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When a staff member or a mod posts or performs an action on a site (like commenting, reviews, revisions) their status as Staff and/or Mod status is clearly identified using symbols or text set next to the user's display name. Especially on Meta sites, this is extremely important contextual information for other users to reference when viewing content, as Staff and Mod users have a great degree of authority in their actions and nearly everything that they do. This is true when it comes to site policy pronouncements, discussions related to features and bugs, comments, etc.

However, once the user loses their Staff and/or Mod status, there is no way for users to easily tell that previous posts/comments/revisions/etc by that user were done under the authority of their former status. This invariably leads to a lot of confusion for all but the most engaged and senior members of the Community (who know the history of these user changes). (Update 2023-12-27: a long-time former CM deleted their account a few days ago, so now there are hundreds of posts - like this one - that are authored by a deleted user, with no way for people to vet the legitimacy of the author.)

Take my record for example. I was a Staff/Mod across the network for a decade. From the Summer of 2019 through last week I was extremely active on Meta Stack Exchange/Overflow, posting all sorts of content: authoritative questions and answers related to feature announcements, bug fixes, company and community policy, and more. If you view any of these today, they look like they were posted by some random user with no authority to do so. A new user would have no way of easily knowing that they had been posted as staff/mod. The same issue holds true for hundreds of other users who used to have Staff and/or Mod status.

I am requesting a fix for this situation. A marker to be placed by the name of the user who used to have Staff or Mod status, for any action performed while they had that status. It could be something like "Former Staff" or "Former Mod" text next to the username, or some new indicator for this status, with a tooltip that gives more information.

This would show up in any place where the user's display name is shown in the context of an action performed during their period of Staff/Mod status (including things like the timeline and revision histories, mod message history, review history, flag history, and of course, posting and commenting). I would expect this to only be turned on for Meta sites.

Note: I know that it would be nice for these users to list their former status in their user profiles, but this is insufficient for several reasons: (1) the information is not verified or authoritative - anyone can write in this in their profiles; (2) it is not reasonable to expect users to go to the profiles of other users to find this; (3) not everyone will update this info, and we have no reason to expect this to change.

I am deliberately not recommending a "stickier" solution like adding to the post history of the post when it is authored by Staff/Mod users, even though this allows coverage of edge cases like when a former Staff/Mod user deletes their account, or for allowing a user to pick and choose and say "I wrote this as mod" and "I wrote this as community member". For the following reasons:

  1. This only covers the one case of post authorship. Doesn't touch things like comments, revisions, and reviews, which I think are easy to overlook here, but are also an important part of the historical record.
  2. This will be prohibitively expensive to run. Knowing what goes into loading a page like question listings, I know that I would have fought against this solution that would require either new expensive queries (and additional logic) or new expensive joins on almost every single page.
  3. The current solution that I recommended is relatively easy to implement, with very low risk of regression issues and very high confidence in having no noticeable performance impact (these cached lookups are very fast). Thus this has a much higher chance of getting done (compared to something more complicated and fancier). תפסת מרובה לא תפסת - תפסת מועט תפסת.

(To my former colleagues - I think that this can be implemented relatively quickly (think: a few days, conservatively a 5), initializing a global cache of Lookup of userIds with this status that leads to a List of date ranges of service and user status during this time (some users have been Mods during one period and Staff during others, and others have had multiple non-consecutive periods of Mod or Staff service). This list could easily be repopulated using a scheduled daily job querying AccountHistory and UserHistory records. This can then be accessed very quickly when loading display names, and it's ok for it to be refreshed relatively infrequently, as the list will seldom change).

Adding this will help make the site and network more usable for new users who aren't familiar with "who did what in the past" and reduce the feeling of Meta being a club for insiders only. It is important that historical information from former staff/mods be listed as such (especially considering that many of these are still official policy today or canonical posts today and are still referenced as such).

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    Related: We need a "former staff" account flag Dec 12, 2023 at 15:01
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    @Brian61354270 I'd even say duplicate, but prefer to not hammer it. If OP here agree he can insta-close it as well. Dec 12, 2023 at 15:27
  • "This invariably leads to a lot of confusion for all but the most engaged and senior members of the Community (who know the history of these user changes)." Do you have recent examples you would be willing to mention?
    – Mast
    Dec 12, 2023 at 15:27
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    @Mast I think this one can be a good example. Dec 12, 2023 at 15:29
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    I don't think it's a dupe as it expands the request to former mods as well, and gives possible implementation info, all of which is not present on the other request. Dec 12, 2023 at 15:36
  • @YaakovEllis fair. About the answers where it's important to let the reader know you were staff at the time of posting, what you think of adding it with edit, at least until what you ask for here will be implemented? Dec 12, 2023 at 15:38
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    I think that this only has value of it is system provided and automatic. It is not my responsibility to ensure that this context is given for my old posts, it is Stack's. And I don't think a user edit should be evert trusted to provide this context. Dec 12, 2023 at 15:43
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    I put this into status-review. I do think this would be beneficial.
    – Rosie StaffMod
    Dec 12, 2023 at 16:02
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    Speaking of mods, there have been mods who have deleted their accounts after leaving their positions. What's to be shown for these mods? Dec 12, 2023 at 22:58
  • @SonictheAnonymousHedgehog this solution intentionally does not cover the situation of former mods or staff who deleted their accounts. In order to address this, a lot more infrastructure would be needed that would probably make this prohibitively expensive (time-wise) to implement. So deliberately not covering that edge case. Dec 13, 2023 at 7:27
  • I mean... realistically staff should have staff accounts that are separate from their personal accounts for several reasons that are in the best interest of the company. Most notably, retaining control of all the content that the former staff member created as a staff member, but also the issues you present here.
    – Kevin B
    Dec 13, 2023 at 18:01
  • @KevinB The company does retain control over everything that the former staff member created as a staff member. We're never going to run into a situation where SE doesn't employ someone with mod powers.
    – wizzwizz4
    Dec 26, 2023 at 22:37

2 Answers 2

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I'd been thinking about this on the offchance I'd be hired, since I've a fairly large body of posts on moderation topics already. While my proposed solution was to "keep a work account" - I've not gotten an opportunity to have that conversation yet.

I do like Yaakov's view of this though I disagree (VERY respectfully) with his solution. While his solution is simple and elegant I would point out, (ideally) even on meta sites. I feel like having an official/unofficial tag on a post then reflecting that a member of staff or moderator is current or former makes sense, since it allows separation between what I do as a moderator or in the hat (or shoes) of a regular community member.

Considering what I post as on MSE is mostly in the shoes of a regular community member (even through my 2 terms of service as a moderator), yet what I'd post on MSU is mostly as a moderator, I feel this keenly. I also was pushing very heavily for community hires prior to the recent rounds of layoffs, so this would slot into wanting people with feet in both 'formal' work use and being active parts of the community governance apparatus outside their position/role in the company.

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    While I'd agree that it'd be better to let staff/mods choose whether to distinguish their post as "official" (i.e. as staff/mods) on a per-post basis – like what Reddit does – I'm not sure that'd provide a clean solution for existing posts by former mods/staff (many of whom are no longer active on the site). Would/should those posts all be marked as being by former mods/staff by default, or none? In that regard, Yaakov's solution is more straightforward to implement.
    – V2Blast
    Dec 13, 2023 at 0:47
  • Well, I'd say mark by default but have an option to remove it - and give mods the ability to I'd guess. We'd have a bit of a flag queue over that I'd guess as people argue over what needs canonicality but that's a short term issue Dec 13, 2023 at 0:49
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    I posit that it is impossible for a staff member or mod to participates on meta to do so as just a regular member of the community. Their word carries too much with the mod or staff label. Even if they say "I am not speaking as a mod" - their label means that their words are granted much more weight. Dec 13, 2023 at 7:30
  • On the other hand - sometimes you're representing you and not the position or company Dec 13, 2023 at 7:43
  • Also - asking for advice on posting on per site metas would be another example Dec 13, 2023 at 7:45
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I believe this is the wrong approach. Staff members (and definitely elected mods) should be able to contribute to SE both as a regular user without their mod hat on and as a moderator. For example, moderators have long wanted the ability to cast a regular close vote. Marking every contribution of a moderator or SE staff member as "official" seems counter to us just wanting to sometimes be a regular user. For staff members, it is even more complicated because they may be forced to post content that they do not believe in.

I think a better approach would be for staff members to indicate when they are speaking for SE and when they are speaking for themselves. Maybe create a staff wiki type question/answer and post notice for official communications.

In the absence of SE actually doing something, I would suggest you edit your posts to indicate that it does not reflect your personal opinions, where appropriate.

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    one can argue that even when they are speaking for themselves, company employees are bound by company policies and this is different from volunteer users and better be indicated for readers
    – gnat
    Dec 12, 2023 at 22:01
  • @gnat in an answer to a related question catija specifically highlights that even when she was staff, she was willing to share her personal thoughts. SE must have some feelings about this because while they have an IsEmployee flag they do not create employee accounts. I think many of us wish we could go back to the old days where staff actually participated in the communities. To that end, having the default be personal thoughts, would be better than defaulting to official.
    – StrongBad
    Dec 12, 2023 at 22:12
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    "Maybe create a staff wiki type question/answer and post notice for official communications". They already did this, kinda, the policy lock. But it's not available to mods and it also doesn't help with understanding other types of actions (e.g., unilateral delete votes).
    – Laurel
    Dec 12, 2023 at 23:00
  • @Laurel mods should have the ability to choose the wield the mod hammer or just cast a regular VTC/VTD, but that is something SE is against. It also seems SE is against making a staff accounts to delineate between official and unofficial. The post notice piece, in addition to the staff wiki, could be used to explain unilateral actions.
    – StrongBad
    Dec 12, 2023 at 23:35
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    Having non-binding votes is a different request entirely though. Most of the times you delete something unilaterally, you're doing so as a mod and it will make a lot less sense to anyone seeing it later, after your diamond is removed.
    – Laurel
    Dec 12, 2023 at 23:38
  • I am suggesting the above to only be for Meta sites. Or perhaps on Main sites, will only show up in things like revision and review history, and not on post authorship (since on Main sites — other than MSE — being a mod shouldn't affect how a post is taken, even though in practice it probably does). And on Meta sites, I think that the reality is that any post by mod/staff if given higher weight due to their role, and this should carry on as part of the record after their tenure. Dec 13, 2023 at 7:34
  • "Maybe create a staff wiki type question/answer and post notice for official communications" - I wouldn't recommend this. It is a much more work to do (considerably much more, in terms of implementation, regression potential, edge cases, and performance implications). And even if we could get this for free - I think that forcing a mod/staff to say "this is official" is a good way to discourage more staff participation on the site. Dec 13, 2023 at 7:36
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    @StrongBad "even when she was staff, she was willing to share her personal thought" - Excluding folks like Catija and myself, I think that that is definitely not the case anymore, for almost all staff, including some of the "old timers" (and note: Catija and myself are no longer staff…). Being realistic, I think that the best case scenario is to encourage staff participation as much as possible, while acknowledging the reality that casual participation from almost all staff is an edge case. Unless you have a long history, participation on meta in any way is very stressful for staff. Dec 13, 2023 at 7:42
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    "I would suggest you edit your posts to indicate that it does not reflect your personal opinions" - I can't recall any posts that I made that don't reflect my personal opinions. I was never force to post stuff that I disagreed with (though admittedly, there were many times where the burden of the staff badge impelled me to be more diplomatic and less confrontational than I might have normally been, for better or for worse). This is more about having the historical record + context be clear for future users. Dec 13, 2023 at 7:56

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