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Proposed moderator rights and duties

+ 1 like - 2 dislike
132 views

In my view, the following considerations should be incorporated (as guidelines, not as rules) in some form into a modified moderator manual.

Moderators donate extra time for tedious activities needed for the proper functioning of PO, and should be valued for this. The guidelines should be such as not kill all incentives for professional physicists to help us with moderation in the future. In particular, moderators must be protected against abuse or unfair treatment in the same way normal users are protected. Moderators have all user rights, including that of being treated with respect, the privacy of their private messages, and that of being allowed to have an anonymous identity. 

The penalties for moderator misbehavior should be considerate - not only a choice between forcing to resign vs. simply accepting an excuse.For example, penalties could consist in temporary suspension of moderation for increasingly long periods (1 week for first serious offence, 1 month for the next, then forced resignation for the next). This should happen only for _continued_ grossly bad activities that harm the scientific goals of the site or the user rights.

A 1 month moderation penalty should be executed in the same way as a moderator evaluation (as proposed in http://www.physicsoverflow.org/28981).

Moderator penalties should be imposed only according to clear and fair rules (and I am fairly open about how these would look like). Ordinary users should bring up apparent offences against moderators in meta in a polite, constructive way, but they cannot enforce a moderator penalty. 


Having moderators with somewhat competing political interests is important for checking the power of moderators, but they should cooperate in the interest of PO.

What do you think?

asked Mar 26, 2015 in Discussion by Arnold Neumaier (12,355 points) [ revision history ]
edited Mar 31, 2015 by Arnold Neumaier

Moderators have all user rights, including that of being treated with respect

And what right is this? Right to not be offended? Sure, it's easy to not get offended, that's a "right" or rather an "ability", that everybody is born with. But "don't do anything that could get someone offended"? That's the sarcastic thing VK wrote, coming alive.

@dimension10: There wouldn't be a notion of ''being treated with respect'' if it were an empty phrase. But if you don't understand what right this is, you may replace it by

''All users should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.''

''No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the moderators against such interference or attacks.''

''Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference''

''Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.''

(cf. Articles 1, 12, 19, 29 of the universal declaration of human rights

and I forgot @RonMaimon:

''All users are free and equal in dignity and rights'' (Article 1)

Note that moderators are users, too.

@ArnoldNeumaier: We can add this as a suggestion, without enforcement by power. You are conflating "things that are good to suggest" with "things that are good to legislate and enforce through power". This is a mistake on other sites, and a mistake in human governance which was rectified in the enlightenment--- when law decoupled from religion. Religion still governs ethics, it tells individuals how to behave. But law governs that part of ethics which is enforced using unequal power of one individual over another, and it does not include all things that are good to do, but only those things it is advisable to enforce by punishment and sanction.

We are not writing ethical guidelines. We are writing law. The policy on this site is a form of power, it determines who can speak here and who can't, and it is enforced unequally, by moderators over users. The moderators can silence the users, the users can't silence the moderators.

When your favorite moral role model made ethical guidelines such as yours, they were not enforced at the point of a sword (at least not for the first 900 years), but within a community of like-minded people which asked it of its members, and did not approve of those who did not follow along. Such a community is already present here--- nobody tolerates abuse. Your perception that abuse was tolerated is a false one. I did not abuse Dilaton, although Dilaton felt bad at some point. Guess what, I also felt bad. There are some disputes which lead to temporary ill-feelings until they are resolved.

@RonMaimon: ''We can add this as a suggestion, without enforcement by power.'' Yes, that would be enough. I changed my proposal accordingly. 

2 Answers

+ 2 like - 1 dislike

Moderators are users, and they cannot be protected in any way that users are not. This would be placing a rudeness rule in precisely the most abuse-prone position, and with the worst kind of vagueness. It is a total catastrophe.

The moderators are the ones who decide what to hide, if you tell them that they can hide attacks on themselves, they will hide all complaints about each-others' behavior on meta. All these attacks are percieved as rude by the moderator, especially when they are justified by misbehavior.

This is not a theoretical concern. On stackexchange, you can't complain about moderation on meta in any tone, polite or impolite, because it is considered hostile to the most powerful users, the moderators, it offends their feelings. This rule did not exist on PO, and still, even without it, many of VK's legitimate complaints about moderation problems were hidden or moved before I reshowed them. 

My own meta campaign would have been deleted or muted to the point of invisibility under this, and that means that VK would not have been restored, after legitimately complaining about moderator misconduct. He would be thought of as crazy in his complaints, and the moderation problems would not have been exposed. This is not something you can tolerate, sorry. I would not vote for any moderator who would not take similar actions under similar circumstances (which are impossible to repeat, due to site changes).

The rudeness policy on meta is the same as anywhere else--- let the +500 users edit according to the guidelines, if they want to, and the user always has final say (I worry about moderator editing of the past comments by users who are no longer active or removed to hide complaints). But on meta, edits should be strongly discouraged. Meta is not content, and stuff on meta does not reflect badly on the site. The Stackexchange people say "Oh man, PO meta is a battleground", just as during Watergate the Kremlin said that Washington is a battleground. They said it, and it was true, just as stackexchange says it, and it was true to a certain extent. But in secret, they are salivating at the freedom we have to expose and fix problems and to shake up the moderation and revote when necessary, because they don't have it at all. They are ossified, and the reason is that they have this precise policy. It totally contravenes freedom of speech.

As for moderator penalties--- there is only one currently, which is moderator review, leading to step-down if successful. It shouldn't ever come to this, because moderators do not have undue power (that is, without the rules you are proposing), and a simple request can be effective. The policy was thought out carefully by Dimension10, and the manual gets it right.

answered Mar 27, 2015 by Ron Maimon (7,535 points) [ revision history ]
+ 0 like - 1 dislike

As I understand it, the moderator rights and duties proposed here are not intended to give special rights to moderators, but to ensure that moderators are protected against mistreatment in the same way as normal users, encourage that meta investigations of moderator actions are carried out in an appropriate professional way and tone as can be expected on a high-level professional physics site, and that in case moderators do something wrong any punitive measures meet the severity of the wrongdoing as can be expected in any democratic community with a reasonable and fair legal system.

In my opinion, it is of paramount importance to settle these things and come to a consensus, to avoid killing all incentive for serious professional physicists to be nominated in the upcoming moderator elections and to help us with moderation on PO any time in the future.

Let me adress and explain separately how I understand the different parts of the proposed moderator rights and duties.

Moderators donate extra time for tedious activities needed for the proper functioning of PO, and should be valued for this. The guidelines should be such as not kill all incentives for professional physicists to help us with moderation in the future. In particular, moderators must be protected against abuse or unfair treatment in the same way normal users are protected. Moderators have all user rights, including that of being treated with respect, the privacy of their private messages, and that of being allowed to have an anonymous identity. 

This paragraph does not propose to establish additional rights for moderators, but just says that moderators are users (and human beings) too and should therefore be treated as such in the same way as any other user (or human being) on PO. Even though this seems to be a no-brainer to me and even if we hope that no corresponding issues will come up in the future (again), to me it seems to be a good idea to publicly state somewhere what this paragraph says.

The penalties for moderator misbehavior should be considerate - not only a choice between forcing to resign vs. simply accepting an excuse.For example, penalties could consist in temporary suspension of moderation for increasingly long periods (1 week for first serious offence, 1 month for the next, then forced resignation for the next). This should happen only for _continued_ grossly bad activities that harm the scientific goals of the site or the user rights.

In any constitutional democracy, the punishments of violations of the law correspond to the severity of the violation. There are appropriate nuances for punshiments that can be issued, ranging from monetary fines, to prison sentences of various lenghts, up to the death sentence in some countries. PO envisages until now only the possibility of accepting an excuse (which corresponds in the real-world analogy to a small monetary) fine and the immediate dismissal of a moderator (which corresponds in the real-world analogy to the death sentence), so I agree with establishing some graduation of punitive measures against moderators as proposed here. 

Moderator penalties should be imposed only according to clear and fair rules (and I am fairly open about how these would look like). Ordinary users should bring up apparent offences against moderators in meta in a polite, constructive way, but they cannot enforce a moderator penalty. 

The most important sentence in this paragraph is in my opinion the first one: Moderator penalties should be imposed only according to clear and fair rules.

The second sentence is the proof that the proposal for moderator rights and duties does by no means want to prevent questioning and investigating moderator action on meta. On the contratry, bringing up controversial, bad, or wrong moderator decisions and actions on meta is encouraged! But it should be done in a professional tone and way, as it can be expected on a high-level professional physics site. This seems important to me, and part of it is probably already adressed by the new editing guidelines.

For the reasons explained above, I therefore support establishing some kind of moderator rights and duties in the spirit of this proposal (the exact way this gets done seems less important to me).

answered Apr 1, 2015 by Dilaton (4,295 points) [ no revision ]

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