This is about the issues I have observed with the moderation on this site.
I know that we had/still have some issues with how some users behave on this site that make moderation a difficult task. Just to name a few: 1. sectarianism, 2. intolerance, 3. voting based on agreement/disagreement, not quality, 4. copy-paste answers, 5. preaching, 6. persistent disregard towards site's rules. And there are other issues, and there will be new ones in future.
But IMO we also have another problem which is the behavior of some moderators. I know very well that they are putting a lot of time and effort into serving the community but I think the issue is important and should be raise here. I am hoping the situation will improve. Maybe they have got too tried after 2 years, in which case it might be better for them and for the site if they step down.
Let's be clear: we had and have a moderation problem. Otherwise we wouldn't need so much help from Caleb and Jon and the rest of SE team. Part of the issue is that some moderators are not very active so other moderators have to also cover for them. Part of the issue is that some moderators misuse their moderator powers (which should be only used when really necessary). Their attitude is that of a judge/policeman, not that of a community builder or a respectful educator. Yes, sometimes there are persistent trouble-makers that should be dealt with firmly. But that should be the exception not the default. I should suggest people read the moderation theory post. The fact that the site has problems does not justify suspension of those responsibilities. We have to accept that some of the issues that the site has will keep resurfacing from time to time because of new users.
We designed the Stack Exchange network engine to be mostly self-regulating, in that we amortize the overall moderation cost of the system across thousands of teeny-tiny slices of effort contributed by regular, everyday users. [...] Even with active community self-regulation, moderators occasionally need to intervene. Moderators are human exception handlers, there to deal with those (hopefully rare) exceptional conditions that should not normally happen, but when they do, they can bring your entire community to a screaming halt — if you don’t have human exception handling in place.
So in summary, if you are a community moderator on a Stack Exchange site, here’s what to expect:
- As a moderator, your actions now represent the community, so you will be held to a higher standard of behavior. You are an ambassador of trust, with the same sorts of rights that the official development team and community coordinators have.
- Your goal is to guide the community with gentle — but firm — intervention. Respect your fellow community members at all times; demonstrate fairness and impartiality in your actions.
- Whenever possible, try to leave frequent comments on posts where you’ve taken (or considered taking) a moderator action, explaining the reasoning. This is important so that community members can learn the norms of the community and the moderation policies.
- Keep the site reasonably on topic by closing, migrating, or removing blatantly off-topic questions.
- Regularly check for flagged posts, and decide if further action is warranted.
- In the case of serious disputes, communicate directly with users via email to help mediate and resolve those disputes.
A lot of the moderation work is extremely mundane, almost janitorial. It’s deleting obvious spam, closing blatantly off-topic questions, and culling some of the worst rated posts in various dimensions.
The ideal moderator does as little as possible. But those little actions may be powerful and highly concentrated. Judiciously limiting your use of moderator powers to selectively prune and guide the community — now that’s the true art of moderation.
I think some of our moderators are failing quite badly in "the true art of moderation".
Here are the criteria by SE for being a good moderator:
Community moderators are accorded the highest level of privilege on our community, and should themselves be exemplars of positive behavior and leaders within the community.
Our general criteria for moderators is as follows:
- patient and fair
- leads by example
- shows respect for their fellow community members in their actions and words
- open to some light but firm moderation to keep the community on track and resolve (hopefully) uncommon disputes and exceptions
Let me mention a few specific issues I have seen with some moderators:
- Loosing patience and even temper and acting impolitely towards users,
- Misusing moderator privileges to deal with issues that does not require them, e.g. there is way too much deletion,
- Not feeling responsible towards other users of the site,
- Not documenting moderator decisions in a clear and understandable manner (if at all),
- Moderating not in "lead by example" style but rather by the force of moderator powers.
Here are some specific advice:
A moderator should keep their calm and manage the situation even if the other party looses their temper as is expected from those who are given extra privileges. These privileges are not for personal use. If you are involved in a dispute and there is not much harm in not taking immediate action (which is usually the case) then delegate and let another moderator decide if a moderator action is necessary. If you are involved in the dispute it is likely that you will misuse the powers and privileges bestowed upon you. It is a clear case of conflict of interests even if you feel they don't effect your decision and you are just applying the rules (see Dan Ariely's talk and this article). It also doesn't work if you do something and then seek confirmation from other moderators, because they are likely to feel pressure to confirm with your action and may not be able to make an unbiased decision.
You are not an employee of Stack Exchange Inc., you are a community moderator, you represent the community, your main responsibility is towards the community. SE provides the software, helps us with their advice which is based on their vast amount of experience, and is interested in the success of the site. But they are not the community. If you don't feel that you need to earn and maintain the respect of the community then you are not really a community moderator.
The "close/delete and move on without documenting" attitude is not very helpful. That is part of the reason that some issues keep happening. A user doesn't learn anything from close/delete and move on. It might be OK in case of dealing with a persistent offender who intentionally violate the site policies. But the default typical moderation attitude should be that of educating the users about the scope of the site and how to use it properly, not just discarding and moving on. The fact that you have explained the reason once somewhere does not mean you don't need to explain it again. Not everyone who have made a mistake more than once is a persistent offender. They might not have understood what you said. (Do you understand everything that you are told the first time you are told?) They may forget it. It takes time and repeated reminders to get used to the rules and policies.
Editing questions which are not suitable in their form to make them suitable is a major part of educating users. This is really important in beta to help others learn how to use the site appropriately. Closing/deleting is the easy way to deal with off-topic questions. There is a bit of editing but it is rather small in comparison to just discarding what is not suitable. When you see an unsuitable question you should ask yourself "how can I improve it and make it suitable while preserving the OP's intention?" and if there is any possibility of editing the question to make it suitable then you should edit and improve the question. Good teachers restates even the most stupid looking questions of their students such that the question becomes interesting and intelligent.
As a moderator you are expected to document your moderation actions in a clear way that others who see it can understand. I often find myself having trouble understanding why a question is closed or a post is deleted. There is no comment explaining the action. This is even more problematic when using binding moderator powers. There is often no comment whatsoever let alone a clear explanations linking to appropriate site policies such that a honest reader can see the justification for the action. I know it is a lot of work to document moderator actions but it is your responsibility to justify your usage of moderator powers. Just because you feel something is not suitable is not enough. You should base and justify your actions on specific site policies, and the fact that the policy applies to the case should be clear for others (i.e. not just your interpretation of the policy). It is not enough that you believe you are doing the right thing. It should be backed up with written policies of the site. If it is not a clear-cut case then it should be discussed on meta. (Making a list of common comments similar to the list on TeX.SE might help a bit).
Finally, although the meta uses essentially the same software as the main site, it doesn't follow the same rules. Many things that are unwelcome on the main site are completely fine on meta. E.g. meta is for discussing issues, policies, and behaviors. Nothing should be deleted on meta unless it is really really necessary. If someone leaves irrelevant comments on some post ask them politely to move them to a new question or chat and let them delete their comments afterwards themselves. MSO/MSE have tons of completely off-topic comments and no one deletes them as long as they are not causing really serious problem.