Virt and I think it's important for users to understand how moderation handles situations which may arise regarding potential code of conduct violations. We have both encountered some misconceptions users have about the moderation process; we hope this post will help demystify this process.
When a report is submitted, the responding moderator begins by evaluating whether or not the post has violated some component of the COC. If the responding moderator is unsure or believes that a post might fall into a grey area, they consult with the other moderator to determine what course of action, if any, is best.
If it is determined that a post does not violate the COC and is thus not actionable, no further steps are taken. If it is determined that a post does violate the COC and is thus actionable, moderation evaluates the severity of the violation and decides on a course of action which, in its best judgment, is going to nudge the violator towards more appropriate action in the future. Punishment is never moderation's primary objective; rather, we prioritize encouraging users to remain active and engaged on the site in a civil and rule-abiding fashion. In other words, we place our emphasis on reform. We want users who have broken the rules to learn that their conduct was unacceptable so that they do not repeat it and so that they can continue to be a part of this awesome site.
With a reform-emphasis in mind, moderation always begins its interactions with users by identifying posts or comments which have been determined to violate the COC. If users do not understand why their actions violate the COC, moderation offers an explanation. In all such cases, users are cautioned not to repeat their misconduct in the future. Mods may issue one or more warnings to a single individual, depending on the severity of the violations.
If violations accumulate such that it is clear that a user is willfully disregarding the COC and moderation's attempt to use dialogue to bring them into compliance, moderation escalates by imposing a restraining order, forum restriction, or a temporary ban. The specific means of escalation is a reflection of moderation's best judgement as to how to prevent future misconduct in the least harsh way possible. Moderation does its best to avoid being heavy-handed and takes this approach, again, to facilitate reform and to emphasize rehabilitation and restoration over retribution.
Further misconduct following an initial escalation results in a cascade of subsequent escalation in response to the additional misconduct. This chain will last until moderation feels as if the only way to prevent a user from recidivating is to perma-ban that user. After the initial escalation, however, moderation will attempt to give the violator space and time to demonstrate better behavior. But each escalatory step moderation takes reduces the leniency moderation can afford any user.
With that said, simply because there are no visible signs of moderation action does not mean that moderation is not acting. Since the warning phase, which is often quite extensive, occurs in private, moderation could be engaged in a dialogue with a user without the site at-large being aware of it. Questions such as "why hasn't X been dealt with yet" stem from a place of ignorance, because the user asking them is not in a position to know what the moderators are doing. Instead of accusing moderation of perceived inaction, if a user has ongoing concerns about another user's activities, the user is best served by bringing the offender's activities to moderation's attention by reporting those activities or contacting a moderator.
Moreover, moderation will not discuss ongoing moderation activities regarding a user or users with unrelated parties or accusers. This policy exists to protect the privacy of the users with whom moderation is engaging. At most, moderation will acknowledge that a dialogue has been undertaken with a user. We do view it as a dialogue (or coaching)--an effort to explicate the COC violations and the COC itself with a violator and to bring them, with the least amount of coercive force possible, into compliance with the COC.
In keeping with moderation's sensitivity to the privacy interests of reported users, reporting users will not receive an update on what, if any, action moderation took in response to their report. Moderation also values the privacy of accusers. Reports are anonymous, and moderation always avoids identifying reporting users whenever possible, particularly where concerns of retribution are credible.
It being understood that moderation will not discuss potential or actual moderation actions against a specific user, it is fruitless, inappropriate, and unacceptably obstructionist to attempt to use other users' perceived misconduct as cover for your own, or to attempt to redirect moderation dialogues with you to a discussion of another user. If moderation is in a dialogue with you, it's about your actions alone. Similarly, claiming that you were just responding to someone else is not an excuse for misconduct, though it may be a mitigating factor. You are responsible for your own actions. That you are not the provocateur is never a valid defense.
But let me return to the overriding mission of moderation: to reform rather than punish. Moderators are, in the first instance, educators. It is our job to educate violators of the COC on why their actions violated the COC and what the COC means, as well as to encourage them to avoid violating the COC in the future. It is only when extensive and prolonged efforts in this respect fail that moderators become cops, and are compelled by a user's intransigence to place greater pressure on violators to obey the rules of the site. Only when all of these efforts have abjectly failed does moderation resort to perma-banning.
Please feel free to comment, pose questions, or offer suggestions.