moderator policies; all mod policies now have to be public and codified. This was identified as one such policy, and as such was made public. Same thing happened with the underage user policy and suicidal user policy. – Sonic the Anonymous Hedgehog Dec 2 '20 at 21:11
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    To which I posit @SonictheK-DayHedgehog: 1) Was the moderator contract a legally binding document, or something lighter like an MoU? 2) If this needed to be called out, why not call it out when rolling out the new moderator agreement? Surely if this is one of those must-haves, then overlooking this is equivalent to forgetting to migrate database schema changes over before running in production. – Makoto Dec 2 '20 at 21:14
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    @SonictheK-DayHedgehog "This was identified as [a 'private' or 'implicit'] policy, and as such was made public." I'm not sure I follow? Until today, Stack Overflow had no policies of any type prohibiting moderators under 18 (as evidenced by the fact that a large number of current and former moderators are or were under 18). This isn't some unspoken rule being "made public", this is policy being changed. – NobodyNada Dec 2 '20 at 21:25
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    @SonictheK-DayHedgehog: Then I'm gonna have to agree with NobodyNada and say that this was an internal assumption that resulted in policy being changed. No one encouraged Stack Exchange Inc. to assume that their mods were all over the age of 18, and if I recall correctly, some of the moderator nominations of some underaged mods explicitly stated their age. This being an "assumption" is starting to feel a bit weaker. – Makoto Dec 2 '20 at 21:30
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    If I had to take a wild guess (with no evidence): the network became much more fearful of legal liability after being faced with a potential lawsuit last year and wants to prevent any investor concern about that. – hichris123 Dec 2 '20 at 21:31
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    Remember that a year or so ago the in-house legal councel of SE was non-existent, to having a full fledged legal counsel today. Having more eyes poking at things makes you find more "problems". – Luuklag Dec 2 '20 at 21:37
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    @Makoto I would subscribe to that view, except that the justification is: "What I heard from our legal team is that they were concerned about young people’s well being, and privacy issues that arise when having mods under 18 because of their inability to sign our agreement. ... It’s not that we are looking to “enforce against” anyone." So my reading between those lines is that there wasn't any triggering event, just the possibility of legal risk. – hichris123 Dec 2 '20 at 21:37
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    @Luuklag: One of the "problems" we've identified is that, even though this legal team is doing well for them from a legal perspective, they are really bleeding the good faith and good will out of the corporate machine. Dunno if that's gonna continue to be worth it long term. – Makoto Dec 2 '20 at 21:38
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    To which I say @hichris123: BS. People under 18 were in no way prevented from signing this agreement. The company i̵s̵ was unable to enforce it as a binding legal contract with people under 18. – Makoto Dec 2 '20 at 21:39
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    @Luuklag: Or SO could benefit from getting their retainer back. These laywers are costing them a fortune, but it's not monetary. – Makoto Dec 2 '20 at 21:46
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    @Makoto this is almost certainly a reaction to a moderator who was under 18 being removed and it causing enough noise to make it up to senior leadership who was blissfully unaware that there were under-18 persons in a loose contract with the company because they never bothered to get that involved with the company they run in the first place (e.g. new C suite, legal). The notion that the CMs weren't aware is of course hard to believe (and I think they all knew, and just assumed their bosses knew, too). – TylerH Dec 2 '20 at 22:56
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    For what it's worth, I'm not aware of any major shakeup in the mod corps that could be related to this; it seemed fairly out of the blue to me when we first found out about it. Which isn't to say that there wasn't an incident - but if it was as big as you're suggesting, I have a feeling it would have been fairly well-known amongst the mods. If anything did happen, it must have been pretty quiet. – HDE 226868 Dec 2 '20 at 23:32
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    Regarding the assumptions that mods were already required to be 18 - it's worth remembering that our system and rules are very complex and something that even experienced users still don't know everything about. While the Community Team knew that we had underage mods, and even the Dev teams - that does not mean that anyone should assume that parts of the company that don't interact with the community would be aware of these policies (or lack of policy). We (the CMs) do what we can to help internal teams understand but there's only so much anyone has time to absorb, so assumptions can happen. – Catija Dec 3 '20 at 5:04
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    From that description @Catija, it sounds like a team with... "higher authority" isn't quite the phrase I want, but we'll roll with it...but that team made a decision either without the same domain experts involved in the CM team that told them about this. If they were in the same room when the decision was made, then the concern was exposed, considered and ultimately deemed not to be a big deal. But I can't assume things about internals or what kinds of decisions are being made. – Makoto Dec 3 '20 at 16:33
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    @Makoto: IMHO the past several years have very clearly demonstrated that the CMs are not considered domain experts within the company, and do not have any real ability to shape internal policies. Monicagate is the most blatant example, but this sort of thing has been going on, continuously, for a very long time. SE, Inc. has a purely transactional relationship with the community, and the sooner we all accept that reality, the better. – Kevin Dec 7 '20 at 23:31
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This sucks. We have had numerous moderators under the technical age of 18 that have far exceeded the typical maturity of those before 18. Certainly of my own at that age. These are people who I admired for their eloquence and judgment before having any idea of their age, and this humbles me.

I also understand it. We're asking moderators to sign a contract not just for the benefit of Stack Exchange, but also on behalf of all of the people that visit the site. I don't usually read the Terms of Service on sites I visit casually but I would be surprised if I went to a site that did not protect my personal information at least by limiting the access to it by people <18.

I trust the select few moderators of a young age that have done their jobs well here. I also understand the change in policy. I hope the people affected still find a home here and continue to improve our community.

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    Indeed, this is almost certainly a problem of one rotten apple spoiling the bunch. – TylerH Dec 2 '20 at 22:59
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    @TylerH I disagree. I don't think any apples were shown rotten for this decision. – Bryan Krause Dec 2 '20 at 23:02
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    @BryanKrause There was an underage moderator who was removed a few months ago, for reasons entirely unrelated to any age policy. I suspect this is what TylerH is alluding to, although it's pure speculation that that had anything to do with the new policy. – Rand al'Thor Dec 3 '20 at 14:39
  • @Randal'Thor Yeah I'd rather not make this about that case, and asked a previous commenter to remove mention of the same. As you say, it's entirely unrelated to this policy. – Bryan Krause Dec 3 '20 at 15:37
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I understand the policy and I know what I say will not satisfy the lawyers you have, but anyway:

As a common sense approach, I think it would be totally fine to require all future moderators to be 18+. Current moderators already have access to PII and have already proven that they won't misuse it. Temporarily removing their diamond until they are 18+ does not provide any value.

That said (and I can feel the lawyers rolling their eyes over my next sentence), the PII the mods have access to is not really the kind of PII I'm losing sleep over. Someone could read my email address? Well... I hate to break it to you, but it's not a secret and even random bots found them half a decade ago.

So yeah... I understand the laws behind it, I understand the lawyers and from that point of view it's absolutely right... but it still sucks to do stuff you don't believe in to make some paper pusher happy.

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    There's the issue of minors being unable to enter legally binding contracts, including the moderator agreement. – Sonic the Anonymous Hedgehog Dec 2 '20 at 20:41
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    @SonictheK-DayHedgehog allow them access to some moderator tools even if they can't sign the agreement? – John Dvorak Dec 2 '20 at 20:44
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    @JohnDvorak The agreement also has clauses covering use of moderator tools, not just those related to PII access. – Sonic the Anonymous Hedgehog Dec 2 '20 at 20:45
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    @JohnDvorak We don't have a way to do that without making a big change to the way we indicate moderators. Right now, you're either a mod or you're not. Creating a new mod type would mean creating a new user type and then going through every tool that mods have and turning it on or off. While that's likely doable there are so many things that we can change about our system that I feel would be more impactful. I wish we had infinite resources to do this but, we just don't, so we have to pick and choose. – Catija Dec 2 '20 at 20:46
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    @SonictheK-DayHedgehog I understand that from a legal perspective, but in all reality, how binding is an internet page that a 19 year old Italian/Korean/Argentinian person clicked on to agree to become a moderator? What legal power do you expect to have over them? – nvoigt Dec 2 '20 at 20:46
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    @Catija I would think of a far simpler method. Each act of accessing PII must be logged. Hence you can easily see, maybe even be notified, when a <18 mod access that. Saying that PII exists outside of the "secured" db, in TL, worries me, as that can't be right. Therefore should not be an argument as for not allowing underaged mods. – Luuklag Dec 2 '20 at 22:04
  • @Luuklag I believe each access of PII must be logged already by law in some cases (GDPR?) – TylerH Dec 2 '20 at 23:00
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    Everything is logged. Whether or not anyone checks the logs is less certain. I'm sure money spent on lawyers instead of folks to watch the logs is practically just as good of course. – Shog9 Dec 2 '20 at 23:02
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    @Shog9 if we are all about trust, as this message indicates, we could go with my "solution", perhaps even spend some dev time on making a notification email for whenever moderators X,Y or Z access the logs. One time investment that probably is cheaper the one month of lawyer wages. – Luuklag Dec 3 '20 at 5:31
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So after sleeping on it, and listening to what Cat and Yaakov and everyone else has been saying, I was able to gather my thoughts a little more. (Originally posted in Discord.)


It's kinda funny. To anyone outside of the community (and some within), this seems like perfect sense and shouldn't be a big deal. Why would you trust kids to be moderators and be able to delete people's accounts? It's only when you take into account the long history of under-18s being excellent mods on SE that it becomes clear why people are so upset about such a seemingly unimportant (and logical) thing.

If you say the community can elect their own mods, then the mods elected by the community should be able to be mods. If the legal age to be a user is 13, and any member of the community in good standing can stand for mod, then that should include 13-year-olds in good standing - and has, multiple times, in the past. And look where that got us: A significant section of the mod council, arguably the most influential position a non-staff-member can have on the network.

There has literally never been a PII issue with an under-18 mod; only with adult mods. The mod agreement was never really a legal agreement in the past, and so legal ability to agree to a contract was kinda irrelevant - and even now, it's not like you're collecting info and having mods actually sign a contract in writing. You have no idea who IRL the vast majority of your mods are, which means you can't really litigate against them in court. It seems pointless to be worried about the legal validity of the "contract" in that case because nobody really has legal recourse if that contract is broken.

So when you're saying that under-18s can no longer be mods - despite all the well-liked and respected mods who were elected while under 18 - because legally they can't agree to a contract that doesn't seem to serve any legal purpose, that's what feels like a slap in the face to those of us who spent our teen years moderating and dedicating valuable time and effort to SE.

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    From what I understand, the legal aspect is Stack Exchange needing to not allow minors to access PII, not what said minors will do with the PII. – Snow Dec 3 '20 at 10:17
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I'm aware of the answer, but I feel that this is worth pointing out explicitly, as this may be a point of confusion for others:

Why not give under-18 moderators access to most of the site's moderator tools, but prevent them from accessing PII?

Based on the phrasing of this post and the part quoted from Sara in the official policy post, it seems that the primary concern for disallowing minors from becoming moderators is the access to personally identifiable information that they receive as part of their moderator rights.

If that's the case, why not allow under-18 users to serve as moderators and give them most of the tools (including, e.g. binding close/delete voting rights), while preventing them from accessing user PII?

The answer: 1. the fact that minors can't legally enter binding contracts including the moderator agreement, 2. that PII may be in other places in moderator space (e.g. the TL, the Team, etc.), and 3. this would be difficult to implement technically. It would be nice if this can be explained in more detail for others to understand.

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    Putting aside the rightness or wrongness of this decision, your "compromise" policy is, frankly, a terrible one. We simply don't need "half-moderators". If you don't qualify to be a full moderator, then you can't be one. Let someone else have the job. There are plenty of ways to contribute to the site without a diamond, as you well know, having made excellent use of your non-diamond privileges. – Cody Gray Dec 3 '20 at 6:57
  • @CodyGray I agree with that stance. None of the arguments here mentioned normal high-rep users who were under 18 and helping to keep the site in shape. However, I didn't include this opinion in my answer as I wanted it to be neutral. – Sonic the Anonymous Hedgehog Dec 3 '20 at 7:25
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Good grief, you'd think moderators were on the payroll or rewarded with merchandise. You'd think that Stack Exchange was the one doing them a favour.

They're not.

But here's the rub, these minors were elected by the community, made up of adults, senior users and veterans alike. Removing any mod who was (1) legally elected at the time, who did not commit any wrongdoing, who respected all the rules when they were appointed as a moderator is WRONG.

Forced removal will always be wrong, regardless of someone's age, sex, gender, religious or political belief. Once someone has been elected, it's too late to go back and tell the underaged freely-elected moderator "Erm... sorry. After moderating your site for 22 months with no complaints by anyone, you have to be demodded because you are seven months (or 1 year) shy of being 18.”

This is patently stupid.

1. The term "legal" was inappropriate. I obviously meant any elected candidate who followed the correct electoral procedure.

Further thoughts

It seems that no one can state confidently if there are any moderators, who have signed the new moderator agreement, but lied about their ages. However, seeing as the age limit was not included in the new moderator contract, and as of today (Dec 07, 2020) there's still no sign of it, no breach occurred.

The legal shortcoming lies squarely with SE. If, as the community manager is at pains to point out, this is indeed a forward-facing concern, why remove any under-18 year old who was elected months or even years ago? And especially if they signed the updated moderator agreement. These minors have already had access to sensitive information: what has been viewed and done, cannot be unseen nor undone. To expect someone to voluntarily resign when they have not committed any mistake or wrong-doing at the time they signed the agreement, is, very naive.

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    ... Um... mods aren't "legally" elected, they're elected based on the rules at the time. This isn't some sort of governmental election. Moderators under 18 can not legally be held to the moderator agreement, which means that SE/SO is legally at risk of breaking the laws of PII access compliance by granting access to people who can not be legally held to protect that information. No wrongdoing is necessary. I understand it's not fair and it's frustrating but you making this about some form of ageism is completely inaccurate. – Catija Dec 5 '20 at 19:50
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    @Catija was the company at risk of breaking the law before December 2020? Or is it only recently? Is having to remove an underaged moderator, elected months or years ago by their community, against any contract or ethics? Is it written in the contract that was agreed by both parties that moderators must be at least 18 years old? – Mari-Lou A Dec 5 '20 at 20:56
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    As I stated elsewhere - parts of the company were unaware that we allowed minors to be moderators, so there was an assumption that we had a policy when we did not. In response to that discovery, we acted to rectify that situation - but we did so in a measured way; building in support features, discussing it with the existing moderators and rolling it out in public after several months of work, not mere days. Legally, underage people can not be held to contracts, so they should not have been allowed to accept them in the first place but there's no way to "grandfather" people in this case. – Catija Dec 5 '20 at 21:09
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    In other words, until recently there was no official policy, but many staffers already knew and were comfortable with the fact that an undisclosed number of established moderators were minors. Then why penalise communities and any (if there are still any) minors who have proven to be valid contributors and moderators when the fault, and the omission, clearly lies with the company? – Mari-Lou A Dec 5 '20 at 21:32
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    @Catija Furthermore, the damage has been done. There have been minors who had access to PII. Is the company liable for something that they did not know, for something that happened four, five or ten years ago? Can they be sued? And whose fault is it? The users who ultimately lied about their age? Or that there was no age limit to nominating oneself to moderate a community? – Mari-Lou A Dec 5 '20 at 21:32
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    The staffers who knew were not aware of the legal concerns of this oversight. I'm not really sure why you're concerned about what happened in the past - there is zero concern about what happened in the past, as I go to great effort to say. This is explicitly and strictly a forward-facing concern and about preventing future issues. – Catija Dec 5 '20 at 21:34
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    You're going to have to update the moderator agreement. You claim it's unnecessary, and I am not a lawyer, but adding a new clause, however small, is updating a contract (as I understand it). – Mari-Lou A Dec 7 '20 at 14:08
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    We aren't adding a clause to the contract. The contract is unchanged. What we added was a checkbox where they confirm that they are 18 or older. Nothing about the moderator agreement itself requires that a moderator be 18 or older, we're just using that page for mods to confirm that they are - and going forward they already will have when they nominated themselves. – Catija Dec 7 '20 at 14:53
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    A checkbox, which has to be checked, stating the signee is at least 18 years old is, to a layperson, a clause. There is probably a proper legal term for a checkbox added after the first agreement was signed, but I don't know what it is. – Mari-Lou A Dec 7 '20 at 14:58
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    You seem to be under the impression that we didn't talk to our lawyers about this - we did. They explicitly said that this is not a change to the mod agreement and does not require mods to accept it again. If you have an issue with it, feel free to reach out to them but, by your own admission, you are not a lawyer - so please accept that you are wrong. – Catija Dec 7 '20 at 15:02
  • Probably more helpful to think of the mod agreement as more like a EULA than a contract, Mari-Lou: moderator access to the software is gated based on their acceptance of the agreement, just as you might find with Microsoft Word or Google Cloud Console. And just as with many EULAs, the company reserves the right to change the terms at any time within the agreement itself; if a moderator doesn't like the new terms, they're free to give up the software. Does that make it right? No, EULAs are notoriously one-sided. But they are a pervasive fixture of our society none the less. – Shog9 Dec 7 '20 at 15:51
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    Here's the thing, @Cat: there are no lawyers in this discussion. You're doing your best to relay information, just like Tim did for two years with the licensing stuff, but at the end of the day no one's words here carry any more weight on legal matters than anyone else's. The lawyers aren't gonna get involved, and none of this matters except in terms of how folks see the company's actions - IOW, it's a social problem. Folks' senses of fairness and propriety don't generally hinge on whether something is legal; that's the tail, not the dog. – Shog9 Dec 7 '20 at 15:59
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I don't like this decision

I don't agree with this decision — it will reduce the number of good moderators. I'm not very acknowledged at law, I want to answer about the communities — the people.

This idea will only reduce the number of (ok, pontentially) good moderators on SE. It is harmful and destructive for communities because moderators do one of the most important work — they keep the community free of spam, trolling, unacceptable content and make us feel safe. They are not like government of a community, they just protect StackExchange. The more moderators — the better, we need their help but they are just volunteers, they work in their free time.

What does this mean for existing mods?

Once this policy is live, moderators will see a banner on the site. If they're 18 or older, they can just dismiss the banner and that's all they need to do.

Any moderator who is currently under 18 years of age should email the Community Management team. We'll reach out to them to begin the process of removing their diamond. As mentioned in the policy post, if they're currently under 18, they still have the opportunity to return to moderation once they reach 18 through a simplified moderator reinstatement process.

People invested their time in SE, they spent their time and now they are kicked out from moderation because they are just under 18.

Is this a change to the Moderator Agreement?

This is a new policy but we do not consider it a change to the Moderator Agreement itself, even though we will add the checkbox to affirm that you're 18+ to the Agreement page. As such, we will not be moving to V3 of the Moderator Agreement due to this change.

The checkbox means nothing. Even 3 years old child can tick it. But I'm sure worthy moderators (under 18) will leave. Sigh.

Nothing has changed in that regard - but for the legal reasons outlined in the policy, we can not give them a diamond and access to user PII.

You contradict yourself. If nothing really changed then let him continue being mods.

Strongly agree with @Shog9 but I don't even doubt, you are not going to listen to the community. I feel sorry for it

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It's been mentioned that the real reason for this change is the inability of minors to sign binding contracts in some jurisdictions. I've always thought that to be a curious law, and I looked into it a while back.

The inability to hold minors to contracts has nothing to do with preventing them from being held accountable for misbehavior or harm, but is about protecting them from con artists.

The legal principle is based around protecting minors from fast-talking entrepeneurs who would take advantage of their naivete to get them to sign grossly unfair contracts. See, for example, this article, where it is even mentioned that the ability of a minor to avoid a contract is far from absolute. Children's literature is full of examples of such imbalanced contracts, as a warning about the real world.

Stack Exchange is not a con artist looking to convince ignorant children that they can make a lot of money by trading their bicycle away for "rare" baseball cards or a shot at being a movie star.

The fact that a minor didn't "legally" sign a contract does not shield them from the consequences of their misbehavior.

We all remember being children, and all the rules we had to follow. There were rules at home, rules at school, and rules out in the community. We all had to obey them. We could get banned from the mall for violating the "no skateboarding" rule or for using the food court for our birthday parties without asking permission of mall management. We had to get out of the pool during "adult swim" times or face the wrath of the lifeguard. We could get assigned "detention" at school for talking out of turn or for chewing gum in class. For more extreme misbehavior, a minor can be referred to the juvenile justice system ("juvie"), or even sued! One can even use the proverbial birch switch (in certain jurisdictions, check local law).

If a minor can't contract, what can we do with them?

I can't recall a single case in which the existence of a legally-valid contract between Stack Exchange and a user has mattered one bit. Stack Exchange owns the servers that run its software and can take action against misbehaving moderators in the same way that a mall can ban unruly children (or adults, for that matter).

Suppose the feared scenario happens. A kid brings a flash drive filled with Personally Identifying Information (PII) to school and trades it away for bubblegum, pogs, Pokemon, or whatever it is kids are into nowadays. Punish them!

  • Take away their moderator diamond.
  • Ban them from the site, or even the entire network.
  • Call their parents and suggest that the kid be placed on restricted privileges (e.g. no Internet) for a suitably long time.
  • Call local police and file a report, requesting that they book the kid on Juvenile Delinquency charges.

What does disaffirming a contract actually mean?

Note the following quote from the HG.org page referenced above:

If a minor voids the contract, he or she must disaffirm the entire contract. The minor cannot pick and choose the provisions of the contract that he or she likes or finds favorable. Additionally, the minor may be required to pay restitution....

What this means is that the terms and conditions of using Stack Exchange are not separable. If a minor wants to "disaffirm" a part of the moderator agreement that they don't like (e.g. the part about not disclosing PII), then they must at a minimum disaffirm the entire moderator agreement, or possibly even the entire Terms of Service of the Stack Exchange network. In the first case, problem solved, the minor can no longer exercise the power of a moderator once they have disaffirmed the entire moderator agreement. The same rule applies to adults - if they state that they no longer intend to follow the agreement, they lose access to user PII and moderator tools. In the second case (the minor has disaffirmed both the Moderator Agreement and the general Terms of Service), the situation is even better - the minor has given themselves a network-wide ban since one can't use the site without agreeing to the Terms of Service.

In response to Catija's comment, I'm not basing this argument on wording or definitions. I'm making a frame challenge, asking why Stack Exchange needs a "legal contract" when so many businesses get along just fine with child patrons. Kids don't have to sign a contract to plug their quarters into arcade games at the mall, to use the playground at the local park, or to order a double chocolate float from their neighborhood ice cream parlor. If a child abuses their opportunities (e.g. uses slugs in the arcade games, spraypaints the playground with graffiti, or spits in the face of the ice cream vendor), they can, and ought to, face appropriate penalties. Penalties can range from a warning, to a ban, all the way to formal placement in a youth behavior modification facility. The presence or lack of a contract has nothing to do with that.

In further response to Catija's comment, I do not believe that Stack Exchange has a hidden motive here. I'm instead arguing that the motive is misguided and suggesting a frame challenge.

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  • I'm confused by you saying "real" in quotes... it's... literally in the first full paragraph of the policy. "Because the Moderator Agreement is considered a legal contract and minors can not legally be held by the agreement, we need to set this policy in place." – Catija Dec 5 '20 at 20:25
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    @Catija you can edit if you wish. My point is to question why a "legal contract" is necessary, when there are plenty of tools already in place to reign in naughty little children who break the rules. – Robert Columbia Dec 5 '20 at 20:27
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    Your answer is written in bad faith and sets the entire discussion on a negative footing... and then you end with a taunt about who runs the company - which is rude and inappropriate. Me editing your post to remove this would only make people angry that I was "censoring" you, so, no - I'm not going to remove it. But I would like you to consider how what you say is being received and the fact that you're implying that there's some hidden motive - that is in no way hidden. – Catija Dec 5 '20 at 20:32
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    @Catija it's' not intended as a taunt, but I'll remove it if you wish. – Robert Columbia Dec 5 '20 at 20:39
  • @Catija I removed the scare quotes. I think you are right that they can be taken as implying a hidden motive. I don't think there is a hidden motive here, just the wrong motive (that I'm subjecting to a respectful frame challenge). I'll leave it at that. Please feel free to edit out anything else you feel is not appropriate. – Robert Columbia Dec 5 '20 at 20:44
  • Moderators are not "patrons"! This has nothing to do with users, only with moderators. Patrons do not have access to users' personally identifiable information like their email address, real name, (and in context) IP address. This information is closely guarded and protection of it is required by laws around the world, most notably, GDPR. Granting access to persons who can void the contract at any time is a very risky thing, since SE/SO becomes liable for any damage done since we chose to sign a contract with a minor. – Catija Dec 5 '20 at 21:15
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    @Catija if moderators are not patrons, then how would you describe their relationship with the company? The moderator agreement explicitly specifies that they are neither employees nor agents. – Robert Columbia Dec 5 '20 at 21:17
  • I think the semantics of it are somewhat of a distraction - but when someone says "patron" I think a simple user who has no special access to information - while part of their access is at the patron-level, it often is much higher above that. They are volunteer moderators - that's their status. A child at an arcade does not have that special access, nor do any of the other examples you give. – Catija Dec 5 '20 at 21:19
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    FWIW, I think it should be obvious that the moderator agreement does nothing to stop moderators from abusing PII, regardless of the age of the moderator. I mean... How could it? The effective protection comes from the company itself, which is responsible for collecting and gating access to this information; the effective purpose of the agreement is to hold them accountable for the actions of moderators, or perhaps more precisely for promptly removing access to this information from anyone who abuses it. – Shog9 Dec 5 '20 at 22:38
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In the USA for example, one has to be (in most states):

I fully appreciate the sentiment of many people here including Shog9's and the eloquent passage by Grace Note that Shog9 thankfully re-posted and that I enjoyed reading. Just as a mature 34-year-old would ideally be allowed to run for President, or an excellent driver at age 15 would ideally be allowed to drive a car, ideally mods would be chosen based on their abilities rather than anything else.

Mithical and others were exceptionally mature at age 14, but I don't in general want 14-year-olds to know my IP address, where I work, which places I'm traveling, where my grandparents might live, etc. In fact I don't I don't want anyone knowing all of that, and neither do you, (but if mods have to have access to PII, I'd rather the mods be allowed to be bound by the moderator contract). It's true that mods have to be elected (though not long ago, many of them were not elected but instead chosen by a very small number of people), but no election process is perfect and thousands of people in this network are not happy with the mods they have (just like millions are not happy with their president or prime minister).

I'm therefore in disagreement with most of you, in that I'm actually in favor of a rule requiring mods to be at least 18, but I want to end by thanking all of our 13-18 year-old mods from over the years, especially those who are being asked to step down right now extra-voluntarily. It's not an easy job at all (at any age).

I think it's also quite noteworthy to highlight how well these 13-18 year olds have done in elections compared to everyone else. Of the 4.66 billion internet users, billions have visited an SE page, over 10 million have registered accounts, but only thousands have run for election, and only hundreds are now moderators (~0.0001% of the SE visitors and ~0.001% of registered users). The vast majority of the 10 million that have registered accounts, are not between 13-18 years old, and 0 of them are between 13-18 forever: So it's quite remarkable that we've had so many of them win elections. Out of the 6 mods/former-mods that Mithical mentioned (including themselves) I think 3 were originally appointed and 3 were elected (please correct me if I'm wrong). While 3 elected mods only constitutes about 1% of the total mods at any given time, the chances of becoming a mod if chosen at random, would be far far far less than 1%.

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  • It is an online community. You can't even check anybody's age here without much effort. And being a mod is not the same as being employed. – Victor VosMottor Dec 8 '20 at 10:19
  • but I don't in general want 14-year-olds to know my IP address — these are double standards. Why do you not want 14 year old to know your IP but want 18 year old to know? – Victor VosMottor Dec 8 '20 at 11:55
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    @Victor didn't I say that I do not want others to know? Also I never said that being a mod has anything to do with being employed. Also what's your point about not being able to check people's age? Mods could be asked to show ID, but SE (so far) has prefers not to do this. – user1271772 Dec 8 '20 at 14:39
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    I do agree that fewer people should have access to PII, but to me age doesn't really play a role here. Twice I've deleted an account on an SE site because I didn't fully trust the newly elected moderator, as far as I know both were adults. – Mad Scientist Dec 9 '20 at 12:21
  • @MadScientist So because you have twice deleted accounts on a site because you didn't trust the mods (who may or may not have been adults), you would trust a 5-year old with knowing which hotel you're staying at when you're traveling? And you'd trust 5-year olds to drive cars on the highway too? – user1271772 Dec 13 '20 at 21:44
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    @user1271772 it just means that age is not the first factor to me to judge the trustworthiness of a moderator. And we're talking 13+ here, as that is the minimum age for an SE user anyway. To me the bigger issue is that there are hundreds of mods, and SE has only minimal control and oversight over them. That just doesn't mix with granting PII access, and the age of the moderators doesn't change anything for me here. – Mad Scientist Dec 13 '20 at 21:52

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