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It's extremely difficult to find out what decisions moderators are making when it comes to deleted answers: either your answer is deleted (which is hopefully rare among upstanding members of this community), or you have to repeatedly check the same question and notice that an answer has been deleted, and not know whether the decision was a moderator's.

I understand most moderators are undoubtedly attempting to apply community standards evenly. But to do so perfectly consistently is not possible: moderators make mistakes, perhaps usually benign ones. But I'm concerned about subconsciously holding conclusions they disagree with to a higher standard--it's a cognitive shortcut inherent to our biology. Anyone who doesn't see this as one of the biggest threats to the integrity of the platform should probably not be moderating for this particular community in the first place.

The problem is, there is no way for the community at large to evaluate the behavior of moderators (i.e. to see deleted answers). And one can hardly ask a moderator to objectively evaluate their own work or even that of their peers.

Reasonable, debatably conforming, but unpopular content is possibly some of the most important to preserve in a skeptics community.

And even if moderators were 99% objectively correct, there seems to be an intrinsic "deletion" bias—if e.g. 99 moderators thought something met community standards and one didn't, presumably the last would simply delete it, without that decision is automatically reviewed by the 99 (surely they're too busy anyway). And there's no formal appeal—flagging a decision might be reviewed by the same moderator, or perhaps 1 other, who might simply be pressured or predisposed to support the decision of their peer. The system is already rigged against Jeff Atwood's idea that the "ideal moderator does as little as possible". I can't even express my entire question without it being censored.

And of course elected moderators are variously respectable members of the community—but the community largely has no idea what decisions they're ultimately making. Most decisions are doubtless mundane, but surely there are impeachable offenses. And when elections come, I'd frankly rather review their most controversial decisions than a statement about why they think they're great.

Everyone loves to stress how special the skeptics community is. But shouldn't this community, above all others, have some real guarantees regarding moderation?

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    This site is delete heavy. By design, you aren't alerted when your stuff is deleted, never mind how or with what reasons. I also dislike both things. – fredsbend May 11 at 15:24
  • Tahlor, please do not add back the paragraphs I removed. One thing is asking legitimate questions about moderation, another is claiming we are not a serious community. – Sklivvz May 11 at 16:04
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    @Sklivvz A bit ironic, no? It's meta, you can let it slide. I'm not offended at Tahlor's or anyone else's "rant". – fredsbend May 14 at 17:56
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Thanks for your question. I also think moderators should be evaluated based on their decisions and that deletions should be reviewable. I can say there's a broad agreement on this in the community.

Not only we agree with that but in fact, the people who built the Stack Exchange website software are also on the same page and the moderation system of all Stack Exchange sites guarantees that moderators actions are reviewable.

Reviewing moderator actions requires a user to have adequate experience on the site so that such reviews are of the highest quality and not based on a superficial knowledge of the community. Such a principle is the basis of the Stack Exchange system. Users need to earn the trust of their peers before the system grants privileges to them.

In particular moderation privileges start at 10,000 reputation points and at that privilege level users have access to a specific page to monitor deletions.

Thanks to this system there are 40 skeptics users as of May 2019 with moderation powers that can review deletions. Many of them are active daily, and routinely we find they do look at questions and do use these tools.

Nevertheless, you might want to suggest that we change this privilege level to lower reputation scores so that more people might see deleted posts. If so, your question does not make a convincing case of why this should be so, in my opinion.

If instead, you wanted to suggest that we conduct such review publicly -- I strongly disagree with this. There are reasons why this is a bad idea. First of all, moderation must be a meritocratic system and not a populistic one: if we did not base moderation reviews on users' reputation score, we would allow anyone with an anonymous email address to vote on an issue with the same authority as someone who spent eight years looking every day at the site.

Secondly, when we delete a post, we do so to with the purpose of hiding it, so there are reasons why we do not want the community to be able to see it. Allowing any users who disagree with a post being hidden to make it public again (albeit on meta) prevents us from effectively moderating that post at all. There have been many cases where trolls posted unwanted content and, once deleted, reposted it here to make sure it was visible. It's not a viable way of running a community.

Thanking you again for taking the time to write such a post, please reconsider your position. While we are fallible human beings, and well aware of the fact, most of our policies are time-proven and well-thought-out.

I'm more than happy to continue this in a chat if you have more questions.


Disclaimer: I was part of the Stack Exchange team for four years.

  • Doubtless some posts should be hidden. I would say there are probably many others that, if they (arguably) do not conform perfectly to established guidelines, should be branded as such (i.e. with the banner), or not recommended by the moderation staff, or hidden but still visible after clicking "see less popular answers" or something. Deleting everything someone could make a case for not perfectly conforming seems irresponsible and is not transparent; if this were the decidedly "correct" precedent, there are probably many more answers that should be deleted, which doesn't really help anyone. – Tahlor May 11 at 16:08
  • @Tahlor we have specific rules regarding deletion of OR answers (we only intervene if there is a refusal to fix, high upvotes, abandonment or copycat answers). We otherwise try to leave them so their OP can fix them. Many that you might have seen are probably in this category. However, due to the fact that most will be simply abandoned, we must rely on flags to find the ones that need deletion. – Sklivvz May 11 at 16:17
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    I've spent multiple evenings with the community teams trying to figure out a non-deletion way of "closing" answers, but all we have found have drawbacks. Perhaps you have a different idea. If so, let's discuss it and if we find a way to make this work we can propose it for implementation (although I must be honest that custom code per site is highly unlikely to happen) – Sklivvz May 11 at 16:20
  • I know, but I still don't see how the answer you deleted, in its current form (did you read it?) constitutes original research. The code provided isn't even germane to the well-sourced conclusion--I'm happy to remove it. I have done my best not to impose any assumptions about how it should be processed, only one way it might be processed. But I imagine some people would be more interested in something like that to draw their own conclusions than anything else anyone might say. Surely you can see where I'm coming from with all of the above if you read the current answer you keep deleting. – Tahlor May 11 at 16:27
  • This is also pretty much the response I expected and I am sympathetic towards. But it also highlights the problem--there are very high barriers to becoming a moderator, and they wield tremendous power. This makes sense in a lot of respects--they are proven contributors to the community. But if the moderation staff didn't perfectly espouse community values, then there is a self-reinforcing bias where moderators only get to be moderators by conforming to precedents, some of which the majority of the community might dispute. – Tahlor May 11 at 16:32
  • Someone who disagrees moderator decisions would never hang around long enough to become a moderator or gain a voice. Maybe these members should be filtered out, or maybe it's dangerous to do so. I sincerely do not believe the current moderation staff is so insular as this--but given the nature of this community, it is an important consideration, and a reason why the inherently-populistic nature of upvoting answers should take precedence over moderation on the balance--this is how moderators gained their power in the first place. – Tahlor May 11 at 16:34
  • @Tahlor the only real power that moderators have over users with a lot of reputation is the power to suspend accounts and see private information. All their other privileges are pretty much achievable with reputation, and almost all current mods would have very similar powers even without an election. The only difference is that mod have heavy votes, which are frankly a mixed blessing. – Sklivvz May 11 at 16:44
  • Hm. I guess a few things are missing from mod-powers? Eg: mods can see deleted comments and search for deleted answers (plus I've been told repeatedly that there are some tools and powers not to be discussed outside mod-circles) To understand the dynamics around user-mod interaction, other users, even hi-reps, have to invest a big amount of attention. // In this case, I am sure I do not understand enough of it to form a better opinion than I have now. That's because I have to assume incomplete information & have a strange feeling that this got more antagonistic than needed too quickly. – LаngLаngС May 13 at 20:28
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    Out of curiosity, how many of those 40 10K+ users regularly review deletions? Is that easy to tell? – fredsbend May 14 at 18:02
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    @fredsbend I can't tell beyond the fact that we receive flags on deleted posts from them. We also get delete votes and numerous flags with requests to delete. – Sklivvz May 15 at 15:43
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At a certain reputation level, non-diamond-mods can see deleted answers in a non-deleted question (and also deleted questions, if they have a link to it or have favorited it).

If deleting an answer “bumps” a question (I don’t know whether it does), then an inquisitive member of the community would be able to see what’s going on if they so wished. That’d provide a certain level of oversight.

  • Isn't it for non-diamonds possible to search for deleted posts for up to 30 days? Via the non-diamond mod-tools? – LаngLаngС May 31 at 14:17

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