A Primer on Moderation

Author: bsh1 ,

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  • bsh1
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    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.

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    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.

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    Please feel free to comment, pose questions, or offer suggestions.
  • Mopac
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    Sounds like a very good moderation policy. 

  • bsh1
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    --> @Mopac
    Thank you!

  • bsh1
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    This post will only be pinned until Sunday, in order to call attention to the content of the post itself without cluttering the pins long-term.
  • Vaarka
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    tl;dr?
  • RationalMadman
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    As a servant of the bsh regime, I say hip hip hooray for libertarian moderation.

    As RM himself, I say good job on not banning me.

    As a good member of this community I say make it all public, expose all to all.

  • bsh1
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    --> @Vaarka
    OMG, lol. 
  • drafterman
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    What about mistakes in moderation?
  • bsh1
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    --> @drafterman
    Moderation decisions are always up for discussion between the mods and the potential recipient(s) of any moderation action. Such individuals have the right to offer a defense of their actions, per the COC, and that defense cannot be dismissed without consideration by the overseeing moderator. Moderators are certainly permitted to reconsider decisions they've made in light of any new arguments, understandings, or facts which come to light. Moderators are also obliged to make a thorough investigation of any claims which arise. Ultimately, however, moderation decisions are not subject to appeal. 

  • RationalMadman
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    I support banning everyone who stands in my way. Thanks for your understanding.

    No need to make it public anymore.
  • drafterman
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    --> @bsh1
    that defense cannot be dismissed without consideration
    Define:  consideration
  • mustardness
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    --> @drafterman
    Con  = latin  together

    Sider  or sidero = latin star

    Ergo, to consider, is the coming together of conceptual star events, to create and/or identify/name a conceptually whole conclusion.

    Constellation as whole set/group of stellar events we conceptually identify with an animal, flower, god, etc.

    Ego =  the primary conceptual star event in a persons life.

    An identify-able  group of egos is called a con-ego-ation?
  • bsh1
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    --> @drafterman
    Sure. The moderator must examine the defense offered for its merits. Moderators must first screen a defense by asking: is it logical, is it truthful, and is it valid? If the moderator determines that a defense is indeed logical, truthful, and valid, the moderator must then ask whether the defense exonerates or mitigates the offense committed, and to what extent it mitigates if indeed mitigation is due. In other words, any meritorious defense must affect what actions moderation chooses to take. Consideration, then, involves assessing the merits of a proffered defense, determining the extent to which any such merits mitigate or exonerate an accused user, and factoring in the aforementioned determination into moderation's decision-making regarding the accused user.
  • drafterman
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    --> @bsh1
    So, if a moderator makes a mistake or acts maliciously, what recourse does a user have, when the moderators can just decide that no change in behavior is warranted?
  • bsh1
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    --> @drafterman
    That's kind of like asking "if the Supreme Court makes a partisan decision or acts in a biased manner, what recourse does a petitioner have?" The problem is that the buck must stop somewhere; there cannot be an infinite chain of appeals, because then no final decision could ever be reached.
  • drafterman
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    --> @bsh1
    Supreme Court justices can be impeached, so there is a concrete mechanisms in place to deal with that. Not to mention they are at the end if a series of appeals available to citizens and are adjudicating the decisions of other people.

    So,.you know, nothing like moderation here. So what recourse does a user have to combat mod abuse?

  • bsh1
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    --> @drafterman
    Saying that justices can be impeached is like saying that a meteorite can destroy the earth. Only one justice, Samuel Chase, has ever been impeached, and he was later acquitted by the Senate, allowing him to remain on the court. He was impeached in 1805. Even for federal judges, only 14 have ever been impeached and only 8 have ever been convicted and removed from office. The lack of impeachment is not so much a reflection of the honor of the justices, since it is beyond belief to suggest that none have ever made partisan decisions or acted in a biased manner. Rather, it reflects the difficulty of impeachment and the need to allow the court to operate independent of political and popular interference.

    So, yes, it's actually quite like moderation, in the sense that the Court is virtually impervious to the checks which theoretically exist and in the sense that the Court is impervious largely because it needs to operate independently of political and popular whims.
  • drafterman
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    --> @bsh1
    Ok, nice history of the Supreme Court. Educational.
    Back to my question. What recourse does a user here and now, have regarding the moderation here and now?
    If it's none, then just say "none."


  • bsh1
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    --> @drafterman
    What I said original to your question was: "That's kind of like asking 'if the Supreme Court makes a partisan decision or acts in a biased manner, what recourse does a petitioner have?' The problem is that the buck must stop somewhere; there cannot be an infinite chain of appeals, because then no final decision could ever be reached." I think it's fairly clear from this response that the buck stops with moderation, meaning that there is no one higher up the chain for the buck to go to. There is no appellate power higher than the mods, and so users, if they object to a moderation decisions, cannot appeal that decision.
  • drafterman
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    Never use few words when you can obfuscate with many, eh?
  • bsh1
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    --> @drafterman
    I don't think anyone who read what I said in that post could accuse me of obfuscating. What I said was pretty clear: "There is no appellate power higher than the mods, and so users, if they object to a moderation decisions, cannot appeal that decision."
  • Vaarka
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    --> @bsh1
    OMG, lol. 
    Ah, I see. Good summary
  • drafterman
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    So you're saying your decisions are immune to even site owner adjudication? That's an interesting position. I wasn't aware he permanently ceded that much power to you.
  • bsh1
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    --> @drafterman
    Mike assured me that we would be autonomous in our activities. But, there are some pretty clear problems with suggesting that the site owner ought to be the final judge in questions of moderation. Firstly, the site owner is already immensely busy with site upkeep and improvements, and I doubt adding on the extra burden of dealing with moderation issues would be feasible. Secondly, allowing the site owner to be the final judge would fundamentally undermine moderation's authority, since it would be understood that their calls could always be overturned by some higher authority. At that point, why even have separate moderators? Since most moderation actions are disputed by someone, often the party being punished or warned, then the site owner would be required to deal with an almost endless stream of appeals. The site owner would, in effect, become moderation because all or almost all moderation decisions would be referred to him. Not only would that render having a separate moderation team meaningless, but it would add a substantial burden to an already busy site owner's tasks. Thirdly, the site owner has already shown himself to be far more willing to resort to bans than existing moderation. While I have immense respect for Mike, I doubt the usership as a whole is in sync with his moderation style. Fourthly, because moderation is typically the one liaising directly with users, we are best positioned to actually make the kind of value judgments necessary to enforce the COC. Finally, there is no guarantee that any actor would be free from malice in any particular decision. So, you objections to moderation as the final arbiter could be applied to anyone who might serve in such a role. At the point where your objections could apply to everyone, they become meaningless.
  • bsh1
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    --> @Vaarka
    I would just read it. I think the full text captures what we're trying to say most accurately, so I don't want to attempt to distill it into a short TLDR that cannot capture all the nuances and feelings that the full text expresses.