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With the site graduated, there will soon be elections for moderators. I'm concerned about this because there seem to be precious few regular site members actively enforcing the site guidelines.

On top of this, there seem to be an awful lot of up-votes for questions that should be closed as not constructive or off-topic. The fact that these questions are getting regular up-votes indicates to me that there are plenty of site users that really don't agree with the site guidelines.

In a recent post, I went on at length about the history of why the various guidelines (particularly the Truth guideline) exist. Without them, I doubt the site would have passed Beta process. They're important to the site's future success, as well, and the fact that there are a fair amount of users that seem to "not like" them concerns me.

As with all democratic processes, there is the chance that the majority will vote for officials that do not have the site's best interest in mind. So what happens if those that want Truth questions get elected? As the new moderators in town, do they have the ability to radically change the scope of the site, or is there a higher set of guidelines that they must be held to?

What, exactly, would be the recourse, if we suddenly got moderators who either don't get it, or deliberately want to sabotage the site?

  • From mso post I made a few months back: What checks are in place to prevent high rep users and mods from abusing their privileges? – 3961 Jun 17 '13 at 9:48
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    Handling Calls to Remove a Moderator/ – 3961 Jun 17 '13 at 10:00
  • Tyranny of the majority, eh? Sounds like a good politics question :) Sorry, had to say it :) – Affable Geek Jun 17 '13 at 11:32
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    I do "not like" certain constraints of Stack Exchange, but I believe not just in rule of law but constitutional rule (i.e., certain fundamental aspects should have a high resistance to change). I also recognize the difference between "not like" and "not useful". C.SE is not a discussion forum and not a Nicene Christian site--"not like"--, but the at least some quality of the content and community (and ease of access) are not available elsewhere (as far as I know) and would probably be difficult to achieve at a Truth-oriented site. – Paul A. Clayton Jun 17 '13 at 12:22
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    I think the rules about truth are just ways to make people conform to an input guideline which has no real affect on the site one way or the other. – user4060 Jun 17 '13 at 23:57
  • @caseyr547 - I can certainly understand why you'd think that. It's truly hard to explain how the guideline helped clear up a lot of non-constructive arguing if you weren't there to see it. We can't point you to posts that illustrate it because they have been since deleted. But imagine nearly every post with arguments from one perspective or another in comments, sometimes turning hostile because different groups simply believe different things. Throw in atheists trying to score points, and then imagine some poor newcomer coming here looking for Truth among all that noise. It was awful. – David Stratton Jun 18 '13 at 0:45
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    It certainly did nothing to help provide anything constructive. The only thing it served was to make it look like Christians were a bunch of buffoons that were outright mean to each other. It did nothing to promote the site, it didn't help the internet to "be a better place", and it certainly didn't glorify God for those of us that care about glorifying Him. And when it gets right down to it, that was the original standard of the site, it just wasn't phrased as "Truth answers". It took a while to drill down to that as an easy-to-understand way to look at the issues plaguing the site. – David Stratton Jun 18 '13 at 0:48
  • @DavidStratton Comments are not supposed to be for discussions of any length on se anyways they are only directed at improving the answer itself. – user4060 Jun 18 '13 at 1:04
  • if it was awful it was because the se format was not being followed not because answers were given in the format of truth – user4060 Jun 18 '13 at 1:05
  • @DavidStratton this is becoming an argument if you want to discuss it further i suggest we talk in chat – user4060 Jun 18 '13 at 1:40
  • @caseyr547 I know I'll regret this later, and I also know none of the background - but if there is a particular deleted post, I suspect I could take screen shots of it and show you. – Affable Geek Jun 18 '13 at 2:19
  • @caseyr547 You're right. My post was uncalled for. But we have an example on the site right now at christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/16786/… Look at the argument forming in comments on Adrian Keister's answer. The two of them are arguing Truth. The guideline that "we are not here to debate what is true", if followed, makes such non-constructive arguments impossible. Also, if you look at the area51 proposal for this site, you will see that the essence of the guideline was there from the start. – David Stratton Jun 18 '13 at 2:34
  • Granted, the arguments forming on that question are currently minor, and only between two people. In the day, it would have been echoed and amplified by dozens of people arguing either side. It's simply not constructive to argue Truth when there will be no consensus. It's best to just say "We're not here to convince you" and move on. – David Stratton Jun 18 '13 at 2:43
  • However, convincing people of the Truth is something I'm intensely interested in, in person. – David Stratton Jun 18 '13 at 2:51
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The checks and balances built into the Stack Exchange system provide a way for the community to voice it's opinion, and also to balance moderator control. There are both specific mechanisms in place and also general guidelines that allow for the community to balance out of control moderation.

Here are some things that you can do to check/balance moderator action:

  • Close/Reopen posts. While a moderator vote is binding on close/reopen it is reversible. That means that 5 community members can overrule a mod closure. This does not mean that moderator can't come back and close it again, but in my opinion this kind of disagreement should then merit a meta post if the moderator disagrees.

  • Meta. The greatest ability that the community has to combat moderator authoritarianism is through meta. Even if moderators are completely out of control and delete everything you post here (highly unlikely) or argue vehemently against you at every turn, the most important thing is the make sure there is a consistent and permanent record of your complaints and fears.

  • Contact the Community team. There is a small group of Stack Exchange employees devoted specifically to the overseeing and guidance of the communities that surround this and all other SE sites. This group is currently comprised of Robert Cartaino, Shog9, Grace Note, Anna Lear and Tim Post. They can be reached using the "other" option on the "contact us" page found at the bottom of every page. This form sends them an email and they both take these contacts serious and respond to them.

That said, there are some places where there is very little check on moderator power. Generally moderators take these particular things quite seriously and only do them when they feel they are in the right:

  • User suspensions. Because of their nature, these are confidential between the moderators, the community team and the user involved. The messages are private. However, the Community Team is copied on every message and they do read them.

  • Moderator Deletions. Posts deleted by moderators are not undeletable by the community. Generally moderators are interested in undeleting these if they can be fixed and flagged, but an out of control moderator could do some damage with deletions (though I believe they are both rate limited and it would trip some things internally for SE if it happened). Comment deletions are completely irreversible (for now). Though SE staff can step in if it's really important.

  • User Deletions. These are technically reversible, though it requires developer intervention. Moderators rarely delete users (if we do it's either by request or because they are spammers).

When a moderator is elected, or asked to serve as a pro tempore moderator they must sign the moderator agreement before they gain any moderator powers. If at any time you feel a moderator is in violation of this agreement, please contact the community team immediately. However, this agreement largely has to do with protecting your information, it does not stipulate that a moderator has the best interest of the community in mind.

High reputation users are functionally equivalent to moderators in a lot of ways and it's incumbent upon these people to be active meta participants and to balance the moderators' power.

Lastly, the best check on bad moderators is to elect good ones. Now obviously you don't know how anyone other than the current moderators are going to do, but I'm certain we will have several very good candidates in addition to the current moderators. You are correct though that there is the potential that moderators who would like to change the culture of this site may come in. However, keep some things in mind:

  • A significant part of this site's scope was set in day 1 by Stack Exchange inc. This is rare for an SE site, usually they are given pretty wide leeway over how to scope. However, SE came in on day 1 and said "get along or you'll get shut down." That attitude from SE hasn't changed and will not change.

  • Moderators are only 3-4 people in a community of hundreds. Users of this site, both high and low reputation must be strong voices on meta both in addition to and counter to the moderators of this site regardless of who they are. While moderator voices are strong and backed with some limited power to do things, they aren't the be all and end of all of how this community goes. Strong voices on meta, in chat and in comments on this site determine it's direction more significantly than the small group of moderators.

  • If there are site policies you feel strongly about needing to continue, make sure that they come up in the town hall discussions around elections, make sure you get a statement from the moderator in question in their nomination or the comments under it. And remember, moderators aren't (in general) acting unilaterally, they are generally acting to enforce site policy set out on meta (whether they like it or not). That means that (again) Meta is your best recourse for continuation and accountability of site policy.

  • While the Stack Exchange community team generally backs the moderators, they aren't afraid to say something when they aren't actin in the best interest of the community.

All that to say, there are some checks and balances, but the ultimate check is the community. Don't let the moderators you elect run you over.

  • All this stuff is great and covers the technical aspects as well as the possibility of an outright lemon getting mod status, but I think the main concern here should be the long term effects of a a moderator that doesn't support the ban on "truth" questions. I don't think that was part of the initial mandate from SE for this site's scope, it was an implementation on our part to make the site scope work from a practical standpoint. – Caleb Jun 17 '13 at 14:37
  • It's true. The continuation of that policy will be dependent on continued support from the community. Added another bullet to help indicate this. – wax eagle Jun 17 '13 at 14:47
  • And with graduation we need to have an influx of new community that doesn't understand much less support it. Like David, I find that concerning. It seems like the sooner we have our first elections the more likely it is that the voters will be people who understand what that issue is all about and will elect moderators who will support it. – Caleb Jun 17 '13 at 14:50
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Ultimately, mods serve at the pleasure of the Stack Exchange staff. Users can always appeal to them, and while it is rare, people like Anna Lear, Robert Cartino, and even Shog9 can overrule us. Indeed, ultimately, they flip the bit that makes a moderator! As such, they can always flip it off or reverse a decision if its painfully obvious that they need to.

  • "Us?" Looking forward to running? – Ryan Frame Jun 17 '13 at 20:48
  • @RyanFrame after you have more than 10k points you have access to the moderator tools – user4060 Jun 17 '13 at 23:53
  • @RyanFrame I'm a moderator over at Politics.SE. I haven't figured out if the fun I'd have at being a mod here would outweigh my probable humiliation at the polls here :) – Affable Geek Jun 18 '13 at 2:10
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First, I think deliberate sabotage is very unlikely. After that your concerns are quite legitimate.

I think part of what you are seeing is because of the site graduation, which came with massive privilege loss for a good deal of users. I currently cannot vtc, however, during beta I vtc'd at least 50 times. There are a good number of users in the same boat as me.

As for the votes on off topic questions, I think that is likely casual, low rep users saying "hey, that's interesting." So I don't really think there is a "fair amount of users that don't really like [the current site guidelines]." On an individual level, you can comment AND down vote AND encourage other readers to do the same. That should offset this over a short time.

So what happens if we vote in a mod that won't uphold current site guidelines? Well, if it's obvious, or even by admission, I would suggest a meta post detailing the issues with quotes from chat and examples of actions, then calling for votes to keep the mod and votes to remove him. After a week present the post to the SE staff and let them decide. Alternatively, if the majority of the other mods want the mod in question removed that should be enough to make the case to the SE staff. As a matter of being honorable if a mod is called into question in this manner his only involvement is to make one reply to the meta post to defend himself, if he chooses, and nothing else. I would also argue that he should limit his involvement on the site, depending on the soundness of the argument made against him, until the week has past.

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