If a user puts a bounty on a question, that has several effects. The one best advertised is "to draw attention".

Less well known: Relevant here is that 'community moderation' is restricted for the duration of the bounty period: ordinary users can no longer 'vote to close' or 'vote to delete' such a question for as long as the bounty is active.

This can, has been and is used on some questions where certain subgroups of the community still want the question 'gone' as quickly as possible. But this is then only an issue if such a subgroup hasn't achieved closure or deletion before: in the timeframe before a bounty can be offered.

A bounty can be started on any question 48 hours after the question was asked, provided the question isn't closed, locked, or deleted.

What happens if a bounty question is closed or deleted? / Why can't I vote to close or migrate a bounty question?
Bounty questions cannot be closed directly.

However, diamond moderators can clear bounties, which would effectively remove the bounty and clear its history. The bounty owner's reputation would be recalculated as if they had never placed that bounty. This would then allow it to be closed, migrated, or deleted like any other question. (source)
How does the bounty system work?

At least for certain subgroups bounties on some questions seem 'controversial' enough for them to then declare such a 'protection by bounty' as 'gaming the system' and 'finding loopholes within the rules' and even 'abuse of bounties'.

However, diamond moderators do have the ability to remove bounties manually.

The question arising from this:

SE sites are supposed to be community moderated, diamond moderators should preferentially try to avoid using their privileges as much as possible. Community moderation has a window of opportunity to close bad questions in the first 48 hours when no-one can put a protective bounty on it. But once it exists, 'removing bounty' (protection) is not within the scope of community moderation – and diamonds are the only ones that can remove it then. The 'protection' is built deep into the design of the SE system for a very long time.

Thus, unless we have a policy in place before such a decision is made, it is quite foreseeable the debates arising:

  • users protecting a question with a bounty can get accused of 'gaming the rules' (even if they do not know of that effect)
  • users flagging mods for subsequent 'bounty removal' can get accused of 'circumventing the bounty-protects design' and circumventing the 'not closed within 48 hours design'
  • diamond mods can get accused of unilateral action that might look arbitrary — and even in conflict with community action (that left the question open when the bounty started)

It seems better to have an agreed upon policy for such cases.

If the community moderation

  • doesn't achieve closure and/or deletion of a question with 48 hours
  • and a bounty is offered on a question
  • that a subgroup of 'community users still really wants closed'

when, under which conditions and circumstances, why and how should diamond moderators remove a bounty?

  • Worth noting that the question that initially sparked this whole debate now has another bounty on it. – F1Krazy Sep 16 '20 at 14:34
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    I need to think on this to form my opinion, but explaining my recent actions: I removed the bounty because the question had 3 close votes, another user wanting to give the 4th, -10 score, and this community has an unfortunate history of low community moderation. I was expecting 1 or 2 more close votes to come through within a day. Hoping for that community moderation to come through, I removed the bounty. – fredsbend Sep 16 '20 at 14:34
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    @fredsbend why is the question off-topic or unsuitable for Skeptics? I'm an infrequent visitor and do not really understand why users are getting worked up on it. If it's off-topic, do as many mods have done in the past and elsewhere; close it. If it's on topic leave it and see if a user posts a "canonical" answer. Or just wait until it dies a natural death. P.S I don't have enough rep to close or reopen posts. – Mari-Lou A Sep 16 '20 at 14:49
  • @Mari-LouA I found it confusing, but blamed that on my personal incredulity, so did not VTC. Plus, Oddthinking had already intervened early in the question, so I was conceding heavy mod actions to him. – fredsbend Sep 16 '20 at 14:53
  • @LangLаngС More than that, it's the same user who posted the question in the first place. And a moderator specifically told them in chat not to re-add the bounty. – F1Krazy Sep 16 '20 at 14:55
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    @Mari-LouA Btw. Am not ref'ing that Q on purpose: no fan of it overall (imo unclear & broad, hard to answer as framed; but on-topic), but much less of a fan of the apparent deplatforming tendency. Looks like another case to me of users conflating OP and claimants? Transferring disgust over claim onto a user questioning it? If that's the case, then it's quite appalling. (that seems to be a trend for eg "is vacc X bad, this very specific calculation Z for climate change wrong, does nicotine really protect from Y, did Trump do sth good, Ms Thunberg kill her hamster, etc". Here: "OMG OP is Qanon?" – LangLаngС Sep 16 '20 at 14:58
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    @fredsbend Does "confusing" equal the same as "off-topic"? What is missing to make this post a reasonable and valid question? Is it the topic, satanic rituals and children abuse, that is the problem here? If the question was about witchcraft, voodoo, or pagan worship would users and/or the mods still have the same ambiguous/uncomfortable/incredulous feelings? – Mari-Lou A Sep 16 '20 at 14:59
  • @Mari-LouA If I'm confused, then that is all. I can't hold other opinions. Fortunately, "unclear" is a close reason, and it's the vote I would cast. My reservations were those already stated. I don't want to mod hammer when my own confusion is the problem, and another mod had already intervened. – fredsbend Sep 16 '20 at 15:06
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    There are plenty of discussion forums for that question, including a chat I suggest we keep this are for discussing this policy. (I applaud the community imposing restrictions and guidance on when mods should act.) – Oddthinking Sep 17 '20 at 2:26
  • Relevant: me myself having used bounty protection against a CV-killer-squad on MetaSE during TheFall: meta.stackexchange.com/posts/335289/timeline ; me complaining about arbitrary enforcements meta.stackexchange.com/q/340660 further deliberation about the same problem on another site politics.meta.stackexchange.com/a/4310 – LangLаngС Sep 17 '20 at 7:15
  • Sidenote: there was a recent-ish discussion on Meta SO to allow bountied questions to be closed by regular users. – Andrew T. Sep 17 '20 at 17:27
  • @AndrewT. Ay. Not being active there, at all: how would you describe chances of that proposal to get through, how long would that take, and would that filter down to SE sites? (My guess would be 'quite long', and I am aware that you'd have to guess as well. Only if you have some experience of such a guesstimate timeframe…) – LangLаngС Sep 17 '20 at 18:45

In instances where the bounty message is offensive or inappropriate, we should remove those bounties. We'd be doing this to censor the message, not the bounty. Assuming the message didn't also get the user suspended, they are welcome to place a new bounty with an appropriate message.

I've spent some time thinking about any other times we should remove bounties and I have only come up with one reason: A mod may remove a bounty from a question if the mod is also going to close the question. The reasoning here is that the ability to remove the bounty seems to exist partly because you can't close vote on a bountied question. It's one bad feature trying to fix another bad feature. If the concern were offensive messages, they'd just be mod-editable.

Also, community moderation on this site is low. I would like to see more close votes, down votes, etc on bad questions. The fact that you can't bounty a question unless 2 days has passed should resolve this issue for us entirely. If community moderation were high enough I would suggest that mods never remove bounties. But it's not.

Thus, at this time, I suggest that the policy be that moderators may remove bounties if they also intend to close the question. For the sake of prudence, I will not do such an action unless my vote is going to be the fourth or fifth close vote placed.

  • Is that "intend to and do go on and closes"? // In other aspects, I do acknowledge that there might be cases coming when a removal (and closure) 'really is needed' vs 'vocal subgroup urgently demands' (like in a 'split community' Q is closed, RO, about to be closed again… Within 'the model' "Community action/decision" is 'defined' as "quorum of five did sth" (ie: not really fully democratic). Could you elaborate a bit into that direction? – LangLаngС Sep 18 '20 at 12:38
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    @LangLаngС Only that if the bountied question has 3 or 4 existing close votes and I personally would cast one as well, then would I use the mod power to remove the bounty. If some time in the future I see poor questions regularly closed within a day by the community, rather than mods, I believe the issue begins to resolve itself. – fredsbend Sep 18 '20 at 15:23
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    My proposition is the close vote must follow. Actions must follow words. That close vote can be from any motivation. – fredsbend Sep 18 '20 at 15:29
  • OK. So I guess users then would need to flag for attention? And on that I'd suggest mods should pay some extra attention on who is flagging and how the flagger acted on this problem before (like: one user one vote: already CV'ed should have somewhat less of a weight on this kind of 'controversial posts' than another user expressing the same? To avoid tipping the balance too much into most persistent/ simply loudest minority gets it? ) – LangLаngС Sep 18 '20 at 21:02
  • Hm. Coincidence: There are still more problems then I was aware of: politics.meta.stackexchange.com/q/4554 (Timeline on the linked mainQ is quite colourful…) – LangLаngС Sep 18 '20 at 21:27
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    @LangLangC brings up an important point. Is it acceptable to remove a bounty if the bounty message is inappropriate (e.g. party political, violates CoC)? – Oddthinking Sep 19 '20 at 0:34
  • @Oddthinking I didn't think of that kind of abuse, but I'm very much against allowing it. I'll update this answer. – fredsbend Sep 19 '20 at 2:58

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