26

Joseph required me to set a threshold. Let's say that the answer to the title question is "yes" if this post reaches at least 30 upvotes in one month's time.


Recently:

  • three top users deleted their accounts,
  • two top users left the site (without deleting their accounts), one of them was suspended several times before (in my opinion, the past behavior of the people involved was not carefully taken into account in this circumstance, as far as I can judge with the little info available)
  • in general, I feel that touchiness and rudeness are growing (a couple of episodes make me think that).

I believe there is a problem.

Now we have only three mods, all of them are European.

One of them is English and the other two are German, that is, all of them are Anglo-Saxon speakers.

To cover all the time zones, I think we need, at least:

  • an American (better if South American, see below)
  • an Asian
  • a person from Oceania.

And to better understand misunderstandings created by language barriers, we should also have:

  • an African
  • a South American.

As marmot suggested in his answer, it would also be great to have a more gender-balanced moderator team, since the current ones are all men.

To clear any doubt, I do not want to propose myself as a moderator because:

  1. I am European, too
  2. I have no time at all
  3. I am mean.

How do the mod elections work? Can we have more than three mods?


Update: Christian Hupfer (one of the users who recently left the site and deleted the accounts) wrote to me to explain the reasons for his leaving. He authorized me to talk about them, I try to sum them up:

  • a growing number of just-do-it-for-me and otherwise boring questions
  • too many duplicates answered instead of being closed
  • too much attention to TikZ posts, and too few attention to the ones which would deserve it
  • too much childish talks in chat (ducks & Co.) and fun posts
  • growing rudeness
  • ingratitude.

Hence, apart from the growing rudeness, there is not much mods can do.

  • I agree with you that there is more tension lately and that this is undesired. However, I'm not sure (in the sense that I do not know, not in the sense that I disagree) if appointing more or more culturally/chronologically diverse moderators would make a difference. Do you feel that the current moderators responded too slow to the recent incidents, or that they ignored cultural or general sensitivities? – Marijn Mar 29 at 9:30
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    @Marijn No, I don't have that feeling, but since I'm European, too, maybe I can't realize it such cases happen. – CarLaTeX Mar 29 at 11:20
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    I'm also not sure an African can handle all African languages, or an Asian can handle all Asian languages (spoiler: I can't). But anyway, a mod election is usually requested by mods when they can't handle the current load of mod tasks (e.g. handling flags, especially mod & comment flags). Other "moderation actions" can be handled by their regular users without the need for more "diamonds". – Andrew T. Mar 29 at 15:12
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    @AndrewT. Of course an African can't understand all African languages, but, for example, we have a lot of Arabic users but no mod who speaks Arabic. The same for Latin languages. For example, I think a Spanish mod could understand a grammar error made by an Italian better than an English mother-tongue. – CarLaTeX Mar 29 at 16:23
  • Could I ask what you feel the threshold here is for deciding that one or more new moderators are required? For example, if the question gets X upvotes? If there is a 'yes' answer with Y upvotes? – Joseph Wright Mar 29 at 22:16
  • As I've said in reply to marmot, we can have (as far as I know) as many moderators as we ask for. – Joseph Wright Mar 29 at 22:32
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    In terms of how elections work, they have two rounds. First, anyone with more than some threshold of site reputation can stand. They make a statement to explain why they should go forward to the vote. Site users select candidates, and the top one goes forward to a voting stage. At that stage, there can be for example 'Town Hall' discussion to ask candidates questions. Again, voting is carried out by site members with at least some minimal reputation. Voting is I think by STV. See for example tex.stackexchange.com/election/1 – Joseph Wright Mar 29 at 22:34
  • @JosephWright I didn't set a threshold because I didn't know how the mod election works (thanks for explaining), I have no idea... – CarLaTeX Mar 29 at 23:28
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    @user49915 Users can behave badly also because they are provoked. That's why I prefer to stop this conversation. – CarLaTeX Mar 30 at 13:22
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    @user49915 You got at least 4 downvotes, so you should understand why your answer was deleted. – JouleV Mar 30 at 13:43
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    @JosephWright -- I hope you're not assuming that all the upvotes to this question mean that more moderators are actually needed. My reason for upvoting was simply that I think it's a good question to ask, and that I will consider responses on their own merits. I'm actually happy with the current moderation; when I ask for help (or flag something), there is always a response, and usually quite promptly. (So thanks to the moderators.) – barbara beeton Mar 30 at 21:44
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    @user49915 Yes, sure, it has to be reasonable. But there has to be some gauge of whether action is needed. An election will need the the existing mods to ask the staff to trigger one. I (and Stefan and Martin) need some idea of the feeling. And all we are talking here is that a new election take place, which would add moderators not remove anyone. – Joseph Wright Apr 1 at 21:12
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    Just to put the +30 score into perspective. There are currently roughly 2000 questions on meta and about 100 have a score higher than 30. Many of those are quite old and very frequently linked, so have had a chance to garner upvotes over a very long period of time. There are two outliers there, both concerned with the 2018 redesign, a very controversial issue. If we look at more recent stuff only a few posts score more than 20. Caveat: Very few if any of those higher-scoring questions were of the 'yes/no voting type' that we have here. – moewe Apr 2 at 6:32
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    @moewe I thank you very much for your comment. To every sensible person (like you) is clear that setting such an high threshold I wanted to have a large agreement on my proposal. – CarLaTeX Apr 2 at 6:41
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    @user49915 I'm not sure I can buy that 100 something would be a lower bound based on observations of featured questions (from years ago!) alone. tex.meta.stackexchange.com/q/7543, tex.meta.stackexchange.com/q/7769, tex.meta.stackexchange.com/q/7942/are three recent featured questions and none surpassed 30 votes. Anyway, my comment above was intended to do exactly what the first sentence said: Put a score of +30 into perspective w.r.t. other questions on meta. I don't want to get bogged down in discussions about whether or not 30 is a good cut-off point. – moewe Apr 4 at 19:51
26

It seems to me that there are three different questions here. And I'm sort of agnostic about all of them.

More moderation?

The first question is whether we need more moderation to counter rudeness or other sorts of dissatisfaction with the site. I don't generally find this site particularly rude or unpleasant. Like anyone else, I sometimes encounter behaviour that makes me wince. But that's life. I know nothing about moderation action, whether directed at well-known or not well-known users.

Anyway, I really doubt that we need more moderation, as such. Mostly, I think, the site community as a whole manages to make its feelings reasonably clear, as it did in fact on this thread. I suppose we can all help the moderators work efficiently by flagging things for their attention iff they really need their attention.

I'm afraid I incline to the fatalistic view that if somewhere needs constant policing to avoid falling into antisocial rancour, then the game is up. I don't for a moment think we are in that position. But if we were ... I don't think more, or more aggressive, moderation would help us.

More diverse moderators?

A second question is whether it would be a good idea to have a moderation team that represents a more diverse range of backgrounds, points of view or (prosaically) time zones. I'm always in favour of diversity in leadership, because I find from my own practical experience that it helps encourage a diverse community. But, for all that, I rather doubt that in this particular case that would justify appointing extra mods. Why? Because -- and I think this is a good thing -- I don't think the mods here function as "leaders"; I don't think that they "set the tone" or dominate the discussion; I find that they largely disappear into the background, and I think they deserve credit for doing so. So in this particular case I doubt that having a wider range of moderators would have much impact. I don't know when elections are held. I'd certainly like to encourage as wide a range of candidates as possible when they are. But that's a different thing.

Ennui and the end of days?

Finally, I detect in the question a certain sense that the site is currently a bit "below par", compared perhaps to the early days, with people leaving and so forth. Well, I have mixed feelings. I don't think it's surprising to find people leaving. There comes a point, perhaps, when people have "had enough", quite naturally; when the questions start to get dull, and the most dedicated expert wants to move on. That's not necessarily unhealthy: it can make room for new folk, which is a good thing. If you've been around here for a long while, I suppose it's easy to find that most of the most interesting questions have been asked and answered, and hunting down duplicates or answering very specific questions can get tiresome. I don't think we should be worried if people move on.

There probably are some basic defects, almost genetic defects, in the structure of this site. After a certain point, when the "big, common" issues have been addressed in canonical answers, there may not be all that much to do, and it's maybe natural that the site becomes dominated by sometimes rather tedious issues. Those issues matter for the users who post questions about them. They may be interesting enough for intermediate users to be willing to spend time on. But I think it's sort of inevitable that real experts are going to turn their attention elsewhere, and probably it's healthy for them and for the site that they do.

Is there anything we could do?

Yes. As always. We watch our own behaviour. If we don't like rudeness, let's make sure we are not rude. If we want to encourage questions, let's be encouraging. If we want to encourage real understanding of TeX, let's post answers that explain. If we want to discourage DIFM questions, let's resist the temptation to Do It For Them. If we want to encourage new answerers, let old-timers be generous in not rushing to answer questions, and let's all be generous in upvoting carefully done questions and answers. Let's resolve not to close early and often. Let's resolve not to ask for MWEs on questions we have no intention of answering. All those things, which we all probably know. Moderators cannot, however dedicated, to that for us.

  • 2
    I totally agree with the last point. I don't agree that letting users leave the site is good for the site. If they leave means they have had some bad experience. If they simply had something better to do, they would simply stop answering. If they delete their profile, the problem is deeper. And I also think mods should be more severe. – CarLaTeX Apr 2 at 13:49
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    Anyway, +1, this is the best answer till now. Your replied very precisely and sensibly. – CarLaTeX Apr 2 at 13:58
  • +1 (more if I could) I think you've very elegantly summed up my thoughts on the issue too. – Alan Munn Apr 2 at 15:43
  • @CarLaTeX If you've spent time on any other site where the mods are 'more severe' you would discover that this is most certainly not at good thing, at least in my experience. – Alan Munn Apr 2 at 15:45
  • @AlanMunn Why? I'm not talking of users who downvote answers to a DIFM question. I'm talking of mod action on improper behavior. – CarLaTeX Apr 2 at 20:23
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    @CarLaTeX That's what I'm talking about too. Heavy handed moderation is IMO worse than the light touch approach that our own moderators practise. – Alan Munn Apr 2 at 20:49
  • I really liked your answer. I apologize immediately when I am wrong, but it would be appropriate for there to be a hint of humility and general wisdom. I would be very happy if this to happen. – Sebastiano Apr 4 at 7:24
12

A few thoughts.

It happens that somebody leaves because of moderation action (with reasons). And every suspension is a moderator action. So you want to have more moderators? ;-)

Any suspended user who is proud of the reason can go ahead and tell here. Otherwise we don't make things public since we value privacy and a better future together. No finger pointing.

And by the way, a medium/long suspension is not made easily. A short suspension is the second serious signal while the first is usually just a message. If it comes to a longer suspension, there's the "past behavior" you mentioned that you may not see in public.

We all can moderate here. Being friendly, welcoming, we all create and maintain the atmosphere. We current mods usually keep it relaxed and quiet and act when users can not solve it on their own and especially when our messages won't help. If you would like to have it it more "organized", well, then get more moderators. ;-) We mods usually agree in decisions by writing emails between us. If you would like to have more opinions and emotions on the table, add more diverse cultural background and more timezones to have more time for working on it. ;-)

  • 3
    I'm not saying that users are leaving because of moderation action (I don't think this was the reason for the recent leaving, at least), but I think maybe users are leaving for mod in-action. You are only 3 and have a lot of messages to check. It's possible that you can't strictly monitor users behavior. Some users behaved badly, but they weren't suspended, as far as I know. That's why I think we need more people to help you. – CarLaTeX Mar 29 at 16:16
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    @CarLaTeX "Some users behaved badly, but they weren't suspended, as far as I know." there are 2 possible causes: 1) mods don't notice them, or don't think they need to be suspended yet, or 2) no one ever flags them for mod attention. While election might or might not solve (1), regular users can and should do more flagging for (2) – Andrew T. Mar 29 at 16:29
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    @AndrewT. Good point! I notice: I cannot think of any user complaining that a mod did not properly act on a flag. OTOH we had complaints when we acted on flags. (A user left the site because we deleted off-topic non-friendly flagged (!) comments). Once we get a flag, we take it seriously and prefer to delete off-topic comments leading to fights. Abusive and rude comments will be deleted in any case. In addition: Users flag a lot. 13,493 comments have been flagged in 2018 (plus questions, answers). Currently we have 4 non-urgent left to handle. It's rarely 10, since we usually act daily. – Stefan Kottwitz Mar 29 at 17:10
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    @AndrewT. There are behaviors that cannot be signalled simply by flagging a post, like be annoying in chat or not deleting an answer which is clearly wrong, even if more than one user ask them to do it (don't tell me there is downvote for that, we all know that voting behavior is very strange). – CarLaTeX Mar 29 at 18:00
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    @CarLaTeX The question is nice but I'll briefly answer you that I agree very much - indeed I absolutely agree with what I've understood, with Andrew T and the moderator Stefan Kottwitz. In my humble opinion I think that there is no need for more moderators, rather that some users of this beautiful site understand good manners, respect for each other and do not pester unjustly or provocatively a part of them. – Sebastiano Mar 29 at 20:06
  • @StefanKottwitz I totally agree with you: see my general comment. – Sebastiano Mar 29 at 20:07
  • @AndrewT. You have my solidarity. – Sebastiano Mar 29 at 20:07
  • @CarLaTeX The fact that you are unable to flag a user and have to flag a post of that user is only a technical issue. I'm sure that if you explain the systemic problems you observe of an user on a flag of a recent post of said user, the moderators will take your complaint seriously. – Discrete lizard Apr 12 at 8:36
  • @Discretelizard Another problem is that, when you flag for moderation attention, the length of the comment you can leave is very little. I found hard to explain a certain situation with so little space available. – CarLaTeX Apr 12 at 9:19
  • @CarLaTeX In that case, you can request in a flag that the moderators create a private chatroom (on SE) to discuss the matter with you, or give them information to contact you via another channel (e.g. email). While some problems are harder to report to moderators than others by the design of SE, you should not let that stop you from contacting moderators whenever there is an important issue. – Discrete lizard Apr 12 at 9:28
  • @Discretelizard I didn't know about the possibility of a private chatroom, that's a great info, thanks! – CarLaTeX Apr 12 at 9:34
  • @CarLaTeX I just visited this thread again after a long time. Btw, replying at your comment: "annoying in chat", then the chat room needs more active Room Owners (including but not necessarily mods) to moderate the room; give warning, or kick and chat suspend the offending users. "not deleting an answer which is clearly wrong" this is a controversial topic, but the goal is to let negative-score wrong answers around the site to show what the wrong solutions are (unless it's a nonsensical/troll answer). People also learn from mistakes. – Andrew T. Apr 22 at 14:27
  • @AndrewT. For the first point, I agree, we should flag more. For the second point: 1) it may happen there is a troll answer which earns a lot of upvotes, and if the OP doesn't delete it when asked, and nobody vote to delete it when flagged, there is nothing we can do; 2) if the answer is not a troll but clearly wrong, it may happen that people upvote only because the attached image is beautiful, I agree that we should downvote more or at least pay attention before upvoting. – CarLaTeX Apr 22 at 14:41
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Let me start by saying that I am overall very happy with what the moderators were and are doing. Please do not forget that they are doing all this in their "free" time! (The only exception might be two suspensions of a top user which I may not have enough background information to understand.) So let me thank the moderators for all they have done!

Having said this, one should also consider that in this millennium diversity is becoming increasingly important. That is, the composition of the moderator team may be something that sends certain signals to new and not-so-new users. For example, one may interpret the graphs showing the activity on this site vs. time of the day in (at least) two ways:

  1. for some reasons, LaTeX is most popular in Europe, and then it is no surprise that the majority of users, and hence the moderators, are from this region, or
  2. our community is dominated by people with a certain background, which implies a threshold for potential users with a different background, such that they are less likely to join and/or contribute.

Clearly, I do not have enough data that might allow me to judge which of these interpretations is more accurate. On the other hand, it is known that adding diversity to the "leadership" is often instrumental attract talented contributors and to improve the atmosphere. Therefore, I feel that @CarLaTeX has a very good point, and would like to add to her wish list

a more gender-balanced moderator team.

I do see the point by Stefan Kottwitz that increasing the number of moderators may make it more difficult for them to make decisions. On the other hand, if they had a model in which only a certain number of moderator votes is required for certain actions to be performed, this may not be an unsurmountable difficulty. And such a model would also mean that the burden of moderation is shared among more users. Let me stress that this proposal is not because our current moderators did something wrong (which they didn't IMHO) but because I think that CarLaTeX has a good suggestion that might be worth trying (and which does not seem to have any major disadvantages).

P.S. As you can see from what is written, I do not have a detailed picture how moderation works on our site. So these thoughts may be completely unrealistic because, say, there is a rule that the number of moderators has to be 3. In case I missed something of this sort, please let me know. I will be happy to delete this post.

  • 3
    Almost all mod actions can be taken by a single moderator. Remember that the same back-end works here as for StackOverflow, and they have tens of thousands of questions per day and 26 moderators. Most of the time, as Stefan says, the three of us do discuss any major actions (including but not limited to almost all direct mod messages, suspensions, etc.). (Things that need more than one mod: redacting posts, creating custom close reasons.) – Joseph Wright Mar 29 at 21:20
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    +1, great! I forgot to say in my question that the mods are all men! – CarLaTeX Mar 29 at 21:22
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    @CarLaTeX If you see anywhere in our community that people are treated differently because of gender, nation, religion, age, sexual orientation, please flag it. If such issues arise and cannot be solved within the community and current moderators, that can be a reason to elect representatives to help dealing with it. – Stefan Kottwitz Mar 29 at 22:09
  • @StefanKottwitz I think there are two separate issues. Do you moderators treat women unfairly? Absolutely not! (IMHO). Is there an issue for users if in a given community all important positions are filled by the other gender? Studies say there is, and I am absolutely willing to believe that. (Have you ever entered a meeting room in which only women were present? If so, how did you feel?) – marmot Mar 29 at 22:21
  • On how many moderators we have to have: broadly, the network 'rules' require a minimum of three. (There are one or two sites with only two, but this is atypical.) We have (as far as I know) no upper limit on the number of moderators: it's simply a question of asking for an election for one or more positions. – Joseph Wright Mar 29 at 22:24
  • @StefanKottwitz No, I didn't f see any different treatment for those reasons. I have only thought that some new people from different cultures can bring some new ideas. – CarLaTeX Mar 29 at 23:10
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    I think it is worth noting that it's not necessarily clear what the gender, ethnicity, etc. of users is. Yes, for the three current mods it's obvious we are white, male, European, but there are many users where their username/profile gives away no such detail. Thus even if an election yields new moderators, they may not 'obviously' change the balance. I'm also not sure how many 'end users' notice the mod team at all: unless you go looking or have direct interaction, it's not something you see. – Joseph Wright Mar 31 at 10:02
  • @JosephWright This is certainly a good point, and shows that the whole discussion is highly nontrivial, as are all discussions of this sort. – marmot Mar 31 at 16:09

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