Some recent events have raised the question as to who is best equipped to be a moderator. It has become clear to me that some hugely valuable contributions are being lost to the site over concerns about moderation. Moderators here are elected by the community. What we mainly see when we vote is the contribution made in various ways. But the skills of contribution which are most valued on the site are not necessarily the skills required by a moderator - who has to make fine judgments about the behaviour of others, work constructively with other moderators, and continue to command the respect of the community as a whole.

There are some tools - badges etc - which indicate potentially positive moderator behaviour. But are there other things which ought to be rewarded, and is there a way in which the "potential moderator behaviour" of those who put themselves forward for election could be highlighted (as opposed to the basic business of asking and answering questions)?

I guess this is potentially a request for a feature to be added (moderator skills, at least at election time), or for some consideration of whether new badges might be desirable.

Hm, your first paragraph reminds me of the Peter principle - one gets promoted for doing a job good until end up at a job one doesn't do good.. – Hagen von Eitzen Dec 14 '12 at 20:06
One difficulty is that even if a moderator candidate causes concern among a large number of people who have noticed past problematic behavior, they can still easily be elected if popular among a large number of other people. (Voting has very minimal requirements of involvement, and no requirement of paying attention.) We cannot vote against a candidate, and there is (or at least hasn't been here) a clear platform for weighing such concerns during the election process. I think the "primary" stage might help if we had it here, but we haven't; a candidate could nominate themselves last second. – Jonas Meyer Dec 14 '12 at 20:10
The electoral process here has a fundamental flaw; namely that the easily identifiable merits of a potential moderator are based on their subject-matter expertise which, as it turns out here, is largely unrelated to the skillset required by moderation. One could read comment history and post history, but that is unreasonably difficult. And finally, after election, a moderator is judged only on actions, not intentions. Perhaps a transparent moderator form that the community could read, but not participate in, would help partly clear up that latter issue. – Emily Dec 14 '12 at 20:17
Although I think that most of the elected moderators have done a very good job, the election procedure itself does not impress me. For one thing it seems to be designed for a site with about an order of magnitude more participation. On this site, the election of moderators is more a self-selection than anything else. It's less than clear to me how to improve the process (and even less clear whether the SE administration has any interest in this). – Pete L. Clark Dec 14 '12 at 20:25
One thing that struck me in the last election: I was surprised that a user who had been suspended (twice) in the relatively recent past was allowed to run for moderator. Thinking idealistically I can see a rationale for this, but in practice I think that electing such a moderator is asking for trouble. I might suggest that a user who has been suspended in the last year (say) be prohibited from running. However the weirdly private/public mix of current suspension practices could make this hard to enforce. – Pete L. Clark Dec 14 '12 at 20:30
@PeteL.Clark I think the problem was rather that this moderator didn't disclose his suspension on the election question thread where all candidates where actually asked this question. I think a history of being suspended for spiteful downvoting doesn't look good to even the most superficial voter. – Michael Greinecker Dec 14 '12 at 20:32
@Michael: True, but I find myself more inclined to blame the process than the candidate for not disclosing information that would have hurt him in the election. The current primary phase allows someone to sign up at the very end and skip directly to the voting: doesn't that defeat the point of having a primary? Also, there is clearly some sentiment from the administration that one should not talk about suspensions (which I think is weird, given that you can immediately see when someone is suspended) which seems to provide some defense to the practice of nondisclosure of suspensions. – Pete L. Clark Dec 14 '12 at 20:41
@PeteL.Clark A suspension is not meant to be a permanent black mark on the user, if the user corrects his behaviour it is intentional that the suspension is pretty much forgotten in public. But I agree that previous suspensions should be made public in elections. This has happened in elections on other sites by regular users that remembered the suspension, but a more formal process would be useful. – Mad Scientist Dec 14 '12 at 20:46
@Mad Scientist: There are already some ways in which a suspension is a "permanent black mark" on the user: there is a very severe escalation in the duration of successive suspensions. To the best of my knowledge, this is not time dependent. In my opinion, this current practice is significantly more severe than the proposed practice of preventing a recently (by some definition) suspended user from becoming a moderator. It doesn't make much sense to be "on probation" and at the same time be endowed with special status and responsibility. – Pete L. Clark Dec 14 '12 at 20:57
@Henry B.: The former head of, Jeff Atwood, drove me nuts some years back by insisting on reasoning by analogy and metaphor. ("I'm a policeman...Like a university president, I....") One inevitably ends up arguing about various aspects of the analogy rather than what we want to be discussing. I find it highly tedious. If you have any remarks to make about this idea for a policy change on, I would be interested to hear them and might respond to them. I am not interested in a lesson or debate on international penal codes and election laws. – Pete L. Clark Dec 14 '12 at 21:21
Also: suspension histories are in general not well known or openly available on meta. In this case, one of a moderator candidate's suspensions was discussed on meta. I'm not sure whether the other one was. But as a general rule there is an "on the downlow" aspect to suspensions that I don't really understand. For instance, on a thread describing recent events it is mentioned that there were two recent suspensions on this site. Someone asked who else was suspended, and a moderator replied that that information is private... – Pete L. Clark Dec 14 '12 at 22:03
...Which I find strange given that a suspended user's webpage prominently displays that they are suspended and until what date. In what sense then is being suspended a private matter? If present suspensions are somehow private, are we sure it's kosher to bring up past suspensions during elections? (Perhaps one of the reasons it was not brought up explicitly last time is that those who knew about it wondered about the appropriateness of calling attention to it?) Maybe it respects a user's privacy more to have them unable to run for moderator but not to tell anyone else about it? – Pete L. Clark Dec 14 '12 at 22:06
@Mark: On principle I don’t think that a probationary period with final judgement rendered by the longer-serving moderators is a good idea. While it would go some way towards ensuring that the moderators could work together, it would also run the risk of promoting a sort of inbreeding. I thought that it was a bit foolish to elect a firebrand with an agenda, but I’m not comfortable with a practice that could so easily tend to promote conformity. – Brian M. Scott Dec 14 '12 at 22:21
There is a traditional test. Take the candidates to a stream to refresh themselves. Discard those who kneel and plunge their faces in the water to drink. Keep those who cup the water in their hands. – Will Jagy Dec 14 '12 at 23:29
@Will: Or the variant, tie them to a chair and dunk them into the stream for ten minutes. Those who survive are clearly witches and therefore unfit to serve as moderators. Those who have drowned were clearly innocent people and should have been kept. – Asaf Karagila Dec 14 '12 at 23:31

Not only does the community not have much basis to evaluate moderator candidates, but we then must elect them for life.

I think it would be helpful if moderators were initially elected to a probationary term of fairly short duration (say, 3 months). At the end of this term, the community could evaluate their work (based on either detailed or aggregate data about what moderator actions they have taken, as well as comments from fellow moderators), and vote on whether to retain them.

Actually, I happen to think all moderators should run for re-election periodically; I dislike the current moderator-for-life system. But at a minimum the community should get at least one chance to make a decision about a moderator based on his or her actual performance.

Oh, I see this was already proposed and discussed in comments. Well, this way people can vote on it. – Nate Eldredge Dec 15 '12 at 15:04
Yea, I read a bunch of comments (there are 50+ comments) and didn't see this so it's good it's an answer. +1, most definitely should have a probationary period since we can't really judge them as moderators until they are moderators. – Graphth Dec 15 '12 at 15:10
I agree in principle that it would be nice to somehow check up on people who may have sounded good in their nomination but didn't turn out to be good moderator material in practice, but the unfortunate side-effect of a probation period is that you'd see newly elected moderators being very conservative and hesitant during that probation period because they'd be motivated by getting "confirmed into the role" at the end of it. Moderators have to be able to take the sometime unpopular actions and "get X votes or you're out" systems hamstring that. – Adam Lear Dec 16 '12 at 7:07
With all that said, we recently put up a process for removing a moderator that is largely driven by other moderators on the site (mostly since they're privy to all the information that goes into evaluating a moderator's actions), but could also be initiated by the site's users if there are enough issues to convince the other moderators that a moderator is not working out. – Adam Lear Dec 16 '12 at 7:10
I didn't realize before that the election term was unlimited. I thought it was for one year. – MJD Dec 26 '12 at 4:02

This is a poll. Please vote this answer up if you think there should be a delay between the deadline for nominations and the beginning of voting. This has been mentioned in several comments; I am posting it as an answer just so that it can be put to a vote.

Could you not make this into a new thread, with other ideas which have been put forward which we could vote on also? – user1729 Dec 20 '12 at 14:59
I'm interested to know how such feature should be implemented... – Asaf Karagila Dec 20 '12 at 18:52
@Asaf: several people have mentioned a "primary" feature built into the software already, although I don't understand it yet. Or we could just enforce it as a community by requiring candidates to pre-commit before the "official" deadline. But I wrote the question just about whether the delay is desirable, independent of how it would be implemented. – Carl Mummert Dec 20 '12 at 18:54
@AsafKaragila: See the end of this post of MadScientist. – user1729 Dec 21 '12 at 9:58

How about this as a feature request?

It is certainly fine that a person have privacy if suspended. But, if they want to run for moderator, then they must surrender that privacy and it must be made known of their past suspensions, including some detail as to what happened and why they were suspended. If they don't want people to know about their suspensions, then they can have the privacy by simply not running. But, if you put your name in as a candidate, you are expressing that you are giving up your right to the privacy. This is how it goes in real life when someone runs for an office. We need to know if they did terrible or stupid things so we can make a decision.

And, there could be a time limit on this, perhaps it only is necessary for suspensions in the last year. So, if a user can behave for over a year, then they can have the privacy and still run to be a moderator.

I also think the number of times their comments have been flagged as offensive needs to be disclosed. – user10389 Dec 20 '12 at 4:33
@user10389: I think that is less informative because anyone can flag the comment; it isn't a deliberative process. But suspensions are not made lightly, and so knowing about them gives more information. – Carl Mummert Dec 20 '12 at 13:28
@CarlMummert In addition to disclosure of suspensions, comments that were removed by a moderator because they were abusive/offensive. – user10389 Dec 20 '12 at 16:06

On the election candidate page you can find the number of helpful flags the user have raised, and the number of meta posts. Those things indicate the level of involvement of the user in the moderation of the site, to some extent at least.

I think that in the next election reviews statistics may be applicable as well, although I'm not 100% positive how that would be relevant. It would show, though, that the user is interested in improved the site and is willing to invest in it.

Unfortunately this is quite moot. The voting itself has always ended up to those with most reputation, as if people correlate between the ability to write good/popular answers to the ability to make managerial decisions.

In recent elections one of the elected candidates refused to answer my questions to the candidates on grounds that they are too busy improving the site, and answering a petty question like mine is a waste of time. They will answer it, later -- when time permits. In fact I don't recall that particular moderator answering many questions anyway.

Needless to say, that candidate was elected, and then we had that mini-fiasco with flagging which proved that new moderators which are unexperienced in actual moderation on this site -- make bad moderators (at first, anyway).

The problem is to get voters involved in the meta site; even just reading is a start. I am more than certain that if everyone who voted were regular meta visitors the results would have been different.

So the feature request, while noble, should be different. It should force the candidates to be active on meta, and it should semi-force the voters to follow that.

If anything, then my idea (which is definitely not a good one, but may be a start for some other idea) would be to extend the time between the primaries and the elections to two weeks (or a month) and force the candidates to be active on the meta. There is a lot to show in two weeks, and later it is easier to call someone on a broken promise; or to point out discrepancies between what the candidates say before the elections and what they did before it.

I think the "active on meta" idea could have some traction. An informed electorate is a prerequisite of true democracy. – Mark Bennet Dec 14 '12 at 22:06
I don't think we should try to force most people to be active on meta. I look at meta from time to time and there is rarely anything for me to comment on. I could force myself to comment, but that seems like a waste of time when I could use my limited time on the site to answer questions. I do think that having a reasonable period of time (say 1 week) between nominations and voting would give the average user a reason to use meta during that time, and it would also give voters a written record they can look at before voting. – Carl Mummert Dec 20 '12 at 13:32
@Carl: I agree with what you said. – Asaf Karagila Dec 20 '12 at 13:48

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