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Last year in particular I made a few gambles as a moderator by establishing new policies on the local meta without first gathering community consensus. However, every time I found my policies gathering almost entirely upvotes, and eventually it was clear they were backed by the community. And, at least in one case, I did change some of the details of my approach based on community feedback.

I can't say I agree with every consensus on my sites, especially when so many predate even my presence, but I try to comply with them. For example, I'm honestly not a fan of ELL's restricted editing policy (showing restraint instead of fixing all the grammar mistakes in questions???). I follow it (at least for my definition of "makes the questions easier to understand"), and maybe one day I'll ask again if we really want that policy to see if the scales will tip more in my favor.

I've seen moderators on other sites go against their community's consensus, or insist on upholding a former consensus that has long lost its support (both of which are usually obvious due to the meta voting) or gamble like I did with policy but lose and I've also seen the price that was paid (and in many cases continues to be paid) as a result. I'm not convinced at all that it's worth it, but I'm also not sure if these mods can be compelled to change their minds, since they're usually enforcing policies that are either hotly debated or not entirely shunned across SE, ones that do have a consensus backing them on at least a few other sites.

Whenever I ask myself what policies I would enforce in opposition to my communities, my answers seem to fall flat. For example, I would still remove hateful comments even if my sites were filled with bigots...which could be seen as commendable, except that I learned moderators don't really have a choice because that's the Code of Conduct. I would also still spam-flag spam, but that's what's written in the Help Center. And being a moderator is fraught with one-off judgement calls on edge cases where there's some important factor that the original consensus didn't account for, or there are multiple, conflicting consensuses that could apply—in cases like these (assuming the situation can't be handled by the community) a moderator has little choice but to go against the consensus. But that shouldn't happen too often, and in at least some of those the community hopefully understands the circumstances.

Other than the obvious (i.e., non-negotiable SE-wide policy, or rare, unforeseen edge cases) when is it a good choice for a moderator to overrule their community? And when (and how) should moderators who go against community consensus be overruled themselves, especially considering the power difference?

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  • Are you really overruling community consensus? "every time I found my policies gathering almost entirely upvotes, and eventually it was clear they were backed by the community". Also "gamble" seems fairly pessimistic, do you believe you have a stacked against you odds of understanding the community(s) you moderate? Users can always complain on meta, if the community clearly thinks moderators stepped out of line, a ticket can be raised with SE pointing to the meta.
    – Peilonrayz
    Feb 3 at 3:51
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    In retrospect I never really had the chance to go against community consensus in those cases; it doesn't count. As for "gambling", the policies I created were made after 1) seeing tons of support on the same policy on SO, an AI ban, or 2) listening to feedback over many years of having another policy in place. I consulted with my co-mods in both cases and (1) seemed like a very safe bet but (2) didn't—I knew there was support among the handful of people in chat but I didn't know how many of the 30+ upvoters on the decade-old policy would still support it. Not luck, but not guaranteed either.
    – Laurel
    Feb 3 at 4:10
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    As for CM intervention, that only works if a CM will actually quickly and decisively resolve the conflict. I don't know if this is the case.
    – Laurel
    Feb 3 at 4:19

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Well - often the vocal part of the community doesn't represent the broader community, or the longer term, and broader needs of the community.

Jeff used to say "listen to your community - but don't let them tell you what to do".

That said, sometimes the things you push for are unpopular, and no matter how popular a moderator you are, you don't have the influence to push it through. Other times you're going to either end up doing it anyway, or adjusting/finding sneaky ways to find something that both sides can live with.

As a moderator, I think it's worth keeping sight of both the 'greater good' - the long term health of the community - and the fact that we tend to be stubborn, strong minded individuals, with at least a little ego.

In addition to community consensus, i.e. "what they ask for", it's worth considering "what they really need" and "what's the logic".

From the outside, and as someone who is both ESL and has some interesting linguistic quirks, it feels to me that the logic in that very specific case behind the restricted edits is to keep English as she is spoke, and that preserving the user's original voice is useful in context.

On the other hand - the community on Super User chose to interpret the 'no shopping requests' ruling as "no software recommendations" - that kinda knocked out a large class of questions. I didn't like that, but the community helped figure out a workaround, and that spawned another site. I was wrong - but the logic behind it was solid, in that those answers could inevitably go stale.

And you over-rule the community consensus with solid logic - you make the case for it, don't make any rules you're collectively not willing to enforce, and spend the time building consensus towards it. And if you're wrong, and it's not the right thing, sometimes have the grace, sense and logic to at least admit it.

Community work at our level is both about the next 30 seconds of dealing with the flags and other quick issues, and long term thinking.

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    "Listen to your community - but don't let them tell you what to do" - was Jeff Atwood speaking there to S.E. moderators, or as a platform owner & developer? It's rather different. Feb 3 at 13:11
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    blog.codinghorror.com/… full version there. I'd say its generally good advice, and while aimed at the latter, the divide at that point was smaller. Jeff did a lot of hands on stuff CMs and mods did later on. Feb 3 at 13:32
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    Why should an elected moderator ever try to do things considered unpopular in the community? The moderator was clearly elected not as an overlooker for the community, but rather as their representative, their voice and their agent.
    – Vlad
    Feb 11 at 12:10
  • Sometimes the community isn't always right. I'd note my answer has more nuance than "its fine to simply overrule the community" These things involve long term work - and to me, fundamentally we work for, and towards the community's interests Feb 11 at 23:43

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