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Should a moderator be allowed to delete comments in meta discussions where he was active?

+ 2 like - 1 dislike
144 views

dimension10 is setting a very bad example by deleting comments in a meta discussion where he took an active role, thus distorting the views.

He is no better in this respect than dilaton who was forced to step down as a moderator for similar activities. I am against such merciless overreactions; in fact I want to have that both remain moderators and that dilaton's intent to resign as a moderator (written only under very strong peer pressure) should be revoked with the consent of the current moderators. But this is not the point here.

But I want to have a clear view of whether those active on meta support if a moderator deletes comments in meta discussions where he was active.

asked Mar 19, 2015 in Conflict Resolution by Arnold Neumaier (12,355 points) [ revision history ]
recategorized Apr 2, 2015 by dimension10

This question is different in intent from http://www.physicsoverflow.org/26273

@Arnold: While dimension10 is behaving badly, it's reversible. The comparison to Dilaton's behavior is completely absurd. You need to actually know what happened.

@Arnold I'm sorry about that (see my answer for more clarifications), and I agree (+1 to your question) that unilateral deletion by an involved moderator should be avoided in a similiar scenario.

3 Answers

+ 3 like - 0 dislike

dimension10 is setting a very bad example by deleting comments in a meta discussion where he took an active role, thus distorting the views.

Sorry about that, I agree that was a mistake, but let me make it clear that I was not "distorting the views" of the discussion - it's simply a lie that I was "selectively deleting comments"; I deleted all off-topic comments there, be it by Dilaton, you, Ron, or myself.

In fact, my intentions were (on hindsight, absolutely ridiculous) to get Dilaton to do selective reshowing to support his own stance, which he did, and then say "see, his votes can't be taken into account because he's being dishonest". I'm sorry about this, and you're right that this doesn't prove that Dilaton's motivations were politically motivated.

While I don't think this warrants my stepping down, feel free to submit a moderator review against me.

dilaton's intent to resign as a moderator (written only under very strong peer pressure) should be revoked with the consent of the current moderators.

Even if all other moderators (I, personally would, but that's not the point here) consent to the retraction of the "intent to resign", what really counts is the moderator review submitted against him.

But I want to have a clear view of whether those active on meta support if a moderator deletes comments in meta discussions where he was active.

I wasn't active in the specific discussion I deleted (which was about "who has authority" and "who's a good person"), but I was active in the general discussion, but I'm confident that this didn't make my deletion selective (it was only stupid).

Nevertheless, I  agree that it's best to only have community deletions (when necessary, anyway, e.g. a discussion about "how do I change my username" arises during a meta discussion on "should the post with ID - XYZ have been deleted") in such a scenario, excluding spam. So yes, unilaterally deletion of comments by involved moderators should be avoided.

answered Mar 20, 2015 by dimension10 (1,950 points) [ revision history ]
edited Mar 20, 2015 by dimension10

While I don't think this warrants my stepping down, feel free to submit a moderator review against me.

Didn't you read what I wrote? I don't want you to step down!

I will never support a moderator review based on localized matters. In my view, a moderator must step down only if his continued activities are a threat to achieving the scientific goals of the site.

@ArnoldNeumaier The remark was not aimed at you, but at anyone who has an objection with my actions.

+ 1 like - 1 dislike

I don't see the point of moderators doing anything on meta at all, beyond spam-cleanup, but my suggestion to have no moderator deletion on meta was sadly overruled. I asked for this while the dispute was active on the site, and stuff kept disappearing much as these discussions were disappearing, due to being "off topic". I completely agree that the deletions are distorting the discussions, these deletions should not occur on meta, neither should hiding questions which are timed out or obsolete. This makes it that you have to repeat everything a thousand times.

Dimension10's action is a type of moderator mistake which is both open and reversible, it happens all the time, and the action is reversed by community consensus as soon as it is clear it is a mistake. It's not like dimension10 did it in secret, and he reversed it immediately when it was considered disagreeable by others. This kind of thing happens all the time when you are a mod--- in a reverse version of this, I reshowed a comment which was community deleted, and then Dilaton and Dimension10 pointed me to the vote, and I rehid it. That's not moderator abuse, it's annoying nonsense.

The actions in Dilaton's case were completely different, because they involved deliberate deception, and their effect was on a user who was completely powerless. Dilaton made repeated edits to VK's comments, removing content by editing. When VK came to us and asked "What happened to my comment?" We were mystified, and Dilaton didn't say anything. Dimension10 (and, sadly, me) decided that VK was just senile, and forgot that he did it himself, and Dimension10 kept assuring VK that there were no deletions, loudly and confidently, because Dilaton hid the deletions. VK became a persona-non-grata on meta--- he begged Dilaton to  admit there was a deletion, Dimension10 said "There was no deletion, it's all in your head", in a long exchange, and then Dilaton's final response was a second official warning for off topic material, in addition to another one on the main site in a similar context, setting him up for a block.

"5 off topic warnings gets you a block" was an obscure rule, and it's implementation was invented on the spot by Dilaton, for the purpose of quickly blocking VK. It doesn't appear anymore, as it was the first rule I got repealed, it was introduced on an obscure page by Dimension10 without thinking of the potential for abuse.

I could review all the events only because I was moderator, and could see hidden posts--- if I remember correctly, much of the discussions were hidden from view once VK asked to be removed. I took pains to unhide the stuff while the dispute was going on, but I think now that I've resigned my moderatorship, much of it is hidden again. This is why I have to explain what was going on again and again to those who were not present at the time of the events.

This wasn't an annoying mistake, like Dimension10's mistakes, or mine. It was a deliberate plan of secret harassment directly targeted toward one user specifically, with the obvious intent to get this user to either get blocked or to leave. It required a lot of subterfuge to conceal the activity--- Dilaton did nothing that would be logged as a deletion, comment editing left no trace. It also involved lying to the other moderators, by implying that VK was just crazy for claiming deletion of content. The lied-to adminstrators includes Polarkernel too, who kept on searching through logs for deletions without finding anything, because the deletions were done by editing. Polarkernel was also strung along, this wasn't clear to users but it was clear to admins from his angry emails.

The lack of objective evidence made me confused. I thought VK must be misremembering on mondays and tuesdays, but then I talked to him, and he sounded so sincere, and on Wednesdays and Thursdays I'd ask Polarkernel to check again on different threads, etc. 

The moment I figured out how the chicanary was pulled off, Dilaton came clean. No sooner. After Dilaton was completely silent for a week, I asked in a comment if it was possible that the comments were edited, rather than deleted, and to check the logs for edits. Three minutes later, Dilaton appears for the first time in the comment discussion, and says now, after a week of debate trying to figure out what happened, 'Of course I edited out 'conformist', it was insulting."

What was really insulting was the fact that I had to sleuth out what happened like Sherlock Holmes, and VK had to endure denials and accusations for a month, and get threatened with blocking because he was complaining about moderator deletions which were being hidden.

Then came an admission, a belated apology that admitted as little as possible, and then came more denials, and now it's inviting non-active participants, like you Arnold, who didn't go through the terrible experience, to come here. And you have to fill in the newcomers one by one.

The comment deletion by itself would have been only a minor hassle, but the denials, the cover-up, and the setup to block VK for complaining about it, this made it impossible to comprehend. I completely lost it, as this was worse than stackexchange. At least they were honest about the crappy things they were doing. There is no way in heck you would be saying any of this if you were actually able to review the events as they occured, you are probably getting a version which has been sanitized by hiding the actual behavior.

answered Mar 20, 2015 by Ron Maimon (7,535 points) [ revision history ]
edited Mar 20, 2015 by Ron Maimon

"5 off topic warnings gets you a block" was a rule invented for the purpose of blocking VK by Dilaton, passed and executed here. It doesn't appear anymore, as it was the first rule I got repealed.

This is (once more, see below) an outright deliberate lie. The public block log, the document referred to in the quote above, was created in private beta on Mar 21, 2014 by Dimension10. The relevant version at the time the public warnings for off-topic posting against Vladimir Kalitvianki (who had already a long history of off-topically distracting discussions) were issued, was the version of Aug 26, 2014. Until then, it was exclusively Dimension10 who edited that document, apart from a minor spelling correction of Arnold Neumaier, please see the edit history. So when giving Vladimir a rather belated first warning for repeated off-topic commenting, it was done in good faith and in accordance with the then relevant rules. I also wrongly thought, because I was unaware of the fact that the by Ron written and rather informally discussed user rights, had been installed without any official notification at that time. Back then, I also wrongly thought that comments that contain malicious insults, such as for example calling the user @conformal_gk “conformist” to make fun of him and his name, should get edited out. For these edits I apologized to Vladimir here 

@Vladimir I admit that sometimes you have been successfully able to drive me up the wall. But of course I should not have edited your comments out and apologize for this to you.

Before the official warnings, mentioned above occurred, the Aug 26, 2014 version of the public block log had 4 upvotes and no downvotes, so it can savely be assumed that nobody, including Ron Maimon (!), had any serious objections against the text and or application of these rules. 

It was only after these public warnings of Vladimir for off-topic posting were issued, that Ron Maimon enforced by means of his psychological power a change of the off-topic rule to protect Vladimir. In private communications among the PhysicsOverflow team, Ron Maimon stated repeatedly and in his usual very authoritative way that “crackpots” (or non-academic physicists) should  be treated preferred and more lenient compared to academic physicists, who need to be insulted to defeat their authority, see the lowest citention box in this comment. I can readily prove in more detail the claims in this paragraph, but I would rather not like to do so as things would turn out not nice.

At the time all these things happened, Ron Maimon was still a moderator on PhysicsOverflow. He announced his stepping down only on Jan 30, 2015. In my personal opinion, all users on PhysicsOverflow should be hold to the same standard and rules, and this is what I did when warning Vladimir for off-topic posting in accordance with the then relevant rules. That nobody else violated the then relevant off-topic rule to such an extent repeatedly as Vladimir did, was neither my fault nor the fault of the off-topic rule as such. Letting ones moderator actions being biased by personal bias (including positive bias!), applying different rules to different kinds of users (academic and non-academic physicists), or putting specific users (Vladimir Kalitivianki) above any rules whatever they do, is as I personally see it a very poor way of leading an online community as a moderator.

During the meta wars, that went along with the events mentioned above, I did not dare to become visible on PhysicsOverflow (neither on meta nor the science sections) as already mentioned here

@Ron: I have to admit that the last few weeks I have been very VERY VERY angry and upset about you, because your recent Meta activities gave me a hell of a bad time and I seriously felt persecuted, hunted, harassed, and turned into an unperson personally.

because Ron and Drake (by coordinating things by posting on their respective public user walls, see for example the first and second citation box of this comment) had launched what could almost be called instigating lynch mobs against me personally, see discussions here, here, and in particular here for example. The wrong claims about my personality and character Ron Maimon invented, together with far off conspiracy theories had the impact that I felt exposed to an immense psychological terror and some of the claims stated in this context could in certain parts of the world be taken to court as outright character assassination, and was turned into a persona-non-grata on PhysicsOverflow.

These are the reasons I was silent for a rather long time and my Public Apology seemingly came belated.

Between posting my Public Apology and my Declaration of Intent, in addition to the happenings on the site itself I got additionally outright extoriated to resign in some private communications. This I could prove too, but as already said above, I would rather not do so if it can be avoided.

@Dilaton, I know this is the story you tell yourself, it's the exact same story David Zaslavsky tells himself about the moderation at stackexchange. This is what abuse looks like from inside the head of the abuser. It is a possible point of view, but it doesn't see power. You need to see the role of power to understand social behavior. You need to see academic power to see the automatic discrimination against non-academic contributors.

First, regarding "5 off-topic posts get you blocked", I agree with your history, I got it wrong. But this is not a deliberate lie, and I'll fix it. I didn't follow the pedigree of that rule, it had never been ever used before. The proper statement is that you created an implementation of this rule by issuing official warnings, with the direct intention of getting rid of VK as quickly as possible.

Your claim that Vladimir was posting off-topic material in the discussions you censored is simply factually wrong. He posted off topic stuff elsewhere, but it was usually arguably off-topic. The comments VK made about the Higgs were annoying, but unambiguously on-topic to the Higgs existence thread (he wanted to know how certain people were of the Higgs at LHC--- this challenged authoritative and also correct statements that the Higgs was seen at LHC). The perception that these comments are off-topic came from your internal picture of VK as "that off-topic crackpot nonacademic guy", based on the negative vibes he carried, and bad reputation he accrued from previous interaction and conflict.

These "negative vibes" and "bad reputation" are exactly the problem, they are the nebulous social things that reflect who has power, and who does not. It is these vibes that got me blocked on physics.stackexchange, it is these vibes that cause all the moderation problems on sites such as these. I am very sensitive to persecution that comes from negative vibes and dislike, for several reasons:

1. I am aware of the 1968 movements, and this was their main goal: to identify and remove this social power, with the goal of eliminating racism and fascism.

2. Anyone who proposes anything (radically) new, whether right or wrong, gets a ton of negative vibes, not from racism or fascism, but from the contradicting of social authority.

3. Anyone who is rude gets a ton of negative vibes in the exact same way. Or who has spiky purple hair. Or who picks his nose. It's social mechanism of consensus.

The 1968 people were sometimes profane also, I might add, with the same goal--- to expose mechanisms of power. Anything that contradicts authority, whether it's right or wrong, it doesn't matter, it will accrue negative vibes.

In the case you applied the off-topic rule, the majority of off-topic material in the thread you cited came from another user, who acrimoniously argued with VK in a personal way. VK does post off topic material sometimes, for example his recent jokey answer on meta, or arguably the jokey Weinberg review, and this material got moved to chat. But these off topic posts didn't get official warnings, they didn't ring your alarm bells. The official warnings came in response to one-liners coming from one side of a debate with an equal mount of snarky one-liners going in both directions. You know the other fellow was an academic contributor, so you let the off-topic comments slide, because the vibes were good! You were on his page happily welcoming him to PO. For VK, because he is a "bad user", you didn't let the off-topic comments slide equally.

This is precisely the unequal selective enforcement of rudeness rules I am talking about which makes these rules less than useless (I must add that rudeness rules didn't exist in this case, you used these nonexistent rules anyway!) to remove rude comments from one side and not the other, based on the flow of authority. You simply are blind to social authority, that's common in those who are in a position which benefits from power. That becomes the site's problem when you exert power over people who are lower down on the authority scale. If you don't see power, you just can't be impartial toward the powerless.

I told you in email, specifically, that I wanted you to make "special treatment" for crackpots. This was not a serious rule proposal, it was just for you personally--- it was telling you that you needed to make special rules for crackpots. These rules would not look like special rules to anyone else. The reason is that I know that you have a category of "crackpot" in your head, a category that simply doesn't apply to any sincere sane person, and that those people who fit this category are going to be mistreated by you, in much the same way that a racist would mistreat a member of another race, or a sexist would mistreat a female contributor, because these crackpot people are perceived by you as less worthy because of their social status.

Discrimination can be psychologically counteracted with affirmative action (again 1968). I don't treat crackpots differently, because I simply don't consider anyone a crackpot. I try to only look at the content of each post independently. But this requires internal affirmative action of sorts, in me too, due to my own academic power bias. I try to have less charity toward accepted authoritative material, so I double-check it, and I tend to be more open toward off-the-wall material, so that I give someone who is discredited the benefit of the doubt, until the objective evidence against the position is overwhelming. This is the opposite procedure of academic discussions. I don't ignore something important because of social forces. It's a mild counter-pressure in my head. I was asking you to fix your bias by doing this a little bit internally.

I know that your position on using academic authority to exclude people is probably going to be unconsciously repeated by other academic moderators, because it is the default mechanism of producing and maintaining authority in academia. I am telling you that this authority mechanism is counterproductive on a site like this, it leads to problems of shutting out points of view. VK's point of view is also important for certain things, like summing divergent series, and where he is objectively wrong, there is no need for an authoritative dismissal--- his material gets downvoted because of the mistake. Nobody's authority is useful here. My wrong stuff got downvoted mercilessly just as much.

The position of you and Arnold is distorted by having academic authority, and so having a benign view toward academic authority. It is usually benign, by the way. When you have it, you don't see that it sometimes causes problems. It fixes more problems than it causes in academic discussions in the print world, because those discussions were in a different context, with limited space, and where you needed to be able to congeal on a point of view without having any mechanism that would allow you to explain the reason why to everyone. It's like an army--- the general can't explain the strategy to every foot soldier, and an expert in conformal field theory can't explain conformal blocks to every person in the world. Except now they have an internet, so now they can.

I deliberately wrote a user profile for stackexchange which subverted academic authority, to see how they treated non-authoritative users. The voters just ignored the authority and upvoted me a lot, that was unexpected. The moderators, however, didn't ignore the authority signals, because moderation is all about authority.

The issue of mistreatment of those without authority is somewhat difficult, because it is often true that these users have less appropriate tone, and they are often scientifically wrong as well. In cases where space is limited, like a print journal, they need to be excluded. But in an online forum, so long as people follow the rules and don't repeat or spam, there is no need to exclude them specifically, and its useful, because this allows them to fix mistakes in consensus which are easier to see from an outsider point of view.

The result of this was a horrendously abusive exchange which went something like this:

VK: Dilaton, I can't stand it, Dimension10 calls me a liar for the 100th time! Please tell him you deleted my comments.

Dimension10: How many times do we have to repeat it? There were no deletions. You deleted these things yourself.

VK: Dilaton! Why don't you say what you did?

Dilaton: This discussion is off topic to this thread, and this is your second official warning. Five warnings are sufficient for a block.

I know you didn't have malicious intention in doing this, but David Zaslavsky has no malice toward you either, neither does Manishearth. This type of thing is what happens when one side has power, and isn't conscious of the effects of power.

There is no way in heck you would be saying any of this if you were actually able to review the events as they occured, you are probably getting a version which has been sanitized by hiding the actual behavior.

There is no need to repeat things over and over again - the general line of your post was not new to me. Even after all your explanations, I find your reaction far out of proportion. My opinion is firmly what I expressed here and here

+ 1 like - 2 dislike

No dimension10 shouldn't have done so, but please don't compare it with Dilaton's case, it's more than unfair, see my answer to your other question.

answered Mar 19, 2015 by Jia Yiyang (2,465 points) [ revision history ]
edited Mar 20, 2015 by Jia Yiyang

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