I'm Ben N, and my answers (N-swers?) follow.
- A pretty important part of moderation is engaging the community. How have you engaged the community so far, and what do you intend to do as a moderator to build on that?
I enjoy spending time on meta, helping explain the expectations and workings of the site/network. For what it's worth, I am one of only two not-ever-SU-mods to hold a silver discussion tag badge. (Only nine people of any kind have that badge.) I also inhabit the "capital," Meta Stack Exchange, where I've earned almost 5K reputation. I have a thoroughly good time hanging out in Root Access, Super User's main chat room, where I can be found almost any day. As a mod, I would also make sure to have a consistent presence in the "Ask a Super User Moderator" room.
Recently, I've taken an interest in data gathering, which can be seen in the SEDE queries of some of my recent MSU answers. I think it's enlightening to get hard data on the various aspects of our site, even if it's just to verify a feeling. Alas, I am far more adept at imperative programming than at SQL, so it takes me a while to create queries. I hope to get better at that so I can provide more and better statistics when appropriate.
- Nobody's perfect. What is one mistake you made and what did you do when you noticed it?
I was reviewing in the Suggested Edits queue and a new tag wiki excerpt for a new tag appeared. Seeing that the excerpt incorrectly reproduced the name of the system to which the tag refers, I wrote a nice rejection message mentioning the correct name of the system and submitted my reject vote. Later that day, I wondered whether there was any existing resource that got the name wrong in that fashion, so I did a Google search, and to my shock, the suggested edit had the name right. Fortunately, the author of the edit had been in chat somewhat recently, so I pinged them and apologized for my mistake. They were very gracious. A little while later, the edit was correctly approved. Had the user not been accessible on chat, I would have left an apologetic comment on one of their posts.
Another humbling incident, though not so much a mistake because I did the right thing by sheer accident, was my new-mod "oh snap, what did I just do?" moment. It was one of my first days on the job as Artificial Intelligence moderator and there were a few flags waiting for me. I handled the normal post flags, marking the helpful ones helpful and declining an incorrect one or two. Then I looked at a flag on a borderline "too chatty" comment. Since I wanted to see the reasons to decline a comment flag, I clicked the "dismiss" link, expecting to get the "Declining because..." window as one does with post flags. To my surprise, the flag immediately went away, declined. Fortunately, as I continued to think about it, I realized that the comment was worth keeping and the flag was indeed in error, but I made sure to stop making assumptions about how the mod UI works. On the plus side, I wouldn't make any new-mod mistakes as a moderator here!
If you see that I've made an error -- as mod or otherwise -- please notify me immediately so that it can be fixed.
- A user has a long history of posting borderline (and sometimes not-borderline) abusive comments, and they just started up again. They've been given short suspensions a couple times, but it didn't get the point across. They're now due for a year-long suspension, according to the standard progression. They're also a prolific contributor to the site, with vast expertise in $Technology. Do you consider this in how you handle the case? How?
Unfortunately, it looks like that user did not take the warnings or previous suspensions to heart. As much as I would love to keep a knowledgeable contributor around, rudeness is not acceptable. Abusive comments are highly likely to drive away new users who otherwise might grow into valuable, gracious contributors. I've heard this explained as an "evaporative" process: rude users cause nice users to leave, raising the proportion of rudeness and making the site appear less welcoming. Hopefully a year's vacation from the site will help convey to the abusive user that Be Nice is very important to this network.
- How do you feel the current moderator team is doing, and how do you view your style of moderation compared to the current team? What one flaw of the current moderator team set do you think needs addressing?
I think they're doing great. Flags are handled quickly, almost always within a couple hours. When people ask meta questions about moderation decisions, mods show up and provide thorough explanatory answers. There's usually at least one mod around in chat. And to top it all off, the mods are pretty neat people who am I glad to know.
On the spectrum of the current team's habits, I'm slightly on the "preserve closed questions if there's useful information in the answers" end of the median. Of course, I am always happy to put aside my own preferences when necessary and implement the consensus of the community, moderator team, and Stack Exchange. Not having been on the receiving end of any warnings or suspensions, I don't know what the speed of that progression is here, but I can say that I personally try to give people as many chances as they can accept in good faith, to the extent of what's practical.
The only area in which I have anything even vaguely critical to say is that of consistency in flag handling decisions. It seems there are differing views on what should be done with link-only answers (should they be edited into shape or flagged for removal?). It would be great if there were Official WordTM on the subject. Of course, I understand that perfect consistency is impossible; moderators are not clones and the site is richer for it.
- How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?
I would ask them privately about it. If the action was in error, I'm sure they would be happy to correct it -- I personally would want to know immediately if I did something wrong so that we can get it fixed. If there's a genuine difference of opinion, I would definitely not reverse their action; perceived dissension among the moderation team would bode very bad for the community. Rather, I would seek to understand the other viewpoint, amending my own knowledge for the future. If the issue was very important, I would suggest that the entire moderation team weigh in on it (in private if appropriate) so that we can decide one position to be consistent in.
- What is your philosophy on moderation in Chat?
With apologies to Einstein (or maybe not), moderation should be as light as possible, but no lighter. The purpose of moderation in chat is to gracefully dispose of drama and let good discussions continue. I prefer to give gentle suggestions to get the conversation back on track when it's veering toward inappropriate, only moving on to more blatant warnings or suspensions if the soft approach doesn't work. (Rooms tend to get derailed into talking about mods' reactions/overreactions for a while after there are fireworks and suspensions.) Of course, if a user is definitely being disruptive and has not responded well to admonitions, then they will need a break from chat for a while.
Already having been a moderator on chat for a while, I tend to not get involved in unfamiliar rooms' affairs unless there's clear abuse going on. Though I'm sure moderators' intentions are good, it's very common for an incoming flood of mods (especially foreign mods) to actually increase drama. Locally, I'm pretty familiar with the Root Access culture and am generally quite pleased with the room's self-moderation.
- There are subjects that are within the purview of the site but considered a "gray area". Examples might include such things as circumventing user agreements, which some people consider to potentially involve unethical behavior. They are a gray area because they are not officially prohibited, like piracy, but are generally deemed off-topic due only to precedent. Specific issues of this nature are periodically raised on Meta to poll member input on whether they should be on topic. This question is not about your opinion for or against such topics. Here is the question: Should the decision as to acceptability of any and all gray area subjects be a matter of community consensus, or should at least certain cases be based on foundational principles and not subject to community preference? And why?
As much as I wish policy could be consistently derived from principles, there are so many possible principles (cf. philosophy classes) that I can't imagine a single set of them that we could all agree on. Therefore, it looks like we'll have to stick with consensus. Of course, if an Official MandateTM comes down from the Stack Exchange team that we mustn't cover a topic (probably because of legal concerns), then we need to yield to them.
- Beyond answering questions and participating in community moderation functions, some members take an active role being supportive to new users. This can include such actions as suggesting helpful resources, explaining site nuances, helping to polish their posts through advice or edits, providing words of encouragement, providing friendly input when comment threads become unfriendly, etc. Any member can be supportive, but for a moderator, is it a fundamental responsibility?
In my understanding, the one fundamental responsibility of a moderator is to handle exceptional situations that the community can't properly deal with.
That said, I absolutely plan to continue being supportive. When taking moderator actions on Artificial Intelligence and when recommending closure/deletion here, I make sure that there's a constructive comment explaining to the post's author why I took the action I did and linking to the tour or help center if relevant. Sometimes it takes some effort to wordsmith the right phrasing, but I've been thanked multiple times for my input. I believe that the work there is definitely worth the user education.
- There are currently 110,000 unanswered questions, which is around 1/3 of the total number of questions. Do you consider this to be a problem and do you have any ideas on how to go about organizing this work? E.g. would you organize 'cleanup' events on Meta to encourage users to look at the Unanswered queue?
I would like to see more questions get answered, but I'm not sure that being a moderator would help with that. As mentioned in the answers to this meta discussion, many of our unanswered questions are borderline unanswerable/overbroad. Troubleshooting questions, while often useful and good on the whole, frequently require additional information from the author before they can be adequately solved.
Since close votes don't cause any disruption on the front page, any user can go back and cast the appropriate votes without any special planning. If people wanted to go on a spree of polishing up old unanswered-but-useful questions during designated cleanup flood events like tag burnings (or just do a few edits occasionally), that would be great!
- Across the network several teams are working on, or have already deployed, automated tools (bots if you like) to assist in flagging posts for SPAM, Not an answer or plagiarism. Can you elaborate on how you expect these tools/bots influence your moderation?
I'm very glad that they exist. Anything that helps identify problematic content is a win in my book.
Most of my experience with Charcoal specifically is of them swiftly finding and removing pieces of spam on Artificial Intelligence; I am always very pleased when I see that's been dealt with for me. In general, I can't imagine needing to consider the source of an alert when judging it. From Charcoal's auto-flagging page: "flags cast on a Stack Exchange account are the responsibility of the account holder, whether they were cast by an automated system or not." I would handle automatic/machine-assisted flags the same as any other flags, but also provide feedback to the team/user responsible for the system if anything goes wrong. (And if for some reason SmokeDetector shorts out and start auto-flagging everything, there's the
In general, I add this: if I weren't sure what to do in a tough situation, I would consult with another mod so we can pool our discernment.
If there's anything needing clarification, please let me know so I can adjust it. Thanks!