Followup on SE's revised moderator policies

A few days ago I posted an analysis of Stack Exchange's new, still-flawed policies on moderator reinstatement. An employee who helped to write those policies challenged some of my feedback. This was my reply:

Thank you for your the additional information.

I understand your concerns with the way that a veto can be used for any reason and it carries with it a heavy implication. All I can say is that while the process itself cannot exist without a veto being there, I know that it is intended to be used as a last resort or for very specific cases.

Please note that we are here at all because the company's position was that intent doesn't matter if somebody alleges a CoC violation. So with all due respect, I don't find appeals to company intent reassuring.

The Mod Council was elected by the community of Mods. Not chosen by Stack

Again, I'm talking process here. It happened to work out that way (though of course no one can audit the voting), but moderators were told that the vote was advisory and SE would decide based on those results. The clear implication is that there were certain outcomes they required or opposed, but other than that they'd leave it up to the mods.

You make a good point about potential for a privacy violation when reporting to the mod council. I will see about having this corrected in the policy. Thanks. If you could think of other ways to improve communication around the appeal part of this, happy to hear them

Thank you for pursuing a correction. I will respond separately about communication around appeals (below). Appeals need a larger reworking, as people have already pointed out on Meta, and communication changes fit into that. But on one foot: the company must tell the moderator the charges first, before any other parties are involved, and the moderator who is most directly affected must have a say in the spread of allegations and progress reports.

All reinstatements being approved by the current mod team: this was something that was feedback from the moderators as a whole.

As I said, this makes sense when they were involved in a removal. It does not make sense when they were not, and further, it grants an opportunity for someone to veto based on mere dislike. (Mods are smart enough to be able to cast that as a concern about the ability to have a good working relationship. That doesn't mean it isn't BS.) With the original removal process that was in place for years, at least the mods, including the one under possible sanctions, need to talk with each other.

And really, do you think "I had to take a few months off to care for my dying parent?" should subject someone to a barred door because somebody else on the site still holds a grudge over that one argument on meta? C'mon, this is grossly unfair.

You can appeal the conditions throughout the process.

Good. The process should say that.

The preconditions are not intended to be a way to trap the mod.

But, again, we have only your word for that, and intent isn't sufficient by the company's own actions, and the company has a history that all policies will be read against. You can, in time, make that history more favorable, but it requires you to correct wrongs, including adding Step 0.

While the mod cannot decide on which CMs will be involved, if the moderator has cause the suspect bias from the judges, then they can raise this in their objections when they escalate to the CLT and Mod Council.

Sure, the mod can raise objections -- but the company is not required to address them. Courts usually have a scheme where both judges and jurors can be challenged for cause. Your policy lacks this and, again, relies on trust that is sadly in very short supply. The community does not trust you to exclude people with conflicts of interest. And if I understand correctly, the moderator doesn't even know who the judges and jurors are.


As I said in my previous comment, appeals need a larger reworking, so I'm addressing that separately. As I said in my post, this is a systems analysis and not discussion of any actual individual cases.

With the current process, appeals are downstream of reinstatement: a moderator must first secure reinstatement and can then appeal the removal. That's kind of backwards, and it fails to account for the "clearing one's name" use case. The moderator might not want to go back to a site after feeling abused by the company, fellow mods, the community, or whatever led to the problems -- but might still want to set the record straight. You should allow an "appeal" path that does not subject the mod to the necessarily-not-confidential reinstatement process. Sometimes the appeal is more important than the reinstatement.

Relatedly, you should allow anybody, or at least any moderator, to appeal the removal of a moderator. Other moderators, particularly on the affected site, can have a vested interest, if the action is leading to upset on their site for example. Even if the company has driven the moderator off of the site entirely, it should be permissible for somebody else to stand up and say "this is unjust" and challenge it. Of course such an appeal will not necessarily have the benefit of the moderator's direct participation, but that might not be necessary in some cases. And if you allow this you should of course notify the moderator, who can then choose to join the conversation at any level from answering questions if asked to taking over the appeal and directly running it. Sometimes a moderator who has been attacked might despair of support, and allowing other moderators to provide that support can be powerful reassurance and healing. These are the actions of allies, and they're as important on your network as they are in the broader world. Allow the strong to stand up for the weak.

The appeal process assumes that the moderator went through a valid removal process. That is not always true, and when it is not, it is (as I've said before) fundamentally broken and offensive to put the victim through even more pain and trauma.

About communication specifically, you must, first and foremost, clearly communicate to the moderator what the charges are before any action is taken. When that doesn't happen, submitting a "blind" application should not be a prerequisite for finding out. The mod needs to be able to evaluate the claims before making an application that will be shared with somewhere between 3 and 50 fellow volunteers who are not under binding NDAs.

On reinstatements (where that is desired), you said in your comment that if SE attaches conditions the moderator can appeal that. But the policy doesn't actually say anything about that. That needs to be formalized; it's an important guarantee to moderators.

In general, the process needs to be much more respectful of privacy than it currently is. At every stage, a conversation needs to happen with the moderator before you share information with other people. The moderator needs to be able to look at what you propose to share and say no, never mind, and withdraw. And you should never, ever share more information with other people than you do with the moderator, which the current policy implies can happen. Really, for transparency, you should CC the moderator on everything that is sent to anybody else concerning either an appeal or an application for reinstatement. Be ultra-transparent.

There needs to be a way for the moderator to either appeal or publicize a veto. Of course the mod can always do the latter, but it is more constructive to try the former first. If there is no way to appeal a veto, then there is no reason for you to tell the mod council anything at all; the application (of either type) never reached them otherwise, can never reach them, and is therefore not their business unless the moderator chooses to make it their business. Which goes back to needing a way to appeal it. This is in your own best interest, as company leaders have oft complained about the mood on meta. That mood is caused by user frustration over company actions and, often, lack of transparency. Don't force the moderator to throw gasoline on that.

There's probably more, but that's a start. I look forward to seeing the updated version.